Williamsburg is one of the most interesting neighborhoods to visit in Brooklyn. You’ll find trendy shopping, wonderful parks with great views of New York City, unique eateries, and a real New Yorker vibe. It’s close to Manhattan (one subway stop from the East Village), but you’ll find a world of differences.
When most people refer to Williamsburg, they are picturing the Bedford Avenue area, which is hip and gentrified. There is much more to Williamsburg. A large and diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn along the East River, it has Latino, Italian, and Hasidic communities and a lot of history to go along with them.
I lived in Williamsburg in the mid-1990s on Lorimer Street in the Italian community (one subway stop past Bedford Avenue). At that point in time, Bedford Avenue had not yet become fully gentrified. I have been there many times since then and enjoyed spending an evening or afternoon in Williamsburg.
Here are 14 reasons to put Williamsburg on your list of places to visit while in New York City (in no particular order).
Williamsburg has a lot of history. It was originally Lenape land “bought” by the Dutch in 1638. In the 1700s, farms were established and goods were shipped across the East River to Manhattan. By the late 1800s, there were shipyards, sugar refineries, a major banking hub, and mansions for wealthy New Yorkers. There are 10 buildings in Williamsburg listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Kings County Savings Bank (now the home of the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center), the Williamsburg Savings Bank, the German and Evangelical Lutheran Saint John’s Church, and the Power Street Mosque (one of the oldest in the United States).
2. Williamsburg Bridge
Completed in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge is a wonderful way to go to Brooklyn without the millions of tourists and vendors on the Brooklyn Bridge. The site lines aren’t as good, but you will be traveling the same way locals do. In the 1940s, my mother walked over the Williamsburg Bridge to go to school. In the 1990s, I rode my bike over the bridge to go to work. On the Manhattan side, you’ll pass through the Lower East Side and some off-the-beaten track areas.
3. Bedford Avenue
Bedford is the first stop in Brooklyn on the L train. It’s a great place for wandering, having brunch on Sunday, checking out the shops, eateries, bars, and more. It’s the heart of this area of Williamsburg.
4. Domino Park
Domino Park opened in 2018 on the site of the former Domino’s sugar factory. The park has an elevated walkway and wonderful views of Manhattan. It’s a great place for a picnic or a game of beach volleyball. For families, there’s a very interesting playground. You can even see the remains of the old factory.
5. City Reliquary Museum
If you’re looking for a quirky historical experience, the City Reliquary Museum is the place to go. The museum tells the story of New York City through its collection. You’ll find old subway tokens, postcards, paint chips from the L subway line, and much more. Be sure to check out the rotating and idiosyncratic community collection, which shows the archives of a New York resident.
6. McCarren Park
Located on the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, McCarren Park was created in the early 1900s. The giant pool opened in the mid-1930s to great fanfare but fell into disarray and was closed in 1984. One of the most unique dance performances that I’ve ever attended took place in the pool before it was restored. The park is a vibrant experience of all the neighborhoods in Williamsburg and neighboring Greenpoint. In addition to the pool, there’s a skate park, an ice-skating rink in the winter, playgrounds, tennis courts, barbecues, and more.
7. Marsha P. Johnson State Park
For a more contemplative experience, go to Marsha P. Johnson State Park. The park has wonderful views of Manhattan and the East River. Take a moment to honor and remember Marsha P. Johnson, a woman of color, LGBTQ+, and trans community leader during the Stonewall Rebellion and for many decades after. Then, enjoy the views of the Manhattan skyline. Bicycles are not allowed in this park.
The New York Times called Smorgasburg the “Woodstock of eating.” On Saturdays in Williamsburg, you’ll find thousands of people and hundreds of vendors at Marsha P. Johnson Park. Beginning in 2008 as an extension of Brooklyn Flea, Smorgasburg has expanded to Manhattan, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Toronto with pop-ups in Osaka, Japan, and São Paulo, Brazil. Expect lots of people, long lines, and gourmet food. If the lines are too long, try the cafés and restaurants along Bedford Avenue. Peter Luger’s, one of the oldest and best steak places in New York City, is also in Williamsburg.
9. Pete’s Candy Store
Pete’s Candy Store is, well, not a candy store. It is a piece of Williamsburg history and a music venue. It began as a general store in the 1920s and became a diner and a neighborhood betting parlor in the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, it has become a music hotspot and bar featuring the likes of Norah Jones, Beth Orton, and others. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the area on an evening or for Sunday brunch. Stop by for one of the open mics and you might see a future star in the making.
10. Nitehawk Cinema
If you’re in Williamsburg at night, check out Nitehawk Cinema for Hollywood and indie films. They pair food and drinks with the movies. For instance, you can pair the Barbie movie with a raspberry pink lemonade or a pink strawberry shortcake. For the Oppenheimer movie, you can get the Manhattan project drink. There’s plenty of interesting food to eat for lunch, dinner, or brunch. If films are not your thing, Williamsburg has a very active night scene with bars, bowling, music, and many other evening activities.
11. Artists & Fleas
One of the best flea markets in New York takes place at Artists & Fleas. It is a quintessential Williamsburg experience. You’ll find an assortment of artistic and handmade items, as well as the usual flea-market items. Prices range from $10–$500. Artists & Fleas takes place in a warehouse, so you need not worry about the weather. Since they first opened in 2008, Artists & Fleas has expanded to Chelsea in Manhattan and several other cities.
For additional shopping, you’ll find trendy and boutique shops up and down Bedford Avenue.
12. Murals And Street Art
Walking through Williamsburg, you’ll see many murals by some internationally known artists, including Kobra, Jason Naylor, Brogla, and others. Look up and down the side streets for rewarding views of public art. One of the most famous and largest is the Mona Lisa of Williamsburg.
If you are interested in more street art, the Bushwick Collective is not far away.
13. Williamsburg Art & Historical Center
A 10-minute walk from the center of Bedford Avenue, you’ll find the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. Located in the landmarked Kings County Savings Bank Building, WAH is a multicultural arts center. It features a wide range of artists from local to international and emerging to established.
14. Hasidic Williamsburg
Williamsburg is home to one of the largest Hasidic communities in New York and the United States. It is a very strictly orthodox Jewish community, mainly descendants from Hungarian and Romanian Jews who survived the holocaust. Walk a few blocks to south Williamsburg and you’ll enter a whole new century with kosher restaurants and traditional Hasidic dress. You’ll need to be respectful in this community, Hasidim do not like to have their pictures taken and are modest and conservative.
Williamsburg is truly an eclectic neighborhood with something for every type of visitor. Hip and trendy restaurants, bars, cafés, and boutiques abound. History is on every block, as well as in the parks. And for those who want to wander further afield, there are the Hasidic, Latino, and Italian areas. You can spend a few hours in Williamsburg or a lifetime. There are endless areas to explore in finding your own slice of the neighborhood.