51 Can’t Miss, Free, Amazing Things to Do in Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn, NY, is Manhattan’s neighbor, but a notable borough in its own right. If it were its own city, it would be the third-most populous one in the country.

And every neighborhood in the city wants to be the next Williamsburg (at least until the L train shuts down).

Must see Brooklyn Attractions

1. Brooklyn Bridge

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Though the Brooklyn Bridge is no longer the largest suspension bridge in the world, it’s still an iconic NYC landmark.

More than 100,000 cars pass between the Gothic towers every day. While the pedestrians and sightseers on the upper walkway number in the thousands.

Whether you’re traveling by car, bike or foot, you’ll get spectacular views of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights.

2. Prospect Park

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—the visionary designers behind Central Park. Prospect Park offers Brooklynites a chance to get back in touch with nature.

Soak up the sunshine in the sprawling Long Meadow. You can take a guided hike to forage for wild herbs. Or explore the Ravine, one of the few remaining indigenous forests in the city.

3. Brooklyn Museum

One of Kings County’s preeminent cultural institutions; this 560,000-square-foot venue made history as the first American museum to exhibit African objects as artwork.

In addition to more than 4,000 items in the Egyptian holdings, museumgoers can scope pieces by Cézanne, Monet, and Degas. Plus an entire center devoted to feminist art.

The venue is the permanent home of Judy Chicago’s massive installation The Dinner Party.

4. Brooklyn Flea

This market has elevated the vintage-shopping experience, setting a new standard for both goods and food vendors, and emphasizing local purveyors where possible.

Its mini-empire now includes markets in Williamsburg and DUMBO, as well as two food-focused Smorgasburg outposts. When temperatures plunge, the fest moves to the vast warehouse space of Industry City in Sunset Park.

It’s as good a people-watching spot as you’ll find plenty of established and wanna-be designers mill about. And the eats alone are worth the trip. Vendors change each weekend, so check the website the Friday before doors open to see who’s selling.

5. Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Those searching for a little peace and quiet would do well to spend a few hours at this verdant oasis. The garden, which abuts two other neighborhood gems—The Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park.

The park was founded in 1910 and features hundreds of types of flora, laid out over 52 acres. Each spring, crowds descend on the space for the Sakura Matsuri Festival, during which hundreds of trees bloom along the Cherry Esplanade.

6. Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Promenade

In order to mollify the residents of Brooklyn Heights, city planner Robert Moses built this park atop the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to muffle the street noise when it opened in 1950.

Today, you might forget that traffic is moving along beneath you while strolling the esplanade. The picture-perfect views of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty are admittedly distracting.

7. Coney Island Cyclone

This historic wooden coaster dates back to 1927, during Coney Island’s glory days. Now a national historic landmark and part of the new Luna Park, the Cyclone still thrills riders every spring and summer.

After you’ve gotten your fill of the amusement park, don’t forget to grab a beer and hot dog from the original Nathan’s Famous.

8. Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

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BAM, which showcases local and out-of-town companies, is one of New York’s most prominent cultural institutions. The Howard Gilman Opera House, with its Federal-style columns and carved marble, is a beautiful dance venue.

Each fall, BAM’s Next Wave Festival highlights established and experimental dance groups; in the spring, there’s an assortment of African and modern dance and ballet.

9. New York Aquarium

See a living re-creation of the Pacific coastline, and catch sight of various East River Species.Plus some truly awesome sharks and sea jellies. Visit the newest addition making a splash in the Sea Cliffs exhibit; a California sea lion pup was born over the summer to mom Clarice.

Fantasize about extending your summer as you visit Glover’s Reef, a 150,000-gallon tank stocked with 35 species. This also includes marine life from the coast of Belize, including jawfish and moray eels.

10. BLDG 92

Located in a former military residence on the grounds of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This small museum chronicles the mighty history of the former shipbuilding center.

Which, at its peak during World War II, employed close to 70,000 people. Take a deep dive into the area’s history from Native American origins to the Industrial Revolution at the museum’s permanent exhibit or board a weekend bus tour of the 300-acre yard.

11. Brooklyn Bridge Park

Unlike the sprawling meadows of Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park wasn’t built to replicate the area’s serene natural environment.

Instead, the park transformed a defunct shipping and storage complex into an urban playground complete with terraces, picnic areas, and athletic fields. Don’t leave without a ride on Jane’s Carousel, the park’s beautifully restored 1920’s merry-go-round.

