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Walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge

A classic and very popular thing to do in New York City is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Did you know, though, that you can also walk across the Manhattan Bridge?

The river cuts through the picture diagonally, with the two bridges, both suspension bridges, crossing it. the rest of the picture is filled with a city view of lots of buildings of various sizes.
In this view from the new World Trade Center tower, you can see both bridges. the Manhattan Bridge is the upper one and the Brooklyn Bridge is the lower one.

When I was in New York recently, intent on keeping to a tight budget, I checked my own post about budget things to do in New York City, and decided to take a walk across both bridges.

Pinnable image: Text: Walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge. Image: Support towers from each bridge. Above: The metal Manhattan bridge. Below: the stone Brooklyn Bridge.

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The bridges are right next to each other, relatively speaking. Both are suspension bridges and connect Manhattan to Brooklyn. They both have walking and bicycling paths. But that’s where the similarities end.

The Manhattan Bridge

It was a Saturday morning, and I started on the Manhattan Bridge, headed for Brooklyn.

Looking up at the support tower, only half of which is visible because the roadway above blocks the rest. It is gray metal and has an arch in the middle and x's between the vertical and horizontal beams. Large white cables extend from the top of the structure and reach out of view at the top of the photo. Thick grey metal cables run vertically down the picture, attached to the cable above and, presumably, the roadway below, though that is not visible in the photo. Bright blue sky behind.
One of the support towers of the Manhattan Bridge

According to Wikipedia, Manhattan Bridge was completed in 1909, originally with only one level. It held car traffic in both directions as well as trolley tracks, soon replaced by subway tracks. In 1922, the upper level was added.

Today, both levels accommodate traffic, while only the lower level carries subway tracks. In the early 2000’s two more paths were added: one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists. The bridge has needed lots of repair over the last 100 years, mostly due to the wear and tear of the subway trains rattling across it.

Following the walking route from Chinatown that Google maps presented to me, I ended up on the southwest side of the bridge. It turns out that the southwest side is reserved solely for pedestrian traffic, while bicycles are relegated to the northeast side only.

Walking across the Manhattan Bridge

Before even entering the bridge’s pedestrian path, I stopped briefly at the Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association, a moment of peace in the frenzy of Lower Manhattan. You’ll find it on the left as you face the bridge, before the big Bridge Arch and Colonnade that spans the entrance to the bridge.

Inside the Mahayana Buddhist temple

Walking across the Manhattan Bridge was a pleasant experience on a Saturday morning, except when subway trains passed. The video below gives you an idea of how loud they are. What it can’t show is that the whole structure shakes when they pass.

It made me a bit nervous at first, but I got used to it. When a subway car was not passing, the noise subsided considerably to the usual dull roar of New York City and the whoosh of the cars zipping by to my left and on the upper roadway.

I had the path practically to myself, only encountering an occasional jogger or walker, as you can see in the last frames of the video.

A view down a Chinatown street from the Manhattan Bridge. Multistory brick buildings line the sides, some painted in bright colors, traffic down the center. Shop signs in Chinese.
a view into Chinatown

The first part of the bridge is sloped upwards, of course, and rises above the city streets of Chinatown. It gives an unusual view, so that architectural elements you’d normally have trouble seeing are much nearer by.

A view of three buildings from about the height of their rooflines. The nearest is brown stone bricks. The top row of windows have arches above them, with a fan sculpture inside each arch. Between the windows, where the arches' bottoms meet, are sculptures of faces. The other two buildings are red brick, with lighter carved stone elements above the windows.
Notice the sculptural details above and between the top windows.

Since the path is on the southwest side of the bridge, you can’t get a view of the whole city from here. Instead, you only get lower Manhattan’s cluster of skyscrapers, including the new World Trade Center. The midtown skyscrapers aren’t visible because the bridge’s structure blocks the view.

In the foreground, the river, with one of the Brooklyn Bridge's support towers and about half the bridge visible. Behind that, lots of skyscrapers, mostly in rectangles.
The southern tip of Manhattan, with part of the Brooklyn Bridge visible in front. The tallest building is One World Trade Center.

At the same time, you have a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and also of Brooklyn. As you near the other side, you can look down at the newish public spaces edging Brooklyn: Main Street Park, Empire Fulton Ferry Park, and the little glass building holding Jane’s Carousel.

Seen from above and at an angle, Jane's Carousel is housed in a squat, square glass building. The carousel is visible inside through the glass. The river's edge parallels two sides of the square building, and the space around the building is paved, with a small fence along the water's edge.
Jane’s Carousel, as seen from the Manhattan Bridge.

