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A trip to New York doesn't have to be all about the bustle and bright lights of the worlds most photographed city and Battery Parks a prime example of how you can still appreciate the essence of Manhattan at a slower pace. Located at the southern most tip of lower Manhattan, Battery is the second largest public recreation ground, after Central park and downtown Manhattan's largest public open space. Part sandwiched between the dominating high risers of New York's financial district, an impressive skyline even now, after the drastic alteration caused by the collapse of the twin towers and part surrounded by the chilly waters of the harbour where the Hudson and east Rivers converge with the Atlantic ocean.
I think Battery is overlooked as a tourist destination in favour of more popular attractions. Many visitors only frequenting in brief to board the harbour ferries, however Battery is a destination in it's own right with plenty to keep the curious visitor occupied for a peaceful day of exploration. I was ignorant of the parks beauty before my first visit to New York but having now frequented many times over, I have yet to be disappointed by it's offerings and I never tire of of the magnificent views across the harbour, perfectly planted shrubs and flowers or stunning artwork and memorials within the grounds.
~~~~ Inside Battery ~~~~
The park is a sprawling mass of green only broken by the sweeping pathways curving through it's twenty five acres of flora, a stark contrast to the concrete metropolis of it's northern perimeter. The park also offers a full length promenade, providing spectacular views across the harbour to Statten, Ellis, Governors and Liberty islands and of course a glimpse of Lady Liberty herself. This southern tip of Manhattan has long been referred to as Battery with a history dating back to the native Americans and early Dutch settlers. Named after the artillery batteries that were positioned around the shore as a form of defence, Battery is considered to be the birth place of Manhattan.
The oldest park on the island is now a beautifully landscaped recreation facility serving tourists who visit with a gateway to the harbour's iconic landmarks of Liberty and Ellis Island, resident New Yorkers respite from the bustling city and a home for an abundance of wildlife, in particular sociable squirrels, adept at bin raiding or eating treats from your hand!. It never ceases to amaze me how tranquil city parks are and Battery is no exception. It's easy to forget you're in the heart of one of the busiest financial districts in the world as the background din of traffic carried from the FDR (Franklin D Roosevelt Drive) on the east and continual tooting of car horns and whirring of sirens are quickly forgotten. A reminder of your location only when an upward glance provides peeks through the trees of the concrete and steel structures that majestically tower above. Battery is not as big or diverse as Central Park but is equally as beautiful and interesting and no where near as daunting or confusing to navigate.
~ Castle Clinton ~
It's ironic that a building originally constructed to prohibit entry now annually permits in excess of three million tourists to enter it's structure. One of Manhattan's only remaining forts, once referred to as Castle Gardens is recognised as a national monument of historical importance and has undergone extensive restoration to restore it's original integrity. I don't think it's the grandest of buildings but it's lack-luster, masculine appearance is lifted by some nice architectural brick detailing, evidence that even two hundred years ago when the fort was built, designers wanted the structure to have a strong purpose and design interest. The one time fortification has assumed numerous roles over the years including an immigration processing centre (pre Ellis Island), entertainment complex, music hall and aquarium. Today Castle Clinton has shifted it's purpose once again, serving tourists as a rather splendid and unusual ticket office for harbour tours to both Ellis and Liberty islands and harbour cruises which depart from the ferry terminal just ahead along the promenade. The fort is usually teaming with tourists, particularly peak season but I've yet to see it too over crowded due to the large area it consumes. My one gripe with the site is it does seem to lack historical references I would expect to find on signage dotted around a building with such historical significance.
~ Exhibitions Of Art ~
When it comes to artistic displays I think Battery offers more per square acre than Central Park. If you've an appreciation of art and history then you won't be disappointed by displays as you traverse through the park. Following the pathways or strolling along the promenade will provide numerous points of interest. Traditional bronze statues and ornate stone memorials providing a focal point for reflection and sit in contrast to the more abstract creations with a modern influence.
