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A Guide to Brooklyn’s Coolest Neighborhoods

The Williamsburg Bridge connects Williamsburg with the Lower East Side
The Williamsburg Bridge connects Williamsburg with the Lower East Side | © Ryan Deberardinis / Alamy Stock Photo
Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 8 January 2019
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When most tourists think of New York they picture the distinctive landmarks of Manhattan. But if you want to experience life the way the cool kids live it, Brooklyn should feature heavily on your trip itinerary.
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Greenpoint

The contrasting personalities of Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood can be instantly appreciated when comparing the adjacent roads of Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street. The former offers a shabby but delightful arrangement of cheap grocery stores, New Age crystal shops and Polish diners selling pleasingly stodgy pierogies. (Greenpoint has a huge Polish population.) The latter is lined with converted warehouses containing indie boutiques, candlelit bars and cafés serving CBD-laced coffees. Greenpoint is both impressively on trend and charmingly stuck in a time warp, which is what makes this neighborhood so appealing.

Itinerary: Catch the G to the Nassau Avenue stop, right by McCarren Park, before meandering up Manhattan Avenue and refueling at Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop – a dessert institution for over 60 years. Continue to the very top of the street where you’ll find The Glasserie. Order the mezze share plates and plenty of salty, griddled flatbread to dunk, scoop and mop with. After food walk down Franklin Street and shop at boutiques like Wolves Within, Home of the Brave and Pas Mal before heading to the water for drinks at the Brooklyn Barge – a boat-bar with views of the midtown Manhattan skyline over the lapping East River.

Manhattan office towers and luxury condos loom on the horizon as you head north on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue
© David Grossman / Alamy Stock Photo
Manhattan office towers and luxury condos loom on the horizon as you head north on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue

Fort Greene

The tree-lined streets of Fort Greene have attracted artists of all ilks over the years. The neighborhood has a palpable creativity, with cultural institutions and a diverse entertainment scene that are worth making the trip across the East River for.

Itinerary: Take the G train to the Clinton-Washington Avenues station and stop for breakfast and a coffee at Maison May. Wander through Fort Greene’s famous park, pausing to admire the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, and down to BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) to catch a show. Next make your way towards the navy yard and drink wine at a rooftop vineyard. After grabbing dinner at Karasu – a secret Japanese bar and restaurant hidden behind Walter’s (which also serves great food) – end the night at local favorite Frank’s Cocktail Lounge.

Pedestrians enjoy some fine weather at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and South Elliott Place in Fort Greene
© David Grossman / Alamy Stock Photo
Pedestrians enjoy some fine weather at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and South Elliott Place in Fort Greene

Brooklyn Heights

Most visitors don’t explore much past the famous pizza restaurants of Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s after they exit the Brooklyn Bridge. If you venture farther south and away from the waterfront park (which is wonderful but increasingly crowded with tourists taking photographs) you’ll find brownstone-lined streets named after fruits, unselfconscious neighborhood establishments and blossom trees streaming pink petals like confetti.

Itinerary: Take the A or C train to High Street and head straight to Clark’s Diner, a proper neighborhood spot with fast, friendly service and eggs galore. Walk down Orange Street towards the water and take in the view of downtown Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from benches along the elegant Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Exit at the opposite end onto Remsen Street and pick up a pizza from nearby Dellarocco’s (as delicious as Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s, without the wait). Take it down to the waterfront park for an impromptu picnic on the grass.

Brooklyn Heights features tree-lined streets with attractive brownstone buildings
© Ellen Isaacs / Alamy Stock Photo
Brooklyn Heights features tree-lined streets with attractive brownstone buildings

Dumbo

You’ve probably seen that famous shot of Dumbo on Instagram. The one featuring a cobbled street lined with warehouses, with the Empire State Building in the distance, peeking between the towers of the Manhattan Bridge. It’s scenes like that that made Dumbo (which stands for ‘down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass’) a popular spot for visitors and movie-biz location scouts even before its recent waterfront revamp, which now includes a ton of busy restaurants, shops and bars.

Itinerary: Take the F train to the York Street station and head down the hill until you reach Brooklyn Roasting Company – a cavernous coffee shop that roasts its own beans on site. Explore the park alongside the river, passing under the Manhattan Bridge and past the carousel. Loop back along Water Street until you come to Washington Street – the location for “that photo.” Then do some shopping along the side roads, hitting the Brooklyn Flea for market-stall finds, Front General Store for impeccably curated vintage and Powerhouse Arena for coffee-table books.

