Nine things to do in Brooklyn, the birthplace of cool

Been to New York City? The bright lights, the glittering high-rises, the noisy restaurants and the queues for them? To the Meatpacking district, SoHO, NoLIta. Of course you have.

Have you strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge then, and into the hipster hub, to the across-the-river cool side of New York that is Brooklyn?

There's an increasing trend, fuelled in part by an increasing availability of sexy accommodation options, for visitors to stay in neighbourhoods, rather than smack bang in the centre of cities.

Brooklyn has long had plenty of street cred, it's just that travellers are wiseing up to it.

No sleep 'til Brooklyn

It's the borough that gave us Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Barbra Streisand. Steve Buscemi, Lena Durham, Norah Jones and Maggie Gyllenhaal live there, and Anne Hathaway and her black lab were a regular Brooklyn sighting until they upped sticks to LA recently. Heath Ledger was often seen skateboarding the Brooklyn hills; his former wife, actress Michelle Williams, remains a resident, along with Australian designer Fleur Wood.

In Australia, bars and cafes are also riding the Brooklyn wave – Melbourne restaurant Estelle Bistro's fitout, we learn, is reminiscent of a "Brooklyn steakhouse", Sydney's Brooklyn Social is named after a bar of the same name in … Brooklyn, and fine diner Automata serves a cocktail called "No Sleep to Brooklyn".

In the city that never sleeps for a conference recently, I tacked a few days on the end – and checked into a towering million-dollar Brownstone in Brooklyn via Airbnb.

My hosts were fashion designer James and architect Siobhan; stylish, urbane and full of tips.

Here's nine things I learned.


1. Get lost in the hoods

You can't do it all in a day. Brooklyn is huge, with lots of cool neighbourhoods to stumble around, from little known 'burbs on the rise like Bed Sty () and Park Slope (full of pram-pushing yummy mummies and cool vistas), to the punk/art town of Bushwick, hipster-packed DUMBO, and Williamsburg, the grooviest of them all.

It's funny, walking around, how so much seems familiar, so it's like getting lost in a neighbourhood you've already been to. There are all those cool brownstones, lined up just as they are in movies like Do the Right Thing and last year's Brooklyn, and in TV shows like Girls.

There is cool graffiti on walls, sidewalk basketball, step stooping, guys playing chess and – truly – people cruising down the street with ghetto blasters atop their shoulders.

It was a serious thrill staying in a genuine brownstone, even more than I had anticipated. After a few days, it was easy to feel like a local. I don't look around when I hear sirens. I find my way around without sneaking a peek at the little map James has provided. I start to discover my own finds. And by the end of the stay, the café around the corner (S,T Coffee) knew my coffee order.

2. Even better, ride a bike

There are stands on every other street in Brooklyn – and unlike Manhattan, they always likely to be well-stocked.

Grab one, ride it along the many bike lanes of the neighbourhoods and all the way over the Brooklyn Bridge. The cost is $12 for unlimited 30-minute rides over a 24-hour period. It's an easy, free-feeling adventurous way to spend a day.

3. Run the Airbnb Brooklyn Half

The looks like a chunk of fun and has a distinctly Brooklyn flavour. It's held in May and has run through the diverse Brooklyn neighbourhoods since 1981 (some runners were wearing shirts with "Running Brooklyn before it was cool"). There are lots of bearded hipster types getting amongst it, as well as large pre and post community parties.

4. Check out Coney Island

Not quite the bustling playground it was 100 years ago, but is definitely worth a visit. Eat a traditional NY hot dog at , stroll the iconic beach and boardwalk, wander through the (smallish) aquarium and embrace your inner child at Coney Island, especially on the Thunderbolt rollercoaster. So daggy it's cool.

5. Eat, drink and be merry

Brooklyn is full of funky little bars, most of them hole-in-the-wall deals, and cosy places to eat. Bed Sty is best known for soul food, like the phenomenal fried chicken and mac and cheese at Hothouse (and its fancier sister Peaches).

An even more fancy option (and a great spot for cocktails) is , which is under the Brooklyn Bridge and boasts phenomenal city views through its floor-to-ceiling windows. Also check out the , which offers regular tours and tastings. Sweettooths should head to in DUMBO (an acronym for District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) for a spicy chocolate ice cream.

But a must-visit for all Aussies is . When Heath Ledger died, he had been working on a new café in Brooklyn; friends and family have honoured his vision – serving excellent coffee and wholesome food in style.

6. Park yourself here

Standing out in the urban setting, there are a lot of beautiful parks in Brooklyn, especially the huge Garden, part of which is currently being developed. Our pick is , chock full of beautiful people on sunny days and a great place to watch the world go by. There's also a very cool pool there.

7. Shop 'til you drop

You can get pretty much everything – from vintage posters to cool threads – at the various markets in Brooklyn, such as the Brooklyn Flea in various locations, with Fort Greene the top pick.

For original and unique retail therapy, my stylish hosts recommend (where I pick up a super-cool papier mache elephant's head for $40), The Vintage Shop and  (which also has great coffee and snacks) in Bed Stuy.

(fashion, artwork) and Home of the Brave (homewares) are funky boutiques run by an artistic couple aiming to champion the talents of local artists and designers. Also on Franklin Street, has super-cool, well-priced threads for the modern man.

8. Get some culture

Start with the huge, and hugely impressive, in Prospect Heights (but closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). It includes the Elizabeth A. Sackler Centre for Feminist Art, featuring edgy works aimed at education around the impact of feminism on culture. There's a monthly (except for September) Saturday night free party of art, music, dancing and food.

9. And, OK, Williamsburg

For the cool credentials, with great bars, boutiques, bang-for-your-buck and people watching. Especially check out (cash only) for hearty, cheap Italian fare, for coffee, for excellent Bloody Mary's, for cool jewellery, for excellent threads (and designer dress rentals!) and the awesome for bands.

The writer was a guest of Airbnb.