New York's Central Park Walking Tour (Self Guided), New York

It is the first public park built in America, and the most famous park in the world today. Enjoy a great relaxing time, surrounded by natural beauty, gazing upon numerous man-made wonders - fountains, monuments, sculptures, bridges and arches. Central Park offers over 50 delightful attractions. Take this walking tour to explore the beauties of the Central Park.
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New York's Central Park Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: New York's Central Park Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » New York (See other walking tours in New York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Gapstow Bridge and The Pond
  • Central Park Zoo
  • Central Park Carousel
  • Sheep Meadow
  • Strawberry Fields
  • Bethesda Terrace
  • Bow Bridge
  • Shakespeare Garden
  • Belvedere Castle
  • Cleopatra’s Needle
  • Alexander Hamilton Monument
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
Gapstow Bridge and The Pond

1) Gapstow Bridge and The Pond

Elegantly suspended over the neck of the Pond, Gapstow Bridge is one of the first landmarks to discover after entering the southeast corner of the Park. Its robust beauty is rivaled only by its view: a lush foreground set against a dramatic skyline of Central Park South, which includes the Plaza Hotel and other notable skyscrapers.

For a completely different view from Gapstow Bridge, just turn around and face north. In the winter, you’ll see a festive scene of skaters on Wollman Rink; in the warmer months, it transforms into the whimsical Victorian Gardens Amusement Park.

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Central Park Zoo

2) Central Park Zoo (must see)

The Central Park Zoo is a small zoological facility within Central Park. It was one of the first experiments in creating natural habitats for diverse animals in an urban setting. Though smaller in size than other zoos, it has a rich diversity of animals including some endangered species.

The Central Park Zoo started as a menagerie in 1860. At the time, it was the first zoo in New York City. It was enlarged in 1934 and new buildings were added. Major renovation was carried out in the 1980s and opened in 1988 with natural habitats replacing the original cages.

Today, there are three major exhibit spaces called the tropic, temperate and polar. There is an indoor rainforest that houses rare birds, a leaf-cutter ant colony, a frozen area for penguins and a pool for polar bears. The zoo has over 150 species from around the world including snow leopards, snow monkeys and red pandas. Children will enjoy a visit to the Tisch Children’s Zoo within the park. They can enjoy feeding animals like sheep, goats and Llamas and play with simulated animal eggs, shells and habitats.

Central Park Zoo is a small park that visitors can view within a period of 2 hours with animals and activities that will interest each member of the family.

Why You Should Visit:
Adds variety after a walk in Central Park and/or a museum visit.

To get the most out of a visit, it's best to try to get to see all the scheduled 'highlight' events: feeding penguins, sea lions, etc., because the animals are a joy to watch working with their trainers.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat-Sun: 10am-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Central Park Carousel

3) Central Park Carousel

The Carousel has been a beloved Central Park tradition for nearly 150 years. Fifty-seven hand-carved and painted horses—plus two chariots—“gallop” along to Calliope music played by a mechanical organ. It's one of the largest carousels in the country, and with nearly 250,000 riders a year, also among the most popular.

This is the fourth carousel at the site since 1871, but the turnover has in no way impeded the tradition. In a truly successful treasure hunt, the Parks Department uncovered an abandoned carousel in an old trolley terminal on Coney Island. A shining example of American Folk Art, this vintage gem was built by the Brooklyn firm Stein & Goldstein in 1908. It was brought to the Park along with the current mechanical organ, which has 86 keys, two drums, a tambourine, cymbals, and twenty paper roll records. This carousel has endured for decades—so while it's Central Park’s fourth carousel, it’s far from the newest.

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Sheep Meadow

4) Sheep Meadow (must see)

Sheep Meadow is a grassy space within Central Park used as a picnic spot or a place where one can relax in full view of the towering skyscrapers of the city. It is also a beautiful place in an urban setting where one can see the seasons change from spring through fall.

Sheep Meadow has an expanse of 15 acres and was the scene of demonstrations and political movements in the past. It was landscaped by designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and became part of the park in 1864. At first, the public was not allowed to walk in the meadow and sheep were allowed to graze for the purpose of trimming and fertilizing the grass. In 1934, the sheep were removed for fear that hungry humans during the Great Depression may use them as food. The Sheepfold became the ‘Tavern on the Green’ restaurant. Later the meadow became the venue for large-scale protests, rock concerts, and hippie gatherings.

