Join us on a walk from the quiet residential streets on the Brooklyn Heights across the Brooklyn Bridge with the skyscrapers ahead, right into the Civic Center, Chinatown and Little Italy.
We spent a week in Manhattan doing a lot of walking. That’s what visiting a big city is basically about. In the previous chapter I described a wonderful walk in the park, Central Park. In this article we will dip into another borough of New York City, Brooklyn, and walk straight into Manhattan.
The Brooklyn Bridge is the way to do it. It is a must-see in New York, and to walk across it is a must-do.
There is no way you can skip my advice. This is a great walk and you get to see a number of sights along the way. The bridge itself is a famous landmark and extremely photogenic, but nothing beats the Manhattan skyscraper panorama right in front of you. Moreover, you can do this entire trip in only 3-4 hours at a leisurely pace.
Look at this image excerpt from my NYC map first, and I will walk you through it with explanations and images.
We took the subway to the Court Street Station. From here the Montague Street runs straight west to East River. We followed it down to the river.
It is a busy, yet tranquil street, with restaurants, shops and residential quarters forming the centre of the Brooklyn Heights. This area was built prior to the Civil War mostly with brownstone rowhouses and is today an affluent neighbourhood. The low-rise architecture adds to its laid-back atmosphere.
Being Norwegians, we looked around for signs of anything Scandinavian, but found nothing. The Norwegian immigrants of the 1900s came to a large degree to Brooklyn, but further south. There were nevertheless some groups settling here as well, around Montague Street.
Anyway, this was a bright, pleasant morning in spring and the trees were blossoming. We continued down the street and ended up on the Promenade. What a view!
The Manhattan skyline across the East River is without much doubt best seen from here, in the morning. A professional photographer was packing his gear when we arrived, but the point is that being east of Lower Manhattan the light is at its best in the early morning. (We had seen the skyline from Liberty Island to the south and from Rockefeller Plaza to the north. This was the best.)
Anyway, we naturally had to follow the Promenade for a couple of blocks just to enjoy life, the row of houses to our right, the Manhattan skyscrapers to our left, and the magnificent view of the Brooklyn Bridge straight ahead.
After a while we turned right, back into the Heights, and continued on down Willow Street and then Middagh Street. The latter sounds Norwegian (meaning “dinner”), but is not. Instead it contains most of the remaining wooden houses in Brooklyn, so in a way it resembles Norway. Picturesque? Definitely!
Dumbo (acronym for Down under the Manhattan Bridge underpass) is the neighbourhood north of the Brooklyn Bridge. Some reckon it starts under the Brooklyn Bridge as well. Anyway, we went down to the river but we did not dive into it. There was a small sandy beach though. We had lunch at an Italian place in this area, marked on the map.
This part of New York doesn’t look anywhere near what you’d expect New York to be like.
Backtracking a few hundred metres we found the steps leading up on the bridge. What a bridge!
This suspension bridge was opened in 1883 and was a huge engineering achievement at its time. The total length is 1,825 metres and its longest span is 486 metres. Today this is one of the most important landmarks in New York, and I dare say, in the world. Rumours at the time of opening even had it that it was dangerous, but the famous circus director P. T. Barnum sent Jumbo and 21 other elephants across the bridge to prove its strength. It still stands.
Pedestrians are very fortunate. I have no idea what it is like to drive across it, but suspect that it is rather boring. We are able to walk above the road, on a special pedestrian level with separate lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. That’s great, and that gives us the opportunity to spend as much time on the bridge as we like.
One may walk in either direction, but I would suggest that walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan is the better. The panorama is far better. Take notice of the blue-coloured suspension bridge by the name of Manhattan Bridge upriver, it is a wonderful sight.
Apart from mentioning that there are two towers on the Brooklyn Bridge there is not really much to say. Just walk and enjoy the views of the bridge, around you and the others walking or bicycling across it.
On the Manhattan side one encounters to the right the red-brick buildings of a neighbourhood simply called Two Bridges. In front we find the Civic Center, with the New York City Hall right ahead, and a number of court buildings in our direction – north.
This is an area of strict formality when it comes to architecture. Fascinating, in a way. We are nonetheless heading into another world.
Allegedly this area in Manhattan is home to the largest community of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. That might be the case, and we did see a lot of Chinese doing their shopping. In addition it is impossible to miss all the signs in Chinese letters.
Apart from that, this was kind of a disappointment. I might have seen too many Chinatowns in the real world – in East Asia.
The Chinese and the Italian “towns” sort of intertwine around Canal Street, and it might be hard to distinguish between them. Little Italy is the area in a northerly direction, concentrated on Mulberry Street and mostly occupied by restaurants. Quite touristy, as a matter of fact.
Nolita and Soho
Towards the end of our walk we enter the districts of Nolita (short of North of Little Italy) and SoHo (South of Houston Street). Gradually becoming trendy areas, these are neighbourhoods for visitors growing a slight headache from watching skyscrapers in the Financial District or Midtown.
It is nice and relaxing to be walking the streets here, and there are several places to sit down for a coffee or more. We had wonderful cupcakes at the place marked on the map.
Sandalsand’s New York map
This described and mapped walk is 6 kilometres long (3.7 miles). You can of course stop after the Brooklyn Bridge and drop the neighbourhoods on the Manhattan side if that is too long. We spent 4 hours, including a one hour lunch break and the cupcakes towards the end.
This article is part of a series from a week-long visit to New York City. We planned our visit by pinpointing on a map all attractions we wanted to visit, skipped some and connected the rest with walking routes.
The result is illustrated on this map. At first sight it seems immensely overcrowded. Fortunately you may zoom in, click the markers, hide specific walks, and even expand the map into a new tab or window.
In addition there is a special entry from New York’s own World Heritage Site, the Statue of Liberty.