Welcome to our new travel series. True Pioneers understand that following the crowd isn’t always the best thing. This project is about showcasing the hidden gems of each city, with the help of a local who knows the area like the back of their hand. We're not interested in the usual tourist hotspots listed on TripAdvisor - we want to take you off the beaten path and show you the real heart and soul of each city. From culture to entertainment, we’ll be presenting the secret locations that most tourists only dream of finding. So, buckle up, and get ready to discover a whole new side to your favourite cities with our insider's guide to their Unseen Cities...
Unseen City: Brooklyn, NY
Meet George, a Brooklyn native who has lived in this vibrant borough for 26 years. Although he now calls Lisbon home, Brooklyn will always have a special place in his heart. From the best Italian Bakery to neighbourhoods full of history, he'll show you why Brooklyn is such a magical place and why you should make it a top destination on your next trip to NYC. If you're looking for a truly authentic experience in Brooklyn, you've come to the right place.
126 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Nestled in the quaint Carroll Gardens neighbourhood of Brooklyn lies a true hidden gem, Cafe Spaghetti. This cosy spot takes you away from the bustling restaurant scene of Smith Street and into a world of old-school Italian flavours with modern twists. Chef Sal grew up in the area and he’s not one to forget to take care of those he grew up with, he also knows his clientele well and has created the best Red Sauce spot in Brooklyn. While reservations are required, Sal always saves 25% of the seating for drop-ins, making it the hottest spot in town. Sal’s dad comes in every morning to make the tiramisu with a secret family recipe, and I swear, it’s by far the best tiramisu you’ve ever had. Light as air, and the size of a brick! My other favourite dessert is Limoncello sorbet; chunks of frozen lemon, as fresh as if they were just picked off a tree in Sicily. The staff make you feel at home, always remember your name, and treats you like one of the family. Transport yourself to the Amalfi coast with every bite at Cafe Spaghetti.
112 Harrison Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Falansai in Bushwick is a must-visit for foodies in Brooklyn. Tucked away in an up-and-coming art district with tons of warehouse galleries, this secret spot offers a modern twist on traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Step inside and you'll feel like you've been transported to a 1970s Vietnamese living room, complete with vintage vinyl music and album-covered walls. Their crispy chicken necks are a must-try and they also serve non-alcoholic kombucha-style drinks. It's the perfect blend of chic and hip, and one of the best new restaurants in Brooklyn.
276 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
If you're on the hunt for a great bakery or coffee shop, Ovenly on Court Street is a must-visit. Despite its small size, it offers a wide selection of vegan and gluten-free treats that are simply amazing. You won't even be able to tell that they are vegan or GF! Their pistachio cardamom bread is moist and bursting with flavour, making it hard to believe that it's gluten-free. And if you're a fan of chocolate chip cookies, you must try their salted chocolate chip cookie - it's so good that it should be outlawed!
285 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
As a self-proclaimed thrift store junkie, I have some go-to spots for second-hand shopping. One of my favourites is Stella Dallas in Williamsburg. They keep their inventory fresh with seasonal items and have an impressive selection of sweaters, ranging from cosy knit to rugged military winter gear to high-end designer labels. The shoe collection is also top-notch, with everything from hiking boots to colourful Converse sneakers. And if you're a fan of vintage bandanas, this place is a gold mine. I've found some incredible pieces from the 40s and 50s with unique colours and patterns that are true classics.
If you're not a fan of crowded farmers' markets like Union Square, check out the Saturday market at Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn or the Sunday market on Carroll Street in Carroll Gardens. The Cadman Plaza market offers everything Union Square does but with a slower pace and fewer crowds. Plus, it's a great place to grab spring seedlings for your urban garden. Don't miss the booth where someone cooks a yummy seasonal dish and offers tips and recipes.
9 Carroll St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Gowanus Nursery is the go-to spot for gardeners. A staple in the hood for more than 20 years, Michelle, the owner, is the most helpful, genuine, and informative gardener you will ever find. Her selection of healthy and diverse plants is impressive, and walking into the nursery feels like stepping into a magical wonderland, with a beautiful Kiwi tree vine covering the entrance trellis. She also sells ladybugs in bulk! When it comes to diseases and pests, Michelle is an expert.
Brooklyn is full of culture. Fort Green is a particularly architecturally rich neighbourhood, with 19th-century mansions that have been restored to their former glory. It's also a largely African American neighbourhood with a rich cultural heritage that has been preserved through the 21st century. In the summer, there are often Saturday dance parties in Ft Green Park with DJs spinning classic deep house beats.
192 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
My own neighbourhood of Carroll Gardens / Cobble Hill still has a strong Italian feel. Many of the original Italian bakeries still exist, serving delicious pastries and bread, including the famous "lard bread." Our favourite is Mazzola’s on the corner of Henry and Union. It’s been there for generations. Everything is baked right on their premises and is always available, even at the wee hours of the night. You can simply head to the back door, ring the buzzer, and for a few dollars, one of the bakers will serve you hot bread, croissants, and anything that you crave. It's my go-to guilty pleasure after a fun-filled night out.
Carroll Gardens is still dotted with many “social clubs”, whose members now are older men in the 70s-90s. Walking past them feels like you’re in a movie about low-level gangsters. The mob is still definitely in control there, but it feels safe and very comforting in a strange way. This part of Brooklyn is so famous for its mob & gangster history. There’s a church on Court Street, St Mary of the Sea Star, where Al Capone was married, and it’s said that he hid money in the walls of his Garfield Place home!! I guess Carroll Gardens is kinda proud of its mobster origins. In any case, one does still feel that Italian presence around.
Discovering the world of sports and entertainment in Brooklyn is like opening a treasure chest of endless possibilities. From the high-tech, sustainable, and ultra-modern Barclay Center, home of the NBA champion team The Nets and host to top names like Springsteen and Madonna, to the intimate music venues like Baby's All Right and The Bell House, Brooklyn offers a diverse range of experiences for every taste. Don't break the bank trying to score tickets, Seatgeek and Stubhub are the best sources for snagging amazing bargains. And don't forget the summer outdoor music events under the stars at Prospect Park, where you can enjoy your favourite indie band with the rest of NYC. It's all in Brooklyn, and it's all amazing.
A great walk to enjoy when the weather is good is along the Brooklyn Waterfront, from Red Hook (with a view of the Statue of Liberty that seems like you could touch her), along the water, under Brooklyn’s beautiful Promenade, continuing up through Dumbo, the Navy Yard, and into Williamsburg’s Domino Park. The new bike paths slither through grown forests of native trees, around the marinas with sandy volleyball pits and barbecue grills where anyone can bring their own food or grab something to eat from a stand. All of it with stunning views of lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges. You could spend an entire day along this spectacular waterfront. Very Brooklyn Vibes. For me, it puts Manhattan’s West Side waterfront park to shame.
Are you a photographer with an eye for capturing the essence of your city? Do you know the secret spots that make your home truly unique? We're looking for locals who want to showcase their city in the best way possible, by sharing their insider knowledge and capturing the hidden gems that most tourists miss. If you're interested in being part of our Unseen Cities project, get in touch with us and let's make it happen!