My guide of what to do in Brooklyn – it is definitely worth carving out a day of your New York City itinerary to dedicate to exploring Brooklyn.
Brooklyn has become a destination in its own right – full of restaurants, shops, museums, and parks to explore. Thirteen years ago when I moved to New York City, someone told me, “no one moves to New York City to live in Brooklyn”. That has definitely changed. Today the borough is a haven for young families and hipsters alike, and home to some of the most coveted real estate in the country.
People unfamiliar with Brooklyn may be tempted to view Brooklyn as a neighborhood, instead of as a borough filled with different neighborhoods. I spent my time in Williamsburg, Park Slope, Bushwick, Dumbo, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and each neighborhood has its own vibe and personality. Parts of Williamsburg with their perfectly manicured three flats look more like movie sets than a neighborhood. Glass and steel high-rises are encroaching on the brick row homes, and shops like J.Crew, Whole Foods, and Apple sit beside locally owned boutiques and thrift stores. Brooklyn is rapidly changing.
In Manhattan, you are just one in a sea of tourists. It can be busy, overcrowded, and overwhelming. Brooklyn doesn’t have that vibe, many tourists overlook it – or only go across the Brooklyn Bridge and immediately return to Manhattan. Brooklyn is a nice change of pace. Sure, if it is your first time in New York City, you may want to stick to the highlights and stay in Manhattan. But, if you have done the highlights and want something new to discover, head to Brooklyn.
You can hit the Brooklyn highlights in a day or two – luckily the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Zoo, and Prospect Park are all next to one another. Then you can head to Williamsburg for shopping and dinner.
The ideal time to visit Brooklyn is a weekend in the summer. This way you can take advantage of all the seasonal events, restaurants, and bars. I happened to be there in April and again in February, and while it was a little chilly, I was still able to take advantage of the borough’s year-round attractions and things to do.
Getting to Brooklyn
I opted to take the ferry, mostly because I thought it would offer the opportunity to take photos (it didn’t). You could take the train, which is faster and easier, or if you want a photo opportunity you should walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Regardless, count on the trip taking 30-45 minutes from Manhattan.
What to Do in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens was the primary reason I chose to go to Brooklyn. It was mid-April and the magnolias were in full bloom and the cherry blossoms were just beginning to bloom. By going on a Wednesday I was able to avoid the weekend crowds. Later in the year there are rows of roses and other flowers blooming throughout.
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens has a busy events calendar – they host everything from a chile pepper festival to a Halloween costume parade. Even if you aren’t there for a special event, the strolling through the gardens is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the sun.
Take Photos at Washington Street
Both professional and amateur photographers flock to Washington Street to capture the image of the Manhattan Bridge, and Empire State building, and the cobblestone street. You may recognize this specific view since it was featured on Gossip Girl and was depicted as being outside the Humphrey home. The spot you want is the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street.
A performing arts center that has been presenting theater productions for 40 years. Both plays and concerts take place here, and the theater describes itself as being at the intersection of theater and rock and roll. Hamlet is running through March 8th and The Jungle premieres on April 2.
This museum has an incredibly diverse permanent collection. The collection includes everything form a portrait of Snoop Dogg to ancient Egyptian sculptures and and entire Art Deco style study with paneled walls and furniture.
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
It is such a scenic walk, and it is a practical way to get to Brooklyn. If you don’t want to walk, you can rent a bike.
I am a huge fan of the beers produced by this Brooklyn based brewery. You can book tickets for a small batch tour on Mondays – Thursdays, or you can join a bigger public tour on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
A historic carousel built in 1922 with carved wooden horses located in front of the Time Out Market. The carousel is open year-around, but not everyday.
This isn’t just a bowling alley, Brooklyn bowl is a bar, restaurant, music venue, and a bowling alley!
Parks in Brooklyn
Manhattan has Central Park and Brooklyn has Prospect Park. Located right between the zoo and the botanic garden, Prospect Park is a 526-acre public park with bike paths, ponds, and sports fields. The park is home to Smorgasburg a weekend food market that takes place on Sundays from April through October.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
An elevated walkway that takes you past stunning Brooklyn brownstones and offers views of the East River and the Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
This park includes a series of piers run along the East River south of the Brooklyn Bridge, many of these piers are parks and athletic fields. Pier 2 has covered basketball, handball, and bocce courts plus ping pong and a turf field. Pier 5 is a soccer field. Pier 6 has playgrounds and beach volleyball courts.
A park in Williamsburg with a playground, an elevated walkway, beach volleyball courts, bocce courts, a dog run, and pathways for runners.
Marsha P. Johnson State Park (formerly East River State Park)
A park along the river with sports fields. In the summer the park becomes a concert venue for the free SummerStage concert series.
Located just south of the Marsha P. Johnson State Park, ferry service to Manhattan runs to this park.
