When most visitors plan a trip to New York City, they think Manhattan—the Empire State Building, Central Park, Fifth Avenue shopping, and East Village counterculture. But what many tourists and casual visitors might not realize is that right across the East River is another part of the city that also offers world-class museums, great restaurants, diverse neighborhoods, and trendy nightspots.
Brooklyn, New York’s largest borough, is no mere sideshow to Manhattan, but a destination worth visiting in and of itself. In fact, Brooklyn would be the fourth largest city in the U.S. if separated from the rest of New York. And, because Brooklyn tends to be cheaper than Manhattan, the borough has a large population of artists, young people, and immigrants, making it an eclectic and affordable place to hang out for a few days.
Brooklyn is divided into numerous neighborhoods, each with its own unique appeal. Below are three of the top neighborhoods worth visiting.
Serving as refuge for artists and musicians fleeing overpriced Manhattan since the ’80s, Williamsburg is now a mecca for the young and hip. Many of neighborhood’s top art galleries, cafes, and bars can be found along Bedford Avenue, but be sure to explore the side streets, too.
You can get a double dose of nightlife and art at Galapagos (70 N. 6th St.), a combination bar and art and perfromance space located in a former mayonnaise factory. There’s a $5 to $10 cover for some perfomances, but many events are free. Beer lovers should also check out the Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th St.), which offers free tours and a tasting (for those 21 and up, of course) on Saturdays.
D.U.M.B.O. (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass)
D.U.M.B.O., the neighborhood located under and around the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge overpasses, is home to almost 1,000 artists who have turned the area’s former industrial buildings into art studios and galleries. In October, the D.U.M.B.O. Arts Center hosts the D.U.M.B.O. Art Under the Bridge Festival, featuring outdoor installations, projections, and performance art that turn the neighborhood into a surreal, futuristic landscape in the evening. Some events associated with the festival charge a fee, but it costs nothing to walk around and enjoy the outdoor exhibits. At other times of the year, you can see rotating exhibitions at the Art Center’s gallery space (30 Washington St.).
The area is also home to what many New Yorkers consider the best pizzeria in the city—Grimaldi’s (19 Old Fulton St.). You’ll likely have to stand in a long line outside to get a seat in this place, but the brick-oven pizza is worth the wait. A large 18-inch pizza costs $14.50. Afterwards, stop by the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, located in an old fireboat house on the Fulton Ferry Landing Pier, for a tasty treat (one scoop costs $3).
Park Slope and Prospect Park
In upscale Park Slope you can get your fill of fine art at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway), the second-largest art museum in New York after the MET. The museum houses more than one million objects, including ancient Egyptian artifacts and Assyrian reliefs; paintings by Monet, Degas, Cezanne, and Picasso; and a collection of 50 sculptures by Rodin. Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for students with an I.D.
Close by is the lush, 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is free on Tuesdays, Saturdays from 10 am to noon, and weekdays in the winter. The rest of the time, visiting costs a mere $3 for students with an I.D. and $5 for adults. Garden highlights include the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, the 100-tree Bonsai Museum, and the English-style Shakespeare Garden.
Outdoor lovers can also explore the 526-acre Prospect Park, which was designed by the same landscape architects who created Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The park contains a 90-acre meadow, a 60-acre lake, Brooklyn’s only forest, the Audubon Center, and the Prospect Park Zoo. June through August, the park also plays host to the Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing Arts Festival, a summer-long series of music and dance performances and film screenings. There is a suggested donation of $3 to attend shows.
For cheap hostel accommodations, try the Greenpoint YMCA, located at 99 Meserole Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (near Williamsburg). Private double rooms start at $28 per person per night. For slightly nicer rooms, consider the funky Awesome B&B (136 Lawrence St.), which features colorful rooms designed by New York artists. Double rooms start at $79 per night; there is a two-night minimum stay.
It’s easy to get around Brooklyn using the subway or buses. Go to the MTA website for maps and information on fares and schedules. A single ride on the subway or a bus costs $2, but if you plan on using public transportation heavily, you’ll save money by purchasing a pass. An unlimited-use pass costs $7 for one day or $24 for seven days. You can also purchase a multi-ride MetroCard that gives a discount off regular fares. For instance, you can purchase a 12-ride card for the cost of 10 individual rides ($20).