Sure, you’ve heard of Brooklyn, but did you know that if Brooklyn were a city of its own it would be the 4th most populous city in the US (according to 2022 reports)! An estimated 2.6 million people call this New York City Borough “home” (including myself), while Manhattan alone can only claim about 1.7 million residents.
Luckily, Brooklyn has more land mass to manage a bit better at roughly 97 square miles compared to Manhattan’s 33 but that just means there is so much more to do as well. Which makes this Borough a must-see for anyone who ventures to visit the Big Apple. So take it from this local, here are my picks for things to do in Brooklyn. If you haven’t done these, then you really haven’t seen Brooklyn at all!
Top Things to Do in Brooklyn
There is a lot of ground to cover when it comes to Brooklyn but no worries, the New York City Subway system, coupled with buses and Citi bike locations still make these neighborhoods easily accessible to those who want to be able to get around without a car. Even if the “must sees” on your list span from the Museum of Food and Drink in Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Northernmost neighborhood, all the way down to historic Coney Island, in the southern part of the borough.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge for Amazing Views
Just like the other areas of New York City, Brooklyn is full of historical sights most notably, the Brooklyn Bridge. You can access the bridge’s pedestrian walkways from downtown Brooklyn or from across city hall in lower Manhattan. The walk across is about 1.3 miles and can get incredibly crowded, as this walk is on almost any tourists to do list. If you want to avoid crowds, try walking the bridge in the earlier parts of the day or just before or after sunset.
Up until recently, the pedestrian walkway was also the bike path but good news, the bike lane has now been moved to the lower level next to the cars which makes the walk much more pleasant for the large crowds that traverse the bridge daily. However, be aware that not everyone has realized this lane has been moved so occasionally you may have to step aside for a rogue biker to get by.
The bridge provides stunning views of not only the Manhattan skyline but you can also see far into Brooklyn, the waterside parks, Manhattan Bridge, Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Best FREE Things to Do in Brooklyn
Explore 5th Avenue
The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t the only free historical sight you can experience while in Brooklyn. For more free fun head down 5th Avenue, commonly referred to as “the other fifth” this avenue drives through the heart of Park Slope which is home to the Brooklyn Pride Parade every June as well as a hub for many great restaurants, bars, and local boutiques.
About a mile down from Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, you will find the Old Stone House, which is now a small museum built to mark the location of the old Dutch farmstead where the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island) came to a head.
For more sights relating to the Revolutionary War, head another mile down 5th Avenue to the 478 acres known as Greenwood Cemetery, home to the highest elevation point in all of Brooklyn. Greenwood is a National Historic Landmark for not only its rich history to America, but for being located on a central location for Battle of Brooklyn. You can find a memorial for this battle located inside, as well as the gravesites for many notable people, be sure to pick up a map from the front entrance.
You can usually ask a guard at the front for one, but if the guard isn’t present there is usually a stack of them to be found. This cemetery not only contains stunning architecture, coupled with beautiful landscaping and art all around, but the seasons provide an ever-changing backdrop that makes it always feel like a new experience.
Get Lost in Prospect Park
Located not far from Greenwood Cemetery is Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. This 526 acres of land is often considered a mini Central Park for a few reasons. The same team that designed Central Park later went on to design this park which gives it a lot of the same elements. A forest area to help you feel like you are far removed from the bustling city, an ice rink, a roller-skating rink, a boat house, a bandshell for concerts, running trails, a bike path around the perimeter, lakes, waterfalls, and long lawns for lounging and playing frisbee.
On the weekends it houses many community activities such as 5ks to half marathons, farmer’s markets, baseball games, and even horseback riding. Much like Central Park, you can even find a small history center located near the Prospect Park Zoo entrance and the carousel.
Wander Around Coney Island & the Boardwalk
While Coney Island has a different feel than a revolutionary battlefield, it is no less significant by historical standards. Between 1880 and WWII Coney Island was considered America’s largest amusement area with more than a million people coming to visit every year. The historic Wonder Wheel was built in 1920 and the famous Coney Island Cyclone came shortly after. You can still see the old Parachute Jump even though the ride closed permanently in 1964.
While Coney Island isn’t full of sideshow acts anymore, you can still see remnants of its history everywhere you walk, even throughout the newly revamped amusement areas. The place is free to walk around with many historic markers to read amidst the amusement park rides, the famous Nathan’s hotdog stand (much larger these days), the beach, the boardwalk and pier, and it is even home to the Coney Island Cyclone’s baseball team, which frequently has fireworks after home games during the season.
