Best Tours in New York City

In this immense city dotted with world-famous landmarks, a guided tour is an efficient way to see many sights and learn the neighborhoods. Tours can introduce out-of-the-way areas, share insiders' perspectives on where locals eat and play in the city, and reveal fascinating aspects of the city's history, inhabitants, or architecture. Whether you want the classic hop-on, hop-off bus tour to get oriented in the city, or a more personal, interest-specific walk, you'll find it here. Most companies offer tours of various lengths, from one-hour tours to full-day excursions. Some of the bigger tour companies offer discounts if you book in advance online.

Boat Tours

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise. In good weather, a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise around Manhattan Island is one of the best ways to get oriented in the city and take the best skyline pictures. Popular options include the Best of NYC ($43), Harbor Lights ($40), and Landmarks ($37) cruises. Pier 83, W. 42nd St., Midtown West, New York, New York. 212/563–3200; www.circleline42.com. From $18.

Classic Harbor Line. Offering more than just sightseeing, this cruise line takes passengers around New York Harbor and along both rivers on its historic luxury yachts and schooners, all with on-board bars. Its unique experiences are fairly priced, and include cruises with live jazz, champagne brunches and sunset tours, wine tastings, and in-depth architecture tours. The company also offers full-day, long-range cruises up the Hudson River to Kingston and Bear Mountain; its fall-foliage cruise is especially lovely. Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers, at 22nd St., Chelsea, New York, New York, 10011. 212/627–1825; www.sail-nyc.com. From $28.

Manhattan By Sail. Looking for a more historical experience? Manhattan By Sail has several historic boats including an 82-foot schooner dating from the 1920s and the 158-foot-tall Clipper City tall ship. Public sails include themed Sunday brunch sails, a wine-tasting sail, lobster-and-beer-lovers sail, and a jazz sail against stunning moonlit views. The cruises operate mid-April through mid-October. Reservations are advised. North Cove Marina at World Financial Center, Financial District, New York, New York, 10007. 212/619–0907; www.manhattanbysail.com. From $45.

Bus Tours

Big Bus New York. Like its double-decker competitors, Big Bus offers various hop-on, hop-off open-top tours of the city, but its most popular ticket is a two-day pass that includes loops that cover downtown, uptown, and Brooklyn, as well as a night tour or a sightseeing cruise, plus several city attractions. Ticket desk, Madame Tussauds, 234 W. 42nd St., Midtown West, New York, New York, 10036. 212/685–8687; www.bigbustours.com. From $48.

Gray Line New York Sightseeing. Gray Line runs various hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tours, including a downtown Manhattan loop, an upper Manhattan loop, a Brooklyn loop, and evening tours of the city. Packages include 48-hour and 72-hour options plus entrance fees to attractions. 777 8th Ave., between 46th and 47th Sts., Midtown West, New York, New York, 10036. 800/669–0051; www.newyorksightseeing.com. From $49.

Walking Tours

Big Onion Walking Tours. The wisecracking PhD candidates of Big Onion Walking Tours lead themed tours—such as Upper East Side: A Clash of Titans, Immigrant New York, and Gangs of New York—as well as renowned multiethnic eating tours and guided walks through neighborhoods from Harlem to the Financial District and Brooklyn. Tours run daily. New York, New York. 888/606–9255; www.bigonion.com. From $25.

Joyce Gold History Tours of New York. The knowledgeable Joyce Gold has been conducting neighborhood walking tours since 1976. Her themed walks—such as Gangs of New York and the Bloody Five Points, and The Flamboyant and the Bohemian—run on weekends, lasting about two hours. New York, New York. 212/242–5762; www.nyctours.com. $25.

Like A Local Tours. Walk like a local, talk like a local, and—best of all—eat like a local with a highly curated tour from Like A Local. Options include the Flatiron Food, History, and Architecture tour, which is a lovely walk from the Flatiron District to Union Square with a lot of tasty stops, photo ops, local history, and private kitchen visits along the way. If you're looking to feel like a hip local in Brooklyn, try the Insider Art Tour of Bushwick, Brooklyn. New York, New York. www.likealocaltours.com. From $50.

