9 Cool Things for Families to Do in Brooklyn
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Brooklyn: Sure, it’s not Manhattan. But it might be the cooler, hipper, funkier sister of Manhattan. It’s also where many Manhattanites go once they decide to have kids, attracted by the space they can get for their money. As a result, it is super family-friendly and offers a number of fun activities for kids of all ages, at any time of the year. Best of all, tons of the activities are actually free (or close to it).
When deciding which things to do in Brooklyn with kids, remember that it’s a pretty big borough. You can always hop on the subway, take a taxis, ride-share, log some miles in your good walking shoes, etc. but just like you can’t see all of Manhattan in a day, the same is true for Brooklyn.
1. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Remember when I told you to wear good walking shoes? Break them out and take the whole family across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge that spans the East River into Manhattan. Go early to avoid the massive crowds that come later in the day. We made the walk at 8:30am, allowing us to take our time and pose for plenty of photos. We saw loads of tourists heading across by about 10am.
If you cross the bridge into Manhattan, you can easily walk to the 9/11 Memorial and then shop/dine at Westfield World Trade Center mall. If you decide to visit the 9/11 Museum, it’s best to reserve tickets in advance for a specific entry time. We also made our way over to Battery Park and got on a ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (get tickets in advance for a specific departure time). If you and your family don’t mind walking, this is a fantastic (and easy) way to have an excursion into Manhattan from Brooklyn.
Cost: Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for free. Museum admission to the 9/11 Museum is $26 per adult, $15 for youth (7–12) and $20 for young adults (13–17). Adding a museum or memorial tour costs extra.
2. Shop the Boutiques
If you have tweens or teens, make sure you save some time for meandering through the myriad shops and boutiques throughout Brooklyn that you just won’t find back home. We stayed in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn (short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and our girls adored the historic and walkable streets, fun shopping and delicious restaurants. We also enjoyed walking through the streets of the Carroll Gardens neighborhood (even in the pouring rain). The sweet gift and curio shops kept us dry, but I left with my wallet a bit lighter. If you have little ones, visit the playground at Carroll Park to let them burn off some energy.
3. Take a Spin on Jane’s Carousel
Visiting the vintage Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO at Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the most iconic things to do in Brooklyn with kids. First created in 1922, this amazing carousel was painstakingly restored over years and installed in a newly built pavilion in 2011. Our kids were fascinated by the intricacy of these carousel animals, and the way they are lighted and displayed. Families can put a little historic magic in their visit by sitting atop one of the 48 handcrafted horses. The carousel is in an enclosed pavilion so you can ride it even if it’s cold or rainy outside!
Cost: Tickets are $2 per person though children 3 and under, or under 42 inches, are free with a paying adult.
4. Play in Domino Playground
If your kids want to burn off some energy at a cool playground along the East River, head to Williamsburg for a fun day near the old Domino Sugar Factory in Domino Park. The playground itself has an industrial-vibe that is inspired by the old sugar factory, and even includes reclaimed pieces of the factory. At the five-acre Domino Park you’ll also find water fountains (so pack a swimsuit for the kids) and an elevated walkway to take in the view of Manhattan just across the water. If you get hungry, there’s even a taco stand, Tacocina, that makes its own tortillas and is ready to serve up an easy meal (and margaritas) seven days a week.
Cost: Hanging out and playing is free. Tacos start at around $4 each.
When in doubt when traveling with kids, eat! Brooklyn is an awesome place for delectable treats. Of course, it’s a must for everyone to get a slice at Juliana’s or Grimaldi’s, where the pizza is so good that patrons line up around the block (go at 3–4pm for a shorter wait). Cecconi’s is an excellent Italian bistro on the waterfront with a view of the carousel with Manhattan behind. If you have little kids, this may be a bit fancy for them. However, visit from 3–6pm for happy hour specials and a less trendy crowd. Another famous Brooklyn restaurant is the River Café. People come from all over New York City and beyond, specifically for the stunning views across the East River at this historic destination. With kids, go for brunch as it’s more casual.
