8 free things to do in New York City

New York is a spectacular place, no one will deny that. What everyone will almost always agree on as well, is that it’s expensive.  New York embraces you as in a way that almost no other city can. There is an vibe, almost impossible to explain, that envelopes your soul and invites you in. An energising pace that allows you to throw yourself in and ultimately, fall in love.

Here are the top 8 free things to do whilst in New York City

Do a free walking tour and pay what you like.

I used Free Tours by Foot and obviously the guides were so knowledgeable and fantastic we couldn’t help but throw money at them. Some tours, like the tour of Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, are on foot (approximately 3 hours). Others are on bike and you will be charged the cost of the bike hire upon booking. It’s a great way to get some historical insight and insider know how of places to eat/drink after your long walk around the city.

Walking tour NYC

Snug Harbour

Snug Harbour is a perfectly preserved collection of architectural and historical significance. A trip to Snug Harbour will take you across centuries and cultures, particularly if you pay the small fee to enter the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which is based on the Ming Dynasty Gardens (1368-1644).

Personally, Snug Harbour is one of New York City’s most underrated attractions and you can read more about it here.

Chinese Scholar's garden

Scholar's Garden

Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty for free. Obviously if you want to get up close and personal with the lady of liberty then you will need to book way in advance. To see schedules click here.

Statue of Liberty

Explore Central Park on foot (you will need to hire a bike if you want to cover more ground)

It’s pretty much a given that a visit to New York City will entail a visit to it’s famous Central Park. You can explore on foot easily but won’t cover too much ground. Visit Wholefoods in Columbus Circle and have a picnic, feed the ducks or, if you are willing, hire a bike and see all Central Park has to offer. The benefit of being on foot though, is going where the path takes you and sometimes that is an inland forest full of friendly squirrels. Read more about Central Park here.

Central Park NYC

Central Park

Bow Bridge Central Park

Central Park NY

High Line

The High Line, a 1.45-mile-long (2.5km) park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Railroad. Stretching quite some distance you can walk from one end to the other discovering great artwork, architecture, places to sun bake and end at Greenwich Village to satisfy the appetite you will surely earn. To read more about The High Line go here.

High Line

The High Line

9/11 Memorial

The public memorial itself is free and a great opportunity to reflect on the enormous amount of lives lost during the tragic event. The museum is certainly a moving experience and tickets are free every Tuesday from 5pm to close. All they ask is a small donation. I suggest pre-booking the ticket though as there is often a big line to utilise the free admission. Get tickets here.

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Walk over Brooklyn Bridge

A trip to New York is not complete without this iconic pilgrimage. If you complete the walk on a Sunday morning you can visit the famous flea markets in DUMBO (under the Manhattan Bridge). To read more about it go here.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn NYC

Brooklyn

Walk over Manhattan Bridge

You might as well make your return journey via the Manhattan Bridge which offers different views of Manhattan. You can end in Chinatown and get a great feed.

Any other suggestions for free things to do in New York City please leave a comment.

Top 10 things to do in New York

New York truly is the city that doesn’t sleep. It can seem almost impossible to do everything, especially if it’s a quick trip. So here are my top 10 things to do in New York City.

Sleep No More.

This has to be one of my favourite activities. Interactive theater without a spoken word. You follow various characters around a multi storey building. Armed with a mask for anonymity and a heightened sense of curiosity you become fully immersed in the story of Macbeth.

http://www.sleepnomore.com/#share

One World Observation Deck.

The view is unequivocally breathtaking. The slogan “See forever” does not lie. There is no other view in Manhattan that can possibly compete.

https://oneworldobservatory.com/

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Staten Island Ferry

A free way to see the Statue of Liberty, and while you are there you can visit…

http://www.siferry.com/

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Snug Harbour- Chinese Scholar’s Garden

Travel back in time, no, travel to another continent. Complete with a Chinese temple, reflection garden and Cherry Blossoms the tranquility of these gardens will take you to another world.

http://snug-harbor.org/

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The High Line

The conversion of an above ground railway has made for an oasis among the concrete jungle. If you are going to do it, walk the whole thing ending in Chelsea. Then you can satisfy your appetite at the Chelsea Markets.

