Trying to decide whether to buy a place in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side? Take comfort in the fact that there is no wrong—or boring—choice on either side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Both neighborhoods offer world-class dining, entertainment, and shopping options. Both have historic housing stock and stunning new developments. And each, in its own way, exemplifies something iconic about New York City.
“They’re the kind of neighborhoods that make you want to live in New York in the first place,” says Macie Barnes, a real estate agent at Prevu, a full-service brokerage that offers buyers a rebate of up to 2 percent of the purchase price. “The Lower East Side is old world New York, with all its charm and grit. Williamsburg is an homage to that, with new development that has made it a beacon of NYC in the 21st century.”
Below, a guide to deciding whether you’ll live happier-ever-after in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side.
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Lifestyle and culture
In the early aughts, Williamsburg became a mecca for artists and hipsters, drawn by cheap rents and abundant studio space in the area’s old factories and warehouses. A rezoning under Mayor Bloomberg brought high rises to the waterfront, and opened the floodgates for new investment to pour into the neighborhood.
The result is a combination of nouveau real estate with a vibrant, hip cultural scene. Williamsburg is still rife with galleries, bars, restaurants, and boutiques that run the gamut from trendy to offbeat, and now you’ll also find an Apple Store, a Whole Foods, and Urban Outfitters (with dedicated space for indie designers), all integrated into a cohesive neighborhood fabric.
“Williamsburg is perfect for people who don’t want to sacrifice getting their groceries with living in a fun, cool environment,” says Barnes. “It’s the best of both worlds—a stylish, eclectic neighborhood that strikes a perfect balance of big box stores next to mom-and-pop shops.”
Like Williamsburg, the Lower East Side is also nightlife hub, where grit meets glam and seedy dive bars coexist with exclusive A-list clubs.
“Gentrification hit the Lower East Side around the same time as Williamsburg, and today it’s a hodgepodge of creatives, old-timers, high-dollar-earners, and oddball characters—a menagerie of New York archetypes compressed into an area smaller than a square mile,” says Barnes. “Compared to Williamsburg, it’s a more authentic slice of old-world New York, with a chaotic and intoxicating energy.”
The Lower East Side’s amazing restaurant scene includes standouts like Ivan Ramen and The Fat Radish, plus a wide variety of ethnic cuisines. Historically home to various immigrant communities, it still has an astonishing array of cultures and cuisines, alongside historic spots like Katz’s Deli and the Tenement Museum.
On the Lower East Side, you’ll find mostly tenement-style walk-ups, interspersed with newer luxury high-rises. The neighborhood is protected as a National Historic District, which keeps the aesthetic vibe decidedly historic and old-school.
In Williamsburg, luxurious high-rise rental and condo buildings predominate along the waterfront, though development has slowed there in recent years. Away from the water, you’ll find plenty of single-family townhomes, mixed-use and medium-density residential buildings, and recently renovated apartment buildings. East Williamsburg has a more industrial vibe, where you can still find good deals in converted factories and warehouses. South Williamsburg is more residential, with large mid-century apartment blocks.
“The average prices in the LES have been higher recently because of new development at One Manhattan Square, which has sold at higher prices,” says Barnes. “But resale prices are about the same in both neighborhoods. You can expect to pay $600,000 to $1.8 million for a nice one bedroom, $800,000 to $3 million for a luxury two bedroom. That said, your overall cost of ownership will likely be lower in Williamsburg because property taxes are lower in Brooklyn than Manhattan.”
Active listings among one bedrooms range from $400,000 for a HDFC income-restricted co-op in South Williamsburg to a $1,795,000 for a luxury condo with a home office and city views. For two bedrooms, $799,000 on the low end gets you a place in East Williamsburg, while $2,850,000 is the asking price for a two-bedroom townhouse with outdoor space. In the Lower East Side, active listings range from $525,00 for a co-op to $1,925,000 for a one bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath in a luxury, new development building For two bedrooms, $765,000 gets you a co-op in the easternmost section of the neighborhood, while the going price for a two bedroom, two bath on the edge of Nolita is $3,580,000.
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Both Williamsburg and the LES have something to offer in the way of green space, though what you’ll get differs by neighborhood.
“The heart of LES is densely developed, with little usable park space, but over by the waterfront you’ll find John V. Lindsay East River Park, with 57 acres of bike paths, running trails, sporting courts, and playgrounds,” says Barnes. “Given the park is on the edge of the neighborhood, it makes it more of a destination for residents rather than a centrally located community space.”
Over in Williamsburg however, McCarren Park is a hub of activity at all hours. Anyone who lives in Williamsburg—particularly on the north side—will extol the value of the park in their daily life.
“It’s a great place to exercise, have a picnic, walk your dog, or go for a swim in the famed—and very busy—pool in the summer,” says Barnes.
Williamsburg also has great parks along the waterfront: the East River State Park, Bushwick Inlet Park, and Domino Park, a public oasis with an elevated catwalk, bocce and volleyball courts, and a taco-and-margarita joint from Danny Meyer, opened in 2018 near the former Domino Sugar Factory.
Several subway lines serve both neighborhoods. The J, M, and Z trains run through the Lower East Side and into South Williamsburg; from the Lower East Side, you can also catch the B, D, and F to get to Midtown or Wall Street in 20 minutes, and several buses, including the M15 Select Bus Service. The NYC Ferry also stops at Corlears Hook in East River Park, which you can take south to reach Wall St in 7 minutes, or northbound to Stuyvesant Cove, East 34th St, and Long Island City.
The L train bisects North and East Williamsburg, and after much talk about it being shut down for repairs, it’s still here.
“I’m actually glad that threat happened, because the city ended up bulking up our transportation options,” Barnes says. Now the J, M, and Z trains run more frequently, and the M runs on weekends. The J gets you to Wall Street in about 20 minutes, and the M to Midtown in under a half-hour.
There are now two ferry stops in Williamsburg, which you can take to Wall Street, Dumbo, Greenpoint, and East 34th Street; a boatload of bus options; and Revel electric mopeds, an easy app-based, grab-and-go mode of transit, similar to how Citi Bike operates. There’s also the crosstown G train, which links Williamsburg to Queens, Greenpoint, and the rest of Brooklyn.
Both neighborhoods are suitable if you work from home, though Williamsburg in particular is known for its creative class entrepreneurs, and has the spacious cafes and abundant co-working spaces to support them, including a WeWork and a forthcoming location of The Wing.
“Williamsburg is a great neighborhood for people who want to live and work in the same place,” Barnes says.
Prevu is a digital home buying platform that enables you to search, offer, and save up to 2 percent when you buy. Click here to learn about Prevu’s Smart Buyer Rebate or to browse apartments in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side.