Top 5 attractions in Coney Island – Brooklyn’s playground (photos)

A popular holiday destination for over 150 years, Coney Island offers ocean swimming, amusement park rides and a lively Boardwalk– all in the heart of New York City.

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Coney Island is an easy and inexpensive day trip from Manhattan and should not be missed. Read on for my top 5 attractions in this famous Brooklyn neighborhood.

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5) The Wonder Wheel

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We recently spent a day exploring Coney Island and neighboring Brighton Beach, a Russian enclave. After filling up on potato dumplings in Brighton, we walked down the Boardwalk to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. Deno’s giant Ferris wheel looms over the horizon and seems to be the center of all paths through the park. The Wonder Wheel offers an amazing view of the shore, as it extends 150 feet at its peak and is billed as the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Opened in 1920, the Wonder Wheel offers two options for cabins: stationary or “swinging.” After purchasing two $6 tickets, we waited on the “swinging” line, which was by far the most popular. I was expecting a genteel ride, but the metal cabin violently lunged back and forth and at one point seemed ready to to drop off a precipice. If you aren’t afraid of heights, opt for this thrilling experience!

4) The Boardwalk

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Coney Island is something of a paradox: Its beach and amusement park offer a much-needed escape from the grind of city life, yet its spirit remains as gritty, resilient and eccentric as anywhere in the Big Apple. The boardwalk is a great place for people-watching; when we visited, a dance party had formed and a diverse group was getting down to electronic beats. Revelers included a man in a frilly tutu, accompanied by a rainbow-colored dog (we’ve actually spotted him before at the Gay Pride Parade). The Coney Island boardwalk is also the backdrop for the annual Mermaid Parade, which is known for its colorful costumes.

3) The Beach

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Vintage black and white photos of Coney Island show the beach so packed with sunbathers that no stretch of sand is visible. Fortunately, visitors no longer have to contend with those massive crowds, although the beach remains much more popular than neighboring Brighton Beach (which has identical sand and surf). The lure of Coney Island’s beaches isn’t tranquility, but the proximity to the amusement park and the frenzied atmosphere of the Boardwalk.

2) Ice Cream Break

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Coney Island is known for its hot dogs (this is where Nathan’s famous hot dog eating contest is held), but there are still plenty of food options for vegetarians. The Boardwalk is the perfect place to devour an ice cream from Coney’s Cones. We recommend the chocolate and dulce de leche flavors!

1) The Cyclone

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You can’t visit Coney Island without experiencing its most famous attraction, the Cyclone, which is a registered New York City landmark. This wooden roller coaster opened in 1927 and feels very different than modern rides. You’ll feel every bump as your car speeds on a vintage railing over wooden slots; while there are no upside-down loops, the sudden drops will make your stomach drop. (A warning sign cautions people with heart problems not to participate). I am not a huge roller coaster fan, but this brief ride (which lasted about a minute) was well worth the $8 admission fee.

Getting There

Coney Island is about an hour from Manhattan via the N, D, F and Q subway lines. Get off at the Coney Island – Stillwell / Surf Avenue stop and walk a block to the Boardwalk. We recommend combining a Coney Island visit with a stop in neighboring Brighton Beach.

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What do you like best about Coney Island?

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.