Congrats! You’ve crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. So now you’re allowed to check Brooklyn off your itinerary, right? No way! Fuggedaboutit! In fact, your Brooklyn adventure has only just begun. Brooklyn is a huge borough with so much to offer both residents and tourists. Honestly, the writer Tom Wolfe was spot on when he said that it would take a person a lifetime to know Brooklyn through and through, and even then, they wouldn’t know it all. So consider this Brooklyn bucket list, with its sixty things to do, see, and eat, as your introduction to the best of Brooklyn. I hope it inspires you to devote at least part of your lifetime to getting to know this beautiful borough.
Brooklyn Historical Society
History buffs, welcome to your Mecca. Not only does the Brooklyn Historical Society have a knack for taking topics like the abolition movement and urban health and giving them a local spin, but it also has tons of resources for people interested in researching Brooklyn history. Also check out its DUMBO outpost for an in-depth exhibit on Brooklyn’s waterfront history.
The City Reliquary
This storefront museum has a massive display of “New York City artifacts,” such as subway tokens, paint chips from the L train platform, and fragments of landmark buildings. See all the little things that make NYC so unique.
New York Transit Museum
This museum is actually a defunct subway station from 1936 that houses mass transit exhibits, as well as vintage subway cars, buses, and many more quirky items that tell the cultural, social, and technological story of NYC’s mass transit system.
Weeksville Heritage Center
Before there were the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, there was Weeksville, one of the first communities for free black people in the 19th century. Although much of this community has been lost to time, Weeksville Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving what remains and sharing the history of the community with others.
Harbor Defense Museum
Located on the grounds of Fort Hamilton, New York City’s only army base has the city’s only army museum. As the name suggests, a good portion of this museum is dedicated to describing what it takes to protect NYC’s coastline, but the museum also displays military artifacts from the Revolutionary War to World War II.
There’s no better place to learn about NYC’s maritime heritage than on a boat. Floating off Pier 44 in Red Hook is a 100-year-old wooden barge that carried goods from ocean vessels to the train tracks of Brooklyn and New Jersey in its past life. Today it serves as the Waterfront Museum, educating visitors about NYC’s reliance on its waterways for commerce, commuting, and recreation.
Torah Animal World
The title of Brooklyn’s wackiest museum might have to go to Torah Animal World in Borough Park. Packed inside an unassuming townhouse is the taxidermy of every animal mentioned in the Torah. That amounts to more than 350 stuffed critters from giraffes to camels to tiny insects. And yes, you can touch them.
New York Aquarium
In Coney Island, you don’t have to jump in the ocean to get up close to a shark. Nine inches of glass is all that separates you from sharks and other marine life at this massive aquarium.
Museum of Food and Drink Lab
MOFAD prides itself not only in educating the public about food and our connection to it, but it also describes itself as “a new kind of museum” that encourages visitors to taste, touch, and smell the exhibits. Not many museums can say that they’ll give you something to snack on.
The Met isn’t NYC’s only world-class art museum. The Brooklyn Museum not only has a comparable collection; it also gives special attention to creating exhibits that the public can really connect with.
Bushwick is a haven for artists (for now, until gentrification saps its spirit), and nothing shows off the artistic talent of the neighborhood better than Bushwick Collective, an incredible collection of street art and graffiti that brightens the walls of several buildings in the area. You can easily spend a day wandering through the neighborhood, admiring all the artwork that goes on for blocks and blocks.
Brooklyn Art Library
At the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg, you have access to art on any subject created by people from all over the world. Really—the museum collected over 41,000 sketchbooks from people in over 130 countries! How cool is that?
This is a small museum with a mouthful of a name (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts), but it’s the go-to place in the borough to find thought-provoking exhibitions on the political and social issues affecting members of the African Diaspora.
If you’re a hip hop head, it’s a must that you go over to Bed-Stuy, not only to see this larger-than-life tribute to Biggie Smalls, but also to see the neighborhood that made him who he was.
Coney Art Walls
As if Coney Island couldn’t get anymore colorful, the area’s also home to an ever-changing outdoor museum of street art. Here local and international artists put up murals that keep Coney Island lively all year round.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
What are you in the mood for? An indie film? Theater? Live music? Dance? Opera? BAM has it all and will leave you feeling way more cultured.
How many choirs do you know of that have won any Grammy awards, let alone six? This will probably be the closest any of us will get to hearing angels sing.
