As it turns out, you don’t have to travel all the way to Germany or France to see a veritable castle — there are some very beautiful castles in the New York area as well.
In fact, there’s a magnificent castle nestled in one of the busiest and most well-known parks in the world.
New York City’s Central Park, the most visited urban park in the United States, which attracts over 40 million visitors each year, has its own castle. And no, this unique Central Park castle is neither ‘a fake,’ nor a modern copycat of older European castles.
It’s called Belvedere Castle, and it’s one of Manhattan’s best-kept secrets.
The Gothic structure was built back in 1872, and designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould — the architectural duo responsible for most of Central Park as we know it today.
It didn’t serve as home to royalty of any kind, but did house the New York Meteorological Observatory for a few decades. It was later renovated and opened to the public for tours.
And just in case you have some questions before you schedule a visit, we thought we’d provide you with the answers.
Does anyone live in Belvedere Castle?
The name, Belvedere, means ‘beautiful view’ in Italian, and this castle certainly offers just that.
The Gothic-meets-Romanesque structure is situated atop Vista Rock, the second-highest point in Central Park, so visitors can enjoy stunning views of this New York City green oasis.
The castle housed the New York Meteorological Observatory from 1919 up until the 1960s, when the organization moved to Rockefeller Center.
After that, it fell into neglect for many years, and became a common target for Central Park vandals.
Fortunately, it was eventually renovated in the early 1980s, and then again in 2018, and it’s now a public attraction open to visitors and New Yorkers alike.
Nobody lives in the Central Park castle, but the imposing structure does house several exhibit rooms and an observation deck.
What is Belvedere Castle famous for?
You might ask yourself, ‘why was Belvedere Castle built?’ What on earth do castles have to do with glitzy Manhattan?
Belvedere Castle was built as a major architectural attraction right in the heart of Central Park in Manhattan, bringing an Old World touch to the sprawling park that anchors one of the most modern cities in the world.
Visitors flock to the park to breathe in some fresh air and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, and usually Belvedere Castle is on their itinerary.
The castle sitting atop the Vista Rock provides incredible views of the park, is a popular selfie-taking spot, and offers a glimpse of old Manhattan.
The structure itself was constructed using Manhattan schist quarried in the park and dressed with gray granite. The materials used and the Gothic-like design give it an authentic castle look to rival the bigger castles and palaces across the pond.
Fun fact: while the Meteorological Observatory moved out of the property long ago, immediately south of the castle you’ll still find the current weather station in Central Park, an Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS).
Can you go inside Belvedere Castle?
Belvedere Castle was left vacant and neglected for years after the departure of the New York Meteorological Observatory.
However, after extensive renovations, the castle was transformed into a popular visitor center complete with a gift shop.
Nowadays, it’s a popular spot for tourists and New Yorkers alike, who want to enjoy beautiful views of Turtle Pond, the Ramble, and Great Lawn.
During opening hours, visitors can go even higher and access additional terraces to get an even better view of the park.
Where exactly is Belvedere Castle located?
The castle in Central Park was constructed on top of the 130-foot Vista Rock, the second-highest point in the park, named after Summit Rock which rises more than 140 feet above ground.
Because of the height of the rock, the designers decided it would be a great location for Belvedere Castle, which was intended to be nothing more than a lookout tower overseeing the park.
The original lookout tower was even called an ‘eye sore’ by the New York Herald Tribune, as it was designed as a ‘Victorian Folly,’ according to early designs drawn up in 1859.
Luckily, the designs kept evolving and the designers ultimately came up with the castle as we know it today.
It was designed in such a way that it looks like it’s emerging from the rock, as if it was an extension of the rock itself — similar to the design of the infamous Bran Castle in Romania, otherwise known as Dracula’s castle.
The castle is best observed in all of its glory from the shores of Turtle Pond, another popular tourist spot spanning two acres just south of the Great Lawn in Central Park.
Are there events held at Belvedere Castle?
The designers envisioned the Belvedere Castle as a ‘folly,’ having no windows or doors to allow people to take in the views of the park.
The latest renovation effort in 2018 replaced all windows with clear pane glass panels, to allow natural light into the castle and let people enjoy the views as the designers originally intended.
However, the Belvedere is not just a popular selfie-taking spot and lookout tower for Central Park visitors.
In fact, it hosts various events throughout the year now.
Family programs, community events, talks, performances, exhibitions, and sports events — these are just some of the events that one can enjoy at Belvedere Castle.
For instance, the castle served as the finish line for a New Year’s Eve bike ride starting in Washington Square Park, and hosted a scavenger hunt organized by the Museum of the City of New York.
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