Article by Alison Lowenstein, Tripsavvy
Brooklyn offers so many things to see and do, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of options, we’ve highlighted 20 activities and spots you must visit when you’re in town. From a walk across an iconic bridge to an afternoon in a botanic garden, there are many ways to spend the day in the borough. Be sure to include some of these on your Brooklyn itinerary.
01 Get Pizza and See Art in DUMBO
02 Visit The Brooklyn Navy Yard
The historic Brooklyn Navy Yard was a working naval shipyard up until 1979. Now the yard is home to Rooftop Reds, Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn Grange, and a must-visit museum, BLDG 92, dedicated to its history is open on weekends with public tours, educational programs, and archives. Check out the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s event page, which has everything from bicycle tours to trivia nights.
03 Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge connects two great New York City boroughs, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and you can walk it, drive it, bike it, or just admire it from afar from multiple vantage points around the city.
One way or the other, the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-see when traveling to Brooklyn. In fact, it’s not just an enjoyable experience for tourists, many born-and-bred New Yorkers find themselves still charmed by the bridge.
There’s even a dedicated pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge, above the roaring car traffic, so it’s a wonderful stroll. If you’re allotting a specific amount of time for the walk, here’s a breakdown of how long it takes to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
04 Go Retro At the New York Transit Museum
This unique museum housed in a decommissioned subway station in downtown Brooklyn has a collection of vintage subway cars. You’ll feel as if you stepped into a time machine as you peruse the cars dating back to 1907. The museum tells the stories and history of mass transportation in New York City through their exhibits and collection of memorabilia.
If you have kids in tow, be sure to attend one of the many public programs for children. They also host tours, art programs, and other events at the museum. Don’t forget to allot time for a visit to the gift shop, which has some of the best NYC transit-themed souvenirs.
05 See Art at the Brooklyn Museum
Get arty at the Brooklyn Museum. Before you enter the museum, you must pause in front to stare at the mesmerizing fountain (even dogs love the Brooklyn Museum fountain). In addition to a fun fountain, this prestigious art museum has a large collection of Egyptian art in its permanent collection, as well as contemporary art. The rotating exhibits have included David Bowie, Basquiat, Georgia O’Keefe, and many others. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, open until 6 p.m. the other days (except Thursday when it closes at 10 p.m.), and the first Saturday of the month when the evening is free to the public from 5-11 p.m. through Target First Saturdays. Tours are available.
06 Play and Learn at the Brooklyn Children Museum
Brooklyn Children’s Museum was created in 1899 as the first museum expressly for children age 6 months to 19 years. Its permanent exhibits include a kid-sized Brooklyn; Collections Central, where kids can create their own designs; and the Sensory Room, designed for children with autism spectrum disorders. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
07 Go Shopping at the Brooklyn Flea
Brooklyn Flea, wherever the location and whatever the season, is one of New York City’s premier flea markets. It’s garnered more media coverage than a whole block of local stores in some Brooklyn neighborhoods. Everyone who’s anyone in the Big Apple who likes vintage clothing and furniture knows about Brooklyn Flea.
Part of Brooklyn Flea’s success is due to high quality of the merchandise, which runs the gamut from mid-century modern furniture to antique lace to vintage photos. Whether you intend to just browse or are really want to buy, Brooklyn Flea is a bellwether of trendy Brooklyn culture. It’s a top NYC weekend destination, year-round.
08 Hear Chamber Music on a Barge
Music fans will enjoy watching a concert on charming old barge that’s been renovated into New York City’s only floating concert hall, called BargeMusic. Bargemusic has a calendar of chamber music. It was founded in 1977 by a violinist who created a concert hall on a 100-foot steel barge from 1899 that used to be a working vessel. Enjoy hearing music at this unique venue. For those traveling with kids, Bargemusic has a free concert series for families. Music in Motion takes place on Saturdays at 4 p.m. and offers a great introduction to classical music for kids.
09 Spend the Day in Williamsburg
Williamsburg has changed a lot in the last twenty years. In the early ’90s, it was a place for artists who were priced out of Manhattan, and it soon transformed into the epicenter of Brooklyn’s hipster culture. However, the edgy hood is in a constant battle with mainstream culture. There was a lot of buzz when Williamsburg got its first Starbucks, and now it’s home to Brooklyn’s first Apple Store. It’s also home to a new Whole Foods, which boasts an incredible food hall, where you can dine on some of Brooklyn’s best eats. Despite the influx of chains, Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg’s main shopping street, is still filled with many local shops, the area works hard to maintain its indie feel.
