Have company visiting for the holidays? Instead of a trip to the Empire State Building, take your guests on one of these NYC tours, which showcase the city’s dynamic culture and unique history – from the birthplace of hip hop to the beginnings of beer breweries. Great tours do more than show you landmarks. They help you understand a city by providing context, detailing history, and sharing insidery secrets. They get you off the bus and out walking around. The seven tour companies that follow do all that, and so much more. By Jessica Allen.
Urban Oyster is dedicated to “revealing the hidden pearls of New York City’s neighborhoods.” The “Brewed in Brooklyn” tour focuses on the borough’s beery past, including a stroll down former “Brewers Row,” stories about the German immigrants who brought the craft of lager- and ale-making to the new world, and a behind-the-scenes tour at one of three present-day breweries. There’s also a pizza and beer lunch. The “Immigrant Foodways: A Neighborhood and Market Tour” explores the Latin American vendors at the Moore Street Market, offers oral histories from residents of this East Williamsburg neighborhood, and concludes with a recipe booklet.
Since 1998, Harlem Heritage Tours has been showing visitors around the churches, clubs, restaurants, stores, and streets of upper Manhattan. All tours are led by people who were born and raised in the neighborhood. The “Jazz/Music Bar Hop,” on Friday and Saturday nights, takes you to the key venues in the history of Harlem’s music scene. If you have a little too much fun, you can sign up for the “Harlem Gospel Tour” on Sunday morning. This extremely popular four-hour excursion lets participants experience an actual gospel service.
Anyone who says New Yorkers are rude has never spent much time in the city, or met a Big Apple Greeter. This free public service matches locals, who donate their time and are not professional tour guides, with visitors, who want to see the city through a New Yorker’s eyes. (To get a Greeter, you have to fill out a Visit Request Form, listing your special interests and choices for neighborhoods to visit. Many opt for “Greeter’s choice.”) The Greeter then takes the visitors on a tour of a particular neighborhood, pointing out interesting features and sharing facts and memories along the way. Founded in 1992, Big Apple Greeters now has 300 volunteers and has served more than 10,000 visitors.
Noshwalks are “culinary walking tours.” More than 35 different tours cover every borough and just about every ethnic food culture in the city, from the south Asian, Korean, and Chinese goodies to be had in Flushing, Queens, to tacos, tostadas, and mucho mas at Latin American restaurants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to the seasonal tour featuring Italian specialties and holiday lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. If the regular tours don’t stimulate your appetite, you can schedule a custom-designed tour that better suits your taste buds. Myra Alperson, who runs Noshwalks, has been helping hungry, curious people get sated since 1983, when she co-founded Hungry Pedalers Gourmet Bicycle Tours, the first bicycle tour company to combine eating, bicycling, and adventure in New York.
Run by professional photographers, Citifari takes small groups on photo tours around Manhattan. You don’t need to be a professional, but you do need to bring your own camera, as well as a willingness to learn coupled with a lot of enthusiasm. Citifari’s guides show you captivating vantage points and offer tips for shooting some of the city’s most iconic landmarks on each roughly 2.5-hour, 2-mile excursion. The “Central Park” tour showcases the country’s largest urban park, while the “Night Tour” lets you learn the tricks to capturing the city that never sleeps, via nocturnal visits to such places as 42nd Street, the United Nations headquarters, and the Chrysler Building.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) offers tours of the city led by urban geographers, architectural and art historians, writers, teachers, architects, and a lot of other VSPs (very smart persons). “Kleindeutschland” shows you the East Village through German eyes, taking participants back to a time when the area was the center of German culture in New York City, while the “Corona Circuit” will introduce you to this bustling, diverse part of Queens and “East Modern Midtown” will point out the marvels of mid-century modernism to be spied between 39th and 57th Streets. Small groups mean the tours sell out fast.
Three days a week, the celebrity guides of Hush Tours lead groups around Harlem and the Bronx, discoursing on significant sites along the way. “The Birthplace of Hip Hop” visits key sites like Rucker Park, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain played basketball, and the Graffiti Wall of Fame, founded to give artists a safe, secure space to show off their aerosol skills. Tour guides include Kurtis Blow, DJ Kool Herc, Rahiem (Furious Five), and other legendary emcees, who share their own experiences in the genre and neighborhoods.