The Brooklyn borough is a must on your list of things to see and do in New York. It's been the hipster capital of the world for decades, filled with cafes, shops and restaurants that were once former factories and now represent the gastronomic epicentre of New York.
Brooklyn is one of New York's trendiest neighbourhoods. A borough with an industrial past and a strong cultural identity that is well worth a visit. Welcome to Brooklyn!
1. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
In a city like New York where there is no shortage of great tourist landmarks, one of the first places you have to visit is the famous Brooklyn Bridge. You'll have seen it countless times on TV, but crossing it is awe-inspiring and its views over the East River of the New York skyline are fascinating. You can walk across or take a bike tour from Manhattan.
Opened in 1883, this engineering marvel soars over the river connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan from the Brooklyn neighbourhoods of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights to the Civic Center district of Manhattan. In fact, from here you'll have the best views of the Manhattan skyline.
- How long does it take to walk it: Taking into account that you will stop to take pictures and look at the views, it will take you about 45 minutes. It is 1.8 kilometres long.
- From Manhattan to Brooklyn or vice versa: Choose the direction that suits you best depending on what you want to do next. Although most people cross it from Manhattan, I like to cross it from Brooklyn because you get to see the views of the island skyline the whole way across.
- When to visit: The ideal time is first thing in the morning to take photos without too many tourists around. However, another great time to visit is at sunset, as the sun slowly goes down and New York starts to light up.
- Go in your own lane: At the beginning of the walk, to avoid accidents, don't move from the pedestrian lane, as it is only separated from the bike lane by a line painted on the ground and both are very narrow. Don't get lost taking photos, be careful!
2. NBA at the Barclays Center
The Barclays Center is a huge arena in the heart of Brooklyn just around the corner from the BAM. With a capacity of over 17,000 spectators, it is famous for being the "home" stadium of the Brooklyn Nets (NBA) and the New York Islanders (NHL) since 2012.
The Barclays Center has also hosted boxing championships and musical events (in fact, some of the best artists on the planet such as Celine Dion, Ariana Grande and Marc Anthony have performed here). If you want to catch an NBA game during your visit to New York, you can't miss the Brooklyn Nets here. The season starts at the end of October and ends in mid-April.
Why I recommend you to go to the Barclays Center
You come to New York to have a great time and even if you're not much of a sports fan, watching an NBA game in the United States is a real show of music, partying, dancing and above all, basketball. Are you ready to see the best players in the world up close? Here's how to get NBA tickets in New York.
3. Have a blast at Coney Island
One of the best things to do in Brooklyn, especially if you're travelling to New York in the summer with kids, is to go to Coney Island, the neighbourhood where New Yorkers go to relax outdoors and enjoy the beach when the weather is nice.
Stroll along the boardwalk
One of my favourite things about Coney Island is walking along the boardwalk with the Atlantic breeze on your face and the smell of the ocean - it's a great feeling!
The other big attraction in the area is Luna Park, a mix between an old fair and an amusement park that retains many of its original attractions such as the Wonder Wheel or the Cyclone roller coaster and that vintage charm that is so special. Consider it an essential plan if you go to New York with children.
Nearby is a freak show so typical of the 20s and 30s. The show is different every season and, although some of the tricks are repeated, you'll feel like you're reliving times gone by amidst bearded women, midgets and other typical characters.
Visit the New York Aquarium
Last but not least, a fun attraction to see at Coney Island is the New York Aquarium, the city' s only aquarium located on the waterfront. Its purpose is to show visitors the importance of preserving aquatic ecosystems. Here you can see sea otters, sharks and penguins, among many other species. Check when you enter to see when the animals eat and don't miss it if it coincides with your visit - the kids will love it!
4. Get in the Christmas spirit at Dyker Heights
Dyker Heights is a residential neighbourhood in Brooklyn that would be nothing special except that its residents go all out when it comes to celebrating Christmas by decorating their homes and gardens with hundreds of garlands, baubles, coloured lights and other decorations - and when I say all out, I mean all out!
Some opt for elegant and discreet lights while others fill their gardens to the brim with all sorts of lights, inflatables and Christmas figures that sing Christmas carols and move around.
