The best things to do in Brooklyn

Our best things to do in Brooklyn list includes the most wonderful attractions, bars and restaurants in Kings County
DUMBO
Photograph: Shutterstock DUMBO
By Time Out New York contributors and Jennifer Picht |
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A list of the best things to do in Brooklyn can be pretty hefty, especially since Kings County is large enough to be its own state. Chock-full of stellar Brooklyn attractions, fantastic restaurants and bars, there are plenty of spots to entertain yourself in various neighborhoods. Some niche examples, such as the ever-beautiful and lush Prospect Park or Brooklyn Botanic Garden, definitely earn the right to be included here. But we made sure to highlight some hidden gems amid the well-known haunts. From Williamsburg to Red Hook, here are the best things to do the next time you cross the bridge.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Brooklyn, NY

The top things to do in Brooklyn

Coney Island
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Shinya Suzuki
Attractions

Have a day of whimsy at Coney Island

From the turn of the century to the Second World War, Coney Island, NY was considered the city's playground. Years of neglect followed, but the arrival of the Luna Park amusement park restored the area’s lively nature. Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit what has become one of the top New York beaches that offers a range of excellent things to do in summer. From movie nights to concerts and the wild Mermaid Parade, there’s something for everyone.

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Peep the petals at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

icon-location-pin Prospect Park

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 thousands of types of flora, laid out over 52 acres. Each spring, crowds descend on the space for the Sakura Matsuri Festival, during which more than 70 trees bloom along the Cherry Esplanade. But equally impressive are serene spots like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, the first Japanese-inspired garden built in the U.S., and the Shakespeare Garden, brimming with plants (such as primrose and crocuses) mentioned in the Bard’s works.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Have a picnic in Prospect Park

icon-location-pin Prospect Park

Urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who most famously designed Central Park, also put their stamp on bucolic, 526-acre Prospect Park. Amenities like the Long Meadow and Nethermead offer plenty of space to pull up on a patch of grass and indulge in some people-watching, and the woodland expanse of the Ravine is a towering forest within bustling Brooklyn. But we also have to give props to Robert Moses: The controversial city planner was behind some of the park’s kid-friendly offerings, including the zoo and LeFrak Center at Lakeside, where roller skating and ice skating goes down.

Takumi Taco
Photograph: Noah Devereaux
Restaurants

Go ham at Smorgasburg

New Yorkers love eating outside, whether it’s at one of the city’s best waterfront restaurants, elevated rooftop bars or open-air food flea markets like Brooklyn’s famed Smorgasburg. A favorite amongst locals and tourists alike, Smorg features nearly 100 vendors selling seriously delicious and graciously cheap snacks.

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Northern Territory
Photograph: Courtesy Keith MacDonald
Bars, Cocktail bars

Enjoy drinks with a view at Northern Territory

icon-location-pin Greenpoint

Northern Territory is an Australian rooftop bar nestled along the Greenpoint and Williamsburg border in north Brooklyn. Known for its massive outdoor rooftop bar overlooking the Manhattan skyline, the bar features an extensive cocktail menu, including frozen drinks during the summer, and Australian inspired fare, including 'meat pies', 'lamb lollies' and 'chips'.

H3H1FJ
Photograph: RosaIrene Betancourt 3/Alamy
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Hunt for treasures at Brooklyn Flea

Attending an outdoor bazaar is certainly a must here in New York, and Brooklyn Flea is hands-down one of the top flea markets to hit. The market has everything, including an impressive selection of throwback wares and records, which you certainly wouldn’t find in any vintage clothing store or record store in the city. The food selection is also nothing to sneeze at, since the creators also operate one of the city’s best food festivals: Smorgasburg.

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Brooklyn Bridge
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Andrea Schaffer
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

icon-location-pin Manhattan

Sure, the Brooklyn Bridge serves a practical purpose as the means for millions of commuters to travel from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, but it is also one of the most iconic structures in the city. You can walk and bike over it, but beware, the crowds are serious! Go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the hustle and bustle.

twnyBklynParkPiers
Photograph: Julienne Schaer
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Get sporty at Brooklyn Bridge Park

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Heights

Some city parks—Central and Prospect, most obviously—were built to replicate rustic fields and preserve serene woodland. Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, was not—and that’s precisely why it has become so popular in the five years since it debuted. The project has transformed a chunk of the Brooklyn waterfront into an 85-acre expanse; several sections house unique attractions such as Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round, and riverside esplanades with gorgeous Manhattan views. Its latest addition, Pier 2, designed specifically for "active recreation"—sporting leagues, picnics and roller skating—further cements the space as the city’s premier urban playground.

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Spritzenhaus
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl
Bars, Beer bars

Sip some suds at Spritzenhaus

icon-location-pin Greenpoint

One hundred taps dispense craft brews at this massive Greenpoint gastropub, from owner Robert Shamlian (Spitzer's Corner, Fat Baby). The 6,000-square-foot beer hall features a wood-burning oven and a marble bar. Hopped up drinkers can line their bellies with salty snacks, like sausages and pretzels, from a German-focused menu.

Museums, History

Get a history lesson at Brooklyn Historical Society

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Heights

Founded in 1863, the society is located in a landmark four-story Queen Anne–style building and houses numerous permanent and ongoing exhibits, including "It Happened in Brooklyn," highlighting local links to crucial moments in American history. A major photo and research library—featuring historic maps and newspapers, notable family histories and archives from the area’s prominent abolitionist movement—is accessible by appointment. The institution offers weekend and after-school programs for children.

