As New York City's living, breathing verdant heart, Central Park, this manmade wonder pulses with life and activity and is the place to find locals at rest and at play. Located smack bang in the middle of Manhattan, this is the NYC version of the great outdoors.
Built on a former swamp, Central Park now boasts 24,000 trees, over 9,000 park benches, 36 bridges, 150 drinking fountains and 21 playgrounds as well as lakes, small ponds and a reservoir within the park's 340 hectares. From north to south or from 110th Street to 59th Street, the entire area is 4km in length and divided into different sections. Four sunken transverse roads allow traffic to pass through, and Park Drive loops around the perimeter where cars share space with joggers, bladers and cyclists.
To orient yourself in this vast space, there are five visitor centres located in the park including the Dairy at 65th Street. While you can always find an oasis of tranquillity among the seemingly endless amount of people and activities, there are some must-see destinations. Central Park Zoo is a small but perfectly formed menagerie of around 130 animal species including polar bears, penguins, snow leopards and monkeys. Don't miss the über-popular sea lion feeds. General admission is US$12 for adults and US$7 for kids aged three to 12. Strawberry Fields is the English-style garden area where you'll find the memorial to John Lennon who lived and died nearby, and the ornate, three-tiered Bethesda Fountain is a focal meeting spot in the park near the Lake and Loeb Boathouse. For wide, open spaces, Central Park even has its meadows as well as the Great Lawn, a lush, 22-hectare oval in the centre which hosts baseball diamonds and musical performances.
Free themed walking tours of Central Park are also available to unearth more hidden gems of this city treasure. There are plenty of pedestrian entrances off Fifth Avenue, Central Park North, Central Park West and Central Park South. Via subway, take the N, Q or R lines to Fifth Avenue – 59th Street to enter the park from the south.