Famous for its youthful culture and hard-knock attitude, Brooklyn has transformed in the past two decades into, as Alec Baldwin put it, “where everything new and exciting seems to be.” Artists, fashion designers and even investment bankers have descended on the borough for its range of attractions, proving that it’s a worthy place for anyone to explore when visiting New York City.
Yet Manhattan residents and tourists alike often forget that Brooklyn used to be its own city. Encapsulating 70 square miles (and 2.6 million people), it has numerous neighborhoods and personalities. To get a sense of the borough overall, it’s best to concentrate, as we have here, on just a few areas. This daylong itinerary takes you from Brooklyn Heights to Boerum Hill and beyond, making for a perfect day of eating, shopping and museum-hopping in New York City’s hippest borough.
Before crossing the bridge, begin your morning like a real New Yorker and head first to the Financial District — you’ll be skipping work, though, and instead savoring breakfast.
We’re partial to the Blue Ribbon Federal Grill (84 William St.), a spacious, streamlined restaurant owned by the Bromberg brothers. The duo’s original Blue Ribbon Brasserie, in SoHo, has been a popular chef hangout since the early ’90s, and when the best chefs in the world like the food, you know you’re in good hands. Try the classic Blue Ribbon Breakfast, with two eggs, bacon or chicken sausage, home fries and toast, or eat like a local with the Smoked Scramble, with lox, trout roe and rye croutons. (If breakfast isn’t in your plans, the restaurant also serves dinner.)
Now you’re ready for the 1.1-mile walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Follow Google Maps’ handy directions to the pedestrian bridge at Park Row and Centre Street, then get ready to people-watch: You’ll see folks walking briskly to work, biking for fun and even selling bags of mango slices. Remember to turn around and look back on the gorgeous Manhattan skyline as you make your way across.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, head northwest through Cadman Plaza Park back under the bridge and toward the East River. Your destination is Jane’s Carousel (Old Dock St.), a 48-carved-horse wooden carousel built in 1922, which is almost as stunning as the view of Manhattan from this vantage point.
After all those selfies, it’s time for a break. Head to the FEED Shop and Café (55 Water St.), about a block away, for a cappuccino and a pretzel croissant, sourced from Manhattan’s renowned City Bakery. Then wander around the FEED shop itself, a lifestyle brand started by Lauren Bush Lauren, the granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush, for trendy totes and home goods. For each item sold in the café and shop, FEED provides school meals to at-risk students internationally.
Next, wander south along the greenway of Brooklyn Bridge Park (334 Furman St.). Amid greenery, find soccer fields, a roller rink, basketball courts and artisanal food like Ample Hills ice cream. If you’re visiting between June and August, take out a free kayak from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse at Pier 2 and spend some time working up your appetite for lunch.
After you’re back on solid ground, walk east on Atlantic Avenue and stop in to French Louie (320 Atlantic Ave.) for a trendy bistro lunch at this Boerum Hill delight. If it’s warm enough, sit outside in the charming garden; otherwise the cozy inside tables will do quite nicely. Enjoy traditional dishes like steak frites as well as less-common but equally delicious soccas, chickpea flatbreads that come topped with tuna nicoise or roasted beets and lemon yogurt.
Now it’s time to shop on Atlantic Avenue, home to some of the best boutiques in New York City. Don’t miss Meg (358 Atlantic Ave.) for locally made women’s clothing and Kaight (382 Atlantic Ave.) for eco-fashion staples. For fine art and textiles, visit Collier West (377a Atlantic Ave.) and the Primary Essentials (372 Atlantic Ave.) for distinctive gifts and special objects. Foodies will want to stop at Sahadi’s (187 Atlantic Ave.), a Middle Eastern specialty store turned James Beard Award-winning international foods palace. Find that black sesame paste you need for a recipe or simply gawk at the delicious prepared sauces and pita breads.
If your shopping spree is just getting started, head to Smith and Court streets, parallel thoroughfares lined with dozens of unique shops, like the cutting-edge clothing shop Bird (220 Smith St.) and Modern Anthology (123 Smith St.), which offers hip men’s clothing as well as home goods.
Next, head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (30 Lafayette Ave.), a historic performing arts center that now also shows movies throughout the day. Erected at the turn of the 20th century, the building itself is worth a closer look, with its grand stained-glass windows on the second floor. You’ll find the latest blockbusters as well as indie film options, plus a stellar snack bar with treats from The Chocolate Room, a local dessert café.
Whether you’ve shopped the afternoon away or taken in a great film, head next to Grand Army (336 State St.) for cocktails and oysters. The snug, trendy craft cocktail bar also features an array of seafood snacks like king crab legs and arctic char; even the bread and butter is served with seaweed-and-herb butter.
Once recharged, walk along Flatbush Avenue toward Grand Army Plaza. The busy street is loud, but shops like BKLYN Larder (228 Flatbush Ave.), for chocolate and other local goodies, make it worth the hustle, as does the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway), your target. Spend the afternoon enjoying the museum’s many outstanding exhibits, including Judy Chicago’s permanent piece, “The Dinner Party,” a massive — and massively popular — installation celebrating the achievements of notable women throughout history.
The museum sits next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (900 Washington Ave.) and the Brooklyn Public (380 Washington Ave.), two of the borough’s most memorable destinations. Lounge among the flowers, if the season allows, or admire some great architecture.
After all of that sightseeing, treat yourself to an award-winning dinner. Michelin-starred Claro (284 Third Ave.) specializes in Oaxacan fare with a farm-to-table twist, like its mole rojo with heritage pork cheek, pears and apples, and spicy greens. The hip, warm interior will welcome guests off the somewhat-industrial streets of Gowanus, making you feel as if you’ve truly discovered a gem in a gentrifying area.
If you’re not in the mood for Mexican food, try one of Brooklyn’s best Italian restaurants, Al Di La Trattoria (248 Fifth Ave.). The comfy Park Slope space will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into the living room of husband-and-wife owners Emiliano Coppa and Anna Klinger, and chef Klinger’s housemade pasta will transport you straight to northern Italy.
Before you retire at your hotel, it’s time for a celebratory drink, Brooklyn-style. Barely Disfigured (257 Smith St.) in Cobble Hill flaunts a meticulously lettered sign on its window that states, “This is not a brothel,” a nod to the building’s history as, you guessed it, a house of ill repute. The drinks follow a theme here, with names like The Harlot’s Progress (Laphroaig, Carpano Antica, blackberry liqueur, egg white, lemon) and George Washington’s Night Out (gin, kiwi basil shrub, honey, lemon). The dimly lit bedroom in the back of the bar, complete with a luxuriously made-up bed and red mood lighting, sets the tone.