Brooklyn has become a destination in its own right – full of restaurants, shops, museums, and parks to explore. Twelve 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. Today I am sharing 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.
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 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.
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.
A new food hall featuring 40 vendors, this is the place to experience foods from many different ethnic backgrounds. Feast on foods including stuffed crepes, barbecue, hand pulled noodles, pierogi, paella, done kebab, sushi, or tacos. I hadn’t been to this market yet, but I have read the most amazing things about it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This vintage boutique with multiple Brooklyn locations, and inventory is constantly changing and you never know what you will find.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This museum is currently showing the David Bowie Is exhibition which has been touring for the past couple of years. We saw it in Chicago, and it is definitely worth going out of your way to catch. Just make sure that you purchase tickets in advance.
The permanent collection is incredibly diverse. 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.
This isn’t just a bowling alley, Brooklyn bowl is a bar, restaurant, music venue, and a bowling alley!
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!
Have you been to Brooklyn? Did I miss anything in my list of what to do in Brooklyn?