Three times bigger than Manhattan, and with a larger population than Houston or Philadelphia, Brooklyn is a sprawling collection of neighbourhoods.
There’s hip, appealing, restaurant-crammed Williamsburg; old-school amusement park Coney Island; elegant Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and Cobble Hill; emerging, funky Red Hook, DUMBO, Greenpoint and Gowanus.
For tourists, Williamsburg is a sweet spot, with good transport*, food, accommodation and entertainment. And of course, the views of Manhattan are fabulous.
If you’re thinking you can save some money and have a slightly different New York experience by being Brooklyn-based, we agree. Here’s why.
You love food
When New York Times critic Pete Wells wrote his list of New York’s top restaurants just over a year ago, two – Lilia and Llama Inn – were on one Brooklyn block.
Food here runs the gamut from heaving market stalls at the weekly Smorgasburg outdoor food markets (think everything from lobster rolls to kimchi tacos) to elegant Italian at Antica Pesa to Michelin-starred farm-to-table at easygoing Meadowsweet to top chef Wylie Dufresne’s Du’s Donuts.
To find what’s hot, try Eater’s heat map of Brooklyn, and New York Magazine’s Grub Street. The Tasting Table Dine app is also invaluable, with recommendations from respected sources, including The New York Times and knowing local experts such as chefs.
You have kids
When I first lived in Manhattan, a New Yorker commented that the city could be pretty confronting at a toddler’s height … all suit trousers and crowds and nasty smells.
From Brooklyn you can dip in and out of Manhattan by ferry, or ride the subway, but it can be pleasant to retreat home after a day’s sightseeing to less crowded parks, streets and restaurants. Spacious Airbnbs are plentiful, and you can easily order in from some of the neighbourhood’s best eateries via Seamless.
You’re after music and nightlife
Australian cinematographer (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Williamsburg local Zoë White observes that the river side of her neighbourhood has attracted a tonne of new music venues with its big, old warehouse spaces and lower rents.
She suggests the OhMyRockness Guide for keeping current, and lists her favourite local venues as The Music Hall of Williamsburg, Rough Trade (a record store with big back room venue), National Sawdust (a newer, more classical/high-end venue), Brooklyn Steel, Knitting Factory, Union Pool (a small bar with a tiny, fun hall out back) and Baby’s All Right (a crowded, cool, small venue).
There’s also a retro cinema, Nitehawk, with waiter-service food and drinks, a brilliant bowling alley with live music, Brooklyn Bowl, and a respected theatre, St Ann’s.
A post shared by nitehawkcinema (@nitehawkcinema) on
You hate touristy neighbourhoods
Yes, it’s fun to stay near Central Park, or in Midtown, but being asked if you want a tour bus ticket or rental bike 20 times in one block can leave you jaded.
Brooklyn’s residents range from pram-pushing mothers and fathers to tattooed hipsters of all genders. And it’s them, not tourists, that the pizzerias, restaurants, bars, good coffee shops and stores cater to and are priced for.
Shopping, too, is a little more diverse. The big names are there, but cheaper rents nurture eclectic boutiques and galleries.
You like a little open space and natural light
Jerry Seinfeld insisted he wasn’t joking when he said his first apartment was 15 square feet (1.4 square metres). It’s certainly true natural light and space can feel at a premium in Manhattan’s cosy hotel rooms.
Brooklyn has peaceful residential streets, less traffic and little high-rise.
Williamsburg’s Hotels are scattered across a few blocks, the McCarren has a rooftop pool, the William Vale has a sleek skyscraper bar with amazing Manhattan views, celebrity spotting opportunities abound at the Wythe.
A post shared by The William Vale (@thewilliamvale) on
You’ve been to New York before
Already seen the big-ticket items like MoMA and the Met? Cycled Central Park? Invested a day at the Natural History Museum?
If you just want to soak up the energy of New York without the crowds and tourists, Brooklyn might provide a chilled alternative, especially if you’re planning on staying a while and want to live like a local.
You can walk the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, urban hike in Brooklyn Bridge park, grab your thrills at Coney Island, take in Williamsburg’s street life, wander Prospect Park for a day, see the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens, stroll into Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge.
You need good coffee, and like to go out for breakfast
It’s hard to walk a block without stumbling across a good coffee shop, and Brooklynites are still drinking it late into the night. Actor Heath Ledger even funded an all-day cafe, Five Leaves, posthumously (it’s credited as introducing the flat white to the region).
Many Brooklyn joints may start a little later, say 10, but plenty, like Egg, open early. Brooklyn breakfasts are more like Australian cafe breakfasts than NYC diner fry-ups.
*NEED TO KNOW: Access to Manhattan varies depending on which part of Brooklyn you’re in. Now’s a good time to visit Williamsburg, as the area’s busy main subway link with Manhattan, the L line, will close in April 2019 for 15 months for refurbishments. Buses will replace trains but residents suspect it will be chaotic.
You’ll find Brooklyn less convenient if you intend to see Broadway theatre frequently during your stay … most are a two-subway ride from much of the Borough.