Things to do in DUMBO | A Self-Guided Tour

This post is a self-guided tour takes you to see charming and historic locations and cutting edge art and architecture in DUMBO, the historic Brooklyn neighborhood known by the acronym “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”. It is one of New York City’s hippest, historic neighborhoods with unsurpassed views and the city’s best pizza! Best of all, this tour takes you to the spots where you can take some of the best photos of New York City. Make sure your camera battery is charged and ready to go!  What makes DUMBO so interesting is how its past as a mecca of American manufacturing in the late 1800s-early 1900s has not been erased by the influx of wealth into the area. DUMBO embraces its past by re-purposing the 100-year-old warehouses into luxury condos, hip restaurants, cutting edge performance art spaces and tech start-ups like Etsy.  Everyday @10 am, let us guide you on a guided tour of the neighborhood.


Self-Guided Tour

Nearby Activities

Free Tours by Foot

Getting to DUMBO

Where to Eat in DUMBO

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

 


 

 
GETTING THEREBy subway:

•   A/C Train to High Street: Take the exit that says Cadman Plaza West. When you exit, there will be a big park across the 4-laned street. Cross the street to the park, walk directly across the park to the pathway that curves to the left. You will see plenty of people coming and going from the bridge. Walk downhill on Washington Street.

•  2/3  Train to Clark Street: Exit the station and turn left onto Henry Street. Pass Cranberry Street and make a right on the footpath; you will see the A/C train station. Then follow the instructions above regarding walking through the park.

By foot from the Brooklyn Bridge:

If you have walked from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, you can get to DUMBO very easily.  To make the most of your walk over this splendid and beloved bridge, be sure to read our post our guide to walking the Brooklyn Bridge.

As you walk through the second tower of the bridge, you will be nearing one of two exits from the bridge. You will come to a fork in the walkway – to the left, there is a small set of stairs going down off the bridge. On the right, the walkway and bike path continues. Be sure to take the exit on the left with the stairs and be sure to watch for speeding bicyclists as you must cross the bike path to get to the stairs). Walk down the stairs and you will be at the perfect spot to start the tour.

By bike: Despite some bumpiness along cobblestoned streets, DUMBO is a great neighborhood to bike around. Not a lot of car traffic and plenty of places to lock your bikes and several nearby docks for bikes rented from the city’s Citibike Share system. For information on the best bike rentals, see our post Best Bike Rentals in New York City.  Click here for information related specifically to biking in DUMBO.

By ferry:

The East River Ferry operates to and from Brooklyn Bridge Park from several locations along the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts.  Our post on the East River Ferry Service has all the details you will need. When you disembark, leave the ferry landing located inside the park, exit the park and you will find yourself on Water Street. Turn left onto Water Street and walk 3 blocks until you reach Washington Street for the first stop on the tour.

 


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SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF DUMBO

Click on icon on top-left of map to open in new tab. This is an interactive map as well

 


1 – Iconic view of the Manhattan Bridge – corner of Washington Street and Front Street.

Manhattan Bridge

Your grand greeting from DUMBO is a photo op you will NOT want to miss.  As you walk down Washington Street, look straight ahead and you will see the blue-gray steel of the Manhattan Bridge, built in 1912. Far off in the distance you can see the Empire State Building perfectly framed in the archway of the bridge. If the view looks familiar that is because this exact vantage point is one of the several iconic photos of New York City.

Although cars are active along these streets, most drivers go slow knowing that lots of people stop here to take photos. Still, be careful when standing in the middle of the street.

The streets surrounding the base of the have been used as locations for many films including The Naked City (1948), The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Scent of a Woman (1992), American Gangster (2007), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Amazing Spider-Man (both 2012).

Walk half a block east on Water Street. (East is walking against the direction of the car traffic).

 


2 – Gleason’s Gym  130 Water Street

Gleasons Gym

Gleason’s Gym is one of the most famous boxing training gyms in America. The original Gleason’s Gym was located in the Bronx, having opened in 1937 by the late, great boxer Bobby Gleason. It moved to DUMBO in 1984. Over the years, many legends have trained for fame at Gleason’s. At the original Bronx location, stars like Jake LaMotta, Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson trained.

In 1963, a young man named Cassius Clay learned how to box like a champ as he prepared for his famous match with Sonny Liston. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and the rest is history.

