In the Williamsburg neighborhood in New York resides one of the largest Jewish communities in the United States, the Orthodox Jewish community. Brooklyn shows us perfectly why New York is a city of contrasts, on the north side of Williamsburg we see that it is a place with a lot of vibes, color, young people in the streets, everywhere you look you see street art, in short, a lot of things very “cool” but it is only to arrive to the south of Williamsburg and…
BOOOOM! On the contrary, sober streets, warehouses all painted the same color, you can see that it is an area where austerity reigns, the people you see usually dress in black, it is a totally different world and if you want to know it, we are going to tell you below. how to tour the Jewish quarter of Williamsburg.
Williamsburg Jewish Quarter Tour
Williamsburg in Brooklyn is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in New York, it is somewhat surprising, you arrive in the Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg and at once you feel that you are in another New York.
Orthodox Jews came to New York after the end of World War II, they chose the Brooklyn district to settle down, to put down roots and start a new life with their families, leaving behind the pain that the war had caused them.
Over the years the Jewish community of Williamsburg grew exponentially, dedicated to commerce they began to open stores and other types of businesses, they built schools, temples, an endless number of other things, thus the southern area of Williamsburg would become the Jewish neighborhood of New York.
Williamsburg Jews belong to the Satmar Hasidic community, an ultra-Orthodox community that hails from Eastern Europe. Their way of dressing makes them stand out among the population, although they dress in black, they can be recognized from miles away by their long beards, hats, ringlets, tunics, on the other hand, women wear long skirts, dark jackets and wigs.
Although the neighborhood of Williamsburg is usual to see the community in the streets, they usually meet on Lee Avenue, it is on this street in Brooklyn where they have most of their shops, businesses and temples.
Things to do in Williamsburg
The famous neighborhood of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, you will find on the one hand the Hipster Williamsburg and on the other the Jewish Williamsburg (Orthodox Jews). From Manhattan you can get there from the Williamsburg Bridge, by subway or by ferry.
1. Stroll through the hipster area of the Williamsburg neighborhood
Stroll through the area of Bedford Avenue, Berry St and Wythe Ave, discover your favorite places in the neighborhood. With the gentrification of the neighborhood you will find some typical chains like Whole Foods, but there are still neighborhood places, from shops, restaurants and bars.
The most hipster, independent and bohemian of the neighborhood, in addition to the fashionable places, it could be said that they are located:
- Between the area closest to the river to the interior of Brooklyn, from Kent Ave to Driggs Ave and from west to east of the neighborhood from N 12th St to S 4th St.
- Among all these places you will also find traditional businesses with a kitsch and Brooklynite touch.
2. Enjoy Urban Art
One of the great charms of Williamsburg is street art: murals, large and small, anonymous or by renowned artists, color every corner of the neighborhood.
Also, something we love about this part of Brooklyn is that many street signs, instead of being printed on paper, are hand-painted on the walls. The result is that every walk through the neighborhood is a box of surprises: you never know what new work you will come across.
Similarly, many murals soon disappear under the foundations of new buildings or under the brush of other artists, making it difficult to keep track of them.
For now, some of the most emblematic are:
- The Andy Warhol and Basquiat mural at Kobra (N 9th Street and Bedford Ave).
- The Elvis mural, also by Kobra (wall of Fabiane’s restaurant, Bedford Ave).
- The Mona Lisa of Williamsburg, by Colossal Media & Steven Paul (corner of Broadway and Bedford Ave).
- The National Sawdust Wall (Wythe Ave and N 6th St).
3. Take In The Skyline From East River State Park
In just a few years, one luxury skyscraper after another with direct views of Manhattan has risen in the part of Williamsburg on the East River.
The views of the skyline are expensive; but, luckily, there are still places where we can enjoy them without spending a single dollar, like the East River State Park.
Enter the park and walk down to the small riverside beach to see the Manhattan skyline, with the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building towering over the city, and the Williamsburg Bridge to the south.
4. Dine With A View At Smorgasburg Market
If you visit Williamsburg on a Saturday from April to October, you have one more excuse to visit East River State Park: there, along the river, is the Smorgasburg food market.
Or, what is the same, dozens and dozens of outdoor stalls that prepare food to go, from classics such as hamburgers or tacos to the gastronomic crazes that are sweeping New York.
When you’ve got your loot, sit by the river and enjoy it with views of Manhattan in the background. Just a word of advice: go early, because at rush hour in Smorgasburg not even a pin will fit!
5. Catch A Movie While You Dine At Nitehawk
Have you ever had dinner or brunch while watching a movie on the big screen? At Nitehawk, a Williamsburg-born independent movie theater, you can.
This cinema combines premieres with thematic cycles and reruns of classics. A paradise for lovers of the seventh art… and for gluttons, because each seat has its own table and you can order from popcorn of various flavors to dishes and cocktails inspired by the movies of the moment.
