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10 Fascinating Walking Tours of New York City

Category Tours

|by Craig Nelson |

Want to see New York like a local? Hit the pavement. These 10 awesome walking tours reveal sides of the city you’d never see from a bus

It’s one thing to see the city from an air-conditioned bus or via the exhibits in a museum. It’s another thing entirely to walk the streets — along the famous avenues, down hidden alleys and across iconic bridges, craning your neck along the way to view the skyscrapers soaring above you. But, walking around the city can also take up a lot of time. Maximize your meanderings by signing up for a walking tour, which ensures you’ll pack in plenty of sightseeing — and not miss lesser-known gems en route. From roaming the shaded paths of Central Park to exploring Harlem to trekking (and tasting) through the breweries of Brooklyn, here are ten terrific walking tours.

Central Park Walking Tour (Photo: Central Park Sightseeing)

Central Park Walking Tour (Photo: Central Park Sightseeing)

Central Park Walking Tour
Central Park is often called the “lungs of New York City” — and this is where to use those lungs, walking, hiking, climbing. Escape the grit and concrete of NYC on this two-hour excursion through one of the world’s most famous urban parks. Spend the morning hiking past the highlights of the 843-acre oasis, including Strawberry Fields and the spectacular Bethesda Fountain, presided over by an angel statue. Not only will you learn historical facts buy you will also see plenty of familiar spots from big-screen favorites like Ghostbusters and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Don’t worry about working up too much of a sweat because the Central Park Walking Tour moves at a leisurely pace, so you can take plenty of photos. And keep your eyes peeled: There are over 275 species of birds flitting through the park, from red-bellied woodpeckers to tree swallows. Departs from 56 W. 56th St.

Highlights of Midtown Architecture Tour
New York is famous for its world-class architecture, from Art Deco to Modernist – and nowhere is this more evident than in Midtown Manhattan. The three-hour Highlights of Midtown Architecture Tour kicks off at the United Nations on the East River and then moves down 42nd Street. You’ll climb up stairs to the hidden residential enclave of Tudor City and then peek into the lobby of the Daily News Building to see the famous (and massive) globe that was featured in the movie Superman. While the tour passes by many iconic sights like the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Terminal, special attention is also paid to underappreciated skyscrapers such as the Art Deco Chanin Building. En route, expert guides will bring the buildings to life via historical tales. Departs from United Nations, 42nd St. and 1st Ave.

Wall Street & 9/11 Memorial Tour
Interested in NYC history and getting some exercise? Join a city expert for this 90-minute walk through Lower Manhattan, the most historic part of New York City. This neighborhood dates back to 1624 when the Dutch first established a settlement here, which they called New Amsterdam. Today, the Financial District is the epicenter of the financial world, home to the mighty Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. As you walk from block to block on the Wall Street & 9/11 Memorial Tour, you’ll get the chance to experience the energy of the city as locals rush to and from work. The guide will fill you in on stories about everything from the American Revolution to the great stock market crash of 1929 to the tragic events of 9/11. The tour culminates at the stunning 9/11 Memorial, which invites for peaceful contemplation around the reflecting pools. Departs from 55 Wall St.

Harlem Renaissance Walking Tour
Most visitors see this part of town from the window of a bus, but they are missing out. This historic neighborhood, with its shaded streets, elegant old-world architecture and lively shops and bars, is ideal for exploring on two feet. This fascinating three-hour tour takes you on a walk through history — and Harlem — as you learn about the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s — and how it changed the face of New York. The Harlem Renaissance Walking Tour winds through the streets as the guide fills you in on the incredible talent that this neighborhood produced, from Duke Ellington to Langston Hughes. One of the tour highlights is Jungle Alley, where the jazz world once reigned supreme; this is where legend Billie Holliday made her debut. After three hours of being on your feet, you’ll be ready for a filling feast. This tour culminates in a delicious soul food lunch at a local Harlem restaurant. Departs from 2360 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Brooklyn Bridge & Dumbo Tour
Do you have time for only one walking tour in NYC? Make it the Brooklyn Bridge & Dumbo Tour, which crosses one of the world’s most famous bridges. Led by native Brooklynite Stacey Toussaint, you’ll get the full Brooklyn Bridge experience, starting at the Tweed Courthouse on the Manhattan side. Trek across the bridge’s historic wooden path — turn back midway for spectacular views of the skyline — and then descend onto the cobblestoned streets of Dumbo, one of the borough’s most dynamic neighborhoods, filled with art galleries, cafes, and chic loft apartments. The tour wraps up at Pier 1 where you can gaze across the East River at the gleaming Manhattan skyline. Departs from Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers St.

