Brooklyn's 9 Best Hidden Gems

By: Ashley Rayner

It’s safe to say that anyone who knows anything about New York City knows that Brooklyn has a lot to offer. From its unique culture to the food and arts scene in Williamsburg to its museums and institutions, Brooklyn has just as many must-see stops as Manhattan and, much like the more-visited borough, Brooklyn has a check-list of “things to do.” While museums and art galleries are fine, Brooklyn has lots of quirky and off-the-beaten path assets to recommend it. Here are 9 attractions that are less likely to appear in your guidebook or even to be marked.


9. Beaches

Given Brooklyn’s reputation as an urban jungle in the metropolis of New York City (and its most populous borough), we tend not to think about natural spaces. Sure, Brooklyn has parks and greenspaces, but we often forget that, since it’s on the coast, Brooklyn is also home to some pretty nice beaches. Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park and Plumb Beach are a few of the lesser-known; Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach, near Coney Island, are both more popular and better known, thanks to their proximity to the amusements of Coney Island. All of these beaches are on the Atlantic Ocean, along inlets like Sheepshead Bay, Jamaica Bay and Gravesend Bay. Several other beaches also exist in Brooklyn. If you visit the Big Apple in the summertime, plan time to escape from the heat of the city and get to the beach, like a true New Yorker!

Brighton Beach Brooklyn

8. Discount Broadway Tickets

Going to a Broadway show is sort of a staple of visiting New York City. But tickets to a show can cost a lot, especially if the tickets are limited availability or the show is really popular (the Lion King is notorious for this). So savvy New Yorkers know to get their tickets discounted. While most tourists will likely be familiar with the TKTS Discount kiosk in Times Square, which offers tickets up to 50% off for same-day performances, locals know that you can beat the crowds by heading out of Midtown. The TKTS Discount kiosk in Brooklyn has much shorter lines—sometimes, lines are even non-existent. Best of all, you’ll get to save time and money, since the discounts they offer are exactly the same. Actually, the Brooklyn kiosk is even better, because you can get next-day tickets to matinee performances at a discounted price.

7. Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel

Built beneath the streets of Brooklyn all the way back in 1844, when Brooklyn was still a city of its own, the Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel is officially the world’s oldest. It’s half-a-mile long and could accommodate 2 standard-gauge tracks. It was built in 7 months to provide separation for early trains that lacked decent brakes, which were causing accidents on roadways. The abandoned tunnel was rediscovered in 1980 and is now a Historic Landmark, both in New York state and at the federal level. The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, formed in 1982 to publicize the historic site, continues to maintain the tunnel. Until 2010, they offered public tours of the tunnel; the New York Department of Transit has since canceled tours through 2018. The tunnel is technically closed to the public, although there has been an ongoing struggle to have the tunnel re-opened.

Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel

6. Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower

Lots of Manhattan’s famous landmarks are skyscrapers: the Freedom Tower of the World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center all readily spring to mind. Brooklyn’s skyscrapers aren’t nearly as iconic, but that doesn’t mean the views they provide are any less breathtaking. The Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower was once Brooklyn’s only skyscraper. These days, it’s the third-tallest building in Brooklyn (and probably the nicest to look at, although somewhat phallic in nature). The former bank is situated at the convergence of Brooklyn’s most important thoroughfares. Although the building is mixed residential and private offices these days and the public observation decks are abandoned, you can still see the building from miles around. It ranks among the tallest clock towers in the world and is an iconic part of the Brooklyn skyline.


5. Zenkichi

Brooklyn’s got a reputation for quirky eateries serving up great food; Williamsburg is especially known for its hipster vibe on the food scene. Zenkichi isn’t a hipster establishment by any stretch of the imagination; this unmarked Japanese restaurant indulges diners in a VIP experience. You’ll be greeted by a hostess and encouraged to follow single-file through maze-like walkways to a private dining booth. A service button at the end of the table alerts the wait staff. Reservations are recommended, as is the food—don’t expect any sushi though. Zenkichi specializes in small-plate, Tokyo-style cuisine. The Omakase Flight (chef’s tasting) changes seasonally. Don’t have time for a full dinner? The restaurant’s next-door sister site, the Bar Akariba, offers a partial Zenkichi menu on Fridays and Saturdays. They don’t offer pick-up or delivery, but this restaurant is a good reason to take a jaunt over to Brooklyn anyway.

4. The Red Hook Piers

Once the site of a Dutch shipping center and, in the 1920s, the world’s busiest freight port, the piers in Red Hook are now somewhat difficult to get to. The area has been undergoing revitalization in recent years, turning the industrial wasteland of disused docks into a vibrant art community. There’s good reason for that: the area offers a stunning vantage point of the East River, along with views of the Statue of Liberty, downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor. Visit at sunset for the most stunning views. The streets here are still cobblestone, and many of the dry docks are still in use. IKEA is located nearby and a water-taxi serving shoppers now connects the piers with Manhattan. The area is also historically significant; it was the site of Fort Defiance during the Battle of Brooklyn, and the New York Naval Shipyard.

Red Hook Piers

3. Green-wood Cemetery

Okay, visiting a cemetery is not high on everyone’s priority list. But, much like cemeteries such as Arlington National or the Pere Lachaise in Paris, the immaculate Green-wood Cemetery is culturally significant. The cemetery is a National Historic Landmark and includes the burials of people like Boss Tweed and Winston Churchill’s grandmother, to name but a couple. The cemetery is a veritable who’s-who of 19th-century New York, and also includes the graves of Civil War soldiers. Simply put, Green-wood Cemetery is full of history. It also hosts outdoor events, like readings, shows and concerts year-round. Visiting is free and, if you can get past the idea of strolling amongst a bunch of stiffs, the cemetery provides a calming greenspace escape in a busy concrete jungle. Grab a map and take a turn through the 478 acres of Green-wood.

Green-wood Cemetery Brooklyn

2. City Reliquary

Located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, the City Reliquary doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, if it looks like anything, it looks more like a hipster art project than a museum that celebrates the minutiae of the largest city in the U.S. Originally a window display in someone’s apartment, the museum is now housed in a 3-room storefront and exhibits items such as old subway tokens, old-timey seltzer bottles, fragments of old buildings and dirt samples from all 5 boroughs. The museum’s exhibitions focus on local history and neighborhoods, and it now hosts events like block parties and backyard concerts as well. In contrast to the institutions of Manhattan’s “Museum Mile,” the City Reliquary brings something quirky, local and refreshing to the Big Apple’s museum scene.

1. Brooklyn Flea Market

The Brooklyn Flea Market is something of an institution. Every Saturday and Sunday from April until the end of November, you can find vendors hawking a variety of art, clothing and food outdoors at either Fort Greene or Williamsburg. The market is year-round though; it moves indoors to Industry City through the end of March. The flea market consistently rates as one of the best in the U.S.; some even think it’s one of the best in the entire world. The New York Times has called it one of New York’s greatest urban experiences. The market has spawned additional Brooklyn-area markets and events, including the Smorgasburg, which is dedicated to food vendors and operates in several locations, and a Record Fair. Even if you don’t find anything to take home, the Flea is a quintessential Brooklyn experience.