It’s human nature that everyone is looking for a good deal. This is particularly true when you travel the world as frequently as we do, and when you are heading to a city like New York, it’s even more critical to conduct sufficient research to justify those inevitable costs. Attractions, landmarks, food and transportation are all costs that need to be considered. We experienced a couple of New York City walking tours during our recent visit and want to focus our attention on justifying whether these types of attractions are good value for money!
Whether you decide to take a New York City walking tour or simply go alone, you will be spoiled for choice with neighborhoods and attractions worth exploring. New York is a city with five boroughs and a large number of neighborhoods, many of which are not officially defined in terms of their geographical boundaries. Reports suggest between 250-300 neighborhoods are waiting to be explored, so there is plenty to do in the Big Apple!
Types of New York City Walking Tours
If you read our recent post on the New York Pass review, you will know that there is great value in purchasing one of these if you plan on exploring the city of New York. One of the major financial incentives here is related to the walking tours that are available through the New York Pass. However, regardless of how you plan on paying for these tours, there are a number of tour companies available offering guided overviews of the city.
NewYorkTour1 is a company that has a large number of ‘neighborhood tours’ in and around New York City.
Be immersed in authentic New York with stories and people you’ll remember.
Here are a couple of the tours that you can purchase, or if you have pre-purchased the New York Pass, you can make an advanced reservation and these tours are free:
- Central Park Tour
- Broadway and Times Square Tour
- The High Line, Chelsea, Meatpacking District Tour
- Greenwich Village Tour
- SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Tour
- Lower Manhattan Tour
- Wall Street Tour
Our knowledgeable guides are dynamic, engaging and excellent storytellers.
Other tours are available including the 9/11 Memorial and Statue of Liberty but the above itineraries certainly give an excellent overview of the city. These tours are generally around 2 hours in length but perhaps the biggest turn off for these is the price tag of $35 per person which is honestly a little expensive for this type of tour, especially when you consider the alternatives.
If you have the New York Pass, please note that when booking an advanced reservation you will still be required to enter your credit card details. If you are not able to make the tour, be sure to contact the tour company otherwise, you will be charged the full price of the tour!
Cost – $35 per person for each neighborhood tour. FREE if utilizing New York Pass.
If you have spent some time in Europe, you may be familiar with Sandemans who are a tour company primarily based in many of Europe’s leading cities. We have been fortunate to experience a couple of their tours, notably a walking tour around Brussels and a walking tour of Amsterdam, both of which we can highly recommend!
However, they have recently moved into the US market and are now offering a free walking tour around New York City. Based in the Lower Manhattan district of the city, a two-hour walking tour is available and just like their infamous European walking tours, are completely FREE except for the tip-based system that is in place here, where visitors pay the tour guides after based on their experiences.
Cost – Free (Tip-based system)
Other Tour Companies
There are a host of other tour companies available if you are interested in taking a walking tour but the above itineraries don’t spark your interest. We have first-hand experiences with NewYorkTour1 and Sandemans so wanted to focus on those, but a quick Google search of ‘New York walking tours’ will provide countless other options.
I was able to quickly find the following companies that offer neighborhood and specific walking tours in New York City:
- Big Onion Walking Tours
- Free Tours By Foot
- Manhattan Walking Tour
- Gotham Walking Tours
- New York Walking Tours
- Streetwise New York Tours
Plus many more…
Our first-hand experiences of New York City walking tours started during our recent trip when we used the New York Pass to purchase reservations for two tours offered by NewYorkTour1. Let’s take a look at our experiences.
Broadway and Times Square Tour
Who is ready to be whisked away by the Sound of Music or perhaps learn about the ‘real’ West Side Story in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood?
We were excited to make reservations for the Broadway and Times Square tour as neither of us have experienced a Broadway theater production and we were ready to learn everything there is to know about this part of New York City history.
The tour starts at 4:00PM daily in the heart of Times Square, directly behind the TKTS office (a great place to purchase discounted Broadway tickets on the day of performances!) at the George M. Cohan statue located at 46th and Broadway.
The best part of this tour is that your tour guide is an actual Broadway performer, and we were privileged to listen to our awesome guide who gave in-depth knowledge on the experience both on and off Broadway.
A few insider tips on how to get discounted tickets were also appreciated but it is the tour itself, weaving through Broadway’s historic theater district that makes this such an attractive tour.
We passed by a number of iconic theaters and discussed both the architecture of the building and also some of the most famous productions to have been performed on these stages. You will notice that many of the theatres are not the most attractive on the outside, in particular, the iconic Gershwin Theatre, but don’t let this stop you from experiencing one of Broadway’s finest theatricals at this location.