Visitors can enjoy a picnic in Sheep Meadow because it is now fenced and protected from unwanted use. Pets, glass bottles and playing games are not allowed making it a safe place to enjoy a day out with family.

Bring a blanket and food and you can spend hours here enjoying the fresh air and greenery all around.
Strawberry Fields

5) Strawberry Fields (must see)

Dedicated to the memory of poet, musician John Lennon, the lead singer-songwriter of the immortal rock band, the Beatles, Strawberry Fields is a landscaped section of Central Park where fans can pay their tributes to his departed soul. His widow, Yoko Ono, gave a donation to the park for the creation and upkeep of the memorial.

John Lennon lived in New York City and frequented Central Park during his lifetime. The name of the location is inspired by the title of one of his songs. The entrance to the park is opposite Dakota apartments, Lennon’s residence and the site of his murder. The prominent feature is a mosaic pathway made of inlaid stone, gifted by the city of Naples and inscribed with the title of one of his famous songs, ‘Imagine’. The landscape was designed by Bruce Kelly of the Central Park Conservancy. Strawberry Fields was dedicated in 1985 on the 45th birth anniversary of John Lennon.

Today, it is a quiet zone where fans of Lennon pay homage. Many decorate the mosaic with flowers and candles in his memory. Memorial gatherings for other musicians and others like the victims of the September 11th attacks are also held at Strawberry Fields. On Lennon’s birthday and death anniversary, fans gather to sing songs in his memory late into the night.

The Dakota Building where John Lennon lived and was later murdered is just outside the park entrance nearest the memorial (at 72nd Street), so you can pass there, too.
Bethesda Terrace

6) Bethesda Terrace

The Bethesda Terrace is a magnificent split level platform that connects the Mall of Central Park with the lake. One can view the lake and the wooded area around it from the upper terrace while the lower level has a large fountain and access to the lake. The Bethesda Terrace is made of New Brunswick sandstone combining Romanesque, Gothic and classical architectural styles. Two ornate staircases on either side connect the lower level to the higher level of the terrace.

At the center of the fountain is a sculpture of a winged angel landing on top of the pedestal. The figure was sculpted by Emma Stebbins in 1868. She was the first woman to be asked to make a public work of art in New York City. The bronze, eight-foot statue depicts a female winged angel touching down upon the top of the fountain, where water spouts and cascades into an upper basin and into the surrounding pool. It was the only statue in the park called for in the original design. Beneath her are 4 4-foot cherubs representing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Also called the Angel of the Waters, the statue refers to the Gospel of John, Chapter 5 where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda, giving it healing powers. The base was designed by Calvert Vaux and sculptor Jacob Wrey Mould. At the end of the 60s, the venue became a luncheon restaurant and later fell to disrepair.

The Central Park Conservancy campaigned and restored the fountain and Bethesda terrace in 1980 and 1981 and the gardens re-laid with native shrubs, flower filled Grecian stone pots and flowerbeds. Visitors can sit on stone benches in the lower level to watch boats on the lake and to get a glimpse of the high rise buildings beyond. On a clear day, musicians and dancers entertain audiences with their diverse performances around the fountain.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bow Bridge

7) Bow Bridge

With magnificent views across the Lake and into the Ramble, Bow Bridge is famously one of the Park’s most romantic spots. It also has a storied history; it was the first cast-iron bridge in the Park and the second-oldest anywhere in America.

Long and low to the water, the graceful Bow Bridge resembles the bow of an archer or a violinist. Built between 1859 and 1862, it was not part of the Park’s original design but was later added to provide a direct route from Cherry Hill to the Ramble.

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Sight description based on wikipedia
Shakespeare Garden

8) Shakespeare Garden

Evocative of the English countryside, Shakespeare Garden honors the great poet and playwright in both name and landscape. Bard fans will recognize flowers from William Shakespeare’s works, and several are accompanied by bronze plaques quoting the relevant text.

Shakespeare Garden is in fitting proximity to the Delacorte Theater, home to the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. But the Garden came first by several decades; at the request of the Parks Commissioner, it was created in 1913 by Parks Department entomologist (and devout Shakespeare fan) Dr. Edmond Bronk Southwick, who had an office in the adjacent Swedish Cottage. On April 23, 1916—the tercentennial of William Shakespeare’s death—Shakespeare Garden was officially named and dedicated in the Bard’s memory.

