Central Park's hidden gems

Glen Span Arch nicely represents the Victorian era

Glen Span Arch nicely represents the Victorian era during which Central Park was founded. (May 29, 2012) (Credit: Nancy Borowick)

Central Park is arguably the world's best-designed and most beloved public space. Completed in 1873, it was planned by Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux and has thrilled generations of New Yorkers and far-flung visitors with its majestic trees, fields, architecture and winding pathways.

But nearly every famous destination in the park, from the Zoo to the Sheep's Meadow and the Reservoir, is in its southern two-thirds. The upper slice of its 840 acres remains much less crowded on a summer weekend and contains myriad hidden gems that are both historically noteworthy and just plain fun. With summer nearly upon us, it's the perfect moment to explore the Central Park you haven't met yet (6 a.m.-1 a.m. daily, centralparknyc.org, 212-310-6600).

1. THE BLOCKHOUSE

Central Park's oldest building dates to an era even before Olmstead and Vaux transformed the area. The Blockhouse is a relic of the War of 1812, a stone fort built to defend against the British on a high rock outcropping. It's now enveloped by the peaceful North Woods, and you can still see the gunports soldiers used for spotting enemy troops.

2. POOL GROTTO & GLEN SPAN ARCH

Just below the main park roadway is a small, secluded waterfall leading into the riverlike Loch. Kissing couples sometimes perch on the boulders. The water descends through the blocky Glen Span Arch, which nicely represents the Victorian era in which the park was founded.

3. THE CONSERVATORY GARDEN

As manicured and elegant as the grounds of any DuPont or Rockefeller estate, this garden is separate from the rest of the park, and incredible treasures lie behind its iron gates. It's divided into three sections by style -- Italian, English and French -- and though the peak bloom season has passed, it's lushly green now and still dotted with roses and other flowers.

4. GREAT HILL

The Great Lawn and the Sheep's Meadow can be crowded; this is the perfect open meadow for picnicking and hanging out. You can still see the original circular path, now shaded by elm trees, that was used by carriages coming into the park. The surrounding woods contains private pockets of cut grass where you can read in peace.

5. HARLEM MEER FISHING

Did you know you can fish in Central Park? They're biting in the Harlem Meer. If you show up at the Charles A. Dana Center they'll give you a pole, bait and lessons, all for free. But it's catch-and-release, so don't plan on cooking what you hook.

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