If Manhattan is the slick, suave, famous New York City borough, then Brooklyn is its cooler, hipper and quirkier younger sibling. When you spend some time in Brooklyn, you’ll get to know its varied neighborhoods, historic landmarks, breathtaking parks and award-winning restaurants.
Be sure to visit the many tourist attractions with “Brooklyn” in their names (the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, etc.), but don’t miss the quirkier places that make Brooklyn… well, Brooklyn. Here are our top 17 places to check out in Brooklyn—a mix of things from the sedate to the unique.
1 Brooklyn Museum – Steinberg Sculpture Garden
The venerable Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway at the northeast tip of Prospect Park. From your first glimpse of it, the century-old Beaux-Arts building that houses the museum will take your breath away.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, this museum features an impressive collection of art from around the world, spread out over five large floors. Make sure you visit the first-floor Steinberg Sculpture Garden to admire the various pediments and statues salvaged from various demolished buildings throughout NYC, including the “Night” figure from the original Penn Station.
2House of Yes
Plan your trip to the Bushwick Collective to coincide with a visit to the House of Yes (which means early evening into night), as it’s not far from one to the other. There is really no way to describe the House of Yes—you simply have to go there. Part cabaret, part dance club, part rave and part circus, it is a place to express yourself as creatively as you can.
The club typically has themed Friday and Saturday nights, and it encourages visitors to dress to fit that theme or, as they say, “dress to express!” Other nights, it recommends that you wear whatever makes you feel “fun” and “fabulous.” Sure, it’s not for the fainthearted or buttoned-up among us, but you’re guaranteed to have a night of entertainment you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Have a look at everything and everyone you encounter here—this is people watching at its most intense.
Visiting a cemetery may seem a little out of the ordinary, but Green-Wood Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery. Built atop a Revolutionary War battlefield (appropriately, the Battle of Brooklyn), it sprawls nearly 500 acres. Exploring the cemetery could take hours, if not days, and in addition to the 6,000+ fascinating graves and statues, there are many different types of tours held here.
Be sure to visit the tomb of Jane Griffith, with its carving that tells the sad story of her death, as well as the Parsons’ Pyramid tomb, Boss Tweed’s family plot, the Civil War Soldiers’ Monument and the Historic Chapel.
This historic, red-brick church at 57 Orange Street was founded in the mid-1800s, and its first minister was avowed Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. He helped Plymouth Church become what some called “Grand Central Depot” for the Underground Railroad. Beecher convinced his congregations to help buy the freedom of at least one slave, and decades later, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at the church.
Sit in pew 89 while you’re here—a plaque marks where Abraham Lincoln sat during a service, before he had announced his run for the presidency.
5The City Reliquary
If you’ve ever wondered why people save the things they do, The City Reliquary is your answer. Located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue, this one-floor storefront museum is open Thursday through Sunday. See with your own eyes a treasure trove of city artifacts ranging from New York World’s Fair memorabilia and miniature Statues of Liberty to Jackie Robinson photos (Brooklyn Dodgers #42) and original glass seltzer bottles.
Check out the Reliquary’s “rotating exhibit,” which currently features Crown Heights’ Empire Roller Skating Center—the birthplace of roller disco. The museum also sponsors walking tours and a summer film series.
6The New York Transit Museum
The New York Transit Museum celebrates “urban public transportation” in a decommissioned subway station at 99 Schermerhorn Street. Permanent exhibits include vintage subway and elevated train cars, old transportation signs, scale models of trolleys and work vehicles, a cutaway of a city bus, and so much more. Photos, equipment, art inspired by transit themes—this museum contains all the transportation ephemera you could ever hope to see.
When you visit this museum, ask about the “nostalgia rides,” which consist of vintage train cars traveling to assorted Brooklyn destinations like Green-Wood Cemetery.
7House of Wax
Brooklyn definitely has interesting bars, and the relatively new House of Wax is one of them. Influenced by the Penny Dreadful type object tours of the Victorian period, the House of Wax displays wax sculptures of anatomical structures, as well as “death” masks of the infamous. These are actual remnants of a century-old touring show.
The bar’s cocktail list reflects its theme, separating cocktails into “anatomicals, “pathologicals” and “geographicals.” It also has an extensive array of local brews, if that’s more your thing, as well as appetizer-type food.
Check out the live acts here, but call ahead to make sure the House of Wax isn’t closed for a private event.
8Royal Palms Brooklyn
Chances are it’s been a long time since you’ve played shuffleboard, and you’re fine with keeping it that way. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t visit the Royal Palms Brooklyn at 514 Union Street (must be 21 or older) to rent a shuffleboard court and have some drinks. Crew members will go over the rules of the game and how to play, in case you’ve forgotten or never played before.
This shuffleboard club features two pretty impressive 27-foot bars, where bartenders serve drinks in Mason jars. Order some grub to go with your beer from one of the indoor food trucks.
