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There are few better ways to explore New York City than by bus: The city is pretty massive — even if you’re just in Manhattan — so walking can be tiring, biking can be terrifying with all the traffic, and subways can attract a dirty look or two from locals if you don't know the proper etiquette. Plus, bus tours are great for all ages and mobility levels. But knowing where to start in this bustling, vibrant city can be a bit of a challenge: After all, there’s a tour on offer for pretty much any interest — and anyone, from Gossip Girl (RIP) fanatics to classic movie-lovers to those who never pass up a chance to see how it’s done at a new brewery. And that’s not even taking into account all the neighborhoods of the city, each with their own vibe and diverse cultures.
We’ve done the hard work to narrow down the endless array of tour options down to the best bus tours New York City has to offer, whether you’re looking to indulge in the best food in Brooklyn or just take in the sights on a very well air-conditioned bus. Read on to see our picks — and get inspired for your next trip to the Big Apple.
Best for Classic Film Buffs: TCM Classic Film Tour of New York
Many people’s first introduction to New York City is through the movies, which have been shot here pretty much ever since film was invented. What better to guide you through some of the settings of America’s most-loved movies than a bus tour organized by Turner Classic Movies?
You’ll head to iconic Times Square to kick off this three-hour bus tour, which will ultimately take you to 60 movie locations, from the building where John Lennon once lived on the west side of town (also featured in Rosemary’s Baby and Hannah and Her Sisters) to even the exact subway grate Marilyn Monroe made infamous in The Seven-Year Itch. As you go between locations, you’ll see film clips to place the sights and settings in context.
Even if you don’t love movies, it’s still a great way to take in some of the city’s most memorable locations — and use the clips to see just how much the city’s changed over the years.
Best Luxury Coach Tour: New York City Luxury Bus Tour With Harbor Cruise
On a hot New York summer day or a freezing cold winter one, the best thing to do is to skip braving the elements and opt for comfort instead (hey, you’re on vacation, after all). A luxury coach does the trick: You’ll see all the sights, but in a climate-controlled, extremely comfortable setting. We love this tour, which spans a comprehensive five hours and throws in a harbor cruise that’s a great way to take in the city shoreline, as well as the Statue of Liberty, from a different perspective.
This tour begins by boarding a state-of-the-art luxury coach, where you’ll be introduced to your licensed tour guide. There will be plenty of time to stop for photo ops along the way — you won’t see everything through the window if you don’t want to — including Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, and more.
After four hours, it’s time for the cruise: You’ll board a comfortable boat for an hour to take in New York Harbor by water to cap off a day to remember.
Best for Brews: The New York Beer and Brewery Tour
New York City’s craft beer scene is a lively one, and hitting the best of the best on a four-and-a-half hour bus tour is one of the best ways we can think of to see it (those who have been on the tour tend to agree, too). You’ll explore breweries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens during your half-day out, hopping from place to place courtesy of a luxury bus.
From the historic Old Brewer’s Row, which once was known as the “capital of beer brewing in America” to the iconic Brooklyn Brewery to hip Singlecut Beersmiths in Astoria, you’ll hit up four great spots, each different in vibe and offerings, for beer tasting — and indulge in an artisanal food pairing with your beers in Williamsburg.
In the meantime, you’ll learn about differences in brewing styles (German versus American) and the history of brewing in New York City. For those who haven’t been outside Manhattan much — or for whom this is their first visit — this is also a great intro to NYC’s other boroughs.
Best Introduction to New York City: New York City Sightseeing Tour by Coach
If this is your first trip to the Big Apple, it’s worth finding a great all-around tour to get an idea of the city’s history and lay of the land, while ticking off all the important must-see checkboxes. We love this bus tour because it doesn’t stick to the standard Manhattan sights: Instead, over the course of five hours, you’ll be whisked around the island — covering a ton of ground in half a day and learning a ton from the great live commentary along the way.
You’ll begin uptown at the Sheraton New York before seeing Harlem, Lincoln Center, the Dakota Building where John Lennon lived, a handful of iconic museums, and then it’s time to head downtown. You’ll stop in front of the Flatiron Building, then downtown via Bleeker Street, Soho, and Little Italy before stretching your legs with a guided walk to nearby Chinatown.