A park in Williamsburg with several athletic fields, a dog run, a pool, and a play center.
Where to Eat in Brooklyn
Roberta’s is credited with putting Bushwick on the map. This sprawling restaurant/patio/pizzeria is an Anthony Bourdain favorite and it is one of the most beloved restaurants in America. I dropped in for lunch on a rainy Wednesday and I grabbed a spot at the bar. My first order of business was ordering a beer. The #Pizzagate is a lighter American Pale ale exclusive to Roberta’s and made in collaboration with LIC Beer Project. Roberta’s is known for their pizza, but at lunchtime they are also known for their Double Cheeseburger. This burger rivals the best burgers in Chicago, and is made with prime dry-aged beef. Not only is the burger excellent, it is an ideal pick for a solo diner, since you may not be able to finish an entire pizza.
This restaurant serves brunch everyday. They are known for their giant fluffy pancakes, and I love the cheddar scramble which comes with bacon, hash browns, and toast.
Grimaldi’s is perhaps the most well-known eatery in Brooklyn. This pizza joint specializes in coal fired pizzas, which have been named the best in New York. There are a couple things that you need to know, they don’t sell slices, only whole pies, they do not take reservations, and you should expect a wait for a table.
This trendy hotel in Williamsburg has three restaurants: Mister Dips, an airstream that serves burgers and ice cream, Westlight, a chic rooftop bar with incredible views of the Manhattan skyline, and Leuca a sunny garden level restaurant serving Southern Italian cuisine.
I discovered Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon and they have a location on the waterfront in Brooklyn. Pok Pok is known for their traditional Thai cuisine including noodle soups, and their wings.
A sunny plant-based restaurant that serves fresh juices, smoothies, and both vegan and vegetarian meals. I love the pesto mozzarella quesadilla.
I have been to this Moroccan restaurant’s East Village location, and it is a personal favorite. The bastille (filo pastry filled with chicken, almonds, and cinnamon) is incredible, as are the tagines. Moroccan food isn’t very easy to find in America, but it is a delicious treat and Cafe Modagor is the place to try it.
A family-friendly neighborhood Italian joint in Park Slope, this sunny and welcoming restaurant serves classic pasta and seasonal farm to table cuisine. I had the most delicious agnolotti filled with ricotta and topped with mushrooms and toasted pine nuts when I dined there.
Famous for their cheesecake, you will find Junior’s landmark location at the corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb Avenue. In addition to cheesecake, the restaurant has a large menu of American food including corned beef, pastrami, beef tongue, and brisket sandwiches, burgers, and seafood entrees.
A pizzeria that serves up thin crust brick oven Neapolitan style pies. The menu has a good selection of white and red pies, plus vegan options. Gluten-free crust is available too.
A taco stand in Domino Park that serves tacos and margaritas with picnic tables that give guests views of Manhattan.
I chatted with a real estate broker while I was dining at the bar at Roberta’s and he had the best things to say about this restaurant in Clinton Hill. The menu focuses on pizza, along with a couple of pastas, and a burger made with dry aged beef.
One of Milk Bar’s locations is in Williamsburg, and if you haven’t had their cereal milk ice cream or the crack pie, you need to add that to your to-do list.
A pie shop with a few Brooklyn locations, Four & Twenty Blackbirds serves up pies including Chocolate Cheese, Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan, Brown Butter Apple Streusel, and Salty Honey.
I happened upon this cute little shop that sells two-bite sized cookies, and I bought a whole bunch and snacked on them for the next couple of days. The Lucia (chocolate and caramel on shortbread), the Olga (mint chocolate ganache between sugar cookies), and the lemon rosemary cookies were lovely. One Girl Cookies has three locations in Brooklyn.
An ice cream shop that makes small batch ice cream with creative flavors. This is the sour cream, dulce de leche, and chocolate cookie bits ice cream.
A coffee/bakery with a large selection of pastries including macarons, cookies, and more. They also host macaron workshops.
A German-style beer hall with long communal tables inside and a biergarten outside. They serve a menu of traditional German food and have live music.
Food Halls in Brooklyn
You will find this food hall in a basement of a shopping mall next to a Trader Joes in Downtown Brooklyn. The food hall’s 40 vendors represent the diversity of Brooklyn and even iconic restaurants like Katz’s Deli have locations here. Examples of the global cuisine represented at DeKalb Market include arepas, curries, pierogi, banh mi, jerk chicken, and pad thai.
A food hall in Williamsburg with over a dozen different vendors serving up meals like pierogies, Vietnamese noodle salads, ramen, dumplings, pizza, bagels, tacos, lobster rolls, tapioca crepes, and hummus.
A new food market in Dumbo with views of Manhattan and the bridges, the vendors at this market were selected by Time Out editors to represent the city’s best restaurants, bars, and cultural experiences. The market is on the ground level and the rooftop. The rooftop has a terrace and wonderful views of Manhattan.
