Illustration by Christophe Marchand
Aug 27, 2021
How to spend an entire day exploring Brooklyn from the ferry
There's no better way to explore the city than on ferry. Here's an itinerary for every stop along the South Brooklyn and East River lines
There’s something special about standing out on the deck of a ship, the wind whipping around, cruising past the New York City skyline. It seems to be equal parts welcome mat and fortress—almost daring you to explore. And thanks to the city’s year-round ferry service, you can for just the cost of a MetroCard.
With multiple lines criss-crossing the East River, the NYC Ferry is not only one of the most unique ways to get around, it’s also one of the most convenient. And fun. From Sunset Park to Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo to Williamsburg, hopping on the ferry is a fair-weather ticket to the coolest spots to eat, drink, and while away a nice day.
If you wanted to, you could bounce from neighborhood to neighborhood from morning until late at night, sampling some of the best Brooklyn has to offer, all while taking in unmatched views of the city in the process. Taste key lime pie with fresh-squeezed key lime juice in Red Hook and shop for hand-painted beach bags before sipping frosé from a rooftop bar in Brooklyn Heights and touring a local brewery in Williamsburg.
Your itinerary: Start on the South Brooklyn Line, which will take you from Bay Ridge up to the Brooklyn Bridge, before transferring to the East River line in Dumbo, bringing you up to North Williamsburg—and you can even throw in a detour to Governors Island for fun.
Here’s how to spend a full day on the NYC Ferry, stop-by-stop. The numbers on the map correspond to specific stops along your journey.
Start your morning on the water with a BEC and a cappuccino from Pier 69 Market (No. 1 on the map), just steps from the Bay Ridge ferry terminal. Take your breakfast down to one of the picnic tables on the pier or grab a spot in nearby Owl’s Head Park. Those looking for a sit-down meal can indulge in a plate of Jamaican rum-infused French toast at MATTER (2) and top it off with a red eye to kickstart the day.
If you’re in the mood for a classic Brooklyn bagel, head over to Bagel Boy (3) for a fresh-made bagel with the schmear of your choice.
Continue the morning Zen with a visit to the volunteer-run Narrows Botanical Gardens (4), which features a native plant sanctuary, a lily pond, and rose gardens stretched across four and a half acres, before jumping on the ferry.
Where to find it: Clinton Wharf and Ferris St.
Which line: South Brooklyn
When you get off the ferry, you can work off breakfast with a little shopping. Pick up a bottle of vino at The Red Hook Winery (5) before heading over to Red Hook’s main drag, Van Brunt Street. Shop cool prints at Thank You Have A Good Day (6) or try on a large hand-painted canvas tote at Kempton & Co. before heading over to the Record Shop (7) to peruse some LP’s.
Cool off at the 15,000-square-foot Ample Hills Creamery Red Hook Factory for a sweet treat where ice cream fans can explore the (free) interactive ice cream museum and grab a scoop—or two or three, we’re not judging.
In the mood for an even more portable dessert? Head to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie (8) for a sugary pick-me-up in the form of the Swingle—a chocolate-dipped mini pie on a stick—which you can enjoy while taking in peerless views of the Statue of Liberty from the nearby Valentino Pier.
For a more adults-only treat, head to the Van Brunt Stillhouse (9) where tours are available on Sunday’s and include a tasting of the company’s flagship whiskies.
If you stick around the area a little longer, head over to historic Sunny’s Bar where you can surround yourself in old-school seaside neighborhood vibes while sipping on a drink of your choice. Stay into the evening and you’ll catch a great lineup of live music almost every night.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6/Atlantic Avenue
Where to find it: Furman St. And Atlantic Ave.
Which line: South Brooklyn
Step off the ferry right into Brooklyn Bridge Park, a leafy waterfront oasis that boasts nearly-unmatched views of the iconic New York City skyline, over-the-top playgrounds (complete with a slide mountain that would make any adult want to be a kid again), and hidden nooks.
Pick up an ice cream cone from OddFellows (No. 10 on the map—pro tip: try the freshly-made chocolate waffle cones) and go for a stroll through the park. Sit by a picnic table and watch the boats go by or stick your toes in the sand at the Pier 4 beach.
