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Don't Fughedabout Brooklyn's Best

brooklyn bridge duskWhile we acknowledge right up front that most out-of-towners headed to New York City probably wouldn't even consider bypassing the Manhattan canyon to sightsee in another borough, we're going to let you in on a little secret: Brooklyn is no longer the bridesmaid -- if it ever was. Fact is, if Brooklyn were a city unto itself (instead of being one of the five boroughs that make up New York City), it would rank as the fourth largest city in the U.S.

As a former resident near the ever-shifting border of Red Hook, and now a Park Sloper who commutes to "the City" (as Brooklynites refer to Manhattan), I am hard-pressed to think of a place to live that is as diverse and has as many small and great wonders as Brooklyn.

Most of Brooklyn is a pretty neighborly place. While some New Yorkers may be wearing Time Out New York T-shirts that say "Welcome to New York, Now Get Out," Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz had signs installed along major routes that say "Welcome: Brooklyn's in the House," and "Leaving Brooklyn? Fuhgedaboudit." Markowitz is the same figurehead who by turns led his people in a "Lighten Up Brooklyn" mass weight-loss initiative, and later -- and not much lighter -- presided over a "How Sweet It Is" sweet potato pie contest. There's an element of grassroots goofiness here that simply doesn't exist in Manhattan.

Granted, Brooklyn doesn't have Manhattan's dazzling iconic skyline, and it's not quite "Sex and the City" chic. But it is as urban, in its own way as fabled, and every bit as diverse as Manhattan. Fast if you like it that way. Slow in ways that Manhattan could never be. More affordable on a few counts (though fewer of those as it becomes increasingly fashionable).

So if you've dashed through Manhattan's high points any number of times, aren't up for the intensity or just want to broaden your New York City literacy, consider spending time in the Borough of Kings. Here we offer some landmarks and great neighborhoods worth exploring. Most of these areas are about half an hour or 40 minutes from mid-town Manhattan (on a very good day), and all are accessible by subway.

Recommended Brooklyn Tours
If you're looking to get a quick peek at (and taste of) some of Brooklyn's major neighborhoods and attractions, try a half-day pizza tour from Manhattan with A Slice of Brooklyn. Another option we love is the family-run Levys' Unique New York Tours, whose many Brooklyn offerings include a fascinating 2.5-hour look at the borough's graffiti and street art, as well as four- and six-hour tasting tours of Brooklyn's ethnic eats. For an in-depth look at what makes individual neighborhoods tick, check out Made in Brooklyn Tours, which offers guided walking tours showcasing artisans and entrepreneurs from Williamsburg, DUMBO and more.

Brooklyn Bridge
John and Washington Roebling's 1883 bridge -- then the longest suspension bridge in the world -- earned its iconic status despite disastrous beginnings. The elder Roebling died before the project began, and the younger, suffering from the condition we now know as "the bends," directed much of the project from his bed, observing the progress via telescope. Dozens of workers died during the bridge's 14-year construction, and people were trampled on its opening day. But the Brooklyn Bridge seems to have largely lived down its jaded past -- and is one of the greatest architectural icons in the world.

Must Do: Walk across! The bridge is a link between Brooklyn (more notably Brooklyn Heights) and Manhattan's downtown/Wall Street districts. Hint: From Brooklyn Heights or downtown Brooklyn, just walk toward the bridge and follow the signs to the pedestrian path. It's about a mile across, ending up in Manhattan at City Hall. From there you can jump on the subway back to Brooklyn, grab a taxi back, or just turn around and walk back over.

Why: The Manhattan skyline viewed through the cross-hatching of the bridge's steel cables is a classic sightseeing experience in New York. And it's free!

What's More: A walk across the bridge feels like a "Go, Dog. Go!" scene, with all stripes of cyclists, stroller pushers, joggers and camera-toting tourists moving across its span as so many cars (140,000 a day) rumble through below -- with the boats below them, and the subway trains underground beneath the boats. The Brooklyn Bridge is said to be the only bridge in the world where this kind of mobility hero sandwich can occur.

Pre-Trip Tip: Rent "Kate and Leopold," a movie starring Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Getting There: Combine a Brooklyn Bridge walk with a visit to Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO or downtown Brooklyn. These neighborhoods are about a half-hour to/from Midtown Manhattan. Suggested subway stops (for Brooklyn Heights): 2-3 to Clark Street, A-C to High Street, or 2-3-4-5 to Borough Hall (not "Jay Street/Borough Hall," which is a different station).

What Not to Do in a New City

Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Heights is a charming historic neighborhood located just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its waterfront promenade offers magnificent views of Manhattan's downtown, and the neighborhood's tree-lined streets are known for their prime 19th-century homes and churches.

Bit of History: Brooklyn Heights emerged in the early 1800's as Manhattan's first suburb. But its historical significance dates even earlier: It was from Brooklyn Heights that George Washington decided to retreat across the East River in the Battle of Brooklyn, in 1776.

Fun Fact: While "Breakfast at Tiffany's" may be a quintessential Manhattan story, Truman Capote wrote it in his Brooklyn Heights apartment (on Willow Street).

Added Attraction: The subterranean New York Transit Museum at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street -- itself a 1930's subway station -- has vintage token machines and turnstiles, full-scale buses for kids to "drive" and displays that trace the mammoth undertaking to construct New York's subway tunnels. Dash in and out of the vintage subway cars (check out the period ads) for a fun transportation time warp.

Shop Op: Montague Street is Brooklyn Heights' main commercial strand. At the outpost of Fishs Eddy -- the Manhattan emporium for dishes -- you'll find a selection of vintage hotel and restaurant patterns as well as contemporary designs like the New York skyline dishes or the Brooklynese coffee service ("Shuguh," "Cawfee," "Creamuh"). And the "Heros of the Torah" mugs might be perfect for that special someone on your gift list.

Eat At: The upscale River Cafe, perched on the water, offers the Promenade view -- and is one of New York's longtime favorites. Or get the same view -- way lighter on the wallet if not on the calories -- with a cone from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory next door. In the heart of Brooklyn Heights is a marvelous array of ethnic eateries from Cuban to Turkish, Italian to French. We love the romantic Henry's End, which serves nouvelle American cuisine.

Getting There: About a half-hour from Midtown Manhattan. Subway: 2-3 to Clark Street, A-C to High Street, 2-3-4-5 to Borough Hall (not "Jay Street/Borough Hall," which is a different station).

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