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Model sailboats ply the Conservatory Water, an area popular with families in Manhattan's Central Park. (Photograph by Stan Honda, Getty Images)

Sailing Through Central Park

Central Park is the ultimate Manhattan playground. Here’s where to go and what to do in this 843-acre family-friendly wonderland.

The scoop: Once a large swamp, now a picturesque 18-acre lake and stopover point for herons, egrets, and other migrating birds in spring and fall.

What to do: Rent a rowboat at the Loeb Boathouse ($15 an hour), and head out for some pleasantly aimless rowing. Borrow binoculars at Belvedere Castle.

The scoop: No, the zebras and lions of Madagascar don’t really live here. But there are 130 species ranging from red pandas to penguins. A pair of snow leopard cubs—the first ever to be born at the zoo—celebrated their first birthday in June.

What to do: Time your entrance or exit to the half hour, when the mechanical bronze animals rotate atop the musical Delacorte Clock just outside the zoo’s main gate. The 44 songs that play throughout the day change seasonally.

The scoop: “Here’s flowers for you,” wrote Shakespeare in The Winter’s Tale, and in 1913, the commissioner of Central Park returned the sentiment, dedicating this traditional English garden to the Bard of Avon.

What to do: Many of the plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays make an appearance here. Look for sweet marjoram to cowslip to roses (by any other name).

  • Fun fact: Central Park’s architects, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, planted all but a few of the park’s trees. Even the hills and streams were built from scratch.

This piece, written by Chris Bonanos, appeared in the June/July 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.