How to spend a day in Williamsburg, New York’s energetic, trend-setting neighbourhood

The Williamsburg Bridge anchors the area to Manhattan  (iStock)
The Williamsburg Bridge anchors the area to Manhattan (iStock)

Our microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s trendiest neighbourhood, is growing up. You can still play arcade games while getting drunk, go bowling while watching a rock band or catch a drag show in a museum, but the neighbourhood is exploring a gentler tempo, too. One that involves strolls along New York City’s East River, bargain hunting for cusp-of-the-trend fashion at thrift stores and savouring the diverse community’s extensive culinary offerings.

The finger-on-the-pulse approach to life in Williamsburg results from its emergence as a hipster haven a few decades ago. These days, however, you can gauge the area’s average socio-economic status more by the designer dogs you’ll see along the waterfront than the street art on the walls. And although this increasing price parity with Manhattan has sadly edged out many of the people who helped to revive the neighbourhood, a creative charm and youthful atmosphere remain.

Williamsburg is anchored to Manhattan by the Williamsburg Bridge, which carries the J and M trains. Both lines head east into Queens and west into Manhattan, with the J destined for the Financial District and the M travelling up as far as The Bronx. The G line at Metropolitan Av runs north to south through east Williamsburg, which retains shades of its pre-gentrification community in the form of long-running businesses. But it’s the L Train from midtown Manhattan that brings the most life to Williamsburg, passing through Bedford Avenue, the core of the ’hood and a veritable pacemaker for the area.


Ramble along the riverfront

Once tarnished with industrial grit, the banks of the East River were reserved for docking ships, laden with cargoes bound from, and to, everywhere else. Only in the last few decades have developers recognised the area’s potential. Shimmering newbuilds sit alongside 19th-century warehouses adapted to fulfil modern needs.

Williamsburg emerged as a hipster haven decades ago (Getty)
Williamsburg emerged as a hipster haven decades ago (Getty)

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There’s no better example than Domino Park, which has transformed an old sugar refinery. The highlight is a raised, 125-metre-long walkway beginning at the foot of two decommissioned cranes. This is surrounded by a thoughtfully landscaped park. Benches provide the perfect angle on sunsets behind the Williamsburg Bridge and sprawling Manhattan cityscape. Continue walking the pedestrian-friendly route northwards as far as Marsha P Johnson State Park for a variety of New York’s finest waterfront vistas.

An afternoon on the water

At the western end of North 5th Street, you’ll find the pier for the NYC Ferry. Jump aboard one heading towards Pier 11 in Manhattan, riding it all the way, or hopping off in Dumbo, Brooklyn, to explore Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a great-value way to cruise the East River and beyond, while passing beneath the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. Tickets cost $4 (£3.20) per trip and ferries run every 20-30 minutes from around 7am until 9.30pm.

Commune with creatives

Many artists were priced out of Williamsburg years ago but there’s still an active creative life underpinning the area’s bohemian spirit. Williamsburg Art & Historical Center bridges the gap between local artists and creativity in the wider world. There’s a new exhibition every few months and a programme of talks by artists. The multi-storey Mona Lisa de Williamsburg mural is right across the road.

Get to know the neighbourhood with walks along the East River (iStock)
Get to know the neighbourhood with walks along the East River (iStock)

For a glimpse at the neighbourhood’s past, head to City Reliquary. This haphazard collection pulls together objects and curios from a bygone Big Apple era. The exhibits form a quirky backdrop to the community-run museum’s cultural events, including comedy panels, performances and informative talks.


Brunch is ubiquitous in Williamsburg. The misleadingly named Sunday in Brooklyn is open daily, with brunch items taking up a considerable tranche of the menu. The hazelnut maple praline pancakes have people lining up outside the door before opening. Reservations are wise.

