18 Things to Do in Brooklyn
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
Brooklyn, once a standalone urban enclave, now stands as New York City’s most populous borough, renowned for its vibrant tapestry of music, art, and cultural institutions. The area hums with historical resonance and bursts with creative flair, evident in every corner of its bustling streets. It’s a place where authenticity thrives, shaped by the mosaic of people who have made it their home through the ages.
With its variety of unique neighborhoods, Brooklyn ensures a verdant experience thanks to its public parks and commitment to sustainability. It entices visitors with a pleasurable array of flea markets, intimate coffee shops, and an assortment of free activities like concerts and the legendary Coney Island, especially for the young or the young at heart.
Venturing across this historic overpass offers a quintessential Brooklyn experience. Constructed in 1883, this enduring monument spans the East River to link Brooklyn with Manhattan. Known as one of the first suspension bridges in the United States, it reserves its upper deck for those on foot. Your excursion ideally starts in Brooklyn where you’ll be greeted by the Manhattan skyline; the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade appears at Tillary Street and Boerum Place.
Every year, countless people—including well-known figures and even a caravan of elephants for an 1884 publicity event—cross this bridge. Walking from one side to the other often takes about an hour, considering stops for rest and snapshots. The bridge itself measures approximately a mile, but factoring in the approaches, the journey stretches to nearly 1.6 miles. For this trek, ensure you have enough water, comfortable footwear, and be prepared for brisk winds and minimal shade.
Nestled next to the affluent Park Slope neighborhood, Prospect Park serves as Brooklyn’s answer to the famed Central Park, sharing the same designers. Spanning over 500 acres, the park is a hub of activity and features including the Prospect Park Zoo, an enchanting carousel, and an ice skating rink. During summers, the park’s open-air band shell is the venue for the popular Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series, often free of charge.
At the heart of Prospect Park lies the nation’s inaugural urban Audubon Center, a testament to nature preservation and environmental education. If romance beckons, the historic Boathouse awaits, offering a picturesque lakeside backdrop. With diverse activities and pet-friendly zones, your visit can be as tranquil or adventurous as you desire.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers an array of botanical wonders and is accessible through three separate gateways. Within its confines, a herbarium houses an extensive collection of approximately 300,000 preserved plant specimens available for scholarly study. Regardless of the season, the garden provides an ever-changing tapestry of flora to explore. The spring season is particularly noteworthy as visitors flock to witness the spectacle of cherry blossoms in full bloom.
In addition to its natural beauty, the garden also showcases a collection of artworks, boasts modern conservatories, and hosts engaging activities geared towards families. It’s advisable to allocate several hours to meander through the expansive landscape or consider joining a guided tour, which may be included with the entrance fee on selected days.
The Brooklyn Museum
Spanning five floors, your exploration of the Brooklyn Museum presents a rich tapestry of artistic endeavors, ranging from textiles and tribal masks to contemporary photography and eclectic found objects. Not confined to a singular geographic region, the museum’s American collections shine light on feminist art, explore African American narratives surrounding abolition and racial identity, and connect you with Brooklyn’s indigenous roots through Lenape artifacts.
Align your visit with the Brooklyn Museum’s free First Saturdays for an evening filled with unique programming—a popular event that requires registration. Additionally, combination tickets with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are available, allowing for a comprehensive cultural excursion covering both iconic Brooklyn attractions.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music
At the heart of Brooklyn’s cultural district, the Brooklyn Academy of Music stands as a beacon for both groundbreaking artists and connoisseurs of the arts. Celebrating over a century and a half, this institution is revered for presenting an eclectic mix of theatrical, musical, and dance works. With a particular emphasis on progressive performances, it offers a stage for both classical and contemporary expressions.
Every spring and autumn, revel in the vibrant series of complimentary performances known as BAMcafé Live. Situated in the Adam Space, part of the Peter Jay Sharp building, this event has been stirring audiences with dynamic and eclectic musical acts since 1999. Enjoy an array of musical stylings, from smooth jazz to rhythmic R&B, including seasoned artists like Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio.
New York Transit Museum
Your exploration of urban public transportation’s evolution starts in a unique setting—a decommissioned subway station—a little over a walk from Fort Greene Park. This destination isn’t just an ordinary museum; it stands out as the United States’ most extensive institution dedicated to the intricacies of metropolitan transit lore.
