Coney Island New York & Brighton Beach: The Insider Guide

The combination of the old attractions of the amusement park, newly created rides and traditional treasures with the proximity to the sea makes Coney Island New York one of the attractions in the mega-metropolis New York City. Already in the 19th century, the peninsula has developed into a recreational and fun center for the urban population of New York City. 

It is mainly locals who escape the summer heat here and cool off in the Atlantic Ocean at Brighton Beach. After all, there are hardly any outdoor swimming pools in New York City. The few park pools are often hopelessly overcrowded.

The Coney Island amusement park stretches over an area of six blocks between the New York Aquarium in the east and the Abe-Stark Ice Stadium in the west, Surf Avenue in the north and the Boardwalk, the wide, boardwalk-like promenade by the sea, in the south. But what are the highlights? Is it worth the trip to the peninsula?

This guide takes you behind the scenes of Coney Island New York & Brighton Beach. I will show you all the sights and tell you the insider spots you shouldn’t miss.

How to get to Coney Island

Subway lines D F and N Q take you directly to Coney Island. The journey from Manhattan takes about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Our TOP 5 in Coney Island

1st Luna Park

The Luna Park is the amusement park at the Atlantic Ocean. Not really big, but with a lot of fun guaranteed. With the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel you will meet real primitive rocks in Coney Island.

2nd Brighton Beach

An ideal retreat from the turbulent city life in New York is Brighton Beach. The beach at the Atlantic Ocean is perfect for letting a pleasant wind blow around your nose.

3rd New York Aquarium

The sea creatures in the aquarium offer a nice alternative if the weather is not suitable for a visit to the beach.

4. Nathan’s Famous

Since 1972, people have met here every year on July 4th to find out who can eat the most hot dogs in 10 minutes.

5. The Coney Island Museum

In the Coney Island Museum one gets valuable information about the past of Coney Island.

Ups and downs of Coney Island New York

The southernmost tip of Brooklyn directly on the Atlantic coast has been known for many years for its amusement park and the popularity of the Russian immigrants who have settled there. Light organs, musical confusion, and the breeze from the sea carries a mixture of Western barbecue and Mexican torte, machine and fry oil, popcorn, and cinnamon through the air.

The “Rabbit Island” has a long past with many heights, but also with the traces of decline. Some parts of the peninsula already have the best times behind them – but they still radiate a sympathetic charm and nostalgia of the past.

Already around 1860 the island (today it is only a peninsula) was used especially by wealthy people as a bathing resort – Coney Island is only 20 kilometers away from Manhattan, so the proximity to the city offered weekend trips. Coney Island New York had its heyday in the early 20th century and experienced a rapid decline after World War II. Until World War II, Coney Island had the largest amusement park in the world. Many of the once so successful amusement parks are now closed. In the place of the Steeplechase Park, there is now the baseball stadium KeySpan Park. Several fires destroyed New York’s playground over and over again so that today of the countless parks only the incarnation of the former Luna Park remains.

Originally there were three amusement parks built on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean: 1897 the “Steeplechase”, 1903 the “Luna Park” and one year later “Dreamland”. There was a copy of the Grand Canal in Venice with gondolas and Rialto Bridge, a replica of the ruins of Pompeii, an Alpine landscape. Dreamland was destroyed in 1911 and the original Luna Park in 1944 and was not rebuilt for many decades.

New hope on Coney Island

Around 2006 an investor bought large parts of the area with the idea of creating a kind of Las Vegas Strip. Years went by and his plans literally ran on the sand of Brighton Beach. In 2009, the city of New York City bought almost 3 hectares of the area around the Broadwalk, the wooden promenade on Coney Island New York, and helped significantly to make Luna Park with all its attractions shine in a new light.

The park reopened in the summer of 2010 and now includes more than 20 rides. Among them is a new roller coaster called Thunderbolt, which became the first roller coaster after the icon “Cyclone” (opened in 1929 and still active) at Coney Island. Also riots of the inhabitants with the police were inglorious for this historical and beautiful place, but over the years this has been managed. Thus the area was long considered one of the poorest in New York City – the potential for violence was high and the peninsula was avoided. Today there is no longer any sign of this. The city of New York City pays meticulous attention to the preservation of the nostalgia factor and to the security on Coney Island New York & Brighton Beach.

