Walkable Cities Guide: DUMBO, Brooklyn

Updated: Mar 24


Exterior view of the Empire Stores building with arched windows in DUMBO, Brooklyn.


Bordering the nearby neighborhoods of Vinegar Hill and Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO (which stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”) is a Brooklyn neighborhood filled with stunning waterfront views, inviting travelers to take a spin on Jane’s Carousel, marvel at murals on the north side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and capture iconic views of the city.


We’ll let you in on a few secrets about ten neighborhood spots so you can travel like a local as you’re walking through DUMBO. If you're in the mood for an audio tour, you can also browse available tours in the area.



Iconic View of the Manhattan Bridge


At the intersection of Water Street and Washington Street, you’ll get a view that’s likely familiar (try searching DUMBO on Instagram), even if this is your first time traveling to New York. This glimpse of the Manhattan Bridge, framed on either side by hundred-year-old buildings, is iconic.



A view of the Empire State Building from under the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO, Brooklyn.


The Manhattan Bridge is younger than its much-beloved neighbor to the southwest, the Brooklyn Bridge, but longer: its upper level is over 6,000 feet long. You can cross the Manhattan Bridge on the B, D, N or Q trains, by car, by bicycle, or on foot. If you’re snapping a picture, be careful! Look around you, and make sure you’re out of the crosswalk by the end of the walk signal.


Jay Street Connecting Railroad


Head east down Plymouth Street, away from the Manhattan Bridge, and you can follow what looks like a train track, peeking out of the Belgian block road. You’re looking at the remnants of a private rail line, the Jay Street Connecting Railroad. Keep a lookout for tracks as you explore the north end of DUMBO.



A closeup of the Jay Street Connecting railroad embedded in the streets of DUMBO, Brooklyn.


The tiny railroad was built starting in 1904 by the Arbuckle Brothers company, which had made its fortune importing, roasting, and mass-distributing coffee. By the first years of the 20th century, they were doing such good business and transporting so many pounds of coffee, they decided it would be profitable to build a railroad with the sole purpose of moving product from warehouses onto barges. The Jay Street Connecting Railroad didn’t connect to any other railroad system — but you can see a few spots in DUMBO where the rails lead directly into buildings.


The Jay Street Connecting Railroad operated until 1959. Improved highways, the rise of long-distance trucking, and the standardization of shipping containers that could fit directly onto flatbed trucks together made the old system too expensive and inefficient.


DUMBO Walls


Street art is nearly everywhere you look in New York. The many large murals you’ll find in DUMBO are the product of a well-funded public art campaign, DUMBO Walls, organized by partners that include the City of New York and DUMBO’s most prominent developer.



One of the DUMBO Walls murals with a blue ocean background and pink and red octopus tentacles that spell the word yes. This specific mural is a collaboration between designer Stefan Sagmeister and illustrator Yuko Shimizu.


DUMBO Walls was started in 2012, leaning into the neighborhood’s reputation as a haven for artists. There are eight murals altogether, all on the north side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or under its overpasses.


Empire Stores


Rows of arched windows, black shutters thrown open, and layers upon layers of painted advertisements on bricks are all hints that you’re standing in front of the Empire Stores warehouse (53-83 Water St), built in 1869. Imagine what this neighborhood might have looked like back then when hundreds of warehouses lined the Brooklyn waterfront, from DUMBO to Red Hook.



Exterior of Empire Stores with brick walls and arched windows, located in DUMBO, Brooklyn.


In the early 1900s, Empire Stores was acquired by the coffee and sugar magnates John and Charles Arbuckle. In 1945, they sold the warehouse and it sat empty for decades. Today, Empire Stores is a mall of sorts, with much of the original brickwork and timber beams preserved.


Take the stairs all the way up and you’ll reach a rooftop garden open to the public. On your way back down, you might want to check out the Brooklyn Historical Society on the second floor. The $10 admission will get you in to see their exhibition on the waterfront history of Brooklyn.


Cardboard Box Factory


Walk around Brooklyn long enough, and you’re sure to pass sidewalks piled high with heaps of cardboard boxes, unfolded and ready to be picked up for recycling. Back in DUMBO’s earlier days, this ubiquitous invention made a fortune for one of the neighborhood’s earliest developers. This building is the first factory he built in Brooklyn.