If you love theater, it’s a no-brainer to take this tour! However, if you are a little “meh” about this type of attraction, perhaps your interest levels will deteriorate on the near 2-hour tour which by the end is unfortunately, a little repetitive.
A couple of interesting facts that we learned from this particular tour. Did you know that the definitions of ‘Broadway’, ‘Off Broadway’ and ‘Off-Off-Broadway’ are nothing to do with geographical boundaries or even the quality of production? Instead, they are related to the number of seats the theatre can hold. Here is a quick definition:
- Broadway – 500 seats and above
- Off-Broadway – 100 to 499 seats
- Off-Off-Broadway – 1 to 99 seats
To be fair to our tour guide, her performing abilities shone through as she did her best to keep everyone interested but I have to admit this wasn’t one of my favorite walking tours, but that is purely personal preference.
Do I think this tour is worth $35? Probably not, but again that may be because my interest level in theatre is not enough to justify such a price. However, when you build this into the list of attractions available on the New York Pass, then I think it is worth experiencing.
SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Tour
New York is the ultimate melting pot of various cultures and many of these can be found in the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy. Having experienced mixed opinions on our Broadway tour, we were ready to explore a part of New York City that we knew would be more aligned with our interest levels.
History, architecture, and diverse cuisine are all key components of the aforementioned neighborhoods. Throw in the SoHo neighborhood which is the ultimate boutique shopping destination, and we were excited about taking this tour by NewYorkTour1.
The SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown tours start at 12:00PM daily and the meeting location is the Southwest corner of Spring Street and 6th Avenue in the heart of SoHo. Our tour guide Brandon (another theatre performer!) was an immediate hit with the group with his vibrant, positive attitude towards this part of the city.
We started out exploring SoHo, in particular, the history surrounding the cool architecture that makes up this neighborhood. Cast iron buildings, intricate fine details and Belgian blocks (that’s right, they are NOT cobblestone streets) are notable highlights around SoHo and as we walked around we couldn’t help but notice clues of this neighborhoods bygone industrial landscape.
Today, we see high-end boutique stores inside these historic buildings, but the history dates back to the manufacturing industry that was once prevalent here in the 19th century. If architecture or even retail therapy doesn’t interest you, if you are fortunate enough to have Brandon as your tour guide, you will be in for a real treat before reaching Little Italy.
Rated as one of the best cheesecake spots in New York City, Eileen’s Special Cheesecake shop is worth paying a visit. You can purchase an individual cheesecake for less than $4 and with a variety of flavors available, you will be thanking Brandon for his impromptu stop at this sweet treat!
Rumors are always floating around that Little Italy is diminishing in size, primarily because of Chinatown expanding and pushing into the Italian-dominated neighborhood. However, this is far from the truth and the reality is that Little Italy has only ever been focused on one street in New York – Mulberry Street.
“Welcome to Little Italy” is the towering sign that greets visitors as you walk down the Italian street, greeted by what many may deem to be ‘pushy’ waiters trying to pull you into their restaurant to sample their fine pasta dishes.
The real experience though is listening to the stereotypical Italian music while catching a whiff of the delicious aromas emitted from the many restaurants on Mulberry. Brandon pointed out a few of his favorite spots but then gave us about 15 minutes to explore for ourselves.
We couldn’t resist sampling some exquisite cheese sticks, along with ricotta and prosciutto balls from Alleva Dairy located on the corner of Mulberry and Grand Street.
And finally Chinatown! We picked a great week to visit New York as the celebrations of the Chinese New Year were still ongoing.
We were privileged to experience a parade taking place which made walking through this neighborhood a little more hectic given the large volume of people, but it was certainly a worthwhile experience.
A couple of stops to point out some iconic landmarks along with another impromptu opportunity to sample local cuisine, fried dumplings for a $1, made this a fitting end to our tour.
Having left the Broadway tour with a few doubts in our mind, we can attest that the SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown tour is 100% worth the $35. The quality of our tour guide, Brandon, undoubtedly had a positive impact on our experience but I think the variety of encounters available on this tour makes this a much better option if you are looking for a more generic tour to learn about the city.
So in answer to the question of whether New York City walking tours are good value for money, in our opinion, the answer is yes. However, be careful which tours you select and determine whether your interest levels in the subject are enough to justify the admission price. If you don’t have the New York Pass, I would strongly recommend the SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown tour as this is well worth $35 but I would be a little cautious with the Broadway tour.
We have highlighted just a couple of tours around New York City and of course, there are countless options out there. Regardless of which tour you choose, you will have a blast exploring New York on foot. It’s one of the best walking cities in USA to experience so put on a good pair of walking shoes and get out there and explore!
We would love to hear feedback on any tours you have taken around the Big Apple and which specific tour companies you used. Please feel free to share your comments below.