A short time in Brooklyn

The Manhattan Bridge is over two kilometers long and I’d walked quite a bit just to get to it. At this point it was lunchtime so that became my goal: to find a place to have lunch somewhere on the route between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I ended up at the area generally referred to as DUMBO, which does not stand for the elephant but rather for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Once a thriving waterfront district for shipping (tobacco, coffee, sugar, leather and lots of other products) and fishing, the old brick warehouses and factories remain, now converted for other uses: offices, shops and housing.

The wide roadway of the Manhattan Bridge crosses the photo from bottom left to top right, and is seen from the ground underneath the bridge. A few buildings are partially visible on the left. The bridge seems to pass directly over some of them.
DUMBO is literally under the Manhattan Bridge.

Inside one of the buildings is a high-end mall called Empire Stores, including the Time Out Market, a food court of sorts, but very chic and rather expensive.

The building is red brick and five stories tall. The bottom three stories have arched glass windows with black shutters that are open against the building. The fourth floor has the same arched windows, but they have no glass, just a railing, and people stand, looking at the view. A fiew people are also visible on the fifth floor, i.e. the roof, looking at the view.
An old warehouse building, converted to Empire Stores, where the TimeOut market and a branch of the Brooklyn Historical Society are located.

Before choosing food, though, I stopped into the Brooklyn Historical Society‘s exhibition called “Waterfront” in the same building. The exhibit there focuses solely on this section of Brooklyn: the businesses in these warehouses, the goods that were imported through here, and the people who came here to work. It is small but interesting, and I’m sure a trip to the main location of the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street would be well worth the time, but I didn’t find that time.

After the museum, I spent quite a while wandering the extremely crowded and loud food hall on the first floor, trying to decide what I wanted for lunch from all the tempting choices. (There are also some food choices up on the fifth floor.) I eventually decided on a bowl of soup from Mr. Taka Ramen. It took a while to get my soup because of the line to order and then the wait while it was prepared. Then I had trouble finding a seat at any of the communal tables – remember, this was a good weather Saturday at lunchtime.

On the left and the right, food stands line the room. Down the center, long horizontal tables fill the space: perhaps five rows of them in this photo. All the seats are filled with people eating.
One of the areas with tables inside the TimeOut market.

After I finished eating, I first spent at least a half an hour in the ridiculously long line for the ladies’ room. Then I took a quick look upstairs on the 5th floor. It was just as crowded, but up there you can get a great view of both bridges. I’d recommend going up there just for the view, even if you don’t want to get any food or shop.

And, by the way, much of the waterfront here is very strollable, with riverfront walking paths in strips of parkland.

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge turned out to be a very different experience from the Manhattan Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge is older than the Manhattan Bridge. It was completed in 1883 and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, according to Wikipedia. Smaller than the Manhattan Bridge and a bit shorter at 1.8 kilometers, its support towers are made of stone blocks.

Similar to the view above of the lower Manhattan skyline, this one shows both support towers of the Brooklyn Bridge spanning the river. A number of boats pass under it. Jane's Carousel is visible below the nearer tower.
Taken from the Manhattan Bridge, this picture shows both towers of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Like the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge has two levels. Originally carrying horse-drawn carriages, railway lines, and later, trolley tracks, nowadays it holds car traffic (no trucks allowed) on the main level and pedestrians and bicyclists above the car lanes. It has also been upgraded and repaired a number of times over the last 100+ years.

My walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

While the pedestrian and bicycle lanes are well-separated from the car lanes, since they’re a level higher up, they’re not well-separated from each other. Essentially, it is one path, about three to five meters wide, with a line painted down the middle. Foot and bicycle traffic in both directions share this one pathway.

At the same time, walking and biking across the Brooklyn Bridge are very popular things to do, especially on a sunny October Saturday like the day I decided to do it.

The walkway leading to the first tower, with the Manhattan skyline, partly obscured by the bridge structure. Straight ahead: the walkway/bike path, filled completely with people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in both directions. The cables rise in a slope from this point up to the top of the support tower. A man in the foreground takes a picture with his phone.
Walking toward Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge. Notice the white line down the center of the path.

It was extremely crowded. I couldn’t really stroll, as I had on the other bridge. Rather, I stepped and stopped and cut to the left or right around selfie-takers or just shuffled along behind whoever was in front of me. Tourists stopped short to take pictures. Some sat on the side walls to pose for selfies. Many paid no attention to the line slicing down the center of the roadway and sidled along, oblivious to oncoming bicycle traffic. And bicyclists – less likely to be tourists and more likely to be locals trying to get from point A to point B – got very annoyed, yelling and whistling and ringing bells to try to get walkers off their path.

