A Bridge Lover’s Guide to NYC Bridges on the East River

Along with an undying affinity for coffee, I have an inexplicable appreciation for bridges. If you’ve ever glimpsed my instagram feed, this should not be brand new information.

Unlike my love for coffee, which I can easily explain away by citing coffee’s deliciousness, I’m not really sure why I adore bridges. It’s very much akin to a “moth to a flame” situation that I just roll with (because really, what’s the harm?). It’s like, I’ll be in close proximity to a bridge – then the next thing I know, there must be some magnetic force pulling me closer: either to get a better view, or to cross it.

Thankfully, New York caters quite nicely to my #bridgelove – in fact, one of my favorite things about NYC is its many bridges. I’ve gleefully crossed most of them on bike or foot, taking my sweet time to enjoy the views and the architecture – and naturally, to photograph the bejesus out of them.

nyc bridges
4th of July 2012, on the Williamsburg Bridge – my favorite of all NYC bridges

Here’s a look at the NYC bridges that cross the East River, from south to north —

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

bridges in nyc

Fun Fact: The Verrazano-Narrows is the longest bridge in America.

Normally only traversable via motorized vehicle (and a hefty $13 toll), this beautiful suspension bridge connects Staten Island to Brooklyn in elegant fashion. While there aren’t any foot paths or bike lanes, the bridge is open to non-drivers on two occasions each year: the NYC Marathon and the Five Boro Bike Tour. If you’re like me and have zero plans to subject yourself to either endeavor, you can still admire the bridge from the shores of south Brooklyn.

Note: This bridge technically crosses the Narrows, NOT the East River, but I wanted to include it because it’s on the east side.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge walk

Fun Fact: The Brooklyn Bridge is a National Historic Landmark, and is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US.

Make no mistake, the Brooklyn Bridge is every bit iconic as it’s made out to be. I still say the best view of the Brooklyn Bridge is from Brooklyn Bridge Park, but if you’re up for battling impatient cyclists and hoards of shuffling tourists, walking across the bridge is one of those things you just have to do at least once in NYC. Pro Tip: The Brooklyn half of it is significantly less chaotic than the Manhattan half.

Manhattan Bridge

Bridges in NYC
View of the Manhattan Bridge from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Fun Fact: 5 Subway lines run across the Manhattan Bridge (N, Q, R, B, D).

Slightly north of the Brooklyn Bridge is another stunner by name of the Manhattan Bridge (seriously, where did they come up with these names?!). While it doesn’t hold a candle to the magical experience of looking up at the Brooklyn Bridge’s granite towers and steel cables, I think the Manhattan Bridge looks better than the Brooklyn Bridge does from the ground. It’s also a significantly less treacherous experience to cross it on foot because there are completely separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists. In short, the Manhattan Bridge is awesome if not underappreciated.

Williamsburg Bridge

bridges in nyc

Fun Fact: The Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903 and at the time, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world!

The Williamsburg Bridge is quite possibly my most favorite bridge in the world, and it’s definitely my favorite of the NYC bridges. I’ve crossed it hundreds of times on foot and on bike and somehow I still manage to see something different on each traverse. Between the ever-changing graffiti tags, fetching city views both up and down the East River, and eclectic cast of characters passing by, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge never gets old.

Queensboro Bridge (59th St Bridge)

NYC Bridges
View of the Queensboro Bridge from Randalls Island

Fun Fact: The Queensboro Bridge is the most-traversed bridge in all of NYC.

Holding the honor of the most-traversed bridge in all of NYC, the Queensboro connects Queens to Manhattan. It’s popular amongst drivers who opt to escape Midtown Manhattan by avoiding the toll-plagued Queens-Manhattan Tunnel, though the joint pedestrian/bike path on the north side sees plenty of traffic. The best thing about this bridge crossing is that it passes over Roosevelt Island, providing birds-eye views of its many ball fields, high rises, and riverfront parks directly below. If your timing’s right, you can also catch the Roosevelt Island Tram running right next to the bridge on the Manhattan side.

Roosevelt Island Bridge

nyc bridges

Fun Fact: Before the Roosevelt Island Bridge opened in 1955, the only way for cars to access the island was via an elevator from the Queensboro Bridge.

Unlike all of the aforementioned bridges in NYC, the Roosevelt Island Bridge does not cross the entire river; instead, it merely connects Roosevelt Island to Astoria. That is, the only way you can reach Roosevelt Island sans public transport is via this lift bridge from Queens (assuming it’s not open). I can sympathize with wanting to minimize traffic on the island, but it’s quite a bummer not being able to bike from the city to the island. ALTHOUGH, on the flip side: the Roosevelt Island Bridge earns bonus points for its deep maroon color, dontcha think?

RFK Bridge (Triborough Bridge)

NYC Bridges

Fun Fact: The Triborough Bridge was renamed the RFK Bridge in 2008.

It’s unique in that it’s the only NYC Bridge that connects 3 boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. All 3 legs of the bridge have a narrow sidewalk for pedestrians and bike-walkers – that’s right, cyclists are supposed to dismount their bikes when crossing the RFK Bridge, ahem. The 3 sections converge over Wards/Randalls Island, which is a convenient spot to exit the bridge and resume your cycling on the island or simply take a break on the waterfront.

Hell Gate Bridge

bridges in nyc
View of Hell Gate Bridge from the RFK Bridge

Fun Fact: The Hell Gate Bridge inspired the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is 60% larger.

Speaking of unique bridges, the Hell Gate Bridge is a railroad bridge: that is, it caters exclusively to trains traveling from Wards Island to Astoria, Queens. It’s certainly not fit for frolicking, but you can catch a lovely view of it from the southern segment of the RFK Bridge.

Wards Island Bridge

bridges in nyc

Fun Fact: Before its 2012 renovation, the Wards Island Bridge was closed to pedestrians from late October through late March each year.

Probably my second favorite bridge in NYC due to its uniqueness and pedestrian-friendliness, the Wards Island Bridge connects Wards Island to Manhattan. When its middle section is open, it allows boats to pass through; when closed, pedestrians and cyclists can cross the river to/from East Harlem without having to contend with vehicular traffic. Really though, how cool does this aqua-colored footbridge look?

For some international #bridgelove, be sure to check out my London Bridges post!

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Bridges in NYC
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Bridges in NYC