12. Brooklyn Historical Society

Founded in 1863, the society is located in a landmark four-story Queen Anne–style building. It houses numerous permanent and ongoing exhibits, including “It Happened in Brooklyn,” highlighting local links to crucial moments in American history.

A major photo and research library—featuring historic maps and newspapers, notable family histories.

13. Brooklyn Children’s Museum

When it was founded in 1899, the BCM was the country’s first museum specifically made for children. Today it’s one of the most comprehensive, with a permanent collection of 30,000 objects, including musical instruments, masks, dolls, and fossils.

Kids have fun while learning (sneaky!) at interactive exhibits like “World Brooklyn,” a pint-size cityscape lined by faux stores.

14. Green-Wood Cemetery

Founded in 1838 as a rural cemetery in Greenwood Heights. This site was inspired by the Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Having vied with Niagara Falls as New York State’s greatest tourist attraction, it gained landmark status in 1966.

But there’s more to do here than grave-spot: Check out the massive Gothic arch at the main entrance or climb to the top of Battle Hill, a pivotal spot during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

Must See Live Music Places in Brooklyn

15. Music Hall of Williamsburg

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When, in 2007, the local promoter Bowery Presents found itself in need of a Williamsburg outpost, it gave the former Northsix a face-lift and took over the bookings.

This is basically a Bowery Ballroom in Brooklyn, and hipsters flock here to get their indie fix. Shows from family-friendly performers are rare but are booked on occasion.

16. Baby’s All Right

This eatery, bar, and stage are located on a happening little Williamsburg strip. It has already become a local musical institution in a few short years, with its lively schedule of musical acts.

17. Saint Vitus

Once a mainstay of NYC’s downtown scene, true rock & roll clubs feel like a dying breed in the post-Giuliani era. But this Greenpoint drinkery—moodily decorated with all-black walls and dead roses hanging above the bar—reinvigorates the tradition with a New Brooklyn twist.

Rock fiends make the pilgrimage to satisfy a yearning for Marshall amps and screaming guitar riffs. When there’s no show in the back room, the front bar serves as a sleek clubhouse for drinkers who prefer Black Sabbath to Lady Gaga as a boozing soundtrack.

18. BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! (at the Prospect Park Bandshell)

Thanks to Celebrate Brooklyn!, the Prospect Park Bandshell is to Brooklynites what Central Park SummerStage is to Manhattan residents.

The place to hear great music in the great outdoors. Huge names routinely perform here, from indie-rock royalty to hip-hop and soul veterans.

19. National Sawdust

Williamsburg isn’t quite dead yet. Or that’s the claim implicit in new-music venue National Sawdust, which opened in October 2015.

Space can accommodate 170 people seated or 350 standing and includes two bars and a restaurant helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Patrick Connolly.

While the brick building’s exterior remains, Brooklyn design studio Bureau V completely rebuilt its interior with an eye toward presenting both acoustic and electric music.

20. Silent Barn

A genuine DIY haven, Silent Barn—relocated to Bushwick years ago from previous digs now occupied by Trans Pecos.

This is one of those underground art strongholds that usually gets bought out by an enterprising sort. But happily, the Barn persists in its raw form, hosting noise purveyors, avant-rockers and all sorts of other peculiar visionaries, some of whom live on site.

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21. The Bell House

For night owls who equate clubs on desolate streets with hipness, the Bell House has your number. But this Gowanus bar and music venue is worth the bleak trek.

The sprawling spot’s two bars—one nestled in an ornate front room, the other in the rear performance space—provide plenty of drinking options.

Skip toxic cocktails in favor of one of 12 beers on tap—from Anchor Steam to Smuttynose—or a taste of more than 20 bourbons.

A can’t-miss drinking destination the Bell House is not. But if a band draws you in, stick to a Booker’s and you’ll do fine.

22. Roulette

An imperishable part of New York’s notorious downtown scene of the 1980s and an MVP venue even now.

Roulette packed its bags in the spring of 2011 and decamped to Brooklyn, where it set up shop in a lavishly refurbished Art Deco theater.

23. Issue Project Room

Currently, in a state of elegant dilapidation, this stately former bank building is the home of experimental-music bastion Issue Project Room.

24. Brooklyn Bowl

This bowling alley and live-music venue fully embrace the new mania for local nostalgia. Space takes its design cues from Coney Island with old freak-show posters and carnival-game relics.

