16 Best Things to Do in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
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Williamsburg is a waterfront neighborhood in the New York borough of Brooklyn, with open skies unobstructed by skyscrapers and a slower buzz in its pulse from the rest of the city.

As of the latest census, it has 151,308 residents and is a culturally and ethnically diverse place, with numerous groups inhabiting enclaves within the neighborhood.

Williamsburg owes its name (often shortened to ‘the Burg’) to former surveyor Colonel Jonathan Williams, West Point’s first superintendent and the grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin.

With its contemporary art culture, cozy indie music scene, galleries and artisan shops, hipsters and young creatives, and vibrant nightlife, Williamsburg has developed a character as one of the trendiest neighborhoods around.

Williamsburg has a strong draw towards the young and stylish in its chic and talked-about cafes, boutiques, and restaurants, thoroughfares bright with street art, and bold and exciting nightlife topped off with its waterfront graced by beautiful views of Manhattan.

If you’re unable to resist the call of Williamsburg, here’s a guide to get you started on the best things to do here.

Spend a Day Outdoors in McCarren Park

McCarren Park is located right on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint and is well-loved in both areas.

It’s an excellent spot for people-watching, with folks from different spheres frequently converging upon the park for days of outdoor recreation and togetherness.

McCarren Park
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You and your family will never run out of energy to spend in the playing fields, playgrounds, running tracks, and dog run areas.

The place also has a historically famous mammoth-sized swimming pool, closed for almost fifty years and finally opened for the public in 2012, and one can visit it and the nearby bathhouse to cool off on hot days.

See for yourself why this park is a steady pulse point of Williamsburg and the North Brooklyn area.

Watch Movies and Dine at Nitehawk Cinema

Nitehawk Cinema
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Nitehawk Cinema is not your typical movie theater.

It is the only public theater in the city that combines film viewing with restaurant dining, giving you a decidedly Brooklyn experience.

You may watch great films, and at the same time, enjoy a cocktail, beer, or wine and dine on upscale fare like gourmet charcuterie plates, sweet and salty specialty chocolate bars, homemade jerky, salmon skewers, and more.

Each night’s menu is artfully curated to match the night’s contemporary or classic film showing, and Nitehawk’s team of chefs can really get adventurous with their movie-inspired recipes.

The cinema is built in a converted warehouse and has an authentic old-fashioned cinema feel, with its vintage marquee, barber-stations-turned-bar, and steel-paneled staircase.

You can partake of film series nights, sorted according to the director, genre, theme, or the social issues of the moment, and watch special indie film screening events with the directors or actors present, all while nourishing your taste buds as well as your mind.

For a one-of-a-kind viewing experience, look no further than this Williamsburg cinema.

Have Fun at Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours

You’re in store for a quaint and spooky rollicking good time with Madame Morbid!

In this black, velvet-curtained Victorian trolley, they will regale you with stories of hauntings, crime, murders, mayhem, and obscure Brooklyn lore as you roll through some of the oldest places in the borough.

Your route will take you to unmarked graves and the sites of infamous murders as you learn riveting facts about death, mourning rituals, and four hundred years of a dark history.

Reserve a spot during the full moon, and you could don werewolf fangs, feast on moon pies, and might even catch your companions howling.

You must try out these tours if you’re the kind of person who relishes shivers down the spine from a ghostly tale or two.

Unearth Old New York at the City Reliquary

City Reliquary
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The City Reliquary started when founder David Herman started displaying old objects in the windows of his Williamsburg apartment.

Soon, citizens nearby were charmed by his quirky gathering of local artifacts and started sharing their own relics to be displayed to the New York community.

The reliquary has since opened at another location in Williamsburg, now displaying objects that have ties to the history of New York.

Examine mementos such as a Brooklyn Bridge souvenir coin from 1883; a collection of subway tokens from 1953-2003; geology in the form of historical New York rocks; terracotta fragments from landmark buildings; and neon signs discarded by restaurants.