Brewed in Brooklyn Tour
This tour has the right idea: Work up a sweat — cool down with a beer. Work up more of a sweat — cool down with more beer. The Brooklyn beer scene is booming today, just as it was during its historic heyday at the turn of the 20th Century. The 3.5-hour Brewed in Brooklyn Tour delves deep into the borough’s history by tracing its beer timeline. The tour starts at the Brooklyn Brewery, a New York stalwart that has been making suds since 1988. You’ll be taken on a cool behind-the-scenes tour and get the chance to sip plenty of frothy samples. You’ll also learn about Williamsburg and Bushwick, two uber-hip neighborhoods which once formed the center of Brewer’s Row. What goes better with beer than pizza? Not much. The tour pops into Danny’s Pizza for some cheesy slices to keep you fueled for the rest of the tour. The final stop is Barcade, a trendy pub with an excellent selection of craft beer and vintage video games. Yes, this is your chance to show off your Ms. Pac-Man skills. Departs from Brooklyn Brewery, 79 N. 11th St.

NYC Slavery & Underground Railroad Tour
Lower Manhattan may today be known as the financial capital of the world, but it’s also the oldest neighborhood in the city — and walking its narrow streets and alleys is one of the best ways to experience it. Powered by the heroic tales of African Americans who risked and gave their lives to fight slavery, the NYC Slavery & Underground Railroad Tour is an eye-opening trek for those looking to learn about an under-represented era of the city’s history. This long, winding walk through the Financial District explores New York’s slaveholding past, including a café (once a home on the Underground Railroad) where Frederick Douglass sought refuge and a Colonial burial ground of African descendants that is now a national monument. The tour, led by a New York native who has a deep passion for the subject, also stops into a museum with interactive exhibits on the history of slavery in the city — incredibly, slaves made up a quarter of New York City’s population at the time of the American Revolution. The tour will leave you inspired by the phenomenal tales of resilience and survival. Departs from Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green

Tenements, Tales and Tastes Tour
What do dumplings, knishes, and tacos have in common? They all form part of the culinary history of the colorful Lower East Side. Even better: You’ll get to sample them all on this three-hour stroll through the neighborhood. The LES was once the most densely populated immigrant neighborhood in the country, and today, you can still see Italian, Chinese, Jewish, and Latino influences around every corner. Filled with crooked streets, historic architecture, and old-world eateries, the LES is best explored on foot on the Tenements, Tales and Tastes Tour, you’ll stop at historic synagogues, a 100-year old bakery still going strong, an African burial ground, and the fascinating Lower East Side Tenement Museum. And, you won’t just be using your feet to explore the Lower East Side (as well as parts of Chinatown and Little Italy). You’ll also be using your mouth, as you sample the authentic flavors of classic and contemporary New York. Departs from City Hall

Big Onion Chelsea and High Line Tour
Chelsea was once farmland? Hard to believe, but yes. Before the neighborhood became one of the trendiest hubs in the city, it was covered in rural farmland, from the 1700s until it evolved into an industrial hub in the 19th Century. This two-hour walking tour takes you where the tour buses don’t go — on a journey into the interesting nooks and crannies of the neighborhood. Along the way, the guide will point out urban areas that were once rolling fields; the Chelsea Hotel, once home to legends like Dylan Thomas and Janis Joplin; and the birthplace of the Oreo Cookie, where you can still purchase tasty baked goods. You’ll also see the newer side to Chelsea, with a trek along the High Line, a beautifully landscaped, reclaimed train track that’s been turned into this stunning public park. Departs from the Chelsea Hotel, 222 W. 23rd St.,

Gangster Walking Tour
These days, Little Italy is lined with red-sauce restaurants and is a favorite spot on visitor itineraries, but trek the streets with an expert guide, and you’ll see a whole other side to this neighborhood. On the Gangster Walking Tour, you’ll hear the full gory tale of the New York Mafia’s rise and fall. From bloody feuds to horrifying stories about the much-feared gangster John Gotti, this trek through Little Italy recalls a time when the Mafia ruled the streets. You’ll also see film locations, like the regal Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Gotti’s infamous social club, that appeared in classic flicks such as Mean Streets and The Godfather. By tour’s end, you may be quoting whole scenes from Goodfellas or The Godfather. Departs from Petrosino Square, near Lafayette and Kenmare Streets,

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