How to See the Best of Brooklyn in One Day, According to Someone Who Lives There
Brooklyn, New York. 71 square miles. 2.6 million people. It’s big, daunting, and anyway, do you really need to peel yourself away from Manhattan to visit it? In short, yes.
Years ago, the saying was “Brooklyn is the new New York.” Today, the borough has earned its own rep and recognition. There’s Michelin-starred dining. International art. Boutiques both chic and eclectic. But still, with so much to do in Manhattan, it’s a tough sell getting people to cross the East River to explore it properly. But let’s give it a try.
There’s no better place to start than with the iconic representation of the borough itself: the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across the 1600-foot suspension bridge will give you a first look at the motley vibe you’ll encounter beyond: post-industrial warehouses turned million-dollar lofts, gothic church steeples, and more than a few cranes, evidence of the continued construction boom.
You’ll be unceremoniously dumped from the pedestrian path along the car-choked Cadman Plaza, but it’s a quick walk downhill towards Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) and its picturesque cobblestone streets. Grab a pain au chocolat at Almondine Bakery, take a spin on the vintage Jane’s Carousel, and enjoy the skyline views along the waterfront.
Just next door is Brooklyn Heights. The entire neighborhood was designated a historic district in 1965 and, with its tree-lined streets, quaint carriage houses, and magnificent brownstones, it remains one of the most coveted neighborhoods. It’s been home to impressive figures from shipping tycoon Abiel Abbot Low, who built a 17,500-square-foot mansion along the Promenade, to Truman Capote, who wrote in a Greek Revival townhouse at 70 Willow Street.
At the southern perimeter lies Atlantic Avenue, a main thoroughfare lined with outstanding shopping. Pick up vintage maps, Bakelite, and other yesteryear delights at Holler & Squall, breathe in the aromatic spices at the 120-year-old Middle Eastern emporium Sahadi’s, and get minimalist houseware essentials — think: ceramic bowls, linen napkins, wooden spoons — at the hyper-curated Primary Essentials.
Just off Atlantic on Hoyt Street, you can grab a tasty lunch at Mile End Deli, featuring Jewish comfort food by way of Montreal. The menu is as generous as the portions, including classics like towering beef brisket and smoked turkey sandwiches, matzo ball soup, and giant pickles.
Fueled up, you’ll be ready to hit some of Brooklyn’s more cultural attractions. The Brooklyn Museum is a 560,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts beauty home to everything from Egyptian sarcophagi to French impressionism to crowd-pleasing exhibitions ranging from Basquiat to Ai Weiwei to David Bowie. Despite being one of the country’s largest museums, with exacting curation, the five floors are quite manageable and rarely as clogged as those in Manhattan’s institutions.
If you need a moment to catch your breath, duck into the Brooklyn Botanic Garden right next door. The 52 spectacular acres boast a cherry tree esplanade, rose garden with over 1,000 species, an English cottage garden-style Shakespeare Garden, and all other manner of horticultural delights.
Once restored, walk north on Washington Avenue, a mix of restaurants, shops and bodegas, to the more uniform and stately buildings of Clinton Hill. Once known as Brooklyn’s “Gold Coast,” the mansions along Clinton Avenue, now part of St. Joseph’s campus, will give any Upper East Side residence a run for its money.
With evening approaching, give your feet some deserved rest and hop in a cab to the most bustling of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods: Williamsburg. The epitome of Brooklyn hipsterville, it’s also become a hive of renowned culinary and cocktail action.
Settle in at the long, curving bar at the shabbily elegant Hotel Delmano and order a Brooklyn Beauty, Gentle Julep, or other house cocktail that’s artfully garnished and Instagram-ready. You might even want to order some oysters — or save your appetite for the unforgettable Peruvian menu at Llama Inn, tucked nearby under the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway).
The restaurant is right on trend with bleached woods, plenty of succulents, and a shared plate mentality but the food is its own universe. Sure, there’s quinoa and sweetbread, but the former is tossed with banana, avocado, bacon, and cashews and the latter is paired with raisin chimichurri. If you’re with a crowd, don’t miss the signature beef tenderloin stir fry.
And who knows, by now you just might be so smitten with Brooklyn that you want to spend the night. Good thing the hyper popular 70-room Wythe Hotel is in the hood, featuring grand views of Manhattan that will remind you just how far you journeyed in a day.