I’ve been to New York City three times, and my best experience was when I stayed in Brooklyn for free in exchange for catsitting. Despite the horrible weather that year (blizzard!), which kept me in the apartment, it was one of my memorable times in New York. I was so happy then to accept this article from a fellow blogger, Malcolm Johnson, who is a local. Enjoy his recommendations on things to do in Brooklyn!
If you’re planning a visit to New York City, no trip is complete without exploring Brooklyn! Here are some of the very best things to do in Brooklyn that will capture the essence of this thriving NYC borough.
1. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a quintessential New York experience that perfectly blends urban adventure and historical exploration. Take in the stunning views of the New York City skyline as you cross this fun, free, historic structure that spans over 1 mile (1.6 km) and takes about 30 minutes from one end to the other.
You can start from Lower Manhattan or DUMBO in Brooklyn. If you’re staying in Manhattan, consider walking to DUMBO’s side to spend the day exploring the neighborhood. Stay for the sunset, walk across at night, and witness the gleaming lights from the beautiful cityscape as you return to Manhattan.
Here are more details about the Brooklyn Bridge walk.
2. Explore DUMBO
DUMBO, short for Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass, is a hip Brooklyn neighborhood with tons of things to see and do. It is the first stop once you’ve hopped off the Brooklyn Bridge.
No trip to DUMBO is complete without an iconic photo of the Manhattan Bridge on Washington Street. Even more magical are the cobblestone streets and red-bricked industrial buildings that perfectly frame your shot.
Afterward, walk along Pebble Beach and admire the famous Jane’s Carousel with the stunning backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan’s skyscrapers. If you’ve built up an appetite, head into the Time Out Market and be ready to feast.
3. Check out tasty food options at Time Out Market
Ready to fill your tummies with some fantastic food options? Time Out Market, located in DUMBO, is yet another fun experience in the neighborhood. It’s one of the best places for a delightful variety of food and drink options.
If you’re there early enough, try Clinton St Baking Company for their hearty pancakes. For an afternoon meal, check out Chote Miya for their tasty offerings of street-style Indian food. Their Samosa Chaat and mango lassi—delicious!
The market has two levels, with the second level offering outdoor seating and picturesque views of the Manhattan skyline. Keep in mind that many people are not aware of the second level, so the queue for food and drinks tends to be significantly shorter.
Check out their weekly events page for fun ideas. They regularly host Salsa Thursdays, Game Night Fridays, and Latin Mix Saturdays.
On weekends, they offer a bottomless brunch option. For $55, you get unlimited mimosas or Bellinis between 12 pm and 3 pm, plus a $35 voucher to purchase food at 15 or more of the available concessions.
4. Stroll through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a 52-acre oasis in the heart of Brooklyn, located next to Prospect Park. It opened in 1910 and houses over 14,000 types of plants.
The park is divided into several different areas: the Cherry Esplanade, the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and the Fragrance Garden, among others. My favorite place to go is the Steinhardt Conservatory, which houses several greenhouses that support plant life that depends on warm weather or desert environments. The greenhouses create a cozy indoor experience in the winter with towering tropical plants, prickly cacti, and decades-old bonsai trees.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden provides a peaceful escape from the busy city, allowing visitors to reconnect with nature and find inspiration in the beauty of the botanical world.
5. Walk, run, or bike through Prospect Park
Prospect Park is as serene and rejuvenating as its neighbor, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. There is a main loop that is about 2.5 miles (4 km), where you will find most walkers, runners, bikers, and parents guiding strollers.
Spend some time at the park, and you will quickly learn how much there is to do beyond the main trail. There are several wooded trails for a more tranquil walking experience. There is a lake where you can sit and watch as ducks swim by.
If you’re feeling more active, rent a paddleboat to accommodate a friend, date, or furry companion. There are several lawns for picnicking, and grills are peppered around the park for public use.
In the summer, the park hosts a concert series by BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! (with various musicians and performers). It is held at the Lena Horne Bandshell annually, and you can BYOB as well as picnic blankets and lounge chairs for an amazing evening of entertainment.
