Reservations are required for some of the tours listed here, but even if they’re not, it’s always best to call ahead to confirm prices, times, and meeting places.
Walking Tour Companies
For those interested in a tour that takes in NYC architecture in an erudite, interesting way, try the Municipal Art Society (tel. 212/935-3960 or 212/453-0050; www.mas.org). It offers periodic specialized tours of many areas of the city, each with a specific focus and a varying price point.
The 92nd Street Y (www.92y.org; tel. 212/415-5500) offers a wonderful variety of walking and bus tours, many featuring funky themes or behind-the-scenes visits. Subjects can range from “Carnegie Hall Tour and Tea” to “Jewish Harlem.” Prices range from $35 to $100, but many include ferry rides, afternoon tea, dinner, or whatever suits the program. Guides are well-chosen experts. Advance registration is required for all tours.
Top commercial walking tour companies include the following companies. Click on the links to read our complete reviews:www.freetoursbyfoot.com). No, they’re not actually free; you’re expected to tip at the end, about $20, and you really should because the guide has to hand over a percentage of the tips to the “boss” who runs the operation. But because the guides are dependent on tips (and so is the boss who picks the guides), only truly gifted raconteurs make the cut. Tours hit all the classic areas of the city—Harlem, Brooklyn Heights, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Central Park—but also include some more unusual offerings, like street art tours of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and ghost tours of the High Line area and Greenwich Village. They also offer food tours at a much lower price than the competition, since you pay what you want for the tour, and then can pick and choose among the treats offered, paying for each as you go.
If you’d like to sail the New York Harbor aboard the 1885 cargo schooner Pioneer, check out the South Street Seaport Museum for more information. Note that some of the cruise lines may have limited schedules in winter, especially for evening cruises. Call ahead or check online for current offerings. Also take a look at our reviews for Bateaux New York and the Circle Line.
Seeing NYC from the Deck of a Historic Fireboat -- The fireboat John J. Harvey served New York City from 1931 to 1994. Saved from the scrapyard by a group of boat lovers who purchased her in 1999, the Harvey is being lovingly and painstakingly preserved and restored, mostly by volunteer labor, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently docked at Pier 66 on the West Side of Manhattan (btw. 26th and 27th sts.), the boat offers occasional free tours around the harbor and up the Hudson River from May through autumn, periodically unleashing the “deck pipes” (water guns) to spray all around (at 18,000 gallons a minute). Expect to get soaked! Check the calendar at www.fireboat.org to see if you're lucky enough to be in town when one of these tours is offered, to learn more about the historic and heroic boat and its crew, or make a donation to help fund its restoration. Even after starting its second life, the fireboat answered the call for New York City once more: on September 11, 2001, the John J. Harvey left its slip to head down to Ground Zero, and the crew rigged its pumps to draw water from the Hudson when downtown’s fire hydrants weren’t working after the attack on the World Trade Center. The boat and its crew pumped water for 80 hours. For more about the riding the John J. Harvey go to www.1931fireboat.org.
If you were to climb aboard any public bus, turn to the person next to you, and ask, “What building is that?” you’d probably get a response as informative, accurate, and interesting as what you’ll find on the much pricier, hop-on, hop-off bus tours of New York City. I know, I rode a slew of them doing research for the Frommer's guidebooks and website, and was appalled by the poor quality of the guides and audio guides. I think New York is best appreciated on foot, or on public buses and subways. Not only do you learn more about the city that way, you meet locals, rather than peering at the streets from afar, almost as if you were watching it all on TV. And you’ll actually see more than you will if you waste time waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for the next of these hop-ons to arrive, rather than just footing it to the next sight. If you insist, the top bus tour is Big Bus (http://eng.bigbustours.com; tel. 800/669-0051). Tours depart from various locations. Hop-on, hop-off bus tours start at $49 adults for an 8-hour Manhattan tour, more if you get a 48-hour pass.
Or actually TAKE the public bus, the M5 bus to be exact. Its route runs from Washington Heights down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. If you board uptown, around 125th Street and Riverside Drive, and take it downtown, you’ll pass landmarks such as Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Church, Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library, Empire State Building, Flatiron Building, and Washington Square. And all you need is your MetroCard (or exact coin change) and your trusty Frommer’s New York City guide with your maps in hand. The bus will move slowly enough where you will be able to consult your book and find the corresponding landmarks.
It’s an open secret in New York that you get the best bargains when you cut out the middleman and buy directly from the many designers who call Gotham home. But tracking down sample sales and getting into designer showrooms can be tricky, if not impossible, for outsiders.
There is, however, one major “gotcha” to these tours, and that’s sizing. In general, the tours are not so hot for plus-sized customers. You’ll find the most options if you’re a size 0 to a size 6.
Recommended tours include:
- Shop Gotham (www.shopgotham.com)
- The Elegant Tightwad (www.theeleganttightwad.com)
- Style Room (www.styleroom.com)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.