To report on our recent trip to NYC, I decided to offer something different first up and write about the time we spent in Brooklyn. Although the majority of the popular NYC sights tourists hit up are in Manhattan, there’s loads going on in Brooklyn that allow you to see another side of NYC and to actually see it as a real city. But don’t worry, I’ll be following this up with a 48 hours in Manhattan post also. Both NYC boroughs deserve a bit of attention, and I’m going to start things off with Brooklyn.
Things to See and Do
The understated other borough, Brooklyn is more like Melbourne in that you need to kind of need to have an idea of what you’re looking for or where you’re going to really appreciate the place. For Melbourne, it’s the laneways. For Brooklyn, it’s places like Cobble Hill and Williamsburg.
One of NYC’s most recognisable icons, Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River to connect Manhattan with Brooklyn. So many music videos and commercials have been filmed on or around this bridge, making it truly a sight to see when you first glimpse it.
My advice is to walk over it from the Brooklyn side, taking in the great views of the Manhattan skyline. It’s totally free and you can also admire the feat of engineering that this bridge is.
Jayne from Travelling Shopaholic scoped this one out. Brooklyn Flea essentially does what it says on the tin – it’s a flea market offering all kinds of vintage bits and pieces like vinyl records, clothing, jewellery, homeware, artwork and more. Brooklyn Flea isn’t actually just one location. They actually have a few markets dotted around Brooklyn, check out their website for info.
The market we visited covers the entire area of the dramatic old Williamsburg Bank, including inside the old teller offices. Just when you think you’ve seen all that the vendors have to offer, you descend downstairs and find even more wares abound inside the bank’s old vault. Pretty cool use of the space in my opinion.
To find out more about Brooklyn Flea, check out Jayne’s post On The Market: Brooklyn Flea.
DUMBO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”. Another good example of how New Yorkers abbreviate absolutely everything. It’s an area of Brooklyn down near the river that consists of the land between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge approaches. It’s filled with old school cobblestone streets, cafes, restaurants and warehouses turned into art galleries. It’s a short walk from Downtown Brooklyn and makes for a great place to spend the afternoon before having a few drinks and dinner. It’s also where the legendary Grimaldi’s pizza is located, but more on that later.
DUMBO is also home to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the header photo of this post was taken from. It’s definitely the ideal place to take in the Brooklyn Bridge from.
Cobble Hill is the suburb where the best array of cool cafes and restaurants within walking distance of Downtown are. Court St and Smith St are the two main drags where you’ll find great places for brunch, cocktails and artisan eateries. The streets deviating off these two main thoroughfares are also filled with those typical Brooklyn brownstone apartments you see in loads of sitcoms and movies.
I think Coney Island is a name loads of us remember from our childhood in one way or another. I know I recognised it primarily from movies and films, and it was really cool to check out this legendary, nostalgic part of Brooklyn.
Recently battered by Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island is on the mend and back to its former glory of carnival rides, sideshows, hot dogs and of course the seaside.
Also in Coney Island is Cyclone, one of America’s oldest wooden roller-coaster Riders reach up to 60 mph on this baby, and the rickety instability of it all contributes to the “oh god am I going to die?!” experience.
Food and Drink
Let’s face it, the food is a big reason why people visit NYC. When I think New York, I think pizza, cheesecake, bagels, hot dogs and everything in between. The time I spent in various restaurants and diners in Brooklyn definitely didn’t disappoint, as you’re about to find out.
Junior’s is the indisputable home of NYC cheesecake. Every person we asked about cheesecake always recommended us to go to Junior’s and when we went to their original Brooklyn restaurant, we weren’t disappointed. Adventurous Kate summed it up well in her post New in New York: This Time Around when she said their cheesecake was “fabulously delicious”,
We went on a Sunday and found loads of families in their Sunday best enjoying a hearty lunch. It was one of those serendipitous insights into TV show style American family life that I was super excited to witness.
The original Junior’s is in Brooklyn, but they also have restaurants in Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. They also do great sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and well, everything is great. Do yourself a favour and make sure you check it out.
A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour
If you’re keen on experiencing the best pizza in NYC, you’ve got to check out the A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour. They start in Manhattan but quickly take the bridge into Brooklyn to tell you all about the NYC pizza wars before hitting up the first of two pizzerias.
Our tour was lead by Paula, the niece of the owner, Tony. Brooklyn born and bred and Jewish catholic by faith, she was super passionate, informative, opinionated and had a crazy number of stories about Brooklyn to share with us. Our first stop was the Brooklyn Bridge Park (as I mentioned above) and DUMBO before we made our way to our first stop for pizza, Grimaldi’s.
Grimaldis is that legendary NYC pizza establishment I was talking about. When you ask someone “where do I go for the best NYC style pizza?” you’ll be told Grimaldi’s at least 50% of the time (the other 50% will tell you Lombardi’s, but that’s for the Manhattan post).
