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Central Park in Winter: A Walk to Belvedere Castle

The winter has been mild so far in New York City, so nothing should stop us from getting outside and stretching the legs. Especially if a castle is involved. Belvedere Castle, located in a busy area of Central Park, serves as a fine destination for a winter walk. Aside from feeling like the final destination of an epic quest (never mind taking a subway to get here), the castle has been recently renovated. No longer a drafty castle, the building is now pleasantly equipped with indoor heating. So, no matter how windy and cold the walk, there’s the promise of warm castle rooms at the end of the journey.

Approaching Belvedere Castle from Turtle Pond

When Central Park was taking shape at the end of the Civil War,  a rocky cliff near the 79th Street traverse presented an aesthetic challenge. In A Description of the New York Central Park (1869), writer Clarence Cook noted the summit “continued to be an eye-sore, and by no means the satisfactory terminus to the walks of this portion, it was felt, ought to be.”

Belvedere Castle in winter light





The original planners of Central Park, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted always thought of guiding the visitor to scenes of the picturesque, or in the case of The Ramble just to the south, rustic views. To beautify the ugly rocky outcropping of schist rock, Vaux devised a diminutive Norman-Gothic castle to go on top. It was mainly for show and to provide something to enjoy at the end of a walk. In architecture terms, this type of building is called a “folly.”

Belvedere Castle, an architectural folly in Central Park

A Description of the New York Central Park (1869)
In earlier days, Belvedere Castle looked out on the Old Croton Reservoir, a spot now occupied by the Great Lawn. Down below is Turtle Pond, named for its numerous resident turtles. A good way to enjoy visiting the castle is to walk around the pond and then up a gently graded walk. The main floor houses a small visitor center and gift shop. There are no restrooms, by the way.


View of Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle

For the highest views, walk up the narrow winding stairs to access the upper floor terraces. Be mindful of those coming down. The recent renovations have tidied up the previous deterioration. As one would expect, a castle is heavy maintenance, no matter how small. The new windows are exceptionally bright and clear.

View of terraces at Belvedere Castle and Central Park West. To the right - Delacorte Theater, home to Shakespeare in the Park.

Nearby is the Delacorte Theater, home to Shakespeare in the Park, and the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. To extend the walk, stroll down the western steps of the castle to the Shakespeare Garden and enjoy the garden views from one of the many rustic benches.

View of Belvedere Castle from the Shakespeare Garden

The garden is an excellent place to spy the changes of the season, and on a recent visit, many snowdrops were popping out of the dirt, delighting passersby. I think I saw little yellow blooms on a  sun-facing forsythia shrub, but I could have been day-dreaming after my visit to the castle.

A rustic bench in the Shakespeare Garden. The building in the distance is the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.




From here, it’s an easy walk back to the subway and the city. If you’re not thrilled to return to the 21st century just yet, the American Museum of Natural History is a stone’s throw away.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Wednesday, January 29, 2020.





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