6. Experience international cuisine at Smorgasburg
Smorgasburg is a popular food market open during the warmer months that showcases the best of New York’s culinary scene, a must-visit for all the foodies out there.
Locals and tourists flock to the market to sample various delicious and innovative dishes. From mouthwatering BBQ and juicy burgers to gourmet ice cream and vegan delights, Smorgasburg has something for every palate.
On Saturdays, Smorgasburg takes place in Williamsburg at Marsha P. Johnson Park, a well-kept park along the East River with stunning city skyline views. Once you’ve had your fill of food, walk to the water and discover a tiny sliver of a sandy “beach”—the best place for an Instagram-worthy photo.
The Williamsburg Smorgasburg location is ideal for those staying in Manhattan, as you can easily take the NYC Ferry straight to Williamsburg.
On Sundays, Smorgasburg is held in the center of Prospect Park, offering you a chance to indulge in some delicious food and find a place in the park to lie down, take a nap, and find inner peace after that ice cream bar (from the Good Batch!) you probably ate.
7. Admire the cityscape views from Westlight’s rooftop bar
Westlight is a cocktail bar that sits atop the trendy hotel named William Vale in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is the best rooftop bar, hands down, to see stunning skyline views in a lively atmosphere with amazing cocktails and small snacks.
In the summer months, outdoor seating is in abundance. Stretch your legs and soak up all the sun while enjoying a selection of their available beer. In the winter, they open up the Winter Village, where you can go ice skating or rent a chalet for you and your friends to enjoy fondue and other cozy bite in warm cozy bliss away from the nippy cold.
There are plenty of other rooftop bars to choose from. Check out my post on the top rooftop bars in Brooklyn.
8. Go thrift shopping
While there are many trendy shops throughout Brooklyn, a thrift shop experience can be a more exciting way to spend an afternoon.
There are tons of thrift stores scattered throughout, each with its unique personality and feel. Part of the excitement is you’ll never know what surprising item you might find and really like on any given day at any of these stores.
Whether you’re on the hunt for designer pieces at a fraction of the cost or searching for one-of-a-kind vintage clothing and accessories, thrift stores in Brooklyn have something for everyone.
9. Enjoy the beach and amusement parks at Coney Island
Visiting Coney Island is a must-do activity in Brooklyn. Don’t get me wrong—there are far better beaches out there. But there is something cool about this beachy oasis that Brooklynites claim as their own.
Walk the iconic Riegelmann boardwalk, a 2.7-mile (4.3 km) stretch that will stimulate all your senses as you pass by other lively people, bars, concession stands selling nuts, hot dogs, and more.
Once you’re done strolling, stop by Luna Park, the one and only amusement park in Brooklyn, and have yourself an adventure. Hop on the rides, especially the Brooklyn Cyclone, and get ready to twist and turn. When you’ve had enough of roller-coaster thrills, try a selection of games at the fair, and see if you can win that gigantic stuffed prize.
Enjoy the rest of the day by the 3-mile-long (almost 4 km) beach. Sit among locals also basking in the sun or enjoying a leisurely swim.
10. Check out Dyker Heights in the winter
Dyker Heights leading up to the winter holidays feels like stepping into a Winter Wonderland. The neighborhood’s iconic Christmas light displays are a must-see during the holiday season, with elaborate decorations adorning the homes and streets.
It is said that the neighborhood tradition began in the 1980s after one new Dyker Heights resident arranged over-the-top decorations, and neighbors soon followed suit.
Today, the neighborhood sees upwards of 100,000 visitors who have come to witness how the neighborhood lights up with lights, reindeer, Santa’s elves, and more. It is amazing to a see a community come together to dazzle passersby every winter!
A bonus tip from me (Aleah). Go to Bushwick and check out the street art. Some are out of this world! I booked a walking tour and remember being the only participant. I asked the guide why he didn’t just cancel my booking. “I feel bad canceling,” he said. “You came all the way from the Philippines; the least I could do is show you the best of our street art.” Isn’t that sweet of him?
So, next time you visit New York, don’t just go to Times Square and watch Broadway shows. Check out these things to do in Brooklyn and enjoy the best this borough has to offer!