Walking the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise is one the best free things to do when visiting NYC and not just on a first visit, but on every visit. Having crossed the bridge at least a dozen times, we think sunrise, sunset and at night are the best times of day to walk over and photograph New York City’s iconic Brooklyn Bridge.
In this guide we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, including a photography walkthrough beginning in Manhattan, walking across the bridge and an awesome bonus at the end.
A relaxing and warm ambience descends upon Brooklyn bridge at dawn when walking between world famous NYC boroughs Manhattan and Brooklyn. Soft light and stunning colors illuminate the sky, burning oranges and reds light up skyscrapers and Manhattan glows spectacularly at first light.
Let’s take a look at exactly where to start and end an unforgettable sunrise walk on the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge in New York City!
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Why Walk The Brooklyn Bridge At Sunrise?
Let’s begin with the why, because we all know sunrise means an excruciatingly early start!
Why include a sunrise walk into your New York City itinerary?
Walking Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and night time is amazing but you will share the bridge with hundreds, maybe even thousands of others if you stay up there long enough.
Waking up before everyone else in New York and before the sun creeps over silhouetted high rise buildings on the eastern horizon in Williamsburg means three things:
- You can be greedy and enjoy the Brooklyn Bridge almost entirely for yourself.
- You will see Lower Manhattan light up instead of fall into shadow.
- Ending at another popular attraction at the perfect time of day – Dumbo.
What is it that sets a Brooklyn Bridge sunrise apart from midday, sunset or at night?
Well, mid morning through to late afternoon you’re going to be faced with either a bright blue sky and big burning sun or a grey overcast cloudy sky. It’s still great but it doesn’t exude that same wow factor or give you an intrinsic fuzzy feeling.
Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best photography locations in NYC and a celebrated landmark. Sunrise is the most peaceful and serene time to walk across from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
Major Benefits To A Sunrise Stroll
- You will share the bridge with a (tiny!) fraction of the people you would at sunset and night time.
- More room to move on the narrow boardwalk.
- Far less concern about cyclists tearing through and ringing bells at you.
- Photography opportunities are plentiful and you won’t have to wait for gaps to appear.
- Selfie heaven at sunrise, you might even see a pro photoshoot or two along the bridge.
- With the right equipment you can create starbursts with the sun against elements of the bridge.
- Stunning colors around Lower Manhattan skyline to one side and Midtown Manhattan to the other.
Start In Manhattan And Walk The Bridge To Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Bridge is a cultural phenomenon and walking across is a rite of passage for all first time visitors to NYC.
You can choose to walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan or vice versa at sunrise and all other times of day. Alternatively, you can take one of many metro lines from Manhattan to Brooklyn and walk back across to Manhattan.
We’ve personally walked both directions many times and both are amazing. But for sunrise specifically, we think starting in Manhattan and walking over to Brooklyn offers the best options for photographers.
Brooklyn Bridge Sunrise Photography Locations
The perfect sunrise location would give you direct lines of sight towards and away from the sun. That way you can use the sun itself as a subject but also use a landscape lighting up behind you. Certain Grand Canyon sunrise locations give you both.
The major problem with sunrise (and photography in general!) is that you can only be in one place at one time. Ideally, we would split ourselves and be at all of the best photography locations for the entire sunrise. Maybe in a hundred years…?!
Back to today, there are 3 epic sunrise locations on and near Brooklyn Bridge and each offers a completely different photography experience. We hit all three spots in one morning and just about made it work efficiently.
We’re going to walk you through the process we followed to make the most of each location. However, you might have a different preference or priority for sunrise. If so, start and end wherever you feel is a higher priority for your shoot.
Here are our 3 top spots near Brooklyn Bridge in order from beginning to end of sunrise:
Before Sunrise at Pier 17, Manhattan
Staying at a hotel in Lower Manhattan will give you a better chance of making Pier 17 before sunrise. Read our roundup of top rated hotels in each of the popular NYC areas to pick the perfect place to stay.
The East River flows underneath Brooklyn Bridge and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Along both banks of the East River you will find a series of Piers with parks, bars, helicopter tours, restaurants and more.
Look for Pier 17 on a map. It is the closest pier to the bridge in Manhattan and it is perfectly located to have direct line of sight along the East River as it bends eastward toward the sun at dawn.
Pier 17 is a shopping center with bars and restaurants, it has an ice rink in Winter and is home to one of ESPN’s televised sports studios.
For now, ignore everything inside the mall and instead walk around the boardwalks to the far corner. There are benches lined up looking right out into the river and in the point closest to Brooklyn Bridge, you will find one of the best NYC sunrise locations.
