While tourists flock to Manhattan in droves, locals know that the best Brooklyn attractions rank among New York City’s most essential destinations. And there are tons of different types of things to do in Brooklyn, including hitting up some of the best flea markets or grabbing a bite at one of the best brunch spots in Brooklyn. From Gowanus to Greenpoint, add these fifteen stops to your Kings County itinerary.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best New York attractions
The best Brooklyn attractions
No mere river crossing, this span is an elegant reminder of New York’s history of architectural innovation. When it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was a feat of engineering: It was the first structure to cross the East River and, at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Now it attracts thousands of tourists and locals, who enjoy spectacular views of lower Manhattan and other city landmarks (such as the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island) as they stroll its more-than-mile-long expanse.
After urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux unveiled Central Park in 1859, they turned their attention south to create this bucolic Brooklyn destination. There’s plenty of room in the Long Meadow and Nethermead to bliss out on a patch of grass, while the Ravine, a towering indigenous forest, offers a woodland respite unparalleled in the borough. City planner Robert Moses was behind 20th-century additions like the zoo and the bandshell, where Celebrate Brooklyn! hosts free top-notch concerts all summer long.
One of Kings County’s preeminent cultural institutions, this 560,000-square-foot venue made history as the first American museum to exhibit African objects as artwork. In addition to the more than 4,000 items in the Egyptian holdings, museumgoers can scope pieces by masters such as Cézanne, Monet and Degas, plus an entire center devoted to feminist art. (The venue is the permanent home of Judy Chicago’s massive installation The Dinner Party.)
In the nearly five years since its debut, this market has elevated the vintage-shopping experience, setting a new standard for both goods and food vendors, and emphasizing local purveyors where possible. Its mini empire now includes markets in Fort Greene and DUMBO, as well as two food-focused Smorgasburg outposts. When temperatures plunge, the fest moves to the vast warehouse space of Industry City in Sunset Park. It’s as good a people-watching spot as you’ll find—plenty of established and wanna-be designers mill about—and the eats alone are worth the trip. Vendors change each weekend, so check the website the Friday before doors open to see who’s selling.
If you’re looking to fall in love with New York City again (or for the first time), there are few vistas more breathtaking than this one. It’s easy to forget that you’re standing atop the hectic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway while strolling along this esplanade, which opened in 1950. But the thoroughfare is inextricably linked to the Promenade’s existence: Community opposition to the BQE—which was originally intended to cut through Brooklyn Heights—led city planner Robert Moses to reroute the highway along the waterfront. He also proposed building a park atop the road to block noise.
Those searching for a little peace and quiet would do well to spend a few hours at this verdant oasis. The garden—which abuts two other neighborhood gems: the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park—was founded in 1910 and features hundreds of types of flora, laid out over 52 acres. Each spring, crowds descend on the space for the Sakura Matsuri Festival, during which hundreds of trees bloom along the Cherry Esplanade.
Nothing offers a thrilling jolt of Brooklyn nostalgia quite like a ride on the Cyclone. The roller coaster dates to 1927, when Coney Island was a booming seaside resort, but shuttered for six years starting in 1969, marking one of many troubled economic periods for the ’hood. Aside from grabbing a beer and hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, riding the Cyclone is the thing to do at Coney Island on a lovely summer day.
BAM, which showcases local and out-of-town companies, is one of New York’s most prominent cultural institutions. The Howard Gilman Opera House, with its Federal-style columns and carved marble, is a beautiful dance venue. Each fall, BAM’s Next Wave Festival highlights established and experimental dance groups; in the spring, there’s an assortment of African and modern dance and ballet.
See a living re-creation of the Pacific coastline, and catch sight of various East River Species, plus some truly awesome sharks and sea jellies. Visit the newest addition making a splash in the Sea Cliffs exhibit; a California sea lion pup was born over the summer to mom Clarice. Fantasize about extending your summer as you visit Glover's Reef, a 150,000-gallon tank stocked with 35 species—give or take—of marine life from the coast of Belize, including jawfish and moray eels.
Located in a former military residence on the grounds of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this small museum chronicles the mighty history of the former shipbuilding center—which, at its peak during World War II, employed close to 70,000 people. Permanent exhibits examine the yard’s origins and significance throughout history; for example, a number of massive vessels, including the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor and the Pearl Harbor casualty USS Arizona, were built at the Navy Yard.