Self-Guided Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour
This is a self-guided tour of a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and begins at City Hall Park, on the Manhattan side of the bridge and ends on the Brooklyn side of the Bridge. For some ideas of what to do on either side of the bridge, read our Brooklyn Bridge visitor’s guide.
Consider our daily 10 am guided tour of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO. There’s no cost to sign up and at the end of the tour, you can pay what you wish or what you can afford. We also have an anytime GPS-enabled audio tour of the bridge. For a different perspective, you might consider our night tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and 9/11 Memorial.
Check out our full list of free, self-guided New York walking tours as well as our post comparing the different New York tourist discount passes.
- Estimated time to finish tour: 1-2 hours, depending on how much a photographer you are.
Total Distance across the bridge: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Safety Note: The path on the right is for pedestrians. The one on the left is for bicycles. The bicyclists drive fast and often don’t stop. Please be careful.
This is an interactive map. To enlarge it, click on the small box in the upper right hand corner.
(Point A) – Tour Starting Point Click here for directions to the starting point from anywhere in the city.
Manhattan Municipal Building(1914)
This beaux-arts beauty was the last and possibly the most glorious example of NYC’s part in the City Beautiful Movement. Designed to meet the increased administrative, which had grown into five boroughs in 1898 following the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, this 40 story building is today one of the largest government buildings in the world.
See that shiny statute up at the top? She is called Civic Fame: 20 feet tall, copper skinned and hollow, she stands barefoot, wearing a flowing dress and laureled crown to represent glory. She holds a five pointed crown to represent the five boroughs of NYC in her left hand. Be sure to also get a look at her and the building beneath her feet when you are on the bridge.
Frank Gehry’s ‘New York’
This is ‘starchitect” Frank Gehry’s first skyscraper. This is one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, containing just about 900 units, all for rent, which is very unusual for a high rise in NYC. This gleaming 76 story tower, “clad in a rumpled stainless-steel skin”, according to a review in the NY Times was the tallest residential structure in the Western Hemisphere, when it opened in February 2011. The tower stands on a six story public elementary school. Be sure to check out our Midtown, Central Park, Harlem tours where you can get a look at some more captivating architecture.
Old New York Times Building
Before moving to Longacre Square (soon to be renamed Times Square), the New York Times, A.K.A. the Old Gray Lady, was headquartered here in this building on News Paper Row. The paper was here from 1889-1903. At 13 stories, this Romanesque Revival building now houses classrooms for Pace University. Out front is a statue of American founding father Benjamin Franklin, himself an owner of a printing press, a fitting statue for Newspaper Row.
The Potter Building – Had the finest fireproofing technology of the time, featuring cast-iron columns,(Lower Manhattan VNYT-SoHo Cast Iron District) and thick brick walls. Its terra-cotta ornamentation at the top inspired Mr. Orlando B. Potter to start his own terra cotta company on Long Island. This old classic was converted into an apartment building in 1979-81.
Okay, now it’s time to hit the bridge. The first few minutes will bring you through a rather uninspiring set of buildings. After a couple minutes on the walkway, you should reach a section where there are vehicle access roads allowing cars and trucks to enter or exit the Brooklyn Bridge from underneath.
(Point B) – Woolworth Building
In the image above, the Woolworth Building is the white, wedding cake style skyscraper. Seen frequently in movies, it was the tallest building in the world from 1913-1929. This neo-gothic building was a central figure in the great skyscraper race of the first few decades of the 20th Century and was called the “Cathedral of Commerce.” It had an observation deck until 1941 and high speed elevators, which were state of the art at the time. It was sold by the Woolworth Company in 1998 for $155 million. A significant portion of the tenants are residents. Read our blog post on the Woolworth Building and learn how you can visit its impressive gold leafed vaulted ceilings in its lobby.
One World Trade Center – The Freedom Tower
Towering over the Woolworth Building is New York City’s (and North America’s) largest skyscraper. Standing at 1,776 ft. (541 meters). The height was chosen to honor year of American Independence, hence the original name, the Freedom Tower. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and 6th tallest in the world. It is now open and you can go to the top of it for amazing views. See our post on getting tickets to Freedom Tower Observatory Tickets and Tours.
