Visiting Green-Wood Cemetery: A Brooklyn Hidden Gem

entrance gates to green-wood cemetery

Located smack dab in the heart of Brooklyn, the Green-Wood Cemetery is a historic landmark that offers 478 acres of nature, history, and cultural heritage. And yet, this space remains relatively unknown to both tourists and us native New Yorkers. Today, what was once the most popular tourist attraction in New York City, is now more of a Brooklyn hidden gem. And so, after decades of living in New York City, I decided it was time to finally pay a visit.

The moment I stepped past the grand gates of the Green-Wood Cemetery, I felt transported back in time to a New York of the 1800s; a time period that we New Yorkers don’t really think much about. Through one of their many guided tours, I explored the vast natural beauty while gaining a deeper look into New York’s history and stories of the interred. During my nighttime cemetery tour, they took me into the closed catacombs, historical spots like George Washington’s Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, and corners of unsolved murder mysteries. I must say, this is one of the best things to do in New York City in the fall, especially around Halloween.

There is an interesting experience at Green-Wood Cemetery for everyone. And here’s how to visit the Greenwood Cemetery + highlights you shouldn’t miss.

How to Get to the Entrance of the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn

Despite its vast natural landscape, Green-Wood Cemetery is conveniently tucked between the popular neighborhoods of Park Slope, Sunset Park, South Slope, and Kensington. It’s also within walking distance of Barclays Center or Prospect Park. Yes– it’s that big. However, the main entrance (pictured above) is where you should start.

Getting to the main Green-Wood Cemetery entrance is surprisingly easy. Not just because of the location but it’s hard to miss the stunning gothic-inspired gates from afar. This entrance is also where most of the tours and guided experiences take off.

Here’s how you get there:

  • Train: Take the R train to 25th Street. From here, it’s just a block away.
  • Walking: You can easily walk from the popular Atlantic Terminal, where there are a dozen trains, including the LIRR. However, unless you’re fit, I would advise against walking too much before getting to the cemetery. This way, you can save your walking endurance for the cemetery since it’s pretty vast.
  • By Car/Uber: Enter the address “25th Street and Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY” in the GPS. It will drop you off in front of the grand gates of the cemetery. There is parking allowed within the cemetery for free.

Entrance & Hours at Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood’s main entrance is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. And admission is free! If you’d like to visit before it opens or after it closes, you can join one of the many special guided tours listed above.

Experiences & Tours at Green-Wood Cemetery

Going on a guided tour of Green-Wood cemetery is a must. It is one of the best ways to experience the cemetery, especially if you love history and storytelling. A guided tour can take you through the nooks and crannies of the cemetery while providing fun and interesting insights. Our tour guides had us mesmerized with the stories of interesting people interred here and the experiences of New Yorkers back in the 1800s. It really offers a richer connection to the landmark and further deepens the “time-traveling” sense you get here.

The tours at the Green-Wood Cemetery change by season. So be sure to check their calendar of events to see what’s being offered.

Here are some examples of the tours and experiences that I recommend:

SOLO TRAVEL: If you can’t make it to a tour, that’s OK. You do not need one to enter Green-Wood Cemetery. You can also choose to explore it at your own pace, here is a PDF map of the cemetery to save on your phone!

What Makes the Green-Wood Cemetery So Special?

“Greenwood still has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only one around. Even if you’re in the middle of brooklyn… That that alone is a huge draw for all of our visitors.”

-Neela Wickremesinghe, Manager of Preservation & Restoration

Green-Wood cemetery is more than just a cemetery, it also has natural park space, feels like a museum, offers sculpture gardens, and more. When you think about all these elements together—along with its collection of nineteenth-century architectural landmarks—Green-Wood stands out for its beauty as well as its history. Its design alone tells a remarkable story: with all of its mausoleums and crypts, it looks like something straight out of Victorian London or Paris. Today, Green-Wood Cemetery continues to honor the dead while maintaining and preserving the local heritage and beauty.

Fun fact: It’s also home to the highest natural point in Brooklyn: Battle Hill. Here was the first major battle of American independence on August 27, 1776.

Interesting History & Facts About Green-Wood Cemetery

In addition to providing a respite from city life for tourists and local New Yorkers, Green-Wood offers an interesting look into New York’s history.

1) Understanding New York in the 1800s & New Concept of Cemeteries

Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 when Brooklyn was its own city and Manhattan’s population was booming. With that, the number of annual burials overwhelmed Manhattan’s limited space. So eventually, burials were banned in Manhattan and the Rural Cemetery Act was passed. But where would people now go? Brooklyn seemed so far away. Because remember, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge or the subway system (that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn) would happen decades later.

