Central Park, which celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2013, is many things to its 25 million yearly visitors -- an indispensable playground, a heart-stopping view from on high, a spirit-lifting morning walk. The Central Park Conservancy has taken giant steps in rebuilding the Park's 843 acres, and reviving the art of groundskeeping. Many restoration projects are complete, the lawns are greener and the Park is more beautiful and popular than ever.
Belvedere Castle (79th St. south of the Great Lawn, 212-772-0210) - This famed, whimsical landmark is within sight of the Delacorte Theatre (summer home of the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival.) The Henry Luce Nature Observatory at Belvedere Castle is a permanent interactive exhibit focusing on how to observe, record, and identify the plants and wildlife that exist in Central Park's rich and diverse natural habitats. Bethesda Terrace (mid-Park at 72nd St.) - Reconstruction has restored the Victorian stonework and steps to the acre-sized esplanade. Carousel (mid-Park at 64th St., 212-879-0244) - Nostalgic turn-of-the-century merry-go-round open daily, weather permitting. Central Park Zoo (64th St. & Fifth Ave., 212-439-6500; centralparkzoo.com) - From a steamy rain forest to an icy Antarctic penguin habitat, the zoo features natural tropical, temperate, and polar environments with dozens of fascinating animals, from leafcutter ants to polar bears, plus monkeys, sea lions, and cute penguins. Open daily; call for hours. The Conservatory Garden (Fifth Ave. near 105th St.)?- A lush and dazzling six-acre garden. The Dairy (mid-Park at 65th St., 212-794-6564) - The main visitor information center, set in a vintage Victorian Chalet. Horse-and-Carriage Rides (212-736-0680) wait on the Central Park So./59th St. side of the Park. Sheep Meadow (66th to 69th Sts. on the west side of the park) is a lush, 15-acre quiet zone open for passive play and skyline admiring. Strawberry Fields (71st to 74th St. near Central Park West)?- A?2.5-acre International Garden of Peace dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre (enter at Central Park West & 81st St., 212-988-9093) - Shows for the general public. Call for current schedule. Tisch Children's Zoo (Fifth Ave. btw. 64th &?65th Sts., 212-439-6500)?- This wildlife center echoes and reinforces the pastoral landscape of Central Park by creating a rustic Enchanted Forest with soft paths and native plantings. Youngsters will love the bewitching area, which suddenly unfolds into a magical place filled with birds flying freely overhead, contained in a virtually invisible net suspended in the trees, and a petting zoo.