N, Q, R at Fifth Ave.-59th St.; 1, A, B, C, D at 59th St.-Columbus Circle; 6 at 110th St.; B, C at Cathedral Pkwy./110th St.; 2, 3 at Central Park North/110th St.
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Stretching from Midtown to Harlem, Central Park's green hills, rocky bluffs, and dense woodlands annually host countless free diversions, from concerts and protests to tai chi and tennis. Work on the first major park built in America began in 1858, when Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a public competition for its design. Fifteen years and 14 million dollars later, the city's bucolic playground was unveiled. While the park has seen its share of ups and downs—shantytowns sprang up during the Depression; crime blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s—the Central Park Conservancy has assured its present-day beauty after a renovation that included architectural restoration; regreening and horticultural upkeep; special programs; and increased security. In its renewed state, 58 miles of pedestrian pathways lead 25 million visitors around such cinematic scenes as the placid reservoir, perpetually fringed with joggers; skaters speeding through cones or wheel-dancing near the bandshell; couples and families paddling the lake by the Loeb boathouse; youngsters tossing Frisbees and soaking up rays in Sheep Meadow; and baseball fans shagging flies in two dozen ballfields. Such harmonic beauty has earned the Park cameos in more than 200 films. Without such splendor, New Yorkers would hardly be able to tolerate the rest of Manhattan's concrete grip.Bethesda Terrace, Fountain and Mall
Overlooking the Lake, Bethesda Terrace is one of the most popular parts of the park. Visitors to the structure's upper terrace can look across the Lake to the Ramble. The area's signature fountain, "Angel of the Waters," is a common meeting place and was the only sculpture commissioned as part of the original design. Mid-park at 72nd St.
Also known as Cleopatra's Needle, this 71-foot, 244-ton Egyptian monument was created in 1500 B.C. and presented to the City in 1881. It's part of a pair—the other one was sent to London. It took less than a century of New York air pollution to dramatically erode the ancient hieroglyphics. But it's the oldest thing you'll find in the park that isn't located inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Central Park Conservancy sponsors a variety of free, volunteer-led walking tours, which take place rain or shine and do not require reservations. For schedule information, call 212-360-2741 or visit centralparknyc.org.
Central Park has plenty of possibilities for weddings, but permits are required for parties with more than twenty guests (call 212-408-0226); a permit is recommended even for those with fewer people. The Bethesda Terrace has a fountain and looks across the lake. Cherry Hill has a smaller fountain surrounded by cherry trees that bloom in the spring. The Conservatory Garden’s three gardens, at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, are in bloom from early spring through late October; a permit for this spot costs $400, plus $100 for photography, and the time must be reserved. Much of the fee goes toward preserving and maintaining the park.