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9/11 Memorial Museum

Less of a tourist attraction and more an opportunity to pay respect. As someone who watched the event unfold live on television I feel obliged to reflect in this space on every visit.

https://www.911memorial.org/museum

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Explore Central Park

Bike is better. Central Park is huge, you will simply cover more ground and when you are finished and worked up an appetite, you can go to Wholefoods in Columbus Circle to get supplies for a picnic in the park.

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Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

If you visit New York and don’t walk over the Brooklyn Bridge then were you even there? If you are fortunate to be there on a Sunday the Brooklyn Flea Markets are situated in DUMBO. While you are on the Brooklyn side of the East River, wander through Brooklyn Heights Historical District

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Broadway show

The TKTS outlet is the best place to get cheap, last minute tickets.

https://www.tdf.org/nyc/8/Locations-Hours

Visit Bear Mountain

Although not technically within Manhattan or New York City, Bear Mountain is within New York state and about an hours drive out of Manhattan. If you have the time it’s definitely worth getting out of the rat race of the city and taking in some nature.

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Enjoy x

New York Itinerary- Day 11 and 12

Day 11 saw us hiring a bike through our hotel (about $5 each for the day) and exploring as much as we could by 6pm. We started early from Central Park and covered a lot of ground. We headed West through Central Park and then south down through Chelsea, Greenwich Village and SoHo, making lot’s of stops along the way to admire beautiful architecture, doorways and blossoming streets. Then we cut straight across to Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge, offering an alternate view to the one we got earlier, although nowhere near as good- it was much less crowded. This allowed us to ride south towards Brooklyn Bridge along the East River.

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Being a Sunday, the Flea Markets were on again and you can bet your bottom dollar that we ate another doughnut. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. I would travel back to New York in a heartbeat just to eat another one. After some time spent at the markets we were back on the bikes and over the Brooklyn Bridge heading back to Manhattan. We went north through the East Village and cut through towards the Hudson River as there is a dedicated bike/pedestrian path that runs along it. Here we headed north enjoying the many New Yorkers out relishing the sunshine and and making use of the copious park lands along the river.

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A quick cut through the Upper West side had us returning the bikes by 5pm. It meant that we could explore and admire the beauty of the Upper East side on foot before dinner. The magnificence that is the Upper East side is enigmatic. There is something illustrious about those that live there.

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Out last day, day 12, was yet another sunny one. We had every intention of jumping back on those bikes again and exploring even more of Manhattan. I love New York because of the architecture, the beauty and history that it entails. It tells a story of a thousand words. I wanted to see more. My legs, on the other hand, wanted a rest. We spent our last day sitting in Central Park enjoying the sunshine and watching the world, and New Yorkers, pass us by; soaking up all that is New York City.

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New York Itinerary- Day 10

Day 10 of our New York trip included a bucket list item, Coney Island. About an hour’s trip by train and we were at the iconic boardwalk and Luna Park.

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There are a number of theme parks situated on the pier. Luna Park operates on a credit system using wristbands. It’s free entry so anyone can wander through and watch the rides but you purchase credit from the ticketing machines which deduct when you walk through the turnstiles.  There were quite a few rides we wanted to go on but we didn’t purchase the right credits so best to look at what rides you want to ride first and then buy the tokens. It was a good day but purchasing the wrong credit package meant we didn’t get the best value for money.

http://www.coneyisland.com/tourist-information

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When you depart the train there are a number of food places, including Nathan’s Famous hotdogs and The Wahlburgers Restaurant. Trust me, do not eat before getting on the rides. I went on one that spun and felt nauseous for the rest of the day. Not a good idea.

http://www.nathansfamous.com/

https://www.wahlburgersrestaurant.com/

Although the weather was particularly cold during our visit (average of 5 degrees Celsius) this was quite a warm day.The jetty had seats which allowed us to lie down and soak up the sun before making the long journey back home again.

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Enjoy x

New York Itinerary- Day 9

For those travelling to New York City with men, children or if you happen to have an avid interest in space, war ships/submarines or planes then Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is the place for you. Centered on the aircraft carrier Intrepid visitors can look through a naval base, submarine and visit the Space Shuttle Pavillion to view the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that paved the way for the space shuttle program

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http://www.intrepidmuseum.org/

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is next to the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise and although we didn’t do it ourselves it seemed quite popular.

https://www.circleline42.com/

That evening we were extremely fortunate to go to the interactive theatre show Sleep No More. I can’t rave about this enough, I also can’t tell you too much about it with fear of spoiling the surprise. What I can tell you is that it is set in an old warehouse, 5-6 stories in size. The exact size is hard to tell. You enter and are given a card. Then you proceed to the bar where absolutely everyone is in character and won’t break it. They call your card up, hand you a creepy white mask, give you instructions (no one is to talk but curiosity is rewarded) and let you loose on a random floor. You will be separated from your group, but that is part of why it is so fun!

