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New York is one of the world’s most walkable cities, with so many neighborhoods to explore that even lifelong residents are still discovering new treasures just a subway ride away. While a bus tour can give you a sense of the city at large, a good walking tour can peel back the layers of one specific area or dive into a certain aspect of New York’s history. Knowledgeable guides keep you entertained and provide an insider’s view of the city, so you come away with a deeper sense of the people who built the place and those who live there today. Whether you’re interested in theater, food, history, or even a good ghost story, there’s a tour suited to your interests. Read on for our list of the best New York City walking tours and get a glimpse of this city’s storied history.
01 of 09
If you’ve never been to New York before, you’re definitely going to want to visit Midtown, home of many of the city’s most famous landmarks. This small-group walking tour takes you on a spin through several of the most iconic — the Empire State Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, and more — with both interior and exterior stops. Your knowledgeable guide will explain the history of these buildings and the city that surrounds them, give you some background on the Art Deco design movement that influenced their architecture and give you some tips for additional places to visit on your further explorations of the Big Apple.
02 of 09
Many visitors to New York want to pay their respects at the World Trade Center Memorial, and this tour, which benefits the FDNY Foundation, is a special way to do it. It begins at St. Paul’s Chapel, a landmark that has withstood several significant disasters in New York’s history, including the Great Fire of 1776. The tour continues to a vantage point from which you can see the Reflecting Pools, the One World Trade Center building, and the 9/11 Museum. It then moves on to the Winter Garden, the Eleven Tears Memorial and finally, the new World Trade Center complex. As you walk, you’ll learn about the history of the FDNY's "Dragon Fighters" team, who survived in the collapse of the North Tower, and other remarkable, lesser-known details from that tragic day.
03 of 09
Theater lovers, step right up. This walking tour, led by a professional Broadway performer, takes you on a trip through the city’s onstage history in the epicenter of the theater industry. The tour strolls past the city’s most famous theaters and makes stops at famous as well as lesser-known Broadway sites, from Sardi’s restaurant, a legendary post-theater eatery whose walls are covered in caricatures of actors from all eras, to Broadway’s oldest and most exclusive gift shop. All the while, you’ll hear backstage stories about current and long-ago Broadway plays, get an inside scoop on the process of auditions and rehearsals, and get some tips about the neighborhood. It’s a great pre-show tour, as it starts and finishes within a stone’s throw of all of the district’s major theaters.
04 of 09
If you want to get away from the bustle of downtown, head up to one of America’s most famous and vibrant historically black neighborhoods and take this two-hour walking tour with a real hip-hop legend (guides include members of Crash Crew and the Cold Crush Brothers, pioneers of early hip-hop in Harlem and the South Bronx). The tour visits the world-famous Apollo Theater, the Graffiti Wall of Fame, a number of historic jazz clubs, locations from famous hip-hop music videos and Dip Set, the oldest record store in Harlem. Along the way, enjoy stories of the neighborhood’s history and the people who made it great. The tour ticket includes admission to the excellent Museum of the City of New York.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Though many tourists (or die-hard Manhattanites) may not realize it, New York is more than just Manhattan. Right across the river is the mighty borough of Brooklyn, which shares much with the other boroughs in the way of history and culture, but is unquestionably its own place. This walking tour gives you a literal taste of the Carroll Gardens area, a historically Italian neighborhood lined with beautiful brownstones. This tasty tour stops at a variety of local eateries that reflect the rich history and diversity of the neighborhood, including a Middle Eastern bakery, a traditional Italian coffee house, and a vintage soda fountain. It’s educational, fun, and filling.
06 of 09
New York’s speakeasy scene developed during the Roaring Twenties when Prohibition forced bars to operate in secret. And they’ve made a retro-chic comeback in recent years, a phenomenon that your tour guide will explain in far greater detail as you sip a drink inside some real, operational speakeasies. Yes, really! You’ll enter these craft cocktail emporia via unmarked entrances, back alleys, phone booths, signs marked “Emergency Exit” at the back of shops, and more — finding them is half the fun. The tour moves slowly, letting you enjoy a carefully-crafted drink at each stop. It also gives you some time to socialize and hang out with your fellow tour-takers while hearing stories about New York’s history and the history of cocktails from your guide.
07 of 09
New York City’s history is overwhelmingly vast, complex and overflowing with stories. So there’s a lot to be said for focusing in on one historical topic for a tour; all the better if it’s one that isn’t covered as much by the history courses you may have taken. This African-American history tour fits that bill perfectly. The lower-Manhattan-based tour begins at the Museum of the American Indian (a free Smithsonian-affiliated museum — get there early and have a look around) and stops at the African Burial Ground National Monument, the site of Fort Amsterdam and the first African-American church in New York. It also follows the New York City Freedom Trail to visit several stops on the Underground Railroad, where people fleeing enslavement hid on their way to freedom. You’ll learn about the contributions of enslaved and free people to the development of the city, as well as the history of the abolitionist movement in the region.
08 of 09
New York’s sordid underbelly has fascinated true crime buffs for centuries. From the notorious Five Points area, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, to Little Italy, where the Italian mafia ruled for decades, the Lower East Side has seen everything from pickpocket gangs to bloody turf wars. Guided by a retired NYPD officer, this tour leads you through the neighborhood, stopping at the scenes of some of the city’s most infamous crimes to tell the story of New York from its darkest side. The tour also visits Wall Street, where guests will learn about a more modern criminal plague: the white-collar kind. This tour is limited to guests over the age of 12, as much of the content is unsuitable for younger children.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Historic and beautiful, Greenwich Village is one of New York’s most fascinating neighborhoods — and, many say, its most haunted. This nighttime tour takes you through the West Village, where you’ll learn about its many famous historical residents, some of whom perhaps never left, and visit other spooky (and historically important) places along the way. You’ll see Edgar Allen Poe’s New York home, as well as that of poet Emma Lazarus. You’ll visit the infamous “Hanging Tree” in Washington Square Park and the Brown Building, site of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. Keep your eye out for the ghosts of artist John Lafarge at the Church of the Ascension, former NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker at 12 Gay Street, and so many more. It’s a really intriguing way to get to know the history of this bohemian neighborhood and have a lot of fun at the same time.