The second most-visited tourist attraction in America and the most-visited urban park in America can be found in the Big Apple’s core, Central Park, which receives over 40 million annual visitors. These 843 acres take up 6 percent of Manhattan’s total acreage, the size of roughly 16 billion New York apartments. It opened in 1857 and has become famous for being a spacious green escape from all of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, offering lawns, paths, gardens, a family-friendly zoo and picturesque lakes, which were designed for a nice afternoon stroll, a bike ride, skating, rowing a boat and taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Consider digging a little deeper into the park’s history by taking a free guided tour from Central Park Conservancy Guided Tours.
It was designed by, arguably, the most famous landscape architect of all time, Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted also worked on the landscape surrounding the US Capitol Building, the National Zoo in DC, the Biltmore (America’s largest home) in Asheville, NC, Niagara Falls State Park and at universities including Cornell and Yale.
As with the 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Times Square post, you may already know some of these items, but hopefully you’ll pick up a few new facts.
1. They offer a variety of free annual concerts, ranging from newbies to the best in the business at Central Park Summerstage. The biggest and baddest free concert series is the annual Good Morning America concert series at Rumsey Playfield, where past performers include Mariah Carey, Demi Lavato, Selena Gomez, Ne-Yo, Alecia Keys, Kenney Chesney and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Or you can stay classical with the Metropolitan Opera in the Parks and Philharmonic in the Parks. They even have a free summer event called Shakespeare in the Park.
2. The park includes seven water bodies totaling 150 acres and there’s 136 acres of woodlands and 250 acres of lawns. Jog through 58 miles of walking paths, admire 36 historic bridges and arches and enjoy the fresh oxygen from all 26,000 trees on site.
3. Central Park was the first public landscaped park in all of the United States.
Ladies, would you like some nuts? 4 nuts anyone? Don’t go nuts.. just buy some nuts!
5. There’s one restaurant located within Central Park and it is called Loeb Boathouse. It’s been a NYC tradition since it first opened it’s doors in 1954. Dine with a view of butterflies and a variety of bird specimen, along this famous lake, where people are welcome to rent rowboats, or even take a ride in an authentic Venetian gondola. In fact, it’s the only Manhattan venue that’s right on a lake. They offer everything from a sit down restaurant to a quick express cafe, with their restaurant offering culinary treats such as Atlantic Monkfish for $28 or an Herb Roasted Filet Mignon Cob Salad for $28. They also have an assortment of vegetarian dishes, such as the sesame-tofu-filled Roasted Trumpet Royale Mushrooms for $24.
They used to have another restaurant called Tavern on the Green, which was the second-highest-grossing restaurant in America (Behind the Las Vegas Venetian’s TAO), raking in $38 million a year! This restaurant closed at the end of 2009 and was converted into a public visitor center and gift shop, retaining the same name. They (ironically) filed for bankruptcy and the New York Times actually tried to get to the bottom of it all. More recently, Donald Trump, who completed and operates Central Park’s Wollman Rink, actually proposed to remodel and reopen this restaurant, but plans never quite made their way off the ground. Personally, I would have liked to have seen it called “Trump’s Tavern on the Green” and watched The Donald turn this restaurant into a meg-success that even out does TAO, but it looks like that won’t be happening any time soon.
6. The park has a total of 29 well crafted sculptures, with the most popular being the 1959, bronze, 11-foot tall Alice in Wonderland themed one. What makes this sculpture so unique is that children are actually invited to climb all over it and make themselves right at home on this picture-perfect jungle gym.
7. The 6.5-acre Central Park Zoo opened in 1934 and has grown to include over 1,400 animals, including sea lions, snow leopards, Antarctic penguins and polar bears. It’s one of 5 NYC zoos and it’s not the biggest, but it does tend to be the most convenient for most tourists.
8. Over 9,000 wooden benches dot the massive park, with about a third having have been “adopted” by park-goers and it’s interesting to take a closer look to see what each decided to write in their alloted 120-characters.
