Let’s get one thing straight: I am a Manhattan Girl through and through. Having said that, I can’t deny that there are things about Brooklyn that I love. Grungy yet charming, the birthplace of Jay-Z, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge…you have to admit you kinda want to check it out. This blog post covers all the best things to do in Brooklyn, including some of my favorite Brooklyn hotels that I’ve stayed at.
I’ve heard other New York visitors comment how they go to Brooklyn when Manhattan feels too touristy. If you are one of those people who need a slight break from the fast-paced whirlwind of NYC’s most popular borough, check out my favorite things to do in Brooklyn below.
The Best Things to do in Brooklyn, NYC
Jump to Section
My Favorite Brooklyn Hotels
Time Out Market
See the Manhattan Bridge and Take “The DUMBO Photo”…
…And Then Explore Dumbo
Check Out the Williamsburg Restaurant and Water Tower Bar
Relax at Bathhouse
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Take a Walk Through Brooklyn Heights
Check Out the Bushwick Arts Collective
Website Disclaimer: I visited Brooklyn in March 2023. Although everything is accurate as of the publication of this post, it is important to remember that prices, attractions, and other things may change with time.
My Favorite Brooklyn Hotels
Arlo Williamsburg (formerly The Williamsburg Hotel)
Williamsburg is arguably the city that has put Brooklyn on the “places-that-might-just-rival-Manhattan” map. It is trendy yet grungy yet urban yet chic, and the Arlo Williamsburg encompasses the rustic vibe that the city vibrantly exudes. It is situated at 96 Wythe Avenue, just a few blocks away from the East River and the Williamsburg Bridge.
The Ace Hotel
The Ace Hotel Brooklyn is a trendy, upscale hotel located in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City. It sits in a building that was originally a bank in the early 20th century. One of my favorite things about staying here was that the subway was right across the street! My room reminded me of a trendy college dorm room – it made it easy to forget that I was in a hotel and not actually living in Brooklyn.
The Box House Hotel
I stayed at The Box House Hotel when I went to NYC at Christmastime and was enamored at the quaint, homey feel. Similar to the Ace Hotel, my room in this hotel felt like it could literally be my bedroom, and NGL, I spent part of that trip pretending that it was. (Bonus: They offer complimentary breakfast to their guests!)
The Best Things to do in Brooklyn
Eat Your Way Through Time Out Market
If you have been to Spain, you may recall visiting mercados and being (pleasantly) overwhelmed with the sheer number of food and wine options all under one roof. I was elated to discover that Time Out Market in DUMBO is essentially the NYC version of the Spanish markets that I love.
The goal of Time Out Market was to bring the best NYC food vendors all together in one building, and it’s no secret that they have succeeded. Some of the standout vendors at Time Out Market in DUMBO include:
- Clinton St. Baking Company, known for their famous pancakes
- Ivy Stark Mexology, serving shareable tacos
- Jacob’s Pickles, serving southern-style comfort food
- Mr. Taka Ramen, offering some of the best ramen in NYC
- Dough, serving featured seasonal donut flavors (in addition to classics like chocolate and glazed)
- Ess-A-Bagel (New York bagels need no explanation!)
In addition to its delicious food and drink offerings, Time Out Market in DUMBO also hosts regular events and live performances, making it a lively destination for locals and tourists alike. They have a rooftop bar, appropriately called The Rooftop, that offers stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, along with the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. No matter the time of day, this is the perfect spot to hit up, making it one of the top spots in the Brooklyn community.
See the Manhattan Bridge and Take the Iconic DUMBO Photo…
Every day, tourists flock to this spot at the intersection of Water St. and Washington St. to get their photo in front of this epic view of the Manhattan Bridge flanked by two matching brick buildings on each side. Not to mention the name DUMBO – short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass – makes this photo all the more iconic. To have the best chance of getting this photo sans other tourists, get there between 7-7:30am (before Time Out Market opens).
If you want to get what is, in my opinion, an equally-iconic-but-slightly-lesser-aesthetically-pleasing photo, head to the opposite side of Time Out Market and capture this shot with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. To get here, I put “Time Out Market” in my GPS and walked all the way down in front of the water (putting in Jane’s Carousel as a reference point will also work). This spot will be less crowded, and you’ll be able to capture a photo with not a lot of people in the background.
…And Then Explore DUMBO
DUMBO is a cute, trendy area in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Bridge that offers a variety of shopping, restaurants, cafes, and photo ops. Below, some of the best things to do and explore:
- Walk along the Brooklyn Bridge Park: The waterfront park offers stunning views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, and it features playgrounds, sports fields, and even a beach. In fact, Pebble Beach has become one of the top places that tourists go to take photos, thanks to the sweeping skyline views in the background (but really, you could get good photos anywhere on the walkway!)
