The bridge is named for both the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first known European navigator in the service of the French crown to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River, and for the body of water it spans: the Narrows. It has a center span of 4,260 feet (1,298 m) and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1964, until it was surpassed by the Humber Bridge in the United Kingdom in 1981. It now has the ninth longest main span in the world, is still the longest bridge span in the Americas, and its massive towers can be seen throughout a good part of the New York metropolitan area, including from spots in all five boroughs of New York City. The bridge is also easily seen from points in New Jersey including a great viewpoint from the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge Township.
The bridge furnishes a critical link in the local and regional highway system. Since 1976, it has been the starting point of the New York City Marathon. The bridge marks the gateway to New York Harbor; all cruise ships and most container ships arriving at the Port of New York and New Jersey must pass underneath the bridge and thus must be built to accommodate the clearance under the bridge.