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L Train Vintage
Photograph: Courtesy L Train Vintage
Shopping, Thrift stores

Thrift at L Train Vintage

icon-location-pin Bushwick

This thrift-store chain goes by different names throughout the city—No Relation Vintage, Village Style and Vice Versa Vintage to name a few—but each carries affordable pre-loved goods for both sexes. Don't go looking for high-end brands—think Gap denim jackets for just $5.

Restaurants, Italian

Carb up on pasta at Lilia

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

If a new restaurant is lucky, it’ll have one destination dish that piques food-geek interest and draws New York’s increasingly discerning eaters across bridges and through tunnels for a mere taste. Lilia—the airy Williamsburg pasta parlor that simultaneously serves as the kitchen comeback and solo debut from acclaimed A Voce vet Missy Robbins—has an entire menu of destination dishes; the biggest problem you’ll have here, other than scoring a free table, is picking a favorite.

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House of Yes
Photograph: Maxine Nienow
Nightlife, Clubs

Dance until dawn at House of Yes

icon-location-pin Bushwick

This wild Bushwick spot opened in 2016 and quickly established itself as a reliable way for Brooklyn revelers to wear insane costumes and lose their inhibitions just about every weekend. With exhibitionist parties like “House of Love” and the immersive “Little Cinema” film tributes, along with a panoply of aerialists, magicians and dancers on retainer, House of Yes is constantly inventing new ways to make a night out more than just drinks at the bar.

Bars, Sports Bars

Play shuffleboard at The Royal Palms

icon-location-pin Gowanus

It’s the Sunshine State by way of Gowanus at this pastel-streaked Floridian playground, where shuffleboard revivalists Jonathan Schnapp and Ashley Albert have retooled lido-deck kitsch for beer-fisted millennials. At the 17,000-square-foot game hall, neck-tattooed skaters and fly girls dressed like Miley Cyrus gather over $40-an-hour rounds of biscuit and tang (shufflespeak for pucks and poles), forming a scene that’s as flamboyantly Boca as it is staunchly Brooklyn.

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Brooklyn Crab
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Restaurants, Seafood

Have a fish feast at Brooklyn Crab

icon-location-pin Red Hook

Channeling Maine's minigolf clam shacks, this hulking 250-seat eatery brings putt-putt facilities and seaside tastes to Red Hook's waterfront. Elevated on stilts, the three-story stand-alone restaurant is done up with wharf-themed flourishes: lobster traps, fishing rods, Christmas lights and a mounted shark's head. Gather friends for a round of minigolf, bocce or cornhole (beanbag toss) outdoors. After hitting the greens, grab a picnic table and dig into simple coastal fare, such as fried whole-belly clams with homemade tartar sauce, peel-and-eat shrimp, and steam pots brimming with lobster, Jonah crab and mussels, along with potatoes and corn. Drinkers can sip frozen daiquiris or split a bucket of beer (Corona, Bud) with pals on the open-air roof deck, which boasts clear views of New York's Upper Bay.

Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

See at show at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

icon-location-pin Boerum Hill

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. (The Mark Morris Dance Group generally performs there each spring.) The 1904 Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St between Ashland and Rockwell Pls), formerly called the Majestic, has hosted the work of John Jasperse, Wally Cardona and Matthew Bourne. 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.

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Museums, Natural history

Get cultured at the Brooklyn Museum

icon-location-pin Prospect Park

Brooklyn’s premier institution is a less-crowded alternative to Manhattan’s bigger-name spaces, though the innovative and impactful items found inside are just as important as anything you'll find in the city. The museum, found on the edge of the sprawling Prospect Park, has a large holding of Egyptian art as well as the famous feminist piece, The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago. Works by such Impressionists masters as Cézanne, Monet and Degas are also included in the collection along with with prime examples of Early American Art, period rooms and so much more.

Brooklen Heights promenade and views of Manhattan
Photograph: Michael Kirby
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Take a stroll down the Brooklyn Promenade

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Heights

Looking for a great place to enjoy a panoramic view of everything the city has to offer? The Brooklyn Promenade—a one-third-mile stretch of pavement along the East River—is a favorite destination of residents, tourists and couples looking to make out next to an unforgettable span of NYC’s skyline. Breathtaking views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty are both visible from here.

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Things to do, Walks and tours

Bask in the greenery at Green-Wood Cemetery

icon-location-pin Greenwood

A century ago, this site vied with Niagara Falls as New York State’s greatest tourist attraction. Filled with Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles, Green-Wood is the resting place of some half-million New Yorkers, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed. But there’s more to do here than grave-spot: Check out the massive Gothic arch at the main entrance or climb to the top of Battle Hill, one of the highest points in Kings County and a pivotal spot during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

Restaurants, American

Brunch it up at Sunday in Brooklyn

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Sunday in Brooklyn is open for brunch and dinner every day of the week. The rustic three-story space boasts an outdoor patio, marketplace, private dining room and rooftop garden. The brunch menu includes both lighter bites, like carrot bread with ginger cream cheese or avocado toast with preserved tomatoes, wheatgrass and sprouts, and heartier fare, like an egg-sausage sandwich with potatoes, cheddar and gojuchang aioli, malted pancakes like hazelnut-maple praline and a plate of smoked salmon, pastrami black cod, sour cream, pickled green tomatoes and sourdough.

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