Recycled flower pot at City Reliquary
Cmangis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also, find metalwork from the Williamsburg renovations, water from the East River and soil from Liberty Island; the mourning drape from City Hall after the September 11 attacks; and a whole other host of objects that form the tapestry of New York City’s past and present.

The reliquary holds permanent displays, but it also has temporary exhibitions that tell the vital lesser-known stories of New York and community collections that show the characterizing archives of everyday New Yorkers.

One can also attend year-round community events such as bloc parties, film screenings, and backyard concerts at the reliquary.

Come to City Reliquary and discover facets of New York different from what you’ve seen before.

Thrift Shopping at Williamsburg

Williamsburg is a pioneering spot for vintage and artisanal finds!

Hunt high and low in their shops for elegant and artsy items in every price range.

You will get an eclectic assortment at junk shops, with plenty of unusual items to choose from and boggle at.

Clothing stores hold fabulous collections of vintage and pre-loved clothes, shoes, oddball beautiful thrift pieces, and designer finds.

You will find that they are usually overflowing with dreamily curated vintage clothing, sensibly priced for the curious thrift shopper.

At particular places, begin your search for vintage everything: women’s outfits, jeans, T-shirts, plus-size clothing, men’s pieces, sunglasses, kimonos– you name it, there is probably a store that sells it.

Throw yourself into self-expression and shop at a Williamsburg thrift store.

Visit the Brooklyn Art Library

Brooklyn Art Library
Aloha Jon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn Art Library is home to what might be one of the most remarkable artistic initiatives in Williamsburg.

The library holds The Sketchbook Project: the world’s most extensive collection of over 50,000 sketchbooks brimming with memoirs, doodles, sketches, and other creative endeavors from thousands upon thousands of artists.

It is a nifty artistic experiment, and you experience a slice of life moment in another’s shoes as you browse the collection and visualize the stories, hues, shades, and emotions people choose to express.

Brooklyn Art Library
Aloha Jon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are art-inclined yourself, the project allows you to buy a sketchbook, fill it up with your work, and donate it back to the library.

The library also has initiatives such as the Pen Pal Painting exchange, where you can connect with any person worldwide by sending each other paintings.

Just order a kit, pick a theme, and then send back your canvas where the library will swap your work with another person’s work, and then you are free to connect.

Visit and visualize together at this singular hub of communal artistic expression.

Shop at Desert Island

At the heart of Williamsburg, Desert Island is a gem of a shop always waiting to be discovered by ardent collectors.

It may be a small comic book shop, but it is full of offbeat treasures and knowledgeable staff ready to point you toward them.

Owner Gabe Fowler calls his creation an abstract idea of punk rock and always stocks the shop with arrivals, many on a consignment from individual artists, and others even coming from far-flung areas.

Here, you will find a trove of underground and alternative comics, zines, art magazines, graphic novels, screenprints, rare artist’s books, manga, and other goods that one doesn’t often see mainstream.

Desert Island is the brainchild of Comic Arts Brooklyn, an annual comic book festival and art book fair, and Smoke Signal, a quarterly comics anthology newspaper that won an Eisner Award.

Take a look around at Desert Island — you might just pick up your latest geeky obsession here.

Celebrate Diversity at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center

Williamsburg Art and Historical Center
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Examine various artistic points of view inside this gallery dominating an ornate 1857 former bank building.

The Center’s mission is to assemble the different artistic communities and create a bridge between local, national, and international artists and emerging and established artists of all abilities and disciplines.

See the creative laboratory at work in the Center and witness its mission to make great works by diverse artists available to diverse audiences using revolutionary approaches to the arts.

Explore themed collections of artworks that show lives lived out in the world, from broad sweeping strokes to everyday minutiae, featuring artists from every single walk of life.

Or catch one of the poetry slams, stage readings, symposia, festivals, and lectures that live true to the Center’s philosophy of finding innovative approaches to make the performing arts come alive.

