• Franny the Traveler

10 Brooklyn Outdoor Experiences that Cost FREE.99 (from a Native New Yorker)

Looking for the best outdoor spaces in Brooklyn? Wondering what experiences are best for outdoors activities in Brooklyn? Where should I go out in Brooklyn? Looking to explore without it costing you a penny? Just because you’re in a concrete jungle, doesn’t mean you can’t find some incredible outdoor spaces to “escape” the jungle! NYC can be expensive, but it can also be super cheap if you select the right things to do!


Summer 2020 for me became the summer of FREE outdoor exploration of my own backyard! I realized that I did not have to travel far or spend a lot to escape. Whether you live in New York City or are visiting New York City, this article will feature my favorite places in Brooklyn to explore for FREE and experience the outdoors.


For each experience, I am including the following information:

  • Description

  • Unique “Did You Know?” Fact

  • Things to Do

  • Landmarks & Attractions Nearby

  • Directions

  • FYIs Before You Go


10 Brooklyn Outdoor Experiences for FREE.99 featured in this post:

  1. Relax in Prospect Park

  2. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

  3. Stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge

  4. Lounge at Domino Park

  5. Take a moment at East River State Park

  6. Smell the flowers at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

  7. Lounge at the Beach

  8. Spend a Day at Coney Island

  9. Get lost in the street art area of the Bushwick Collective

  10. Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park


1. Relax in Prospect Park



One does not have to make a trek to Central Park to experience a green oasis -- you can head to Prospect Park instead. There are 585 acres to enjoy! Whether you want to ride a bike, go for a run, have a picnic or BBQ, there is ample green space for that. You are guaranteed to have a relaxing day.


Did you know? Prospect Park was designed by the same team that created Central Park.

Things to Do:

  • Boat tour at the Audubon Center

  • Go fishing

  • Ride horses

  • Rent a pedal boat

  • Stroll through the park

  • Shop at a farmer’s market


Landmarks & Attractions nearby

  • Prospect Park Zoo

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden

  • Grand Army Plaza

  • Brooklyn Museum

  • Lefferts Historic House


Directions:

  • F at 7th Ave., 15th St./Prospect Park, and Fort Hamilton Parkway stations

  • 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza

  • Q at Parkside Ave.

  • Q /B/S trains at Prospect Park station


FYIs before you go:

  • Prospect Park is HUGE -- it is the second-largest park to Marine Park. With that being said, what you are interested in doing/seeing impacts what side of the park you want to enter.

  • Prospect Park hosts several events throughout the year, especially in the summer. BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn in the Prospect Park Bandshell is the most popular, where there are many concerts and shows throughout the summer. It's New York's longest-running, free outdoor performing arts festival, often featuring major celebrities. For example, Patti LaBelle opened for Summer 2019. Check out the calendar so you can plan your trip to Prospect Park around an event.

  • Interested in exploring Prospect Park with some guidance? There are walking tours offered by Turnstile Tours in partnership with Prospect Park Alliance that you can check out!

  • Interested in a Farmers Market? There are two of them by Prospect Park you can enjoy!:

  • Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket: Open Saturdays year-round from 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Located at Prospect Park West by Flatbush Avenue/Grand Army Plaza

  • Bartel-Pritchard Square Wednesday Greenmarket: Open Wednesdays, Year-round from 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Located near Prospect Park West at 15th Street


2. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge



Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic things you can do in New York City. It truly is one of the best ways to see the NYC skyline for FREE.99. It is no wonder that two million people come to walk across the historic Brooklyn Bridge each year. Once you finish your walk, there are a variety of activities to do (many food-related) to reward your long walk!


Did you know? Each weekend on average, 26,800 people cross the bridge on any given weekend day. More than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians, and 2,600 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day.

Brooklyn Side:


Things to Do:

  • Eat Fresh Seafood Rolls (lobster, shrimp, crab) from Luke's Lobster, a ten-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge's exit on the Brooklyn side.

  • Grab dessert from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory or Junior’s Cheesecake

  • Eat pizza at the famous Grimaldi’s

  • Take a moment looking at photos from the exhibit, Photoville NYC

  • Roam and eat at the Time Out Market New York


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Junior’s Cheesecake

  • Brooklyn Bridge Park

  • Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

  • Photoville NYC

  • Time Out Market New York


Directions:

  • Closest trains: A, C or F to Jay Street/MetroTech Station; N, R to Court Street Station; 2/3 or 4/5 to Borough Hall Station if you are trying to enter from the pedestrian walkway from Tillary and Adams St (this part has a longer entry walk to enter, but it is all leveled)

  • Shortcut: A or C Train to the High Street Station. Exit at the High Street exit. There is a staircase entrance on Washington Street to enter -- you can use this Google Maps link for directions to that entrance from your starting destination. This helps you bypass the longer entry walk, but requires you to climb steps.