My Coney Island highlight:

The Cyclone

The famous roller coaster Cyclone on Coney Island in Luna Park is one of the city’s landmarks. It has been used as a backdrop in countless films and has had to withstand many forces of nature, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The roller coaster, whose riding pleasure should not be underestimated, is a great memory of old Coney Island.

This roller coaster has been around for over eight decades, but it is as popular as ever. Then as now, the wooden roller coaster is a real test of strength for thrill-seekers. Not only the 59-degree gradient makes the passengers scream, the rickety cars also vibrate and sway in the not very trustworthy looking lane.

The Cyclone was designed in 1926 by entrepreneurs Jack and Irving Rosenthal after they purchased a small lot between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk. With almost 100 kmh New York’s most famous roller coaster with a view of the Atlantic Ocean makes its rounds.

By the way, holders of the New York Pass receive a wristband valid for four hours, with which they can use the attractions of Luna Park.

The Wonder Wheel: The great grandmother of the Ferris wheels

Also a remnant from old times is Deno’s Wonderwheel Amusement Park. The Ferris wheel “Wonder Wheel” is still one of the attractions of Coney Island New York next to the Cyclone. Since 1989 the Ferris wheel, built-in 1920, is one of the official landmarks of the city of New York.

Curiosities on Coney Island New York & Brighton Beach

Coney Island is famous for its curiosities, such as the annual and legendary “Mermaid Parade”, or the New Year’s Swimming. The Mermaid Parade celebrates the beginning of summer, the sea and the dazzling history and myth of Coney Island. A costume is not obligatory, but freestyle: The participants dress up as sea dwellers of all kinds. On this day, you will meet several mermaids, the sea god Neptune and some people in disguise in the form of shellfish or fish. Further information and online registration are available on the Mermaid Parade website.

A special highlight at Coney Island New York is the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous. Since 1972, they have met every year on the fourth of July to find out who can eat the most hot dogs in ten minutes. Welcome to America!

Little Russia, Brighton Beach

Summer in New York City: the days can get very, very hot and the humidity is incredibly high. Even the draught between the canyons of houses in Manhattan doesn’t help. So why not just go to the beach, because yes, New York City has beaches.

The community Brighton Beach on Coney Island in the south of the New York City district Brooklyn is the biggest Russian enclave in the USA. Just as Little Italy stands for the Italians and Chinatown for the Asians, so Brighton Beach is for the Russians. Following the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, Brighton Beach is also known as Little Odessa. The beach section is very popular, especially on weekends, and attracts countless visitors.

It’s very pleasant on hot days and you can’t believe that Manhattan is so close – you might think you’re lying on a beach in Spain, only that more Russian is spoken than Spanish.

The Coney Island Museum

The Coney Island Museum provides valuable information about the past of Coney Island New York with a vivid miniature of the original Luna Park. The building, built in 1917, exudes the typical Coney Island charm.

The urban and partly crazy life culture on Coney Island is also demonstrated here: Local artists show you can in “Freak Shows”, cabarets or comedy events (address: 1208 Surf Avenue)

Coney Island Bike Tour

Instead of running your feet flat, you can also explore Coney Island by bike! There is a guided bike tour with a professional guide who will lead you from Dumbo below the Brooklyn Bridge with interesting stops on the way to Coney Island.

You will cycle through Fort Green Park and learn more about the time of the American War of Independence and the exciting history of the Brownstones in Brooklyn. Afterward you cycle to Prospect Park, the largest park in Brooklyn, and then to the famous Greenwood Cemetery before you cycle down the Ocean Parkway. Arriving in Coney Island you will stop for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs before the bike tour continues to Ocean Drive to Bay Ridge, from where you can take the NYC Ferry to Red Hook to have BBQ in the Hometown BBQ.

Finally, the guide takes you back to Dumbo through Brooklyn Bridge Park with great views of Lower Manhattan.