6 Things To Do In Brooklyn (And What To Avoid): A Local’s Guide

More than 60 million tourists visit New York City every year, according to The New York Times. In fact, NYC saw a record 65.2 million visitors in 2018 — then the pandemic hit. Of course, NYC is back up and running. Out of all the five boroughs, Manhattan is the most visited, but Brooklyn, New York, is seeing a staggering rise in tourism. That’s right. Brooklyn gets its fair share of tourists, and there are many things you should (never) do if you visit. In fact, as a resident, I offer you a local guide on things to do in Brooklyn – and what to avoid.

According to Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, tourism in Brooklyn is the second-fastest growing industry, accounting for 15% of new jobs created, and $400 million had been invested in 10 new hotels in Downtown Brooklyn, but the best luxury hotels are in Williamsburg, like The Hoxton, The William Vale and The Wythe, all located within 4 blocks of each other (though the new Moxy Williamsburg takes the crown).

Brooklyn has tons of art.

NYC & Company, NYC’s main marketing organization and visitor’s bureau, showed Brooklyn performs well with borough shares based on credit card spending by domestic and international visitors at 41 percent (compared to Staten Island’s 1.7 percent) in 2019, which is a strong number.

I’ve lived in New York City for 12 years now (I had a brief stint in LA in 2013), and I’ve seen Brooklyn’s fast transformation. I remember the first wave of people moving to Williamsburg for cheaper rent just a few years after I arrived in 2002. I remember the first Whole Foods opening on Gowanus Canal (and the outrage from locals!). I remember visiting friends in Bushwick while it was still considered unsafe (no, really… you did not go to Bushwick in 2008). I remember luxury hotel 1 Brooklyn Bridge opening in Dumbo, and luxury hotel junkies scratching their heads.

BTW: If you’re traveling to Brooklyn, you might as well do it in style. Check out our favorite selection of sunglasses on Bloomingdales.

I’m shocked to see how double-decker tour buses are now arriving in droves (this did not exist ten years ago). Also, as a freelancer writer, the number of Brooklyn press event invites I receive have increased to at least 10 a month from literally zero when I first started writing in 2004. Brooklyn has long been considered the coolest city on the planet, and it’s nowhere near losing that badge. Aside from the cool factor, there’s history here, and Brooklyn’s been immortalized in songs, movies, TV and novels. Travelers always had a reason for an excursion or day trip. Now, they spend their entire NYC vacations rooted up in the borough.

Brooklyn should be on your agenda when visiting New York City,  but if you’re planning your first trip, try to keep it cool like the locals and avoid making these top 6 mistakes as a tourist. 

6 Things To DO (And Never Do!) In Brooklyn, New York

(Actually, the first thing not to do? Come with really cheap luggage. Not because Brooklyn is superficial that way, but because you want luggage that’s going to be reliable.

There’s a company called Cool Life that makes better luggage than, like, US Pro. Check out their styles on Amazon).

1. Don’t use the word hipster. 

Believe it or not, the word “hipster” as we know it originated when The New York Times referred to the first wave of people moving to Williamsburg as “hipsters.” It’s why, for almost 20 years, hipsters were associated with people that live in Brooklyn. Essentially, Williamsburg coined the term.

Don’t call them hipsters 🙂

While gentrification spread to neighborhoods like Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Greenpoint, the term “hipster” died out like any buzzword. Locals here are hyper-progressive and self-aware, so if you say the word “hipster,” it’s not offensive to them—they’ll just think you’re visiting from 2011. Nobody says the word “hipster” the way nobody says “totes” anymore. 

As far as I know, there’s no evolutionary term for hipster yet, but because the generation moving to Brooklyn is young, “millennial” is safe for now. Anyway, yeah, there’s a whole lingo there here, and for this locals guide to Brooklyn on what to do, you now know what not to do.

By the way, I love this photo essay of Brooklyn before and after the hipsters in Wired.

2. Don’t *not* go to Dumbo. 

DUMBO (an acronym for Directly Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is perhaps the biggest surprise tourist spot out of the entire borough. New Yorkers who live in Manhattan didn’t cross the bridge to go to Dumbo for anything, and they’re still shocked with how fast it’s gentrified. 

Brooklyn Bridge Park has been cleaned up big time, Brooklyn Flea (a popular, hip flea market) is fun and there’s a slew of new art galleries and contemporary places like Time Out Market New York food hall (home to a selection of great NYC restaurants), which opened this year.

There’s even a popular Instagram spot, which is Washington Street between Front and Water Streets, where tourists take selfies with the Manhattan Bridge and Empire State Building. This spot is quite literally flooding with tourists, so be prepared.

Dumbo’s transformation began about ten years ago, and the type of people moving in wasn’t reflected until Equinox opened a gym in 2016, and Scotch & Soda opened the year after, along with luxury hotel 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (famous for its stunning views of the bridge).

While I don’t think Dumbo will ever lose its charm, it’s definitely worth checking out before total gentrification sets in. 

While we’re at it, another Brooklyn tip for tourists? Definitely check out Domino Park. People gather here at sunsets because the views of the bridge are insane. So, for this locals guide to Brooklyn on what to do, DO IT.