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All of the beer sold inside—by Sixpoint, Kelso and the Brooklyn Brewery—is made in the borough. This is a great place to kill a few hours with a big rowdy group: You can tackle a pitcher and the stoner-food menu from the Blue Ribbon team lakeside between frames.

The plush tufted couches are the most luxurious alley seating we’ve ever seen.

25. Brooklyn Bazaar

After being ousted from its Greenpoint warehouse home in June of 2015, the crowd-pleasing pop-up market reopened inside a sprawling banquet hall in the same nabe the following summer.

Modeled after eclectic Asian street markets, the flea features a locally-focused lineup of artists, craftspeople, food vendors and, yes, indie-rock talent.

26. Knitting Factory

The Knitting Factory finds its latest incarnation in Williamsburg (previous NYC locations include Soho and Tribeca). A medium-size space divided in two by a huge glass window.

There’s a low-lit bar in the front and an even dimmer stage in the back. The sound is great, the bookings even better.

Best Art Galleries in Brooklyn

27. American Medium

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American Medium founders Daniel Wallace, Travis Fitzgerald, and Josh Pavlacky opened this proper exhibition space in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2014. With an eye towards showcasing young emerging artists working in all mediums.

28. Art in General

Originally founded in 1981 by artists Martin Weinstein and Teresa Liszka, this non-profit was a stalwart of the Downtown art scene.

For more than three decades before moving in January 2016 to its current location in Brooklyn, bringing its program of exhibitions, artist residencies and commissioned projects to a flexible ground-floor space in Dumbo.

29. CLEARING

This space with an all-caps name is the New York branch of a gallery in Brussels, Belgium, and like the home office.

The Brooklyn shop focuses on contemporary art by an international roster of young emerging artists with up-to-the-minute sensibilities.

30. Luhring Augustine Bushwick

The Brooklyn branch of the powerhouse gallery founded in 1985 by co-owners Lawrence R. Luhring and Roland J. Augustine is notable for being the only blue-chip operation of its kind in Bushwick.

Like the home office in Chelsea, Luhring Augustine Bushwick presents work by some of the leading names in contemporary art.

31. Microscope Gallery

This Bushwick gallery, founded by artist-curators Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti in former auto parts shop in 2010.

Specializes in film, video, sound, digital and performance art (one particular standout in the last category was a 2011 event in which artist Marni Kotak gave birth to a child in the gallery).

Microscope Gallery is also notable for showing the work of such pioneering figures of the 1960s and ’70s avant-garde as Jonas Mekas, George Maciunas, and Michael Snow.

32. 106 Green

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This Greenpoint gallery is actually located at 104 Green Street instead of at 106 Green as its name implies. It’s abbreviated hours—open for only five hours each Sunday–is necessitated by the fact that 106 Green serves as the living room of a ground floor apartment during the rest of the week.

33. Pioneer Works

This Red Hook non-profit, founded in 2012 by artist Dustin Yellin, occupies a warehouse dating from 1866, that was once home to one of the country’s largest ironworks.

With 27,000 square feet and ceilings soaring 40 feet high, space hosts a lively program of exhibitions, installations, performances, artist residencies, and classes.

34. Sardine

Founded in 2011 by artist Lacey Fekishazy, Sardine is aptly named thanks to space.

There’s nothing fishy, though about it exhibitions which features merging and mid-career artists dedicated to art for art’s sake.

35. Signal

This venue originally started out as a studio shared by artists Alexander Johns and Kyle Clairmont Jacques who decided to become gallerists.

They felt that local art wasn’t being served well by the neighborhood’s existing exhibition spaces. Since then, they’ve been presenting young emerging artists from Brooklyn and beyond.

36. We Buy Gold

Opened in March 2017, this Bedford-Stuyvesant space is the side project of Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. A neighborhood resident and also a director at Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea.

Along with partner Aryn DrakeLee-Williams of The Mistake Room in Los Angeles, Bellorado-Samuels conceived of We Buy Gold as a “roving” enterprise that will periodically change locations.

Must Check-out Restaurants in Brooklyn

37. Aska

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Inventiveness—rendering uncommon ingredients familiar (and common ingredients unfamiliar). It reaped Berselius much critical acclaim at the original Aska, which operated out of Kinfolk Studios until 2014.

While the art-space confines lent a Brooklyn scrappiness to its predecessor, the new digs have a moody cool, styled with animal-skin rugs, neat stacks of high-brow cookbooks.

38. Di Fara Pizza

For pizza aficionados, there is no greater god than Domenico DeMarco.