Coney Island is also home to the New York Aquarium, known as the United State’s oldest continually operating aquarium. While riding the rides, eating a Nathan’s hot dog or a visit to the aquarium will come at a cost, there is still a lot to see and do out at Coney Island for free.
Things to Do in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Support Local Businesses at the Smorgasburg
There isn’t a more “Williamsburg” thing to do when in Williamsburg than plan a trip to Smorgasburg. What started in 2011 as an offshoot of Brooklyn Flea, Smorgasburg sets up shop in an empty lot near the East River every Saturday, April through October. The event is free to walk around but once you smell the delicious aromas coming from these innovative food vendors, I am positive you will feel compelled to stop by for a taste.
Smorgasburg is a great way to support local business and satisfy your appetite. While there are other locations where the event has expanded to, such as Prospect Park and as of 2016 even out to LA, nothing beats stopping by the place where it all started.
Stop by the Brooklyn Brewery
If you find yourself thirsty after satisfying your tastebuds at Smorgasburg, pop on over to the famous Brooklyn Brewery where they have alcoholic and non-alcoholic options to quench your thirst. Schedule a tour, check out the merch or just try some beers in the tasting room. This Brewery provides indoor tables to taste the brews along with small bites and often hosts many events like trivia and even sushi-making classes. Dogs are allowed in the tasting room, just not on the tour, must be 21 to enter.
A Night Out at the Brooklyn Bowl
Another original to Brooklyn and located in Williamsburg is Brooklyn Bowl. Brooklyn Bowl isn’t just any old bowling alley, it is also a live music venue and restaurant! Founded in 2009, Brooklyn Bowl isn’t only known for the hit musical acts that have performed here (Elvis Costello, Guns & Roses, The Roots – to name a few) but it is also highly regarded for its high-tech green construction. The stage is built out of recycled tires!
Music, food, drinks, and friendly competition are in store for you here, just be sure to book tickets in advance because walks-ins can often be impossible when there are popular musical acts and sometimes the location is booked out for private events. Since 2014 Brooklyn Bowl has opened additional locations in Las Vegas, London (since closed), Nashville and Philadelphia.
Things to Do in DUMBO Brooklyn
DUMBO or “Directly Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass” is located exactly where the name states, under the Manhattan Bridge. This area spans along the water’s edge down to the Brooklyn Bridge, when the neighborhood changes to Brooklyn Heights/Brooklyn Bridge Park. While DUMBO isn’t a large neighborhood, it is full of things to do and places to eat. Recently opened is the Timeout Rooftop.
Food & Views at the TimeOut RoofTop
Located along the waterfront, this rooftop provides great free views of the water and Manhattan skyline between the two bridges. There is also a food hall up on the top floor indoors, that is accompanied by a small outdoor bar space to eat and drink. On certain evenings you can catch a local jazz band playing tunes for anyone who comes through. No purchase is required to sit and listen or enjoy the views.
Located on the first floor of this building is an even larger food hall with almost any type of food you could imagine, from fresh pasta, to street food, to a delicious bowl of ramen, there will be no shortage of options for your group. This is a great spot if you want your food to come with a little less pomp and circumstance than you would get at a sit-down restaurant, but your entire party can’t decide on what kind of food to eat. There are tables indoors and outdoors without restrictions on what food needs to be eaten in what area.
St. Ann’s Warehouse
St. Ann’s Warehouse is a Brooklyn institution when it comes to the arts. It has had a few locations over the years, originally located in a church, but in 2015 it moved to an old tobacco factory in DUMBO. St. Ann’s is known as a location where “Theater meets Rock & Roll” and even though the programming is now more heavily theater-influenced, the seasons still keep to the heart of what St. Ann’s has always been known for – innovation.
Even if you don’t step inside, the small garden at the south end of this warehouse is a wonderful sight to see and wander through.
Things to Do in Downtown Brooklyn
The Barclay’s Center
Home of the Brooklyn Nets, the Barclay’s Center is at the heart of Downtown Brooklyn. Known for its grassy green roof, this arena is located across the street from Atlantic Terminal Mall, in the midst of the downtown shopping area. Barclay’s Center is not only home to the Nets but many other notable events such as the VMA’s, boxing matches, and big-name concerts. It is one of the only sports arena’s that does not have a dedicated parking area located nearby but not to worry, it is easily accessible.
