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It wasn’t Manhattan that made me fall for New York – it was Brooklyn that made me fall in love with the ‘Big Apple’. I had been to New York several times but it was in 2013, when I lived in Brooklyn for two months, that I fell so hard for the city that I decided I had to live in New York at some point in my life. While I had always enjoyed New York City tremendously on previous visits, it never felt like a place I’d want to call home – until the summer I spent in Brooklyn. Over the years, Brooklyn has become a place most people know is cool, trendy and ‘happening’ – and that you have to visit Brooklyn on a trip to New York – but most people don’t know where to start. If you want to get off the beaten path in New York City – you have to visit Brooklyn! Still not convinced? Then this article is for you.Since making Brooklyn my home a few years ago, I’ve spent countless months exploring this massive borough, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never be done exploring it – because there are so many different neighborhoods to see, cool spots to stumble upon and hidden gems to discover. So where to go in Brooklyn, and what to see in Brooklyn?
You can check out my Brooklyn Walking Tours below, but let me take you on a virtual tour of Brooklyn and tell you all of the reasons why it’s well worth venturing into Brooklyn for a day while you’re visiting New York, and the best places to visit in Brooklyn:
1 Explore Brooklyn’s diverse Neighborhoods
It’s funny that most people who visit New York only set foot in one of the five boroughs – Manhattan – even though it is by size the smallest of them all, and by population the third smallest. Manhattan has a population of 1.6 million, the Bronx 1.4 million, and Staten Island just under half a million – even though by land area, it is more than twice as large as Manhattan (Manhattan is 22.83 sq miles, Staten Island 58.5 sq miles).
Brooklyn is 71 sq miles, which is more than three times as big as Manhattan, so really, it’s impossible to overlook this giant borough.And you shouldn’t just visit Brooklyn for its vast size, but also for its many diverse neighborhoods. Here are just a few that I think are well worth a visit (two of them made it into my list of the Top Five Places In New York City Off The Beaten Path!)
- Bushwick for the street art and epic dance parties in massive warehouses
- Williamsburg for its hipster feel and fantastic eateries and bars
- The predominantly Polish Greenpoint
- Historic Brooklyn Heights for its grand homes
- Fort Greene for the historic architecture
- Prospect Lefferts Gardens for even more grand homes and historic architecture
- Dumbo for its beautiful waterfront and views over Manhattan
- Red Hook with its large waterfront and freight port/industrial history
- Predominantly Russian Brighton Beach
- Coney Island for its famous boardwalk and the old-fashioned amusement park
- Park Slope for some of the prettiest brownstones in New York City
- Cobble Hill for its cozy atmosphere, little plazas and cute coffee shops
- Sunset Park for Brooklyn’s Chinatown and the park that gives the neighborhood its name
- Bay Ridge for its small-town feel and impressive gated mansions in the upscale, old-money Harbor View section
I could go on and on, but you get the point: Brooklyn is so diverse and large that you could spend days just exploring this borough. There are well over 50 neighborhoods you could explore here! In fact, Brooklyn was its very own city until 1898, when it was annexed to New York City.
2 Brooklyn has some of New York’s best Eats
Yes, Manhattan has an amazing restaurant scene and definitely beats Brooklyn when it comes to rooftop bars, but foodies HAVE TO include Brooklyn in their NYC itinerary, because it is home to some of the city’s most iconic eateries. The borough’s dining scene has improved exponentially over the past few years and now almost every neighborhood has exceptional restaurants that are even attracting Manhattanites and visitors from all over. Here are some recommendations for places that are worth a trip to Brooklyn for:
Excellent restaurants in Brooklyn
- Lilia’s (Italian restaurant in Williamsburg)
- Five Leaves (American fare in Greenpoint)
- Roberta’s (best pizza in the city, in Bushwick)
- L&B Spumoni Gardens (old-school Italian restaurant, Bay Ridge)
- Diner (a Brooklyn institution in a retro railcar in Williamsburg)
Noteworthy bars in Brooklyn:
- Sunshine Laundry & Pinball (speakeasy bar with a pinball arcade hidden in a laundromat in Greenpoint)
- Boobie Trap (quirky breast-themed dive bar in Bushwick)
- Maison Premiere (Chic French-style oyster & cocktail bar)
- Radegast Hall & Beergarden (a German-style drinking hall in a converted warehouse in Williamsburg)
- The Brooklyn Barge (floating bar with great skyline views on a ship in Greenpoint)
- Weather Up (speakeasy-style bar that serves topnotch cocktails in Prospect Heights)
Iconic Brooklyn foods:
- Red Hook Lobster, Red Hook
- Dough Donuts, Bed-Stuy
- Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Coney Island
- Grimaldi’s Pizza, Dumbo
Food markets in Brooklyn:
- Smorgasburg Williamsburg, a big open air food market (every Saturday at East River State Park, from where you have splendid views over the Manhattan skyline) – April to October only
- DeKalb Market Hall, an indoor food market including a Katz’s, Arepa Lady, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, Pierogi Boys)
- Smorgasburg Prospect Park, an open air food market in the park (every Sunday) – April to October only
- Industry City, food hall inside the iconic shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing complex on the waterfront in the Sunset Park, which includes the famous avocado restaurant Avocaderia, Ejen Korean, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Burger Joint and many more..