  • Ferry: Take NYC Ferry’s East River route to Fulton Landing in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1


Manhattan Side:


Things to Do:


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • City Hall

  • African Burial Ground National Monument

  • Tweed Courthouse

  • Chinatown

  • One World Trade Center

  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum

  • Oculus Center


Directions:

  • Closest trains: 4, 5, or 6 trains to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Stop or J or Z trains to Chambers St. Stop. The bridge is right across the street from the subway station.

  • Nearby trains: 2 or 3 trains to Park Place, the N or R train to City Hall, or the A or C train to Fulton Street


FYIs before you go:

  • If you want the best view walking the Brooklyn Bridge, walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan so the skyline is always in front of you.

  • If you want little to no people in your pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge, you either need to wake up super early (6-7 am early) or be very patient and creative with your angles!

  • If you're walking, you should plan to spend about an hour getting from one side to the other -- including stopping for views and photos and dodging bicycles

  • Stay in your lane: There are lots of bikes on the bridge to dodge -- the beginning of the pedestrian walkway from the Brooklyn side is really tight, so you really need to be careful. While the walkway does widen towards the middle, there is a lot to pay attention to between the bikes and crowds of people.

  • Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be walking a lot across the bridge, so it is best to be comfortable!

  • Don’t leave a lock on the bridge: You will actually be fined $100 if caught.


3. Stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge



There is more to New York City than the Brooklyn Bridge -- there are 7 bridges that connect to Brooklyn, 3 of which connect to Manhattan. If you are looking for a more local bridge to walk across, the Williamsburg Bridge is a good option. It provides a more unique view of the city, as it connects the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn at Broadway across the East River.


Did you know? Williamsburg Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world (7,308 feet) until 1924 when the Bear Mountain bridge opened upstate?

Brooklyn Side:


Things to Do:

  • Stroll through Domino Park or East River State Park

  • Splurge at Peter Lugers Steakhouse

  • Eat a meal at Patrizia’s!

  • Indulge in sweets at one of these places: Martha’s Country Bakery or Levain Bakery

  • Wander & eat at Smorgasburg

  • Go on a street mural gallery walk along Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • East River State Park

  • Domino Park

  • Peter Lugers Steakhouse

  • Smorgasburg


Directions:

  • J, M, and Z lines to Marcy Avenue. Then walk to enter at Berry St between South 5th and South 6th Streets.


Manhattan Side:


Things to Do:

  • Grab dinner in Little Italy

  • Go on a street mural gallery walk on Lower East Side or Williamsburg

  • Grab some tasty dessert from Eileen’s Cheesecake


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Little Italy

  • Lower East Side

  • Eileen’s Cheesecake


Directions:

  • F, J, M, and Z trains to Delancey St & Essex station. Then enter the bridge at Clinton and Delancey Street.


FYIs before you go:

  • The Williamsburg Bridge provides a unique view: The views from the Williamsburg Bridge walk are not as pretty as the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges. However, you do get a different perspective of the city.

  • The Williamsburg Bridge has a much bigger incline to enter and decline to exit.

  • If you enter walking on the Lower East Side, you will most likely deal with more traffic since there is only one entrance for bicyclists and pedestrians on that side -- I noticed seeing a lot more bikes when I was exiting the bridge.

  • For the best views: Walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan so the skyline is always in front of you.

  • If you're walking, you should plan to spend about 45 min- 1 hour getting from one side to the other -- including stopping for views.

  • Stay in your lane: There are lots of bikes on the bridge on the Manhattan side to dodge, but the majority of the bridge was smooth to walk!

  • Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be walking a lot across the bridge, so best to be comfortable!


4. Lounge at Domino Park



A former Domino Sugar Refinery, the area has been transformed into a 5-acre public park as of 2018. The park has many features including a playground, chairs to lounge out, a walkway, and dope views of the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan skyline by the waterfront. A unique aspect of this playground is that there are many artifacts from the factory sprinkled throughout such as cranes that were once used to unload sugarcane from freight ships, sugar tanks used to collect the liquid sweetener, and screw conveyors. Even the wood used to build the benches and chairs came from the former sugar refinery.


Did you know? The same architects and designers who created the High-Line in Chelsea created Domino Park.

Things to Do:

  • Take a stroll on the elevated walkway, made from 21 columns from the factory’s Raw Sugar Warehouse.

  • Grab a bite to eat at Tacocino or one of the food trucks right outside the park.

