Top Ten Attractions in Central Park

From Columbus Circle to Grand Army Plaza to Duke Ellington Circle the park features gardens, world famous performance venues, historic statuary, lakes, ponds and pools.  There are more than thirty bridges and arches, two iconic restaurants, a wildlife refuge, a marionette theater and a real life castle – not to mention the Central Park Zoo.  Trying to pick a top ten from the myriad of choices is next to impossible, but here is our list of the Top Ten Attractions in Central Park.

10. Conservatory Water

Whether you have a radio powered sailboat, or a wind-powered sloop, model sail boating in Central Park at the Conservatory Water is a delight for participants and observers; whether adults, children or, in one case, a rather notable rodent.  Adding to the fun are the nearby statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen, two of the most popular pieces of sculpture in the park.  This fact is most easily attested to by the patina created by the many tiny hands that have run across the surfaces of both figures.  The statue of the Danish writer is also the site of a popular storytelling program each summer.

9. Wollman Rink

Wollman Rink was built in 1949 and has been a success from the day it opened – over 300,000 skaters glided across the ice in its first year of operation.  Ice skating in Central Park is easily one of the most picturesque activities to be enjoyed on a winter’ s night. Unlike the somewhat overwhelming confines of the Rockefeller Center rink you can actually see stars at Wollman Rink. Feel the cold tingle of New York’s crisp winter air, listen to the music, and take in the incomparable surroundings as you glide (gracefully or not so) over the ice. In the spring and summer the rink becomes home to the Victorian Gardens amusement park, a beautiful evocation of a quaint country carnival with rides and attractions for the whole family.

8. Imagine Mosaic – Strawberry Fields

The Imagine Mosaic in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields is an internationally funded tribute to John Lennon, ex-Beatle and long time New York City resident.  On December 8th, 1980 Mr. Lennon was shot dead as he entered his home at the Dakota Apartment Building at 72nd St. and Central Park West. John Lennon had taken many walks with his wife and young son through the friendly confines of nearby Central Park. Long a favorite son of his adopted city John Lennon wasn’t simply New York’s Beatle, he was, for many, the embodiment of the spirit on which city had been built. One half urbane cynic and one half romantic dreamer, he unabashedly embraced the disparate parts which, as every New Yorker knows, combine to form a uniquely gifted, passionate individual. And city.  The Imagine Mosaic has become a gathering place for fans of Mr.Lennon from all over the world and it is here that you can almost always find someone strumming a guitar to the tune of one of his many song.

7. Conservatory Garden

One of the hidden wonders of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th St. A secluded oasis, just a few steps down from one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares; the garden offers a fragrant respite from the gasp and clatter of the urban afternoon. To enter the six-acre Garden from Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, you must pass through the Vanderbilt Gate, which originally served as the entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street (at the present site of the Bergdorf Goodman department store). The Conservatory Garden itself is filled with a myriad of plant life, from carefully cultivated heirloom roses to the most common of indigenous flowers, while portions of the grounds are delineated by hedges of English yew, barberry, Korean holly and the serendipitously named “Manhattan.” The Garden itself is divided into three distinct sections, each representing its own specific style. These are the north (or French Garden), the Central (or Italian Garden) and the south (or English Garden). Conservatory Garden is the perfect spot to sit and read, or just to escape for a few moments from the bustling city a few yards away.

6. Central Park Reservoir

Arguably the most valuable waterfront real estate on the planet, the Jacqueline Onassis Central Park Reservoir is located between 86th and 96th Sts. at the center of the park. Now offi­cially named the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir it covers a full one eight of the park’s surface. The 106-acre body of water is 40 feet deep and holds over a billion gallons of water. Once a critical part of the city’s fresh water system it was disconnected as an active component since the new water tunnel was opened in 1991. It is probably best known now as home to the 1.58 mile running track that surrounds it. The Reservoir is also currently the subject of a very public debate as several different plans are considered for its future; these include fishing piers, a marina, ball fields, restaurants and beaches. Hopefully the debate will rage on indefinitely and the current configuration will remain as it is.

