A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Travel,  USA

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A few days spent wandering Williamsburg, Brooklyn, offer a slower-paced and less frantic side of New York with an artsy vibe.

New York City can be intimidating, impersonal and nearly impossible to cover in just a few days. But for the people who live there, the city is a lot smaller. It often consists of the few blocks around their homes: the local grocer, the late-night pizza joint and nearby park.

And when you’re visiting New York, taking on the city in smaller, more manageable bites lets you better savor that local atmosphere.

Tackling the Met

I begin my trip with a half day browsing the Met, one of the world’s largest museums and every art lover’s dream.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a permanent collection of more than two million works across 17 departments. Some of the most famous pieces include Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters and Monet’s The Water Lily Pond.

As always in museums of this size, I’m ruthlessly selective and focus on a few time periods that I want to see. In this case it’s the impressionists, as always, the ancient Egyptian collection and some highlights of modern art.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Across to Brooklyn

I spend the rest of my trip in Brooklyn and take a slow afternoon to wander its niche perfume shops, cozy cafes and bookstores. Am I missing out by neglecting Manhattan and its famous downtown? It doesn’t feel that way.

Brooklyn was once notorious for high crime rates, drug dealers and drive-by shootings. But parts of it have experienced a true Renaissance – especially Williamsburg. It now boasts a sizable hipster culture, a strong art community and plenty of pubs and nightclubs. Though the artists who first flocked to Williamsburg because it was affordable are no longer doing so. Rents have skyrocketed since the 1990s.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

What I love most about Williamsburg, aside from the cafes and pubs, is its slower pace (at least compared to Manhattan). Sit at a cafe to people-watch and you’ll find the passersby have mastered the art of keeping their cool and minding their business. An elderly woman wearing silver shoes and a pink wig gets no curious looks or stares.

Though most people dress more casually. There are leather jackets or sweatpants that appear hurried until you notice the offbeat, designer details. It’s a perfect metaphor for the borough itself and its artsy yet nonchalant feel.

And the ethnicities in Williamsburg give the neighbourhood a vibrant and cosmopolitan feel, along with great street food. There are Hasidim Jews and Puerto Ricans in South Williamsburg, and Poles and Italians in the North Side, among many others.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Waterfront views

I finish my day off by the water at a small park with the Manhattan skyline looming across the East River. It’s cold and snowy as I shakily put coins into a telescope to get a closer look at the Chrystler Building, an Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Brooklyn is all the more desirable now because of the waterfront district. After a decline in industry left many warehouses decrepit and vacant, the district was rezoned in 2005 to allow residential buildings.

To my left is the glittering Williamsburg Bridge that connects the Lower East Side of Manhattan with Williamsburg. As the sun sets, the skyline glistens and the golden New York lights are reflected in the river.

A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

For an introduction to slow travel, read my post What is Slow Travel?

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A Slow Travel Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

16 Comments

  • Sheree

    I walk everywhere which gives me time to really look at all the interesting buildings, people-watch, window shop and generally get a feel for the place. I too enjoy visiting museums particularly MoMa, Whitney, Neue Galerie, Met, Guggenheim, Frick and the Public Library.

    • Dee

      New York has so many great museums – you could probably plan out a whole itinerary just based on them.. And I’m with you on the walking. It really gets you to slow down and take in your surroundings.

  • Christopher Papagni

    I appreciate and applaud your piece, especially your visit to Brooklyn. Having been born in Brooklyn and having resided there most of my life, I was, in the past, disheartened by reports of high crime stats and unsafe streets. Brooklyn has over 3 million residents and covers many square miles and there were always small pockets of crime. The Brooklyn I know and love has always been beautiful, safe and living in Manhattan’s shadow. Great to see Brooklyn getting the recognition it has long deserved. Williamsburg is just one of its many colorful and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. See my piece on Brooklyn of the 60s and its rich history.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Christopher! It was an amazing trip for me, and I loved exploring a bit of New York off the beaten path or at least outside of Manhattan.. I think Brooklyn has gone through a real renaissance lately and has nearly shed its old crime-ridden image from the 80s. I’m looking forward to reading your post about its history as well!

  • john

    In 2017 I did a fantastic walking tour of lower Manhattan. It was free with the LGA shuttle ticket. It covered sites and events from pre-revolution to more modern times. I don’t know if this service is still offered.

  • Truehappiness1111

    Peace food cafe is the best for me. Also I tried not to cover too much land feeling exhausted. Instead I try to enjoy myself whatever I am doing when I travel. That is the point of it after all right? To be happy travelling? 🙂 I had one of the best spiritual experience when I was in NYC this past Christmas. Planning on visiting again! Glad you enjoyed your trip!

    • Dee

      Yes, I always like to remind myself that the point is to enjoy the trip whenever it feels like I’m packing my itinerary too tight or rushing. I hope you’ll get to return to NY soon!

  • Mel

    We loved DUMBO but didn’t make it to Williamsburg or the Met so these are firmly on my list for next time. Thanks for sharing the great pics and ambience 🙂

    • Dee

      Thank you, Mel! I’m happy you like it.. I love returning to the same place to explore it more and more each time, and I hope you’ll make it back to New York soon.

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