The show follows the story of Macbeth, albeit there is no spoken work. There is music and dancing and an atmosphere of curiosity and uncertainty. Set in the 1920’s or so each room/floor has a different theme. The show goes for 3 hours but you are welcome to leave at any time, although I recommend staying until the end. Prepare for an experience like no other and each character tells a different story so follow them around and listen to it (so to speak). You get out of this experience what you put in, like a true-life choose-your-own-adventure. You can wander aimlessly through all the floors inspecting the tiny clues left, created with minute attention to detail. You could follow one character around, or you can follow all over the three hours.

Truly a unique experience it’s highly recommended for those who aren’t into traditional theatre or musicals.

http://www.sleepnomore.com/#share

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New York Itinerary- Day 8

If you were to count all the TV shows and Movies filmed, or at least set in New York City, you would certainly lose count. The TV and film industry is solely responsible for pre-conceived ideas about New York City, which are often met or blown out of the water when you arrive. Day 8 saw us spending the morning on a New York TV and movies tour. We chose to do our tour with https://onlocationtours.com/tour/new-york-tv-movie/

Travelling on a comfortable coach, complete with quizzes and games and a myriad of film and TV knowledge. There is lot’s of photo opportunities of famous places such as the Friends apartment building, Ghostbusters Fire House and the famous arches at Washington Square Park. We were lucky enough to see James Spader filming The Blacklist as well.

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The afternoon was spent exploring The High Line, a 1.45-mile-long (2.5km) park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Railroad. The park has come leaps and bounds since my last visit in 2012 where it was hardly used and practically empty. Now The High Line is complete with beautiful greenery, including Cherry blossoms, and modern artwork. There are plenty of spaces to stop and either sit or lie down and soak up the atmosphere, and in our case, the sun.

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Wrapping around an eclectic assembly of old and new. So much so it is hard to determine whether the railway wraps around the buildings or the buildings around it, melding into one. It ends, as if by coincidence, a few blocks away from Chelsea Markets. It’s not a coincidence as this railway was once used to bring meat into The Meatpacking District. The Chelsea Markets is a great place to grab something to eat. Spend some time exploring this area, it’s stunning and feels, as most places in New York City do, as if it’s in a world of it’s own.

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http://www.thehighline.org/

http://www.chelseamarket.com/

NB: We made several visits to The High Line over our trip.

New York Itinerary- Day 7

After the fall out of the Second World War and the atrocities that we associate with it, the United Nations was formed. Whether you think they are effective in their goals or not, what the United Nations symbolises is peacekeeping and the development of a better world. Being a lover and teacher of Law, Politics and History, I couldn’t be in the city that holds the headquarters of the United Nations and not pay a visit.

We were booked for 10:30 and in typical fashion arrived at 10am; it is a short walk from Grand Central Terminal. However, what they don’t tell you on the ticket is, that you need to check in to an office across the road to get your passports scanned and receive a visitor badge. This took quite some time, almost half an hour in fact and we also had to go through security for the Headquarters itself. As we purchased our tickets online we also had to report to the ticketing counter. All in all we almost missed our tour. I suggest permitting an hour or so before your tour time to allow for this process. I’d hate for you to miss out on a tour in your language.

http://visit.un.org/

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The tour in itself was very educational and well worth the cost. The afternoon was spent shopping, namely at the Designer Shoe Warehouse.

http://www.dsw.com/

Thank me later!

New York Itinerary- Day 6

I am a planner. I get anxious when I have an upcoming trip and don’t have absolutely everything booked. I create daily itineraries with what we are doing and when, I sometimes get hopeful and even plan where we will eat. I knew, having been before, that New York would be busy. I expected to wait in lines, as you do for most tourist attractions. I also knew that I didn’t want to waste time waiting in lines. So I booked. Mostly this works. It saves wasting hours the night before just trying to figure out what on earth to do the next day. How many of us have done that? When it doesn’t work is when the weather is unpredictable. As it was when we were there. For the large part we were extremely lucky with weather. So far with all the things I had booked which provided the best views in New York City, we were lucky enough to have relatively clear viewing.

