My kind of place: One of the most revered New York landmarks, the city's green oasis is full of life and attractions, writes Kipat Wilson.
Central Park in New York is the core of the Big Apple
Why Central Park?
Completed in 1873, Central Park is a great, green, man-made wonder that attracts 38 million visitors a year. For Manhattanites, it's a vital lung and de-stressing chamber that also stages a formidable programme of cultural events. Travellers, meanwhile, are surprised to find that a huge, leafy island with lakes, woods and gardens has somehow survived at the heart of this intense metropolis. Safe, civilised and well run, Central Park is a happy place loaded with surprises, from a 3,500 year-old Egyptian obelisk to roller discos in Skate Circle, and heaps of turtles sunbathing on the rocks in Turtle Pond. What's more, a trip here counts as sightseeing.
A comfortable bed
For a stupendous, never-to-be-forgotten view of Central Park from end to end, check into one of three Tower Suites at The Carlyle (www.rosewoodhotels.com; 001 212 744 1600). Set on the 27th-31st floors of this landmark Upper East Side hotel, they cost US$9,753 (Dh35,823) per night. Just a block from the park, this art deco grande dame opened in 1930, and remains a pinnacle of old-school elegance, complete with uniformed staff in white gloves operating the elevators.
On the Upper West Side, The Excelsior (www.excelsiorhotelnyc.com; 001 212 362 9200) sits beside the American Museum of Natural History, with 200 traditionally furnished rooms from $208 (Dh764). Budget travellers should head for the Jazz on the Park hostel (www.jazzhostels.com; 001 212 932 1600), which enjoys a privileged location close to the north-west corner of the park, with shared rooms from $66 (Dh242).
Find your feet
Stretching for four kilometres, Central Park offers an astonishing variety of landscapes, from the sporty grasslands of Sheep Meadow (where sheep grazed until 1934) to the caves, boulders and twisting paths of The Ramble. To get its full measure, rent a bike from Bike and Roll (www.bikenewyorkcity.com), which has two outlets in the south-west corner, then follow the one-way cycle lanes - a complete circuit is around 9km. Maps are available from four visitor centres, and there's plenty of information at www.centralparknyc.org, where you can download an official app and find out about numerous guided and self-guided tours.
Meet the locals
Lovers, joggers, tramps, birdwatchers, school art classes, family picnics, baseball practice - Central Park offers terrific people-watching. It's a sociable whirl where you'll soon end up taking someone's photo for them, chatting to out-of-towners in the queue to rent a rowing boat or discussing the relative merits of honeycomb versus banoffee ice cream.
Don't miss the great family sporting spectacle on the Great Lawn - or if you want peace, the farther north that you go, the quieter and more rural it gets. Central Park isn't just for humans - its 341 hectares attracts migrating birds, while the residents at the popular zoo (www.centralparkzoo.com) include penguins, snow leopards and red pandas.
To get closer to the soul of this magnificent urban playground, lie down on the grass with a copy of Central Park: An Anthology (Bloomsbury, $16 [Dh59]), with stories from leading writers such as Paul Auster and Jonathan Safran Foer.
Book a table
Opened in 1954, the charming Loeb Boathouse (www.thecentralparkboathouse.com) looks onto a leafy boating lake, and provides a free shuttle-bus service for diners visiting at night. The excellent fare includes grilled swordfish ($33 [Dh121]) and roasted Amish chicken ($32 [Dh118]), but make sure to reserve well ahead. You can also get a full meal at the family friendly Le Pain Quotidien at Mineral Springs (www.lepainquotidien.com), where the menu includes organic soup ($6 [Dh22]) and elaborate salads from $12 (Dh44).
You won't have to go far to find stalls and kiosks selling ice creams, snacks and cold drinks, while Epicerie Boulud (www.epicerieboulud.com) and Marché Madison (www.marchemadisonvin.com) are good places to stock up for a fancy picnic.
The gift shop at the Dairy Visitor Center (mid-park at 65th Street) sells books, guides, maps and DVDs about the park and its wildlife, along with toys, Frisbees and souvenir ties, scarves, sweatshirts and even babywear.
What to avoid
Getting lost. Many visitors do, but there's a simple solution: look at the numbers on the lampposts. The first two will indicate the nearest cross street, while the last two show if you're on the east (odd numbers) or west (even) side of the park.
Strawberry Fields, a peace garden and memorial to John Lennon, who lived in the nearby Dakota Apartments until his murder in 1980. His ashes were scattered in Central Park after his cremation.
Etihad Airways (www.etihad.com) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to New York in 12 hours, from Dh8,565 return including taxes.
For more information see www.nycgo.com.
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