Founder Yuko Nii has big dreams and ambitions and believes in building rainbow bridges of art, with the people forming the colors of the artist’s palette.

See her noble vision come alive at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center.

Tune in to the Williamsburg Music Scene

In Williamsburg, live music venues and record stores have sprouted up everywhere in the neighborhood this past decade.

If you even have the slightest interest in music, you’ve hit the jackpot at Williamsburg, where spacious warehouses underwent conversion into music venues, and every other storefront spills over with record albums.

There are well-worn venues where bands and indie songwriters drop in for unforgettable appearances and play to a passionate crowd. You are likely to encounter kindred spirits in the music enthusiasts who hang out there.

Night clubs become compact spaces for up-and-coming musicians, blasted with disco lights and a groovy psychedelic vibe.

Cruise through any of the record stores in Williamsburg, which hold racks of vintage and vinyl where you can rediscover throwback albums for the old soul inside you and maybe even uncover tunes you’ve never heard of before.

Whether you’re getting inducted into the songs of an unfamiliar band, dancing until sunrise at a rave club with your friends, or spinning a record and giving up to the sound, you’re in good hands when you follow the music at Williamsburg.

Savor the Skyline Views From Marsha P. Johnson State Park

Marsha P. Johnson State Park
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This park sits along the East River, a peaceful stretch of open green space amidst the urban buzz of the city.

Its name is in honor of transgender LGBTQ+ icon Marsha P. Johnson, a key figure in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

The park sits on what was once a 19th-century shipping dock, and the keen-eyed history buff may be able to pick out remnants like old cobblestone streets, railroad tracks in the concrete, and historical interpretive signs everywhere.

Here, anyone can enjoy beautiful days while out on a stroll, lay out a blanket on the grass, and savor the magnificent sight of the Manhattan skyline across the river with unobstructed views of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the scenic Williamsburg Bridge.

You can hold a weekend brunch out by the water with victuals picked up from the Smorgasburg, the nearby food festival that holds a simply enormous selection of delicacies from around the world.

As the day ends, you can watch the sunset over the Eastern skyline on the waterfront and create new memories while soaking up the stunning view.

Go on a Williamsburg Bar Crawl

Williamsburg bars are the sites of some of the hippest and most happening drinking scenes in the city!

Go on a bar hop and start clinking steins with your friends during the happy hour as you enjoy the offerings from the bar.

You will have the options of multiple beer drafts on tap, stylish cocktails, strong draughts, flavored spirits, natural wines, and a lot more, frequently peppered by live music playing in the background and savory bites of food to go with your drinks.

You will find that the neighborhood has bars of all stripes, including those with energetic atmospheres, solemn skyline views, eccentric aesthetics, kitschy artist spots, punk and rock-and-roll vibes, dreamy outdoor gardens, funky ambiances, and many more.

So strap in, turn up your energy, and (of course!) be sure to drink responsibly for an excellent time to be had by all.

Embark on a Williamsburg Food Journey

Food Truck at Williamsburg
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

Are you tired and famished after a day of mingling and exploring?

Hang on to your utensils because Williamsburg has a thriving food scene that easily holds its own against the rest of Manhattan!

Explore your options thoroughly, and search up places that will serve you their signature preparations.

Savor the tasty foreign cuisine, mouthwatering finger foods, old-school appetizers, medleys of flavors and combos, wine and cocktail accompaniments, rich and savory baked goods, exotic hor d’oeuvres, silky homemade dishes, and still more great culinary innovations to satisfy the most ardent of food-lovers.

Taste your merry way through the neighborhood, and if needed, make sure to book reservations on time, as the slots tend to get filled up quickly with hungry city-dwellers looking for a top-notch meal.

Enjoy your truly excellent food in the comfort of homey kitchen spaces, cute bistros, popular brunch hangouts, photogenic restaurants, sunny diners, and many other places threaded throughout Williamsburg.