  • Chill out on a wooden lounge chair

  • Play in the sugar refinery-themed Playground


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Williamsburg Bridge

  • East River State Park


Directions:

  • Subway: Take the M, J, Z to Marcy Avenue OR the L to Bedford Avenue.

  • Ferry: Take NYC Ferry’s East River route to North Williamsburg (at North 6th Street) or South Williamsburg (at Schaefer Landing) Stop


FYIs before you go:

  • There are three park entrances: 1) Kent Avenue at South 5th Street; 2) South 3rd Street, and 3) Grand Street

  • Hours: The park is open from 6:00 am to 1:00 am every day of the week

  • There isn’t much shade at all, so you may want to bring a hat and apply sunscreen.

  • Drinks are not allowed into the park. We were turned away when we had milkshakes in our hands.

  • I am unsure if this is at all entrances, but the entrance we entered searched everyone’s bags.

5. Take a moment at East River State Park




Another great park in Williamsburg Brooklyn is East River State Park, located right on the East River waterfront. Formerly used as a shipping dock, this 7-acre waterfront park offers really breathtaking views of Manhattan, the NYC skyline, and the Williamsburg Bridge. You can still see remnants of the 19th-century shipping dock such as old cobblestone streets and railroad tracks embedded in concrete.


Did you know? The East River State Park was renamed the Marsha P. John State Park in February 2020 in honor of a transgender woman of color who was a pioneer of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and a prominent figure in the Stonewall Uprising.

Things to Do:

  • Explore different cuisines by grabbing bites to eat at Smorgasburg on Saturdays

  • Grab Ice cream at OddFellows Ice Cream

  • Take in the beautiful skyline while sitting on a bench or while having a picnic or BBQ

  • Attend a summer event


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Smorgasburg

  • Williamsburg Bridge


Directions:

  • Subway: Take the L train to Bedford Avenue, and walk towards the river to Berry Street. Pass Berry Street, Wythe Avenue, and Kent Avenue. You'll find the entrance to the Park on Kent Avenue between N. 9th Street and N.10th Street.

  • Ferry: Take NYC Ferry’s East River route to North Williamsburg (at North 6th Street) or South Williamsburg (at Schaefer Landing) Stop


FYIs before you go:

  • Bicycles are not allowed here.

  • You can only bring 2 dogs at a time.

  • Hours: 9 am to dusk

6. Smell the flowers at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens



If you are looking for the ultimate escape from the city’s bustle, a perfect oasis filled with nature, vibrant flowers, quiet, and lack of crowds, then Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is for you. This 52-acre garden containing 12,000 species of plants draws nearly 3/4 million visitors a year. This summer, the BBG reopened for visits since March. Typically, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is open year-round and each season has its very own star exhibits.


Did you know? The sons of Frederick Olmsted, the most famous designer of Prospect Park and Central Park, designed the original plans for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Things to Do:

  • Explore the Brooklyn Museum near the 990 Washington Ave & 150 Eastern Parkway entrances

  • Relax at nearby Prospect Park

  • Sit on the lawn under the trees at the Cherry Esplanade of Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

  • Shop & Dine at Prospect Heights

  • Shop at the Saturday Farmers Market at Near Grand Army Plaza

  • Attend some of the annual events at BBG such as Cherry Blossom Festival and Chile Pepper Festival


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Brooklyn Museum

  • Prospect Park

  • Grand Army Plaza

  • Prospect Heights


Directions:


Brooklyn Botanic Garden has three entrances:

  • 150 Eastern Parkway: 2/3 Eastern Parkway—Brooklyn Museum

  • 455 Flatbush Avenue: B/Q/S to Prospect Park

  • 990 Washington Avenue: 2/3 4/5 to Franklin Avenue.


FYIs before you go:

  • BBG is super strict about CDC guidelines as they had workers on golf carts constantly circulating to ensure rules being followed.

  • Some gardens were not maintained during the pandemic or destroyed by summer storms, so there are not as many flowers in bloom. Therefore, spurts of color are added to the lush grass and trees.

  • Advance timed-entry tickets are required to enter: You must arrive at the time you selected. Tickets are valid from 15 minutes before to 45 minutes after your entry time.

  • Restrooms are very limited: They are only found at the Flatbush Avenue entrance and at the Visitor Center. Therefore, plan accordingly.

  • Bring your own water: Water fountains are closed.

  • Hours: Closed on Mondays and major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day). The hours adjust depending on the month, so check the hours ahead of time.

  • Admission: Normal admission price is $18, but there are several opportunities for free admission such as Tuesday-Friday from December through February and Fridays before noon March through November.