Check out my complete list of the best markets in New York City here!
3 Brooklyn has amazing art and culture
Manhattan is famous for world-class museums such as the Met, the MoMA and the Guggenheim, but Brooklyn has plenty to offer for art lovers, too! The Brooklyn Museum is NYC’s third largest museum and holds an impressive 1.5 million pieces, and the fantastic Jewish Children Museum is the largest Jewish-themed museum of its kind in the entire U.S. – and not just enjoyable for children. Another cool museum in Brooklyn is the Transit Museum, which is located in a decommissioned subway station at the corner of Schermerhorn Street and Boerum Place in Downtown Brooklyn.
Art aficionados should check out the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, and ArtNet News introduces 15 Brooklyn art galleries you need to know. The New York Times recommends these ten art galleries in Brooklyn.
Culturists will love BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is a performing arts venue that is famous for its cutting edge performances and indie movies at the BAM Rose Cinemas. Check out the BAM schedule before your visit.
And for architecture buffs there are neighborhoods such as historic Prospect Lefferts Gardens with incredible examples of neo-Renaissance, Tudor, Romanesque Revival and neo-Federal architecture, all in one neighborhood. If you want to check out this unique historic neighborhood on a self-guided walking tour, make sure to check out the historic limestones on Maple St (between Bedford Ave and Rogers), the newly land-marked Tudor houses in Chester Court, the oldest home in the district on Midwood Street and Bedford Avenue, the wood-framed houses on Lincoln Road and the Alex Hedman houses on Rutland Road.
4 Brooklyn has the best street art in New York
If you are a fan of street art and urban art, you cannot miss Brooklyn! There is some street art in Manhattan, too, especially Spanish Harlem which has some great murals, and the East Village and Chinatown also stand out, but other than that, there just isn’t much street art in Manhattan.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, has an entire neighborhood filled with amazing murals: Bushwick. The Bushwick Collective, a conglomerate of street artists, made it their goal to transform the neighborhood with its formerly grey and ugly warehouses into a colorful outdoor art gallery. They have attracted street artists from all over the world, and the exhibits are changing all the time. Troutman Street is one of the most colorful streets in Bushwick, but there is also great street art to be found in the streets around there (Jefferson Str, Knickerbocker Ave, St Nicholas Ave, Wyckoff Ave; and nearby Grattan St, Thames St and Harrison Pl, plus the cross streets between them)
Another great Brooklyn neighborhood for street art is Williamsburg. This article has the exact spots of some of the best pieces in the neighborhood, including pieces by Kobra, Roa, Faith 47, Mr Brainwash and Icy & Sot. If you just want to wander the neighborhood and see what murals you come across, head north on Wythe Ave towards 15th Street, or south on Kent (south of Metropolitan Ave).
5 Brooklyn offers the most epic views over Manhattan
What does Manhattan not have? Panoramic views over Manhattan! And those views make for the best photos. And guess where you can find the most epic Manhattan vistas? That’s right, in Brooklyn. The views alone are worth crossing one of the bridges into Brooklyn (and honestly, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most scenic walks in NYC), and you can combine taking in the views with exploring the neighborhood around there. Here are three views you should check out, and one thing you can combine each visit with:
Pebble Beach, a small beach perched right in between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. Grab a coffee at the Brooklyn Roasting Company in Dumbo (25 Jay St) and an almond croissant at Almondine Bakery (85 Water St) and take in the views for a bit.
East River State Park in Williamsburg: This one is best visited on a Saturday, when from March to October, the popular Smorgasburg food market takes place right in the park, next to a tiny stretch of sand beach on the East River. If you’re visiting on a weekday, go on a Williamsburg vintage shopping tour or stop at The Ides rooftop bar (at the Wythe Hotel) for even better views, or go on a pizza-themed walking tour of the neighborhood – stops should include Artichoke Basille (148 N 7th St), Vinnie’s Pizza (148 Bedford Ave), Joe’s (216 Bedford Ave) and Best Pizza (33 Havemeyer St).
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade – I love watching the sunset on the promenade high over Brooklyn Bridge Park – which is directly on the waterfront and adjacent to the picturesque Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. You could combine a visit with a neighborhood stroll (don’t miss Joralemon Street, in my opinion the prettiest street in the hood) or a stop at the Brooklyn Cat Café on Montague Street.
Check out my list of places for the best views over Manhattan here.