Summertime visitors are in for a treat with the “Nostalgia Rides,” a seasonal offering that transports you through time on the very trains that carried New Yorkers a century prior. Each visit may present opportunities for serendipitous events and educational programs aligning with your interests.
This sprawling urban complex encompasses 16 buildings, offering a blend of lush greenery and industrial charm. If you’re seeking a melting pot of creativity and commerce, this is your haven. Artists, entrepreneurs, and chefs coexist, creating a hive of activity in studios, offices, and culinary spaces. For those simply visiting, a treasure trove of local goods, crafted beverages, and distinctive dining experiences awaits.
Among the culinary delights, you’ll encounter a diverse array of vendors. They serve up specialties ranging from wholesome avocado delights to rich Korean dishes and fresh Mediterranean fare. Drink connoisseurs will relish the dedicated courtyard spotlighting homegrown brewing under Brooklyn’s sky, proudly featuring New York’s inaugural sake brewery. Visitors often describe Industry City as a vibrant hub perfect for an enjoyable evening among friends or a memorable family outing.
In the heart of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, an urban canvas unfolds along nearly 100 city blocks. Artists from around the globe have transformed the streets, especially around Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, into an outdoor art exhibit. Bushwick Collective grants you access to this vibrant showcase without the confines of traditional museum walls.
Tour the dynamic streetscape with Free Tours on Foot, offering a “pay-what-you-wish” experience, imparting an unconventional and engaging look at this creative enclave. Loiter in the area post-tour; the vicinity boasts stylish bars and eateries, one highlight being Roberta’s, a local favorite serving acclaimed pizza. This enclave combines culture and dining, promising an enriching Brooklyn detour.
Brooklyn Heights Walkway
Nestled in a historic district, the Brooklyn Heights Walkway offers a quintessential New York experience with its lush pathways stretching almost half a kilometer. This elevated scenic stroll affords you unrivaled vistas of Manhattan’s skyline. Known locally as the Esplanade, the walkway overhangs the busy thoroughfare below and is flanked by distinguished townhouses that evoke the borough’s rich history.
As an urban sanctuary, you’ll appreciate the esplanade’s peaceful ambiance, heightened by the absence of bicycles. It’s an invitation to relax on a bench, immerse yourself in the locale, and enjoy the metropolitan sunset. The iconic cinematic moments of “Moonstruck” may come to life before you, and as you wander, you might discover the historical marker that commemorates a pivotal moment from the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn.
Nestled just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, this six-acre riverside oasis, created in 2018, sits amidst the historical remnants of a once-thriving sugar refinery. As you stroll through the park, the blue-hued cranes towering above serve as monuments to the site’s industrial heritage. The Artifact Walk, stretching over five blocks above the park, provides a panoramic glimpse of the New York City skyline.
The park caters to visitors of all ages, featuring an inventive playground influenced by the site’s factory origins. During warmer months, water installations offer a refreshing retreat for children. For sports enthusiasts, facilities like bocce and volleyball courts are available for friendly matches.
The journey from Manhattan’s elite Upper East Side on the Q train culminates in the seaside locale of Coney Island, a legendary strip in Brooklyn where thrills and laughter echo from its storied past. Once the pinnacle of amusement destinations in the early 1900s, the area boasted a bedazzled landscape brimming with innovative rides and eccentric attractions.
If you’re looking for seasonal flair, the summertime offers baseball excitement at Maimonides Park with the Brooklyn Cyclones, while winter invites you to glide across the ice at the local rink. No matter the time of year, Coney Island serves as an evergreen fount of leisure and wonder, captivating visitors with an enduring spirit that mirrors the undying lights of its amusement arcades and rides.
Within Brooklyn Bridge Park you’ll encounter a special vintage ride, Jane’s Carousel. Crafted by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922, this classic wooden merry-go-round, complete with 48 meticulously carved horses and two chariots, offers a unique blend of nostalgia and scenic beauty. As you take a seat upon one of these time-honored steeds, you can enjoy a ride accompanied by views of the riverfront, encased in a remarkable glass structure that safeguards its historic integrity.
