One of the challenges of travel is trying to balance the desire to re-visit favourite places with wanting to try out new destinations. It’s especially hard with kids since it’s such a joy to take them to places you love and experience them all over again through their eyes. I try to balance this by going to at least one new (to me) destination on each trip, but this can be harder on some trips than others.
Our last New York and Beyond trip this March was especially challenging in this regard. We were combining a fun but busy trip to the Big Apple with a relaxing cruise to the Bahamas, and even though it was new to combine those two things, we had been to each of those destinations multiple times. So I started researching ways to spend our time in New York and realized that there was a new destination right across the East River: Brooklyn!
Now some people would say that Brooklyn really isn’t a separate destination from New York City, after all it’s just a few subway stops after Manhattan. The wealth of attractions in Manhattan meant that all our previous trips to New York were really trips to Manhattan plus whatever airport we were flying into. But when we took a day to really explore Brooklyn, we were pleasantly surprised at how it really felt like a new destination.
We started off with a visit to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the country’s first dedicated children’s museum and one of the largest as well. We had free entrance with our Museum membership pass and we were happy to take advantage of it one last time before it ran out at the end of the month. It was enormous with nature discovery areas, water play tables and an international village section that the kids enjoyed exploring. Unfortunately the museum was also stuffed to the brim with groups of kids on field trips and the large space acted like an echo chamber and while this didn’t seem to bother the kids, both of us left with mild headaches and a persistent ringing in our ears from the noise.
From the museum we wandered rather aimlessly in the direction of Prospect park and ended up going right past a large Jewish school just as it was letting out in the middle of the day. The streets were packed with people wearing traditional Hasidic clothing and there was a festive atmosphere in the air but it wasn’t until I saw a group of girls carrying a cake that said, “Happy Purim” that I realized that school must be out early for a Jewish holiday. The kids were very curious about the clothing and hairstyles and we spent the rest of the walk telling them as much as I could about Jewish culture and traditions.
We entered Prospect Park in a quiet corner near the zoo and found an old homestead there that was labeled as one of the original farmhouses from the Dutch settlers in Brooklyn that had been moved there as an exhibit. It was boarded up and looking a bit neglected and we weren’t sure if the exhibit was a work in progress or was only operational in the summer months. It didn’t seem to be off limits so the kids enjoyed poking around a bit and collecting sticks and leaves in the nearby woods. It was nice to enjoy a bit of nature after a few days in the jungles of Manhattan.
After cutting though the park we headed through the Park Slope neighbourhood, stopping at a small Italian restaurant for some delicious thin crust pizza. The neighbourhood was a lovely mix of business and residential with lovely old trees and weathered brownstones that looked like they belonged on a movie set. The feel of the neighbourhood was completely different from the streets of Manhattan; not deserted, but pleasant for strolling and letting the kids go at their own pace. It felt nice to be able to walk around a New York neighbourhood without feeling like the kids would be swept away in the crowd if we let go of their hands.
After a short walk we found our next destination; the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company. This is part of a chain of stores that operate free tutoring and writing workshops in cities across the United States. The stores sell a fun and quirky assortment of goods and finance the workshops that operate in the back of the store. My teacher husband had a great time talking education with the guy in the store and the kids had fun trying on capes and testing the “superhero mind reading machine”.
From there we walked down another perfect shopping street lined with cool boutiques, ethnic restaurants, coffee shops and assorted mom and pop style businesses. We stopped at a great neighbourhood playground packed with local kids just as their school let our for the afternoon and enjoyed the unseasonably warm March weather.
Our only challenge of the day came when we tried to find our way to the subway on our way back to Times Square. We were trying to find the stop at the Barclay’s Center but the area was surrounded with construction and we couldn’t seem to find the entrance. We ended up going entirely around the stadium with no luck and eventually just saw a subway entrance for another line and figured we’d take that one instead and walk the rest of the way back.
We were really surprised at how much we enjoyed our day in Brooklyn and I’m not sure why I didn’t visit sooner. It was a great place to visit with kids and they enjoyed the contrast to the more hectic pace of Manhattan. It will definitely be on our list for any future trips!