Now, continue walking toward the Manhattan tower until you reach the point where the great cables that are suspended from the tower reach the promenade that you are walking on.
In front of you are the four main cables holding up the bridge platforms. Attached to this thin rope was a piece of 8 gauge wire. These wires are Each of the four cables are made up of 6,289 wires, each thinner in diameter than a human hair. If these thin wires were attached end to end would measure more than 3,500 miles (5600 km).
Did you know that the Brooklyn Bridge was built with defective wire? At one point, a politically connected man named Haight was given the contract to supply the wire. Haight went ahead and supplied bad wire. By the time it was determined that poor quality wire had been used, it was too late to replace it. Fortunately, since the bridge had originally been intended to be six times stronger than necessary, it was decided that even if it was now only four times stronger, that that would be sufficient. The bridge is standing the test of time.
(Point C) – First, look on your left side.
Alfred E. Smith Houses & FDR Drive
As you approach the Manhattan tower, the housing complex to your left, with the red arrow in the image above (12 buildings, housing almost 6000 people) is named after four-time New York Gov. Al Smith. Smith served as governor of New York from 1919-1920 and 1923-1929 and was the first Catholic ever to win a presidential nomination. You’ll also notice a highway (yellow arrow) running up and down the Manhattan waterfront. Officially named the Franklin D Roosevelt E. River Dr, but better known as the FDR drive, designed by Robert Moses, the city’s planning commissioner in the 1st half of the 20th century, a little over 9 1/2 miles long, it covers the entire length of Manhattan along the East River.
Manhattan Bridge (Green Arrow)
The Manhattan Bridge, like the Brooklyn Bridge, is a suspension bridge. It connects lower Manhattan, near Chinatown, with downtown Brooklyn. The main span is 1470 feet (448 m) and the suspension cables are 3, 224 ft. (983 m) long. The total length is 6855 feet or 2089 m. The bridge opened in 1909 and it’s the first suspension bridge to employ ‘deflection theory’.
The bridge was off-limits to pedestrians for 40 years, until the summer of 2001 when the pedestrian walkway was re-opened. The entrance on the Manhattan side features a rather impressive arch and colonnade. The designers of the bridge also built the main New York Public Library, at 5th and 42nd St. The Manhattan Bridge was featured in many films, including Once Upon a Time in America and King Kong (2005). The bridge carries subways, cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Now look to your right (south).
40 Wall Street – Trump Building
You now have a clear view of Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. The red arrow is pointing to the Trump Building at 40 Wall Street. The height of the great skyscraper race featured this 927 ft (283 m) skyscraper in a competition with the Chrysler Building for title of world’s tallest building. At the time, 1930, the Woolworth Building was the tallest. You can get good looks at this building, the one with the green top, on the right as you make your way toward the Manhattan Tower. The Chrysler Building can be seen as you move past the Manhattan Tower. For just a few days, 40 Wall Street was the tallest building in the world before the Chrysler Building and its spire exceeded it. We love taking our guests and stopping right here to take a look over at the magnificent skyline.
Continue walking toward the Manhattan Tower. As you get closer, look closely toward the top and you will see an engraving of the date 1875, the year this tower was completed.
Once you have arrived at the Manhattan Tower you will definitely want to spend some time up here. Take note of the tablets, the earlier one dedicated to John and Washington Roebling and the later one, placed there during the 1948-54 reconstruction.
The granite towers, the first parts of the bridge to be constructed, Rise 276 feet above the East River. When these towers were completed, only Trinity Church’s spire stood taller. Beneath the towers, at the bottom of the East River, are gigantic bottomless wooden boxes called caissons, which were sunk into the river bed and inflated with compressed air. Once the caissons were sunk, the men working on the bridge would enter the caissons and dig for bedrock. During this phase of construction, many men, including Washington Roebling, became very ill with what is called ‘the bends’ or caisson’s disease. Read more about caisson’s disease here.