The gym has also been the setting for a number of boxing movies. Robert DeNiro trained in the gym’s Manhattan location to prepare for his role as LaMotta in Raging Bull. Wesley Snipes trained in DUMBO to prepare to play Roland Jenkins in the 1987 film Streets of Gold. Actress Hillary Swank, in preparation for her Academy-Award winning role in Million Dollar Baby, was trained by Gleason boxing trainer Hector Roca.

Continue East on Water Street.  The corner of Water and Adams Street is our next stop.

 


3 – PowerHouse ARENA 28 Adams Street

Powerhouse ARENA

In 2006, the critically acclaimed publisher PowerHouse Books opened PowerHouse ARENA in DUMBO as a venue for creative thought and top-notch art exhibitions, installations, presentations, performances, and readings. It drew lots of locals and travelers as well who came to see famed authors and artists.  Powerhouse ARENA helped to put DUMBO on the “map” as a world-class venue for arts and literature. The original location which was at 37 Main Street was a massive 10,000-square-feet with 24-foot ceilings and large glass windows. As is so often the case, original renters in DUMBO are priced out of their original homes.

In 2016 the rent doubled in 2016 and they moved to a smaller nearby location. Just a few of the authors who have read there are Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Gary Shteyngart, David Sedaris, Mary Gaitskill, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates, Jennifer Egan, T.C. Boyle, Jonathan Franzen, Pete Hamill, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. Check their website to see if anyone famous will be stopping by when you are there.

Across the street, you cannot miss the giant archway of the Manhattan Bridge. Cross over to the archway – and mind the cars and bikes!

 


4 – Archway of the Manhattan Bridge

A century ago, who would imagine that the desolate dark space underneath the noisy bridge would become a unique venue available to rent for special events, markets, art exhibitions, commercial photography shoots and  — believe it or not — weddings!  In Spring and Summer, concerts, light shows, and even sports events viewings are opened to the public for free. In 2014, the Archway installed a large Jumbotron TV to air the World Cup. Viewers came with folding chairs, some wine, cheese and even flags of their favorite teams!

In the below pictures, you can see (from left to right) 1) the archway used as a film location for a movie set in the 1920s; 2) the archway on an average day; 3) the archway with a fun night of beer!

Archway Collage

By now you will have noticed that many of DUMBO’s streets are cobblestone. While it is not the original cobblestone laid down by the very first settlers of New York City, much of DUMBO’s cobblestone was laid down in the early 1900s.  Other areas of New York City are known for their cobblestone streets, for example, Tribeca, Greenwich Village and SoHo, all of which we offer free tours of – see our tour calendar to find out more.

The area around the archway has an aged look to it, with its small shop storefronts and large industrial buildings in the background. The area’s unique characteristics make it a perfect location for filming movies that take place in the past. Stephen Spielberg filmed some scenes from Bridge of Spies here as the film takes place in the 1960s. Here is a video of the filmmakers filming by the archway. You can see how the shops were fitted with era-appropriate signs and the streets are lined with old automobiles.

 

Walk all the way through the through the Archway and you will hit Anchorage Place. If it is Spring and Summer  you will walk right into our next stop.

 


5 – DUMBO Flea   April through October, Sundays 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Brooklyn Flea

This well-known ‘upscale flea market’ is a must-see event that happens every Sunday throughout the Spring and Summer. It is a unique blend of artisan crafts, vintage clothing, handmade jewelry, and retro furniture.

Even if you don’t plan on shopping, a visit to the Brooklyn Flea can be great fun! Dig through old dusty records, find unusual funky clothing, clothing, and souvenirs unique to Brooklyn. It’s good fun vibes all around! You will also find unique food vendors – save room for a treat, you will definitely want to try something. DUMBO Flea was ranked as one of the world’s best flea markets by Travel + LeisureCountry LivingBudget Travel, and Fodor’s! It’s worth a look.

Turn left on Anchorage Place walk and walk one block to Plymouth Street. Make a left onto Plymouth Street and walk one block to Adams Street.

 


6 – Jay Street Connecting Railroad 

Jay Street Connecting Railroad

As you have been walking around you may have noticed what appear like trolley tracks. These are what is left of the former Jay Street Connecting Railroad (JSC). It was created by Arbuckle Brothers, Brooklyn’s original coffee kings. By 1900, the Arbuckle Company had a factory and a group of warehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront. Believing that a railroad was the best way to effectively move cargo through the buildings, they created the JSC.

The railroad had terminals to serve the various industries and factories in the area. With the rise of trucks as the dominant means of transporting goods, the small local railroad stopped operating in 1958.

The tracks remain and are yet another aspect of DUMBO that is a reminder of days gone by. For history buffs and train aficionados, you can find out more information here.