There's a plethora of art exhibited throughout the park, some pieces fairly obvious with others requiring more an eager eye to spot but most acknowledging public, heroic and historic figures. You'll find a dedication of some description to almost every war America has been involved in but also a selection of more unusual pieces that include giant sized musical instruments whilst other art can be sought by inspecting the less obvious areas such as decorative handrails or along the promenade benches where sculpted life size figures gaze permanently across the harbour. Bronze and marble statues dedicated to early immigrants, war veterans and the like are exhibits that can be freely enjoyed by all but one sits unobtrusively near the park entrance by Bowling Green station and has more relevance to visitors today than any of the others displayed. Originally only temporarily sited at Battery, the Sphere, a bronze statue that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre as a monument of world peace now resides as a permanent memorial to those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 along with a small dedication plaque and eternal flame. Recovered from the carnage of ground zero damaged but still relatively intact, the Sphere has become a representation of resilience to New Yorkers and although I don't think it's in any way the most amazing piece of art work I've ever viewed, it's peaceful defiance is sobering.
A stoic but entertaining bunch are the applause hungry human statues. The highly decorated men and women have a tiresome job of remaining semi motionless and silent for hours on end every day to satisfy the tourists souvenir photographs and all they ask in return is a contribution to their collection box. I was actually amazed at how many selfish visitors failed to contribute even a few loose coins to their funds after a photo opportunity, the statues (who range from robots to the popular Statue Of Liberty) rather graciously but briefly show their annoyance before returning to their motionless poses. For a more traditional souvenir several street artists will happily draw your portrait for a fifteen minute pose and $10-$15 or for a more humorous re-creation of yourself visit the caricature artists for around the same price.
~ Battery Bosque ~
The park was gifted a much deserved rejuvenation in the form of the Battery Bosque (literally translated from Spanish to mean "forest or wooded area"). A three and a half acre area within the park, the bosque incorporates lit pathways and stone seating with a stunning array of trees, shrubs, ferns and ornamental flower borders with a main focal point of the landscaping being a circular ground fountain with thirty five illuminated jets bursting water upwards from beneath the ground, of which you are free to walk/run through, a popular attraction with children! The bosque offers a picnic kiosk and plenty of shaded seating areas with perfectly positioned benches where plants creep over their borders giving the impression that the seating is submerged into the planting area. It's an unassuming area of Battery that blends in perfectly with the rest of it's environment and really is one of the nicest areas to picnic, other than near the waterfront.
~ Nick Knacks And Tasteless Tat ~
There are usually several vendors selling various forms of art works, some more genuine than others. Small stalls are usually dotted around adorning "handmade" gifts with a gallery stall of reasonably priced prints in various sizes of New York scenes of interest and can often be found displaying near Castle Clinton along with the usual souvenir vendors offering much the same merchandise that can be found in every tourist tat shop throughout the city. Alas, for every genuine vendor there will always be an unscrupulous one ceasing the opportunity to exploit the unwitting tourist and the park and many surrounding streets is no exception. Illegal vendors selling tasteless "I've been to ground zero" style souvenirs are easily spotted with quick to construct (and dismantle) tables. Some will claim their "profits" go to charities others will claim their wears are "official". These people exploit tragedy for their own financial gain, selling tasteless, substandard memorabilia and although police have moved most on if you do see them avoid at all costs.
~ Hungry At The Harbour ~
There are usually plenty of hot dog, roasted honey nuts (a warm sugary smell that always reminds me of the city), pretzels and refreshment kiosks once inside the park, conveniently congregated in the more popular areas. For fine dinning there's the stunning Battery Gardens Restaurant with it's waterfront patio easily accessible from State Street just inside the park. To be honest unless you particularly want to make an occasion of it there's no shortage of eateries outside the park a hop, skip and jump away, catering for all tastes and budgets including a couple of fast food chains and restaurant/bars. Church Street offers several shops and eateries as does Broadway so if your eating out, your spoilt for choice. I tend to just have a snack from either the vendors or deli's during the day and eat away from the park for an evening meal.