7. Lounge at the Beach



When people think of NYC, a beach is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. You think tall skyscrapers, flashing lights, and crowded streets. Now, think about the beaches too! Yes, it may not be crystal clear waters, but it’s refreshing nonetheless. Much of NYC is built on islands, which means there are many beaches -- 14 miles to be exact! Brooklyn specifically has 4 public beaches: Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Plumb Beach (more for water based-activities and has lots of horseshoe crabs).


Did you know? Brooklyn has the second most beaches in NYC behind Staten Island.

Things to Do:

  • Take a swim in the Atlantic Ocean

  • Tan on the sand

  • Grab ice cream -- usually there is an ice cream truck standing near the beach or as is the case in Coney Island, there is an ice cream shop

  • Take a ride at the amusement park

  • Shop and dine at Sheepshead Bay


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Coney Island Amusement Park

  • Sheepshead Bay

  • Little Odessa: a Russian and Eastern European neighborhood


Directions

  • Coney Island Beach: Take the D, N, F, or Q to the Coney Island Beach station and walk about two minutes to the shore.

  • Brighton Beach: Take the B or Q to the Brighton Beach station and walk about two minutes to the shore.

  • Manhattan Beach: Take B1 and B49 to Oriental Blvd/Hastings St. Take B/Q train to Brighton Beach and then take the B1 to Oriental Blvd/Hastings St.


FYIs before you go:

  • To avoid crowds, go earlier in the day or a weekday: Most people seem to come around 3-4 pm so it becomes harder to socially distance in the ocean around 4-5pm. Lifeguards are off duty at 6 pm, so you must leave the water or swim at your own risk. Also, weekends are more likely to be packed.

  • Wear a mask even when chilling at the beach: You will see more people wear a mask on the boardwalk. However, in the summertime, nobody was wearing a mask on the sand even though it was not always possible to socially distance.

  • To socially distance, stay towards the back of the beach: We noticed more people are trying to sit closer to the water, so there is not much socially distancing happening. However, those by the back had SOOOO much space.

  • Beaches are typically open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. During beach season, lifeguards are on duty daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Swimming is prohibited when lifeguards are not on duty and in closed sections. Closed sections are marked with signs and/or red flags. When they are not open, people still often take a stroll on the boardwalk or on the sand.

8. Spend a Day at Coney Island



Coney Island is a quintessential part of the Brooklyn experience that everyone must go at least once. It is no wonder it has been nicknamed the “Heaven at the end of a subway ride.” Depending on where you are coming from it, it may be a long trek on the subway line. However, with the wealth of things to do to keep you entertained, it is surely worth it. It is a great place to hang out for both adults and children.


Did you know? During World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the country, attracting millions of visitors each year.

Things to Do:

  • Relax at the Beach: Coney Island is made up of 3 miles of sandy beaches

  • Get on a ride at the amusement park: Coney Island has two amusement parks, Luna Park & Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, with a total of 50+ rides.

  • Eat a hot dog: You must try Nathan’s hot dog at least once! It’s an iconic food dating back to 1916.

  • Wander Coney Island Art Walls: There is a collection of free-standing murals by more than a dozen graffiti & street artists

  • Attend an event: Coney Island has a number of events during the year: Mermaid Parade, weekly summer fireworks, Cyclones baseball game, Fourth of July hot dog eating contest

  • Visit the New York Aquarium


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Coney Island Beach

  • Luna Park

  • Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

  • Nathan’s Hot Dog

  • Coney Island Art Walls

  • New York Aquarium

  • MCU Park


Directions

  • Coney Island Beach: Take the D, N, F or Q to the Coney Island Beach station and walk about two minutes to the shore.


FYIs before you go:

  • To avoid crowds, go on a weekday or non-summer season: Coney Island was super packed in the summertime, especially on weekends.

  • Wear a mask: Because there were so many people in the summertime, it was super difficult to socially distance. So, keep your mask!

  • Wear a hat, apply sunscreen, and bring water: There are very few spaces to hide from the sun so be prepared.

  • Food is not cheap: If you are looking to save money, bring your own food. Most of the food spots around Coney Island are not cost effective, especially Nathan’s Hot Dog. But hey it's part of the experience!

  • During the pandemic, more things were closed: At the time I went in early July, the amusement parks, the Coney Island Art Walls, and the New York Aquarium were closed. Since then, the aquarium has opened. There are still other things to do.

9. Get lost in the street art area of the Bushwick Collective



The Bushwick Collective is a massive, continuously growing graffiti and street art exhibition in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is acclaimed to be the largest graffiti exhibit of all New York. It is worth a trip to see the vibrant colors and variety of street art in a concentrated area. The Bushwick Collective, formed in 2012, brings together street artists from around the world, legendary NYC graffiti artists, and local Bushwick artists. On average, a mural will last about 12 months before being replaced. Artists are not paid/commissioned but rather given permission to paint, which is a huge deal since graffiti used to be illegal at some point.