Although it derives its name from that other bridge, Dumbo also offers excellent views of the Brooklyn Bridge
© Jean Hubert / Alamy Stock Photo
Although it derives its name from that other bridge, Dumbo also offers excellent views of the Brooklyn Bridge

Bed-Stuy

True community spirit can be hard to find in ever-transforming New York City, but Bed-Stuy has it in droves. Beautiful Victorian architecture, outdoor movies in the park, block parties and Sunday service at church define this neighborhood – not to mention a culinary and bar scene that’s unpretentious and lots of fun.

Itinerary: Fill your tummy with the best Southern-style fried chicken at Peaches HotHouse or a hearty-healthy dish at colorful retro restaurant Fancy Nancy. Bed-Stuy has a strong contingent of resident musicians, which becomes apparent after dark. Catch a DJ by candlelight at Doris, dance to live reggae at Lovers Rock, or check out the evening’s entertainment at C’mon Everybody.

Drummers participate in the annual Universal Hip-Hop Parade in Bedford-Stuyvesant
© David Grossman / Alamy Stock Photo
Drummers participate in the annual Universal Hip-Hop Parade in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s particular brand of cool has evolved in the past decade, settling into a more grown-up and increasingly expensive iteration of hipster culture. Bedford Avenue and the surrounding streets are full of hyped restaurants, fancy cocktail bars and trendy boutiques – each with its own thriving Instagram account, naturally.

Itinerary: Take the L to the Bedford Avenue station and wander up and down the street window-shopping. Stop at Shelter for pizzas and empanadas amid rustic Wild West decor, then make your way to The Gutter for divey ambience and bowling. As the sun starts to set make a beeline for The William Vale’s wraparound rooftop terrace for cityscape views and strong drinks.

A bit of aimless wandering along Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue is a good way to soak up the scene
© Peter Horree / Alamy Stock Photo
A bit of aimless wandering along Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue is a good way to soak up the scene

Bushwick

The locals in Bushwick are working hard with the community board to stop their neighborhood going the way of nearby Williamsburg – besieged by swanky restaurants and bars that change the mood of the area. Although it’s undeniably gentrified over the past two decades, Bushwick still has a proliferation of street-art murals and warehouse gallery spaces that speak to its renegade artistic spirit.

Itinerary: Start your day with a street-art tour to visit the graffitied walls Bushwick is famous for. Next head to Nowadays for al fresco drinks, DJs and games. (There’s an adjacent indoor space if the weather isn’t cooperating.) Fill up on dinner from Bushwick’s beloved Roberta’s pizza place, then order a zodiac-themed cocktail at super-hip bar Mood Ring. End the night dancing in costume beneath aerial performers at an infamous House of Yes party. (Don’t forget to search for the semi-secret hot tub.)

Shoppers browse at a flea market in Bushwick
© New York City / Alamy Stock Photo
Shoppers browse at a flea market in Bushwick

Red Hook

There’s almost a fishing-village feel when you’re close to the Red Hook waterfront, and the neighborhood’s relative seclusion (it’s not accessible by subway) gives it a leisurely pace not traditionally associated with New York. You might almost forget you’re in the city, in fact, until you look out across the water and notice how close the Statue of Liberty is.

Itinerary: Catch the B61 bus and jump off for brunch at Fort Defiance – a vintage-feel bar operated by a writer-bartender. Next head to Pioneer Works and peruse whatever exhibits, performances and programs this cultural center currently has on offer. When you’re ready for food again stroll down to Brooklyn Crab for a lobster roll and a game of cornhole. Finally, head next door to Sunny’s, a ramshackle bar with live music that’s been around since the 1890s.

The Red Hook Grain Terminal lends gritty authenticity to the neighborhood’s waterfront
© Felix Lipov / Alamy Stock Photo
The Red Hook Grain Terminal lends gritty authenticity to the neighborhood’s waterfront

Gowanus

Once famous for its polluted canal (said to be the Mafia’s go-to area for dumping bodies), these days Gowanus is better known for its thriving population of artists who work out of huge converted warehouses. While the neighborhood has certainly gotten fancier – there’s even a Whole Foods – it’s also peppered with unique activities you won’t find anywhere else in the city.

Itinerary: Kick things off with a steam and a soak at backyard bathhouse cityWell, a short walk from the R train at Union Street. Continue the cozy vibe at Black Mountain Wine House – a vino and cheese spot with a cabin aesthetic and a working fireplace. When you’ve had your fill of refreshments walk over to Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club – a kitschy-cool space with full-size shuffleboard courts and cocktails served in Mason jars – or try Kick Axe, where you can throw axes at targets while boozing.

In a quirk of fate, artsy Gowanus is anchored by this badly polluted industrial canal
© David Grossman / Alamy Stock Photo
In a quirk of fate, artsy Gowanus is anchored by this badly polluted industrial canal
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