The restaurants here serve a wide variety of cuisines so there is something for everyone. Try pizza, pasta, pancakes, sushi, Mexican, ramen, seafood, or steak.
Coffeeshops in Brooklyn
When I think of Brooklyn, the television series Girls comes to mind. The series did for Greenpoint what Roberta’s did for Bushwick. If you watched the series, you may recognize the Cafe Grumpy in Bushwick as the shop where Ray and Hannah worked. It turns out lots of people work at Cafe Grumpy, the coffeeshop is filled with headphone wearing twenty-somethings typing away on their MacBooks. It isn’t really worth going out of your way to go the Cafe Grumpy from Girls – but it was raining and I had time on my hands. There are Cafe Grumpy locations all over, and the one in Greenpoint is a bit of a no mans land.
This coffee shop has multiple Brooklyn locations that promises to bring customers freshest coffee possible. They work with farm partners to control the process of exporting coffee from Columbia and then they roast the coffee in Brooklyn. Beans are harvested year-round and the beans can make it from farm to cup in as little as 10 days.
Part shop and part coffee house, Salter House serves tea, coffee, and vegan and gluten-free baked goods. The shop has a variety of home goods.
Where to Shop in Brooklyn
This street in Williamsburg is home to shops including the Bedford Cheese Shop, Whisk (a fun kitchenware shop), Catbird jewelry, and plenty of boutiques selling men’s and women’s clothing.
When Bedford Avenue meets Grand Street, turn onto Grand Street and explore shops including Package Free (a shop that sells products to help you reduce your waste), Bird (an upscale boutique featuring emerging designers), Fuego (which sells handcrafted jewelry, art, and homewares), and Pintrill (which sells pins).
This vintage boutique with multiple Brooklyn locations, and inventory is constantly changing and you never know what you will find.
Over 100 individual sellers including artists, designers, and vintage collectors occupy the Williamsburg shop each weekend. I do want to point out that the locations in Soho and Chelsea are open daily, which gives you more opportunity to check out Artists and Fleas.
A weekend flea market that takes place in Industry City on Saturdays and in Dumbo on Sundays. It is the place to find a mix of vintage items, clothing, antiques, and food.
This shop on Grand Avenue sells gorgeous home accessories including linens, pillows, ceramics, and art.
This shop sells graphic tee shirts as well as other items of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories.
A menswear shop/art gallery on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights that sells casual clothing for the sophisticated man. The owner is a fifth generation Brooklynite who sees his shop has a community gathering place.
A fine jewelry boutique in Williamsburg that features work by independent designers. The jewelry ranges from formal to whimsical and the prices are reasonable.
A store for those who love nature and the outdoors, this Brooklyn Heights store sells apparel, outerwear, shoes, and gear for camping and exploring.
Learn to live more sustainably at this shop that sells reusable food storage containers and tote bags, plus sustainable beauty and personal hygiene products.
A small shopping center with independent shops selling vintage clothing, beauty products, gifts, books, and more.
A home goods boutique that embraces color, print, and patterns. This shops proves that your home can look sophisticated while still being fun. They sell furniture, rugs, pillows, blankets, bedding, artwork, and more.
There are a pair of Spout Home locations in Williamsburg. One focuses more on tableware and the other has a large selection of plants.
A shop that specializes in selling unique, handcrafted, and ethically made toys and clothing. They have a large selections of blocks, puzzles, and educational toys.
Located in Williamsburg, Beam sells colorful and classic furniture, tableware, and home accessories.
A women’s clothing store with a big selection of dresses, tops, jeans, jewelry, handbags, and accessories. The prices are affordable and the clothing is colorful and unique.
Things to Do in Brooklyn in Summer
This food-centric event takes place from April through October. On Saturdays it is held in Williamsburg’s East River State Park and on Sundays it is in Prospect Park. Smorgasburg is the largest weekly open-air food market in the country, and it features over 100 local food vendors. The New York Times calls it “The Woodstock of Eating”.
This 100-year-old wooden schooner has been transformed into an oyster bar parked at Pier 6. Since this is outside, it is only open seasonally. Fun fact – the ship has circumnavigated the world twice!
Movies in Vale Park
In the summer months, Mister Dips hosts an outdoor movie series. And it is free to attend!
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What to do in Lower Manhattan
What to do in Soho
What to do in Greenwich Village and Chelsea
What to do in Tribeca
What to do in Brooklyn
What to do in Union Square
What to do in the Upper East Side
What to do in the West Side
What to Do in the West Village
What to do in Murray Hill, Gramercy, and Kip’s Bay
What to do in the East Village
What to do in the Lower East Side
What to Know about Visiting New York City
Which NYC Airport to Fly Into
24 Hours in NYC and a Visit to Roosevelt Island
Have you been to Brooklyn? Did I miss anything in my list of what to do in Brooklyn?