Brooklyn is on the rise and a lot of you have asked about Brooklyn although I’ve decided to focus this post on two of the most popular neighborhoods in Brooklyn for tourists: Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn. I’ve decided to ask my dad, who was born in Brooklyn and remembers the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
After 25 years working in downtown Brooklyn, my dad is here to dish about two neighborhoods of Brooklyn that he knows best. Keep reading for insider tips on the best things to do in Downtown Brooklyn and the best food in Downtown Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is famous for a reason between its attitude, food, and history. That said, not many people realize that the L.A. Dodgers started out in Brooklyn as the Brooklyn Dodgers. There are some amazing hidden gems in Brooklyn that many travelers miss. Even after years working in Brooklyn, I still discover new and diverse things to do in Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights.
Many people don’t realize this, but if Brooklyn was an independent city, it would be the third largest city in the United States. Be sure to visit this diverse borough. This guide is just the tipping point as not everyone has time to discover Brooklyn in-depth, but I hope that it gives you a taste of what Brooklyn has to offer.
- Things to do in Downtown Brooklyn & Brooklyn Heights
- The best food in Downtown Brooklyn
- Where to stay in Downtown Brooklyn
Things to do in Downtown Brooklyn & Brooklyn Heights
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is something that you must do in New York City. It’s a great way to get epic views of Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn. It’s also eco-friendly. Many New Yorkers consider this trip to be a great activity for a nice summer day. If you want to only walk one way, the subway runs back.
Shows by BAM at Metrotech
During summer on Thursdays between 12 p.m. and 2 pm, there are free shows at Metrotech that are produced by BAM. Many great musicians have performed during June and August. Get there early by 11 am, otherwise, you may not get a seat. It’s still worth standing if you get there late! Free popcorn is also available.
Grace Court is one of those places straight out of your New York fantasy life. This alleyway was originally stables dating back to the 1850s, used for the “parking” of the nearby Grace Church. The interiors are absolutely beautiful, however, you can only see them on the internet….
Barclay Center & BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Both venues provide world-class shows including basketball, operas, ballet, and rock. Check their websites since shows change frequently. BAM Is famous for its African dance, so be sure to check the schedule.
Take the insta-famous shot on Washington Street
We kid, but we’re also serious as we know that photography is big. If you’re looking for the iconic shot of the Manhattan Bridge, head to Washington Street (then get a coffee at Brooklyn Roasting Company).
Visit Brooklyn Bridge Park
For great views of lower Manhattan, definitely stop off at Brooklyn Bridge park for that iconic New York photo. There are many fun activities in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, including free films, music, a beach during summer, art exhibits, and other activities. Sometimes, the best things in life are free.
Explore the streets full of brownstones
Brooklyn Heights is famous for its beautiful brownstones. Pierrepont Place has long been my favorite area for seeing this beautiful style of architecture that is very ‘New York’. The brownstones are famous as they were built with Triassic-Jurassic sandstone, which is unfortunately not a popular building material today. One notable feature is the stoop, which any lovers of “Hey Arnold” will love. Stoops was built due to the fact that horses and carriages used to run down the streets of New York–and the streets were far dirtier than they are today.
If you grow tired of seeing actual Brownstones, be sure to visit the “Fake Brownstone” at 58 Joralemon Street. It was built by the New York City Transit Authority (MTA) to hide a subway ventilator system and an emergency subway exit. The building is closed. It was originally build to protect the nearby property values and to keep the area residential. I just learned about it last week from a Brooklyn Heights resident.
Walk along the Brooklyn Promenade
For the New York of the movies, be sure to walk along the Brooklyn Promenade for epic views over Manhattan’s skyline straight out of your favorite movie. At the entrance of the promenade, is a boulder with a plaque marking the site of George Washington’s Headquarters during the Revolutionary War. It’s especially beautiful here around sunset–and at night.
Farmers Market Cadman Plaza
Every Tuesday and Thursday year round, there are stalls of farmers selling farm-fresh products and entrepreneurs selling artisanal goods at the Farmers Market at Cadman Plaza. (Is it truly Brooklyn if we don’t have some hipsters?) This is a great place to pick up fresh produce. During the Christmas season, you’ll find handmade products here.
Take in views from The Empire Stores Complex
From the rooftop of The Empire Stores Complex, you’ll find epic views of the Brooklyn Bridge. You can read more about this viewpoint of NYC here.
NYC Transit Authority Museum
Even if you’re a New Yorker, there’s something incredible about discovering the history of the New York City subway while seeing the original New York City subway trains from the late 1800s.
Even if you never rode the NYC subway, seeing a 1950 subway train is a great experience. The NYC Transit Authority Museum is even located in a closed subway station.
While talking about transportation, at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is a ferry that runs in from Memorial Day through October 31 to Governors Island. The cost is under $5 and provides a fantastic view of Manhattan. Governors Island is a whole new destination between Manhattan and Brooklyn that dates back to the Native American and the Dutch era. All New Yorkers know it for its amazing views and history. This requires visitors to leave Brooklyn so think twice.