Adjacent to the carousel, the Empire Fulton Ferry area of Dumbo invites further exploration. After enjoying the gentle turns of the carousel, consider unwinding with a leisurely picnic, meandering through a historic building turned shopping venue, or attending a performance at the nearby St. Ann’s Warehouse. The carousel serves as a delightful starting point to experience the area’s diverse offerings.
Embark on a weekend scavenger hunt for treasures at the Brooklyn Flea, nestled in Pearl Plaza, Dumbo. This bustling marketplace runs from April to December, showcasing over 40 vendors who present an eclectic mix of items. You can browse through a variety of vintage clothing, vinyl records, heirloom furniture, and an array of whimsical trinkets. Not only does this destination offer tangible wares, but it also feeds your epicurean desires with Smorgasburg, its sister food market.
In the heart of Gowanus, merely 3 miles south of the Flea, Big Reuse adds to the local culture of sustainability. This unique establishment not only recycles and repurposes but also composts, emphasizing environmental responsibility. The store, stationed on 12th Street, awaits your discovery of affordable, rare pieces such as autographed art, collectibles, and vintage furniture, adding a flourish to your personal collection.
The Royal Palms
At the heart of Brooklyn’s Gowanus area, you can find an unconventional yet lively spot for a night out. The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club turns the tide on the traditional view of shuffleboard, transforming it into a hip activity. The club is equipped with 10 shuffleboard courts and provides all the necessary equipment. You’ll be able to rent “biscuits” and “tangs”—the pucks and poles used in the game—by the hour.
Accompanying the competitive thrills are the delectable offerings of food trucks, featuring flavors from around the world, from Moroccan specialties to classic Italian subs. Supplement your game night with their signature pina colada to complete the experience. The 17,000 square foot space is welcoming to both experienced players and newcomers, offering guidance to those who need it.
House of Yes
In Brooklyn, an eclectic nightlife sanctuary serves as a beacon for the underground arts community, a haven known as House of Yes. Established in Bushwick in 2007, this venue has since transformed from a live-work space into one of the city’s premier clubs for boundary-pushing entertainment.
Famed for its inclusive atmosphere, House of Yes is a celebration of LGBTQ artists and offers regular queer nights for a diverse audience. The atmosphere is uniquely liberating, designed for those eager to shed their everyday personas. However, be mindful of your budget as the drink selection, while enticing, comes with a premium price tag, including the luxury bottle service.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Brooklyn offers an engaging space tailored for children—the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. This venue brims with activities for sensory engagement and hands-on play. Your young ones can scale a unique rooftop feature known as The NEST, constructed from locally sourced reclaimed water tower cedar. They can also delve into imaginative play in World Brooklyn, a miniaturized version of real-world businesses tailored for kids.
The museum’s ColorLab studio invites budding artists to express their creativity. Workshops on print-making, collage, and sculpture are available, drawing inspiration from Black artists with a new figure highlighted each month. Visitors recognize the museum’s celebration of diversity and its particular appeal to younger children. To ensure entry, secure your tickets in advance—keeping in mind the museum operates on a cashless basis for all transactions.
Neighborhoods of BoCoCa
The three neighboring locales of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens—collectively known as BoCoCa—provide a picturesque setting for a relaxed morning stroll. Lined with lush trees, these areas boast charming streets that invite you to meander with a fresh cup of coffee, exploring quaint boutiques and local dining options.
In the heart of Cobble Hill lies Warren Place Mews, a block recognized for its unique historical significance. Originally erected as economical residences for workers in the 1800s, the Gothic-style homes here now represent some of the most sought-after properties, despite the fact that they average less than 12 feet in width. While these homes are privately owned and their residents’ privacy must be honored, it’s certainly worthwhile to admire this slice of preserved Brooklyn history.
Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood blossoms into a stunning spectacle as the winter season takes hold. You’ll find a visual symphony of festive lights that transform the area into a prime holiday attraction. As you wander through the neighborhood, luminescent displays greet you, including houses adorned in blue lights celebrating Hanukkah and others presenting greetings like “Merry Christmas” in Greek. Originating from neighborly competition in the 1980s, this extravaganza has evolved into a cherished local and family tradition.
Additionally, digital guides often provide mapped-out routes to ensure you catch the season’s highlighted installations. While experiencing the heartwarming glow of Dyker Heights, remember to respect the residents’ privacy and property by staying clear of private spaces and preserving the integrity of the decorations.