Long gone are the days when Manhattanites would scoff at the idea of a trip to Brooklyn – these days they know that it’s where much of the city’s fun lies. And while catching a gig at the innovative Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) or riding the roller coaster at Coney Island are well-known borough staples, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time. Here’s how.
Come to Brooklyn by boat
Lots of people walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan – or at least go half way to snap photos. But the most dramatic way to reach Brooklyn is old school – by boat (the way folks got back and forth before the bridges went up). The New York Water Taxi leaves from several points along the Hudson River in Manhattan (including W 44th St & W 23rd St) and goes by the Statue of Liberty before reaching Brooklyn's historic Fulton Ferry Landing, smack dab under the Brooklyn Bridge (you can also take the NYC Ferry). From the pier there's some of New York's best pizza at Grimaldi's, a block up, and excellent views from DUMBO's Empire-Fulton Ferry Park. To walk off your meal, head to the newly opened Pier 3, complete with an exploratory labyrinth and views to Governor’s Island.
Go to the Atlantic Antic
New York sure loves its street festivals, but one of the best and most fun has got to be Brooklyn's Atlantic Antic. It's held along Atlantic Avenue, which separates downtown from the nexus of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. Go to this one-day annual festival and you'll see R&B bands in pastel suits setting up outside antique shops, large middle-aged Greek women dancing next to open-air barbecue pits and indie rockers playing three-chord tunes next to Thai noodle stands. Smith and Court streets, spreading south of Atlantic, are great for eating and drinking too.
Visit Red Hook, eat tacos
This subway-free, waterfront neighborhood (and inspiration for Marlon Brando's On the Waterfront) caught New Yorkers’ attention when the only NYC outpost of IKEA opened there 10 years ago. It’s flourished since then – though a lot of it remains ungentrified – mostly centered around the north-south stretch of Van Brunt Street. Red Hook Lobster Pound is the go-to spot for foodies (be warned you will likely want a nap after your meal of lobster rolls and mac ‘n’ cheese) topped off with some small-batch whiskey at Van Brunt Stillhouse. Or between April and October, head to Red Hook Park to the Red Hook Food Vendors Marketplace for some mouth-watering huaraches (long cake of cornmeal masa rolled and stuffed with beans topped with salsa, cheese, sour cream and grilled meats) and tacos. There are also some cute boutiques in Red Hook, but many don’t open until 11am, so time your visit accordingly. Oh, and be sure to check out the programming at Pioneer Works cultural space, where you can catch exhibitions, performances and other experimental art (even the odd supper club).
You can bus to Red Hook from the Carroll Street subway stop (F, G lines) via bus B61 or B57. There’s also a ferry stop serviced by the South Brooklyn Ferry.
Spend the day at Prospect Park
Brooklyn's underrated 585-acre Prospect Park is actually the sequel to Central Park and one that even the creators (Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux) felt was superior. It's hard to deny, as – unlike Central Park – no one keeps you from playing soccer or football on its wide lawns, and there's a park-circling road that's for bikers and skaters alone on weekends. It’s also home to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where you can catch the Cherry Blossom Festival in late April/early May, and the park's bandshell hosts summer concerts, many for free, ranging from Willie Nelson to Gary Clark, Jr.
At the park's northwestern entrance is Grand Army Plaza, with an 80ft arch dedicated to Civil War vets. Just east on Atlantic Avenue, in Prospect Heights neighborhood, is the Brooklyn Museum. On the first Saturday of the month, doors open for free and you can take in live music and sip wine or beer while pondering one of America's biggest collections of Egyptian art. If you're around in the morning, get your eggs at Tom's Restaurant. The food's fine, but the cozy 1936 diner's environment is a New York standout.
Brooklyn game: try to slip through the slope stroller-free
Leafy Park Slope fuels brownstone dreams of many working professionals escaping Manhattan's high real estate prices. Featured in Noah Baumbach's overlooked 2005 divorce film The Squid & the Whale, Park Slope has always been about the family. (It’s impossible to walk down Seventh Avenue's strip of delis, bookshops, restaurants, toy stores and realtors without facing off against an army of strollers.) A few blocks over, things are a little calmer – and cooler – in Gowanus, where you’ll find plenty of hipster-populated bars (try Lavender Lake), cafes (like Abbotsford Road), and, well, shuffleboard locales.
This article was originally published in 2009 and last updated in 2018.