Smorgasburg has been showcasing local artisanal foods since the spring of 2011. This celebration of food and drink takes place on the waterfront in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Breeze Hill (Prospect Park) on Sundays from April through October. It moves indoors from November through March (locations have varied).
All are welcome at this open-air market, which is held rain or shine and is a great way to taste a variety of amazing local delicacies, including a churro ice cream sandwich and “brunch on a stick.”
Make certain you get here early, as vendors have been known to run out of food before the day is through.
Perhaps nothing says Brooklyn quite like Sunshine Laundromat: a functional, working laundromat with a room of pinball machines and a bar behind it. Sunshine is located at 860 Manhattan Avenue and open until 2 a.m. during the week, and 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Even if you don’t need to do your laundry, stop by for reasonably priced local beers on tap and a chance to play on some mint-condition vintage pinball machines.
Bring coins or use the coin machine—most games are 75 cents to a dollar per person, per play. Engage in one of the board or card games if you get tired from following the pinball ball.
There was a time when Brooklyn ruled the national scene when it came to beer. Thanks to an influx of German immigrants in the 1800s, Brooklyn had nearly 50 breweries in its heyday, but the last local brewery closed down in the mid-1970s.
Enter the founders of Brooklyn Brewery, located in Brooklyn’s Northside, which helped bring brewing back to the borough. You can visit the actual brewery and taste some of its 11 standard beers (ranging from lager and IPA to brown ale) and five seasonal brews (winter lager, pumpkin ale, etc.)
Take the brewery’s free tour to get a sense of the place that (re)started the brewing movement in Brooklyn. Also check out the “From the Cellar” pours for a rotation of unique beer tastings.
12Brooklyn Superhero Supply
Superheroes of all sizes can shop at the unassuming Brooklyn Superhero Supply, located at 372 Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. This “exclusive source for Aardvark Bros. products” has an online site, but there’s nothing quite like shopping here in person. Here, you can choose from an assortment of costumes, gallon containers of “superpowers,” T-shirts, and all the gadgets and accessories you need to fight evil.
And the products aren’t even the coolest thing about Brooklyn Superhero Supply. Find the the secret door in the bookcase. Beyond it lies 826NYC, the local chapter of a national nonprofit that empowers kids to write. All profits from the store go to this worthwhile endeavor.
You’ve likely never seen a farm/garden like Brooklyn Grange, which rests on a rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This 1.5-acre farm has a fantastic view of the city all around, and it sells its organic produce to restaurants as well as through CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and farmstands. It also maintains a network of beehives throughout New York City and keeps egg-laying hens.
Depending on the time of year, Brooklyn Grange offers tours, workshops, yoga classes and farm dinners (which sell out quickly). If you’re in the mood to smell the flowers, and herbs, check out the Brooklyn Grange.
14Brooklyn Heights Promenade
As long as the weather is good, there’s no wrong time of day to visit the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This walkway spans from the Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantic Avenue and was built over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. When you’re here, you’ll likely recognize the location from scenes in assorted movies.
Grab coffee and a bagel, or a hot dog and soda, and find an empty bench where you can soak in the breathtaking view of Manhattan just across the water. THIS is why you visited New York City.
15Môtô Spirits Distillery
Perhaps only in Brooklyn would you find a distillery in the back of a motorcycle shop, behind a graffiti-ed brick exterior (93 Forrest Street, right off Flushing Avenue). The founders of Môtô Spirits were influenced by their motorcycle trips to North Vietnam and Croatia to create their first two rice whiskey products: Môtô Whiskey (Aged and Unaged) and Môtô Jabuka (Aged and Unaged).
Visit the distillery’s tasting room to try before you buy.
16The Bushwick Collective
While the Bushwick Collective hosts an annual block party in early June that is chock-full of street art, music and food, you can (and should) visit the Bushwick Collective’s broad “collection” of graffiti art. Located at and around the area of Nicholas Avenue and Troutman Street, the walls feature “paintings” from a range of local and international artists.
Check out the mural of a church right at the corner of the two major streets. You’ll be amazed by what somebody can create with a just few cans of spray paint.
17Brooklyn Botanic Garden
You really shouldn’t miss the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which you’ll find in the center of Brooklyn. No matter the season, there’s always something wonderful to see within its 52 acres, from blossoming cherry trees in the spring to brilliant fall foliage in autumn. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden features many different organized gardens, including water, herb and rock gardens; a peony terrace; and an orchid greenhouse.
Sign up for a workshop or walking tour here, or just explore nature on your own. And be sure to visit the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, which is home to roughly 350 bonsai trees.
While this is not a complete list of things to do, see and taste in Brooklyn, it’s a great start. You’ll get an idea of how unique this borough and its residents are when you visit these top 17 places in Brooklyn.