Once underappreciated, Williamsburg is now cool — and crowded

People walk along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. (iStock)

Once an inexpensive and little-appreciated Brooklyn neighborhood that attracted budget-strapped 20-somethings, including legions of fledgling artists and designers, Williamsburg has become a trendsetting New York City destination.

The ever-growing list of see-and-be-seen bars and restaurants in the former manufacturing hub include some of the best the city has to offer, drawing self-proclaimed foodies from around the world. There are art galleries showing works by up-and coming and established contemporary artists, hipster cafes selling sustainably sourced coffee (roasted in-house, of course) and boutiques hawking handcrafted objects, clothes made of fair-trade materials or other ethically minded goods.

While the enclave’s 19th century brownstones are still around, a collection of hip hotels and sleek new apartment buildings has changed its character. The thoroughfares are packed with people; the restaurants, cafes and bars can be crowded, noisy and expensive; and those once-affordable rents have skyrocketed, forcing many residents to move on and out.

Location: Northern Brooklyn. There is debate about the streets that distinguish Williamsburg from nearby neighborhoods, but it is bordered by the East River to the West and the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant to the south, Greenpoint to the north and Bushwick to the east.

Clinton Hill still has room to roam and intriguing destinations

Bicycles are parked along fences in Clinton Hill. (iStock)

While Williamsburg may be a hub for tourism, Clinton Hill, just a few miles away, still has a distinct sense of community. Families, newly married couples and longtime older residents all make up the social fabric and share conviviality and conversation on sidewalks and street corners. Brooklyn house hunters are increasingly drawn to the neighborhood, and for tourists, it provides appealing restaurants, cafes, bars and stores.

Walt Whitman, who lived in Clinton Hill when his renowned “Leaves of Grass” was published in 1855, described it as a place for those “determined to escape the closeness of city life.” This quiet appeal remains: The wide, uncrowded streets are lined with trees and historic brownstones and mansions, including four that belonged to American oil magnate Charles Pratt, who founded a top art, architecture and design school — Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Check the school’s schedule for exhibitions when you’re headed to the neighborhood, and don’t miss its sculpture garden.

A leisurely stroll is the ideal way to appreciate the neighborhood and explore its establishments. According to Chris Leon, a Clinton Hill resident and owner of the wine store Leon & Son, these businesses are “made for locals but also a must for tourists.” His shop on Fulton Avenue specializes in wallet-friendly domestic wines and offers tastings on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Also on Fulton, the Good Batch Bakery, a cheery whitewashed spot, tempts with its whoopee pies, vegan banana buns, ice cream sandwiches and other treats. Hops Hill has a long menu of craft beers. Relationships sells handmade decorative objects and furniture, and has a coffee bar as well.

Over on Green Street, there’s the Finch, a Michelin-starred seasonal American restaurant in a renovated townhouse. And on Myrtle Avenue, you can find eco-friendly housewares and gifts at Green in BKLYN.

Finally, don’t miss 99 Ryerson St., the house that Whitman once called home.

Location: Central Brooklyn. Bordered by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the north, Atlantic Avenue to the south, Classon Avenue to the east, and Vanderbilt Avenue to the west.

Vora is a writer based in New York. Follow her on Instagram: @shivanivora78.

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