Their weekend brunch movies are very popular, as are the midnight screenings. Although, when you go, we are sure that you will love the experience !
6. Shopping At Artists & Fleas Market
On Saturdays and Sundays in Williamsburg, you can go on a treasure hunt at Artists & Fleas, an artists’ and crafts market with more than 75 vendors.
In the spacious premises you will find everything from clothes to paintings, jewelry, vinyl, vintage pieces… You can also visit this market in Manhattan, in the Chelsea market.
7. Rest For A While On The Vale Park Terrace
The William Vale hotel is known for its rooftop, but this time we suggest you stay on the small hidden terrace on the second floor, the Vale Park.
In this corner you will find the Mister Dips caravan, which will tempt you with burgers, fries, lemonade and chocolate-covered ice cream. If you prefer, just below the terrace is Du’s, which serves donuts and coffee.
Even if you don’t feel like eating anything, you can sit at the tables or on the lawn at Vale Park and rest for a bit before continuing to explore Williamsburg.
8. Discover Domino Park, The New Neighborhood Park
Although it is the newcomer to the neighborhood, Domino Park has already become one of the must-sees in Williamsburg.
This park along the East River occupies the grounds of the old Domino’s Sugar Refinery, and you’ll find various elements of this piece of the neighborhood’s past, from the factory (soon to be home to offices) to cranes and tanks.
Domino Park lacks for nothing: lawns, benches, sports courts, a taco stand… And of course, great views of Manhattan!
9. Cross The Williamsburg Bridge
Although Williamsburg is well connected to Manhattan by subway and ferry, we always recommend getting to or from the neighborhood by crossing the Williamsburg Bridge.
This imposing construction on the East River connects the neighborhood with the Lower East Side, in Manhattan, and has a separate lane for pedestrians.
You will discover a place that is not very touristy, you will enjoy the views of the river and of Manhattan (through the bars, yes) and, above all, you will see that there is life beyond the crowded Brooklyn Bridge.
10. Head To Mccarren Park Farmer’s Market
On Saturday mornings, McCarren Park hosts the weekly farmer’s market.
It is a neighborhood market, with vegetable, fruit, bread and flower stalls, which is why many guides do not mention it.
But, when we travel to other cities, we also love to know these daily proposals, so we wanted to include it in this guide to Williamsburg.
11. Take A Tour Of The Brooklyn Brewery
If you’re a brewer, your visit to Williamsburg can’t miss a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery, where the famous Brooklyn Lager is made.
To tour the factory, you have two options: sign up for a paid visit during the week, which includes a tasting of several of the brand’s beers, or join one of the free weekend tours (without tasting).
Or you can also stop by the tasting room, the brewery bar, where they serve classic beers and seasonal varieties. Health!
12. Visit The City Reliquary Museum
This museum is a love letter to New York made up of thousands of disparate objects related to the city : miniatures of the Statue of Liberty, subway tickets from different eras, old posters…
Although the City Reliquary is very small, it is crammed full of relics and makes for a quirky, off the beaten track visit to Williamsburg.
13. Stroll Through The Ultra-orthodox Jewish Quarter
A few blocks from the heart of Williamsburg, a universe awaits you that has little to do with trendy restaurants and urban art: the ultra-Orthodox Jewish quarter.
Walk 25 minutes south (or take the subway) and soak up the striking contrast of the men and women dressed in black, the Hebrew signs and school buses, and the homes with bars on the windows.
14. Take The East River Ferry
To end (or start) your route through Williamsburg, hop on the East River Ferry, a great and cheap option for getting around the river.
The neighborhood has two piers: North Williamsburg, with a park and great views of the skyline, and South Williamsburg, popular with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
The Best Shops In Williamsburg
One of the dangers of Williamsburg is that you may come back with an extra bag and a few dollars less, and that is that the neighborhood is full of small shops where you can buy. We recommend you:
- For secondhand clothing, check out the Buffalo Exchange, Monk or Crossroads Trading, as well as Beacon’s Closet, in neighboring Greenpoint.
- For bookstores, we love McNally Jackson and Spoonbill & Sugartown.
- For music, movies and games, we love Rough Trade (vinyl and music store that organizes many concerts), Pop Fuzz (second-hand figurines, trading cards and various geeks ) and Twenty-Sided Store (board games).
- For accessories and gifts, some stores worth checking out are Brooklyn Charm (thousands of pieces to create custom jewelry), Catbird (jewelry), Fuego 718 (Mexican decor), Bulletin (feminist), Mast Brothers (artisan chocolate), and Package. Free (resources to generate less waste).
- On Bedford Ave you will find the Mini Mall, a mini shopping center with a dozen stores that you can walk through.
Where To Eat In Williamsburg
As for restaurants and cafes, these are our favorites. But keep in mind that restaurants in Williamsburg open and close overnight, so it’s best to check the websites before you visit to make sure they’re still open.
