Last Updated: 7/22/21 | July 22nd, 2021
New York City has tons of walking tour companies. There are free tours, food tours, neighborhood tours, expensive private walking tours. New York has a walking tour for everyone’s needs and interests!
Personally, 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. After all, why visit a place if you don’t want to learn about it?
To help you decide what tours to take while you’re exploring the Big Apple, I decided to sample a big chunk of the city’s historical walking tour companies in order to find the best ones. While it took a toll on my feet (I definitely got my steps in!), I learned a lot about NYC history!
Here’s a review of the best walking tours in New York City:
Best Overall Tour
Walks specializes 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.
Best Free Tour
Free Tours by Foot
These free tours are offered throughout the city by volunteer guides, with multiple tours offered each day (they have 18 tours on offer). 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 tour for everyone.
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.) Just make sure to sign up in advance and be sure to tip your guide at the end!
In addition to these two awesome tour companies, New York has over a dozen other insightful, educational, and delicious tours in the city. Here are my top suggestions:
1. 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. However, please consider making a donation to help this service continue.
2. 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. They usually hold tours once a week, however, they are currently suspended due to COVID.
3. Explore the Real Brooklyn
Friend and fellow travel writer Dani Heinrich runs this off-the-beaten-path tour around Brooklyn. She’s a diehard Brooklynite and loves taking people around the city to show them there’s a lot more to NYC than just Manhattan. She has been leading these tours for over 4 years and will take you all over Brooklyn (so be prepared to walk). Tours last 4.5 hours.
Tours from $44 USD.
4. 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! There are tours that cover the main sights, family-friendly tours, tours that focus on statues and monuments, and more. The tours usually last 90 minutes. You can purchase tickets online in advance.
Tours from $15 USD.
5. 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. Tours cover everything from LGBTQ landmarks to the 1960s to important women in history. Their website also has tons of information on the bohemian art scene, food, and gentrification. Since tours are self-guided, they last as long as you want them to.
6. Big Onion Walking Tours
This is one of the biggest walking tour companies in New York. Using Ph.D. candidates as tour guides, this company runs about 50 tours on varying days each month. I took their 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. While that was a personal bummer (I’m a sucker for anything Jazz Age!), I still really liked the tour and would recommend the company.
Tours cost $25-30 USD.
7. Bowery Boys Walks
The Bowery Boys started off as a podcast back in 2007, focusing on the unique history of the Big Apple. Since then, they’ve branched out and created their own walking tours based on some of their most popular episodes and topics. They offer over a dozen distinct tours that cover specific areas around the city as well as different historical periods, such as their Landmarks and Legends of Broadway tour. I like that their tours are limited to small groups so you’re never crowding to hear the guide. Their tours last around two hours. Be sure to book in advance since there is limited space.
Tours from $40 USD.
In addition to your standard walking tours, food tours are another great way to explore and sample some of the city’s amazing cuisine. New York City has no shortage of amazing places to eat and there are food tours for every part of the city, focused on every type of cuisine imaginable. My suggested food tour companies to check out are:
- Scott’s Pizza Tours
- Foods of NY
- Famous Fat Dave’s Five Borough Eating Tour
- Secret Food Tours
- Beyond the Plate
Some other NYC walking tours I’ve heard are worthwhile from reliable, trustworthy sources but haven’t used myself include the following:
- Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl — Actors from a local theater project take visitors around bars in the West Village and fill their heads with information about famous drinking writers and their stomachs with a lot of beer. Tours are on Fridays and Saturdays and last three hours. Tickets are $35 USD. Come thirsty!
- Joyce Gold Tours of New York — Joyce Gold is a 30-year tour veteran who teaches history at NYU and leads very informational small-group tours around the city. Her history-focused tours are very detailed. Go if you’re a history buff! There are lots of tours to choose from and all are $25 USD.
- New York Gallery Tours — This tour company takes you to a wide variety of galleries throughout New York City. It’s a great way to see up-and-coming art without having to figure out what galleries are worth seeing. The galleries visited frequently change, so check the website for tour information. Tours are $29 USD.
- New York TV and Movie Tour — This tour takes you to all the famous spots you see in movies and on TV. Tours are currently on hold due to COVID.
Although many companies offer a lot of the same tours and routes, what really makes these companies stand out are the different guides and styles each one employs. If you have a few days in the city, I would mix and match a few tour companies.
But no matter what company you tour with on this list, you’ll learn a lot, have fun, and discover parts of NYC with these walking tours you wouldn’t have found otherwise. Nothing can replace an insider’s tour of a city!
P.S. Be sure to always tip your guides — free tour or not!
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Book Your Trip to New York City: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
If you’re looking for more places to stay, here my complete list of favorite hostels the city. Additionally, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood guide to NYC!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on New York City?
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