The Top Things to Do in Brooklyn

Prospect Park is just one of the many things to see in Brooklyn, New York City’s coolest borough
Prospect Park is just one of the many things to see in Brooklyn, New York City’s coolest borough | © Carrie Thompson / Stockimo / Alamy
Photo of Anne Bauso
18 May 2021

Brooklyn is increasingly becoming the hottest borough in New York City. Just across the East River from Manhattan, it boasts world-class art at the Brooklyn Museum, a legendary flea market, hip hotspots like House of Yes, plus Statue of Liberty views from its eponymous bridge.

Welcome to Brooklyn, where a Burmese restaurant might share an intersection with a skateboard shop/flower studio; a street may be lined with handsome brownstones on one block and industrial warehouses on the next. The borough is home to some of the biggest attractions in New York: Coney Island, Prospect Park and, of course, the Brooklyn Bridge. Read on for the best things to do in this oh-so-hip area of New York.

Snap photos of New York’s skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge

Bridge, Park
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The Brooklyn Bridge connects Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights
© TTstudio / Shutterstock
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a fantastic free way to get to Manhattan, but it’s also NYC’s best photo-taking opportunity. Stretching from downtown Brooklyn to City Hall in Manhattan, the one-time longest suspension bridge in the world provides uninterrupted views of Financial District skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty and all of New York Harbor.

Get inspired by world-class art at the Brooklyn Museum

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‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’ (2019) was an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum
© Jonathan Dorado / Brooklyn Museum
Within its grand structure, Brooklyn’s largest museum contains a staggering collection of art and objects spanning millennia. Artistic giants of the 19th and 20th centuries are well represented, with works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Mark Rothko and Norman Rockwell housed within. Not to be missed is Judy Chicago’s large-scale The Dinner Party, celebrating more than 1,000 women from history and mythology.

Catch a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

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Brooklyn Academy of Music in downtown Brooklyn NY
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Simply known as BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is the borough’s most prestigious performing arts venue. Its historic Beaux Arts building in the heart of downtown houses several movie theaters dedicated to indie film, and a gigantic tiered theater for live concerts, comedy shows, dance performances and more. Past headliners include Aziz Ansari, David Sedaris, Wilco, Hannibal Buress and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

Enjoy all the fun Coney Island Boardwalk has to offer

Amusement Park, Aquarium, Park
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People having fun at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.
© Richard Green / Alamy
Gloriously kitschy Coney Island has been drawing New Yorkers since the Victorian era, when daytrippers descended on one of the country’s first amusement parks. Coasters and rides are still a big part of the Coney Island equation, with classics like the Cyclone and Deno’s Wonder Wheel. But Coney Island is best for its simple pleasures: strolling the boardwalk, trying your hand at a round of Skee-Ball, drinking a beer by the beach, and – best of all – people-watching.

Scour Brooklyn Flea’s stalls for a bargain

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Vendors at Brooklyn Flea Market sell furniture, vintage clothing, collectables and antiques, jewelry, art, crafts and fresh food
© JJ Farq / Shutterstock
Since its debut, Brooklyn Flea has gone from fledgling street fair to a major Brooklyn institution with spinoff projects, like the Smorgasburg food fair in both New York and L.A. It’s now spread across multiple locations, even hopping across the East River with a weekend market in Chelsea. Goods range from mid-century furniture and vintage Schwinns to houseplants and homemade jewelry.

Relax amid the greenery of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Museum, Park
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The Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has over 5,000 bushes
© Ellen McKnight / Alamy Stock Photo
Set between the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers 52 sublimely peaceful acres (21ha) harboring thousands of species of plants. Highlights include the woodlands and pine barrens of the Native Flora Garden, the beautiful Rose Garden and the immaculate rows of trees in the Cherry Esplanade – one of the top places in the world to see cherry blossoms outside of Japan.

Hop aboard the New York Transit Museum’s vintage train

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The New York Transit Museum has its own vintage train
© Felix Lipov / Alamy Stock Photo
Go underground to a decommissioned 1936 subway station and see beautifully maintained vintage subways, elevated trains and buses from the early 20th century to the 1990s. The best part? You can actually go inside the vehicles and see ads and design features from a bygone era – think rattan seats, ceiling fans and wooden coach bodies.

Dress to impress with threads from L Train Vintage

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Brooklyn, New York - June 5, 2016: Jefferson Street subway station along the L train in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, New York.
© Felix Lipov / Alamy
Treasure hunters are in paradise at these warehouse-style vintage wonderlands. There are several locations throughout Brooklyn (the two-story Bushwick location is something of a mothership), but all can be trusted to carry a huge range of lovingly cared-for and well-priced finds, like cowboy boots and varsity jackets.

Party all night at House of Yes

Bar, Nightclub, Contemporary
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Mwenso & The Shakes perform during Winter Jazz Festival Brooklyn Marathon at House of Yes (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Sipa USA)
© Sipa US / Alamy
When House of Yes is in full swing, the scene is a cross between Moulin Rouge and a raging Gatsby party, set in a tri-level art and performance space in Bushwick. The vibe may be wild and freewheeling, but House of Yes is strictly a safe place and a no-judgment zone where respect is key. An eclectic calendar includes all-night dance parties, burlesque shows and LGBTQ and sex-positive events.

Go kayaking on the Hudson River

Park, Bridge, Architectural Landmark
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young people setting up their kayaks for a glide Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse at the Pier 2 floating dock
© Pako Dominguez / Alamy
It might not be the obvious addition to your New York to-do list, but kayaking is a fun, scenic way to experience the city. You can even try it for free at Brooklyn Bridge Park, whose boathouse offers no-cost kayaking sessions in the summer (just be sure to register in advance). By paddling around the East River waters, you’ll enjoy unbeatable views of Manhattan and the bridges.
These recommendations were updated on May 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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