12 Tours Even Locals Will Love
The best guided walks for veteran New Yorkers who think they know everything and are delighted to find out they don't
New Yorkers have a reputation for rolling their eyes when it comes to tours of the city. After all, when you live here, why pay money to walk around your own backyard? As it turns out, there are fascinating, information-packed tours out there even skeptical NYC locals are sure to love. These journeys of discovery will leave the know-it-alls wide-eyed and impressed, and give visitors and residents alike a fresh perspective on their surroundings.
Brooklyn Brewery Tours
Free tours of this historic brewery are available Saturdays on the hour from 1-5pm and Sundays on the hour from 1-4pm, but the real experience happens Mondays through Thursdays on the Small Batch Tour. With a maximum group of 30 people, the tour includes a guided tasting of four different Brooklyn beers, a 30-45 minute tour of the brew house and packaging room, and a souvenir Brooklyn Brewery stemware glass. Reservations are taken 30 days in advance — and, given that we’re talking about beer here, they go quickly. Visit brooklynbrewery.com; Mon-Thu 5-7pm; Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; L to Bedford Ave., G to Nassau.
Edgar Allen Poe Greenwich Village Tour
Though this two-hour tour does stop at the house where famed writer Edgar Allan Poe lived in Greenwich Village, it also focuses on the history of the neighborhood and how it became the center of the counterculture movements of the 1960s. Led by a Greenwich Village resident, the Edgar Allen Poe Greenwich Village Tour stops at coffee shops where local writers penned their novels and poems, nightclubs where Bob Dylan and Joan Baez played and a theater where Jimi Hendrix wowed the crowds. The walk also passes the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and traverses a pauper’s graveyard that has since been turned into a public park. Fridays at 2pm; Tour leaves from beneath the Washington Square Arch, located at Fifth Ave. and Washington Square North; A, B, C, D, E, F, M to W. 4th St., N, R to 8th St./NYU.
Forgotten NY Tours
Run in conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten New York tours explore little-known areas and details of the city. Ranging from tours of Mott Haven in the Bronx and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Riverside Park and Staten Island’s Tottenville, knowledgeable guides offer inside information on all sorts of things that even native New Yorkers might overlook. Architectural details, local history and NYC trivia tidbits are all part of these four-hour entertainments held several times a year. Visit forgotten-ny.com for schedules and directions.
Harlem Soul Food and Jazz Tour
If you’re searching for a five-hour immersion into the musical and culinary delights of Harlem and its history, the Harlem Soul Food and Jazz Tour won’t disappoint. It passes by such landmarks as the Apollo Theater — which launched dozens of careers in both jazz and comedy — before stopping for dinner at Sylvia’s Restaurant, said to serve some of the best soul food north of the Mason-Dixon line. After dinner, tour-goers head to a local jazz club for drinks and dancing to music reminiscent of Harlem’s jazz heyday. Mondays are an especially good night for this tour if you want to trip the light fantastic (aka, “dance”), as the featured band that evening includes tap dancers and a 12-piece orchestra playing hits from the Swing Era. (Mon, Thu, Sat 7pm; tour leaves from 690 Eighth Ave.; A, C, E to 42nd Sr/Port Authority; N, Q, R, S, 7 to Times Square/42nd St.; B, D, F, M to 42nd/Bryant Park)
New York City Slavery and Underground Railroad Tour
This two-hour downtown tour incorporates several Manhattan landmarks that are meaningful in the context of New York history, slavery and freedom-fighting. A sculpture is revealed to be the site of a slave’s hanging in 1741, while a Colonial burial ground (named a national monument in 2006) features a 24-foot-high memorial paying tribute to the 419 African descendants interred within. The New York City Slavery and Underground Railroad Tour concludes in front of a coffee shop that was once home to David Ruggles, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, where Frederick Douglass sought help long before he became part of history. Saturdays, 2pm; Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, One Bowling Green; 4, 5 to Bowling Green, 1 to South Ferry, R to Whitehall St., J, Z to Broad St., 2, 3 to Wall St.
Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour
New Yorkers are very particular about their pizza and are happy to expound on the topic at length when it comes to the perfect cheese-to-sauce ratio or the proper thickness or doughiness of a crust. Led by native Brooklynite Tony Muia, the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour starts in Manhattan and then moves on to Brooklyn, where tour-goers will visit Brooklyn Bridge Park, Grimaldi’s pizzeria (for Neapolitan-style pie), Bensonhurt’s L & B Spumoni Gardens pizzeria (for Sicilican-style slices) and Coney Island. Along the way, Muia shares tidbits of history and cultural knowledge, including information about Goodfellas, Saturday Night Fever and The French Connection (all of which were filmed in Brooklyn). Dates vary, but all tours begin at 11am and leave from E. 13th St. and Fourth Ave.; N, Q, R, 4, 5, 6, L to 14th St/Union Square.
“Wildman” Steve Brill’s Wild Food and Ecology Tours
Naturalist Steve Brill has been giving public ecology tours in New York City since 1982, and his 32 years of experience are readily apparent to anyone who takes one of his expeditions into city parks and public spaces. Tours running March through December (see his website for a full schedule) range from Central Park and Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Forest Park in Queens. Every tour includes an introduction to an abundance of seasonal edible and medicinal wild plants, so expect to be picking and eating vegetation (don’t worry, the “Wildman” knows what’s safe). For example, the March 2 Central Park adventure introduces tour-goers to day lily shoots, chickweed and garlic mustard greens. Visit wildmanstevebrill.com; NYC park tours run from 11:45am to 3:45pm, other park tours vary, see website for schedule and directions.
Lower East Side History Project Walking Tours
Walking tours led by local history buffs vary in their topics, each relevant to the past and present Lower East Side. For all tours, advance registration is required. Visit leshp.org/walking-tours or call 347-465-7767. Current offerings include:
Mafia Walking Tour: This mob-centric tour explores the social clubs, homes and hangouts of 20th Century mobsters as well as the sociopolitical conditions that allowed gangsterism to thrive in the slums of NYC. Eric Ferrara, founder of the Lower East Side History Project and fourth-generation New Yorker (as well as the author of Manhattan Mafia Guide) leads the way. Saturdays, noon-1:30pm; leaves from 80 Second Ave., between 4th and 5th streets; 6 to Bleecker, F to Second Ave., N, R to 8th St./NYU, B, D, F, M to Broadway-Lafayette.
East Village Walking Tour: This tour examines more than 400 years of LES history, including its counterculture, its progressivism that began in the 17th century with one of the earliest mixed neighborhoods, Bouwerij Village, and 21st century gentrification. The tour is led by either Eric Ferrara or Andrea Coyle, a native New Yorker and Director of Outreach for the Lower East Side History Project. Saturdays, 2-3:30pm; leaves from in front of the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery; F to Second Ave., 6 to Bleecker.
Jewish Mob Walking Tour: A Jewish-focused counterpart to the Mafia Walking Tour, this tour examines the Jewish immigrant experience on the Lower East Side as it relates to gangsterism, tracing the steps of pre-Prohibition gangsters like Monk Eastman, Max “Kid Twist” Zweifach and “Big” Jack Zelig. The tour is led by NYC native and actor Seth Abrams. Sundays, noon-1:30pm; leaves from outside the Landmark Sunshine Theater, 147 E. Houston St., F to Second Ave.
East Village Food History Tour: This culinary journey covers the history of the neighborhood from its rural beginnings to its present-day status as a foodie destination. Tour-goers also visit some of the traditional eateries remaining on the LES, including Moishe’s Bakery and Bacyzynsky’s Meat Market. Native New Yorker and veteran sightseeing guide Linda Sarrel leads the way. Sundays, 2-3:30pm; leaves from outside St. Mark’s Church, Second Ave. at E. 10th St.; 4, 6 to Astor Place or L to First Ave.
Five Points Tour: Led by either Eric Ferrara or Seth Abrams, this tour explores the city’s legendary Five Points area, the one-time heart of the immigrant, impoverished and working-poor ghetto. Sundays, 3-4:30pm, leaves from the SE corner of Centre and Worth streets; J to Chambers St., 4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge