New York’s Best Bridges: An Arbitrary Guide for the Wayward Tourist
The Best Bridge in New York City for Tourists
If you want to find the best bridge in New York City, it really depends on who you ask.
NYC locals might answer, “whichever has the cheapest toll” or “whichever is the least congested.”
The Williamsburg Troll may tell you: “whichever has the most beer-guzzling hipsters to feast upon.”
Your grandma will probably scream: “don’t go to New York! It’s dangerous! Where’s my TV Guide?!”
And while there’s no official criteria for “the best bridge in NYC”, we believe that the best bridge in New York should be graded on its appeal to everyone, especially tourists. Sorry hungry trolls and boob-tube glued grandmas, but this article isn’t for you. Nope.
This guide is for New York noobs who want to jam their pupils with all the Big Apple eye-candy they can handle; bridges included.
And while choosing a bridge to visit is no easy task, we’ve got you covered like a bridge over troubled water. Our completely arbitrary grading criteria includes the following:
- Skyline Views
- Pedestrian Access
- Name Recognition
- What’s on the Other Side
So ready your phones, check your blind spots (bikers abound), and don’t look past our picks for the best bridges in New York!
The Brooklyn Bridge (#1)
When you’re visiting New York you don’t want to waste your precious tourist time on some run-of-the-mill land connector. You want the best of the best; a bridge to remember! One that bridges the gap of bridge and monument. The Brooklyn Bridge is just that. Iconic in stature, rich in history, and beautiful in design, it has been a must-see landmark of New York (and the United States) for over one hundred years. And while New York and tourism have changed dramatically in the last 100 years, the Brooklyn Bridge remains a tangible link to that past that we all can enjoy.
Oh, and before you go… Don’t forget to do your homework and read our 7 Brooklyn Bridge Facts (elephants and tragedy included!)
One of the most iconic bridges is also one of the most photographed landmarks in New York. Photo opportunities are endless and so are the angles of the bridge, skyline and river.
Here is just a sample of some worthy bridge-shots “for the ‘Gram”
Skyline Views: 10/10
The Brooklyn Bridge gets its namesake from its southern connection point, but don’t let that fool you: the Manhattan skyline is on full display. Consistently among the top three skyline views in the city, the Brooklyn Bridge is a double-edged tourist sword that combines an iconic New York structure with amazing urban vistas.
And did we mention that it’s also completely free?
Upon its completion in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge had achieved many distinctions. In addition to being the first and largest steel-suspension bridge, it was also the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere at the time of completion. Designed by John Augustus Roebling, a German engineer, the bridge featured many innovations, including its central tower which still hoists an American flag for the city to see.
This year, a contest called “Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge” has been announced which seeks to improve the often-congested pedestrian infrastructure.
When you’ve been around for over a century, you undoubtedly will have a story or two to tell. Bribery, stampedes, death-defying (sometimes death-supplying) stunts, elephants, hidden bunkers, women engineers, wine cellars and a bevy of tragedies have all played their role in the history of New York’s most famous bridge.
Pedestrian Access: 5/10
Being one of the most popular bridges in the world comes with some downsides, including congestion. Get ready to play human frogger as you dodge bikers, street performers, and meandering Instagram models. Bonus points if you can avoid stepping on the authentic Louis Vitton purses sure to greet your feet!
Tip: While New York doesn’t operate on quiet hours, visiting on a weekday or after sunset should minimize crowd potential.
Name Recognition: 10/10
How many bridges outside of your city can you name? Unless you’re a civil engineer or a well-traveled troll, it’s probably less than ten. The Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t even have a song named after it yet (we’re looking at you Fergie) and it’s still among the most recognized bridges in the world.
Other memorable bridges include:
- The Golden Gate Bridge [San Francisco, USA]
- Sydney Harbour Bridge [Sydney, Australia]
- Akashi Kaikyo Bridge [Kobe, Japan]
- Tower Bridge [London, England]
- London Bridge [London, England]
What’s on the Other Side: 10/10
The northbound connection spits out into the heart of Lower Manhattan, placing you within walking distance of Wall Street, the World Trade Center, and City Hall so you can keep your tourist spree going.
Meanwhile, the southbound connection plops you near Downtown Brooklyn. From here you can find yourself within walking distance of the transit museum (oh the irony!) and bars that will make you say “a beer costs how much?!”
All jokes aside, the Brooklyn Bridge offers a fantastic launching point into the worlds of Manhattan and Brooklyn for tourists and locals alike.
The Manhattan Bridge (#2)
If it weren’t for its big brother (or sister or bridgeling or whatever), the Manhattan Bridge would probably get much more attention. It’s sleek, it’s historic, and it occupies some of the most important real estate in the city. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Bridge out-bridges it in most comparisons: pedestrian capacity and alliteration included. Don’t let that stop you though, it’s the bridge less traveled, and still offers great views of Lower Manhattan.
For decades Washington Street was known by locals as the setting for one of the most iconic shots in the city. Now, the secret is out. This summer hordes of Instagrammers flocked to the residential area, causing traffic jams and arguments with those in the neighborhood just to get a picture of the Manhattan Bridge.
Once you finally reach the bridge itself, the pedestrian walkway offers sweeping views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. Keep in mind that there is a chain-link fence lining the length of the walkway, thus portrait-seekers will be better served using the bridge as a backdrop. With less foot traffic this is a better option for those just looking for shots of Lower Manhattan or for those who, you know, just want to use their eyeballs to capture the moment.
We understand the importance of showing all your friends that you’re at a place with cool stuff, but if you decide to join the IG masses be sure to respect the neighbors and your surroundings!
Skyline Views: 8/10
As mentioned above, the Manhattan Bridge is positioned for some amazing views of the city… with a catch. You can choose to either navigate around the chain-link fence for your landscape shots, or you can get creative and use it as a framing device.
If you stand on the landlocked end of the Manhattan side, you can snag a great city shot which includes the One World Trade Center and graffitied buildings.
While its view is comparable to the Brooklyn Bridge, the fence knocks it down a few pegs.
Designed by Leon Moisseiff, the Manhattan Bridge was recognized as a great innovation when it was first revealed. The truss employed an architecture which dramatically reduced the heaviness of the bridge while preserving carrying capacity. This model served as a preferred design feature for subsequent suspension bridges of the era… at least that’s what Wikipedia says…
The bridge was the third to span the East River (following the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges). Investigating the background turned up only descriptions of renovations and construction projects. No elephants or daredevilry here.
Pedestrian Access: 7/10
Pedestrian access is divided into two parts: the southernmost point is dedicated for foot traffic, while the northern side is now allocated for bikers. This helps eliminate some of the issues plaguing the Brooklyn Bridge’s congestion, but the walkway is still significantly smaller. Be sure to plan ahead and save some walking time by looking up the entrance before you go with this handy map from NYC.Gov.
Name Recognition: 6/10
Manhattan may be the “heart” of New York, but even a big city title can’t vault this bridge into the top tier. Movie buffs or tourists with high levels of recall may find success, but this is another area where the Manhattan Bridge falls short.
What’s on the Other Side: 10/10
It takes less than 10 minutes to walk from the Manhattan Bridge entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge entrance on the Brooklyn side, so you’ll still have access to the heart of Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn when you de-bridge.
The Williamsburg Bridge (#3)
The Williamsburg Bridge makes number three on the list despite some pretty blatant bribery attempts to climb higher. Rest assured, we at Made in LES show no favoritism to bridges which connect to the Lower East Side. But we get it. The Williamsburg Bridge is always left out in the cold. It was the second bridge to span the Hudson, third on our list, and leads a lonely existence upstream from its East River friends.
Even so, the Williamsburg Bridge is gaining traction. Over the last two decades Brooklyn, Williamsburg in particular, has seen a resurgence in popularity as a trendy counterpart to Manhattan. This has undoubtedly brought more exposure (and foot traffic) to an area with ample history and cultural significance.
The pedestrian walkway runs down the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge. For those looking to pad their ‘Gram with backdrops of the city, this isn’t your bridge. While you won’t find iconic landscape shots, the bridge does provide a great setting for urban photography. Graffiti and classic New York aesthetic abound.
Skyline Views: 6/10
Located upriver from Lower Manhattan, the Williamsburg Bridge doesn’t have the positioning to offer great Manhattan city sight lines. This is made more difficult when you consider the view is obstructed by fencing and tresses. Looking back on Brooklyn from the bridge entrance lends some interesting shots for urban photographers though (and if you’re photographing in New York you can’t help but be urban).
Construction took only half the time as the Brooklyn Bridge and was immediately praised for the ingenuity which made it the longest suspension bridge in the world (a record it would hold for 21 years.) Fun fact: designer Leffert Buck had previously worked on design projects with Eiffel Tower designer Gustav Eiffel. Maybe that explains why it looks like a sleeping Eiffel Tower?
It may surprise you, but the “Williamsburg Bridge” was not always known as such. Like Michael Caine, Judy Garland, and Martin Sheen, the Williamsburg Bridge hides behind a pseudonym. No, the change from the East River Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge was not as drastic as Maurice Micklewhite Jr.’s (we’re looking at you Michael Caine), but it still played an important role in New York history.
Famed jazz musician Sonny Rollins played on the bridge daily between 1959 to 1961 and inspired a local resident to petition a name change in honor of the late musician. His album, “The Bridge”, was named from his busking days on the river.
Pedestrian Access: 7/10
A bike and pedestrian path runs down the center of the bridge above the car and train traffic. It’s less crowded than our front-runners, but comes with it’s own baggage: bike traffic. Stay alert and stick to your own lane.
Name Recognition: 6/10
Williamsburg is trending. Is that enough to vault this bridge into the top tier of bridges? Nope. It’s New York popular, but that’s about it.
What’s on the Other Side: 10/10
While we couldn’t give our top spot to the Williamsburg Bridge, we’ll gladly reward it in this category. The Lower East Side and Williamsburg are two incredibly vibrant boroughs that provide history, culture, museums, and eateries to satisfy even the most picky tourist.
Note: The New York State DOT manages almost 800 bridges across the state. It keeps its bridges looking good, despite the incessant wear and tear of thousands of vehicles daily.