Continue walking along Plymouth Street until you reach Washington Street. Here you will find the entrance to a delightful waterside park.

 


7 – Main Street Park 

This 3.5-acre park offers spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan. (Importantly, there are public bathrooms available just a hundred feet into the park!) So many things go on every day in this neatly groomed park with some shady trees but mostly open grass. Bring a blanket and laze for an hour or more. When sitting in this park, located between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge to the south, be prepared to pause your conversation approximately every 3 minutes as the subway traverses the Manhattan Bridge.)

Once you are in the park walk southwest toward the Brooklyn Bridge and the water’s edge. You will see a small curved beach of rocks level with the river. Head down there and get your camera out for some of the most monumental photos you will get on your trip to New York City.

Pictured from left to right 1) Main Street Park; 2) Pebble Beach with Empire Stores in background; 3) Kayaking at Pebble Beach

Main Street Park and Pebble Beach

 


8 – Pebble Beach 

When you planned your trip to New York City you probably didn’t contemplate being able to dip your toes into the East River! At Pebble Beach, you can walk down to the water, watch it lap up against the land and take a pebble for a souvenir.  Take note: It is against the law to swim in the East River. You probably don’t want to anyway. The currents are rough and the water is dirty, though not as bad as it was decades ago.

In fact, the water is clean enough that the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse sponsors a free kayaking program every summer where you can get 20 minutes free of kayak time and get out into the river – it is really an unusual experience that not many travelers know about. It is NOT something you will forget. Bring a waterproof camera! Find out more information here.

From Pebble Beach, turn away from the water, look back at the buildings and you will see a building several stories high.  At the top, the building is fitted with a 14-foot glass clock.

 


9 – 1 Main Street (aka Clocktower Building)  corner of Plymouth Street and Main Street

Clocktower Building and Empire Stores

The Clocktower has special significance in that it was the first of the old, abandoned industrial buildings in the area to be converted into a luxury apartment building. In the 1980s, property developer David Walentas had the brilliant foresight to purchase the area’s mostly empty big loft-like spaces. At the time, the entire Clocktower Building cost just $12 million – a real steal for a building so large. Walentas bought up so much property and converted them into luxury condos that DUMBO got a nickname, Walentasville!

While all the apartments in the Clocktower have great views, the penthouse triplex is like no other. It has four 14-foot-high round windows each with four working clocks. In 2010, the penthouse was listed on the real estate market and the asking price was asking price was $25 million. (Remember that the entire building was bought by Walentas for half that amount!). There were no takers and the building sat empty until March 2017, it was finally sold for the bargain price of…$15 million! Still, you will never be late for an appointment!

Continue walking south through the park along the footpath toward the massive brick warehouse-like structure  known as Empire Stores

 


10 – Empire Stores 53-83 Water Street

You cannot miss this 500,000-square-foot brick warehouse situated close to the waterfront. This is the Empire Stores former warehouse, built between 1868 and 1885.  In those days, Brooklyn was America’s coffee capital. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of the country’s coffee supply arrived through New York Harbor. As industry slowed down along the Brooklyn waterfront in the 1940s and ‘50s, many of the area’s warehouses were torn down for the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.  (A must-see location visited on our pay-what-you-wish Dumbo, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights tour.)

Photo left to right: 1) Empire Stores in its warehouse days; 2) during its unused era; 3) first stages of renovation and repurposing in 2017.

Empire Stores Collage

By the 1960s, Empire Stores was abandoned. But with the rise of DUMBO as a vibrant neighborhood and the development of its splendid waterfront, Empire Stores is being brought back to life. In 2013, investors and real estate developers have been converting the warehouses into a mixed-use project with 420,000 rentable square feet of office space and 80,000 square feet of retail. By summer of 2017, it will be fully operational, featuring retail and office space, as well as a rooftop bar and restaurant.  Its first tenant, West Elm Market’s Headquarters already settled in last year.

 


11 – Jane’s Carousel – Brooklyn Bridge Park

Janes Carousel

This 1922 carousel, featuring 48 carved wooden horses was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and stationed in Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. When Idora Park closed in 1984,  Jane and David Walentas bought the carousel at auction for $385,000 and had it stored in a warehouse. Jane spearheaded its restoration and in 2011 it was installed at its current location. It is a fully functional carousel and fun for kids and adults to ride! And it is only $2 to be part of this beautiful historic carousel with great views of Manhattan and the river.

