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.And since then, not only have I made Brooklyn my home, but I’ve also 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.
Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to introduce everyone who comes to visit me in New York to Brooklyn. Sure, I get it: Manhattan is still the biggest draw for 99% of people who come to NYC, but I feel like they’re missing out on such a big part of the city when they never leave that tiny island – they should at least add a couple of stops outside of Manhattan to their itinerary. Plus: 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.
I’ve started to run Brooklyn tours this year which I hope I’ll be able to launch on a larger scale later this year, but for now, 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:
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:
- 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
- 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:
- 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)
- Sunshine Laundry & Pinball (speakeasy bar with a pinball arcade hidden in a laundromat in Greenpoint)
- Boobie Trap (quirky breast-themed dive bar in Bushwick)
- 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
Food markets in Brooklyn:
- Smorgasburg Williamsburg, a big open air food market (every Saturday)
- 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)
- 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..
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 Atlantic Avenue.
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