See previous posts

https://berlinstorm.com/2016/06/07/new-york-itinerary-day-3/

https://berlinstorm.com/2016/05/08/new-york-itinerary-day-2/

On our 6th day though we weren’t quite so lucky. We had cold, miserable weather with heavy cloud and fog and bouts of rain. I had booked us tickets for Top of the Rock for 10am and the NBC studio tours at 1pm.

https://www.topoftherocknyc.com/buy-tickets/

http://www.thetouratnbcstudios.com/

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We even got to Rockefeller Center early so we could  enjoy a coffee before what would be another busy day exploring Manhattan. We went to collect our tickets and we were told that the Top of the Rock was closed due to no visibility. They did, however, kindly allow us to choose another time. With the weather due to clear up after lunch we booked in for 2:30pm. We now had a couple of hours to kill.

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Those of you who are Sex and the City fans have heard of Magnolia Bakery. It is as amazing as the shows make it out to be. Fortunately for us there is a store in Rockefeller Centre on 1240 Avenue of the Americas at 49th Street. So getting a cupcake was our first order of business (this would also not be our first or last visit). We were also one block away from 5th avenue, so spent the morning shopping on the famous street.

http://www.magnoliabakery.com/

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After our studio tour, as if by magic, the sky had cleared. The Top of the Rock is by far one of the best views in New York City. Not only is it cheaper than the Empire State Building, but also quicker to get to the top. Due to its popularity the Empire State Building can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 3 hours or longer to get to the top floor. The Top of the Rock also offers great views of the Empire State Building and because it is closer to Central Park you get a spectacular view of its beauty and enormity too, also something that the Empire State Building does not have. There are 3 viewing platforms so really take the time to enjoy the view.

https://www.rockefellercenter.com/attractions/top-of-the-rock-observation-deck/

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As it was a Tuesday I booked tickets for the National September 11 Memorial. Tickets are free every Tuesday from 5pm to close. All they ask is a small donation. I suggest pre-booking the ticket though as there is often a big line to utilise the free admission. The National Memorial is directly underneath the original twin towers and a spectacular tribute to those who tragically lost their lives. Tissues and are required as well as adequate time to pay respect.

New York Itinerary- Day 5

In the heart of the 1970’s and 80’s and early 90’s New York was a cesspool of gangs, drugs and violence. New York was actually viewed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Central Park was no exception and was certainly not the vibrant, well visited place that we know it to be today. Following a zero-tolerance crime policy and a major clean-up of the city by Mayor Guiliani New York proudly boasts to be one of the safest cities in the world. Alongside the clean up of the streets of New York, the Central Park Conservatory made an arrangement with the City of New York to privatise the park. Largely funded by donations the Conservatory divided the park into 49 geographical zones in order for it to become more manageable and entrusted paid employees and volunteers with the restoration, and now day-to-day running of the park, also encompassing a zero-tolerance on graffiti and violence within the grounds. The general running costs of keeping the park beautiful, pristine and welcoming to New Yorkers and tourists alike is in the millions, $67 million for this year alone in fact.

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Which brings us to day 5 of our trip to New York. Again we utilised the pay what you like company http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-york-tours/ for a bike tour of Central Park. The small costs involved in this tour was renting the bike for a couple of hours, approximately $36 per person, or free if you have The Explorer Pass or The New York Pass. If I am honest, I feel as though this tour was not worth our money. It wasn’t until our second last day that we found out that our hotel has a partnership with a Bike Rental place within Central Park and we could rent a bike for an entire day for as little as a few dollars and Central Park is so stunningly beautiful, especially in Spring, that I felt a few hours on a bike was not enough. So much so that after we returned our bikes we had some quick lunch and returned to the park by foot.

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My husband was adamant about hiring another bike for a few hours, but at that price I was reluctant and was happy to walk. Believe me when I say, the only and best way to see Central Park is by bike! There is far too much ground to cover by foot. That being said because we were on foot we managed to go “off the beaten track” as they say on our way to Belvedere Castle and discovered a wonderful wooden area complete with bed rock and friendly squirrels. The trees created a sound barrier and we could not hear any city noise so it became a nice peaceful spot to take in some nature.

