With its trendy cafes, parks and markets, Brooklyn is a hip borough with lots to offer. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Brooklyn.
Spend a few days exploring Brooklyn for a slower-paced, artsy and cosmopolitan taste of New York.
From the whimsical carnival at Coney Island to the indie shops and food trucks at Dumbo, you won’t regret coming over the bridge.
Brooklyn has a strong art community and cutting-edge eateries that are well worth adding to your New York itinerary. Luscious parks offer unbeatable views of the Manhattan skyline from across the East River.
And Brooklyn’s thrift shops, food markets and niche boutiques are every shopper’s dream.
The borough’s diversity gives it a vibrant feel you won’t find anywhere else. There are Hasidim Jews and Puerto Ricans in South Williamsburg, and Poles and Italians in the North Side, among others.
So here’s my ultimate guide to the best things to do in Brooklyn – and some hidden gems you shouldn’t miss!
1. Walk (or bike) across Brooklyn Bridge
This iconic suspension bridge offers unbeatable views of the Manhattan skyline – and it’s especially magical at sunset.
Walk across the 1.1-mile (1.8 kilometer) bridge and admire the neo-Gothic stone towers and the engineering ingenuity. Completed in 1883, this stunning structure was the longest suspension bridge of its time.
It takes about an hour to stroll across on the pedestrian walkway, right above the rumbling traffic. Or rent a bicycle for a more breezy trip – there are dedicated bike lanes all across the bridge.
It gets very packed so go in the early morning or late at night to avoid the crowds.
Need to know: To access the bridge from Brooklyn use the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place. Alternatively, take the underpass at Washington Street, which goes up a stairway to a ramp. You can also walk the bridge in the other direction from Manhattan to Brooklyn. But you won’t get those spectacular views.
2. Unwind at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Unwind from the city hustle in this 52-acre gem filled with specialty gardens, stunning cherry trees, a bonsai museum and three plant pavilions.
Founded in 1910, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a wonderland of more than 14,000 taxa of plants. The tulips and magnolias are marvelous in bloom and make this garden a perfect springtime destination.
Don’t miss the Cherry Esplanade and its 200 cherry trees in full bloom in spring. There’s also the gorgeous Magnolia Plaza, Cranford Rose Garden and the Asian-inspired Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden for admiring nature in full bloom.
During winter, head for the warm greenhouses and their tropical flora and cacti.
This little neighbourhood at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge is full of flea markets, microbreweries, trendy cafes and stunning views of the bridge.
Short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, DUMBO was once a ferry landing full of warehouse and industrial buildings.
But today it’s known for art galleries, microbreweries, live music and cutting-edge eateries.
It’s where you’ll land right after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
And it’s home to the borough’s most photogenic spot. Head to Washington Street for that iconic shot of the Brooklyn Bridge looming over a residential street.
Head to Westville for lunch for inexpensive comfort food and incredible vegetarian options. If you’re craving pizza, you’re spoiled for choice. Joints like Front Street Pizza, Juliana’s and Grimaldi’s are all great choices. There are often lines right out the door and they don’t take reservations.
Treat the kids to a ride on Jane’s Carousel, a beautifully renovated carousel at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
For a night out, head to St. Anne’s Warehouse. This former tobacco warehouse now hosts cutting-edge theater and concerts.
The Brooklyn Museum has a massive collection of American art, antiquities from Ancient Egypt and daring modern art that tackles subjects like racism and feminism.
Housed in a beautifully-restored Beaux-Arts building, the museum is New York’s third largest and far less crowded than the MET.
It’s a must for any art lover. But set aside at least a few hours to browse their eclectic exhibits. The museum has some 1.5 million works that span 560,000 square feet.
The American Art exhibit is a fascinatingly diverse collection of pieces from Indigenous peoples and Norman Rockwell to mixed media works by rock singer Nick Cave. It also contains Judy Chicago’s famous feminist work, The Dinner Party.
And don’t miss the European collection with pieces by Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Cezanne and other Impressionist masters.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is right next door if you want to kick back after your visit.