Yeah, the live shows are great, but you’ve really got to see this historic theatre’s palace-like interior. You’ll be debating whether you’re in Paris or in Flatbush.
Billie Holiday Theatre
This intimate Bed-Stuy theater uses the power of the stage to share a spectrum of black experiences.
Whether you’re here to see your favorite diva give a jaw-dropping performance or to see the New York Nets lose on their home turf, you’ll never forget your time in this 19,000-seat arena.
House of Yes
This Bushwick nightclub describes itself as weird, wild, and wonderful, but I’m sure after spending a night there, the only thing you’ll be saying is “Wow.”
The Lott House is a double rarity in New York. Not only is it a historic house; it’s a historic house that was occupied by the same family for over 200 years. Although the interior is still being renovated, you can still view it from the outside.
Lefferts Historic House
Another rare reminder of Dutch rule of the area, this 18th century house now operates as a children’s colonial museum where you can learn to churn butter and make candles.
Old Stone House
If you’re curious about what went down during the American Revolution’s Battle of Brooklyn, you should pay a visit to the Old Stone House. This replica of a Dutch stone farmhouse has a permanent exhibit that delves into the Battle of Brooklyn and the British Occupation of New York City during the Revolutionary War.
Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum
This farmhouse holds the honor of being the oldest building in NYC, dating back to 1652. These days, the farmhouse is a museum that details the Wyckoff family history, along with providing insight into what life was like in Dutch New Amsterdam.
Parks and the Great Outdoors
This is Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park. Not only was it designed by the same guys (Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux); they also thought of it as their masterpiece.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
There’s a good reason why tons of locals and tourists flock here daily. There’s truly something here for everyone: various sports courts and workout equipment for the active types, two dog runs and an environmental center for animal lovers, a nearly-hundred-year-old carousel, open space for picnicking, bike paths, adjacent eateries and a museum, not to mention the waterfront and bridge views. My favorite Brooklyn Bridge Park activity is to watch happy couples pose for their wedding photos, because in addition to being one of the most iconic spots in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge Park is also one of the most romantic.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Sitting just above Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade offers you higher waterfront views of Manhattan AND the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
I know, at first glance visiting a cemetery sounds like the creepiest thing ever, but trust me, this cemetery is different. Green-Wood is not only the final resting place of many famous New Yorkers, but it’s also a Revolutionary War site, full of gorgeous architecture, and one of the best green spaces in New York City. And as a bonus, it has some of the most breathtaking views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
This urban oasis is worth visiting in every season. With 52 acres and more than 18,000 varieties of plants in all kinds of settings, this is much more impressive than your typical rose garden.
Marine Park Salt Marsh
Have you ever wished you could be swallowed up by Mother Nature and disappear among the reeds and cord grass? Well, you can live out your swampy fantasy at this Brooklyn nature trail. However, you won’t be alone: the salt marsh is home to 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies, and 100 species of fish. See if you can spot an osprey when you make it to the waterfront on this 1.1 mile trail.
Venice has the Grand Canal and we have the Gowanus Canal: a 1.8-mile long stream of toxic waste that is on the list of one of the most polluted sites in the United States. Some brave (insane) people actually canoe in it, but I think the better activity is to walk around the perimeter trying to guess what horrific creatures must lurk at the bottom of all that sludge.
Newtown Creek Nature Walk
It’s what the Gowanus Canal would look like if we bothered to clean it up.
Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Who would have thought that you can grow 50,000 pounds of produce annually on a rooftop in Brooklyn? Take a tour of Brooklyn Grange to marvel at the wonders of urban farming.
Fort Greene Park
This is more than a nice neighborhood park; it also serves as the site of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, which honors the 11,500 American prisoners who died on British prison ships floating off the coast of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War. Plus the views of Brooklyn and Manhattan are stunning from the top of the park’s hill.
Shirley Chisholm State Park
This 407-acre state park named after one of the most badass Congresswomen to represent Brooklyn only recently opened in 2019. It’s a piece of paradise with wetlands, woodlands, and meadows, and panoramic views of the city.
This isn’t your typical pier—a piece of wood suspended above the water. This pier is a large concrete expanse with plenty of room for a whole troop of fishermen to their thing. For those looking for a more active activity, you can rent a kayak from the National Park Service and paddle out into Jamaica Bay.