Brooklyn Historical Society
The Brooklyn Historical Society is always putting on exhibits that are interesting relevant to the history of Brooklyn. At the time this article was written, they had an exhibit on Jackie Robinson’s legacy. Small but many interesting exhibits.
Stop into Brooklyn’s one and only cat cafe
If you’re a cat lover, you must check out Brooklyn’s cat cafe, where cats ready for adoption come to snuggle you. So, if you fall in love with one of these kitties, they can come home with you. Be sure to make a reservation as it’s often crowded.
Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument
An overlooked attraction is the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Green Park. It was built in tribute to the 11,500 Americans who died in British ships during the Revolutionary war.
When it opened in 1908, 20,000 people attended the opening. It was designed by the world-famous, Stanford White. Definitely, worthwhile if you’re into history.
Where to eat in Brooklyn Heights & Downtown Brooklyn
Brooklyn Roasting Compay
For some of the best coffee in Brooklyn, head to Brooklyn Roasting Company for sustainable coffee that is fair trade (and delicious).
They have a spacious loft with good wifi and nice views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Definitely stop in for a cup although you’ll need to walk around the bottom of the bridge to get here.
A landmark restaurant in downtown Brooklyn is Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue. You’ve definitely heard of New York Cheesecake and Junior’s is where it’s most famous in New York. They have great lunch specials with soup and sandwiches that are very affordable. Be sure to try the pickles. Come hungry. Click for more information about Junior’s!
There are so many great choices along Atlantic Avenue. My favorite restaurant (and Karen’s as well) is Bedouin Tent. Be sure to order the strong coffee (if you can handle it), hummus, baba ganoush, lentil soup, and tabouleh. It’s perfect for sharing.
In warm weather, be sure to sit outside in the cozy outdoor garden. You must try the pita bread, which is super fluffy and warm, and only costs $1. Be warned, it’s cash only!
For the main dish, be sure to order the Lambajin or the Assorted Salad. The assorted salad offers 5 choices including spinach and chickpeas, tabouleh, grape leaves, hummus, and others. Yum. Be sure to save room for the baklava… Between the great food and a garden, what else could you want?
Another favorite of mine is the Yemen Café on Atlantic Avenue. It’s very popular with Yemeni people and their kebobs are definitely worth trying. At minimum, enjoy a coffee here and watch the board games that are often going on…
Although Grimaldi’s is more famous, Juliana’s is run by the same owners who sold Grimaldi’s to open a new pizzeria. There can be a bit of a line, but it is worth it–and it moves quickly. They accept cards and you can also get pizza to-go.
Across from the Yemen Café is Sahadi. This is one of the largest Middle Eastern markets in New York City, so if you’re interested in having a picnic in one of the parks, stop here. They specialize in olives, pita bread, halvah and anything else that you may want.
Damascus Bakery is a favorite of many Brooklynites. It has the freshest pita bread on this side of Beirut. 😉 A great place for Middle Eastern pastries.
A new food place that I can recommend that recently opened is a branch of Katz’s Deli at the Dekalb Food Market. It’s not as cheap as the other options mentioned here, however, the sandwiches can easily feed two people.
There are many stalls in the market for every taste, you can easily find a wide choice of Doner, French, Asian, etc. There is also a large Trader Joe’s, so you have inexpensive healthy food choices. There are tables if you prefer to sit there to eat.
Where to stay near Downtown Brooklyn
Definitely consider staying in Downtown Brooklyn if you’re looking for a place in New York City that is more affordable and just a hop away from Manhattan.
You’ll have great food options nearby (hello to this guide!) and you can always just walk over the bridge (or take the subway) to Chinatown for even more.
For the eco-luxury experience, complete with a private pool with views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, stay at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. Similarly, the EVEN hotel and the Aloft Hotel offer quick access to New York City by subway.
Have you been to Downtown Brooklyn or Brooklyn Heights?
More insider tips for NYC
I loooove Brooklyn Heights and getting lost in the brownstones. Can’t wait to explore more in this area using your guide!
Nice breakdown Karen! Junior’s is a BK institution. Gotta visit one day for the world famous cheesecake there.
I loved Brooklyn. Especially the view from Brooklyn Bridge Park. But I wish I had had mroe time to explore, one day just isnt enough!
Thanks for your post! I used it for our day in Brooklyn. I wish we had more time. Can’t wait to go back one day!
Hi, Is it safe to go to Brooklyn in the day? How about in at night, is it safe? How do you recommend returning at night back to Southside of Central Park area? Looking at going to NYC mid-July.
It is 100% fine to go to Brooklyn as well as stay in Brooklyn. Neighborhood matters like anywhere in the US, so look up the parts of Brooklyn that are interesting to you. On a nice night, you’ll find lots of people out by Dumbo enjoying the sunset. I usually take the subway, but I’d also recommend looking up the ferry across to Manhattan as a different way before taking the subway or bus. It’s very pretty as you see the skyline!
You forgot to mention Two Bro’s for pizza. It’s across from Juniors and has the best pizza I tasted while in Brooklyn. The Hampton Inn on Flatbush was also a good stay. The staff was super friendly and helpful to us first time visitors!