5. Ride the roller coasters at Coney Island
From carnival rides to famous hot dogs and sandy beaches, Coney Island is New York’s favorite weekend getaway.
Luna Park is a treat both for kids and fun-loving adults. Get your thrills at the famous Cyclone and Thunderbolt roller coasters, play arcade games and munch on sugary treats and Coney’s Cones. But keep in mind prices have gone up: a 4-hour wristband is 62 USD per adult and 38 USD for children.
Head to the (free and public) beach to stroll along the iconic boardwalk and enjoy a chilly cheese hot dog from Nathan’s Famous.
There’s also minor league baseball at MCU Park and events like movie nights, concerts and a quirky annual Mermaid Parade (in June) that makes Coney Island a century-old summertime favorite.
6. Picnic at Brooklyn Bridge Park
With a sweeping green lawn right on the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is perfect to unwind with breathtaking views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
There’s also a beautiful restored carousel from the 1920s inside a glass pavilion, playgrounds for the kids and lawns for lunches and picnics. Stroll Pebble Beach, or get sporty at the basketball and beach volleyball courts.
This 85-acre pet-friendly oasis was once an industrial waterfront that’s been transformed into a local venue. The park has a lively calendar of outdoor movies and concerts, waterfront workouts and music festivals. Check the Brooklyn Bridge Park website to see what’s on.
Known for its breweries and hipsters, Williamsburg is an eclectic neighbourhood full of food trucks, street art and vintage boutiques.
Head to Bedford Avenue for the best indie shopping. Pick up some vinyl at Earwax Records, make your own jewelry at Brooklyn Charm, or browse the lux 1970s vintage at Amarcord.
Don’t miss Williamsburg’s weekly Smorgasburg Food Market on Saturday – a massive open-air foodie paradise that draws in 30,000 people every weekend. Get a taste of Brooklyn’s finest artisanal food at bargain prices.
Or just take a stroll through Williamsburg and explore. With quirky art galleries, live concerts and dozens of food vendors, you’ll find gems around every corner.
8. Brooklyn Heights Promenade
This gorgeous historic walkway is lined with flowerbeds and benches for some great people-watching and stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a 1/3-mile-long stretch that also offers distant views of the Statue of Liberty.
Don’t miss the old mansions and townhouses as you pass through Brooklyn’s Historic Preservation District. There’s also some great restaurants and niche boutiques nearby.
The tree-lined walkway is popular with locals for jogging, rollerblading and cycling. And it’s especially lovely in the summer with cool breezes coming in from the water.
9. Bushwick Collective
This stretch of murals along Troutman Street boasts some of the city’s most colorful, quirky and daring street art by renowned local and international artists.
The open-art museum is filled with block after block of glorious graffiti that fills every brick – and sometimes spills out onto painted trucks and vehicles, too.
Art lovers can easily spend a few hours wandering the side streets. And there’s lots of great street and Mexican food in the area, too, for a breather between browsing.
You’ll sometimes spot artists at work on the murals. And since the murals are constantly changing, Bushwick Collective will be a little different on your next visit.
The Bushwick Collective surfaced in 2011 to breathe fresh air into this industrial neighborhood. Today, the area has transformed into a top Brooklyn tourist destination.
You’ll find most of the noteworthy murals on Troutman Street between Irving and Cypress Avenues. But set aside some time to explore the side streets, too.
10. Prospect Park
This massive park boasts an Audubon center and grassy meadows that make it a prime destination for bird watching, outdoor concerts and ball games.
Designed by the same architects behind Central Park, this Brooklyn landmark features everything from the towering trees of the Ravine forest to the sprawling expanses of Long Meadow and Nethermead.
It’s also popular for bicyclers, dog walkers, runners and locals out for family picnics.
Prospect Park boasts 526 acres of nature that start at the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch entrance at Grand Army Plaza.
Inside there’s a boathouse, a man-made lake, ice rink, carousel and a slew of different sporting fields.
Prospect Park also boasts an Audubon Center with hands-on exhibits and fun scavenger hunts and bird bingo games for kids.
