New York Stories and Tips

New York at its most epic - the Brooklyn Bridge and South Street Seaport

As seen on the fashion mags Photo, New York, New York

My favourite part of New York had to be this area between Chinatown and South Street Seaport.

This is where New York opens up and becomes a truly monumental with the kinds of vistas that you see on the cinema screen. The city abuts the wide fast-flowing Hudson River here, and it is spanned by one of the most famous bridges in the world - the Brooklyn Bridge. A walk across this bridge is mandatory not only to admire the intricate cast-iron architecture of this Victorian bridge, but to enjoy the skyscraper views of the Financial District, Midtown, and Brooklyn itself. It also is an area riddled with interesting history; if you know where to look this can be the most rewarding part of New York to explore.

To get there is simple. All subway lines seem to lead to Fulton Street-Broadway Nassau or even closer - Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. From there it is a short walk to City Hall Park. And the #15 bus travels all the way down Second Avenue to the financial district from the Upper East Side. The Bridge itself is a route for traffic but pedestrians make use of the walkway high above the rushing cars. And as this is a commuter route there is always a stream of people hurrying across the metal walkways of this bridge. The area is also one of the most historic in New York. To the north of City Hall Park is Foley Square and Chinatown. Foley Square stands on the old ''Five Points'' section which in the 19th Century was one of the worse slums in the world. It was named after the meeting of five streets - Orange, Mulberry, Anthony, Little Water and Cross (most long gone) and it was a festering slum of hoodlums murderers and thieves. It averaged a murder a day and even Charles Dickens when he visited was shocked. It was of course the setting for the superb ''Gangs of New York'' film by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. The old gangs of the ''Dead Rabbits'' and ''Natives'' fought pitched battles here. Nowadays, it is an immense square of concrete watched over by the Greek columns of the Supreme Court.

If you come this far up then you must have a look at Chinatown. Although San Francisco can probably boast a more famous district - New York''s seems have more of a mysterious past. Mott Street is the main street and is lined hundreds of Chinese medicine shops, noodle parlours, and tattoo artists. The shops themselves are fascinating with little pots growing bamboo, silk dresses and twittering canaries on sale. Of course it is the restaurants that are the main attraction and you can pick up dim sum for about $4.00 or a full meal for about $8.00. One of its exits to the south is Pell Street. In the 19th Century this was known as the ''Bloody Angle'' when it was an alley of many murders and robberies when the Tong''s ran Chinatown. The Tong wars have long since finished and the meat cleavers are now used in the restaurants that line Mott Street instead of on each other.

Back at City Hall Park is the start of the Brooklyn Bridge. On the eastern side of the park is a flower-laden traffic island and from here the pedestrian walkway starts. There are always crowds crossing and they travel the walkway which soars above the speeding traffic below. It is, after the Golden Gate, the most famous bridge in America and beloved of New Yorkers and tourists alike. It is undeniably impressive and when it was completed in 1883 was a technological marvel. It''s two supportive granite pylons are hung with weblike metal cables which create a sort of spider-like feel as you walk to the first pylon. The strands look so delicate and graceful but in reality are strong and taut. The pylons themselves are a marvel of Victorian engineering, and most people just walk to the first one. Whether you choose the first or second to finish your journey the views from either are sensational (see photo).

To the south are the skyscrapers of the financial district in all their glory - some are art-deco, some are concrete and glass but all undeniably impress. At their foot was South Street Seaport with the masts of its clippers standing tall. The second pylon had marvelous views to the north of mid-town and upper Manhattan. The cityscape was flat apart from those two icons - the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Even Brooklyn had its won mini-art deco skyline. Once finished with the Brooklyn Bridge (and you can spend a lazy afternoon crossing from one side to the other) then I would head for South Street Seaport. To get there you must return to City Hall Park and at its southern end cross the huge zebra crossings to Fulton Street. This street heads downhill to the sea and being on the edge of the financial district it was full of offices, sandwich shops, stores, bars etc. Most interesting was the ''Strand'' bookshop which was a cavernous warehouse of used books. It''s a good place for browsing, but even if you are just doing that you must hand over any bags to an attendant before you can enter.

A mini-lighthouse marked the start of South Street Seaport and its cobbles. This is a very good example of urban regeneration where Victorian buildings and wharves have been converted into spiffy restaurants and shops without compromising the character of the area. Very popular with visitors who generally headed for the water via shops which housed GAP, ''the Bodyshop'' and ''Abercrombie and Fitch''. A busy road separates Fulton Street from the clean wharves of the seaport and once across you are in front of two impressive 19th Century clippers - ''Wavertree'' and ''Peking''. From these wharves and piers you can get tours of the harbour. Pier 17 extends into the harbour with restaurants, bars and a shopping mall. I found a good seat at the top of Pier 17 where I got impressive views of the Brooklyn Bridge and could snigger at a skateboarder fall over and make a fool of himself.

The pier itself is essentially a mall. The food courts are impressive with cheap food from around the world. And the NIKE store, gadget shops and poster emporiums were all worth a look. One last note, as I was walking back uphill on Fulton Street I looked behind and saw the masts of the clippers loom over the Victorian buildings.

It is easy to criticise South Street Seaport for being touristy, but for a second, I saw olde New York. The New York of the sepia photographs.

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