Brooklyn has changed infinitely over the last 10 years, but it continues to entice New York tourists over the water. Sure, it may have lost a little of the edge it had in years gone by, but beyond the gentrification and trickle of big name businesses there’s still an exciting, varied and energetic atmosphere, with plenty to see and do. And when it comes to accommodation, you certainly get more bang for your buck in Brooklyn, with hotel rooms generally larger and cheaper than their Manhattan counterparts.
What to do
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About as far from the grandiose world of Manhattan museums as you could get, The City Reliquary (cityreliquary.org) is a teeny Williamsburg storefront filled to the brim with New York trinkets and oddities. You’ll find vintage seltzer bottles, baseball cards and Lady Liberty statuettes on display, and events like movie screenings and intimate gigs regularly taking place.
For a more traditional experience, the Brooklyn Museum (brooklynmuseum.org) is down in Prospect Park, and is also home to the excellent Elizabeth A Sackler Centre for Feminist Art.
Bask in the buildings
Take a stroll around Brooklyn Heights and indulge in some serious real estate envy. From Pier 5, head onto the cobbles of Joralemon Street, with its dreamy brownstones and stone stoops. Then weave back via the pretty residential areas of Hicks and Orange Streets.
Brooklyn may not have the biggest galleries, but it does have the hippest. American Medium (americanmedium.net) opened in 2014, and showcases young emerging artists in all mediums, from video to performance art. Meanwhile, CLEARING (c-l-e-a-r-i-n-g.com) is the original branch of a gallery which also has spaces on the Upper East Side and in Brussels, with contemporary pieces from international artists.
Stroll in the park
Central Park may get all the glory, but Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (prospectpark.org) is just as impressive. You can lounge on the lawns and wander through the woods or paddle on the lake.
Admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (bbg.org) is well worth it too. Home to an abundant array of plantlife, you could lose hours among the flowers, ponds and trees. The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden is a gorgeous space with little bridges and waterfalls, and the Rose Garden is Instagram heaven. Admission is $15, and it’s open 8am-6pm Tuesday to Friday, 10am-6pm weekends (free entry on Tuesdays).
Where to stay
It’s only been open since last year, but 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (1hotels.com/brooklyn-bridge) is set to become one of the finest hotels in the city. The eco-chic rooms are decked out with reclaimed wood, blackened steel and gigantic windows, some of which overlook the Brooklyn Bridge. Upstairs, there’s a cool rooftop bar and pool. Doubles from $299, room only.
In Williamsburg, The William Vale (thewilliamvale.com) has a real South Beach vibe, with airy white rooms, vibrant artwork and balconies. The rooftop bar is always hopping, but its swimming pool on the 4th floor is a beauty, with killer views of the Manhattan skyline. Doubles from $269, room only.
A converted waterfront factory in Williamsburg, the Wythe Hotel (wythehotel.com) is an ultra-cool hangout, with a popular bar and restaurant. The rooms blend industrial roots with sleek design – think exposed brick, handcrafted bedframes and views of both Manhattan and local street art. Doubles from $299, room only.
Where to eat
Head up Flatbush Avenue to Doughnut Plant (doughnutplant.com) and pay tribute to the roses with a floral Doughflower ($5), a rose-glazed doughnut with fluffy “petals”.
If there’s one thing New York does well, it’s brunch. And there’s no better place to indulge than the aptly named Sunday in Brooklyn (sundayinbrooklyn.com) up in Williamsburg. You might have a bit of a wait at the door, but the gigantic fluffy pancakes ($16) drenched in a hazelnut maple praline are more than worth it (and the kale salad is top notch, if you’re feeling virtuous). Snag a seat on the dinky rooftop terrace and you’ll have scored the best spot in town. For weekend brunch, they only take limited reservations from 10am-10.30am, otherwise it’s on a walk-in basis (though brunch is served every day).
Don’t be put off by the lines at Juliana’s (julianaspizza.com) – they move fairly quickly, and the crowds are there for a reason. The pizzas doled up are New York perfection, with a chewy, charred crust, zingy sauce and globs of oozing, gooey mozzarella. You can’t buy by the slice, but the small pies are more than enough for two. If the crowd is really growing, you can always get a pizza to go and eat it down by the water, where you’ll also find the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company (brooklynicecreamfactory.com) if you have room for dessert.
Beasts & Bottles (beastsandbottles.com) is a warm and welcoming bistro with plants growing up the walls and cosy leather booths. The focus is on rotisserie chicken and it’s done oh so well – The Provencal ($25) bathes succulent, organic chicken in preserved lemon, sticky garlic and crispy duck fat potatoes.
Where to drink
For a caffeine hit, skip the chi-chi coffee shops and juice bars for the old school Fabiane’s Café (facebook.com/fabianescafeandpastry), where you can get an iced coffee for just over $2 and sit outside for some A people watching.
Leave the overpriced and sleek bars to the Manhattanites, and keep things good and local on Atlantic Avenue. The Long Island Bar (thelongislandbar.com) opened in 1951, and while it mightn’t look quite the same today, it’s a solid neighbourhood bar that serves up impeccable cocktails for a reasonable $12.
For a real dive bar, head to Hank’s Saloon (hankssaloon.com), a grungy, old-school watering hole where you can soak up the honky-tonk vibe and get a beer for $4 – a rarity in New York.
Where to shop
Locals may bemoan the chain stores sneaking into Bedford Avenue, but there is still a broad range of cool stores to tickle your fancy. Try Dirty Hands Jewelry (dirtyhandsjewelry.com) for chunky, hand crafted pieces, Awoke Vintage (awokevintage.com) for a well-curated mix or Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers (spoonbillbooks.com) for second-hand, rare and new books.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a knockout; see it at its best from the Brooklyn Bridge Park (brooklynbridgepark.org), which is surprisingly green, with winding paths weaving through woodland as the Lower Manhattan skyline peeks up from behind. It’s hopping in the summer too, with open BBQ areas, poetry readings and ballet barre classes galore.
Nuts and bolts
What’s the time difference?
New York is five hours behind and runs on East Coast Time (ET).
If you’re travelling within Brooklyn, the subway can be frustrating and somewhat limited. It’s fine for getting into Manhattan, but making a journey within the borough can be a nightmare. Get acquainted with MTA (mta.info) for journey planning and scheduled outages, or download a lift-sharing app like Via (ridewithvia.com), which can get you across town for just a few bucks. The Brooklyn routes on the NYC Ferry service allow you to get between the districts, with a bonus river cruise along the way. It makes the journey between Williamsburg and DUMBO a dream, and costs the same as a subway ride ($2.75; ferry.nyc).
Should I tip?
For eating, drinking, taxis and tour guides, tip between 15 and 20 per cent.
Head towards the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for killer views of the city.
Don’t expect to tackle many of its neighbourhoods in just two days – instead, focus on two or three and explore in depth. Just over the Brooklyn Bridge you’ll find DUMBO, which morphs into Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill as you move south. Further north is the hipster enclave of Williamsburg, where the brownstones and wooden houses give way to converted warehouses and industrial spaces, now filled with craft breweries and coffee shops.
Read more on the best places to stay in New York