And don’t forget Smorgasburg on Sundays when the park gets taken over by dozens of food vendors. You’ll find anything from classic New York bagels to fried chicken sandwiches and Jamaican food.
11. Brooklyn Flea
(photos: Scott Lynch and Sam Hollenshead)
This flea market features hundreds of vendors offering anything from vintage clothing and vinyl to quirky jewelry and crafts by local artisans.
Set aside a few hours to browse this treasure trove for anything from African straw baskets to vintage kimonos. And pick up some great Brooklyn souvenirs like old battered street signs and antique bits of old Americana.
Ranked as one of the country’s best markets, Brooklyn Flea is a pleasure to browse through and people-watch. You’ll discover some great local brands and very creative artists.
There’s also an array of vendors with artisanal foods to munch on between browsing.
Brooklyn Flea is held Saturdays and Sundays in DUMBO from April to December.
12. Greenwood Cemetery
This leafy, historic cemetery is the final resting place for figures like artist Basquiat and composer Leonard Bernstein.
Start at the dramatic Gothic arched entrance and stroll across 478 acres of graves, memorials, rolling hills and historic curiosities. Wear comfortable shoes for the climbs and savor the cemetery’s hilltop views overlooking Manhattan.
Don’t miss the monuments to the Civil War’s fallen soldiers, the Victorian chapel and dozens of ornate mausoleums.
The cemetery also offers birding tours – it’s known among birdwatchers for its feral monk parakeets, herons, sandpipers and ducks.
Ask the guards for a map that includes architectural points of interest, noteworthy trees and famous graves.
13. Brooklyn Heights
Wander through this historic neighbourhood and explore old brownstones and tempting eateries in what’s one of Brooklyn’s prettiest districts.
Just steps away from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, this upscale area is filled with great shopping and elegant restaurants tucked into historic mansions. It also boasts some of the best views in the city.
Brooklyn Heights is the borough’s most sought-after residential areas. It’s noted for hundreds of historic brownstones – with some 600 houses built before the Civil War.
Head to the Brooklyn Historical Society for exhibits that chronicle some 400 years of Brooklyn history. The nearby New York Transit Museum is another fascinating museum with exhibits of vintage trains and trolley cars.
For a breather between sightseeing, head to Montero’s – a vintage bar open since 1939.
And for a really unforgettable experience, take in a classical music concert with sparkling views of Manhattan at Bargemusic.
14. Brooklyn Library
Take a breather from the city bustle at the Central Branch of Brooklyn Public Library for a few hours of browsing books in a gorgeous setting.
This quiet and atmospheric library is always bustling with a diverse crowd of locals and visitors – and it’s a testament to the power of a good library in a time when so many are shutting down.
There’s also a lively calendar of events from book discussions and cooking classes to art exhibits.
15. Park Slope
This upscale neighbourhood is full of brownstones and tree-lined streets that are a quiet, family-friendly oasis in the city.
Head to 5th Avenue for the best niche boutiques, thrift stores and cafes. You’ll find eatable sculptures at Not Just Chocolate and works by local women artists at St. Hrouda.
And don’t miss Sip N Play for a lively spot to play board games over drinks.
For a night of independent movies, head to Nitehawk Cinema to watch a film over dinner and cocktails.
Where to eat in Brooklyn
From thin crust pizza and food trucks to Michelin-starred dining, you’re spoilt for choice in Brooklyn.
Head to Dekalb Market Hall to sample an array of local vendors from artisanal cheese to cocktails. And don’t miss Smorgasburg on the weekends (Saturdays in Williamsburg and Sundays at Prospect Park) for America’s largest open-air food market.
Legends like Juliana’s and the Michelin-starred Sottoasa Pizzeria are both excellent to satisfy your pizza cravings. For a leisurely dinner, you can’t beat Michael’s of Brooklyn for good Italian food and cheery service.
Where to stay in Brooklyn
The Williamsburg Hotel boasts soaring windows with amazing cityscapes. There’s also a rooftop pool and three sleek bars to choose from.
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is a eco-luxury hotel nestled alongside the Brooklyn Bridge with incredible views, native greenery and an epic rooftop pool.