Strolling Central Park, An Endless Walk

Strolling Central Park, An Endless Walk

Once home to more than 1600 residents, the area that is now Central Park spans 3.5 square miles, encompasses 843 acres, seven bodies of water, 1,400 species of flora, 58 miles of hiking trails, 29 sculptures, and stands on bedrock that had once been covered by glaciers measuring 1,000 feet deep.

Construction of this urban oasis took nearly two decades, following Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux winning a design competition held by the Board of Commissioners of The Central Park. Bringing their “Greensward” plan to fruition was a massive undertaking requiring tens of thousands of workers to complete. At the height of its construction (between 1859 and 1860) nearly 8,000 workers were hired, making Central Park one of Manhattan’s biggest employers.  

Transforming the craggy and swampy topography into Olmsted and Vaux’s vision required immense alterations to its terrain such as blasting through the bedrock with more gunpowder than was deployed in the Battle of Gettysburg. In only the first five years of construction, 2.5 million cubic yards of rock and dirt were moved to and from the area, including 500,000 cubic feet of topsoil from New Jersey necessary to sustain the proposed grass, trees, bushes and other vegetation.

Today, an estimated 42 million people visit Central Park every year. The park’s grounds hold endless possibilities for recreation, relaxation, education, and entertainment. A great way to enjoy the natural splendor of Central Park is by walking it. In fact, one could travel nearly 60 miles walking all of the paths of Central Park. It’s perfect for casual strolling with no planned route or destination.

However, to fully experience the many sites, structures, icons and historical elements of Central Park, its best to embark on either an organized or self-guided tour. Here are some suggestions:

Self-guided Tours

For the cinephile, the Central Park Movie and TV Tour will take you past many shooting locations for popular films including as Wall Street, When Harry Met Sally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Enchanted, The Avengers, and more.

TV buffs will recognize several spots made famous on the small screen, such as the Loeb Boathouse from Sex and The City and The Bethesda Terrace from shows such as Gossip Girl, Dr. Who, and The Amazing Race.

Maps and details and suggestions for this 90-minute tour will make it easy and fun to get a pop culture perspective on Central Park. Guided tours are also available.

For a longer stroll, this Essential New York City Guide self-guided walking tour guides you through 1.5 miles featuring many of the park’s iconic attractions and historically-significant locations.

This two-hour tour starts you off at the 72nd street entrance along the West side of the park (across from the Dakota building where John Lennon lived, and was tragically murdered). From there, you’ll pass through the park’s memorial to Lennon – Strawberry Fields –  the Sheep Meadow (famous for large-scale gatherings and events), The Mall’s walking path and famous literary statues, Bethesda fountain and terrace, The Lake and graceful Bow Bridge, and ultimately bring you to Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle which currently houses the New York Meteorological Society.

The Great Lawn and the walkway around the Reservoir are also excellent choices for walking. The Great Lawn is a 55-acre lush green lawn, which was once the Croton Reservoir, which became obsolete and was drained in 1931. It’s a wonderful place to relax, play games with the kids, stroll with a carriage, have a picnic, or sunbathe

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a beautiful body of water covering 100 acres, was a spot this former first lady – and President Bill Clinton – loved to jog around. Surrounding the reservoir is a dirt bridle path perfect for strolling, birdwatching, and running. This spot also offers spectacular views of the NYC skyline.

 

Guided Walking Tours

Central Park offers many guided tours which provide insight by licensed experts. Many of these tours are available not only in English, but other languages as well.

The Central Park Tour is available in either one or two-hour tours, and will introduce you to the history of Central Park, as well as many of its attractions. You may book it as a private tour and even choose where you want it to end.

Sunrise Yoga Tours offer a brisk walk to several scenic locations where participants will be led through various yoga stretches and postures. This one-hour tour/exercise routine begins at 59th Street and 5th Avenue.

For a journey through “the road less traveled,” take the two-hour  Hidden Secrets Tour through Central Park. You’ll get an insider’s view of the park which you might otherwise miss.

For the ultimate in photo opps, Central Park offers a Citifari Walking Tour where professional photographers and novices alike will have the opportunity to capture the park’s most photogenic spots. Be prepared to spend up to three hours and take a hundred shots.

The Gay History Tour will surprise and inform you about just how significant the park is to gay and lesbian history. You’ll gain a new perspective on many iconic landmarks while learning many interesting secrets tidbits in a fun and spirited 90-minute tour.

For a wintry holiday treat, join in a Holiday Sights Tour that is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Arrangements can be made for your own private tour as well. What a great way to celebrate that special time of year between November 15th and January 5th.

Hiking Trails

These tours provide more structured excursions through Central Park. To customize your own tour, research the attractions that interest you. With a myriad of choices from ancient artifacts commissioned by Pharaohs, to zoos, to waterfalls, to gondolas, arsenals, and more, you’re sure to create a custom adventure you’ll never forget.

Look for next week’s blog, “Bryant Park and Its Events.”