Calling the resurgence of the New York City area of downtown Brooklyn a “Renaissance” is putting it mildly. The revitalization of this area and its neighborhoods has been an incredible undertaking. The fact that downtown Brooklyn incorporates a unique mix of history and culture makes the new and improved downtown even more spectacular. So, if you’re tired of the crowds and prices in the Manhattan area of NYC, jump over to downtown Brooklyn for a visit. In Brooklyn, you will find no shortage of amazing things to do. As proof, here are 20 of the best things to do in downtown Brooklyn.
1. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Start your journey on the bridge that connects New York City to downtown Brooklyn and beyond. The best way to see this hybrid stable-cable/suspension bridge is not to drive across. Instead, to understand the bridge’s majesty, you want to walk across its span. The walk takes an hour to do. As you walk you’ll get a true sense of how this historic bridge has linked downtown Brooklyn to Manhattan Island, helping to create a cohesive NYC.
Brooklyn Travel Tip:
Did you know that in addition to walking the Brooklyn Bridge you can also walk the Manhattan Bridge? Check out my complete guide to walking the Manhattan Bridge to learn more.
2. Visit the Superhero Supply Store
Go west in downtown Brooklyn, past Prospect Park, and you’ll find the greatest inventory of superhero and arch-enemy paraphernalia in the New York City area. The Superhero Supply Store has all you need to save/take over Downtown Brooklyn or even Flatbush. Do you require a can of speed of light, or a gallon of gravity? You’ll find both in the Superhero Supply Store in easy-to-carry containers. They also carry portable black holes and particle guns for villains who need to restock on these essential items. However, walk beyond the false bookcase at the back of the store and you’ll find the true reason for this store’s existence — a non-profit writing lab for school-aged children. All proceeds from your purchases go back into promoting prose for young scribes.
Brooklyn Travel Tip:
Want to venture beyond well-explored downtown Brooklyn? Check out my complete guide to exploring Dead Horse Bay.
3. Stroll the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
A botanical garden in the south of downtown Brooklyn? What’s wrong with that? Despite its metropolitan feel, New York City has its share of places to view nature. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of these. Called “The Oasis in the Heart of Brooklyn,” the 52-acre garden contains more than 14,000 indoor and outdoor plants. Even though downtown Brooklyn can sometimes be cold and windy in the winter, the garden is open year-round. Don’t make the mistake of only visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens on a fine day. There is magic here in the winter, and you’ll find it as you quietly stroll the narrow alleyways surrounded by ancient trees sleeping in New York snow.
Brooklyn Travel Tip:
Not sure how to plan your day in Brooklyn? Check out my complete one day Brooklyn itinerary.
4. Ride the Historic Rails of the New York Transit Museum
Subways and trolleys are an integral part of NYC’s history. You’ll find many of these artifacts in the New York Transit Museum. Located in the southern area of Downtown Brooklyn, inside the long-abandoned Court Street Station, the museum has exhibits on the construction of the New York subway system, the history of its bus fleet, and a collection of tokens that dates back to the 1950s. But the most interesting part of the museum is at a lower level. Here, you’ll find a fascinating collection of subway cars dating back to 1916. Here too, discover wooden elevated train cars that go back to the late 1800s. The trolleys are decorated with fascinating old ads, just like when these cars were still connecting the city.
5. Admire Artistic Majesty at the Brooklyn Museum
New York City is home to dozens of large art museum featuring some of the greatest works in history. One of these, the Brooklyn Museum, is in Downtown Brooklyn, near the botanic gardens. The Brooklyn Museum is the third-largest in the NYC area at 560,000 square feet. That means inside you’ll find a rotating collection of over 1.5 million pieces of art. The works span the gamut from ancient masks and sculptures to modern paintings and ceramics. Make sure you plan a day to see the great art and while you are here, don’t forget to check out the innovative local artists’ exhibits as well.