We also recommend Buttermilk Channel in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, which is super kid-friendly and serves comfort food, such as fried chicken.
Cost: Restaurant prices vary. Buttermilk Channel kids meals are $15 and include a drink, entree, side and dessert.
6. Picnic in Prospect Park
Prospect Park covers more than 500 acres of nature right in the middle of the concrete jungle. Created in the same vein as Manhattan’s famed Central Park, Prospect Park is the backyard for many Brooklyn families. Join Brooklynites by bringing a picnic and letting the kids run, jump and play. Families can explore the nature preserve, go fishing or even join a communal lawn game. Look for free outdoor movies, splash pads, and festivals in summer, plus come back in winter for ice skating. Since Prospect Park is so large, there are multiple entrance points you can find here.
Cost: Free plus the cost of your picnic food.
7. Visit the Prospect Park Zoo
Kids will be amazed at how many different species of animals they will see at the delightful Prospect Park Zoo. There are nearly 400 animals from over 1,500 species housed here. Unlike bigger zoos, kids can get up close and personal (but not too close) to some wild and unusual animals because they are housed in environments mirroring their natural habitats. Don’t miss the sea lion trainings or walking the Discovery Trail too. The Prospect Park Zoo is open 365 days of the year.
Cost: Tickets cost only $5 for kids 3–12 years old, $8 for 12–64 years old, $6 for seniors (65+). It’s free for kids 3 and under.
8. Explore the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
For another dose of natural beauty, take the kids to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Within this colorful oasis, there is the one-acre Discovery Garden designed just for little ones. It is filled with fascinating plants and lots of hands-on activities. Also look for science stations, games and scavenger hunts.
Cost: Kids under 12 are always free here. Adult tickets are $15. Student and senior (65+) tickets are $8. Tip: Go early on Fridays when everyone is free before noon!
9. See Holiday Lights in Dyker Heights
If your NYC visit falls during the holidays, you’re in luck. Forget the department store Santa as Dyker Heights in Brooklyn really puts on a unique show. Spurred by friendly neighborhood competition, the Christmas lights and decor here has grown since the 1980s all along 11th to 13th avenues between 83rd to 86th streets. You can take a (longish) subway or Uber out to Dyker Heights, or there are also organized bus tours available.
Cost: A DIY tour is free, other than the cost of transportation. The organized bus tours are much pricier at $55+ for adults, $45+ for kids.
Where to Stay in Brooklyn
Staying in Brooklyn doesn’t mean sacrificing. There’s a wide variety of lodging options from places that let you stretch your points further than you could in Manhattan to some pretty high-end joints.
Wyndham Garden Brooklyn Sunset Park: This fun and funky hotel is pet-friendly and eco-friendly, with fantastic views. The Wyndham Garden Brooklyn Sunset Park provides full breakfast, free newspaper, a business center and free Wi-Fi Internet access as well as evening snacks. Rooms start at $167/night USD, or 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points.
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge: We loved our stay at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, right on the East River with gorgeous bridge and Manhattan views. With a great style and eco-conscious vibe, the 1 Hotel offers large floor-to-ceiling windows that open to let nature in, and locally-made furnishings. Rooms start at $520 USD/night.
Hilton Brooklyn: This vibrant hotel is located directly in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, just blocks from Barclays Center. Known for its spacious rooms, the Hilton Brooklyn has a variety of room choices for families. Rooms start at around $275 USD/night, or around 70,000 Hilton Honors points.
Aloft New York Brooklyn: Steps from Metrotech, Borough Hall, and the courthouse, Aloft New York Brooklyn is a trendy boutique hotel near Cobble Hill’s hip shops and dining. Rooms start at approximately $307 USD/night, or 35,000 Marriott points.
While many families stay in Manhattan when visiting the Big Apple, there is plenty to keep you busy in the borough of Brooklyn as well. It may be the perfect home base to see and do as much as you can while visiting New York City.
Featured image by Jon Bailey / Two Dads With Baggage
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