The traveller's guide to Brooklyn

New York's 'broken land' has become its coolest borough, says Tom Hall


Where?

Brooklyn occupies the south-west tip of Long Island; the area was named Breukelen, meaning "broken land", by the early Dutch settlers. It is squeezed to the north and east by the larger borough of Queens, and washed by the Atlantic to the south. To the west, Brooklyn faces Manhattan across the East River. The main areas of interest are Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Park Slope.

For maps and guides, call in at the Brooklyn Tourism Center at 209 Joralemon Street (00 1 718 802 3846 extension 10; www.brooklyntourism.org).

Most of the subways that slice through Broadway run east-west towards Manhattan (pick up a free map at any station). Many of the lines run at rooftop level through Brooklyn. In particular, the J/M/Z line from Manhattan to Broadway Junction is a stunning rooftop ride, better still, the B, D and N trains rattle along to the seashore, and congregate in a railway version of alphabet soup around the station called Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue.

Brooklyn also has a comprehensive and reliable network of buses. A "Fun Pass", price $7 (£3.90), is valid for a day on all New York City subways and buses - savings start after three journeys.

The borough has surprisingly few places to stay, although if you decide you don't want to commute across from Manhattan, the New York Marriott Brooklyn at 333 Adams Street (00 1 718 246 7000; www.marriott.com) is a good bet. Prices for a double room start at $410 (£228) a night. At the other end of the spectrum is the comfortable and jolly New York Connection hostel at 197 Humboldt Street (00 1 718 386 5539) in Williamsburg, where a bed in a dorm costs $21 (£11.50).

Why?

Even if you've already been to New York, you may not have explored its most populous and multicultural borough. One in three New Yorkers is a Brooklynite. If you like your city gritty, this is New York's hidden asset, and these days, even Manhattanites admit that Brooklyn is the cool place to be and be seen.

Start at Brooklyn Heights. This historic district occupies 50 blocks between State and Cranberry Streets, close to the East River. Turn right along Orange Street, and admire the handsome Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, an 1849 masterpiece that was the centre of the anti-slavery crusade; in the garden is a relief of Abraham Lincoln, who preached here. Turn left along Hicks Street for a block and see the vast bulk of the Hotel St George, once New York's largest with 2,632 rooms, now an apartment building. Go right then left into Willow Street, looking out for the European touches at 102 (the Danish Seaman's Church) and 128 (English emblems). At the foot of Willow Street, turn right along Pierrepont Street and follow it to the end for a famous sight of Manhattan. "There may be finer views than this in the world", Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said, "but I don't believe it."

Low-rise Brooklyn has only one skyscraper of any note. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, rises majestically from its squalid surroundings where Atlantic Avenue meets Flatbush Avenue. However, it is now a branch of the bank, HSBC, but the banking hall (open Mondays to Fridays only) remains a dazzling early 20th-century concoction, complete with a mural of the first settlers to put their roots down in Brooklyn.

What?

Prospect Park is Brooklyn's version of Central Park and Golden Gate Park (and was designed by the same people). It's a more adventurous and dramatic creation than their Manhattan project. You can visit the adjacent Brooklyn Botanical Gardens at 900 Washington Avenue (00 1 718 623 7200; www.bbg.org), which opens 8am-4.30pm Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4.30pm at weekends; admission $5 (£2.80).

The Brooklyn Museum of Art is a vast neo-classical building on the edge of Prospect Park at 200 Eastern Parkway (00 1 718 638 5000; www.brooklynart.org). The structure itself was under wraps for three years, but the new façade was unveiled last year - a glass entrance on several levels integrated into the 19th-century original. Inside is the second-largest art collection in the city - after the Metropolitan in Manhattan. Exhibits include a community of Rodin sculptures and a reconstruction of an early settler's home. It opens 10am-5pm Wednesday to Friday, 11am-6pm at weekends, and 11am-11pm on the first Saturday of each month. Admission costs $8 (£4.50).

Eating out is as much of a joy in Brooklyn as it is elsewhere in New York. Head to DUMBO for a real New York experience. Known by an abbreviation every bit as contrived as any in Manhattan, the area is Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The waterfront, in other words, looking across the East River towards New York's most famous borough.

At the Water Street Bar and Restaurant in DUMBO at 66 Water Street (001 718 625 9352), the noon-4pm brunch special includes a Bloody Mary along with eggs benedict or steak and eggs, for a total of around $25 (£14) per person once the extras have been added. Or you could settle down with a good book at The Read Café at 158 Bedford Avenue (00 1 718 599 3032), which opens 9am-11pm daily for food for mind and body.

Peter Luger occupies an improbable location at 178 Broadway at Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg (00 1 718 387 7400). According to many carnivores it's the best steakhouse in New York, or the world (which some locals regard as the same thing). You should book for weekend evenings.

Another Brooklyn institution is Sam's at 238 Court Street (00 1 718 596 3458), whose menu bears the advice: "If your wife can't cook, don't divorce her; keep her and eat at Sam's". A pizza only slightly smaller than Manhattan and a couple of beers will set you back around $30 (£17).

The Brooklyn Brewery is the source of the borough's finest beers and is found at 79 North 11th Street in Williamsburg (00 1 718 486 7422, www.brooklynbrewery.com). On Fridays, happy "hour" is 6pm to 9pm. On Saturdays, free tours depart every half-hour between noon and 4.30pm.

The Five Best: Shopping opportunities

Legacy

362 Atlantic Avenue (00 1 718 403 0090)

Proof that Brooklyn is the happening place - the store has expanded from Manhattan's Soho, and has combined vintage style with distinctive modern pieces. Open Wednesday-Sunday, noon-7pm.

Flirt

252 Smith Street (00 1 718 858 7931)

Hand-made central - from jewellery to clothes to shoes - and featuring the work of Brooklyn-based designers. It is Brooklyn's main repository for shabby chic. Open Tuesday-Saturday, noon-8pm; Sundays, noon-6pm.

Jacques Torres Chocolates

6 Water Street (00 1 718 875 9772)

Specialises in the organic, hand-crafted real thing. Go inside and you will feel you are on the set of the movie Chocolat, complete with a counter serving rich hot chocolate drinks. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-7pm.

Macy's

422 Fulton Street (00 1 718 875 7200)

A less frenetic version of the Manhattan store, housed in the original building of Abraham and Strauss, a Brooklyn landmark from 1893. Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sundays, noon-7pm.

Aaron's

627 Fifth Avenue (00 1 718 768 5400)

A discount store with great designer clothing and accessories, plus discounts of up to 25 per cent. Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10am-6pm; Tuesday and Thursday, 10am-8pm; Sundays, 10am-5pm.

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