9. Head through the Shakespeare Garden on your way to Belvedere Castle, which was built in 1889 as an outlook with three open-air terraces and nature kits children can borrow to do some exploring in the castle’s dominion. Kids can check out the weather monitor on the second floor and spy the wind-measuring equipment at the top of the tower, which is a bona fide weather station, as it has been since 1919. This historic castle offers the best and highest views in all of the park.
Carriage ride, anyone?
10. The lamp posts (the giant, tall-and-skinny ones – not the decorative ones) throughout Central Park actually serve as a navigational tool to prevent people from getting lost. The posts display white spray-painted numbers that correspond to the nearest street. For instance, if you’re near 72nd Street on the West Side, the poles will read “W72.” The lamps themselves also recently underwent an eco-friendly makeover as they successfully installed nearly 1,600 LED lights in Central Park, a move intended to reduce energy usage by more than 60 percent and save the park almost $30,000.
11. The wild animals aren’t just in the zoo. The Central Park Zoo may offer an easier way to spot them, but it’s not the only place in the park you’ll find wild animals. Those murky ponds that you’re rowing around in are home to everything from largemouth bass, carp, and sunfish to snapping turtles, crayfish, and frogs. If you’re into bird watching, keep an eye out for geese, ducks, herons, egrets, and even swans during colder months. Central Park actually sits along the Atlantic Flyway migratory route, so birders form around the world come here to spot the nearly 300 species of native and exotic birds that either live in the park or stop by during their migrations. Where furrier animals are concerned, raccoons, squirrels, and bats all stake their claim here, but big cats and coyotes have also been spotted roaming the park. It’s hard to believe that cayotes are really living next door to the Plaza Hotel but it is indeed true.
12. Many actually say that the park is quite haunted, with Victorian sisters haunting the park, but the most widely accepted ghost story is that of The Dakota. Located on the outskirts of Central Park (72nd and Central Park West), is a private apartment building which has been home to countless stars such as Judy Garland and John Lennon and is actually thought to be haunted. Supposedly, in the ‘60s, the ghost of a young man was seen by some construction workers, and the apparition of a girl dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing was spotted by painters several years later. John Lennon, who was murdered outside the building, his former home, and whose Imagine tribute is just steps away, is also rumored to haunt the area. Consider learning more from the Ghosts of New York Walking Tour.
13. Go for a dip in Central Park’s ice skating rink cum pool, Lasker Rink and Pool. In the winter it is used for skating and in the summer it is a huge public swimming pool.
Central Park has 26 ballfields!
16. This one park actually has a total of 30 tennis courts, 21 playgrounds, one carousel and two ice-skating rinks.
17. Some of the park’s most historical items include a 3,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk, which is often referred to by its nickname, Cleopatra’s Needle, and it’s the oldest man-made artifact in Central Park. At 71 feet high and weighing about 200 tons, this official NYC landmark can be found right behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park’s oldest building is the Blockhouse, and while it may not look like anything special, it is the only remaining fortification of the many like it that were built in 1814 to defend against the British. The stone structure once had a sunken wooden roof and mobile cannon and, today, is empty, roofless, and locked up. Then, the park’s oldest sculpture is a bronze, taxidermy-inspired piece depicting eagles devouring their prey and was cast in Paris in 1850 by Christophe Fratin.
What a view.
18. 1970 became a rather unlucky time period in the history of Central Park with growing crime rates, acts of vandalism and a decline in visitors. Central park became more of a desolate waste than a retreat. Luckily, The Central Park Conservancy was formed in 1980 and a $50 million renovation was underway, with many safety measures implemented. Yet still, in 1989 a young woman was brutally attacked and raped. The assault turned most people’s fears into reality. Still the park bounced back. More than 200 movies have been filmed in the park and it’s frequented by tourists and residents alike.
19. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, America’s largest art museum, is actually located within Central Park and features a permanent collection of over 2 million works of art. The museum’s collection was moved several times to different locations around Central Park to accommodate a growing number of exhibits that have grown 20 fold throughout museum’s history. See paintings by the masters, such as Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Renoir, Degas and Rembrandt.
20. Automobiles are prohibited on the drives after 7:00 pm at night, and on weekends. Walkers and bikers shall rejoice.. well, until they go looking for a taxi!
Did any of those really surprise you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!