One of my favorite walks to do in NYC is the Lower East Side (Manhattan) to Williamsburg (Brooklyn) via the Williamsburg Bridge. No subway or car is required, allowing you to really feel the beat of the city. Additionally, while I do take plenty of guests across the Brooklyn Bridge on my private photo safaris, I’m partial to the Williamsburg Bridge as it’s less crowded and more edgy with lots of graffiti and steel.
Hey New York locals and visitors: don’t miss a private photo safari, including a custom itinerary and professional photos of the group to keep!
The Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is known for many things, particularly its rich immigrant history. During the 19th century and into the 20th, the neighborhood was full of tenement buildings crammed with immigrant families in poor conditions. The Tenement Museum, a living museum with costumed interpreters, allows you to explore this.
One population that was prominent in the neighborhood during this time was Jewish immigrants, many of whom came to America to experience the American dream of freedom and gold to escape persecution and anti-semitism in places like Russia and Germany.
For this reason, I highly recommend taking in some Jewish culture at places like;
- Katz’s Delicatessen: Open since 1888, this place is NOT overrated. It has an old school cafeteria feel and you’ll be given samples as you wait for your massive pastrami sandwich, hands down the best in the city. That’s not an opinion; that’s fact.
- Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery: Not far from Katz’s is this historic 1910 knish spot, a small and simple venue offering delicious knishes made from scratch (not the frozen variety!). Along with the traditional potato stuffed dough, they showcase other varieties like spinach and cherry. Yum!
- Kossar’s Bialys: The USA’s oldest bialy factory, open since 1936. A bialy is like a bagel with no hole — instead it had a depressed center typically with onions and/or poppy seeds — and it’s baked instead of boiled and baked.
- The Pickle Guys: In the early 1900’s Essex Street was filled to the brim with pickle places. Today The Pickle Guys boast being the only one. They showcase giant barrels full of pickled pineapple, mango, sweet peppers, cherry peppers, mangoes, horseradish, capers, watermelon, celery, baby carrots and more!
There are also hipster bites worth noshing on, my favorite of which is Pop Karma. Here you’ll find organic kernel popcorn with a slew of interesting all-natural toppings — with everything made in-house. I love the White Truffle Cheddar.
Order a bag to go so you have something to nibble while walking across the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn. The Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903, completely changing the makeup of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Many called it the “Jews Bridge” due to all the Jewish immigrants that walked over the bridge from their tenements in the Lower East Side to settle in Williamsburg. In fact, after this bridge opened Williamsburg became the most densely populated place in the USA. By 1917 the block between South 2nd and South 3rd had over 5,000 people! It’s not surprising that air conditioning was invented in Williamsburg around this time.
The opening of the bridge truly influenced the makeup of Williamsburg. What was once a wealthy area where “robber barons” like Cornelius Vanderbilt, Charles Pratt and Charles Pfizer had waterfront mansions and factories started becoming blue collar.
Today, walking around Williamsburg, it’s hard to imagine a time of struggle, as it’s very much gentrified. The once factory-lined waterfront is now littered with luxury high rises and beautifully manicured parks, though you’ll still see the abandoned and crumbling Domino Sugar Factory dotting the skyline in decay. Not surprisingly, the factory’s lawn features an organic farm called North Brooklyn Farms, which is a nice place to enjoy the weather outside and take donation-only yoga classes on Tuesday nights.
While I do feel Williamsburg has gone too far with how much it’s progressed, I’ll admit that as a 29-year-old with a bit of disposable income I do enjoy the restaurants, bars and boutiques, though most of the shops I can’t afford. One gem for those who don’t have $100+ to blow on a shirt: Vintage Monk Thrift Shop. I regularly buy jeans and hats from there for $5 each.
My favorite Williamsburg experiences (though note some are seasonal):
- Bedford Cheese Shop: this is a stinky heaven of farmstead cheese and local artisanal products. This and Hops & Hocks are my favorite places for exploring Brooklyn culinary creativity.
- Tiki Sunday’s at Output (summer): This is the least douche-y club in NYC. Come as you are, have drinks that are only slightly overpriced and dance on the roof to their amazing some system. On Tiki Sunday’s it’s free to get in before 4pm with RSVP.
- The Ides Rooftop at the Wythe Hotel: This rooftop has great views and a very chill vibe.
- Brooklyn Barge: Technically in Greenpoint, this waterfront park, boat bar and hangout is massive and offers superb views of Manhattan. One of the best “boat experiences” in NYC, and it’s big enough you’ll never have an issue getting in.
- Baked In Brooklyn: you’ll pay a studio fee of $9. Then you can purchase your pottery to paint and have them bake. You can also bring wine and make a day of it.
- Brooklyn Bagel Store: The quirkiest eatery in Williamsburg! They’re known for their rainbow-colored bagels, but they also have wacky cream cheese’s in flavors like Funfetti, Nutella and bacon, as well as offbeat treats like the “Cragel,” a croissant bagel. My favorite is the chocolate cherry bagel with cannoli cream cheese.
- Hotel Delmano: THE BEST cocktail bar in Brooklyn. Worth the price tag and skipping dinner for (though you’ll want something in your stomach as they’re boozy).
What are your favorite NYC walks? Please share in the comments below!
In terms of hostels and hotels, I love:
- Hostelling International. They offer everything from free comedy nights and local tours to a movie and game room.
- Pod 39 Hotel. Budget-friendly hotel offering a fun play room, amazing Mexican restaurant and THE BEST aerial views of NYC on their rooftop.
- Broadway Hotel. This hotel and hostel uptown near Columbia University is one of the more budget-friendly options in NYC.
- Crosby Street Hotel. This SoHo splurge is worth every penny if you love being immersed in creativity, modern design, and dog-themed decor. Ask to tour their rooftop garden (with chickens!).
- Kimpton Muse. I’m a big Kimpton fan, and their Times Square property is themed to inspire your stay with free yoga amenities and bike rentals, in-room spa treatments, and beautiful artwork and quotes in each room.
- Click here to browse more NYC properties.