5. Bow Bridge

Bow Bridge is one of the most photographed and filmed locations in Central Park and it deserves every bit of its star reputation. Stretching sixty feet over the lake, from Cherry Hill to the Ramble, it is not only one of the most beautiful cast iron bridges in the world, but also offers some of the most breathtaking views of the park around it. Completed in 1862 Bow Bridge was built of cast iron instead of stone, which was used for almost all of the other archways in the park.  From its graceful curves to the subtle ornamentation it is one of the finest examples of the magic that resulted from the combined vision of Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. It displays an understated, yet powerful aesthetic that provides the perfect transition between the carefully crafted Cherry Hill and the natural jumble of the Ramble.

4. Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain rises high above Bethesda Terrace, looking over the hundreds of visitors that come every day to enjoy the view of the Lake and relax at the “heart” of Central Park. The sculpture that tops it, Angel of Waters, was designed by Emma Stebbins in 1873 and is one of the most recognizable icons in the entire park. Stebbins designed the statue to celebrate the new Croton Aqueduct which not only fed the fountain, but also supplied fresh water to a city that had long been plagued by infectious diseases caused by an unsafe water supply. Bethesda Terrace has long been one of the most popular meeting spots in Central Park and is also the most popular film set in the park.  Films such as “Ransom”, “Home Alone II”, “One Fine Day” and “Godspell” have all utilized the beautifully designed architecture of the Terrace, along with the view of the Lake and Boathouse, as a backdrop for their cinematic efforts. Bethesda Terrace is also home to a variety of park performers, the most famous of which is Thoth, the mystical violinist and the subject of an eponymous Oscar winning short film by Sarah Kernochan.

3. The Carousel

Probably the most popular attraction with the pre-teen set is the historic Central Park Carousel.  As the park spins by and the calliope tootles it is easy to imagine yourself at a country fair miles outside the urban confines of New York City. The original park carousel opened in 1871 and was powered by a blind mule and a horse which walked a treadmill in an underground pit. It almost immediately became one of the park’s most popular attractions and remains so to this day, with almost 250,000 riders a year. Originally the park commissioners had frowned upon commercial enterprises in the Park, but they eventually saw the popular attractions as valuable assets. They also recognized the not insignificant fees that the city earned on the carousel’s operation as a welcome source of needed revenue.

2. Belvedere Castle

Sitting high atop Vista Rock (the second highest natural elevation in the park) Belvedere Castle provides a panoramic view in almost every direction. It is also perhaps the most magical monument in Central Park, one that combines function, form and romance – all in one convenient, central location. Designed originally in 1865 by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould as a Victorian “Folly” (fantasy building) that would provide an overlook to the scenic splendors around it. The views include the Delacorte Theater, home to the very popular Shakespeare in the Park series, the newly-restored, 55-acre Great Lawn, once one of the Park’s original reservoirs and, directly below, Turtle Pond.

1. The Central Park Zoo and the Tisch Children’s Zoo

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Central Park Zoo and the Tisch Children’s Zoo. Here, just a few yards from 5th Ave. you’ll find over 130 different species ranging from giant Polar Bears to the Brazilian black tarantula. A walk around the Zoo’s five plus acres will take you through a variety of habitats, all carefully designed to recreate the natural environment of the animals they house. The Zoo is divided into three different sections which provide the animals with homes as close to their natural habitat as possible. These include tropic, temperate and polar zones that house everything from geckos to the hugely popular polar bears. The Zoo is also actively involved the preservation of endangered species, providing a home for rare tamarin monkeys, Wyoming toads, thick-billed parrots, and red pandas. With its seasonal programs, including the recent Boo at the Zoo Halloween celebration, along with the various educational programs offered, the Central Park Zoo has something for everyone.  This would probably account for the over one million park-goers that visit annually, making the Central Park Zoo the Greatest Place in Central Park.

Things To Do

From The Philharmonic on the Great Lawn to Shakespeare in the Park to SummerStage, Central Park offers an endless array of things to do, see, hear – and, with two full service restaurants and several cafes, taste.  You can visit The Shakespeare Garden, take in a performance at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, take a ride on the Carousel – or just sit and people watch at Bethesda Terrace!

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