This 4 miles self-guided tour will take you about 2 hours if only walking and taking pictures; much more if you visit the various recommended places on the way.
It is in two parts because you’ll ride a cable car halfway and it cannot be indicated on the map!
You’ll first go to Turtle Bay in the UN’s diplomatic missions area, then to peaceful Roosevelt Island.
It’s an opportunity for great views along the East River, first toward Long Island City then toward Manhattan. You will also be able to take a ferry ride on the river once you are done, and if you don’t want to continue on the Walk in NYC # 6: along the East River, part 3 (coming soon).
Highlights: the Ford Foundation, the United Nations, Tudor City, the Japan Society, an antique store, a Norwegian Cultural Center, the Tramway Plaza, Queensboro Bridge, Cornell Tech, Roosevelt Park, and the old Smallpox Hospital.
Metro: Grand Central, lines 4,5,6,7 (start) and Roosevelt Island, line F (end).
Bus: Use an app like Citymapper to find the best options with bus #, waiting time, list of stops, and where you are in the city once you’ve boarded. Your Metrocard or OMNY account will work and will be valid for transfers to the Metro and other buses. Express buses are more expensive, but you can buy your ticket at the stop. The drivers are generally very helpful!
Good to know: you’ll easily find places to eat in Manhattan. It will be more limited on Roosevelt Island but you can always bring a picnic. Benches are numerous except on 2nd Avenue, and there are restrooms in all public places and at Roosevelt Park.
A: Take the subway to Grand Central and once you are tired of looking at people crossing the main hall, exit on East 42nd St. and turn left.
If you have shoes to wax, now is the time: shiners are on your left.
In front of you and easier to photograph, the stunning Italian-Romanesque building of the now-defunct Bowery Saving Bank, now a restaurant.
Turn left again to follow Park Ave along Grand Central and have a look at the eagle that overlooks the entrance on that side, then take 43rd St. to the right.
In front of you, in the distance, the bluish building of the United Nations.
B: Before you go there, don’t forget to admire the Chrysler building on your right then a little further, the church of St Agnes and his colorful choir.
On 43rd St., you are in the middle of various consulates up to number 320, the Ford Foundation building.
After some renovation in 2017-2018, it’s art gallery specializing in “giving voice to the unheard and visibility to the marginalized” is open again. Even if you don’t want to see what’s there, enter the building to admire its public atrium, a lush garden in the city.
After that, you’ll soon reach Tudor City, a neighborhood of neo-gothic-style buildings built in the 1930s and planned as an ideal city surrounded by a private park. Its purpose was to keep middle-class people from fleeing to the suburbs, and it was replacing collapsing multi-family housing built near old slaughterhouses.
The park is now accessible to all and also offers calm and greenery in the middle of the city.
C: At the end of 43rd St., go down the staircase. It leads to another small park, this one dedicated to peace. It’s not uncommon to see people protesting here against oppression in the world, just in front of the UN headquarters.
You can visit part of this UN complex from Monday to Friday; yet it’s better to book your ticket in advance and allow at least two hours to first register at the Visitor’s Office, 801 1st Ave. You’ll join a tour that will tell you what the United Nations do and show you, among other things, the famous General Assembly Hall, smaller in reality than it appears on TV screens.
In any case, don’t miss the sculptures of its park and opposite, the Pepsi-Cola sign.
D: Once out, take 1st Ave right up to 47th St and turn left.
Here you’ll find, after a Trump Tower, the Japan Society and its art gallery.
Next door, a Catholic church with contemporary architecture, the Holy Family Church. It has a small outdoor garden and fish ponds, and for 1 dollar, you can light a candle inside.
If you prefer more secular places to rest and see people, 47th St. is wide and has benches in its center, with another garden along the walls on the left.
Once at 2nd Av., you’ll find an open air market on Wednesdays.
E: You must now follow 2nd Ave for about ten blocks before reaching the Tramway Plaza at 59th St.
Before and if you like antiques, number 1050 could mark the end of this trek sooner than expected as the vendors there, on 3 floors and with unique and authentic pieces, could keep you busy for a while.
If you are intrigued by Norway, 52nd St, on your right, is home to the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, a church but also a cultural center with an art gallery and a local specialty shop with Norwegian cakes.
Otherwise, look on your left at all the skyscrapers of this part of the city.
In the avenue itself, you’ll find many restaurants and a variety of small shops geared toward the needs of its local residents.
When you are at the Tramway Plaza, go up the stair to take the cable car.
For the price of a metro ticket, it will take you in 3 minutes above the Queensboro bridge and the East River toward Roosevelt Island.
You’ll now be at the start of the second part of this trek and here is the map.
A: At the exit of the cable car, turn left to find a small tourist information kiosk where you can buy a historical guide to the island.
Otherwise go under the bridge to reach the edges of the East River.
The promenade along the river is lined with trees and benches and leads to Roosevelt Park at the southern tip of the island, with beautiful views of Manhattan on your right. On your left, Cornell Tech. with its new and futuristic buildings that bread the industries of tomorrow.
B: You can go on its campus to take a look at its architecture or just have a drink in the sun.
C: Otherwise, continue to stroll along the river to reach the park.
Once inside, you’ll soon see the Smallpox Hospital ruins that remind you that for a very long time, after being occupied by the American Indians, the island was named the Welfare Island because of all the hospitals it housed.
Roosevelt Park, at the end of it, is made of white granite and faces the United Nations. It’s a tribute to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 speech of the 4 freedoms (freedom of speech, worship, want and fear), a calm place in the middle of the water with numerous trees and great opportunities for photos.
D: To return to the center of the island, leave the park by where you entered it, unless the east exit is open.
In any case, go and now walk along the E. Loop Road in front of Hunters Point in Long Island City and, on your left, the 4 white and red chimneys of the Ravenswood Power Station.
Once under the bridge again, you have three choices to end this trek: take the cable car to Manhattan, find, a little further on your right, the ferry terminal for a trip on the river towards Astoria or Wall Street (ferry every hour or ½ hour, price of a metro ticket), or go a little further on your left to find the Roosevelt Island metro station.
You can also keep walking along the river until you reach a passage on your left under and between some residential buildings. It will allow you to find the little Covenant Church and the beginning of Walk in NYC # 6, along the East River, part 3.
This walk will open you up to another world as Astoria, your final destination, is very different from Manhattan.
To know a little more about the history of Roosevelt Island, try Roosevelt Island (images of America), an easy read with a lot of pictures.
Before you go, don’t forget your guide and see how to thank him at the bottom of the page. Then enjoy the rest of your day!