The Municipal Art Society of New York. The Municipal Art Society conducts a variety of walking tours that emphasize the architecture, history, and changing faces of particular neighborhoods. Options include Edith Wharton's New York, The Bronx's Urban Art, and Storefront: the Disappearing Face of New York. The walking tour of Grand Central explores the 100-year-old terminal's architecture, history, and hidden secrets. Midtown West, New York, New York. 212/935–3960; 212/935–3960; www.mas.org/tours. From $30.

New York Food Tours. Options from the New York Food walking tours include The Freakiest and Funniest Food ($65), Tastes of Chinatown ($60), Ultimate New York Food & Culture Tour ($60), Everything Chocolate ($60), and an East Village food and culture tour ($75). New York, New York. 347/559–0111; www.foodtoursofny.com. From $60.

Specialty Tours

Bike and Roll. From Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, there's a lot of ground to cover; do yourself a favor and use wheels. Bike and Roll NYC offers guided bike tours with a range of distances and levels of difficulty in Manhattan and across to Brooklyn. There's a popular tour of the waterfront parks and one of Central Park. Rates include bike rentals, helmets, and water. New York, New York. 212/260–0400; www.bikenewyorkcity.com. From $40.

Boroughs of the Dead. From tours taking in haunts of various Manhattan neighborhoods to 19th-century true-crime tours to outer-borough ghost walks, the two-hour Boroughs of the Dead tour suggests that the inhabitants of this city truly never sleep—even when they're dead. Don't wait for Halloween to explore the historical crime, gore, and paranormal activities of Manhattan and Brooklyn. No capes, costumes, or gimmicks here: just dark, haunting history. New York, New York. 917/409–8533; boroughsofthedead.com. From $25.

Local Expeditions. Local knowledge dives a level deeper with these specialty tours, led by New Yorkers who have crafted themes according to their personal knowledge and expertise. They cover Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and even some New Jersey spots; can be walking, ferry, and/or Citi Bike tours; and span an array of topics—from Chinatown in depth, to Victorian Flatbush in Brooklyn, to the "Yiddish Rialto" days of the East Village. Better still, part of every tour's proceeds go to charity. New York, New York. 917/834–6373; local-expeditions.com. From $20.

Shop Gotham. If you're on a mission to shop 'til you drop, you won't want to waste time with a map. The fashion-savvy guides at Shop Gotham will save you time and money by guiding you to the best boutiques of SoHo and NoLIta and elsewhere, getting you exclusive shop discounts, VIP access, and also offering styling advice. Private tours are available, too. New York, New York. 212/209–3370; www.shopgotham.com. From $64.

A Slice of Brooklyn . If you're interested in experiencing a more local holiday light tradition far from Rockefeller Center, take A Slice of Brooklyn's bus tour to the festive (and blinding) neighborhood light scene that is Brooklyn's Dyker Heights. The Dyker Lights tour, offered in December, introduces you to some of Brooklyn's less touristed neighborhoods. Other tours include the Original Brooklyn Pizza Tour, a bus tour of iconic Brooklyn pizza joints, and tours of quintessential Brooklyn neighborhoods. New York, New York. 212/913–9917; www.asliceofbrooklyn.com. From $55.

Free Tours

Big Apple Greeter. This free volunteer-led tour service pairs visitors with knowledgeable locals who share insights and tips and cater tours to specific interests. It’s like having a friend in town who squires you around and pays for his or her own lunch. Request a greeter at least three weeks before your visit using the online form. New York, New York. 212/669–8159; www.bigapplegreeter.org. Free.

Central Park Conservancy. The Central Park Conservancy offers free guided tours that provide an introduction to the different areas of Central Park—its woodlands, romantic vistas, Conservatory Garden, Seneca Village, and secret corners and off-the-beaten-path walks. Volunteer-led Welcome Tours meet at different points in the park, so check the website for details. Premier tours are ticketed ($15) and provide a more in-depth experience. New York, New York. 212/794–6564; www.centralparknyc.org. Free.

Free Tours by Foot. The walking tours of Manhattan and Brooklyn hosted by Free Tours by Foot are technically free (you pay what you feel the tour was worth at the end). Highlights include sunset walking tours of the High Line, a Brooklyn graffiti and street art tour, and a journey through the storied past of the East Village. Reservations are required for all tours, which run about two hours. New York, New York. 646/450–6831; www.freetoursbyfoot.com. Free (suggested donation).

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