Brooklyn would be the fourth biggest city in America if it hadn’t become a borough of New York City in 1898. Its population of 2.6 million – only a fraction less than Chicago – sprawls across more than 30 neighbourhoods in an area bigger than that of Paris. All this is to say, there’s a lot more to Brooklyn than Williamsburg.
There’s never been a better time to explore more of Brooklyn: Citi Bike recently expanded its network deeper into the borough, making it easier to get to less well-trodden neighbourhoods like Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. Dekalb Market Hall, a world-class food court showcasing New York’s best eats has sprung up, and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge makes a case for staying in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan.
For first-time visitors, start with these five neighbourhoods to see the cultural and culinary best of Brooklyn.
Downtown Brooklyn/Prospect Heights
Katz’s Deli is just one of the 40 vendors at Dekalb Market Hall, a large and diverse food court in Downtown Brooklyn. It brings some of New York City’s best bites to one neon sign decorated place. Fuel up on a Katz’s pastrami sandwich, or Spicy Korean Fried Chicken bao with pickled daikon and radish from Bunsmith, and finish off with artisanal ice-cream from Brooklyn institution Ample Hills Creamery.
Then, take the 2/3 subway line four stops to Grand Army Plaza. This will land you outside Prospect Park, aka the Central Park of Brooklyn. In summer, Brooklyn’s famous Smorgasburg food market sets up here and in autumn it’s one of the best places in the city to see the leaves changing.
From the Prospect Park entrance, it’s a 10-minute walk along Eastern Parkway to the Brooklyn Museum – you can’t miss the imposing Beaux-Arts building, the third-largest museum in New York City after The Met and MoMA. The permanent collection of more than 1.5 million objects includes Ancient Egyptian artefacts, the great painters of the 17th to 20th centuries and Judy Chicago’s famous 14-metre installation that riffs on The Last Supper, The Dinner Party. Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, a collection of previously unseen possessions of the iconic Mexican artist, will run from February to May 2019.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is next door – it has a photogenic Desert Pavilion filled with cacti and succulents. In spring, Japanese cherry blossoms bloom.
Spend a few hours eating, drinking and shopping in Crown Heights, a diverse, unpretentious and effortlessly cool corner of Brooklyn.
Barboncino is Brooklyn’s best-kept pizza secret; Caribbean restaurant Gladys serves jerk chicken, curried goat and good cocktails in its light- and plant-filled space (it’s so aesthetically pleasing it was used in the Netflix series Luke Cage); and Catfish is a hip New Orleans-style Cajun restaurant; think jambalaya, gumbo, and chicken fried steak.
Innovative small businesses are sprinkled throughout Crown Heights – don’t miss Café Con Libros, a hole-in-the-wall café and book store, Ritual + Ceremony, a chic, well-curated boutique selling jewellery, ceramics, candles, crystals, textiles and body products, and Island Pops, an artisanal ice-cream and popsicle parlour with Caribbean-inspired flavours including grapefruit ginger, honey-roasted pineapple and spiced rum and raisin.
The harbour-front enclave, a former industrial and shipping hub, has an artistic, relaxed village atmosphere thanks to its somewhat isolated location. It’s not well serviced by public transport but, hey, it has direct Statue of Liberty Views.
Van Brunt Street is a culinary destination in its own right: there’s Fort Defiance, a homely yet hip seasonal American restaurant also renowned for its cocktails; Grindhaus, an eatery with an always-changing American menu; and Red Hook Lobster Pound, serving super-fresh lobster rolls.
There’s also a thriving brewing culture: Red Hook Winery and Van Brunt Stillhouse offer facility tours and tastings. In summer, three-level restaurant and bar Brooklyn Crab has a rowdy atmosphere as revellers fill up on seafood and play competitive rounds of corn hole (for the uninitiated, that’s the game where you score points by throwing a small sack of corn through a hole).
Bed-Stuy’s rap and hip-hop roots – the neighbourhood has bred greats including Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Mos Def – can still be felt today. An 11-metre tall mural of Biggie towers over the corner of Bedford and Quincy and you can walk in the footsteps of music icons at record store Charlie’s Calypso City, which has stood on Fulton Street since 1972.
After a browse at Charlie’s, head east on Fulton and turn left onto Lewis for a meal at Peaches, serving southern specialities such as fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, grits and cornbread. Afterwards, get a buzz on at cosy drinking spot Bed-Vyne Cocktail. Then walk it off with a wander through Stuyvesant Historic District, where the streets are lined with elegant Victorian homes: it’s bordered roughly by Macon Street to the south, Tompkins Avenue to the east, Monroe Street to the north and Bedford Avenue to the west.
If you’re in the mood to shop, there’s a cluster of boutiques on Tompkins Avenue between Halsey and Gates, including homewares store peace & riot and Sincerely, Tommy, a sleek women’s fashion boutique stocking local and international designer brands. Need a caffeine hit? Crocus Coffee is a few steps away.
Bushwick was once a derelict manufacturing area you wouldn’t dare set foot in but artists and entrepreneurs have transformed it into a colourful, buzzing place. At its heart is The Bushwick Collective, a series of streets (St Nicholas Avenue, Troutman Street and Jefferson Street, bordered by Flushing Avenue to the east and Cypress Avenue to the west) with enormous, colourful murals by local and international artists. It follows that art galleries are as common as bus stops here; Koenig & Clinton, Microscope Gallery and Underdonk are just a few.
Beer gardens and gritty dive bars define the Bushwick nightlife scene; The Rookery with its outdoor seating and pub-grub, or The Johnsons with its low-key vibe are the best places to revive yourself. Bushwick’s craft beer game is strong, too; Kings Country Brewers Collective has a large, light-filled taproom. The best eats in Bushwick appear unassuming: homely Italian joint Nicandra’s serve house-made pasta, while Los Hermanos serves delectable tacos in the back of a tortilla factory.