While some people find the juxtaposition of a glass box on the grassy lawn by the river to be odd and unattractive. But in 2012 Jane’s Carousel won Travel & Leisure’s 2012 Design Award for Best Public Space. Impressive!

It was designed by world renowned architect, Jean Nouvel who designed another wonderful structure, a residential building located just north of the Chelsea Piers.  From the Highline Park in Manhattan, you’ll get a great view of his stunning work. If you haven’t heard of the Highline, do yourself the favor and read our post about it.

Carousel Hours for 2017: Spring Fri, Sat and Sunday 11am-6pm.  Summer starting May 15-September 17, open daily, except Tuesday, 11am-7pm.  Tickets: $2.

From the carousel, start heading out of the park walking along the path. On your left, you is the side of Empire Stores and on your right is another former warehouse turned art center.

 


12 – St. Ann’s Warehouse  45 Water Street

St Anns Warehouse Theater

Housed in this former tobacco warehouse is St. Ann’s Warehouse, a state of the art performance space. Founded 34 years ago when DUMBO was not the hotbed it is now, St. Ann’s Theater was located in another nearby space. They are known for their cutting-edge and innovative theater and concert presentations. Among performances are highly acclaimed productions by the late Lou Reed, Deborah Harry, Al Pacino, Marianne Faithfull, Charlie Kaufman and the Coen Brothers. St. Ann’s Warehouse played an important role in both the New York City arts scene but also helped put DUMBO on the map. It still draws large crowds. Check their website to see what events are going on.

When you exit the park, you will be on Old Dock Street. If you have a sweet tooth, make a left on Water Street and walk half way down the street.

 


13 – Jacques Torres Chocolate 66 Water Street

Jacques Torres

This shop is the first of several locations for the world-famous chocolatier. It opened in 2000 and is a must-see, or rather must-eat,  destination. Torres pioneered mixing unusual flavors into filled chocolates such as Pastis licorice liquor with milk chocolate ganache, chocolate infused with the tingle of fresh mint tea, and Earl Grey tea infused in a dark creamy chocolate square. They are not only delicious but quite beautiful. In winter, it is practically required in DUMBO to go and get a Chili Hot Chocolate ideal for cold days in DUMBO.

Turn back on Water Street and head west, in the same direction of the cars. Walk one block to Dock Street and make a left. Dock Street merges into Front Street. Walk on Front Street for about 100 yards and you will arrive at Old Fulton Street.

 


14 – Grimaldi’s 1 Front Street and Juliana’s 19 Old Fulton Street

Pizzerias

You have probably heard of Grimaldi’s Pizza, long believed to be one of the best pizza pies in New York City. Before DUMBO was a destination of its own, crowds of people came down to Old Fulton Street to wait for hours in line for a taste of Grimaldi’s famous pizza. Well in 2012 a new kid moved into town – Juliana’s Pizzeria. Turns out that Juliana’s is not new at all. It was opened by the original owner of Grimaldi’s! It’s a long story of a pizza war. You can get all the juicy details if you read this article.

Both pizzerias are very good. Some say that Juliana’s is overtaking Grimaldi’s  in popularity. The best advice is to go to whichever had the shorter line! The recipe is the same, it’s all in the family.

TIP: If you are a pizza lover, see our post The Best Pizza in New York City by Neighborhood.

Look across the street at the imposing red brick building with the large arched entrance.

 


15 – Brooklyn Eagle Warehouse 28 Old Fulton Street

Eagle Warehouse

This neo-Romanesque building was constructed in 1893 on the site of the old Brooklyn Eagle Newspaper building.  The paper relocated in the late 1800s, making room for the warehouse to be built. It is now, of course, luxury condominiums. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle began publication on October 26, 1841. At that time, Brooklyn was still a city independent of New York.  For two years, 1846 to 1848, a young Walt Whitman was the paper’s editor.

Walt Whitman is best known for “Leaves of Grass”, the revolutionary collection of poems he authored in 1855. Lines from his famous poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” have made an everlasting impression at our next site on the tour.

Continue toward the water along Old Fulton Street until you come to the end of the street and the entrance to Fulton Ferry Landing and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

 


16 – Fulton Ferry Landing 

Evacuation Memorial Plaque

On your way to the wooden landing, stop by the large boulder with a plaque commemorating one of the most important historical locations in DUMBO, and perhaps all of New York City. In 1642, the first ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan was based along the shoreline. That alone is historic. But what is truly exciting about this spot (besides the amazing Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory) is that it was here that one of the most important strategic moves of the Revolutionary War took place. In what is now known as the Battle of Brooklyn, George Washington found himself between a rock and a hard place in August of 1776.