Williamsburg’s yuppier tendencies fade away the further east in the neighbourhood you go. This is where high-quality food meets slightly less eye-watering prices. The low-key Latin American cuisine with unmistakable Brooklyn gumption at For All Things Good has made it a popular choice with locals. The gorditas are excellent, and the masa tortillas are the real deal.

The old docks ensured that a well-established Italian American contingent have long called Williamsburg home, leaving a slew of top-notch ristorantes and pizzerias as a legacy. Stalwart Joe’s Pizza has been serving up New York-style slices since 1975. The walls inside are plastered with photos of the famous folk who have dined there, while the exterior wall is covered in street art. Don’t be put off by the long queue; it moves quickly.

If you feel peckish on a Saturday between April and October, the vast outdoor food market dubbed Smorgasburg, comprising up to 100 stalls, is unmissable. Each week, thousands of people descend on the place to try an array of cuisines and fast food alternatives, including vegan options. Try empanadas, po’ boys, oysters, toasties, bao buns and much more.


Practically everywhere here does something slightly different and interesting with coffee beans. Take Qahwah House, for example, named after the Yemeni word for coffee. All the beans and teas are organic and imported from Yemen, perfect alongside buttery sabaya pastry. If you like your coffee shop to have the air of a scientist’s lab about it, the pour-over vessels and brewing equipment at Partners Coffee create such an aura.

People used to buy their private swimming pools from Union Pool and the faded signs for chemical balancing and good pool etiquette lend this fairy-light bedecked, hip hangout plenty of charm. The atmosphere comes from its mixed-use space, with booth seating at the front, a beer garden with a taco truck out back, and an excellent entertainment venue with live music or stand-up comedy most nights of the year.

Beers from Brooklyn Brewery can be found all over the world – here’s your chance to neck one from the source (Getty)
Beers from Brooklyn Brewery can be found all over the world – here’s your chance to neck one from the source (Getty)

It’s sold around the world, but you can sup the entire Brooklyn Brewery range straight from the source in Williamsburg. If you’re a fan of seeing how your drinks are made, free brewery tours are also available. Once you’re done there, head next door to Brooklyn Bowl, which manages to combine 16 bowling lanes, a live music venue, a restaurant and a bar in one huge open-plan space. It might well be the world’s most creative repurposing of a former warehouse.


Without a doubt, one of the coolest shopping experiences in New York is Brooklyn Flea, where vendors sell curated bric-a-brac, including records, homewares and collectables. From the same creators who run Smorgasburg, think of it as the vintage clothing movement expanded to other items.

Reinvention is just as important to this formerly run-down industrial district as renovation. Artists & Fleas combines both, by filling a former dry goods warehouse with a rotating cast of creatives (dubbed “makers”) of all kinds each weekend. Expect art, fashion, jewellery and more.


The Hoxton, Williamsburg

They say don’t head to the top of the Empire State Building, head to Top of the Rock instead, because the view will include the former. The same goes for staying in Williamsburg over Manhattan, because your room might just offer one of New York’s finest skyline vistas across the East River. That’s certainly true of the upper floors and rooftop bar of The Hoxton. Rooms blend the classic NYC Art Deco look with the design sense of a modern aesthetic.

Moxy Brooklyn Williamsburg

It used to be that hotels in Williamsburg and the wider Brooklyn area offered lower prices than their Manhattan counterparts. These days, prices are reaching parity. What is heartening however, is the raft of new hotels opening up in Williamsburg, rejuvenating old buildings and bringing fresh new ideas to your stay. Moxy Brooklyn is a prime example, opened in early 2023, with local art installations, a huge mural and a co-working space. Both Domino Park and Marcy Av subway station are four blocks away in either direction.

Getting there

Daily flights connect airports throughout the UK and Ireland with New York’s JFK and Newark Liberty International airports. Airlines running direct flights include Aer Lingus (Dublin, Shannon and Manchester), Virgin Atlantic (London and Manchester), and British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Norse Atlantic and United (London).

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