Chances are you’re going to want to make your way across the landmark Brooklyn Bridge at some point during your visit to New York City, and when you do, if you’re headed from Manhattan to Brooklyn, you’ll end up in Brooklyn Heights. This charming neighborhood is rich in history and style, with cozy restaurants, beloved indie shops, and some of the city’s oldest and most architecturally intriguing buildings lining its elegant streets and stately blocks. You’ll definitely need your camera at the ready when visiting Brooklyn Heights, too, because the views from here of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline are exquisite.
Brooklyn Heights Neighborhood History
Brooklyn Heights is one of New York City’s most historic neighborhoods. The area was first commercially developed during the first couple decades of the nineteenth century, when local real estate speculators marketed the (then) relatively rural land as being a bucolic alternative to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. These historical circumstances have led some observers to dub Brooklyn Heights “America’s First Suburb.” Over the next half-century, Brooklyn Heights would become notable as a hub of the Abolitionist movement, with local landmark Plymouth Church serving as an important station along the Underground Railroad.
Brooklyn Heights today is largely residential, home to movie stars, celebrity musicians, and a whole host of families who can afford the much-desired neighborhood’s astronomical real estate prices. A stroll through its leafy streets and historic brownstones makes for one of New York City’s truly great walks.
Exploring Brooklyn Heights
The Brooklyn Heights neighborhood is located along the East River in the shadow of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, one of the best ways to arrive here is by walking or biking across the Brooklyn Bridge, which makes for an unforgettable experience. Once on the ground in Brooklyn Heights, you’ll want to continue your adventure by exploring Brooklyn Bridge Park. This nearly 1.5-mile-long park runs along the majority of Brooklyn Heights’ river coastline, and contains playgrounds, picnic areas, restaurants, bike trails, kayak rentals, and ball fields. It’s also where you can catch the ferry to Governors Island.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a one-third-mile-long pedestrian walkway spanning the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (Interstate 278) that offers incredible views of the Manhattan skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Harbor, and the Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade is rarely crowded and totally free, making it a nice contrast to some of the city’s other, better-known viewing platforms.
One of New York City’s most delightful museums is located in Brooklyn Heights. The New York Transit Museum occupies the decommissioned Court Street station—which means, yes, that’s right, the museum really is underground within an actual subway stop! The New York Transit Museum is full of vintage trains, buses, and subway cars, and it houses interactive exhibits that tell the story of the New York City public transportation system and the people it serves.
Brooklyn Heights is located along the East River in the borough of Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn is to its east, DUMBO is to its north, Boerum Hill is to its southeast, and Cobble Hill is to its south.
Brooklyn Heights Dining
Brooklyn Heights has a terrific assortment of dining options. It’s particularly known for its Italian restaurants, which can be found largely around Montague Street, Atlantic Avenue, and Henry Street—three of the neighborhood’s primary commercial streets. River Deli is a cozy spot for Sardinian-leaning Italian fare, while Noodle Pudding is a livelier, Sicilian-tinged establishment; be advised, both are cash-only. Henry’s End is a local institution, with some 50 years and counting in the neighborhood. Its creative, New American menu leans toward the seasonal and is known for featuring a variety of wild game.
Other notable restaurants in the area run the gamut cuisine-wise from coal-oven pizza to Mediterranean brunch to Mexican, Thai, and beyond. Popular cocktail bars and ramen joints abound in Brooklyn Heights, too.
Brooklyn Heights Shopping
Brooklyn Heights is home to an appealing mixture of big-name chain brands and long-appreciated local stores. Fulton Street, located a few blocks east of the New York Transit Museum (just beyond the traditional boundaries of the neighborhood), is flanked by retail heavyweights like Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack, Adidas, H&M, and Banana Republic.
The heart of the Brooklyn Heights shopping scene is centered around bustling Montague Street. Among a popular stretch of predominantly independent shops, favorites include Tango, which stocks a well-curated selection of sophisticated modern women’s clothing; Housing Works, the multi-location, non-profit-organization-supporting thrift shop brand; and the historic Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, a cooperatively run craft gift shop in operation since 1854.
Explore Brooklyn Heights Like a Local
- The majority of Brooklyn Heights is protected under the auspices of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District—in fact, it was the city’s first neighborhood to receive this designation. As you might expect from a neighborhood so rich in history, Brooklyn Heights is jam-packed with architectural wonders. It has been said that the area has over 500 structures still standing today that date to before the Civil War, with said structures encompassing architectural styles such as Italianate, Greek Revival, Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, and Art Deco, just to name a few.
- One of the best ways to witness the history described above is by going on a guided walking tour of Brooklyn Heights. There are several guided walking tour options available here, so find the one that works best for you, put on your good shoes, and start exploring ASAP!
- The Center for Brooklyn History—a brand-new collaborative project between the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Public Library—is located in Brooklyn Heights. Housed within an imposing, Renaissance Revival building designed by famed nineteenth-century architect George B. Post, the Center for Brooklyn History contains artifacts, archival materials, and admission is typically free to the public.