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Belvedere Castle, meaning “beautiful view” in Italian, is a miniature castle offering wonderful panoramic views of some famous Central Park landmarks and Manhattan rooftops. Either of the two balconies provide great places to take in the warm sun, a rarity on this trip. Head directly west from the castle and you will be at the Museum of Natural History, which has a great collection of dinosaur fossils. Entry fee is optional, you can enter for the suggested fee or enter in for $1 if you wish.

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TIP: When in Central Park be sure to check out Bow Bridge, one of the most filmed locations in the world and the backdrop for some spectacular photos (and maybe even a proposal…)

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Enjoy x

New York Itinerary- Day 4

The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York icon. I don’t doubt that it is one of the landmarks that pops into your head when thinking about New York City, and certainly one of the things on your “must see” list. For a stable icon, offering scenic views of the two boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the history of the Brooklyn Bridge is unstable. An initiative from German engineer John Augustus Roebling, the idea of connecting the two boroughs by suspension bridge met a lot of opposition along the way. Eventually bribes were made to secure the lot of land where the bridge connects with Manhattan near City Hall. The hard part was not over. Many died during construction, including Roebling himself, and when his son Washington A. Roebling took over he eventually became paralysed as a result of dangerous practices. His wife, who in my books is a total boss lady, took over construction while her husband watched with a telescope in bed, overseeing the project. With its extraordinary length and two grand towers, the Brooklyn Bridge was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” Today, it still remains a must see landmark for tourists from all over the globe.

Brooklyn Bridge

 

Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan

Our fourth day in New York was a pay what you like walking tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights by Walking Tours By Foot. Yes the tour is technically free, yes you can not pay a cent for them if you wish and if you get an extraordinarily bad tour with a bad guide then by all means don’t give them anything, but I often find that the pay what you like tours are always the best. They work hard to earn their money and just like you and me they have bills to pay as well so I always give something. You will know the right amount to give according to how much you get out of the tour. http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-york-tours/brooklyn-tours/brooklyn-bridge-brooklyn-heights-and-dumbo-tour/

Statue of Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge

New York from Brooklyn Bridge

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New York and Manhattan Bridge

 

Manhattan Bridge

The tour begins at the fountain in the center of City Hall Park followed by a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. There are a number of stops along the way to learn about the history and architecture of surrounding buildings. Once you cross over into Brooklyn there is a brief toilet and lunch break. I suggest getting a coffee and a snack though, eat as light as you can if you can help it as there will be much nicer places to eat at the end. Then comes a tour through the beautifully archaic buildings of Brooklyn Heights. A heritage listed area full of Cherry Blossoms and English Plain Trees. Brownstone facades standing uniform each telling their own unique story.

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_Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights

 

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Brooklyn Promenade_

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Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Promenade

The tour will end at Brooklyn Pier where you have a vast array of places to eat. Brooklyn Ice Cream factory is supposedly the best Ice Cream in New York. There is Shake Shack, which have THE BEST burgers and milkshakes you will ever have in your life. However, Shake Shack is all over New York City, where you really want to eat is Juliana’s Pizza. Deemed the best pizza in New York. It is next to Grimaldi’s, world famous pizzeria but don’t waste your time in the line for Grimaldi’s. You want to go to Juliana’s. There will quite possibly be a line for Juliana’s but you can skip the line and walk in to make a take away order. Then you can take your pizza to the water front and eat it with a view. There is a pathway along the East River which leads to DUMBO and the Manhattan Bridge.

Jane's Carousel

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Manhattan Bridge from waterfront

Brooklyn Bridge

 

 

TIPS:

  • Wear some comfortable shoes, the tour goes for 3 hours and you may want to walk back over the Bridge so you have more time to take photos.
  • If you do the tour on a Sunday you can link it with the Brooklyn Flea Market, which have wonderful antiques and vintage items. There is also lot’s of food vendors, including the best doughnuts you will ever eat in your life! Be prepared to eat a lot this day. Just as well you did all that walking to earn it!

Brooklyn Flea

_Brooklyn Flea

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Brooklyn Flea

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DUMBO

Manhattan Bridge

 

_Brooklyn Bridge