- Visit the Empire Stores: Located in the same building as Time Out Market, this historic brick warehouse has been transformed into a retail and office space that features shops, restaurants, and rooftop terraces with views of the East River.
- Explore the art galleries: DUMBO is home to several art galleries, including the Smack Mellon and A.I.R. Gallery, which showcase contemporary art exhibitions.
- Take a ferry ride: The East River Ferry stops in DUMBO, providing visitors with a scenic and convenient way to travel to other parts of the city.
- Shop at the Brooklyn Flea: This outdoor market, held on Sundays in the warmer months, features local vendors selling vintage and handmade goods.
- Take a food tour: DUMBO has become a foodie destination, with many trendy restaurants and cafes. Join a food tour to taste some of the neighborhood’s best bites. (Or, create your own foodie tour at Time Out Market that I mentioned above!)
Explore the Arlo Williamsburg Restaurant and Water Tower Bar
The Williamsburg Restaurant
I already mentioned that the Arlo Williamsburg is one of my favorite hotels in Brooklyn, and the restaurant and rooftop bar are worth visiting even if you aren’t a hotel guest. The Williamsburg Restaurant serves food all day long, including brunch on the weekends, and has a colorful, rustic vibe that makes dining there all the more special. I went there for my birthday one year and the service was incredible. To view their menu, check out The Arlo Williamsburg Restaurant website here.
- For other amazing restaurants with rustic interiors, be sure to check out “The Aesthetics” section!
The Water Tower Bar
On the top floor of the Arlo Williamsburg, you’ll find the Water Tower Bar. It has an indoor and outdoor section and is appropriately named in the sense that it looks like, well, a water tower. It is decorated with vintage velvet sofas, retro art with quotes and pin-up girls, and the same hanging lights that grace the inside of the restaurant.
At night, the hanging lights pop against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, which you can see outside or through the floor-to-ceiling windows. They offer small bites to eat and a selection of signature cocktails.
Relax at Bathhouse
If you read my Christmas in NYC blog post, you know I am a Bathhouse fan. Depending on what kind of treat yo’self mood you’re in, you are able to book a spa appointment or just hang out in the baths.
If you desire to just do the baths, you can book a day pass and stay as long as you’d like! They have 3 different pools (one hot, one thermoneutral, and one cold plunge), heated marble hammams, saunas, steam-rooms, and more. To book an appointment, spa package, or day pass, check out Bathhouse’s website here.
Bathhouse has an on-site restaurant that serves food all day long, including drinks and dessert. I have tried almost everything on the menu and didn’t have anything that I didn’t absolutely love. Once you’re done, they have a large locker room where you’re able to store your belongings, shower, and get ready. They even have Dyson hair dryers…fancy.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Is there anything more quintessentially New York City than the Brooklyn Bridge? Every day, thousands of tourists and locals alike walk across its 5,989 feet of limestone, granite and cement and take in views of the East River and the Manhattan skyline. Along the bridge, you will see vendors selling hats, sweatshirts, and other NYC tourist memorabilia.
The easiest way to enter the Brooklyn Bridge is via the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn side, and walk towards Manhattan. Once you get off, you will be near Chinatown, Little Italy, and about 20 minutes walking distance from SoHo.
It took me roughly a half hour to walk across the bridge (this includes time stopping for photos). But be warned: it gets crowded, especially during warmer months. If you want to get photos without anyone around, you already know I’m going to tell you to get there early.
Walk Through Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Heights – a rich neighborhood featuring Brownstones and Manhattan views, is fun to simply just walk through. The sidewalks will take you down towards the Brooklyn Bridge Park area, and on the way, you will pass plenty of photo ops, benches where people hang out, and views of the Statue of Liberty. This area is similar to what you would find in Manhattan, but a lot less touristy and overwhelming.
Check Out the Bushwick Art Collective
Bushwick is an up-and-coming area of Brooklyn that is rapidly growing. The Bushwick Collective features graffiti artists from all over the world who have come to grace the city buildings with street art and murals. Seriously, the talent is unreal.
Street art is always changing and new murals are being added constantly. In other words, there isn’t a bad time of year to go if you want to check out the art (but if you go in winter, bundle up! Everything is outside). You are able to pay for a guided tour or simply explore on your own.
The Bushwick Collective encompasses roughly 100 blocks of art. To get here, the easiest way is to take the subway to the Jefferson St. station (L line). From here, it is roughly an 8 minute walk to where the murals start.
Every year, the city hosts a Bushwick Collective Block Party which features local and international artists who have been invited to grace the city with their exceptional talents, along with musicians and merchants. Usually, this event is held in the summer around June. For more information, check out their Instagram (@thebushwickcollective).