When outsiders imagine New York, they think of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Broadway, the Met, or Rockefeller Center. They think in terms of landmarks, shopping districts, and skylines.

But locals know better. Why would anyone want to follow the tourists? Why would you waste time in the lines or lost in the crowds? Here's a breakdown of hotspots, things to do, and places to stay in Brooklyn, NYC's most populous borough. This is where to experience the thrill of being a New Yorker.

Where to Go

Once you get past all the crowds and tourist traps, it's clear how much there still is to do in New York. For starters, book it to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. It connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, and once you cross, you can take in the views of that famous skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park. This isn't just any park; it's a park with hibachi-style grills. If you want to take in the views in style, hit up The River Cafe, which has simple, elegant dishes right on the waterfront.

From there, head south toward the New York Transit Museum. Stop if you have time, especially if there's a history buff in your party. Alternatively, make your way to Prospect Park. It's one of the biggest parks in the borough, and there you'll find the Brooklyn Zoo, botanical gardens, Japanese pools, and Litchfield Villa, an Italianate mansion asking to be Instagrammed.

If the water is calling, head further south to Coney Island and the Riegalmann Boardwalk. Kids and adults alike will love the Coney Island Cyclone and the New York Aquarium. Though it may be touristy, don't deny yourself a Coney Island hot dog at Nathan's Famous on Surf Avenue.

Where to Dine

Hipster havens tend to also be foodie havens, and Brooklyn is no different. Here, the only obstacle is choice. Though it's hard to go wrong, try a few notables.

Need some hipster Italian? Head to Roberta's. Brunch? Sunday in Brooklyn. Punk-rock Vietnamese? Bunker. Fresh seafood? All Hands. Japanese-Korean fusion? Sandobe. Vegetarian? Semilla. Or just a classic New-York-style pizza? Brooklyn Pizza Crew or Di Fara Pizza. Here, if you can imagine it, you can have it.

When you need dessert, head to Four & Twenty Blackbirds. The salty honey pie may just change your palate forever.

Where to Stay

Hotel Planner is a good way to get started looking at Brooklyn-based hotels, and you'll find tons of data about the cheapest time to go. It's easy enough to get a decent hotel for well under $200 per night, especially if you avoid events like spring break. In fact, four-star luxury hotels are often priced just barely above the $200 mark.

For a slight spurge, you can live like Brooklyn royalty. Here, you're spoiled for choice. If one hotel is booked, you have about a hundred other options. For the record, Red Hook and Park Slope are two super popular neighborhoods, and Wiliamsburg is hipster paradise. Be sure to nab your morning latte at one of the many coffee shops in this area. But wherever you stay in Brooklyn, you're still in the heart of it all.

Good food? Check. Good views? Check. Plenty of things to do? Check. Next time you're considering a trip to the Big Apple, make sure to leave room for the "realer" side of New York — Brooklyn.

Image via Flickr by laverrue

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