Domino Park Review: This Quiet Park in Brooklyn Is Right On The River

3. Don’t think about moving to Brooklyn — unless you’re rich. 

Everyone seems to be fighting gentrification in Brooklyn, even people who just moved there! We all know gentrification leads to high rent, so if you visit, and you fall in love with the area and want to move in, don’t expect to get a bargain lease.

Around 2004 to 2010, developers started building new co-ops and condos, and people began purchasing and renovating row houses and brownstones—this trend started to make the borough expensive AF to live. Brooklyn’s median home value has seen more than 50% growth in the past decade, according to CNBC. In fact, the overall median home value in Brooklyn rose 65% between May 2009 and May 2019, from $476,800 to $787,800, according to property rental and sales company Trulia.

Located east of Williamsburg and a 25-minute subway ride to Manhattan, Bushwick had the largest change in median home value of any neighborhood in a report Trulia gave Travelbinger. Bushwick had a $368,200 median home value in May 2009, which went to $757,900 in May 2019.

Yes, Bushwick.

That’s how fast the first brink of gentrification can control how much you pay to live somewhere. It makes you wonder how these young millennials can actually afford rent in Brooklyn. The math doesn’t add up, right? The secret is that they squeeze many people into loft spaces or go out to outer neighborhoods to be able to afford rent. The people who were fortunate to move in before developers are also safe, but rent in general is insanely expensive in Brooklyn. In fact, according to a June 2019 report by RentCafe, Brooklyn is one of the top 5 most expensive places to rent in the US. 

4. Don’t take the L on weekends. 

Due to NYC MTA’s planned work on renovating the L train (termed “L Project” and costing $477 million), which has been actively in progress several years now, commuters can expect shut downs, repairs and service delays, often with little to no notice. In fact, there’s an actual website, Is The L Running?, dedicated to informing you what delays or changes are happening in real time. 

The last time I took the L train, I went two stops from 1st Avenue in Manhattan to Lorimer in Williamsburg. The train was using one track for both directions, and it was going at an extremely delayed interval. What usually takes 5 minutes to commute took 50 minutes. This was the last time I went on a weekend (I was delayed 30 minutes the time before), so definitely avoid weekend commutes if you can.

F Train to Brooklyn

In fact, don’t trust any of the information available on-line because, while they are as accurate as they can be, service could drop literally as soon as you arrive at the train station. 

For now, take an Uber, Lyft, bike or other means of transportation to save time and sanity.

If you have to take the subway, take the F train.

The L train should be completely fixed and running by next year. Anyway, take the tip from this locals guide to Brooklyn on what to do and not to do!


5. Don’t go to Bushwick unless you’re going to a party or House of Yes

Bushwick is a mix of college students, young people, queer community, diverse locals and active industrial use, and it started two waves of gentrification. One in 2005 when “artists and the like were being priced out of Williamsburg,” says Martin Eiden, an agent with Compass. “The second wave started in 2014.”

Bushwick primarily attracts artists, musicians and writers looking for cheap rent, and plenty of old warehouses have been converted to residential live/work spaces. “Lots of square footage and cheap prices appeal to artists, musicians, writers and college kids,” Charles Narwold, a 31-year-old realtor with REAL New York, tells Travelbinger. Narworld lives in Bushwick after moving there in 2011 for cheap rent and because his bandmate lived there. 

But while people are moving to Bushwick, and there’s a lot of hype around this neighborhood, there’s not much for tourists to see during the day. I love the graffiti, the old warehouses and the handful of cafes, but that’s really it. There’s no amazing restaurant, museum, hotel or views, nothing that truly warrants the long commute during the day (it’s about 40 minutes from Manhattan on train).

Bushwick is mostly geared for locals who live and work remotely. Even though you’ve likely seen Bushwick glorified in popular shows like Glee and Girls on HBO, those scenes took place at parties at night.

For now, if you visit, you would go at night, like to House of Yes, a wild club that’s reminiscent of Manhattan back when we had wild nightclubs. If you get invited to a house or loft party, then go nuts, but I want to give you expectations. There’s not much for tourists to do here during the day, so that’s one of our Brooklyn tips for tourists.

6. Don’t go to Peter Luger 

Peter Luger in Williamsburg is an institution since 1887 and a famous tourist attraction. In fact, a lot of tourists go because it’s famous.

However, after The New York Times gave the restaurant 0 stars in October, and people cheered about this since it was how many locals and tourists alike felt, Peter Luger may have lost its magic touch. It happens to restaurants all the time. They might get new management, can’t train new staff the way it used to be, or try to rest on legacy without making improvements. It reminds of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurants closing in the UK because it lost it’s touch (22 restaurants closed in May).

We obviously can’t tell you not to go to Peter Luger. The food critic could have had a bad day. But the food is crazy expensive and, from our experience years ago, it was chaotic and not very memorable. We also can’t say it won’t go back to its original flair, but for now, there are other great steak places in Brooklyn, like DeStefano’s, that you could try.

This story was originally published May 4, 2020.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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