When I was a kid, learning about the Brooklyn bridge was a Big Deal, caps included. We heard the story about the man who built it, were told all about his misfortunes and successes. Then we walked across it, an army of four year olds with a handful of exhausted teachers. As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly fun.
During high school, my daily train ride took me over the Manhattan Bridge. Some friends and I became fascinated with the idea of walking over the bridge. We never made it across together, but have been trading stories of our attempts ever since.
The other bridges in New York? I’ve never thought of them until recently. Now, however, I’ve crossed four, on four consecutive weekends. There wasn’t much of a plan attached and that was part of the beauty of it. My dad and I set out some days, ready to walk and ready to see the city in a new way.
The Brooklyn Bridge is the blockbuster of all the bridges. Its famous and it knows it. Mobbed with people even early on a Saturday morning, you would not call walking across the Brooklyn bridge a pleasant experience. The board walk style wooden slats are quaint and it is a touch iconic, but the views aren’t inspiring and the lack of cloud coverage on sunny days makes the walk a bit wearisome. It is, perhaps fortunately, the quickest bridge to walk across.
If the Brooklyn Bridge is the blockbuster, then the Manhattan Bridge is the little sister, constantly overshadowed, but going for a completely different look anyway. On the Manhattan side, you enter just off the hustle and bustle of Canal Street. From there you are whisked away to a comparatively peaceful walk, even with the N and Q trains rumbling beside you every so often. The downtown side is for pedestrians and the uptown side is for bikes, which helps ease traffic on the narrow pathways. While the Brooklyn Bridge has up close and personal views of the Financial District, the vista from the Manhattan Bridge is more picturesque. After all, it includes the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, as well as a more complete view of Downtown. After getting off the bridge in Brooklyn, you’re merely steps away from the F train or an awesome sandwich at No. 7 Sub.
Despite the easy access to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the Williamsburg bridge was my favorite of all the ones I walked across. The entrance is in South Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue (be sure to fuel your journey with a meal at Marlow & Sons, which is practically right next door). You’re sure to need a bit of extra energy as this bridge feels longer than the others with a much steeper incline at the beginning.
That’s only where the differences begin. Unlike the other two, the Williamsburg bridge doesn’t offer picture postcard views of Manhattan, but rather an eye-opening view of Brooklyn’s geography. Just as you think you’re reaching Manhattan, you’ll realize that you’re seeing downtown Brooklyn. It’s uncanny and a fun way to challenge your ideas about New York. The bridge is divided into two large paths for walking and biking (downtown and uptown sides, respectively). The bridge isn’t pristine Graffiti covers nearly every surface and the combination of all the colors gives it a pleasantly run-down appearance.
It’s not only the walk over the bridge that makes the journey enjoyable, but the neighborhoods on either end. If you find yourself tired when you arrive at Delancey Street (where the bridge lets out), you’re merely minutes away from a coffee at Cafe Grumpy, a lovely meal at The MasalaWala or a crumbly cookie from Beurre & Sel.
Getting to the Queensborough Bridge might not be easy, but is a fun way to spend a fall Saturday. From Manhattan (because why would you enter in Queens?) there’s an entrance on 59th street between 1st and 2nd avenue. Everyone’s grouped together from the beginning; the bikers, the runners, the mosey-ers, which makes the path a bit of a free-for-all. As you walk, you’ll get to contemplate Roosevelt Island, Queens and the awesome weather vanes on top of the bridge. If you’re thinking of doing something on the other side, well, don’t. Just walk back over and fortify yourself in midtown at the city’s poshest coffee shop, the newly-opened Ninth Street Espresso on 56th street. You’ll be happier.
What’s your favorite way to get to know a city’s geography?