Despite shedding its identity as a true bohemian enclave, Williamsburg still retains a strong sense of aspirational cool. You’ll see more shiny condominiums and expensive cocktail bars in the neighborhood these days (as well as more resident finance guys taking advantage of the ferry connection to Wall Street), but you’ll also find sprawling vintage stores, dark and rowdy watering holes and gourmet espresso bars in unexpected places (think barbershops, boutiques and even laundromats).
Bedford Avenue, the first Brooklyn stop on the L train from Manhattan, is the bustling heart of Williamsburg, lined with smoke shops, bagel bakeries and posh retail. At its northern end Bedford runs into McCarren Park – a local hang-out with lawns, sports grounds, an outdoor pool and communal barbecue grills.
If you want some idea of what the neighborhood used to be like before it was transformed by gentrification, visit East and South Williamsburg, where the presence of immigrant communities is still prominent. Family-run venues and long-standing establishments are a nice contrast to the hipster homogenization and elevated prices of northern Williamsburg.
From Manhattan it’s a single subway stop east to Bedford Avenue on the L train. But be aware of delays caused by nighttime and weekend track maintenance on the L that’s scheduled to start on April 27, 2019, and run for at least 15 months. You can instead take a Citi Bike across the Williamsburg Bridge (but be warned: it’s steep), take the J or M train to the Marcy Avenue stop and walk, or catch a ferry from either Wall Street/Pier 11 or East 34th Street. If you’re making the journey from Queens or South Brooklyn the G train will take you to the Metropolitan Avenue stop, which is close to all the action.
Williamsburg’s first noteworthy hotel, The Wythe, has a rooftop bar that used to command long lines on summer weekends. That changed when competition sprang up in the form of the William Vale and the Williamsburg Hotel – two luxury accommodations with their own industrial-chic appeal and Manhattan-skyline views. If huge hotels aren’t your thing, book Urban Cowboy, an ultra-hip boutique B&B situated inside a townhouse. The decor has a Wild West feel (think dreamcatchers, Navajo blankets and salvaged wood), and in the backyard you’ll find a hot tub and a cabin with a working fireplace that will make you feel like you’re upstate.
Williamsburg rivals Manhattan when it comes to quality dining. Explore the streets flanking Bedford Avenue to discover Michelin-awarded restaurants and fast-casual spots, and try to book ahead if possible – this neighborhood also rivals Manhattan for crowds.
For cosy pizza with a cabin-like vibe: Shelter
For Michelin-star Italian cuisine inside an old auto shop: Lilia
For American comfort food that can’t be beaten: Pies & Thighs
For the best steak in the whole damn city: Peter Luger
For a plethora of New York’s most Instagrammable foods: Smorgasburg
For the most Instagrammable brunch: Sunday in Brooklyn
For the juiciest barbecue: Fette Sau
Read our list of the 10 best restaurants in Williamsburg
Williamsburg is the king of Brooklyn nightlife (unless you’re looking for obscure warehouse parties – head to Bushwick for that). Whatever kind of night you had in mind – the cocktails-by-candlelight kind or the salsa-dancing-with-a-stranger-until-4am kind – you’ll find it here.
For oysters and absinthe: Maison Premiere
For live country music and free peanuts: Skinny Dennis
For boozy coffee slushies and jukebox hits: Rocka Rolla
For swanky cocktails and unparalleled views: The Water Tower Bar at the Williamsburg Hotel
For specialist beers and a rowdy Oktoberfest vibe: Radegast Hall
For Latin dancing and vacation-flavored cocktails: Bembe
For DJs in a wooden geodesic dome: Kinfolk 94
From indie designers and curated vintage to sweet little plant stores, this neighborhood is a haven for shopping beyond the usual retail chains.
For small jewelry labels and ethically sourced stones: Catbird
For tightly edited products from female-owned companies: Bulletin
For trendy menswear and lifestyle items that are vegan-friendly: Brave Gentleman
For apparel and decor from independent labels: Swords Smith
For cherry-picked retro clothing: Awoke Vintage
For apparel shopping with an attached art gallery: About Glamour
For houseplants and floral-design workshops: Sprout Home
When your arms are full of shopping bags and your stomach is full from grazing, stop by one of these unique spots for a complete neighborhood experience.
For a movie with table service: Nitehawk Cinema
For puppy-watching and picnics: McCarren Park
For bowling in a dive bar: The Gutter
For craft beers and a brewery tour: Brooklyn Brewery
For up-and-coming musical acts in a high-tech space: National Sawdust
For a tour of Brooklyn’s creepy side: Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours
For ceramics classes in a leafy backyard: Choplet