Also on the itinerary? The iconic Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, Wall Street, and Battery Park, before heading past the World Trade Center, Meatpacking District, and Chelsea Market (you’ll lunch here, though it’s not included in the tour price). Although you can opt to exit the tour at Battery Park or in the Meatpacking District, the official end is in Herald Square near the Empire State Building and Macy’s flagship store — and close to any transit you might need to continue on with the rest of your day.
Best Food Tour: Best of Brooklyn
Those looking to go a bit further afield from the usual Manhattan tourist sights — or those who are dedicated foodies — should definitely take this excellent tour, which lets hungry tourists sample the best this trendy borough has to offer. For 4.5 hours, you’ll be taken by bus to sample some of New York City’s classic delights, from kielbasa and pierogies in Greenpoint, home to a Polish heritage, to delicious creations like Neapolitan-style pizza and cannoli courtesy of Williamsburg’s deep Italian roots.
You’ll be able to walk off the fare while stretching your legs in Brooklyn Bridge Park while taking in the Manhattan skyline from across the river. Finally, you’ll get a sweet something for dessert from the Jacques Torres chocolate factory, which is known far and wide for its bonbons. It’s not all eating though: You’ll learn a ton about the history and cultures that have shaped Brooklyn — and New York City’s — food scene, making it a great tour for history-lovers too.
Best Nighttime Tour: NYC at Night Bus Tour
New York City is, after all, the city that never sleeps, so why not catch it on a nighttime tour of the city? The city has a totally different atmosphere then, with neon shop signs and lit-up landmarks casting the city with a magical glow. This four-hour bus tour also involves a little bit of walking — you’ll head up to the wonderful High Line Park and walk through Grand Central Terminal, learning about both as you stroll.
Back on the bus, you’ll take in Lower Manhattan and Midtown, seeing vibrant areas like SoHo, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, Tribeca, and other attractions, before ending at Grand Central with a great view of the Chrysler Building. It’s a wonderful way to experience the magical energy that flows through New York City at night.
Guests say that this tour takes them to places they might not have gone on their own — in the best way possible — and the tour guides are top of their class, with great anecdotes, quick answers, and friendly personalities.
Best Gospel Tour: NYC Harlem and Gospel Tour By Bus
Get out of Midtown and Lower Manhattan and head up to Harlem, where a rich African-American gospel tradition is still very much alive. This tour will take you on a four-hour exploration through this northern neighborhood in Manhattan in the comfort of a bus. You’ll learn about the history and culture of Harlem, see famous sights in the neighborhood like the Apollo Theater, where a certain singer named Michael Jackson got his break, and Sylvia’s soul food restaurant, a timeless favorite.
You’ll also visit the Malcolm X Mosque, see beautiful street art celebrating African-American culture, and get an architecture lesson as you walk around St. John the Divine, a neo-Gothic church that’s iconic in the community.
The true highlight of the tour, however, is attending a Gospel religious mass at one of the neighborhood churches that’s both beloved and well-attended by locals. Overall, the tour is a beautiful, engaging experience that provides an in-depth look at a gorgeous part of the tapestry that makes up New York City’s vibrant culture.
Best Gossip Girl Tour: Gossip Girl Sites Tour
To Millennials, the privileged world of Gossip Girl and all the prep-school drama it entailed was an obsession on par with The O.C. — and this three-hour tour takes you to the sites and settings of some of the long-running series’s most iconic scenes. You’ll step into the shoes of Serena, Blair, Chuck, Dan, Vanessa, and Nate as you head through the city on this (very well air-conditioned) bus tour, seeing more than 30 locations while you’re out and about.
As you go from place to place, your tour guide — an actor or actress — will brief you on fun facts about the show, cast, and crew, and you’ll watch clips from the show featuring sights you’re about to see. If you want, make your experience even more special by upgrading to priority seats, which offer the best views of the sites from the bus.
Sights include the hotel that played home to the Van der Woodsen and Bass families, the movie theater where Serena ditched Dan during their date, Blair Waldorm’s Fifth Avenue building, and the famous Henri Bendel department store, which counted Serena and Blair as preferred customers.