Later, take a break and cool off with a frosé or refreshing yuzu and shiso mojito at the rooftop bar of the One Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (11) where you can sip your drink while eye-level with the Brooklyn Bridge.
On weekends, catch the separate Governors Island ferry (12) from Pier 6 (tickets are $3) where you can hang out on grassy hills, play on the city’s longest 57-foot slide, go for an easy scenic bike ride and be treated to 360-degree views of the Statue of Liberty. Bring a blanket and a picnic or stop by one of the island’s food stands before heading back to Brooklyn.
About a mile up the road from the Atlantic Avenue stop, you’ll switch the East River line in Dumbo—an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This neighborhood has seen a renaissance over the past decade (some locals are happier about it than others). There are enough cobblestone streets, trendy shops, and breathtaking views to spend a whole day on alone. Start your afternoon there with a ride on Jane’s Carousel (13), a glass-encased, old-fashioned 1922 merry-go-round.
After grabbing the brass ring, grab a spot of lunch on the patio at The Osprey (14), which welcomes diners with secret garden-vibes and farm-to-table eats like white gazpacho with peekytoe crab and avocado. Or take advantage of the warm weather with a lobster roll and heaping plate of blackened shrimp nachos at Seamore’s, which focuses on sustainable seafood.
Plant-based fans should head to Vodega (15) for a take on a classic chopped cheese sandwich with Impossible ground beef or try the vegan breakfast “sausage,” egg and cheese.
Have a craving for some good pizza? Brave the lines at Juliana’s (16), helmed by the legendary Patsy Grimaldi, for a coal-fired pie that’s both crispy and perfectly chewy at the same time (pro tip: try half red, half white). It’s a bit touristy so be prepared to wait, but it’s worth it. If the line is just too long, head around the corner to the Time Out Market New York, another touristy-but-worth-it neighborhood spot where you’ll be able to sample warmed over greatest hits from the best of the borough, all in one spot. Try the honey chicken and pickle sandwiches on a buttermilk biscuit at Jacob’s Pickles or innovative ice cream flavors at Sugar Hill Creamery.
If it’s a Sunday, there’s no better place to be than perusing the antique glassware, vintage frocks, and handmade jewelry at Brooklyn Flea (17). Shop ‘til you nearly drop and then walk along the water and underneath the Brooklyn Bridge as you make your way to the ferry landing where you’ll board the East River line to keep heading north.
Where to find it: North 5th Street Pier and Park
Which Line: East River
Williamsburg has no shortage of great shops and chic spots. Step off the ferry and head to a local coffee shop for a midday pick-me-up, like the airy Bright Side cafe or Partners Coffee (18), where they roast their own beans.
In the mood for a more adult beverage? Head up a few blocks to the Brooklyn Brewery (19), which offers small batch tours and guided tastings on weekdays.
From there, make your way over to Bedford Avenue, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of shops selling everything from high-end vintage Chanel and Missoni at Amarcord Vintage Fashion to thrifty finds like at Monk Vintage. Pop into an independent bookstore like Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers (20) where stacks of new books compliment rare finds, or pick up some cupcake-shaped soaps and vegan body scrubs at Soap Cherie (21).
At the end of a long day, there’s no better way to wind down than with some great conversation and better food. Order a modern Chinese feast at Kings Co Imperial (22 on the map; think: handmade scallion chicken buns and “Angry Pig” fried rice with Chinese hanging pork, smoked tofu, snap pea, egg, and ginger). Vegans — and non-vegans who love a good plant-based meal — should head to Modern Love Brooklyn (23) for fun takes on classics like mushroom fried chick’n with white pepper gravy and vegan cacio e pepe with bucatini.
If you’re up for a walk, head into South Williamsburg to splurge on the haters-be-damned classic Peter Luger Steak House (24) where a steak will set you back, but the burger is just as worth it.
Top off the night with cool cocktails on one of the neighborhood’s rooftop bars like Westlight where you can sip a unique G&T with chamomile and hopped grapefruit bitters from 22 floors up atop The William Vale hotel. Or stake out a spot on the rooftop patio at Night of Joy where you can enjoy creative drams like beet and dill vodka and jalapeño and black current tequila.
At the end of the night, head back to the ferry (it runs until 10 p.m.) or to the L train, knowing you made the most of a day in Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods, and did it in the coolest way possible.