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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.