August 2, 2018
A boat ride around Manhattan is a couple of hours well spent. Just being out on the water is reward enough but if you happen to be a pontist – that’s someone who appreciates the aesthetics and engineering of bridges – you’re in for a real treat. You’ll be cruising under some of the most recognisable bridges in the world. These are Goliaths, masterpieces of engineering, impressive and imposing in equal measure and each with their own story. Some of them you’ll recognise from the movies, while a couple of others feature in popular songs.
The Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise takes around two and a half hours and is a great way to see Manhattan from a different angle, with plenty of big ticket sights along the way. At every turn, there’s the familiar. That skyline, for starters. The unexpected: just how green parts of Manhattan Island are. And the delightful, like nesting cormorants. But if bridges weren’t previously on your list of Big Apple must-see sights this trip will change your mind.
Bridges are so easy to take for granted. Yet cities are often defined by them. Think Tower Bridge in London, Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Bridges are part of our culture, they drive economies, connect people and transform landscapes. A bit like, dare we say, airlines! From the oldest, a slab-stone single-arch bridge over the river Meles in Izmir, Turkey, built in 850 BC, to modern design masterpieces such as the Lucky Knot Bridge in China, every bridge has something different to appreciate. And by going underneath them, you’ll often get an entirely different perspective on their construction.
The bridges of Manhattan carry thousands of people every day, by train, bus and car as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Most were built around the turn of the 20th century, and in their time they were modern marvels. To add to the drama, many people lost their lives during their construction.
he cruise will initially take you down the Hudson River and past Ellis Island for some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty. You’ll then head up the East River under three of the big landmark suspension bridges:
Brooklyn Bridge. The first bridge on the trip and the first of the three big suspension bridges built on Manhattan. One of the true icons of New York, it took 14 years to build and was completed in 1883. Originally used by horse-drawn carts and trains, Brooklyn Bridge now sees more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross every day.
Willis Avenue Bridge, which forms part of the New York Marathon course.
Third Avenue Bridge, which opened in 1898 and was rebuilt in 2005 (and features in a documentary of ‘Mega Builders’ which you can still catch on Discovery!)
Followed by the Madison Avenue Bridge and 145th Street Bridge.
Continuing along the Harlem River, the next two are some of the oldest of Manhattan’s bridges:
First is Macombs Dam Bridge, which opened in 1895, then High Bridge which is a stone arch bridge and the oldest in New York City, having originally been a viaduct. Opened in 1848, it was restored in 2006 and reopened as a pedestrian bridge.
The final three bridges on the Harlem River are the steel arch Alexander Hamilton, then the Washington Bridge, another steel arch bridge carrying six lanes of traffic as well as pedestrians. The last bridge on this stretch of the cruise is University Heights Bridge, a steel swing bridge and a recognised New York City Landmark.
Shortly after this you’ll turn left into Spuyten Duyvil Creek and under Broadway Bridge, an impressive double-decker lifting bridge. Next up is the Henry Hudson Bridge, and then a highlight, the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a railway bridge which rotates to allow your boat through. Finally, you’ll turn left back onto the Hudson, past the point where Sully’s aircraft ditched (some of the Circle Line sightseeing boats were involved in the rescue) and under the last bridge on the tour, the magnificent double-decker suspension George Washington Bridge, the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world. (Keep an eye out for the Little Red Lighthouse under the bridge; the subject of a popular children’s book by Hildegarde H. Swift.).
If you’re not a card-carrying pontist by the time you disembark, you’ll certainly come away with a renewed respect for these magnificent structures and the people who design and build them.
The cruise is run by Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and leaves from Pier 83 in Midtown.