Brooklyn Travel Tip:
Before you visit, brush up on the history of Brooklyn with a classic coming of age story”A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”
6. Enjoy Original NY Cheesecake at Junior’s
New York City cheesecake didn’t start on the island of Manhattan or at “The Cheesecake Factory.” To find out where the history of this delicacy began, you need to head to the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s here you’ll find the 70-year-old Junior’s and a plethora of cheesecakes to try. These are not thawed slices from a large processing plant. The Junior’s cheesecake is made in small batches mixed for nearly an hour. But be careful: once you taste real cheesecake from Junior’s you might be spoiled for life. While here, opt for a classic option with a slice of traditional cheesecake or get adventurous with a filling like pumpkin.
Looking to explore more of the East Coast? From golfing to beaches and mountains to lakes, we’ve got the ultimate guide to North Carolina with “20 Best Resorts in North Carolina.”
7. Listen to a Lovely Melody at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is not only a world-famous venue. It’s also one of Downtown Brooklyn’s and New York City’s oldest institutions. Its first performance took place in 1861 while the building you visit was opened in 1908. Most likely, there will be one performance, or more, going on when you stop at the BAM. It could be in the 2,000-seat Howard Gilman Opera House or something more intimate in the 250-seat black-box theater. Classes and seminars may also be available when you visit. Check out Bam’s events calendar before your visit to downtown Brooklyn.
8. Sip at the House of Wax
House of Wax in downtown Brooklyn is not like the celebrity-based Madame Tussauds on New York City’s 42nd Street. This museum is completely unique. When you enter to select a beverage, you will be met with waxwork exhibitions of various body parts instead of likenesses of Will Smith. It may be an arm, a face, or a complete torso. Along with live music performances, it’s a fascinating, yet somewhat macabre, stop to have a drink.
9. Admire the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower
Not all iconic skyscrapers are in Manhattan. Downtown Brooklyn has one of its own near Fulton Street Station. Brooklyn’s most famous skyscraper is in the form of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower. It’s not hard to miss the multi-terraced building when you emerge from the subway. The bottom of the structure is similar in design to the Empire State Building. At the top, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower tapers and a clock tower emerges. Even in a New York City skyline filled with modern glass buildings. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower is a shining beacon you should examine for its architectural significance.
10. Browse Fulton Mall
Fulton Mall spans several blocks along Fulton Street in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn. Only a part of this area is in an enclosed space. The rest of the 150+ stores and eateries are accessed from the outdoors. A specialty of Fulton Mall is its mix of national and local businesses and eateries. Among retailers like Macy’s, Apple, and Ann Taylor you will find Colombian food at Arepa Lady, New York-style slices at Bella Pizza, and Bolivian meals at Bolivian Llama Party. Fulton Mall is a location you can come back to again and again for a new experience.
11. Catch an Event at the Barclays Center
While the Dodgers may no longer be at Ebbets Field, there’s still a sports presence in Downtown Brooklyn. It happens at the Barclay’s Center. If you visit during the basketball season, you might be able to catch a game between the Brooklyn Nets and one of their NBA competitors. Or, there might be a concert you’re interested in attending.
12. Walk Through Brooklyn Heights
Downtown Brooklyn is filled with historical buildings. However, one of the largest clusters of structures dating back to the Victorian era is located in the area of Brooklyn Heights. You can take an independent walking tour to see the restored homes of Pierrepoint Place or an organized tour where a guide will provide more historic details. This is also a good time to stop at the Brooklyn Historical Society and understand how the borough grew and changed. Afterward, walk along the neighborhood to the First Unitarian Congregational Society. Established in 1833, parishioners have worshiped in the Gothic structure since the 1840s.
13. Purr-sue playtime at the Brooklyn Cat Cafe
If you miss your cat, or you want to have some quiet time, you want to head to the Brooklyn Cat Cafe. For a signed waiver and a small fee, you can get 30 minutes of purr-fect cat time at this downtown Brooklyn location. It comes in the form of watching kittens play and giving them treats. if you fall in love with a fine feline during your visit, you can start the process to adopt them.