Atlantic Terminal is located right underneath, which is a major hub for 90% of the subway lines that converge in Brooklyn, a Long Island Railroad station, plus numerous bus routes that stop right outside. As this area is highly congested on a normal day, beware that on game day or concert night there will be crowds to battle, but once inside, the arena is plenty spacious enough to accommodate everyone.
Things to Do in Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Heights & Promenade
Located near downtown Brooklyn towards the east river is Brooklyn Heights. Known for its low row houses and brownstones dating back to before the Civil War and its many historic churches, this neighborhood is perfect for walking around and exploring the many tree-canopied streets and old architecture. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, located on a bluff near the East River, overlooks Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Manhattan skyline, providing stunning views of the Statue of Liberty at sunset.
Be AMAZED at the NYC Transit Museum
You can also find the NYC Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights. The museum starts off with a timeline and articles accompanied with graphics of the building process for these intricate train tunnels and why they were needed. Later expanding to a more open venue with old train car replicas, ticketing booths and stations that you can explore. The exhibit is so well done you may feel like you have truly traveled through time.
Many discover the entrance to this museum hard to find because it is cleverly designed to look like the average entrance to any subway station in the city, in fact it isn’t uncommon for the museum to get people at their entrance gate wondering how they ended up at a museum and not on a train platform.
Some Fun at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park is located at the base of the bluff near the promenade and partially under the Brooklyn Bridge. This bustling park is home to ferry docks, bbq areas, volleyball courts, and a mini forest on each end to get lost in. There are multiple piers out into the water that house basketball courts, soccer fields, rolling hills to lie on, and even a skating rink! You can also find a boat launch and kayaking available. There is no shortage of events and things to do here, and it is another amazing spot to catch the sunset.
Things to Do in Red Hook Brooklyn
While Red Hook Brooklyn isn’t one of the easiest places to get to, in the last 10 years this neighborhood has really boomed into a destination. One of the most known locations in Red Hook is the IKEA, which can be accessed via ferry from downtown Manhattan, by bus or by shuttle – Red Hood is one of the few places where a subway station is non-existent, the closest being located in Carrol Gardens or Gowanus.
A Full Day of Food & Fun at Brooklyn Crab
One of the first “destinations” that came about in Red Hook was Brooklyn Crab. This 3-leveled seafood restaurant offers stunning views of the water and a killer menu, which includes an all-you-can-eat crab special on certain nights of the week. This restaurant is so popular that they have now extended their backyard to have the Reed Park Beer Garden, complete with not only a long list of brews to enjoy, but also has a mini golf course, corn hole, covered seating, and a separate kitchen to provide you with some of the restaurant’s favorites.
Taste a Flight at Red Hook Winery
Located out on the water is Red Hook Winery. While Red Hook Brooklyn isn’t where one would typically expect to find a winery, all of the wines sold here are made from grape to bottle at this Pier 41 location in Brooklyn, the grapes all coming from vineyards local to New York State. They have tasting flights available with small bites that you can enjoy while sitting inside or out on the pier, enjoying the views of the east river. Some nights they even host yoga on the pier, so you can get your yoga fix and then get your wine fix all while enjoying an evening sunset.
A Beer With the Best Views at Strong Rope Brewery
Butting up against Red Hook Winery on the other side you will find Strong Rope Brewery. Strong Rope is a New York State Farm brewery with 2 locations in Brooklyn and a seasonal location in the Adirondacks but what makes this location special is the large amount of quiet outdoor space along the water.
Since this pier doesn’t get the normal foot traffic as a city street gets, those who come to this tasting room, came on purpose, which helps keep the crowds down even during busy season. This brewery hosts many events such as featuring local food trucks and a chess night, so be sure to check the website and see what might be happening on the night you choose to swing on by.
Grab an Authentic Key Lime Pie
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie is another hidden gem you will find in the neighborhood of Red Hook. In fact, if you walk around anywhere near the vicinity of this spot you will see signs pointing you in the direction of this fantastic pie, don’t ignore them.
If you enjoy Key Lime pie this stop is bound to be a treat for you. Sure, Red Hook Brooklyn may not be the place you would imagine enjoying a delicious piece of this Key West staple but each pie is made with such care and love it just may transport you down to the islands of Florida in a single bite.
With So Much to Do in Brooklyn, It’s a Vacation By Itself!
With all of this going on, it is no wonder Brooklyn, in its own right, could be considered the 4th largest city in America. These sights barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and do in this borough of New York City, and while you might not be able to do everything on this list during your short stay in the Big Apple, now you have a reason to come back for more.