What are the Top 10 (or 20) Things to Do in Brooklyn? How Might They Fit Into Your Visit (and Our Tours)?
What’s right, and wrong, with those “Top Ten” or “Top 20” lists of things to do or visit in Brooklyn?
Quick here’s one from TripAdvisor, another from Time Out New York, another from U.S. News and from two other websites.
Well, for people new to Brooklyn, they can be helpful summaries that clarify what many think are worthwhile activities.
(There are also some oddballs in there. The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Bar & Club is a fine—and unique—place to visit, but I wouldn’t put in a Top 20 list. But I'm no longer young. Similarly, Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook is worth a visit, but it shouldn’t be the only thing on your Red Hook list. Yes, I lead tours there.)
DIY or with a guide?
All these attractions indeed can be visited on your own, without a tour guide. However, a tour can add far more context, historical photos, and fine-grained insight to neighborhoods like DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and Williamsburg.
A tour guide can help on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s so crowded it may not be worth it, so I don't push my services.
Even a place like Coney Island, where the iconic boardwalk is free, with views of (in-season) rollercoasters like the Cyclone and Thunderbolt, plus the Wonder Wheel, deserves a deeper understanding.
Fitting things in
The lists also include locations of vastly different sizes. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade (on my Brooklyn 101/202 tours, as well as Brooklyn Heights & DUMBO), is smaller than Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is far smaller than Prospect Park.
Moreover, any list is not geographically conceived, so people new to Brooklyn don’t know how different attractions related to each other.
I always recommend that people aim to visit neighborhoods that are adjacent or—sometimes more complicated to newbies—within easy connection by subway or bus. If you book me for a tour, I can make recommendations, but here's a start.
Clusters of culture
So if you’re visiting Prospect Park, that’s when to also consider the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, all clustered around Grand Army Plaza, which is the park’s northwest gateway.
For those choosing my Brooklyn 101 or Brooklyn 202 tours, which include a stop at the library (if it’s open), we can start or end near the museum, so it’s possible to visit the museum and the garden. (Note: my tours go into the park, but I leave others to lead comprehensive tours of the park.)
The New York Transit Museum, which is not near Prospect Park, is a less-known gem, so I’m glad it’s on some lists. It’s close to Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, so it can be a springboard to my tours.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is central to another cultural cluster in Fort Greene, including three BAM buildings, a theater, and smaller cultural spaces. We can easily start or end near there.
Food and drink
The Brooklyn Brewery and Kings County Distillery are fine places to visit, but there are so many microbreweries in Brooklyn that it’s a shame to limit yourself. In fact, it would make sense to organize a geographic “crawl,” given clusters of breweries in Gowanus, Red Hook, and Bushwick. (Williamsburg, home to the Brooklyn Brewery, does have another craft brewery, Ebbs, in walking distance.)
Many sources recommend the weekend food fest Smorgasburg, which is indeed worth a visit (in Williamsburg and Prospect Park, in-season) for convenience and creativity, though don’t expect great bargains.
Two indoor food halls, Time Out NY Market (in DUMBO) and DeKalb Market (in Downtown Brooklyn), are also worth visiting and can be incorporated into my tours, either within the tour, or at the end.
Some lists recommend organized food tours. If food and convenience are your priority, fine, but if you want to see more things, it’s typically possible to incorporate food into a more comprehensive neighborhood tour.
Taking the ferry
The East River Ferry indeed is a top attraction, given the views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, but I’d recommend it most as a connection between DUMBO and Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or (in Queens) Long Island City, all worth significant exploration.
Some recommend the Brooklyn Flea, which is in DUMBO in season and spawned the even-more-popular Smorgasburg. It’s worth visiting—and can be incorporated into a tour—but is hardly the only source for shopping.
Similarly, L Train Vintage in Bushwick is fine, but, honestly, if you want to thrift, it’s probably wiser to walk the East Village.
Industry City, recommended for both shopping and eating, is a worthwhile destination, but is best seen in the larger context of the nearby Sunset Park neighborhood.
Similarly, if you just want to see street art, go to the Bushwick Collective (and/or take someone else's tour), but if you want to see some of the art in the larger neighborhood context, take my Bushwick tour.
Sure, Domino Park in Williamsburg is worth a visit, but again I'd suggest within the larger context of the neighborhood.
Touring Brooklyn Blog
Observations and ephemera related to my tours and Brooklyn. Comments and questions are welcome--and moderated.