Watch Williamsburg's Modern and Creative Shows

The Williamsburg creatives know how to turn contemporary art into a performance.

You will be thrilled at the innovative stage shows from lively and talented performers across the neighborhood.

At a venue like Pete’s Candy Store, you can watch the open mic nights, New York trivia sessions, vigorous readings of the classics, comedy sketches, surreal tales of magic and wonder, feminist talk shows, LGBTQ+ storytelling, and the ever-popular poetry readings from today’s up and coming poets.

At somewhere like The Brick theater, you will have nightlife artistry, multi-layered storytelling from spoken word artists, ruminations on art films, interpretative multimedia dances, flamboyant spins on pop culture, strange and wonderful retellings, and so many more alternative shows to stir up your soul.

These are just two of the places for artsy revels, and you should keep an eye out for these celebrators of the creative spirit in Williamsburg.

Tour at the Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn Brewery
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If you have not yet slaked your taste for beer, consider taking a tour of Brooklyn Brewery.

Brooklyn Brewery initiated a renaissance back in 1988 and was instrumental in reinventing the industry in Brooklyn, once a powerhouse in beer production.

The current brewmaster took a turn-of-the-century Brooklyn beer recipe and made a few modern modifications to the flavor, and this is the beer now sold around the world.

Brooklyn Brewery
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The folks behind the brewery are a diverse and life-loving bunch who are proud of its role in bringing good beer back to Brooklyn and always aim to make it ‘delicious, adventurous, and available to the people.’

They laughingly acknowledge that artists like those in Williamsburg drink ‘a lot of beer!’

You can tour this milestone brewery on Sunday afternoons, where they will give you the scoop on brewing science, beer history, and the brewery’s own story and also connect you with beer experts and give you a sip of their latest creations.

Have a Fun-Filled Karaoke Night Out in the Neighborhood

If you love wailing out songs with a rowdy group of friends while the lights flash and the drinks flow, a lot of spots in the neighborhood have your back!

These lounges will offer karaoke to go with your delicious snacks and game sessions, and you will have such fun singing along with a friendly crowd.

You can rent private rooms at the lounges or sing an open bar and gain a vast selection of songs from which to choose.

Some songs come with complementary music videos, so you will have a charmingly silly time imitating your favorite dance moves and hitting the high notes like a pro.

You might even make a friend while throwing back shots and having a note-for-note go at the classics together.

The karaoke lounges offer food menus and all sorts of drinks at affordable packages and sometimes host parties for all ages, so be sure to check the booking arrangements when you organize a fun night out for your loved ones.

Admire Williamsburg's Street Art

With its creative soul and variegated hipster culture, Williamsburg makes the perfect canvas for some truly jaw-dropping street art.

It is one of the most coveted neighborhoods for these murals, and you can’t turn your head in the street without catching the inevitable splash of color adorning the walls.

You can see acclaimed works of art such as the candy-colored Peace and Love Wall, the steadfast Muhammad Ali Louisville Lip wall, or the geometrically-styled Elvis Presley's‘ War is Hell’ mural.

Street Art at Williamsburg
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

You may find the thoughtful Mona Lisa of Williamsburg at an intersection, the intricate 53-foot Chronicles of New York on a stack of shipping containers, the vibrantly kaleidoscopic Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol mural on a building, and so much more.

You will spot captivating photorealistic animals; splashes of antiestablishment graffiti; quietly muted palettes; rich, bright messages of love and kindness; cartoonlike daubs of bold color; and surreal, thought-provoking human figures.

You will never know what might grace your eyes until you turn that street corner or gaze at the building across the way.

Take a walk down Williamsburg and be inspired by the artistic visions of this unique neighborhood.

Final Thoughts

This neighborhood is a true panoramic haven for dreamers, a place where creativity meets ambition.

You will find yourself making memories in living color at this vibrant and trendy section of Brooklyn.

Williamsburg is a place alive with eccentric charms at every turn, so come on and see what possibilities it holds for you.

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