Brooklyn is one of the most trendy New York City neighborhoods. A borough with an industrial past and a strong cultural identity, it is well worth a visit. Here are the must-sees of the area: Welcome to Brooklyn!
1. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
In a city like New York, there is no shortage of great tourist attractions such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, or Times Square. And one of the first places to visit when you visit the Big Apple is the famous Brooklyn Bridge.
You will have seen it countless times on TV and in the movies but walking across it is one of the best experiences you will have on your trip because it is truly impressive and its views over the East River of the New York skyline are fascinating.
Inaugurated in 1883, this engineering marvel rises over the river connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan from the DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods in Brooklyn to the Civic Center neighborhood in Manhattan. Its stone towers with pointed arches are easily recognized and one of the most photographed elements of the Brooklyn Bridge, although the entire bridge is a marvel.
Tips for crossing the bridge
- How long does it take to walk it: Keeping in mind that you'll stop to take photos and soak in the views, it will take you about 45 minutes or so. It is only 1.1 miles long.
- 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 from Manhattan, I like to cross from Brooklyn because you can see the views of the island's skyline all the way across.
- When to go: The ideal time is early in the morning to take pictures without too many tourists around. However, another beautiful time that I love is at sunset as the sun slowly goes down and New York starts to light up.
- Stick to your lane: at the beginning of the walk, to avoid accidents, do not 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. Do not get distracted when taking pictures and be careful!
2. Marvel at the views from DUMBO
What was once a rather gloomy industrial area full of factories and warehouses, today is one of the trendiest spaces in New York. By the late '70s, DUMBO was home to bohemians and artists who changed the soul of the neighborhood, which became the epicenter of new artistic movements that attracted new wealthy neighbors given its proximity to Manhattan.
When you arrive in DUMBO, the first thing you want to do is take a long walk and get lost in its streets. It is very striking how it has kept that perfect combination between the old industrial architecture and the cobblestone floor, where the old train tracks are still visible, with the most modern design and luxury spaces that can be seen in the neighborhood. DUMBO gives off a special charm that you won't be able to stop taking pictures of.
What to see in DUMBO?
- Washington Street: Next to the Brooklyn Bridge is located this street from which you can photograph 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 lines at the entrance are worth it to eat their delicious pepperoni pizza —a tip: bring cash because they don't accept credit cards!
- Plymouth Street: Walking down 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 its Street Art: Sculptures, graffiti, and murals scattered throughout the streets of DUMBO show the bohemian and artistic soul of Brooklyn.
- Movie Nights: During July and August, Thursday nights are open-air classic movies 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.
3. Stroll through Main Street Park
One of my favorite spots in DUMBO for its breathtaking views is Main Street Park. On one side the Brooklyn Bridge, on the other the Manhattan Bridge, and in front of the East River and the Financial District skyline. 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 splendor and has been part of the Brooklyn landscape since the 80's when it was brought from Ohio.
Main Street Park with kids
If you're visiting New York as a family, it's a great place to take the kids to have fun and get on the rides yourself. Jane's Carousel is for all ages so don't be shy and ride one of their cute little horses for only $ 2. It's also a perfect plan if you're traveling as a couple 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. In it, there is a kind of bleachers where you can sit for a while to rest, to see the photos you have taken so far and also enjoy the view of the city.
Another plan to do in Brooklyn during your visit, especially between August and October, is to rent a kayak to navigate the East River. You can find more information at official website.
4. Browse the Brooklyn Flea Market
One of the best things to do in Brooklyn is to take a stroll through the Brooklyn Flea Market in DUMBO on Saturdays from 10AM to 5PM from April to October. It's a vintage flea market that offers a wide variety of products (clothing, furniture, books, jewelry, and crafts) displayed with care by more than 150 local vendors and artisans.
If you love flea markets but travel to New York in winter, at this time of the year this space is transformed into Winter Flea, a flea market of antiques, crafts, and food that opens between November and March.
Why I like this flea market
This is not your typical flea market where items are just piled up in a pile, but there is a careful presentation that draws the eye to the stalls to tempt you to take a unique souvenir home, either for yourself or for your family. You can find such unique things!
If you don't leave here with a super cool vintage jacket, you'll leave with a full, happy stomach. Here you'll sample some of the best tacos, hot dogs, lobster rolls, and Sicilian cannoli in New York.
- 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.
5. Eat at Time Out Market
DUMBO has no shortage of restaurants to take a lunch break. Next to the aforementioned Grimaldi's Pizzeria, famous throughout New York for its pepperoni pizza, in this neighborhood is located the 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 that claims to the industrial past of Brooklyn in the nineteenth century.
This is a perfect option if you are traveling in a group and want to avoid the eternal debate about where everyone wants to go to eat. There's a little bit of everything here: Italian, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese, bagels, burgers, vegetarian food, sweets, etc. Some of the city's best chefs, chosen by the editorial staff of Time Out New York magazine, share the 2,400 m2 space.
The Time Out Market at 55 Water Street also brings together in three bars some of the most knowledgeable bartenders in New York who will prepare you drinks to toast your trip.
- Address: 55 Water Street, Brooklyn.
- Hours: Open Fridays from 11AM to 9PM and weekends from 9AM to 9PM.
- Payments: Time Out Market does not accept cash in its restaurants, only the bars. You will have to pay by card.
Isabel's Traveller Tip
From Time Out Market's rooftop, on the 5th floor, you'll be blown away by the breathtaking views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, and the Manhattan skyline.
