New York City has many walking tour companies — from free tours to food tours to neighborhood tours to expensive private walking tours. This place has it all, and with so much history and culture and so many nationalities represented here, it’s not really that surprising. New York seems to have a walking tour for everyone’s needs.
I love walking tours. I think they’re a wonderful way to see a city, get your bearings, and learn about where you are from a local expert’s point of view. After all, why visit a place if you don’t want to learn about it?
Over the last month, I decided to learn about NYC and took tours with most of the big historical walking tour companies (food tours are for another post) in order to find the best. My feet still hurt, but I learned a lot about NYC history.
- Free Tours by Foot
These free tours are offered throughout the city by volunteer guides, with multiple tours offered each day (On some days, you can find up to twenty tours being offered). You can find a wide range of tours (historical, food, cultural) that take you all over the city. The company really shines in its diverse catalog — there’s a neighborhood or tour type for everyone. Most of the guides are actors and other long-time locals. They add a bit of quirky history to each tour, and since there’s no set script, each tour differs based on your guide. (My SoHo tour guide waxed poetic on gentrification.) I’ve taken a number of their tours and wouldn’t hesitate to take more. You’re required to sign up for tours in advance. They request not just showing up on their booking page!
- Context Travel
One of my favorite walking tour companies, Context runs tours throughout the world, and I mention them on this website often. They offer a lot of tours in NYC, and I’ve taken three of them. Most recently, I took the Brooklyn walk, which taught me a lot about Brooklyn and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m also a big fan of their lower Manhattan historical walk as well as their architecture tour. If you want really intellectual and educational tours, this is the company for you.
They aren’t the cheapest tour company in the city group tours start at $60 and go up to $105 per person but luckily you can use the code “nomadicmatt” to get 10% off.
- Take Walks
The folks who brought you Take Walks now run NYC tours and use NYC-based guides. I love both their Italy tours and their NYC tours. They special in behind the scenes access that other tours don’t offer. I went on their Met tour, which was hours of educational fun. Their Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour as well as their Disney tour take you behind the scenes and give you insider access you won’t get anywhere else I highly recommend all their offerings — the folks behind them really know what they’re doing.
Tours range $55–150 per person.
- Big Apple Greeter
Big Apple Greeter was founded in 1992 and connects visitors with local residents who show them around their neighborhood for a day. These aren’t professional guides, just locals showing you their favorite spots. I haven’t taken a tour with this company in many years, but the concept is still spot on, and it’s something I highly recommend first-time visitors do. Demand is high, so it’s best to fill out the request form at least four weeks before your arrival. Meeting a greeter is free of charge and there is a no tipping policy.
- Grand Central Neighborhood Tour
This is a free tour of Grand Central Terminal, highlighting the architectural history of the building and surrounding area. Grand Central has such an important presence in NYC history that I highly recommend taking this tour. And when you’re finished, head to the swanky Campbell Apartment for a drink (dress nice, though!). No reservation is required. The Grand Tour meets each and every Friday throughout the year at 12:30 pm.
- Central Park Conservancy Tour
Ever wanted to know about the flora and fauna of Central Park? Well, now you can. Several free tours highlight the various features of the park. Not only do you get to walk around the park on a beautiful day, but you learn about what you’re looking at too! The tours are free and last under two hours— you just need to show up.
- The Village Alliance
The Village Alliance offers free self-guided walking tours of Greenwich Village. You can get the itineraries and maps on their website so you can learn about the history and social culture of the area. You will also get information on the bohemian art scene, food, and gentrification. It last as long as you want it to. If you’d rather a guide, join a free Greenwich Village walking tour led by the Village Alliance, each Saturday from June through September. This tour is free.
- Big Onion Walking Tours
This is one of the biggest walking tour companies in New York. Using PhD candidates as tour guides, this company runs about 30 tours on varying days each month. I took the Prohibition walking tour. I liked my guide, and she provided a lot of historical information, but much of it wasn’t directly related to Prohibition