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While Manhattan remains the go-to place for visitors to the Big Apple, Brooklyn has emerged as a hot destination for New York City travelers wanting something a little different — evident in the borough's unique culture, rich history and incredible food. Just a quick subway ride from Manhattan, it also offers a more affordable home base for a visit to NYC.
The problem for many first-timers is knowing where to begin. Brooklyn is huge, nearly 100 square miles, with a population of more than 2.5 million spread across nearly 70 neighborhoods. I've lived here for 25 years and haven't yet come close to seeing the whole of the place.
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For a good introduction, I'd suggest focusing on the area just over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges — a cluster of small neighborhoods (DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn) that orbit around Brooklyn's civic center known as Borough Hall. Sequestered in a triangle between vibrant avenues, Atlantic and Flatbush, visitors here are within walking distance of many of Brooklyn's best cultural attractions, natural beauty, restaurants, shops and nightlife.
We'll call it our “Borough Hall Zone."
And note that you're only one or two subway stops (or a healthy walk over the aforementioned bridges) from Manhattan via the nine train lines available at two subway stations servicing Borough Hall: Jay Street/Metro Tech and Borough Hall, which are about 100 yards away from each other.
The things to do, eat, drink and admire I've described below are all within our modest zone (with a few recommendations just steps outside the perimeter). So pick and choose, mix and match, walk and eat, based on taste and interest. If you have trouble with mobility, cabs or car service rides are easy to come by and inexpensive for these short distances.
What to do
Walk. The best way to see this area is on foot. Within our unofficial zone, you'll find the landmarked streets of Brooklyn Heights, which lead to the majestic promenade overlooking New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline and the bridges that span the East River. There are also spectacular views from the picturesque and tranquil walkway along the waterfront of the recently refurbished Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The tony neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is, as implied, under the Manhattan Bridge. A former warehouse district, it's full of swank shops and eateries and worth a wander for its cobbled-waterfront aesthetic and access to the banks of the East River.
Learn. The 400-plus-year history of Brooklyn can be discovered at the Brooklyn Historical Society, located in a magnificent Queen Anne-style building on Pierreponte Street in Brooklyn Heights ($10 entry for adults; $6 for seniors). The New York Transit Museum portrays the story of NYC's mass transportation history in an actual subway station — wheelchair accessible — on the corner of Schermerhorn and Court streets ($10 entry for adults and $5 for seniors; free on Wednesdays).