Manhattanites usually buried their dead in church backyards or potters-fields. The concept of a massive cemetery space was new to them. But as the city expanded, so did the need for burial space. So reluctantly, people turned to this rural farmland part of Brooklyn. And Green-Wood Cemetery would become a leading part of the rural cemetery movement.

Fun fact: This is why today, there are many cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens in an area often referred to as the “Cemetery Belt.”

2) It Was New York City’s Main Attraction & Inspiration for Central Park

“[Green-Wood became] the precursor of public parks in New York City.”

Jeff Richman, Green-Wood Historian

Remember, Central Park, Prospect Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art had NOT been built yet. So Green-Wood Cemetery quickly became New York City’s main attraction, with half a million visitors a year. And by 1860, it was New York State’s second main attraction after Niagara Falls. For that reason, it was common to see tourists, locals having picnics, and mourners around in the same space. And this successful popularity of Green-Wood became an inspiration for the building of Central Park in Manhattan.

3) Green-Wood’s Four Historic Landmarks

Green-Wood Cemetery has four designated National Historic Landmarks structures, instead of the whole cemetery being one landmark in order for them to retain some autonomy. Be sure to add these spots to your bucket list of places to visit when touring the cemetery. The four landmarks are:

4) The Monk Parakeets of Greenwood Cemetery

Walking through the grand gates, visitors may immediately see several large bird nests perched between the flying buttresses. These nests belong to escaped Monk Parakeets that have been a part of the cemetery for over a century! The exact origins of how these colorful birds from South America ended up here are unknown. However, one theory is that they escaped from their cages on a cargo ship and chose the Green-Wood Cemetery as their home. If you’re a bird lover, make sure to look out for these colorful residents upon entering the cemetery.

5) Other History Fun Facts About Green-Wood

  1. Green-Wood Cemetery was built during the Victorian era.
  2. The local topography includes winding pathways and a variety of sculpture gardens.
  3. Today, over half a million people have been buried here.
  4. Initially, Green-Wood Cemetery had trouble attracting business until the popular Governor of New York, De Witt Clinton, was interred here.
  5. It was originally a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant cemetery for more elite people with a “clean reputation”. But this changed throughout time, as you will read below with Boss Tweeds.

Famous People Buried at Greenwood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to hundreds of famous people, including former politicians, artists, musicians, and much more. Here are a few of the most notable residents.

1) De Witt Clinton

De Witt Clinton was one of the most prominent political figures in early American history, particularly in the state of New York. Not only did he serve as Governor of New York and New York Senator, but he was also mayor of New York City. He was popular for having helped establish important infrastructure across the state of New York that still stands today, including the Erie Canal and Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where he was later buried 10 years after his death in 1828.

2) Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was a Neo-Expressionist artist, born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. He began his career as a graffiti artist while he was a teenager before moving into painting and fine art. He didn’t achieve fame until later in life after he began selling to and collaborating with famous artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Paul Goude. One of his most famous works, Dustheads, sold for over $110 million dollars at an auction following his death from a heroin overdose in 1988. Though he was only 27 years old when he died, Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of New York’s greatest modern artists—an innovator whose style still informs contemporary pieces today.

3) Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was a gifted composer, conductor, and pianist, Leonard Bernstein was also a popular TV personality known to millions as the host of Young People’s Concerts and later Omnibus on PBS. He also conducted orchestras all over the world. He was most well known as the music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. Leonard Bernstein helped define musical culture in America and throughout much of the world during his life.

4) Boss Tweed

William Magear Tweed (1823-1878), aka Boss Tweed, was an American politician most notable for being New York City’s powerful and corrupt Tammany Hall leader. Tammany Hall was a powerful political organization and the main political machine of the Democratic Party from 1789 to 1967. After his 1871 election to head of Tammany Hall, he became one of America’s most infamous political bosses and controlled New York politics in partnership with crime boss Big Tim Sullivan. Under their leadership, Tammany Hall became a huge political machine and allowed them to profit from public contracts. He was also a Congressman (1852) and New York State Senator (1867).

5) Charles Ebbets

Charles Ebbets (1857-1925) was the Brooklyn Dodgers owner from 1902 to 1920. He helped make the Dodgers one of the most dominant teams in baseball history, helping lead them to six National League pennants and one World Series championship during his first 10 years at the helm of the team.

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