6 Explore Brooklyn With Me!
If you’re still not convinced, here’s an extra reason: why don’t you let me show you Brooklyn? Naturally, I cannot finish this article without plugging the Brooklyn Walking Tours I personally created. On my tours, I introduce my guests to five very different parts of Brooklyn in half a day, giving them a good overview of Brooklyn itself while showing them how diverse this giant borough is. I know that it can be overwhelming to look at a map of Brooklyn and to decide which neighborhoods to check out, which is why included the best places to visit in Brooklyn in my tour. I feel like people are missing out on such a big part of New York when they never leave the tiny island named Manhattan – you should at least add a couple of stops outside of Manhattan to your itinerary. You can learn more about my Brooklyn Walking Tour here.
Where to stay in Brooklyn
There are plenty of cheap places to stay in Brooklyn – if you are familiar with Manhattan hotel prices, you know what I’m talking about. More and more hotels have been opening in Brooklyn over the past few years, especially around the Brooklyn Bridge / Downtown Brooklyn area, as well as in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, the latter are great if you’re looking for a splurge (check out some of my favorite hotels below). If you’re more of a frugal traveler, you’ll be happy to hear that Airbnb’s are still very affordable in Brooklyn – especially if you opt for a room instead of a full apartment (if you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, use my referral code to sign up and get up to $40 off your first booking). I am sharing some of the best neighborhoods to rent an Airbnb in Brooklyn below.
Remember that Brooklyn is larger than most of the major cities in the U.S. and Europe – larger than Barcelona, Boston, Dublin or Washington, D.C. Remember that there are 70+ neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which means that even traveling within Brooklyn can easily take around one hour – and to get to Manhattan and the New York City’s other boroughs can even take longer. It’s important to know the layout of New York City when booking an Airbnb or hotel in Brooklyn to avoid getting frustrated with long commutes.
The Airbnb map gives you a better idea of the layout of New York City, and also shows you how large Brooklyn is. My recommendation would be to stay as close to Manhattan as possible, especially if you are looking to spend a considerable amount of your time outside of Brooklyn. The further south you go in Brooklyn, the cheaper it gets, but that’s because the commute to Manhattan gets notably longer. You have to decide what’s more important to you: convenience and less time spent on public transportations / in Ubers, or a cheap place to stay.
Airbnb vs hotel
Airbnb’s are definitely cheaper than hotels in Brooklyn, especially if you’re only renting a room in somebody’s apartment – you can find rooms for as little as $50 a night.
With hotels, it’s similar to Airbnb’s: the closer to Manhattan, the more you’ll be paying for your stay.
The best hotels to stay at in Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn is the neighborhood in Brooklyn that has the most chain hotels, like:
- Holiday Inn (rates start at US$105)
- Even (rates start at US$100)
- Sheraton (rates start at US$112)
- Hilton Brooklyn (rates start at US$141)
- Aloft (rates start at $229)
Downtown Brooklyn is also close to a large number of subway lines and it is close to Manhattan.
The best (read: fanciest!) hotel in this part of Brooklyn is the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (rooms start at $249 per night), which has an exquisite rooftop pool and stunning views right over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Downtown Manhattan skyline.
Budget Boutique Hotel in Brooklyn
A cheaper option in Downtown Brooklyn is the NU Hotel (rates start at US$164), as of now the only boutique hotel in that area. The NU Hotel has a great artsy vibe and features street art from local artists in the room.
Hotels in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: the trendiest area of Brooklyn
Most people who visit Brooklyn want to stay in Williamsburg, which is known as Brooklyn’s hipster neighborhood. Because of its popularity, many boutique hotels have opened in Williamsburg over the last few years, and if you love boutique hotels as much as I do, you’ll want to treat yourself to a stay at one of these five hotels – they’re all in a great location near the East River, just one stop on the subway or the ferry from Manhattan, and surrounded by dozens of fantastic bars, restaurants, cafes and shops.
- The William Vale (rooms start at $249)
- The Hoxton Hotel (rooms start at $199)
- The Williamsburg Hotel (rooms start at $200)
- The Indigo Williamsburg (rooms start at $129)
- The Wythe Hotel (rooms start at $200)
- Le Jolie (rooms start at $149)
Budget option in Williamsburg: The Pod
The Pod Brooklyn is located right in the heart of Williamsburg and Queen Pods start at only US$85! (Note that rates fluctuate drastically, depending on what season you’re visiting New York).
High-quality budget hotels in Brooklyn
Most of these hotels are a bit further away from Manhattan, but offer great value for money. Before booking any of them, I recommend putting the address into GoogleMaps and get directions to a place you’re planning to visit in Manhattan, so that you’ll get an idea of what your commute will be. For someone who plans on seeing a Broadway show, the 45-minute commute to the RL Hotel in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood might be too much of a hassle.
Here are the best Brooklyn budget hotels that are further away from Manhattan but that offer great value for money:
- Hotel RL (Bushwick) – (rooms start at $99)
- Bklyn House Hotel (border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick) – (rooms start at $139)
- Hotel Le Bleu (Gowanus) – (rooms start at $149)
- Fairfield Inn & Suites (Gowanus) – (rooms start at $169)