New York's subway is great and convenient, but when you have the time and the sun is shining there are few things more enjoyable than taking a walk or a bike ride across the East River. Most visitors choose to cross the much more famous Brooklyn Bridge, which is beautiful but admittedly not very convenient to get to. The Williamsburg Bridge, on the other hand, connects two of New York City's trendiest neighborhoods: the Lower East Side in Manhattan and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
When construction started on the Williamsburg Bridge at the turn of the 20th century, it was originally designed for transit by horse and carriage. At the time of its completion in 1903, it became the longest suspension bridge in the world, beating out the previous record-holder just a mile down the river, the Brooklyn Bridge.
You may not be able to take a horse and buggy anymore, but walking or biking across the Williamsburg Bridge is still one of the most scenic ways to get across the river. Discover where to enter, which lanes to use, and how to get a bike to cross the country's most popular bridge for cyclists.
Helpful Tips for Pedestrians
Thanks to the dedicated pathway for pedestrians that's suspended above the cars below, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge is one of the most comfortable and safest bridges to cross for pedestrians in New York City.
- Skip the Subway. The J, M, and Z lines of the subway all cross over the Williamsburg Bridge, which is the fastest way to get across. But if you're crossing by foot, then you're probably doing it to enjoy the journey, not get to your destination as fast as possible. The subway takes about 10 minutes to get from Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn to Delancey Street in Manhattan, while you can expect to spend about 40 minutes crossing the bridge on foot at a leisurely pace. Of course, only pedestrians have the freedom to stop, take in the sights, and get photos of the Manhattan skyline from the river.
- Stay in the pedestrian lane. Just as you wouldn't walk across in the lane with cars, don't walk across in the bicycle lane, either. Pedestrians have their own designated pathway and for their own safety should stick to it. It's easiest to begin the journey on the Brooklyn side since pedestrians have their own entrance at Berry Street and South Sixth Street. The Manhattan entrance is slightly more complicated because bikers and pedestrians enter in the same place at Clinton and Delancey streets, so you have to stay alert for bikers zipping by as you're getting on.
- Wear the right shoes and clothing. The walk up the Williamsburg Bridge from the street is quite the incline, so wear comfortable walking shoes. It also tends to be breezy over the river, so a light jacket or something to cover up in case it's chilly is recommended, especially when crossing in the evening or at night.
- Bring a camera. Most people would probably agree that the views from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are a bit more remarkable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't bring a camera. Some of the best photo ops are actually on the bridge itself, since the pathway is filled with graffiti and street art, giving it a chic, grungey feel. If you're a photographer, then the sunset light over the river is one of the best times to be on the bridge.
- Make the most of the trip. Your journey doesn't end when you get off the bridge. Whether you're walking towards Brooklyn or Manhattan, it doesn't matter. Either way, you'll end up in one of NYC's coolest neighborhoods. If you exit in Williamsburg, it's the quintessential Brooklyn neighborhood. Walk north toward McCarren Park and you'll pass by more restaurants, bars, cafes, and boutique shops than you know what to do with. If you're walking towards Manhattan, don't worry; the Lower East Side is just as vibrant as its neighbor across the river. Grab a bite at iconic eateries like Russ & Daughters or Katz's before exploring New York's original immigrant neighborhood.
Helpful Tips for Bikers
Considering that Williamsburg is the original NYC hipster neighborhood, it's not surprising that more cyclists cross the Williamsburg Bridge each day than any other bridge in North America. Not only is it biker-friendly, but once you take into account MTA delays and waiting for the train, it's usually faster to cross by bike than by subway. Even if you don't have your own bike, it's easy to get a hold of one.
- Use your phone to pick up a Citi Bike. The most convenient way to rent a bike is to use the Citi Bikes that are stationed throughout the city. Just download the app, pay for a day pass, and you can take an unlimited number of 30-minute rides for 24 hours (for an extra cost, you can also rent an e-bike for an easier ride). There's a Citi Bike station right at the bike entrance on the Williamsburg side in Continental Army Plaza and many more in the near vicinity. In the Lower East Side, the closest station is just a block away from the entrance at the corner of Broome and Norfolk streets.
- Don't stray from the bike lane. Traffic runs smoother and it's safer for everyone when cyclists use their designated lane. If you get on the bridge in Williamsburg, there's a biker's-only entrance near Fourth and Roebling streets. If your ride starts on the Manhattan side, bikers and pedestrians enter together at Clinton and Delancey streets, so keep an eye out for distracted pedestrians and use your bell to alert people that you're behind them.
- Use biking best practices to stay safe. Wearing a helmet is not required unless the rider is aged 13 or younger, but it's always a good idea to wear one. If you have headphones, you're allowed to ride with one earbud in but not both, although it's safest to pack the music away until you're off the bike.
- Park the bike and enjoy your destination. You can stop in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side—depending on which direction you're going—and enjoy all of the hip locales that each neighborhood offers. But if you're already familiar with those two, a bike gives you more freedom to continue on and explore even further. In Brooklyn, continue on to Bushwick or Greenpoint to venture out of Williamsburg. When you get off the bridge in Manhattan, just keep cycling and you'll end up in SoHo and near the bohemian West Village.