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Travel Black Book With Rachel Felder

Brooklyn's best on foot

For the visitor willing to explore its neighbourhoods, the New York City borough rewards him with incredible parks and good food

Who: American journalist Rachel Felder, who is in her 40s, is the author of Insider Brooklyn, A Curated Guide To New York City's Most Stylish Borough, which was published by HarperCollins earlier this year.

The native New Yorker lives in Manhattan with her teenage daughter.

Favourite destination: Brooklyn, New York

Why: The sheer size and diversity of the borough means there's always something new to explore, even for native New Yorkers like myself.

Manhattan - which for some travellers is the sole focus of a trip to New York City - is big, bustling and undeniably vibrant, but Brooklyn has true soul and spirit.

The best way to experience the borough is to choose a neighbourhood and simply walk around in it, ideally with a healthy appetite, as the myriad options of Brooklyn's culinary scene mean there's something delicious around each corner.

Favourite hotel

One of my favourites is Urban Cowboy (111 Powers Street; tel: +1- 347-840-0525; www.urbancowboybnb.com), a bed and breakfast on a quiet street in Williamsburg. It is decorated with mostly vintage furniture and decorations like those you'd find in a rustic country lodge.

The rates start at about US$200 (S$283) a night. It's popular on weekends with locals and visitors from just about everywhere.

There's a common space on the ground floor where single-origin coffee and locally baked pastries are served each morning.

The subway is nearby and so are cool restaurants and shops.

Favourite restaurant

The Brooklyn food scene is incredibly diverse.

It includes old-school pizza at beloved institutions such as Di Fara (1424 Avenue J; +1- 718-258-1367; www.difarany.com) and modern, airy gnocchi at acclaimed restaurant Lilia (567 Union Avenue, corner of north 10th and Union; tel: +1-718-576-3095; www.lilianewyork.com).

One of my favourite spots is The Finch (212 Greene Avenue; tel: +1- 718-218-4444; www.thefinchnyc.com). It was awarded a Michelin star last year and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. It has creative, phenomenally fresh American cooking, helmed by a chef who worked at critically lauded restaurant Blue Hill (75 Washington Place; tel: +1- 212-539-1776; tinyurl.com/jhwtg64) in Greenwich Village.

I suggest sitting at one of the seats that surround the open kitchen to watch the chefs in action, and also to order the housemade squid ink tagliatelle with local clams and basil. A meal costs about US$70 a person before tax and tip.

Best breakfast

I often have breakfast at Iris Cafe (20 Columbia Place; tel: +1- 347-844-9284; www.iriscafe.nyc).

It's tucked away in a hidden spot, surrounded by beautiful brownstone houses in Brooklyn Heights.

It serves mostly breakfast classics, such as housemade granola, yogurt and French toast. Breakfast costs about US$15 a person.

Must try

You can't go to Brooklyn without indulging in at least one slice of pizza.

Roberta's in Bushwick (261 Moore Street; tel: +1-718-417-1118; Robertaspizza.com) is worth the long wait. Everything there is delicious, so the best way to eat there is to order multiple plates to share.

Also, try traditional Italian American pastries. Two purveyors that have been winning fans for decades are Court Pastry Shop (298 Court Street; tel: +1-718-875-4820) and Fortunato Brothers (289 Manhattan Avenue; tel: +1-718-387-2281; fortunatobrothers.com).

On a sunny afternoon, head to Brighton Beach, an ocean-side neighbourhood to Brooklyn's south, which is known for its Russian-immigrant population.

There, eat freshly prepared Russian food on the boardwalk at Tatiana Restaurant and Nightclub (3152 Brighton 6th Street; tel: +1- 718-891-5151; tatianarestaurant.com/nyc).

It's buoyant in the evenings, but in the day, it's a calm place to enjoy delicious borscht, caviar and other authentic delicacies.

Favourite museum

There's a fabulous museum in Williamsburg dedicated to the history of New York City called The City Reliquary (370 Metropolitan Avenue; tel: +1-7180-782-4842; cityreliquary.org).

It's a quirky hidden gem - on display are things such as old metal subway tokens. General admission is US$5 a person.

Favourite neighbourhood

I especially love Bay Ridge in Brooklyn's south-west, where there is an almost tangible sense of community spirit and pride.

The restaurant, Tanoreen (7523 3rd Avenue; tel: +1-718-748-5600; tanoreen.com), serves flavourful Middle Eastern food.

Also, Bay Ridge is where the original branch of discount designer emporium Century 21 (472 86th Street; tel: +1-718-748-3266; www.c21stores.com) is located.

It's huge and filled with bargains.

For a quiet afternoon

Brooklyn has incredible parks, including Prospect Park, which is on a par with Central Park in Manhattan. It's where I go to unwind, read a book and be surrounded by trees and grass.

Best shopping For unique gifts, I love going to Red Hook's in Van Brunt Street, where there is a stretch of lovely boutiques. Not to miss are Erie Basin (388 Van Brunt Street; tel: +1- 718-554-6147; eriebasin.com), which has a selection of beautiful vintage and antique-inspired precious jewellery; and Foxy & Winston (392 Van Brunt Street; foxyandwinston.com) for its lovely letterpress greeting cards and charming little gifts.

Best view

I never get tired of the view as I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I occasionally admire its beautiful spires.

Event to bookmark

There's an annual festival that takes place in Atlantic Avenue every September called Atlantic Antic (www.atlanticave.org).

There are businesses along the avenue all year round, including vintage shops such as Horseman Antique. But on that day, the street is closed to traffic and filled with vendors selling jewellery, art, knick-knacks, clothes and food.

The weather is also great that time of the year.

Ideal length of stay

The great thing about Brooklyn is that you can go for a few hours and get a vivid taste of the borough or stay for a few weeks to explore the neighbourhoods.

Recommended reading

Other than my book, two of my favourite reads about Brooklyn are A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith and Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.

Traveller's advice

The best way to discover Brooklyn is on foot, so wear comfortable shoes.

Brooklynites are friendly and proud of their borough. They'll usually point you towards something wonderful with pleasure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Brooklyn's best on foot'. Print Edition | Subscribe