The veteran pizzaiolo has been turning out Brooklyn’s most-famed pies since the 1960s, in a scruffy Midwood storefront that hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades.

The cognoscenti try the classic cheese slices (both regular- and square-style) first, but your stomach is the only limit when it comes to piling on other toppings.

39. Peter Luger

Much has changed in Williamsburg since 1950, but stalwart steakhouse Luger’s remains satisfyingly the same.

The porterhouse for two (or three … or four) is the house specialty: dry-aged in-house and seasoned only with salt and clarified butter.

But you would be remiss not to begin a meal here with the bacon: extra-thick, extra salty and rightfully famous on its own.

40. Lilia

Much-heralded chef Missy Robbins delighted Williamsburg when she opened Italian stunner Lilia early in 2016.

While Robbins is rightfully famed for her pasta (you’ve probably seen the mafaldini with pink peppercorns on Instagram a few hundred times), the sleeper hit is the soft-serve gelato, sprinkled with your choice of toppings like walnuts preserved in lemon syrup.

41. The River Café

Landmark eatery, newly renovated, offering a New American menu & stunning views of Manhattan.

42. Olmsted

One of the newest faces on Brooklyn’s culinary landscape, this Prospect Heights gem is worth the trip for the gorgeous garden out back alone.

But then you would miss the magic that chef Greg Baxtrom (formerly of Alinea and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) is creating in the kitchen.

Be sure to order the guinea hen, prepared both roasted and in a confit, and served alongside umami-rich morels and tangy ramps.

43. Roberta’s

While the team here might not fly by the seat of their pants as much as in years’ past, this kooky kitchen is still creating some of the most innovative and oft-copied dishes in the entire borough.

The pizza remains the crowd pleaser due to its perfectly-chewy crust and addictive topping combinations like the Speckenwolf: mozzarella, crimini mushrooms, speck, and onion.

44. Maison Premiere

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Is it a bar with superlative food or an oyster joint with superb cocktails? It doesn’t really matter once you’re here.

Featuring as many as 30 varieties of bivalves and the largest collection of absinthes in NYC, this regal Williamsburg spot is jam-packed nightly with good reason.

The New Orleans-inflected menu shines brightest with the seafood: don’t miss the crudos or any of the crustaceans on ice.

45. Emmy Squared

Inside the 50-seat, casual-sleek parlor; where overalls-clad Brooklyn moms juggle a newborn with one arm and a slice with the other, and off-duty chefs in snapbacks unload with on-tap rum punch.

46. Pok Pok Ny

A pioneering spot on the Brooklyn waterfront, chef Andy Ricker’s Thai-inspired food is worth the (often brutal) wait.

Those who persevere are rewarded with treats like Vietnamese fish sauce wings: sweet, salty, sticky and utterly addictive.

The grilled Chiang Mai sausage is another favorite: seasoned with herbs and Burmese curry powder, and served with spicy green-chili dip and pork rinds.

47. Meadowsweet

This bright and airy Williamsburg spot serves food as cheerful and refined as its décor.

Under chef Polo Dobkin, the Michelin-starred restaurant cranks out seasonal fare with an emphasis on crisp vegetables and straightforward fish and meat preparations.

Keep an eye out for the cavatelli with braized rabbit, made lush with fresh ricotta and fava beans.

48. Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Three words: Salty Honey Pie. This dessert shop arguably puts Gowanus on the map as a foodie destination, almost solely on the back of the aforementioned custard-based concoction.

Sister-owners Melissa and Emily Elsen excel at almost any sweet they bake, however, and their fruit pies, especially the salted-caramel apple pie, hold their own against the top patisseries in the country.

49. Tanoreen

The unique Middle Eastern cuisine at Tanoreen is certainly worth the trip to Bay Ridge. Chef-owner Rawia Bishara is known almost as much for her hospitality as her stellar cooking.

The menu is extensive, but the mhammara is the must order: walnuts, pomegranate molasses, red bell peppers and spices pureed into a rich dip that goes well with almost anything.

50. The Loft Steakhouse

Upscale kosher destination presenting steaks & creative sushi in a stylish bi-level space.

 

51. La Vara

Run by husband and wife team Eder Montero and Alex Raij, this charming Cobble Hill tapas joint celebrates the Jewish and Moorish influences on Spanish cuisine.

To wit: the menu includes the esoteric pincho de cueta, chicken hearts with fresh herb salad and a lime-date vinaigrette, as well as more traditional tapas dishes like a daily croqueta.

 

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