Jutting out at the southernmost point of Manhattan, tree-filled Battery Park is a respite from the narrow, winding, and (on weekdays) bustling streets of the Financial District. Even if you don't plan to stay for long, carve out a few minutes of sightseeing time to sit on a bench and take in the view, which includes the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On clear days you can see all the way to Port Elizabeth's cranes, which seem to mimic Lady Liberty's stance; to Governors Island, a former Coast Guard installation now managed by the National Park Service; a hilly Staten Island in the distance; and the old railway terminal in Liberty State Park, on the mainland in Jersey City, New Jersey. Looking away from the water and toward Lower Manhattan's skyscrapers, there's a feeling that you're at the beginning of the city, and a sense of all the possibility it possesses just a few blocks in.
The park's main structure is Castle Clinton National Monument, the ticket office site
and takeoff point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This monument was once 200 feet off the southern tip of the island located in what was called the Southwest Battery, and was erected during the War of 1812 to defend the city. (Its sister fort, Castle Williams, sits across the water on Governors Island.) As dirt and debris from construction were dumped into the harbor, the island expanded, eventually engulfing the landmark. Later, from 1855 to 1890, it served as America's first official immigration center (Ellis Island opened in 1892).
Inside Battery Park are several monuments and statues, including Fritz Koenig's The Sphere, which for three decades stood on the plaza at the World Trade Center as a symbol of peace. Damaged but still intact after the towers collapsed, the sculpture was installed in Battery Park and will remain there indefinitely.
To the west is the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and to the east is Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, with its flat, tidy lawn and wide benches from which to view the harbor or the stream of runners, cyclists, and skaters on the promenade.