~ Battery And Beyond ~
For most, myself included a trip to Manhattan wouldn't be complete without a visit to the famous landmarks of Liberty and Ellis Islands and to access both a trip to Battery is essential. The ferry terminal is located a short walk from the Bowling Green entrance, north of the park following the main footpath to Castle Clinton where tickets for the ferry can be purchased, alternatively reserve on-line to avoid ques during high season. Peak season and the promenade can become pretty congested with visitors queueing along the barrier to board the ferries, a wait only lengthened by the stringent security checks (the usual bag searching and the like) before you board. Ferries depart frequently, every twenty minutes or so and there's ample opportunity to visit the Statue of Liberty and the immigration depot, turned museum of Ellis Island. The short ferry crossing provides the chance to photograph the iconic lower Manhattan skyline with beautiful views of the park and harbour but even on a warm day the cool Atlantic breeze can be chilling so I would always take a light item of clothing to cover my arms.
The Staten Island ferry service, a main transportation artery for thousands of commuters to and from Manhattan, runs regular foot passenger ferries across the harbour to Staten Island for free and the ferry terminal is located at the far south of the park on Whitehall Street. The journey across the water takes around twenty minutes and is perfect if you want to explore further afield and for tourists like me who just want to ride the ferry for a chance to photograph the skyline from a slightly different angle! If your simply looking to make a round trip without exploring Staten Island you still need to disembark the ferry and re-board at the terminal!.
~~~~ Transportation To Battery ~~~~
Battery park is easily accessed by subway, bus (I have yet to ever use a bus in the city other than an open top tour so can't comment on prices or timetable) and foot. For those who are happy to part with a few extra dollars there is of course the infamous yellow cabs. On my last visit to the city I stayed at a hotel a stones throw from Times Square and akin to walking and exploring I ambled my way to the park in around an hour, my route taking me through Soho and into Tribeca (TRIngle BElow CAnal street), past the world trade centre site from which you are just a five or so minute walk from the park but thanks to the cities grid system navigating a different route is exceptionally simple.
Several subways are within a reasonable walking distance including Whitehall and South Street, located to the east of the park at the Staten Island ferry terminal but probably the most central and one I have favoured on my visits is Bowling Green because of it's close proximity to the centre of the park handily located on the parks northern perimeter on Broadway. The subway is a cheap and convenient mode of transportation across the city and if your planning numerous journeys then a Metro Card is your most cost effective option. Metro card can be purchased from numerous outlets including vending machines, subway booths and shops (lookout for the Metrocard stickers or poster in windows). Unlimited travel for a seven day period is around $30 but concessions are available.
~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~
Battery is one of my favourite areas of the city. The park is very picturesque, ornate in places but most of all it's clean, tidy and well maintained despite the huge numbers of New Yorkers and visitors who pass through it and it's also a safe environment for children, a testament to the ongoing work of the Battery Conservancy who are committed to the revitalisation and upkeep of the park. Battery is accommodating to large numbers of visitors, young and old with pathways spacious enough for buggies and wheelchairs.
Beautiful during the day but equally as stunning early evening. An evening harbour cruise will provide impressive views of the bright lights of the lower Manhattan Skyline and subtle lighting of the Statue Of Liberty. Early evening on the promenade provides picture perfect sunsets across the harbour and a much calmer ambiance to the park and indeed lower Manhattan. The New York weather is seasonally predictable with temperatures reaching an average high of 85 degrees in July and August and prone to high humidity with an average low of around two degrees in November and December and although freezing winds across the harbour make the park less hospitable even on a bitterly cold day Battery is still beautiful, particularly when mists drift across the harbour.
A stones throw from several museums, buildings of interest and Wall Street and in close proximity to Battery Park City to the north and the South Street Seaport to the south, a full day exploring the financial district could easily incorporate at least a half day at Battery. New York is a city I hold in high regard, that I have loved since I first visited many years ago so I'm always slightly bias towards it. Battery is just a small bite of the big apple but one worth taking. I honestly can't find a fault with Battery Park and it gets well deserved five stars from me!
*This review also appears on Ciao with accompanying photographs*