Until the early 1800s, Brooklyn was no more than a group of autonomous towns and villages, but Robert Fulton’s steamship service across the East River changed all that, starting with the establishment of a leafy retreat at Brooklyn Heights. What really transformed things, though, was the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883. Thereafter, development spread deeper inland, as housing was needed to service a more commercialized Manhattan. By 1900, Brooklyn was fully established as part of the newly incorporated New York City, and its fate as Manhattan’s perennial kid brother was sealed.
Generations of working-class New Yorkers have come to relax at one of Brook- lyn’s farthest points, Coney Island (wwww.coneyislandusa.com), reachable from Manhattan on the D, F, N or Q subway lines (45min–1hr). Undeniable highlights include the 1927 wooden roller coaster, the Cyclone ($8), and the 90-year-old Wonder Wheel ($6). The beach, a broad swath of golden sand, is beautiful, although it is often crowded on hot days and the water might be less than clean. In late June, catch the Mermaid Parade, one of the country’s oddest and glitziest small-town fancy-dress parades, which culminates here. Meanwhile, the New York Aquarium on the boardwalk opened in 1896 and is still going strong, showcasing fish and invertebrates from the world over in its darkened halls, along with open-air displays (April–May & Sept–Oct Mon–Fri daily 10am–5.30pm; June–Aug Mon–Fri 10am–6pm, Sat & Sun till 7pm; Nov– March daily 10am–4.30pm; $13, $9 for kids 3–12; t718/265-3474, wwww .nyaquarium.com).