Scottish-born immigrant and Civil War veteran Robert Gair was manufacturing paper bags over in Manhattan when a mistake in his factory gave him an idea for a new machine: one that could cut and fold layers of paper in one process. The result was the first easily foldable corrugated cardboard box, it was a revolution for manufacturers.


By the late 1880s Gair wanted to relocate from Tribeca to somewhere with better shipping access. He chose DUMBO. Fun fact, long before it was called DUMBO, this neighborhood was Gairville, and Robert Gair ended up building several of the most prominent buildings in the area — keep a lookout for his name on many of them as you walk around.


Eagle Warehouse


In 1885, this building was the printing room of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which was founded just around the corner. In 1846, a 26-year-old writer was hired to edit the paper. The name? Walt Whitman.


The three story section on the corner of Elizabeth Place and Doughty Street is the last remaining piece of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s operations — a decorative cornice over the third floor windows on the Elizabeth Place side marks the division. The rest of the massive building was built in 1894 by the Eagle Warehouse Company.


Tidal Marsh


In addition to historic buildings and warehouses, DUMBO is also home to lots of interesting local environmental history. As you walk near DUMBO’s waterfront, take a look at the ground. Between piles of rock, stems of a cordgrass poke out of the water. You’re standing on the edge of a tidal salt marsh. Before it was developed, this is what most of the shorelines looked like here in Brooklyn, and throughout the Northeast.



A blue sky and a waterfront view of a local tidal marsh in DUMBO, Brooklyn. In the distance is the Statue of Liberty.


Natural tidal marshes change over time. Debris builds up in the roots of cordgrass, until there’s enough soil above the water for other kinds of plants to thrive. In this way, the shoreline actually grows, advancing out into the water. In order to preserve this marsh, Brooklyn Bridge Park clears out the debris from time to time.


Cordgrass tidal marshes are home to ducks and other birds, as well as fish and shellfish. See if you can spot any animals in the marsh today!


Jane’s Carousel


Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922, this century-old carousel originally stood, and spun, in Youngstown, Ohio.



A closeup of the colorful horses and decorative lights that are a part of Jane's Carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn.


Known as Jane’s Carousel today, this carousel was purchased in 1984 by David and Jane Walentas. Just a few years prior to this purchase, David Walentas had bought several properties in DUMBO and kicked off the neighborhood’s redevelopment. When making plans for the development of Empire Fulton Ferry Park, Walentas included a historic carousel. When the Walentases bought it in 1984, the carousel was faded and fire-damaged, but it had all its original carvings.


Jane Walentas took charge of the restoration, a project that took over 20 years. The couple donated the completed carousel to the park in 2011. If you’re finding its whimsical atmosphere hard to resist, you can take a ride for $2.


Brooklyn Bridge Park


Long after DUMBO’s industrial glory days, cargo operations finally ended for good in Brooklyn in 1984. After decades of struggle between the city, developers, and community organizers, a plan was made to create the Brooklyn Bridge Park.



Spring in Brooklyn Bridge Park with trees and buildings surrounding the park, two people sit on the grass gazing at the buildings near the water.


The park welcomes visitors and locals with walking paths, gardens, playgrounds, ball courts — all built on top of old industrial piers, held up in the water by 13,000 wooden piles. Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts a number of fun year-round events such as waterfront workouts, outdoor photo exhibitions, and kid-friendly activities hosted by the Environmental Education Center (99 Plymouth Street). Check out their calendar of events to see what’s happening during your trip to New York.


The Brooklyn Bridge


Last but certainly not least, you’ll definitely want to plan to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, especially if this is your first time visiting New York. Jack Kerouac, Hart Crane, and Arthur Miller have written about it. Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol have painted it. From reverent poems to Instagrammable selfies, the Brooklyn Bridge has inspired millions.



Silhouette of the Brooklyn Bridge against a dark blue sky.


If you want to hear the history of the Brooklyn Bridge as you’re walking, check out our on-demand Brooklyn Bridge audio tour, which you can experience at your own pace while you walk. Note: the audio tour begins on the Manhattan side of the bridge.


The Brooklyn Bridge was the first permanent structure to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn with construction beginning in 1869 and lasting 14 years. Once completed, the Brooklyn Bridge was an instant icon. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. In 1884, to prove its structural integrity, circus showman P. T. Barnum led a parade of 21 elephants across the bridge, and in 1928, a 17-year-old aviatrix named Elinor Smith flew her biplane underneath. Now, over 100,000 people ride or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge every day.



 


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