It is a vibrant wooden matryoshka doll he is polishing that catches my eye as I walk. He sits hunched over his tidy little display of Russian nesting dolls, working with such concentration that even the somersaulting gymnast performing inches away doesn’t distract him. But I am distracted, first by the gymnast, then by a group of buskers singing in Spanish, then by one Mr Shakespeare who fights very hard not to blink, as a group of roller-blading children rush past! But then, it is easy to be distracted in one of the world’s most famous open-air public places, comprising over 843 acres of parkland, several acres of water bodies, a zoo, a conservatory garden, an ice-skating rink, a concert venue, innumerable sculptures, thousands of trees and a castle, all attracting nearly 40 million annual visitors: Central Park!
New York has always been a walking city, and is peppered with verdant gardens and parks. And as summer sets in, these green spaces are filled with locals and tourists enjoying their spot in the sun. And I am on a tour of the most popular parks in the city. I spend almost the entire day at Central Park, ambling, halting, paying homage at Imagine Mosaic (a tribute to New York resident John Lennon), in the park’s Strawberry Fields, and even playing a game of chess at the Chess & Checkers House. That evening, as I walk back after dinner to my hotel, located near the Columbus Circle, I pass Central Park again. It’s abuzz with joggers, children and families, music still emanating from somewhere in its woods. The best part of Central Park is that it reflects the true soul of the Big Apple – it lets one be. No questions asked, no eyebrows raised, no feathers ruffled.
The next day, I start with Bryant Park, situated in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, behind the New York Public Library’s main branch. A quick walking lunch from one of the omnipresent food trucks later, I enter the park and settle down for a spot of peoplewatching. For locals, it’s the go-to lunch site – men and women in formal wear taking a break on the lawns with sandwich in hand, and rushed commuters passing by.
Most of all, I enjoy my trek along one of New York’s most popular and distinctive parks – the beautifully landscaped High Line. Built on a once-abandoned elevated rail line, the green space offers unparalleled views of Manhattan’s far west side. I begin walking in Gansevoort St, making a small detour to the Chelsea food market, and then on the mile-long elevated track, above the gallery-filled neighbourhood, ending in the chic Meatpacking District. I enjoy the wild flowers and greenery that have been cultivated, the art installations ranging from quirky to serious, alongside fountains and benches for lounging.
Another tiny park I stop by is the Battery, a 25-acre waterfront hub of outdoor activity. As I walk along the park’s waterfront, I am entranced by the views of the Statue of Liberty, the shimmering skyline of Manhattan and the Hudson river.
Next, I head to Brooklyn Bridge Park on the shores of the East River, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan. The park features multiple piers. With rolling lawns, playgrounds, a spiral pool, a boat ramp, a restored vintage carousel (Jane’s Carousel) and pedestrian paths, this park is a pleasure to explore. I sit on a bench and watch the parade of boats floating by.
Across the water, the One World Trade Center stands proud against the brilliant cerulean sky, its glass facade reflecting mini-NYCs several times over. At a distance stands the Statue of Liberty, barely a speck from where I am, but its silhouette distinct nonetheless. I take in the iconic skyline, letting the spirit of New York sink in one last time.
The author is an avid traveller and the views expressed in the article are her own