If you are visiting New York City, you should absolutely leave Manhattan at some point! While Manhattan is great, if you want a more authentic New York experience, don’t neglect the other boroughs.
After having now lived in three of the five New York boroughs, I can honestly say that Brooklyn is one of my favorites. (However, I probably couldn’t pick a favorite Brooklyn neighborhood!)
Located across the East River from Manhattan, Brooklyn is known for its iconic attractions like the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island. In Brooklyn you can find some of the finest bagels, pizza, and coffee in the greater New York area.
Full of history, good food, and excellent views, you could (and should) spend more than a day exploring Brooklyn. However, if you only have one day in Brooklyn, here’s an itinerary of all the things you shouldn’t miss! I’ve crammed all of my favorite things to do in Brooklyn into one, walkable day.
Note: This One Day in Brooklyn itinerary includes a lot of walking, so if you are able-bodied, make sure to wear comfortable shoes! (Also wear sunscreen if visiting in the summer!)
How to Spend One Day in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Bridge
Start your day in Brooklyn bright and early with the most iconic Brooklyn landmark! Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorite things to do in Brooklyn.
When I say early though, I mean early. If you can manage to start walking from the Manhattan side around sunrise, not only will the light be great for photos; but it will be the least crowded time of day. The bridge sees over 10,000 people a day so you might as well beat most of them across!
Plan about 45 minutes to an hour to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a little over 1.5 miles from walkway to walkway, but you’ll want to stop for photos and may have to get around other people. As you approach the Brooklyn side, take the first exit stairs you see, which will lead you into the neighborhood of Dumbo.
Etiquette Tip: Don’t wander into the bike lane! Keep to the side with the picture of a pedestrian and if you’re going to pass someone in front of you, make sure there isn’t a bike coming toward you from the opposite lane.
Welcome to Brooklyn! You’re now in the neighborhood of Dumbo, which sadly doesn’t have anything to do with the baby elephant, and instead stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”. Buildings that were once warehouses and factories are now apartments, stores, and art spaces.
You’re probably ready for breakfast, and thankfully you’ve got lots of options. Grab some coffee and a pastry from One Girl Cookie, a traditional NY bagel from La Bagel Delight, or head to Time Out Market. There you’ll find a smaller version of Manhattan’s Clinton St. Baking Company, known for their delicious pancakes.
Dumbo is where you’ll find that Insta-famous shot on Washington Street, with the Empire State Building seen through the Manhattan Bridge. Once you’ve explored some of the streets and shops, head toward the water.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Take in the views of downtown Manhattan from across the East River, and enjoy the greenery along Brooklyn Bridge Park. For those young at heart, you can ride the historic Jane’s Carousel ($2 a ticket).
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Keep walking along the water until you hit the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Admire the view of Manhattan (and drool over the beautiful apartments that look out onto the water), and start walking inland.
New York Transit Museum
Located in a decommissioned 1930s subway station, the New York Transit Museum is actually pretty cool, even if you’re not particularly into trains. The subway system is such an integral part of New York culture, it’s fun to learn more about it. The museum has interactive exhibits and vintage train cars you can step in (and pretend you’re Mrs. Maisel).
Grab lunch in one of the quaintest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Cobble Hill. Try Saint Julivert for seafood, June for tapas/small plates, Oh Dumplings for Chinese, or Cafe LULUc for all-day brunch.
Vintage Clothing Stores
If you’re into thrifting, Brooklyn won’t disappoint. You can get good prices on pieces the hipsters only wore once, sometimes with the tags still on! Check out L Train Vintage on Sackett Street or Beacon’s Closet Park Slope on 5th Ave.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
If you only have one day in Brooklyn, definitely stop by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Visiting this green oasis is another of my favorite things to do in Brooklyn.
Either keep walking east from Cobble Hill, or take the 2,3, or 4 train to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum.
Located on the edge of Prospect Park, this sprawling 52-acre botanic garden is beautiful any time of year; but if you’re lucky enough to visit in the spring, you have to see the famous cherry blossoms. It offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Designed by the same people who designed Central Park, Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s equivalent. Full of woodsy paths and giant lawns, with a waterfall or two, you’ll forget you’re in a metropolitan area.
My favorite section of the park is called the Ravine, which meanders through Brooklyn’s oldest forest. The Ravine was designed to feel like my home region of the Adirondack Mountains!
There’s also a zoo, a carousel, and a band pavilion where you might be able to catch some live music.
Exit the park on the west side and you’ll find yourself in the Park Slope neighborhood, known for its beautiful (and achingly expensive) brownstone buildings.
Park Slope is also home to some really fun places like the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, where you can stock up on Antimatter by the quart, Union Hall, where you can grab a drink while you play bocce ball inside, or Sip & Play, where you can sit down and play a game from their collection of 300+ board games.
You can find almost any kind of food you want in Park Slope. If you’re ready for dinner, try Sushi Katsuei for Japanese, Le Succulent for African and French fusion, or Chela Modern Mexican.
It’s time to finish your one day in Brooklyn and head to the trendiest neighborhood for some more beautiful evening views. Take a Queens-bound G train and get off at Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg. Walk northwest (toward the water) and you’ll have your choice of some great Brooklyn rooftop bars from which you can take in the city lights.
The Westlight is open all year while Lemon’s at the Wythe Hotel, and Summerly at the Huxton, are seasonal. Or grab some ice cream and wander down to Domino Park, a lovely green space that used to be a sugar refinery.
Getting Back to Manhattan
Assuming your lodging is back in Manhattan, you have several options for getting back. The L train will take you under the East River. The J, M, or Z trains will take you above it via the Williamsburg Bridge, or you can take a cab! (See my tips for hailing a cab and getting around New York here.)
For something different, you can catch the last East River Ferry ride of the night (around 9:45 pm) from the North Williamsburg stop.
If you have more than one day in Brooklyn, here are some other highlights that you shouldn’t miss:
- The Brooklyn Museum: This massive (560,000 square feet) art museum is full of collections spanning from Ancient Eygpt to Andy Warhol.
- Greenwood Cemetery: A cemetery may seem like an odd place to spend an afternoon, but Greenwood is a beautiful spot for a walk, with paths through hundreds of acres of tombstones. Take a moment at the koi pond or find the statue of Rex, a dog who passed away over a hundred years ago, but whom people still honor by placing sticks at his paws.
- Coney Island: Perhaps one of the most iconic amusement parks, an afternoon on Coney Island feels a bit like stepping back in time. Take a dip in the ocean, wander the boardwalk, and enjoy an authentic Nathan’s hotdog.
I really hope you spend some time in Brooklyn during your visit to New York! Live like a local for the day and enjoy all this beautiful borough has to offer. (And if you happen to see me on the street, please say hi!)
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