At times it can be easy to forget New York City is made of islands. But the city and its five boroughs are connected by almost 2,000 bridges and tunnels. Numerous bridges are engineering marvels. Others have a rich history. While the bridges are fun to look at, you can also walk, run, or ride your bike across dozens of them. Others you can go over via car or subway. Regardless of how you explore them, they offer exceptional views of the city you don't want to miss. Here is your guide to New York City's coolest bridges to visit during your trip.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City landmark. Almost 4,000 people from all over the world visit it each day, and it is one of the most recognized parts of the skyline.
It was built in the late 1800s over the East River to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn. It took 14 years, 600 workers (two of which died during construction), and $15 million to build. It's granite towers and steel cables still impress modern day engineers.
The best way to visit this bridge is by walking across it or riding your bike (at 6,000 feet long it's a manageable journey.) The Manhattan-side entrance is at Park Row and Centre Street, east of City Hall. On the Brooklyn side you can get on the walkway at Cadman Plaza East or the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place. The bridge can get hectic with so many people stopping to take pictures so pay careful attention to your surroundings. It's also important to stay in your lane.
The Manhattan Bridge
The Manhattan Bridge connects downtown Brooklyn to Canal Street in Chinatown, Manhattan. It's the youngest bridge in the East River — constructed in 1901 — and has an often photographed stone facade that was built by the same architects who created the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The bridge was one of the first to employ the deflection theory, which said suspension cables were enough to support the structure; It didn't need the huge beams that engineers originally thought necessary.
The Manhattan Bridge is widely used by New Yorkers. Every day over 450,000 people cross it by car, bike and subway. The latter is an easy way to experience the bridge and see the views of the Manhattan skyline. You can also walk across the bridge (there is a pedestrian lane on the south side) or bike (on the north side) although the path is narrow and gritty. The upside is that you'll see the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and Brooklyn Bridge.
The Williamsburg Bridge
The Williamsburg Bridge, another one of the East River Bridges, was a big deal when it opened in 1903. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world and the only one to employ all steel towers. It was also one of the last to have special lanes for horses and carriages (the automobile became widespread a few decades after it was built.) The design is said to have been inspired by the Eiffel Tower.
The Williamsburg Bridge is in a busy location connecting South Williamsburg to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Historically, locals cross it mostly by taking the J, M or Z trains, in a taxi or subway. But in recent years more people are walking the bridge. Pedestrians have their own walkway separate from bikers. You can enter it in Manhattan at Clinton Street and Delancey. In Brooklyn access it at Berry Street between South 5th and South 6th Streets.
The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge
The Queensboro Bridge is also known as the 59th Street Bridge. It's a bridge many New Yorkers take for granted, because they mostly use it to commute from Manhattan to Queens. But it actually has a remarkable history.
It is made of 75,000 tons of steel. In 1909, the year it was completed, it could carry heavier loads than any other bridge in the United States. Its original version had a line for trolleys which took locals to Astoria, Flushing, and other parts of Queens. It also had a car elevator that would drop off people in Roosevelt Island, located in the middle of the East River.
If you're taking a taxi from Manhattan to JFK or LaGuardia Airports you are likely to cross this bridge. Don't forget to look out the windows behind you; the entire midtown Manhattan skyline will be on display. It's also possible to walk this bridge. The path is three-quarters of a mile long, and you'll get views of Long Island City, the East River, and Manhattan's Upper East Side (including the United Nations headquarters). The pedestrian entrance on the Manhattan side is East 60th Street between First and Second Avenues. From Queens it is at Crescent Street and Queens Plaza North.
The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge
Because of its distant location fewer tourists make it out to see the The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, but it's actually one of New York City's prettiest. It is a suspension bridge that connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. From the time it was completed in 1964 until 1981 it was the longest bridge in the world. It cost $325 million, including land acquisition, to construct.
A funny story is that the bridge is named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, a 16th Century Explorer who was the first European to explore the New York Bay. Originally, however, it was spelled wrong, with only one Z. The mistake was only rectified in 2018.
Sadly the bridge has no pedestrian or bike walkways. You can cross by car or wait for a special occasion like the New York City Marathon and the Five Boro Bike Tour. Then the lanes are closed to traffic, and participants can make the 13,700 foot trek across it.
The George Washington Bridge
The George Washington Bridge goes over the mighty Hudson River connecting Manhattan to New Jersey. Crossing over it is like going to a different world; you leave the hustle bustle of Manhattan and immediately enter the rolling hills of the Palisades.
The bridge was commissioned by the Port Authority of New York City in 1923, and before then, no engineer could figure out how to span the river (they tried for 100 years!) It was suspended between two steel towers, and it was so strong it could carry two levels of traffic, both cars and trains. It has been expanded a few times since its original construction most recently in 1962.
While crossing the George Washington Bridge can be a nightmare for commuters — it's known for its traffic jams — it's a pleasant experience to leisurely ride a bike or walk over it. There are entrances on both the north and south sides to enter the bridge. On a pleasant day you'll be able to see sailboats racing along the river.
The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (Formerly the Triborough Bridge)
Few people know that the R.F.K. Bridge, opened in 1936, is actually composed of three bridges, a viaduct, and 14 miles of roads that come from Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. At different points the bridge connects Manhattan to Randalls Island over the Harlem River; Randalls Island to the Bronx; and Wards Island to Astoria in Queens. The bridge was envisioned before the Great Depression but built as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
It is possible to walk across this bridge. You can enter the walkway at 10 different points in three boroughs. You can see all the options on their website. Leave your bike at home. All people are required to dismount their bike and walk it when they get on the bridge, which can be a big pain. Bikers also must carry their bike up staircases to get to the top of the bridge.