This photo shows the crowds walking across the Brooklyn Bridge when I was there. The walking path is wider here, but even fuller with people walking in both directions and no bikes visible. In the background is one of the support towers, the cables sloping up to it, and a few tall buildings in brooklyn can be seen in the far distance.
At the Manhattan end of the bridge, looking back toward Brooklyn. The bicycle lane is the left-hand side of the path looking in this direction.

It was much less fun for me than the Manhattan Bridge. The views weren’t as good either, since the pedestrian/bicycle path runs down the center of the bridge rather than on one edge or another. Any views I got were crossed by the bridge’s cables or the steel structure of the roadways below, as you can see in the photo above.

On the other hand, the bridge itself is prettier, with its stone-built Gothic Revival arches. It also allows views from both sides, even if they are partly obstructed. From here I could see both the southern Manhattan skycrapers and the skyscrapers of midtown, including the Art Deco Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

The city skyline against a blue sky. About 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the picture is the top of a structure of steel girders.
Looking toward midtown from the Brooklyn Bridge. You can see the Empire State Building in the left center and the smaller Chrysler Building on the right. The girders in the bottom half of the photo span the traffic lanes below.

Which bridge should you cross?

  • If you have the time to walk both bridges, you should. Time it so that you cross the Brooklyn Bridge earlier in the day. It would have been better on a sunny Saturday if I’d started with the Brooklyn Bridge and then done the Manhattan Bridge.
  • If you don’t have the time to do both, and you can choose a less popular time – a weekday early morning, for example – I’d suggest the Brooklyn Bridge. It is prettier and has bigger views.
  • If you can’t do both and you only have, for example, a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, stay away from the Brooklyn Bridge. Enjoy the relative peace of the Manhattan Bridge and save the other for another time.
  • Both of the bridges appear to have wheelchair access. However, I’d highly recommend the Manhattan Bridge over the Brooklyn Bridge for wheelchair users. A wheelchair could fit on the Brooklyn Bridge, but even at less busy times you’ll have people posing for selfies, for example, completely unaware that they’re blocking the path. Then add the bicycles trying to get by, and it’s a mess. If pedestrians have to step aside for your wheelchair and aren’t paying attention, they could get hit by the bicycles. Be aware that both bridges’ pedestrian pathways have a significant slope at either end.
A view from the pedestrian walkway, looking up at one of the support towers. On either side is the framework of cables extending from it to behind the photographer (me!). An American flag flies at the very center, on top of the tower in its center.
The Brooklyn Bridge

Some other advice

  • There is no food or drink available on either bridge, except for the occasional person at one end or the other selling overpriced sodas out of a cooler. Bring water if it’s a hot day.
  • If it’s not a hot day, bring layers. The wind really picks up once you’re on either bridge.
  • Wear good walking shoes. The bridges are long, and you should also factor in any additional walking to and from subway stations before and after.
  • On the Brooklyn Bridge, watch out for bicycles! Stay in the pedestrian lane.
  • When you stop to take pictures, be aware of what’s going on around you.
  • I saw some people sitting up on the wall on the Brooklyn Bridge to get a better view or a better selfie. Don’t do this. If you lose your balance or some oblivious selfie-taker bumps into you, you could end up hitting the pavement of the traffic lanes below.
  • Both bridges are free to cross. If you’re on a tight budget, pack snacks or lunch for yourself.

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Getting there

Nearest subway stations to the Manhattan Bridge

On the Manhattan side, Grand Street (B and D trains), East Broadway (F train), and Canal Street (4, 6, J, Z, N, Q, R, W) stations are all a few blocks from the entrance to the bridge.

On the Brooklyn side, York Street station (the F train) is closest to where you descend from the path. I didn’t plan my route from there to the Brooklyn Bridge. I could see which general direction I needed to walk and just did that.

Nearest subway stations to the Brooklyn Bridge

On the Manhattan side, the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station (4, 5 and 6 trains) is closest. Chambers Street (J and Z trains) is only a bit further.

On the Brooklyn side, the High Street-Brooklyn Bridge station (A and C trains) is closest.

Have you ever walked across either bridge? What was your experience?

Pinnable image: Text: Walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge. Which is better? Image: view down a Chinatown street from the Manhattan Bridge. Multistory brick buildings line the sides, traffic down the center. Shop signs in Chinese.

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