New York New York! But perhaps not a place in New York you are familiar with. Our private travel consultant Tomas Safarik recently returned from his favourite destination in the world, but he didn’t stay in Manhattan.
Tomas was across the Hudson River in Brooklyn, staying at the Williamsburg Hotel. Here he reports back on his experience and explains how you can enjoy a more local New York experience.
Getting Out of Manhattan
If it’s your first visit to New York it’s good to spend a couple of days in Manhattan, because that’s what most people think of as New York. You have the widest choice of accommodation, places to eat and party.
I think Midtown is too touristy. I like to stay in some of the villages and usually try a different area each year. This time I went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
If you want to see the most famous places like Times Square, or follow the steps of Home Alone, then Williamsburg is not for you. But if you want to see what New York is really like and what the locals do, Williamsburg is the perfect starting point. Williamsburg is where the people who live in Manhattan go to hang out.
Brooklyn is often perceived as being unsafe. In fact, many visitors make it as far as the Brooklyn Bridge, but don’t actually leave Manhattan. Williamsburg is so much cleaner than anywhere in Manhattan and it is a very safe area.
The Williamsburg Hotel
Williamsburg has two outstanding hotels and I chose the Williamsburg Hotel. The Wiliam Vale Hotel is just across the road and has a similar vibe – youthful, design-focused and informal.
Williamsburg Hotel used to be a water tower. It’s recently transformed into one of New York’s hippest hotels. There is a wide variety of suite-like rooms and I stayed in a one-bedroom suite – I loved the oversized bathtub!
Some of the entry level rooms don’t have a view over the river and the skyline, so I’d recommend going for at least a Premier King Terrace. The Loft Suite is my recommendation for two people – superb views and so much style.
They also have bigger suites to share with friends, or have a party, because this is definitely a hotel to party. The Skyline Suite has huge floor-to-ceiling windows and you can have a bath with the best view of New York.
Overall the atmosphere and design feels very young and new. It’s lively here, best for people who want to be in a trendy place. The staff say “hey how are you doing” rather than offer an old-world formal service. You shouldn’t expect the same service you’d get in The Peninsula or Knickerbocker – this is a new-world place, not a classic old-world hotel.
Best of all is their amazing rooftop swimming pool, where they are always throwing parties. Guests get VIP access to these parties which is a real bonus. I’ve visited good rooftop bars and terraces all over Manhattan but Williamsburg Hotel has the very best view in New York. It’s because once you cross the river, you get a view over all of Manhattan, not just part of it.
The Williamsburg Hotel motto is “sleep with a local”, which sounds a little edgy but does reflect their playful style. It sums up why you stay in Brooklyn and not Manhattan – to have a local experience.
When I go to New York I don’t plan ahead. New York is really safe when you’re on foot. I love to just wander the streets and explore. I found this Michelin-starred restaurant near the hotel called Oxomoco. The concept is comfort food meets fine dining, like nachos with cheese. I ate the same dishes I eat when watching Netflix, but it was Michelin quality.
I walked through Williamsburg to Green Point, the neighbouring area. Here I found a free art library with over 200,000 sketches from artists from all over the world. Visit the Met and there are so many exhibitions it’s overwhelming. But when I find a place like this art library, where you can touch the artworks, I know it’s unforgettable.
New York After Covid
I was afraid that New York would change after Covid, but it hasn’t. I went to my favourite bar called Employees Only and the atmosphere is just as good as before (their cocktails are divine!).
Almost every New York restaurant and bar now has these decorated wooden booths outside. They were created at a time when you couldn’t drink or dine inside. They’ve stayed for the better. It means there are less cars and more space to eat and drink. You can sit outside in your own safe space, next to a heater, and watch the hustle and bustle of the city.
One tip is to not use the subway. It always had a bit of a reputation for being unsafe. This has sadly become worse. Each time I took the subway there was somebody being aggressive. I’d recommend getting an Uber, a Taxi or a chauffeur. Or just walk.
Other New York Hotels
I’ve stayed at The Peninsula and Knickerbocker in Midtown before and they provide a very good standard of luxury.
My all time favourite is The Standard High Line, which is only a four-star hotel, but so many famous people stay there, because it’s one of New York’s most stylish places to stay. The location is incredible as well, between West Village and Chelsea Market.
On this trip I visited Baccarat Hotel for high tea. The level of service really wasn’t on par with what I expected from the price. High tea cost $170 and I had shells in my lobster roll. It feels like a very exclusive and snobbish place that is lacking in so many aspects. If I wanted the most luxurious place to stay in New York I’d stay at the St Regis.
If you haven’t been to New York then do stay in Manhattan, but mix it with a couple of nights in Williamsburg. If it’s summer then go out to The Hamptons if you have more time.
I go back to New York almost every year. It’s always changing and I always explore somewhere new.