- East River foreground
- Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge middleground
- Distant Williamsburg high rise buildings and burnt orange sky background
We recommend arriving here before sunrise when the sky is a transcending deep blue. Stay at Pier 17 to see the sky begin to turn a beautiful deep orange and buildings along Manhattan look as though they have been set on fire.
Check sunrise times and aim arrive the beginning of civil twilight.
Top-tip: Expect Pier 17 to be busy with photographers in Summer months when it is warmer. We visited on a sub-zero snowy February morning and there were still around 10 people watching sunrise. If it is crowded, try walking over to nearby Pier 15 instead, which has an elevated viewing terrace.
Walk Brooklyn Bridge During Sunrise
Don’t wait too long at Pier 17, you don’t want to actually see the sun rise over the buildings in Brooklyn / Williamsburg. Otherwise you’ll be too late starting the walk.
Pack up your camera gear up and make a beeline for the pedestrian walkway entrance to Brooklyn Bridge. The walk will take you between 10-15 minutes and of course this is precious time so try to walk on the quicker side of your typical pace!
Begin the long, slow and gradual incline up the bridge. We would suggest not stopping until you are at least in line with or past Pier 17 (which you can see by looking down to the right).
All of Brooklyn Bridge’s structural features begin further along the walkway. You can use steel ropes, mesh fences, granite columns, benches and more to create interesting perspectives.
Don’t forget to use shadows and subjects to silhouette as you walk over Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise. As soon as you pass Manhattan’s skyline, the camera should be getting some serious action.
Continue walking towards Brooklyn and the sun, but stop often to look back at Manhattan. The skyline will open up more and more as you walk away, which will reveal the tops of more skyscrapers like 40 Wall Street and One World Trade Center.
As you look back at Manhattan, to the distant left you will see the Statue of Liberty and to the right Midtown and the Empire State Building.
Top-tip: You will enjoy long stretches of the bridge to yourself but if not simply wait a few seconds until it clears.
Bonus – Catch The End Of Sunrise At Dumbo, Brooklyn
It’s going to take you anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes to cross Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise. Total time will depend on how many images you want to take.
But your morning is not over just yet! Keep the camera handy and take a staircase down not far after seeing ‘Welcome to Brooklyn’ words painted on the ground.
Walk North on Washington Street a few blocks until you reach one of New York City’s most popular photography locations – the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo.
This place is always packed full of selfie superstars … unless you get here early. And guess what, you’re here early!
We tried this spot at least 3 or 4 times and couldn’t get a clear or clean shot without an army of people or cars turning up the cobbled road. But when we got here towards the end of sunrise, we had all the time in the world.
One of the major benefits to walking the Manhattan to Brooklyn route?
By the time you arrive here, there’s enough ambient light available to allow subjects (people) in the foreground of this iconic image.
Contrast is super high between the dark shadowy foreground and brightly illuminated Manhattan bridge but if you are here even earlier (ie starting a sunrise walk from Brooklyn), contrast would be even more pronounced.
Top-tip: Try taking this image from various distances along Washington Street and compress the Manhattan Bridge so it appears closer.
Brooklyn Bridge Sunrise Photography Tips
Here are some photography tips for you to consider when walking over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise.
- Use a tripod as much as possible in low light around sunrise.
- On a tripod, keep your ISO low (closer to 100 is best) and use aperture priority to determine depth of focus. Long exposures will make the river appear smooth and flat.
- Without a tripod, handheld images run the risk of being blurry unless you bump up your ISO to increase light. When handholding aim for a shutter speed of around 1/125 s to ‘freeze’ your subjects and minimize blur from slight movements.
- With subjects (like a person) use f/2.8-5.6 to create cool bokeh effects of the Manhattan skyline or Brooklyn Bridge.
- It’s tempting to just use the immediate backdrop of Lower Manhattan but remember with a telephoto lens you can capture the Empire State Building and Midtown in the opposite direction.
- If you’re visiting New York City at Christmas or in Winter you will need to wrap up in warm layers to be out on a sunrise photography shoot. You can trust us on that one!
Walk Across at Sunset and Night
Sunrise is by far the quietest and most relaxing time to take a slow stroll from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
But if you’re looking for a more electric atmosphere with hundreds of people soaking up a positive vibe, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and at night instead.
Photography opportunities are unmissable both on the bridge and on the Brooklyn side, during sunset and particularly once it gets dark. Lower Manhattan illuminates spectacularly and we have a fantastic list of amazing photography locations for you to check out.
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We hope this guide helps you plan your walk over the Brooklyn Bridge at Sunrise!
Have you been to NYC? What is your favorite time of day to visit Brooklyn Bridge?
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit to New York City.
Mark and Kristen
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