Dead Horse Bay
If you think the name ‘Dead Horse Bay’ sounds like an environmentalist’s nightmare, you’d be absolutely right. This small beach has had a long, messy history of being the site of fish oil factories, garbage incinerators, horse-rendering plants, a garbage dump, and now a beach. Unsurprisingly, it’s not doing a great job at being a beach. The waves are constantly exposing nineteenth and early-twentieth century horse bone fragments, bottles, disembodied baby doll heads, and other fascinating junk.
South Brooklyn Ferry Route
For the same price as a MetroCard swipe you can take a mini-cruise around the western coast of Brooklyn, going from Bay Ridge to Sunset Park to Red Hook to DUMBO. Not too shabby for a 40-minute commute.
Contrary to popular belief, Brooklynites don’t all live in brownstones. While you might see a sprinkling of brownstones here and there throughout the borough, you’ll find the bulk of the borough’s supply of this architecture style in Bed-Stuy, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
Victorian Mansions in Ditmas Park
No where else in NYC can you find such a large concentration of big, beautiful Victorian mansions. Spacious porches, gabled roofs, eye-catching colors—the homes in Ditmas Park have it all, and yet no two houses look alike. If your idea of a good time is strolling down shady streets, gawking at other people’s houses with awe and envy, this neighborhood is for you.
McMansions in Mill Basin and Manhattan Beach
You’re playing Russian roulette when you walk down the blocks of Mill Basin and Manhattan Beach, and I’m not just talking about the large Russian population there. Mansions alternate between tasteful and tacky, making for an eclectic walk.
Wyckoff Street Mosaic House
Located at 108 Wyckoff Street in Boerum Hill is a house with a facade that is a work of art. I’m not kidding: back in 2001, Susan Gardner, the woman who resides here, embarked on a project of using colorful scraps to decorate the facade of her house. The result is beautiful and brilliant. You can’t miss it.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
No other NYC neighborhood does Christmas the way Dyker Heights does. For the past several years, the folks in this neighborhood have been going all out, covering their houses and lawns with lights and ornaments. If this doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, nothing will.
Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch
This is the biggest, most impressive public library Brooklyn has to offer. Yeah, you can spend eternity browsing through all the books, but you could also spend an equal amount of time admiring this building’s facade. Every inch of it is packed with symbolism.
Food & Drink
When you think of New York cuisine, what comes to mind besides pizza? Cheesecake! It’s only right that you have New York’s classic dessert in the restaurant that made it famous.
Crown Finish Caves
I kid you not: there is a cave of cheese thirty feet below street level in the neighborhood of Crown Heights. Unfortunately, you can’t tour it but they do offer live music events and, of course, delicious cheese.
A weekend spent at Smorgasburg is a weekend well-spent. Head to Williamsburg on Saturdays or Prospect Park on Sundays to eat delicious food made by 100 local vendors.
Dekalb Market Hall
It’s like Smorgasburg but inside a funky Downtown Brooklyn mall.
Other Cool Experiences
Brooklyn Navy Yard
See for yourself how a former shipbuilding facility has turned into Brooklyn’s new manufacturing center. Take a tour and don’t forget to buy a Navy Yard-made souvenir.
It’s like the Navy Yard but with way more things for you to eat, buy, and pose with.
The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel Rides at Luna Park
Forget the other rides at Coney Island. The only two rides you need to try are the Cyclone, the world’s oldest roller coaster, and the Wonder Wheel, the most scenic ride in the city.
A venue where you can bowl and listen to live indie music sounds like a winning combination to me.
Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
Palm Beach meets Brooklyn at this Gowanus hangout. Rest assured, this isn’t your grandma’s shuffleboard club.
Sign up for an introductory class and be blown away by the process of glass blowing.
Kick Axe Throwing
After an evening throwing axes at this Brooklyn bar, you’ll no longer associate flannel with Brooklyn hipsters. Instead, you’ll think of Brooklyn badasses.
Smith-9 Street Station
You’ve got to see the views from the world’s highest transit station.
Stoop sitting is a classic Brooklyn pastime, where we just shoot the breeze with our neighbors and watch the world from the steps of our stoop. Don’t go randomly sitting on someone’s property; that’s called trespassing. Instead make friends with a local, preferably a longtime Brooklyn resident and have them tell you about the neighborhood.
Props to anyone who completes all the items on this Brooklyn bucket list! Brooklyn is an amazing borough with so much to love and I hope this list has helped you see that. Feel free to share your Brooklyn adventures in the comment section.
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