Central Park – Manhattan
Summer is in full swing here in Vancouver, and as the city’s parks continue to be dotted with people sun baking, picnicking or playing some sort of game or another I can’t help but reflect on the summer days I spent in NYC and more specifically in Manhattan’s Central Park.
I have fond memories of exploring the park with thousands of others at the weekend, as well as enjoying a quiet moment to myself after having found a shady nook to rest on an incredibly hot and humid New York summer’s day. With so many memories floating back I thought I would take this opportunity to write this week about Manhattan’s beloved and celebrated Central Park.
With beautiful lakes, lawns, gardens, fountains and playgrounds Central Park is the epitome of ‘the urban park’ and thanks to its proximity to the city it is a popular destination and gathering place for city residents and tourists alike.
A whole day could be easily spent walking aimlessly around Central Park’s grounds, no matter what the season. Indeed, every season brings with it a uniqueness that should not be missed: cherry blossoms in the spring, a mass of green in the summer, snow covered trails in the winter, and magnificent burnt orange and red leaves in the autumn.
Apart from the glorious seasonal changes the park boasts many great attractions of its own. They include: the reservoir (the largest of Central Park’s five lakes), Belvedere Castle (19th century stone castle), The Mall (walkway), Bethesda Fountain (the architectural centre of the park), The Ramble (wooded area), Strawberry Fields (a peaceful garden created by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon), the Central Park Zoo and the Central Park Carousel.
With so much to see, the best way to explore Central Park is on foot or by bike (which can be hired by the hour). There are a range of nature trails, pathways and cycle tracks throughout the park, which not only ensure excellent scenery but make for an enjoyable, leisurely stroll and or ride.
Another way to take in the lush view of Central Park’s landscape is by simply sitting beneath the branches of a shady tree, peacefully lounging and enjoying the park’s green surroundings. Speaking of lounging there are plenty of areas to rest within the park. Some 9000 benches line the park’s walkways, while expansive lawns and meadows provide the perfect place to stretch out and bask in the sun’s glory.
If hunger strikes, there are plenty of eating options dotted throughout the park. Most notably, The Loeb Boat House (featured in countless films), which offers diners a choice between an express café and more formal dining at the lakeside restaurant.
At the weekend the park gets extremely busy with foot traffic, horse drawn carriages and pedicab drivers. Therefore, be sure to walk further into the park where the crowd of people quickly disperses.
Prospect Park – Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is an incredibly beautiful and calming green space. As such it has become a popular landmark destination for locals and visitors alike.
The 585 acre parkland, which was designed and constructed in the 1860s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the same two men who were responsible for Manhattan’s Central Park), is filled with a diverse landscape of rolling hills, woodlands, lakes, meadows and open fields.
Dotted throughout the park are benches, picnic areas, baseball fields and playgrounds, as well as the Prospect Park Bandshell, which throughout the summer months hosts a variety of concerts through Celebrate Brooklyn. There are also several walking and hiking trails, bridal paths and a fantastic running and cycle track.
The park also contains a number of historic buildings (Lefferts House and Litchfield Villa), sandstone bridges and commemorative monuments. The Prospect Park Zoo and the recently opened LeFrank Centre (ice skating rink) can also be found within the park’s grounds.
Despite New York’s changing seasons, park goers enjoy a range of activities throughout the year. In the summer months when most of the city is out, the park is scattered with people picnicking, barbequing, playing football, baseball, frisbee, or simply stretched out on the lawns soaking up the rays.
Likewise, during the winter when the park is transformed into a snowfield of sorts, Brooklynites descend upon the park with ski’s and sleds in tow. A visit in autumn means the chance to see the magnificent change in colour of some 30,000 trees, whilst a visit in spring guarantees a stunning display of cherry blossoms and daffodils.
I absolutely adore Prospect Park, and Nick and I have been fortunate to live close enough to take advantage of it as often as we like. Two areas of the park that are particular favourites of mine are, the Nethermead Meadow where a range of festivals like Tropfest (short film festival) and Googamooga (food festival) are held throughout the year, and the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, which is opened Saturday’s year round and sells a huge array of farm fresh produce.