South Street Seaport
To your right (south) you’ll see the historic South Street Seaport. In 1625, the Dutch West India Company opened its first port here. Later, from 1797 to the mid 1800’s, the ‘Port of NY’ was the largest maritime trade area in the country. Many buildings in this area were burned down during the great fire of 1835, but were rebuilt in the 1850’s. The Seaport stopped functioning in the 1930’s, was converted into a museum in 1967 and upgraded into a ‘festival marketplace’ in 1982. It was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012 and the renovation process continues.
To see a guide to the new South Street Seaport and the fun things you can do there, see our post South Street Seaport in New York City | A Self-Guided Tour.
Now continue on toward the Brooklyn Tower. Stop about halfway between the two towers.
Below is a six-lane highway. The roadway, which is 135 feet (41 m) above the average tide-water level, permitting vessels weighing under 1,000 tons to cross beneath it, was completed. The elevated roadway, just as John Roebling had envisioned, was finished not long after that. The designated bike lane was added in the early 1970’s and is said to be one of the first dedicated bike lanes in the country. Elevated Trains and trolley cars stopped running in the 1940’s. The roadway was widened to accommodate more automobiles during the 1948-1954 reconstruction.
The East River
The East River below you (it’s actually a tidal strait) runs for 16 miles (26 km) between Brooklyn and Manhattan, under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges and it has an average depth of about 30 feet (9 m). It is the strait that links the Harlem River, the Long Island sound, and the New York Harbor. The part of the strait that separates Manhattan from Brooklyn was one of the most central and significant channels in the world during the first 300 years of New York City’s history. Due to hundreds of years of industrialization, this river is still not safe for a swim. However, as of mid-2007, it’s safer than it is been in over 30 years.
Off to your right (south) lies a small island in the New York Harbor (see red arrow). The Dutch West India Company hired English explorer, Henry Hudson, to find a route to China. Instead, he wound up on what was called ‘Nut Island.’ Thus, began the history of New Netherlands. For more information on Governor’s Island and how to get there, read our blog post by clicking here.
People always want to know if anyone has ever jumped off the bridge. The answer is yes, unfortunately. It’s said that every 15 days someone jumps to their death from the Brooklyn Bridge. Perhaps the most well-known jump is a jump that actually never happened. Steve Brodie (December 25, 1861 – January 31, 1901) born in New York City was reported to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived on July 23, 1886. This was big news and helped Brodie’s acting career and his saloon business. It was later discovered that he staged the jump in order to gain publicity. Well, it worked! Brodie’s legend lived on after his death. Many films were made which referenced him, including On the Bowery(1933), in which George Raft played Brodie. “Brodie”— became a popular slang term as in to “do a Brodie”— meaning take a chance or a great risk, the language, meaning to take a great risk.
Now continue walking toward the Brooklyn tower until you reach the point where the cables emerge once again from under the pedestrian walkway.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
For many years the site of commerce, shipping, an entry point for immigrants, and then a center for artists and activists, there are now signs dotted throughout the Brooklyn Bridge Park that provide details of this compelling history. Currently the park hosts many free events including music and movies, and is filled with local fauna, concessions including the Brooklyn Ice-Cream Factory, public restrooms, a ferry terminal, as well as some eye-popping views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
TIP: For a list of locations where you can fantastic views of the New York Skyline, click here.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
World-famous for its views of the Manhattan skyline, the promenade is the ideal place for doing just that – promenading. One the most romantic spots in the city, it’s been the destination for thousands of dates, anniversaries and marriage proposals – keep an eye out and you may very well see one in action. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade opened in 1950 and has appeared in countless photos, television shows and movies, mostly notably Annie Hall and Moonstruck. You could continue your walk with our self-guided Brooklyn Heights tour.
DUMBO Art Galleries
Once a thriving manufacturing and industrial district, economic change sapped the area of its economic strength, leaving large and vacant factory lofts that became attractive to artists starved for decent workspaces, who were also just starving in general. The name ‘Dumbo’ stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass and was conceived in 1978 by resident artists as a way to make the area sound unattractive to prospective buyers. It didn’t work, and today the area is awash with technology companies, luxury residences, top eateries and designer boutiques. There are also over twenty galleries dotted around the place, with highlights including Farmani Gallery, A.I.R Gallery, Smack Mellon and the Dumbo Arts Center.