Completed in 1873, Central Park is among the world’s great urban innovations. Bound by 5th and 8th avenues on the east and west respectively, and from 59th Street on the south, 110th Street on the north, these 843 acres encompass a lot to see and do.
With two skating rinks, horseback riding, and skating and bicycle trails, the athletes won’t want for anything that suits their taste. For those who enjoy a more leisurely pace, the many sculptures, lakes, and bird species provide ample opportunities for just gazing.
Largely grass dotted with trees and shrubs, there are nonetheless sidewalks all around and through the park for strolls and people watching. Plenty of that can be had since the park is visited by some 25 million annually. Even so, the once fearsome crime rate has dropped to at or below every other urban park in the world.
Winding through the park is a 6mi (10km) road along which travel cars as well as the occasional horse-drawn cart. The romantic ride is still a favorite activity more than a hundred years after the service began. It makes for an especially relaxing treat during the Fall when the leaves turn to red and gold.
Several other roads cut through the middle of the park, though with restricted hours, to make cross-town car travel more convenient. Beware the zooming taxis!
The Central Park Zoo is modest cost and houses Tamarin monkeys, large cats, and a wide variety of other animals, not the least of which is Gus the Polar Bear. Long one of the lesser zoos in the US, it enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990s and now joins Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn and Queens Zoo in Queens as one of the city’s major attractions.
Along the edges of the park, there are several museums, including one of the world’s great storehouses of art: The Metropolitan Museum of Art at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Low-cost and varied, art lovers should be prepared to spend a day or two if they wish to see the entire 6,000-year collection.
The Natural History Museum is sited on the west side of the park at 79th Street and Central Park West. Here the collection is, ahem, somewhat older than 6,000 years with artifacts dating back, in some cases, millions.
In between these two jewels are several other sites and activities to interest the culture-lover. During the summer, Shakespeare in the Park attracts thousands of devotees of the bard, and the Metropolitan Opera puts on two concerts per year, as well. The New York Philharmonic often gets into the act, traveling a block from Lincoln Center to put on an open-air concert.
Before the concert, a glass of wine or a fine meal can be had at the renowned Tavern on the Green restaurant. Be sure to make reservations several months in advance, though.
While you’re at the park, looking at things new and old, don’t miss seeing the ancient Egyptian Obelisk. It isn’t often you see centuries old sculptures in the middle of the world’s most modern cities.