In general, Brooklyn is calmer and greener than most parts of Manhattan, but with no shortage of culture, creative energy or excellent food. The borough holds more than enough to sustain a whole weekend of exploration, if not longer. We suggest eight solid destinations to get the flavor of the place, but of course they’re only a jumping-off point. The destinations are listed here roughly from north to south – to connect from North Brooklyn (Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick) to South Brooklyn (downtown and all points south), hop on the handy East River Ferry, which is both more convenient and more scenic than the subway.
Visit the storefront museum City Reliquary first, not so much for straight history, but as a concise introduction to the current Brooklyn sensibility. Here, tiny urban oddities, from paint chips to argyle-sock collections, are taken so seriously that you can’t help but smile. The museum is also serious about its community mission, hosting bake sales, costume contests and more – check the schedule before you go.
Since 2008, the Brooklyn Flea – in various locations around the borough, depending on the season – has been a weekend destination for arts and crafts, vintage clothing and antiques, plus some excellent food to keep your shopping spirits from flagging. In fact, the food is such a key element that it has spun off into its own open-air market, Smorgasburg, which runs during the warmer months in Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Whether it’s locally made mayonnaise or an old Funkadelic album, the finds at these stalls make great one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Along with creative facial hair and fixed-gear bicycles, Barcade may be Williamsburg’s most famous export. The bar, which offers the flawless combo of craft beer and vintage video games, got its start here in 2004, and has since branched out to two locations in Manhattan, one in Jersey City and another in Philadelphia. But this spot, in a barely renovated metal shop, is the true original. Grab a pint of IPA and get ready to rock the Donkey Kong joystick – or the Centipede track ball.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Developed over the past decade and still growing, the green shore of the Brooklyn Bridge Park features a vintage carousel, art installations and a sprawling lawn for summer movies outdoors. As the sun sets, cross the pedestrian bridge over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to reach the Brooklyn Heights promenade for a glittering, straight-out-of-the-movies view of the Manhattan skyline. Then dip back down to water level for a tamarind whiskey sour at the excellent Thai-style Whiskey Soda Lounge.
The second-largest museum in the city (after the Metropolitan Museum of Art), the stately old Brooklyn Museum holds everything from world-class Egyptian relics to iconic works of feminist art such as Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Don’t miss the ‘visible storage’ section on the fifth floor, which is like browsing the best attic ever. On the first Saturday night of each month, the museum hosts an excellent party, with live music, free entrance to the exhibits and great eye candy on the walls and in the crowd.
Not only does Brooklyn have its own museum, but it also has its own green lung, Prospect Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (who also laid out Central Park in Manhattan). The rambling 526 acres includes the great green Long Meadow, a vast lake and a wild-feeling patch of forest. Check the summer concert series at the band shell; in winter, head for the ice-skating pavilion on the south side, opened in 2013.
A slice of Brooklyn old and new – or, rather, a whole pie of it. The Lucali pizza parlor is manned by lifetime borough residents, and its simple menu of whole pizzas (one size only) and calzones gives a chance for the perfect ingredients to shine. Don’t miss the intense roasted artichokes. Beyoncé and everyone else in New York approves of this place – so be prepared to wait. To while away the time, take the ten-minute walk to Jalopy Tavern, an outpost of Brooklyn’s lively country-music scene, where you’ll find cheap beer and live bluegrass.
For the best Latin American street snacks, look no further than… Well, the neighborhood of Red Hook is pretty far from everything else – a bit of Brooklyn land that projects out into Upper New York Bay – but you’ll be rewarded with cheese-oozing pupusas, tangy ceviches and other savory snacks, from food vendors edging the public soccer fields here. Even in the colder months, the area is worth visiting for its incongruous urban-pioneer feel. The often-empty streets end at the water, with excellent views of the Statue of Liberty. Check out Hometown Bar-B-Que, Steve’s Key Lime Pies or the iconic old-school bar Sunny’s. Then, fully sated, take the free Ikea ferry back to Manhattan.