6. A night at BAM
Another thing to do in Brooklyn is to spend an evening at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), the equivalent of Manhattan's Lincoln Center that houses the ballet, opera, and philharmonic of New York.
BAM is a multi-arts center that for more than a century has been home to adventurous artists with bold ideas that have surprised audiences. They work especially with emerging artists but also with innovative artists who have already made a name for themselves. Stars such as Cate Blanchett, Jeremy Irons, and John Malkovich have graced BAM's stages.
The main building, which is located near the Atlantic Avenue subway stop - Barclays Center, is shared by Rose Cinemas, which specializes 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 web oficial because you will find the coolest and most different cultural proposals.
7. NBA at the Barclays Center
The Barclays Center is a huge arena in the heart of Brooklyn just around the corner from BAM. With a capacity of over 17,000, it is famous for being the home where the Brooklyn Nets (NBA) and the New York Islanders (NHL) have played since 2012.
The Barclays Center has also hosted boxing championships and musical events (in fact here have performed several of the best artists on the planet such as Celine Dion, Ariana Grande, or Marc Anthony). If during your visit to New York you want to catch an NBA game, you can't miss the Brooklyn Nets. The season starts in late October and ends in mid-April.
Why I recommend going to the Barclays Center.
You come to New York to have a great time and even if you don't like sports, attending a live NBA game in New York is a real show of music, partying, dancing, and above all, basketball.
8. Stroll through the Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg
Hipsters and New York's conservative Jewish community coexist in this Brooklyn neighborhood. However, each has their own space and live their own way: the cool kids 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 locals and its buildings seem a bit more neglected compared to the other part of the neighborhood. This is home to Hasidic Jews (a branch within Orthodox Judaism) who came from Hungary to escape World War II.
During the walk through South Williamsburg, you will see that its restaurants and stores have signs in Hebrew as well as the typical yellow school buses. If you can, I recommend you go into a kosher store and buy some sweets or rolls, they are quite tasty!
It is always said that New York is a city of contrasts, and to truly experience it you have to get out of Manhattan. One of the best ways to do that is with the famous "New York City Contrasts Tour", as it takes you to visit its different districts in one day. I tell you more about it here: New York Contrasts Tour.
This is a very closed community that respects their way of life and traditions. Visitors do not pay much attention to them and are accustomed to seeing them pass through the neighborhood, but it is advisable that during the route through South Williamsburg you act with consideration (especially when taking photographs in which the neighbors may appear).
The contrast between the different ways of life can be shocking, but even if their clothing, hairstyles, or any other detail catches your attention, try not to make them feel uncomfortable by staring inquisitively at them, nor following them to take pictures. Being respectful of others is also part of traveling responsibly.
9. Get in the holiday spirit at Dyker Heights
This residential neighborhood in Brooklyn would be nothing special if it weren't for the fact that its neighbors go all out when it comes to celebrating Christmas by decorating their houses and gardens with hundreds of garlands, balls, colored lights, and other decorations. And when I say all out, I mean all out!
Some opt for elegant and discreet lights while others recharge their gardens to no end with all kinds of lights, inflatables, and Christmas figures that sing carols and move. 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 during the most magical time of the year.
- When: Although there are neighbors who turn on the lights in late November, it is usually done in December until the end of the year.
- Where: The most popular streets that would shock the Grinch himself are between 11th and 13th avenues and 83rd and 86th streets.
10. Have a blast at Coney Island
One of the best things to do in Brooklyn especially if you are traveling to New York in summer and with kids is to go to Coney Island, the neighborhood where New Yorkers go to relax outdoors and enjoy the beach when the weather is nice.
Stroll along the boardwalk
One of the things I love most about Coney Island is walking along its boardwalk feeling the Atlantic breeze on your face and the scent of the ocean. It's a fantastic feeling!
The other great attraction in the area is Luna Park, a mix between old fair and amusement park that retains much of its original attractions such as the Wonder Wheel or the roller coaster Cyclone and that vintage charm that is so special.
Nearby, you can find a freak show so typical of the 20s and 30s. The show is different every season and, although some tricks are a bit old, you will have the feeling of reliving past times among bearded women, dwarfs, and other typical characters.
Visit the New York Aquarium
Last but not least, a fun attraction to see in Coney Island is the New York Aquarium, the city's only aquarium located on the boardwalk. 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. Try to come at the same time when the animals are being fed —kids will love to see it!
Isabel's Traveller Tip
At Coney Island combine a stroll along the boardwalk, a visit to the New York Aquarium, and the Luna Park Fair with one of Nathan's famous hot dogs. You'll want to do it all over again!
Frequently asked questions
Is Brooklyn safe to visit?
Many of Brooklyn's neighborhoods have seen a recent surge of gentrification due to flocking young professionals moving into the area. That being said there are still areas to be wary of including Brownsville and East New York.
What is Brooklyn famous for and what can I see there?
Brooklyn holds a special place in pop culture as it is the birthplace of many famous celebrities including Jerry Seinfeld, Jay-Z, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Murphy. The borough itself has grown famous for Coney Island, Brooklyn Bridge and its many neighborhoods and delicious food.
What areas of Brooklyn should I visit?
Both Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Bushwick have become the hip and trendy places to be. While Williamsburg features some of the trendiest eateries, shops and bars, Bushwick has grown famous for its growing art scene, earning the title of "the new hipster hub". There is also Redhook which offer stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.