A real competition that began in the 80s and has become an annual event for which some families even pay decoration companies to surprise the curious. A tradition not to be missed in Brooklyn if you're travelling to New York at Christmas.
5. Immerse yourself in street art
Another must-do is to discover the artistic culture of Brooklyn's Bushwick neighbourhood. And there's no better way to do this than with a street art tour. On a tour lasting about an hour and a half with a local artist who has an in-depth knowledge of graffiti techniques, you'll admire all the murals in the neighbourhood - a real open-air exhibition!
You'll also learn all about the history of the neighbourhood and the evolution of this artistic movement, as well as discovering a completely different view of New York City.
Note that if you've done this activity before, you can do it again, as there is an annual event where artists from all over the world come together to paint their works, which are kept until the next edition is held where other artists make new works on top of the previous ones.
6. Bring out the graffiti artist in you!
And if the street art tour isn't enough for you, you can book a graffiti workshop where you can create your own graffiti and keep it as a souvenir forever. You'll work with a real graffiti artist and learn all the tricks of the trade.
An ideal plan for adults, but also for the children of the house. Come and join this original and fun plan, one of the adventures that will leave your friends speechless!
7. Stroll through the Jewish Quarter of Williamsburg
Hipsters and New York's more conservative Jewish community live side by side in Williamsburg, this Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn. However, each has their own space and live in their own way: the hipsters in Williamsburg and the orthodox Jews in the South Williamsburg area, which you reach by crossing under the Williamsburg Bridge.
This place is like walking through a different world, austere and simple. There are not as many charming shops and the buildings look a little more neglected compared to the other part of the neighbourhood. It is home to Hasidic Jews (a branch of Orthodox Judaism) who came from Hungary to escape World War II.
As you stroll through South Williamsburg, you'll notice that its restaurants and shops have signs in Hebrew, as do the typical yellow school buses. If you can, I recommend that you go into a kosher shop and buy some sweets or muffins - they're quite tasty!
This is a very closed community that is very respectful of their way of life and traditions. Visitors don't pay much attention to them and are used to seeing them pass through the neighbourhood, but it's a good idea to be considerate on your tour of South Williamsburg (especially when taking photos that might show your neighbours).
The contrast between the different ways of life can be shocking, but even if you are struck by their clothing, hairstyles or other details, try not to make them feel uncomfortable by staring curiously at them or following them to take pictures, so as not to make them feel uncomfortable. Being respectful of others is also part of responsible travel.
8. Eat at Time Out Market
DUMBO has no shortage of restaurants where you can stop for a bite to eat. Next to Grimaldi's Pizzeria, famous throughout New York for its pepperoni pizza, in this neighbourhood you'll find Time Out Market, a food hall with more than twenty food stalls where you can try different dishes without leaving Empire Stores, the picturesque building in which it is located and which bears witness to Brooklyn's industrial past in the 19th century.
This is a perfect option if you're travelling in a group and want to avoid the eternal debate about where everyone wants to eat. There's a little bit of everything here: Italian, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese, bagels, burgers, vegetarian food, sweets, and more. Some of the city's best chefs, chosen by Time Out New York magazine, share the 2,400 m2 space.
The Time Out Market at 55 Water Street also brings together some of New York's best bartenders in three bars, who will prepare delicious cocktails to toast your trip. If you fancy a drink with a view as well as a full stomach, make a note of the best rooftops in New York.
- Address: 55 Water Street, Brooklyn.
- Hours: Open Fridays from 11AM to 21PM and weekends from 9AM to 21PM.
- Payments: Time Out Market does not accept cash in its restaurants, only the bars. You will have to pay by card.
9. Marvel at the views from DUMBO
Once an industrial area full of dreary factories and warehouses, DUMBO is now one of New York's trendiest areas. By the late 1970s, DUMBO was home to bohemians and artists who changed the soul of the neighbourhood, which became the epicentre of new art movements and attracted wealthy new neighbours due to its proximity to Manhattan.
When you arrive in DUMBO, the first thing you want to do is take a long walk and lose yourself in its streets. You'll be struck by how it has maintained the perfect combination of old industrial architecture and cobblestone floors, where the old train tracks are still visible, with the more modern design and luxury spaces that can be seen in the neighbourhood.
What to see in DUMBO?
