My first visit to New York was a whirlwind of the classic highlights - Times Square, Central Park, expensive pretzels and the Empire State Building. I loved every minute of it, but when I got the chance to return to New York 5 years later, I was eager to get away from the main drag and explore another area of the city: Brooklyn.
If you want to spend most of your time exploring Brooklyn, then it makes sense to stay in the area, rather than on Manhattan Island. Not only will you be closer to the sights, but Brooklyn hotels are generally a bit cheaper.
However, depending on what you want to do in Brooklyn, you may find that staying in Lower Manhattan might be more convenient. It’s best to work out where you want to visit and go from there. If you're going to stay in Brooklyn, there are plenty of hotels to choose from.
I recommend the Henry Norman Hotel in Greenpoint or Hotel Le Bleu in Park Slope, but there is also a slew of Holiday Inns and Hiltons if you want something affordable.
We stayed in Lower Manhattan, where it’s straightforward to get over to Brooklyn via the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Walking over this iconic bridge is one of the top tourist activities in New York, but sadly this is as far as many visitors get into Brooklyn itself. It took us about 20 minutes to walk from our hotel to Brooklyn Bridge, and we even stopped in for a unique unicorn ice cream at Taiyaki on the way!
The best time to walk the bridge is dusk when the sun is setting, giving you spectacular views of the Hudson and Manhattan skyline, tinged with orange in the twilight. Arriving on the other side, you’ll come to the neighbourhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), full of tiny restaurants and parks. It’s a great place to spend the evening.
DUMBO is a brilliant spot to taste your first Brooklyn pizza – think vast slices of pizza that you can fold in half to eat! I loved Front Street Pizza, just a few minutes walk from the bridge, where you can buy by the slice.
Nearby, you’ll find Grimaldi’s, which is popular with tourists from Manhattan and its sister restaurant Juliana’s, both serving up delicious Brooklyn pizza. If you want to try a white pie instead, I’ve been assured that Dellarocco’s, just around the corner in Brooklyn Heights, has all the locals talking.
Heading up to north Brooklyn, you’ll enter the neighbourhood of Williamsburg, a hipster district famous for offices in old factory buildings and trendy hole-in-the-wall bars. In the area by the Williamsburg Bridge, we came across Smorgasburg, a large food market that sets up shop each weekend throughout the summer.
Here, you can enjoy delicious food from around the globe, including Ethiopian coffee, fresh fish tacos and pan-fried Taiwanese dumplings, while enjoying spectacular views across the Hudson to Manhattan. You’ll want to spend most of your day here. Come for lunch and take a wander through the streets of Williamsburg before returning for an early dinner and try something you had your eye on earlier, before getting the train back to the city.
You can’t visit Brooklyn without grabbing a bagel. If you’re up in Williamsburg, drop into The Bagel Store, home of the original Rainbow Bagel. You might love it or hate - but you can’t deny that it’s unusual! For a more traditional bagel, try one of Brooklyn’s many Jewish bakeries like Bergen Bagels.
The weather was beautiful, so we hopped on the subway and headed to Coney Island to spend the day at the beach. I loved it here, and you would have a great day whatever the weather. When you arrive, the first thing you’ll see outside of the subway station is Nathan’s Hotdogs, the world-famous hot dog hangout that has been feeding Coney Island since 1916.
The queues were long, but we decided to commit and 45 minutes later we were at the front of the line, ordering a couple of hot dogs, a corndog and some onion rings. I’m not the biggest fan of American hot dogs, so this was just for the novelty of being at Nathan’s, but when we sat down to eat, I was surprised that the food was genuinely delicious, especially the sausages.
Tummies full, we walked along the boardwalk into the maze of rides and arcades, stopping for a quick game of skeeball before arriving at the Wonder Wheel. Built in 1920, The Wonder Wheel of Coney Island has a perfect safety record – I looked into this pretty carefully before stepping aboard!
Like a regular Ferris wheel, the Wonder Wheel has several cars fixed on the outer rim, but it also has several inside cars, which slide around, backwards and forwards, as the wheel turns. We got into one of these sliding cars and soared into the sky. The view from the top is incredible. We could see all the skyscrapers of Manhattan as well as the entire boardwalk and most of Brooklyn. I won’t lie, it’s pretty scary but great fun nonetheless!
Once we’d had our fill of the rides, we walked along the seafront to Brighton Beach, passing Brooklyn Aquarium on the way. We didn’t stop in, but it looked perfect for families. Next, we hopped back on the subway to Lower Manhattan, exhausted after a day exploring Coney Island.
Another highlight of my trip was the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in Prospect Park. I would encourage everyone to visit the gardens, whether or not you arrive during their famous cherry blossom season. There’s always something beautiful in flower – roses in winter, magnolias in spring and water lilies in summer, as well as orchids all year long.
We arrived just as the cherry blossom was beginning to flower, so were able to take some beautiful photos. Although the cherry blossom was the main draw for me, I was blown away by the Magnolia Plaza, with its gorgeous clouds of white and pale pink flowers. You can also wander through the pavilions, each with a different climate, seeing arid desert plants and tropical rainforest blooms.
After enjoying the lush gardens, we headed to Tom’s, a small diner nearby, for a big late breakfast. Tom’s is a Brooklyn institution, famous for its friendly service and enormous portions of food. Sure enough, when our plates of cinnamon pancakes, bacon and orange juice arrived, I felt like my eyes had been a bit bigger than my stomach!
The pancakes were fantastic – they came with differently flavoured jars of butter and bacon, to stop it all from getting too sweet! At the end of our meal, my boyfriend tried a Brooklyn egg cream. It sounds disgusting, but it doesn’t involve eggs or cream, just milk, carbonated water and chocolate syrup. Invented by the Eastern European community in Brooklyn, it’s famous and, as my boyfriend assured me, delicious. I’m not so sure!
Tom’s is only a stone's throw from the Brooklyn Museum, an art museum that is bigger than most of the ones in Manhattan. The museum displays local artists as well as artwork from all over the world. It’s well worth a wander (and a godsend if it starts raining while you’re in the Botanical Gardens!). They also have lots of temporary exhibits – there was a fascinating David Bowie display when we visited.
Our time in Brooklyn was brilliant – delicious food, pretty architecture and lots of fun at Coney Island and the Botanic Gardens. I love that Brooklyn has been shaped by New York’s colourful history and especially its immigrants. It's incredibly diverse.
I recommend that you add Brooklyn to your agenda if you’re visiting New York – particularly if you've have already explored Manhattan. It’s a brilliant way to experience the alternative Big Apple.
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