The Brooklyn Bridge is so much more than just a bridge. Certainly, it links the island of Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East River, but it is not just a run-of-the-mill crossing point for commuters, residents and visitors. The Brooklyn Bridge is a National Landmark and a historic work of engineering, and its distinctive cables and pointed Neo-Gothic arches have become a symbol of the city of New York itself.
The Brooklyn Bridge opened to traffic in May of 1883, fifteen years before Brooklyn became consolidated as part of New York City. It was the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever built in the world. Today, it draws millions of visitors a year who come to walk across the East River, enjoying the views, the history, and the chance to spend the day of the most filmed and photographed structures in New York.
History of the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to build at a staggering cost at the time of $15,000,000. When it opened, it was called the “eighth wonder of the world”, and it was the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere for many years.
It also fast became a place of legend and spectacle, when a year after it opened, world famous circus magnate P. T. Barnum led a parade of elephants across the bridge to quiet rumours that the bridge was unstable and prime for collapse.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge figures prominently in dozens of television shows and movies, including The Dark Knight Rises, I Am Legend, Annie Hall and Gangs of New York.
Driving across the Brooklyn Bridge
Originally, the bridge was designed for horse-drawn carriages and for rail traffic, with a separate walkway built for pedestrians. Over time, it was adapted for streetcars, elevated trains and eventually, cars and trucks.
Drivers can access the bridge on the Brooklyn side from the eastbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway, from Sands Street. From the Manhattan side, the entrances are on FDR drive, or from Park Row/Centre Streets. However, the best way to experience the Brooklyn Bridge is not to drive, but to walk.
How to Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway can be accessed on the Brooklyn side from Tillary Street and Boerum Place, or through an underpass on Washington Street two blocks from Front Street. In Manhattan, the pedestrian walkway is accessible from City Hall the end of Centre Street and Park Row, or through the south staircase of Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall IRT subway station.
Plan to spend roughly two hours walking both ways across the bridge, although you can always walk one way and then take a cab or a water taxi back. Bring water on a hot day as there are no shops or vendors any way along the walkway. There are no washrooms either. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, as the wooden boardwalks are not heel-friendly.
Bike across the Brooklyn Bridge
There are also dedicated bike lanes across the Brooklyn Bridge. The bike lanes and pedestrian lanes are separated by a painted line, but watch out for stray walkers distracted by the view. The entrances are the same as for the pedestrian walkway. There are many places to rent bicycles in both Manhattan and in Brooklyn.
What to do near the Brooklyn Bridge
If you walked from Manhattan into Brooklyn, take the time to explore the arty neighborhood known as DUMBO, or “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Your best bets for a fun afternoon are soaking in the view of Manhattan from a park bench in Brooklyn Bridge Park, heading for ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Old Fulton Street, or waiting in line to grab a slice at the world famous Grimaldi’s Pizza, also on Old Fulton.
In Manhattan, you will end up right at historic City Hall in Lower Manhattan, where there is an endless choice of places to eat and things to see.