14. Discover Fascinating History in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
In the north end of downtown Brooklyn, you’ll reach the Brooklyn Navy Yard — a historic area that has changed significantly over the centuries. Once the most active shipbuilding facility in the U.S., the Navy Yard is now home to several hundred businesses. You can learn about these changes as well as the area’s history at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center in BLDG 92. Admission to the building is free, so that leaves you extra cash to visit the Tea & Honey Cafe in the same building. In the cafe, you’ll find wonderful views of the navy yard as well as the rest of downtown Brooklyn.
15. Sample Whiskey at Kings County Distillery
Downtown Brooklyn’s is also home to New York City’s oldest distillery — Kings County Distillery. Housed in the 120-year old Paymaster Building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you can sample award-winning whiskeys in their tasting room. Before that, you should take a tour of the distilling facilities to see how whiskey is merged with honey and mellowed to a smooth perfection. If you visit in the summer, you can enter their backyard patio to sip your honey whiskey while dining on BBQ ribs.
16. Practice Sunset Yoga at Brooklyn Grange
It’s not a secret that downtown Brooklyn’s revitalization has been connected to a large influx of millennial-aged individuals and families. In many cases, whole areas of the borough have been transformed into environmentally sustainable areas. One of these is Brooklyn Grange. When you visit this rooftop farm, the largest in the world, you’ll see 65,000 square feet of fruits, vegetables, and herbs being planted, growing, or ready to be harvested. Some of it, including honey from the largest bee farm in New York, are sold during the summer at their farmer’s market. This is also when you have a chance to participate in rooftop sunset yoga among the crops.
17. Dine at Pollo D’Oro
Downtown Brooklyn does not lack for eating establishments. In Brooklyn, you’ll find New York favorites like Italian and Chinese, plus plenty of other flavors from across the globe. This is why your visit to the Downtown Brooklyn area needs to include Pollo D’Oro. The Peruvian eatery is open from breakfast to dinner and serves selections for every taste. When you visit, order hot tamales made with steamed corn masa and filled with meat and cheese. Another choice you might want to try is Aji de Gallina — Shredded chicken in a cream sauce served with boiled eggs and rice. Both are a great choice if you’ve survived on cheesecake and pizza during your visit.
18. Kayak From Brooklyn Bridge Park
Kayaking near Downtown Brooklyn? And under the Brooklyn Bridge, no less? No, you’re not reading wrong. Brooklyn Bridge Park is a 3.5-acre waterfront park with numerous recreational activities. Kayaking is among these. You can spend an hour or so paddling along the east river, then take another hour to stroll along the park’s walking paths. Numerous Downtown Brooklyn eateries dot the area near the park, so you can grab food for an impromptu lunch. In the summer, hang out on the park’s lawn for an evening concert or an outdoor movie.
19. Shop till you drop at Brooklyn Flea Market
Before you head out of town, score some unique souvenirs in the largest Flea market in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Flea. This shopping extravaganza recently moved from DUMBO to the north, in Williamsburg. Visit every Saturday and Sunday (rain or shine) to buy anything from handmaid furniture to vintage Rolex, and everything in between. In the winter, the sunlit internal space is a great break from the chilly outdoors.
20. Relax at Cadman Plaza Park
Located on the border of Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, Cadman Plaza Park is a swath of shade and green. You can stroll along the walking paths or sit on a bench and watch the traffic cruise along Cadman Plaza. Afterward, stop at one of the park’s monuments and learn more about the history of New York City. Two of the most stirring are Brooklyn War Memorial and the Brooklyn Korean War Monuments Plaza.
What is Considered “Downtown Brooklyn?”
When people who live in NYC say “downtown Brooklyn” they often mean the area that encompasses all of Brooklyn’s downtown, including the neighborhoods of Dumbo, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, and sometimes parts of Prospect Park. It is important to distinguish between “Downtown Brooklyn” (a neighborhood) and “downtown Brooklyn” (an area of Brooklyn that encompasses many neighborhoods.)
As a tourist, if you were to only explore the neighborhood of Downtown Brooklyn you would miss many of the significant cultural attractions downtown Brooklyn has to offer.
What is “South Brooklyn?”
South Brooklyn is the area that starts directly south of downtown Brooklyn and encompasses areas such as Park Slope, Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, and all other neighborhoods south of downtown Brooklyn area.