Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn's most popular and exciting neighborhoods, straddles old and new. Yet some things in this hipster-hood remain timeless.
You can explore the lively arts, music, and boutique scene here, compose your great American novel on your laptop in numerous cafes, dine in some very good restaurants, and soak up the creative energy and young vibe. A mecca for young creatives since the early aughts, Williamsburg is in the same cosmos as hip East Berlin.
Interestingly, the hip Williamsburg scene plays out against a backdrop of old industrial buildings, modest attached homes (though punctuated by increasing numbers of expensive waterfront high-rises), and a long-standing residential community of Hasidim. Williamsburg is a mish-mash of cultures and vistas, a place that's perhaps not as beautiful as, say, the campus of Brooklyn College, nor as uniform as landmarked brownstone Brooklyn.
If there's one neighborhood that's indicative of the "new Brooklyn," it's Williamsburg. Because even if you've lived in Brooklyn for 1,000 years, Williamsburg can seem like foreign terrain.
Eat in a Williamsburg Restaurant
Williamsburg is one of Brooklyn's foodiest neighborhoods, meaning one can find excellent wine, cheese, meat, and produce. Better yet, the area's popping with excellent eateries, from fine dining to cool, freshly-prepared tacos. Visitors enjoy a wide range of restaurant options—take your pick by cuisine, ambiance, price or location. For instance, the classic Peter Luger Steakhouse is a Michelin-rated one-star restaurant, whereas the classic Marlow & Sons serves rustic, farm-to-table cuisine. (Find some of our favorite Williamsburg eateries here.) And, if you like beer, wine, and cocktails, you can drink your way through this neighborhood, from the well-established Brooklyn Brewery to the classic Hotel Delmano.
Brooklyn Bowl is an unusual venue: it's half-bowling alley, half-concert venue, and the food is prepared by one of Brooklyn's leading names in restaurants, Blue Ribbon. Concerts are sometimes sold out, so buy tickets in advance, and don't forget to book a lane in advance if you don't want to wait. For regular bowling, head a few blocks north to The Gutter, another bowling alley with a bar that has vintage overtones.
Drink Good Beer
For a relaxed experience, visit the Brooklyn Brewery, a local institution that helped reinvent the beer industry in Brooklyn. The borough was once home to many major brewers, but Brooklyn Brewery ushered in a renaissance when it opened in 1988. Now, Williamsburg is home to plenty of destinations for suds, including Skinny Dennis, a honky-tonk dive bar with 18 beers on draft, and Ba'sik, an underrated bar filled with locals.
Visit a Cocktail or Wine Bar
Interested in a casual experience that costs less than dinner out, but feels fancier than just having a beer? Head to one of the interesting cocktail bars in the neighborhood and have a nibble at the bar. If wine's your thing, explore some of the neighborhoods small, low-key, tasteful wine bars, like Four Horseman, a sleek, modern spot with an expansive wine list, or the intimate and atmospheric Woodhul Wine Bar. Beer loves flock to the always festive Radegast Hall, whereas Extra Fancy has been a staple of the neighborhood's cocktail scene. Up for bar hopping? Check out notable wine bars and beer halls around Brooklyn.
Williamsburg's full of creative people who toil at their day jobs but revel in their "real" work as musicians or performers, writers or artists. So it's not surprising that one can find poetry readings (check Pete's Candy Store), music performances (see the Music Hall of Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bowl) and theater (see Brick Theater.) And don't miss the chance to have a delicious brunch, dinner, or midnight meal served to you while watching a flick at Nitehawk Cinema.
If it's vintage clothing you're shopping for, Williamsburg has a lot to offer, and in different price ranges. For a "hunt-and-find" experience, go to the huge, popular Beacon's Closet, where inexpensive basics mingle with designer duds. But there's no shortage of other vintage shopping in the neighborhood, from funky Narnia to Monk Vintage, a shop focused on men.
Hang Out at the Park
Williamsburg, unlike some New York City neighborhoods, is home to plenty of green space. McCarren Park is centrally located between Nassau Avenue, Bayard, Leonard, and North 12th Street. It has baseball fields and basketball courts, bocce, playgrounds, running tracks and dog run areas. You can also visit East River State Park for killer Manhattan views. On the weekends, eat outdoors like a king or queen at Smorgasburg, an outdoor food festival held every Saturday from the spring through the fall.
Take a Cooking Class
Given the locavore, farm-to-table ethos in this corner of Brooklyn, it's no surprise that one can also find interesting cooking classes. Need to learn how to carve a hock of ham? What to do with knives? How to make a killer pie crust? Take a class at Brooklyn Kitchen. (Afterwards stock your own kitchen with goods from the locally-owned kitchen supply store, Whisk.)
Even if you're not from the 'hood, why not have a birthday party or special occasion in Williamsburg? (Because if there's anything people know in this neighborhood, it's how to party.) Luckily, the neighborhood has plenty of great bars that can handle a crowd. The spacious Berry Park is a massive beer garden with a huge roof deck. Meanwhile, The Commodore, a sweaty, hip saloon, has excellent cocktails and some of the best friend chicken in the whole city. Check more of the best bars in Williamsburg for a birthday party, or rent a lane or two at Brooklyn Bowl and call all your friends.
It's not as famous or as picturesque as the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Williamsburg Bridge played an important role in New York City history. There are both bike and pedestrian lanes (cyclists are advised to be careful when returning to Manhattan's traffic) and it makes a nice alternative trip to the now-crowded Brooklyn Bridge.
Edited by Alison Lowenstein