Did you know? The Bushwick Collective street art was started by a local of Bushwick resident Joseph Ficalora. In an effort to revive himself after his mother died of a brain tumor in 2011 and his father was murdered back in 1991, he decided to pour his energy into reviving his neighborhood.

Things to Do:

  • Take a pay-as-you wish street art tour.

  • Take your own self-guided art tour.

  • Have a full-blown photoshoot!

  • Grab a bite to eat at some local spots such as Artichoke Pizza, SeaWolf, Roberta’s, and Los Hermanos.

  • Attend the Bushwick Collective Block Party, an annual art event usually on the first Saturday of June featuring graffiti, street art, music, food trucks & local vendors. Free for all!

  • Shop at the Bushwick Market


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Fine ‘n Raw Chocolate Factory

  • Bushwick Market: a flea market


Directions:

  • It is approximately a 7-8 minute walk from the nearest train station Jefferson Street (L train).

  • You can also take the L train up to Morgan Avenue Station, going toward the Bogart & Harrison exit.

  • Alternative route: M line to 'Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue' station, then walk to Starr Street


The main streets where you’ll find the best Bushwick murals are:

  • Seigel, Moore & Varet Sts. between Bogart & White Sts.

  • Thames St. between Bogart St. & Vandervoort Pl.

  • Flushing Ave. between Vandervoort Pl & Irving Ave.

  • Troutman St. between Irving Ave. & Cypress Ave.

  • Jefferson St. between Wyckoff & St. Nicholas Ave


FYIs before you go:

  • Best times to visit: The best times are on weekdays, especially earlier in the day. Avoid weekends or post-work hours on the weekdays for a less crowded experience. It is best to also go when it's daylight in order to thoroughly see the artwork and get the best shots!

  • Wear a hat, apply sunscreen, and bring water: There are very few spaces to hide from the sun, so be prepared.

  • Wear comfy shoes: You will do a lot of walking! You can easily spend an entire day as there are nearly 100 blocks with art in and around the Bushwick Collective area

  • Very often, there is construction happening on the L line on weekends. Therefore, pay attention to that as you plan your route to get there.

10. Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park



Brooklyn Bridge Park is a gorgeous waterfront park that has an endless amount of things to do. It has everything you can want and need to spend a full day. Whether you want to lay out on the lawn, play sports, eat some delicious food, or just take in the scenery, you will want to keep coming back. Little did I know until recently that Brooklyn Bridge park is a massive 85-acres covering 1.3 miles along the waterfront. There are 6 piers, each with very different things to offer, but all providing amazing views of the Manhattan skyline.


Did you know? The DUMBO area was a ferry landing back in the 19th and 20th centuries. The park itself has only existed for the past 10 years.

Things to Do:

  • Pier 1: Stroll along the waterfront, take a seat on a bench near the pier, hop on a ferry, or grab some delicious foods.

  • Pier 2: Play basketball, handball, and shuffleboard on the coats; make use of the fitness equipment, or skate on the roller rink

  • Pier 3: Relax on the massive greenery by this pier

  • Pier 4: Relax on the Pier 4 beach

  • Pier 5: Play on the multiple soccer fields or grab a snack by Ample Hills Creamery.

  • Pier 6: Play at the beach volleyball courts, grab a ferry to Governors Island in the summertime, or grab some delicious food options such as Fornino’s Pizza


Landmarks & Attractions nearby:

  • Jane’s Carousel

  • Time Out Market

  • Stained Glass House

  • Empire stores

  • Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

  • Photoville NYC

  • Ample Hills Creamery

  • Brooklyn Historical Society

  • Famous photo spot on Washington Street.


Directions:

  • Subway: A & C trains to High Street; 2 & 3 trains to Clark Street; F train to York Street

  • Ferry: Take NYC Ferry’s East River route to Fulton Landing in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1

  • Walk: Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan side and exit down the pedestrian stairway, which lands you on Washington Street.


FYIs before you go:

  • Brooklyn Bridge Park has 6 piers, each with its own things to do and different views so it's helpful to narrow down what you want to do.

  • If you are looking for the most things to do in a concentrated area, Pier 1 is the place to go!

  • Although its free to explore Brooklyn Bridge Park, food places in the area are not cheap so be prepared to spend a lot or bring your own food for a picnic.


What is your favorite outdoors Brooklyn activity to do or that you want to try on this list? Comment below!


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