Few New York City neighborhoods these days can compete with Williamsburg’s reputation as a trendsetter. That’s because the past few decades have seen it transform from an industrial, working-class neighborhood into a mecca for aspiring artists, nightlife afficionados, and would-be tastemakers. Just across the Williamsburg Bridge from the Lower East Side, Williamsburg has also become popular with visitors to New York who plan on spending the majority of their time in Manhattan but still want to experience a small slice of the twenty-first-century Brooklyn experience. Home to breweries, bars, restaurants, clubs, boutiques, and a whole bunch more, Williamsburg is a tremendous New York City destination.
Williamsburg Neighborhood History
The first European colonizers to make their mark on what we today know as Williamsburg were the Dutch, who upon their arrival in the area dubbed it “Boswijck”—or, Bushwick. By the early nineteenth century, the area was considered a village and it went by the name of “Williamsburgh,” but was still a part of the wider Bushwick community. By the 1850s, Williamsburg had dropped the “h” from its name, separated from Bushwick, and become a significant regional manufacturing center. After Brooklyn became a borough of New York City in 1898, and the Williamsburg Bridge was opened to the public in 1903, the importance of Williamsburg as a prominent New York City neighborhood only grew.
Affordable rents drew artists to Williamsburg in the final decades of the twentieth century, but the neighborhood subsequently experienced a dramatic evolution in the wake of the city rezoning the area to allow for mixed-use high density residential buildings in 2005. Today, Williamsburg is for many the face of so-called “hipster”-led gentrification, and has become a very popular neighborhood for locals and visitors alike.
Visitors to New York City who bike or walk across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn will find themselves in the hip neighborhood of Williamsburg, home to block after block of fashionable restaurants, bars, music venues, stores, and art galleries.
One of New York’s most unique museums can be found on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. The City Reliquary boasts a quirky collection of memorabilia, trinkets, and ephemera that possess links to notable people and places from throughout the city’s rich history. Highlights of the permanent collection here include a shrine to Jackie Robinson, a piece of the Flatiron Building, and assorted World’s Fair mementos, just to name a few. Rotating exhibits and various special events occur at the City Reliquary on occasion as well.
Many visitors to Williamsburg choose to explore the neighborhood by going on a guided walking tour. There are many different types of tours running in the area, with some of the most popular options consisting of guided walking tours that focus on your pick of Williamsburg’s street art scene, culinary culture, or local breweries.
The popular Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg is bordered to the north by Greenpoint, to the south by Bedford-Stuyvesant, to the east by Bushwick and East Williamsburg, and to the west by the East River.
Williamsburg’s reputation as one of New York City’s hottest nightlife scenes is well-deserved, as the neighborhood is home to popular restaurants, trendy clubs, and numerous breweries, distilleries, and wineries. In fact, an evening out here, spent enjoying dinner, drinks, and a set or two of live music at one of Williamsburg’s much-loved concert venues is arguably the neighborhood’s single biggest attraction.
Located along Williamsburg’s East River waterfront in Marsha P. Johnson State Park (commonly referred to as East River State Park), Smorgasburg proudly bills itself as the largest weekly open-air food market in America. Every Saturday afternoon (typically from April to October) scores of food vendors assemble here to sell a remarkable assortment of local delicacies, cuisines from around the world, and more in one convenient location.
Other popular establishments in Williamsburg include Diner, which does New American food in the midst of a delightfully retro, century-old Pullman train dining car; Best Pizza, where delicious wood-fired slices won’t cost you an arm and a leg; and Llama Inn, a Peruvian restaurant renowned for its ceviche, lomo saltado, and romantic atmosphere.
Williamsburg has plenty of fabulous places to shop, too. Though there are no longer quite as many indie brands as there once were, the neighborhood is still full of charming jewelry stores, vintage clothing boutiques, thrift shops, bookstores, and hybrid coffee/gift shops.
If you’re looking for the Williamsburg shopping experience in one destination, you could do worse than head straight to Mini Mall. Light years removed from your typical shopping mall, the Mini Mall houses under one roof a cross-section of Brooklyn’s finest stores selling books, antiques, home décor items, hand-crafted jewelry, unconventional New York City souvenirs, and more.
Other popular Williamsburg shopping destinations include Chickee’s Vintage, a well-regarded vintage clothing boutique; Leif, a bohemian-tinged home décor store that also does paper goods and accessories; and Bedford Avenue, considered by many to be the heart and soul of Brooklyn’s independent retail scene.
Explore Williamsburg Like a Local
- One of Williamsburg’s newest attractions is Domino Park. This five-acre green space was built among the ruins of the shuttered Domino Sugar Refinery, and contains a playground, volleyball court, local food options, and an elevated walkway that provides breathtaking views of the East River and downtown Manhattan.
- A particular hallmark of Williamsburg’s vaunted nightlife scene is the rooftop bar. Williamsburg has more than its fair share of bars and restaurants with inviting outdoor rooftop spaces, many of them featuring unforgettable views of the Manhattan skyline. If you’re looking to add that extra something special to your big night out in Williamsburg, consider having a meal or at least one round at an establishment with this amenity.