Seven NYC Tours Every Visitor (and Local) Should Take
Walt Whitman may have loved his leaves of grass, but he also famously said, “Give me the streets of Manhattan!” All of those who have visited know the avenues and alleys of New York City are made for walking. While guests can easily fill their days strolling from one avenue to the next, signing up with a professional tour guide has some real benefits. A tour can show you the pieces of the pass that remain in the modern jungle, tell you the history behind Hamilton, let you walk in the footsteps of your forefathers and mothers, or help you eat your way around the world. Above all, it can help make the city seem less overwhelming.
To help narrow down your options, here are a few tours that every visitor—or life-long resident—should take in New York City.
Brownstone Brooklyn Walking Tour
Travel back to the 1800s on a walking tour of the Park Slope Historic District, a 33-block stretch filled with brownstones, churches, and schools. Check out the Montauk Club (1891), St. John’s Episcopal Church (1885), and the nearby Memorial Presbyterian Church (1883). Visit Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s other project—Prospect Park—and then continue your tour in Brooklyn Heights where Truman Capote and Carson McCullers lived. Download a map from Brownstoner and take yourself on a tour, or sign up with Big Onion for a guided tour of brownstone Brooklyn.
Wall Street Ghost Tour
The Wall Street tour takes visitors through Manhattan history—even before it was Manhattan. Thrillseekers: sign up for the Ghost Tour to unearth the spooky legends of George Washington, visit the supposedly haunted Fraunces Tavern, learn the tragic history of the New York Stock Exchange after the Great Stock Market Crash, see the final resting place of Captain Kidd, and learn the dark secrets that lurk in the shadows of the Wall Street canyon. Hamilton fans will also appreciate the chance to hear another side of the legend of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton—and see where Hamilton is buried.
The twisted streets and secret alleys between the Bowery and Canal Street are home to thousands of people making up New York’s bustling Chinatown. The streets are lined with dumpling shops, bakeries, private mah-jong parlors, tea shops, beauty salons and, if your feet get tired during your walking tour, plenty of places to grab a foot massage. The Museum of Chinese in America leads information-packed walking tours through the neighborhood, giving visitors a glimpse into the area's evolution as one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in New York City. Get more information.
Central Park Tour
Even the most casual observer can’t help but admire the wonders of Central Park with its open meadows, boating ponds, and skating rink. An expert, though, can tell visitors that there’s a secret cave in the The Rambles or that the cherry trees were a gift from Japan in 1912. Come to NYC during the holidays and the best guides may even be able to lead visitors to the secret Christmas tree set up in Central Park just for pets. Central Park offers tours for every interest group, including architecture buffs, art lovers, nature aficionados, military history fans, and more. Check the schedule.
In New York City, it's possible to eat food from every (or almost every) country in the world. Take a food tour of the other Little Italy on the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, try navy bean pies in Harlem, explore Chelsea Market, visit the Italian bakeries on Bleecker Street, the Yemeni restaurants on Atlantic Avenue, the old world delights of the Lower East Side, or the surprisingly pan-Asian offerings of Chinatown to experience just a few of the city’s—and the world’s—culinary delights. Companies like Nosh Walks and the Institute of Culinary Education offer culinary tours throughout the city.
Immigrant New York
See what the city was like for immigrants after they came through the doors of Ellis Island and landed on the Lower East Side of New York City. Explore the history of New York’s past by walking through the same streets they walked and trying the same food they tried. Columbia University has DIY walking tours for different heritages—Africa, German, Sephardic, German, and more—with PDF maps to download and follow. If you prefer a guided tour, check out the many offerings from the Tenement Museum or Streetwise New York. Visit Ellis Island to get a real sense of what the old world was like.
The Highline Tour
New York’s newest park was reclaimed from the abandoned elevated train tracks that ran along the West Side of Manhattan. The Friends of the Highline nonprofit, which helped raise funds to open and operate the Highline, runs free tours throughout the week, explaining the history of the project. The 75-minute tour, led by volunteer docents, gives urban explorers a full rundown of the park’s landscape and design. When the tour’s over, stick around for dessert, a glass of wine, or just the best people watching in Manhattan. Get more information.