For years, the Garden was maintained by Dr. Southwick and the Shakespeare Society. The Society eventually disbanded and in the decades that followed, the Garden—like much of the Park—became neglected and overgrown. It was first cleaned up by community volunteers in 1975. In 1987, the newly established Conservancy began a restoration and expansion including new plantings, repaved paths, and defining elements like the wooden benches and bronze plaques bearing Shakespeare’s immortal words. Today, Shakespeare Garden retains and perhaps exceeds its original splendor.

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Belvedere Castle

9) Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle is an ornate building that forms part of the landscape of Central Park. It serves as an observation deck and museum. The intention of the designers was to make a Victorian Folly or ornamental landscape structure in the middle of the park.

The name Belvedere means beautiful view in Italian. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the structure in 1869 with a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The castle’s turret is the highest point in the park. Belvedere Castle lives up to its name and commands spectacular views of Central Park and the city skyline. The building is constructed with Manhattan schist and grey granite. Like most Victorian Follies, the castle was a shell with open doorways and windows overlooking a rectangular reservoir. Later doors and windows were added when it became the meteorological observatory of the United States Weather Bureau. In 1983 a nature observatory was opened in the building.

Today, Belvedere Castle looks over a large open green space called the Great Lawn. Free family and community events take place in the venue through the year including bird watching, storytelling, astronomy discussions and haunted castle shows during Halloween.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Cleopatra’s Needle

10) Cleopatra’s Needle

The Obelisk, known by some as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” has several superlatives to its name—including the oldest man-made object in Central Park, and the oldest outdoor monument in New York City. More than 3,000 years old, this timeless beauty towers 69 feet high and weighs a staggering 220 tons.

The hieroglyphics on the Obelisk’s surface are but a glimpse into its ancient history. It was one of two obelisks commissioned circa 1450 BCE to commemorate Pharaoh Thutmose III's 30th year of reign; each was carved from a single slab of quarried rose granite. They stood for 1,500 years before being toppled by war and left to ruin. In 18 CE, both obelisks were discovered, moved to Alexandria, and erected in front of Cleopatra’s Caesarium—earning the nickname that endures today. Limestone pedestals and bronze crabs were added to each corner.

After gifting one of the obelisks to London in 1878—where it still stands on the banks of the Thames—Egypt sold the second to the United States the following year. Its journey would mark a tremendous feat of engineering. From the banks of the Hudson River, the Obelisk made a 112-day trek to Central Park via a makeshift railroad system built for the occasion. It was finally turned upright on January 22, 1881 to great fanfare.

A time capsule buried beneath contains a 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of William Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. A small box was also placed in the capsule by the man who orchestrated the Obelisk’s purchase and transportation; to this day, its contents are unknown.

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Alexander Hamilton Monument

11) Alexander Hamilton Monument

Alexander Hamilton immortalizes one of America’s Founding Fathers—and one of New York City’s most distinguished residents. The statue, carved from solid granite by Carl H. Conrads, was donated to Central Park in 1880 by one of Alexander Hamilton’s sons, John C. Hamilton.

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton had many claims to fame; among them, his co-authorship of the Federalist Papers, his position as the first secretary of the treasury for the United States, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was also a notable New Yorker. Having first traveled to the City as an orphaned teen in pursuit of an education, he became a longtime resident of the Manhattan neighborhood now known as Hamilton Heights and ultimately built a country estate in Harlem called the Grange. After losing his life in a duel with political rival Aaron Burr in 1804, Hamilton was buried in Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church cemetery.

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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

12) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

The Reservoir is home to one of Central Park's most iconic running routes. Bill Clinton, Madonna, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis — for whom the Reservoir was named in 1994 — have all jogged the surrounding 1.58-mile track. Countless others have opted for a slower stroll around this vast man-made lake, with a historic fountain as its center and a classic backdrop courtesy of the Upper West Side skyline.

When it was built in the 1860s, it was the world's largest man-made lake. At 40 feet deep with a billion-gallon capacity, the Reservoir is more than just a pretty landscape. It originally served as a backup to the Croton water system’s Receiving Reservoir. Every day, hundreds of millions of gallons flowed from the Croton Aqueduct through three gatehouses — one on the south end and two on the north end — which still stand today.

Though the Reservoir provided an ample supply at the time, it's speculated that a modern-day New York City would drain the Reservoir in just one day. In 1993 the Reservoir was retired as a water source though it remains a destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike.

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