- Some of our favorite cafes and bakeries in Williamsburg are Woops Bakeshop (especially their macarons ), Toby’s Estate Coffee, Devoción (beautiful interior), Bakeri (tiny but very cozy), and Café Beit (very nice summer patio).
- For brunch in Williamsburg, we recommend The Butcher’s Daughter (vegetarian), Juliette (French and American), Café Mogador (Moroccan and American), Sunday in Brooklyn (American), 12 Chairs (Middle Eastern), Gotan (American), and Reunion (Israeli).
- For a quick bite, we love By Chloe (vegan burgers and bowls), Sweetgreen (salads), Shake Shack (burgers), Vinnie’s Pizzeria or Joe’s ( pizza slices ), and Dig Inn (mixed platters).
- For drinks, we love Barcade (retro bar with arcade machines you can play on), Radagast (giant German brewery with live music), Westfield ( William Vale hotel rooftop with great views of Manhattan), Berry Park (brewery with rooftop ) or the bowling alleys Brooklyn Bowl or The Gutter.
- For live music or going out, check out Output, Baby’s All Right or the Knitting Factory.
Where To Sleep In Williamsburg
If you want to stay away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan without giving up a neighborhood with atmosphere, Williamsburg is ideal. These are the most recommended hotels in the neighborhood:
- Pod Brooklyn (3*). New hotel with a great atmosphere in the heart of Williamsburg. Small rooms but good value for money.
- Hotel Le Jolie (3*). Simple but new and cozy rooms. Very close to the Lorimer St (L) tube and McCarren Park.
- Wythe Hotel (4*). Industrial-style hotel with bright, spacious rooms in a former factory. It has a very nice rooftop with good views.
- The William Vale (5*). Luxury hotel with impeccable design and balcony in all rooms. The rooftop has incredible views of the East River and Manhattan.
- The Williamsburg Hotel (5*). Newly opened design hotel with bright rooms and a rooftop pool.
Getting To Williamsburg
- By subway (important information): Take the L line to Bedford Ave, in the heart of the neighborhood, or to Lorimer St. You can also get off at Marcy Avenue (M, J lines), in the south of the neighborhood.
- By Ferry: Take the New York Ferry and get off at North Williamsburg (closer to the center of the neighborhood) or South Williamsburg.
Before we dive into the Williamsburg guide, let’s get situated and learn a little more about its history. This neighborhood:
- It is located in northwest Brooklyn, along the East River, just one subway stop (L) from Manhattan.
- To the north, it is bordered by the Greenpoint neighborhood, and to the east, by East Williamsburg and Bushwick.
- It is a neighborhood with an industrial tradition, with a landscape of old factories, warehouses and empty lots that bear little resemblance to the streets of Manhattan.
- Although today these buildings have been transformed into design residences, restaurants and hotels and Williamsburg boasts of its origins, the truth is that, a few decades ago, not even the bravest would have walked through the neighborhood at night.
With the industrial decline, starting in the 1960s, drugs and crime flooded the neighborhood and made it one of the most dangerous areas in the city. A few decades later, it is one of the safest… and exclusive!
- Williamsburg is also a neighborhood shaped by immigration, especially since the Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903, allowing thousands of immigrants to escape Manhattan’s crowded Lower East Side and move to Brooklyn.
The largest communities in the neighborhood are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish.
- In the 1980s and 1990s, Williamsburg was filled with artists fleeing the high rents of neighborhoods like SoHo or the East Village. The industrial buildings were ideal for establishing studios and galleries, and the prices were ridiculous compared to Manhattan. Also, with the L subway line, the Big Apple was just a few minutes away.
- This is how Williamsburg earned its reputation as a bohemian, creative, and especially hipster neighborhood.
- But, a few decades later, gentrification and money have taken their toll on that alternative character. The chains have invaded the neighborhood, luxury skyscrapers continue to be built at exorbitant prices, Wall St workers have settled by the river and most of the artists have left for areas such as Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene or Bushwick looking for affordable rentals.
It still exudes a unique charm and, as you will see in this guide, it is a fantastic destination. But let’s face it: Williamsburg today is much more homogeneous and exclusive than it was a few years ago.
- Grand St Street divides the neighborhood into two main zones: north and south. North Williamsburg is the best known part, but also the most marked by gentrification and chains.
Until recently, the south was home to the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Jewish communities and much less touristy than its neighbor. But, in recent years, this area has been filled with restaurants and shops inheriting the alternative character that the north was associated with some time ago. And also of expensive skyscrapers next to the East River.
It is dangerous to visit Williamsburg
Not dangerous at all, although you can see deteriorated streets and poverty is something that is hanging around every corner of the neighborhood, this area is super safe, you can walk around the place calmly, nothing will ever happen to you. Also, the Jewish community in Williamsburg tends to ignore people, so chances are they won’t even look at you.