Whenever the time comes for Nick and I to leave NYC, I know we’re going to miss Prospect Park as it has been such a massive and wonderful part of our NYC experience.
High Line – Manhattan
This one time abandoned railroad, stands today as a bustling, elevated walkway and public park in lower Manhattan. As such it has become one of the city’s most popular destinations for visitors and locals alike.
It’s hard to believe that in the 90s such a now celebrated structure was once under the threat of demolition. That was until a team of passionate community residents got together, formed the group Friends of the High Line (1999), and with a lot of hard work and planning transformed the desolate track into a surprisingly tranquil green space.
Just under 2.5 kilometres the High Line runs for about 20 blocks, near the Hudson River from Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking District) to 34th street on Manhattan’s west side.
At present, visitors to the High Line can only walk up to 30th Street, as the third and final phase of the project (redeveloping the stretch of walkway between 30th street and 34th street) is still currently underway.
On a sunny day, a stroll along the High Line is an extremely pleasant way to pass the time. It is wonderfully calm and provides a welcomed break from the often chaotic streets of lower Manhattan.
It also provides a great and unique opportunity to see Manhattan’s skyline and the Hudson River from an elevated angle. Indeed, the walkways elevation means that visitors are able to walk above the streets, in between buildings and sneak peek into the tiny courtyards of the surrounding apartment blocks of the West Village.
A series of cleverly designed and positioned vantage points along the track also ensure that visitors are able to enjoy wide, unobstructed views of NYC.
Creative and environmental thinking have paved the way for benches, sun decks, art installations, water features and grassy areas, which fill up the old railroad, as does a narrow garden, which runs the entire length of the track. The High Line truly is a unique and wonderful use of space and the structures of an otherwise un-usable area.
Overall the High Line is a great place to visit, over and over again really. Each season brings with it a different feel and quality to be enjoyed.
In the summer, as well as open-air film screenings, talented buskers, market stalls and coffee carts, lush green vegetation stretches for as far as the eye can see. Come autumn the park’s trees become ablaze with magnificent reds and oranges, then as the winter sets in the foliage recedes and becomes dusted (sometimes coated) with snow.
The High Line is particularly busy at the weekend, therefore it’s best to come during the week when the space is freed up a bit. Access points (stairs and lifts) to the High Line are located every few blocks.
Washington Square Park – Manhattan
Washington Square Park is a beautiful green space located in the vibrant heart of Greenwich Village, amidst gorgeous brownstones, NYU buildings, specialty shops and small bistros.
The park is a popular spot to stop, sit on a bench, read a book and people watch for residents and visitors alike.
Indeed throughout the day the park’s benches are packed with resting tourists, studying NYU students, lounging locals and interesting New York characters, while the lawn is strewn with picnickers and sunbathers enjoying the Sun’s warm rays.
Not only does Washington Square Park offer a leafy, open space where one can find relief from the busy and often crowded streets of Lower Manhattan, it also provides visitors with a wide range of entertainment, intentionally or otherwise.
There are talented musicians, guitar-strumming buskers, aerobatic street performers, inspired artists, fearless squirrels and of course the resident pigeon feeders (who are for the most part covered from head to foot with a brood of hungry and pooping pigeons) entertaining passers by.
As well as that there are food carts, playgrounds for kids, fenced areas for dogs, and on the west side of the park there lies a battlefield for chess enthusiasts. There really is something for everyone at this neighbourhood park and as such it remains a flurry of activity, no matter what time of year it is.
The park was not always like this though. In fact, this particular plot of land has a long and rather sordid history. Starting life out as an estuary, the marshland was transformed into a burial ground, then to an area where public executions took place, and then a military parade ground before it officially opened as a public park in 1827.
There is little mention (in the form of monuments or plaques that is) of these former times, so generally visitors walk around the grounds blissfully unaware of what went on. There are however two prominent features of the park which get a lot of attention, they are of course the central water fountain and the Washington Square Arch.
The marble arch, which was built in 1892, honours George Washington (the man after whom the park is named) and has appeared in countless TV shows and films. It also nicely frames 5th Ave and the Empire State Building off in the distance (not captured here), which makes for an excellent photo.
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