- Washington Street: Close to the Brooklyn Bridge is this street from where you can take pictures of the wonderful Manhattan Bridge with New York in the background.
- Order a pizza at Grimaldi's: Try the pizzas at the legendary Grimaldi's at 1 Front Street, just under the Brooklyn Bridge. The queues at the entrance are worth it for their delicious pepperoni pizza - a tip: bring cash as they don't accept cards!
- Plymouth Street: Walking along this street you will see that it is crossed by the old tracks on which the freight trains used to run to the Big Apple.
- Admire Street Art: Sculptures, graffiti and murals scattered throughout the streets of DUMBO showcase Brooklyn's bohemian and artistic soul, and you can join a graffiti workshop in Brooklyn to learn how to make your own!
- Movie Nights: During July and August, Thursday nights are open-air classic movie nights at Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the summer breeze off the East River with the Manhattan skyline in the background.
10. A night at BAM
Another thing to do in Brooklyn is to spend an evening at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), a multi-arts centre that for over a century has been home to adventurous artists with daring ideas that have surprised audiences. They work especially with emerging artists, but also with innovative artists who have already made a name for themselves. Even actors such as Cate Blanchett, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich have graced the stages of BAM.
The main building, which is located near the Atlantic Avenue - Barclays Center underground stop, is shared by Rose Cinemas, which specialises in auteur films, the Howard Gilman Opera House and Lepercq Space, a multi-purpose performance space.
If you like innovative and alternative art, take a look at its official website because you'll find some really cool and different cultural proposals. And if you prefer to continue your itinerary by seeing one of the best museums in New York, don't miss the Brooklyn Museum.
11. Stroll through Main Street Park
One of my favourite places in DUMBO for its breathtaking views is Main Street Park, one of the best parks in New York. With the Brooklyn Bridge on one side, the Manhattan Bridge on the other and the East River and the Financial District skyline in front, you won't be able to stop taking pictures!
But to tell you the truth, I don't just like it for this reason but also because this is where you'll find Jane's Carousel, an authentic 1920's carousel that was restored to its original splendour and has been part of the Brooklyn landscape since the 1980's when it was brought here from Ohio.
Main Street Park with kids
If you' re visiting New York with the family, it's a great place to take the kids for a fun ride and a ride yourself. Jane's Carousel is for all ages so don't be shy and ride one of their cute little horses for just $2. It's also perfect if you're travelling with your partner and want to surprise them with a romantic evening.
On the other hand, in Main Street Park there is a tiny rocky beach known as Pebble Beach. There is a kind of bleachers where you can sit for a while and relax, look at the photos you've taken so far and enjoy the panoramic view of the city. If you're travelling to New York in the summer, this is the place to be during the hottest days of July and August in New York.
Another plan to do in Brooklyn during your visit, especially between August and October, is to rent a kayak to cruise the East River. You can find more information on the official website. If you're looking for more special plans like this, don't miss this list of must-see New York experiences.
12. Check out the Brooklyn Flea Market
One of the best things to do in Brooklyn is to check out the Brooklyn Flea Market inDUMBO on Saturdays from 10AM to 5PM from April to October. It's a vintage flea market offering a wide variety of goods (clothing, furniture, books, costume jewellery and crafts) lovingly displayed by more than 150 local vendors and artisans.
If you love flea markets and you're in New York in the winter, this space transforms into the Winter Flea, a flea market for antiques, crafts and food that opens between November and March. Shopaholics, this is where you'll find the best things to buy in New York.
Why I like this flea market
It's not your typical flea market where items are just piled up in a pile, but there's a thoughtful presentation that draws the eye to the stalls to tempt you to take home a unique souvenir for yourself or your family. There's something unique!
If you don't leave here with a super cool vintage jacket, you'll leave with a full stomach. Here you'll sample some of the best tacos, hot dogs, lobster rolls and Sicilian cannoli in New York. It's one of the best places to eat in Brooklyn.
- Hours: Brooklyn Flea Market from 10AM to 5PM. Winter Brooklyn Flea from 10AM to 6PM.
- Location: Brooklyn Flea Market at Manhattan Bridge Archway - 80 Pearl St. Winter Brooklyn Flea at 25 Kent Ave (8th fl.) Williamsburg.
- Access: Free.