Tips + Trends

A First-Timer’s Guide to Brooklyn: Where to Go and What to Eat in NYC’s Hottest Borough

Over the past 20 years, the origin of much of New York City’s cultural and culinary influence has shifted east from Manhattan into Brooklyn, the city’s largest and most misunderstood borough.

While Manhattan continues to act as a symbol for the city as a whole, it’s Brooklyn that’s supporting a new generation making a name for itself in the country’s most influential food-, drink- and arts-centric city.

Brooklyn’s influx of new attractions and evolving neighborhoods is reason enough to spend your next New York City visit away from Manhattan. Still, it’s the borough’s unique history that makes it such an enriching travel destination.

From the hip streets of Bushwick to the otherworldliness of Sunset Park, as you suss out things to do in Brooklyn, here’s what to see and where to eat and drink.

Sights to See

things to do in Brooklyn
The finer points of Brooklyn history are revealed at the Brooklyn Historical Society. (Photo: Alamy)

Brooklyn is absolutely saturated in history. A great place to get a crash course in local lore is the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn Heights, where you can learn about events like the Battle of Brooklyn, one of the most consequential battles of the American Revolution.

While you’re in the neighborhood, take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, the country’s most famous bridge this side of the Golden Gate. The bridge itself has a fascinating history and forever changed the makeup of the city after its completion in 1883.

Once you’ve overdosed on the marvels of modern engineering, head to Prospect Park for a little time spent in nature. While Brooklyn’s largest park is smaller than Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park’s diverse landscape transports you out of the city entirely, and during the summer the park is constantly abuzz with concerts and movies being shown for free.

Bites to Eat

No gastronomic institution is more closely associated with Brooklyn than Peter Luger Steak House, which opened its doors in Williamsburg back in 1887. Known for absolutely massive, quality aged steaks and service from another era, eating at Peter Luger is like living out Brooklyn’s deep history in real time, bite by delicious bite.

Further south you can find fantastic Chinese and Mexican food in Sunset Park. This incredibly diverse neighborhood, which has yet to experience much of the gentrification seen elsewhere in Brooklyn, has an endless number of incredible food options. If you’re in need of a taco fix, Tacos El Bronco cannot be more highly recommended.

The most renowned foodie find is the dim sum found at East Harbor Seafood Palace in Sunset Park. Is it a journey to get there? Sure. But the outstanding assortment of high-quality dim sum, coupled with an amazing array of fresh seafood, is reason enough to make the trip.

things to do in Brooklyn
Roberta’s has become a must-do in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. (Photo: Alamy)

No Brooklyn restaurant more accurately represents modern Brooklyn, though, than Roberta’s. Once a humble wood-fired pizzeria in Bushwick, Roberta’s has expanded to include a massive garden and an in-house radio station. (Why? Because it’s Brooklyn.)While it’s impossible to go wrong when selecting from their menu, the Nun on the Run and Speckenwolf are two delicious choices you should try.

Venues to Check Out

While Brooklyn might not be the music mecca that it was during the first decade of the 2000s, it still has a number of fantastic venues where you’ll see a great range of local bands and some of music and comedy’s biggest names.

Williamsburg’s Rough Trade Records acts as a record store by day and concert venue by night and hosts shows almost daily. You might not always be familiar with the acts, but the intimate space makes for an inexpensive venue to check out emerging talent.

Just down the street is the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the perfect venue to see all of those bands from your Spotify Weekly Playlist (that you probably don’t quite know) perform. Any indie band you can think of has or will make a stop at this venue, so make sure to check the hall’s calendar when you plan your next trip.

things to do in Brooklyn
Get a fix on the latest in arts and cultural performances at BAM. (Photo: Alamy)

Known locally as BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is the premier venue in Brooklyn for film, theater and comedy. Anthony Bourdain and Mike Birbiglia have both spoken or performed at BAM in the past, and the venue routinely shows the widest range of contemporary movies that your friends, and the internet, are constantly abuzz about.

Bars to Visit

For every great restaurant in Brooklyn there are at least three bars to complement it. If you’re looking for fantastic cocktails, Prohibition-influenced Tooker Alley in Prospect Heights and log cabin–inspired Dynaco in Bed-Stuy are two excellent options.

Both possess robust cocktail programs and are true neighborhood hangouts. Make sure to try the Crown Heights Negroni at Tooker Alley, and for Dynaco, your best bet is to order a classic cocktail or ask for the bartender’s choice.

If you’re looking for a “dive bar meets your grandparents’ house” kind of vibe, stop by Pearl’s Social & Billy Club in Bushwick. The homey space is a favorite place to start or end a night out in one of Brooklyn’s most happening neighborhoods.