The first thing to say about their pizzas is that they’re big. Their margherita consists of just three toppings – their own tomato sauce, mozarella (or “mozarel” as our tour guide Paula called it) and fresh basil. That’s it.
You can’t buy by the slice here either, you’ve got to order a whole pie. So queue up, find yourself a seat with a friend and get ready for some special pizza.
Grimaldi’s has a reputation and queues form fast outside. My recommendation is to either get their early, or go as part of the tour like we did. When we arrived, we were guided straight to a reserved table, served our choice of drinks and just waited for the pie.
The thing is, this isn’t the original Grimaldi’s. This Grimaldi’s is some other guy that bought the brand off the original owners. He moved in in the past year to a building he happened to own one door down from the original because he couldn’t pay the rent. The old Grimaldi’s is now Juliana’s down the road, and is run by the original Grimaldi family.
It’s the same pie with a coal oven, and the only difference is the cheese. This my friends, is the pizza wars of NYC. Who knew pizza could be such a contentious business? Only in NYC huh.
As we weaved our way through suburban Brooklyn, we were shown clips from movies featuring the borough like Saturday Night Fever and Goodfellas that featured landmarks we were passing. One which I found memorable because I always get a kick out film and TV locations was passing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten island as we saw the exact scene from Saturday Night Fever.
L&B Spumoni Gardens
We threaded further through old neighbourhoods, parks and mansions, taking in more of everyday Brooklyn before arriving in Bensonhurst. It was time for another movie clip, this time the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever. As we passed under the iconic overhead railroad, we followed along with the movie, matching up exactly where John Travolta strutted along the sidewalk before picking up two slices for a snack.
For our next pizzeria, we were taken to L&B Spumoni Gardens. Since 1939 the kitchen here has been serving up a very different style of pizza to Grimaldi’s. Rather than standard thin crust NYC pie, they serve Sicilian pizza. This pizza is prepared with the cheese on the dough first before it’s cooked. The sauce is then put on half way through and it’s cooked again. The result is a lighter, taller crust and a very different texture.
Spumoni’s is definitely a real family kind of place. It’s so deep into Brooklyn that there’s no way you’d see any tourists here unless they were on the tour with you. It was absolutely packed with locals and families including a few squads of NYPD and FDNY folks.
The way I look at it, if the cops are coming here, it’s got to be good. Given that we had to triple park the bus on the street to get anywhere near this place shows you how popular it is.
How to get there
NYC is undoubtedly really well connected with the rest of the world. Flying from Europe, you can fly British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and pretty much any other flag carrier airline into either JFK or Newark airports (in New Jersey). If you’re flying from within North America you’ll probably also fly into La Guardia (LGA) airport.
Getting into Brooklyn, you can take the subway or just grab a cab from Manhattan. It’s literally only 5 minutes away over one of the bridges.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Brooklyn. Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Brooklyn in a larger map
Get around in Brooklyn
The subway or a taxi is your best bet for getting around Brooklyn. The borough is well connected with public transport both within and to/from Manhattan and a yellow NYC cab is never far away.
You may find some difficulty asking a cabbie to take you from Manhattan to the outer parts of Brooklyn, but anywhere near Downtown should be fine. The fare should be around $20-$30.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Aloft Brooklyn during our visit because I’d checked it out online and it looked like a funky design hotel that really deviated from the stuffy NYC hotels you usually hear about.
It’s a Starwood hotel, a “Vision of W Hotels” in fact. Focused at young professionals; when we arrived we were checked in fast and given vouchers for complimentary coffee/tea each day for being Starwood Preferred Guest members.
The lobby featured lots of lounges to relax in and the wxyz bar, great for a beer after a long day of sightseeing.
The re:fuel snack bar was stocked with fruit, chocolate, breakfast bits and pieces and of course, coffee. It made it really easy to just grab something and go each morning.
I’d definitely recommend it if you’re after somewhere a bit cheaper and a bit more up to date than most hotels. It was kind of no-frills, but still had some coolness about it.
There’s no skirting around, NYC is not cheap. Brooklyn is slightly cheaper than Manhattan, but don’t expect bargain basement prices. Meals will set you back about $15 a pop and a beer was about $5 for a bottle. Eating from the food trucks on the street was slightly cheaper, with a egg and bacon bagel costing about $4.
Brooklyn is definitely full of surprises. It features the best pizzas in NYC, the best cheesecake and some of the most genuine people in town. The place isn’t chockers with tourists or people trying to sell you stuff and is such a different side of NYC. When you’re over Manhattan, make your way across the bridge and explore Brooklyn.
Disclosure: I received only the A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour complimentary, and all my views are my own.