10 See a Movie
Nitehawk Cinema, Williamsburg’s dine-in theatre, features a wide range of cinematic treats, from rarely seen 35 mm films to new independent features. This year, Nitehawk will open a second location in Park Slope, across from Prospect Park. If you want to check out other movie theaters where you can eat and drink, get a ticket for a show at Syndicated in neighboring Bushwick. This movie theater and kitchen has both first run and retro movies. Brooklyn is also home to an outpost of the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn.
11 Hop The Wares in Coney Island
Coney Island is just a train ride away from Manhattan, but it feels worlds apart. Busiest during the summer months, Coney Island feels equal parts beach escape and kitschy carnival. Spend a day on the sand soaking in the rays on the beach, which is free to the public, or enjoy a stroll the iconic boardwalk. Home to an aquarium, an amphitheater, a minor league baseball team, and tons of great eats, this scenic stretch of Brooklyn should be on every Brooklyn travel itinerary.
12 Smell the Flowers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is not to be missed. Depending on the season, you can walk through beauty in the Cherry Esplanade, Cranford Rose Garden, Fragrance Garden, Magnolia Plaza, Shakespeare Garden, or Herb Garden, among many others. It’s a great place to make some brag-worthy photos, too.
13 Visit the animals at the Prospect Park Zoo
The Prospect Park Zoo is open year-round and includes a petting zoo and several exhibit areas. If you’re traveling with your family, this zoo is the perfect size for little children and has wonderful exhibits for the little ones, both indoors and outdoors. Check out the quirky gophers and wonderful rabbits, as well as farm animals. The zoo is open 365 days a year.
14 Go Skating at Lakeside
Lakeside Prospect Park covers 26 acres and offers year-round activities and special events that include roller and ice skating, boating, and biking. On Friday nights, the roller rink hosts Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Disco with theme nights ranging from Emo Prom to Party like It’s 1999, and Prince Themed Skate Night.
15 Take in a Show at BAM
BAM Harvey Theater is a Brooklyn institution and is a must-visit. The theater is home to numerous productions including visits from the Royal Shakespeare Company to other classics like Ibsen and Wilde. The theater has quite a history, originally built in 1904 as The Majestic Theater, it was transformed into a movie house in the early 1940s, which shuttered in the 60s. After almost two decades of being closed, the theater was restored and reopened in 1987, and now is the BAM Harvey Theater.
16 See a Show at the Bell House
If you don’t have evening plans, head to the Bell House located in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. Check out their calendar for a list of shows and events. The Bell House is a great place to see concerts and comedy. It’s also where live game shows from NPR and WNYC, Ask Me Another, is recorded. You can get tickets to watch the show and if you’re interested in being a contestant, there’s a link on their site.
17 Explore Street Art in Bushwick
You can spend the day in the world’s best museums in Manhattan, but you should know that the warehouse walls of Bushwick are filled with some of the best art in NYC. Start your street art tour at the Bushwick Collective on Troutman Street at Saint Nicholas Avenue, where the colorful murals are painted on the walls of the neighboring blocks. Although this is the stretch of Bushwick known for street art, there are also other notable murals in the Bushwick/East Williamsburg border near the Morgan Avenue L stop. Stroll through this section of Bushwick, stopping in at Friends NYC on Bogart Street for some vintage threads as well as a great collection of new clothes and jewelry, as you continue you walk through the arty streets of Bushwick.
18 Enjoy an Evening in Greenpoint
Greenpoint is hip. For instance, in Greenpoint, there’s a laundromat that doubles as a bar, and an old Polish banquet hall was transformed into a bazaar where you can play ping pong, listen to your favorite bands, and enjoy some karaoke. Greenpoint, still a vibrant Polish community, is also home to numerous hipsters. No longer the sleepy neighbor to Williamsburg, Greenpoint is becoming a destination. From a lazy afternoon in a scenic waterfront park to browsing in the shops on the main shopping streets, a visit to Greenpoint should definitely be on your list of places to see on your next trip to Brooklyn.
19 Tour a Historic Barge
Step aboard the historic restored seaworthy barge docked in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which now is a local museum. The Lehigh Valley No. 9 is open to the public on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. year round and also on Thursdays from 4pm-8pm in warmer months. Explore the vessel, see the Captain’s original living quarters, and a collection of tools used by longshoremen and stevedores. They also have a whirling ball machine, which is a fantastic permanent art installation that mesmerizes both kids and adults. Waterfront Barge hosts performances, so check out their website for info on the latest shows.
20 Soak in the Sun at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park, nestled on the shore of the East River across from lower Manhattan has spectacular views, with a huge vista of New York Harbor, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, lower Manhattan, boat traffic on the East River, and of course, views of the Statue of Liberty. And there’s more: Brooklyn Bridge Park is a cultural and sports venue, with a lively calendar of concerts, summer outdoor movies, outdoor exercise classes, chess instruction, kayaking and more.
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