New York is one of the most diverse and dynamic urban centers on earth. Add to that its rich history and status as the country’s largest city, and you’ve got culture overload. Brooklyn, long a destination for new arrivals trying to make it in the city that never sleeps, is steeped in culture as well. Here are five parts of the borough where you can get a feel for art, attitudes, customs, and rituals of several distinct Brooklyn populations.
Any national history buff headed to Brooklyn should spend at least a few hours in Bay Ridge and neighboring Fort Hamilton before leaving the borough. Fort Hamilton, the site of a major revolutionary victory on July 4, 1776, is the last active-duty military post in New York City. Bay Ridge’s Harbor Defense Museum showcases the fort’s military history. In addition to its military importance, Bay Ridge is known for feeling like a small town in a big city. For example, Bay Ridge and adjacent Dyker Heights have the most festive residential holiday lights displays in the city.
The recent flood of creative types to this north Brooklyn neighborhood is not without precedent. Bushwick was a center of arts and entertainment culture in the 1920s, known for its many vaudeville playhouses. Today, the neighborhood is known for its artist lofts, street art, and converted warehouses. Bushwick hosts a bustling Open Studios event in the summer. Also during the summer, block parties and street parades celebrate the heritage and traditions of Bushwick’s large Dominican and Puerto Rican populations. Bushwick offers a microcosmic glimpse of the myriad cultures that coexist alongside each other, sometimes blending, in New York.
For a taste of culture that won’t make you feel like a fly on the wall, head to Eastern Parkway near downtown Brooklyn. Here you’ll find the Brooklyn Museum, originally intended to be the largest museum in the world. The museum cannot claim that title, but it does have 1.5 million works of art–spanning 3,000 years and hundreds of cultures and subcultures–in its collection. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, home to 10,000 plant species, is located just behind the Brooklyn Museum.
Sunset Park is home to the largest Chinese-born population outside of China (verify). In part’s of the neighborhood’s Chinatown, it’s easy to forget you’re not in China. Depending on your background, you may either feel right at home or as if you’re exploring a foreign land for the first time. The Chinese cuisine is not to be missed, but Sunset Park is known for having good food of all types. This is reflected by the breadth of quality culinary options at Industry City, something of a restaurant emporium. While you’re in Sunset Park, take advantage of stunning Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline views, blaring reminders that this country is a melting pot of people and cultures.
Parts of Williamsburg have changed rapidly enough during recent years it’s easy to argue the neighborhood has been stripped of its culture. A counterargument can be made that the hipster-catering restaurants, bars, and consignment stores invoke or support a culture of their own. Even if you’re skeptical of this, the massive neighborhood of Williamsburg has other cultural experiences in store. The southern part of the neighborhood is home to a massive, self-sustaining Orthodox Jewish population whose dress and customs wow visitors who are not a part of the community.