Washington and his troops had almost been pushed out of Brooklyn by the British Army. He was faced with the choice of remaining on land to fight the much superior British forces or evacuate his troops and avoid what would surely have been a bloody defeat.  Washington made his decision and under the cover of night on August 29th,  9,000 troops secretly departed from the Fulton Ferry shoreline via boat, canoe, raft and any other object that could float. All night long, troops were shuttled to safety in Manhattan. At sunrise, with troops, and Washington himself, still waiting to evacuate, a heavy fog formed which concealed the last leg of the retreat. By 7 am, the entire Continental Army had arrived safely on Manhattan. The British didn’t know what happened until a few hours later. Of course, the rest is history! (To see other landmarks related to this epic evacuation try our Brooklyn Heights Tour.)

As you walk to the end of the landing, your eyes will be focused on the skyline of Manhattan. If you can take your eyes off the view for a minute, look down and you will see bronze relief drawings of historic local scenes embedded in the wooden pier. Also, the landing’s railings are engraved with lines from Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”.

 

Fulton Landing Skyline View

 

As for why it is called Fulton’s Ferry Landing, that is because, in 1814, Robert Fulton launched his steamboat ferry service which instantly became the foremost means of transport between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The ferry remained successful until the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. Eventually, ferry service tapered off and ceased completely in 1924. Excitingly, ferry service began again in 2006. To learn all about the new ferry services, see our post on the East River Ferry service.

That concludes the tour, although there is so much more to do in the area. Below are suggestions of places to eat, in addition to Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s Pizzerias. We have also included other activities nearby. If you are ready to head home, here are the nearest departure points.

If you are ready to leave DUMBO, you can walk up Old Fulton Street along the right side of this busy street. After two long curved blocks, you will come to Henry Street. Make a right onto Henry and walk up the slight hill. Walk one block and make a left onto Middagh Street. Walk one short block on Middagh and you will come to the High Street Station for the A/C train. If you prefer the 2/3 train, continue on Henry Street four more blocks and you will be at the Clark Street Station.

 


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WHERE TO EAT IN DUMBO

As mentioned above, you have two great options for pizza: Grimaldi’s 1 Front Street or  Juliana’s  19 Old Fulton Street.

For family-pleasing “fast-food” you have ShakeShack on 1 Old Fulton Street.  This small chain of shops is known for what some believe are the best burgers in NYC. They are also known for having long lines on occasion.

Luke’s Lobster Rolls is near Jane’s Carousel in the historic Smokestack building in Brooklyn Bridge Park. They serve up much more than fresh lobster rolls. You can get soup and salads as well. Closed during winter.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory  Located in a 1922 firehouse on the Ferry Landing. Expect long lines for very scrumptious ice cream. Cash Only!

 


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NEARBY ACTIVITIES

Guided Tours 

We do offer a number of pay-what-you-wish guided tours of these Brooklyn neighborhoods:

  • Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO Tour  a 3-hour tour that begins with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, a stroll through Brooklyn Heights, and a taste of DUMBO ending at the Fulton Ferry Landing.
  • Brooklyn Heights Tour – a 2-hour tour charming historic homes, stunning views and plenty of history.
  • Williamsburg Brooklyn Tour – explore one of New York’s hippest neighborhoods in flux. See the art, the restaurants, the watering holes, and most importantly, the people of Williamsburg.

Outdoor activities 

  • Free kayaking at Brooklyn Bridge Park between Piers 1 and 2 is a unique opportunity to see the Bridge from a different perspective without paying anything. Starts first weekend in June through the end of August. Click here for more information.

TIP:  Want to get out on the water without getting too wet? See our post on Free New York Boat Tours.

  • Athletics –  South of DUMBO is even more of Brooklyn Bridge Park. This huge waterfront park has several piers offering different activities from including basketball, handball, bocce, shuffleboard, a roller rink, and rock climbing.

Cultural Events

  • Free outdoor movies  In summer, the park is host to Movies with a View, a free outdoor movie showing every Thursday nights. For more information about other free outdoor movie screenings see our post Free Concerts and Movies.
  • All the World’s a Stage See free performances of Shakespeare plays. A great alternative if you can’t get tickets to the famous free Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park.
  • Very well-known local event called Bargemusic, for free one-hour classical music performances. Doors open 15 minutes before the performance – no reserved seating is available.
  • For all the amazing offerings in the park, see their events calendar.

 


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Written by Courtney Shapiro 

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