Leave the bus tours behind for a real behind-the-scenes look at New York City.
Time spent in the bright lights and busy streets of New York City doesn’t have to be limited to the top ten list of things to see and do. Go beyond the usual suspects of a Big Apple visit by venturing on a more in-depth exploration of the quirky sights, sounds, and tastes of New York City’s five boroughs. Whether you’re looking to enjoy amazing hole-in-the-wall Chinese dumplings, spit a hot 16 in Harlem, or shine on a Broadway stage, check out our picks for the 22 most unique tours of New York City.
Hush Hip Hop Tour
Venture into the birthplace of hip-hop in Harlem with Hush Hip Hop Tours. Led by knowledgeable guides, including legendary emcees Grandmaster Caz, Reggie Reg, and others, the tour winds its way through secret rap battle sites, historic clubs including the Apollo Theater, and locations of famous music videos and movies. Watch b-boys and girls strut their stuff on the sidewalk, and get your own chance to spit a ‘hot 16’ (16 lines of verse) during the ‘Show Your Skills’ portion of the tour.
The Disney on Broadway Tour
WHERE: Times Square
Go behind the magic and see Broadway in a whole new light on the Disney on Broadway tour. Led by a local theater insider, the tour begins in the Midtown theater district near Times Square. After a crash course in the incredible history of New York City’s musical theatre scene, guests visit the historic New Amsterdam Theater for a back-stage tour. Go behind closed doors, step onto the stage, and try on costumes and props from shows like The Lion King and Mary Poppins.
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The Tour at NBC Studios
WHERE: 30 Rockefeller Plaza
The history of television is on display during the Tour at NBC Studios at the iconic 30 Rock location in Midtown Manhattan. Follow the NBC Page behind the scenes to view the live broadcast center, and walk the hallowed halls of the iconic studios of Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Fancy yourself a host with the most? Step into the Tour Studio, where you can create your own show, and download a copy of the polished product when you return home. Don’t leave without visiting the main floor shop for coveted SNL, The Today Show, or The Office merchandise.
High Line Tour
WHERE: New York City
The conversion of this industrial freight rail line into an urban park and walkway has delighted residents and visitors to New York City since the first section of the High Line opened in 2009. Learn how this popular urban park came to be, courtesy of a free public walking tour by Friends of the High Line. Volunteer guides detail the history of the beautifully landscaped elevated walkway every week from May to October. As more cities turn to transforming industrial architecture, the High Line provides lessons on how to create a vibrant public space.
On Location Tours of Sex and the City + Gossip Girl
WHERE: New York City
The city is the unofficial star of both Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, and the On Location Tours of each show’s hotspots will transport fans to familiar places throughout Manhattan. Sip cosmos, walk past Carrie’s famous brownstone, and enjoy retail therapy in Greenwich Village boutiques. Fans of Blair and Chuck can tour iconic Gossip Girl sites on the Upper East Side like the Met Steps, Dylan’s Candy Bar, the Empire Hotel, and of course, Central Park.
Scott’s Pizza Tour
WHERE: New York City
New York’s Scott’s Pizza Tour may refer to itself as the ‘cheesiest guided tour’ in the city, but taking a dive into the city’s wood-fired pizza scene will satisfy pie lovers of any age. Guests can walk or ride on the Pizza Bus, and over the course of 3-4 hours learn about the humble origins of classic pizza joints in Little Italy, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn. Both mind and belly will be filled with generous portions of pizza history and hot slices.
American Institute of Architects Boat Tour Around Manhattan
WHERE: Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers
See the city from an entirely different angle while cruising on an elegant 1920s-era yacht along the Hudson River. A member of the American Institute of Architects serves as the tour guide, pointing out iconic landmarks like Lady Liberty, new “starchitecture” standouts, and narrating the city’s history through its building infrastructure. The Manhattan Bridge Tour takes an in-depth look at the engineering marvels of all of New York City’s 18 incredible bridges and four tunnels.
Visit Jewish Williamsburg with Tours by Frieda
WHERE: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Enter the world of contemporary Hasidim in Jewish Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Guided by Frieda Vizel, Tours by Frieda offers a fascinating glimpse into the history, language, and culture of the many sects of Hasidic Williamsburg. Visitors take an educational journey into the local neighborhood, including stops into shops, synagogues, schools, and historic sites. The food tour reveals the laws of kosher and the tastes of Hasidic food traditions.
Hamilton and Revolutionary New York Tour
WHERE: Battery Park, Lower Manhattan
Whether you’re a fan of revolutionary history, musical theatre, or both, the Young, Scrappy and Hungry: Hamilton and Revolutionary New York Tour promises to educate and inspire. New York City played a key role in the Revolutionary War and the birth of the United States. The tour weaves through the politics and history of Colonial America and illuminates one of its most important figures and Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton.
Brooklyn Graffiti Tour
WHERE: Bushwick, Brooklyn
A graffiti tour with Brooklyn Unplugged Tours will help answer the age-old question: is graffiti a crime or art? A walking tour of Bushwick’s urban art scape reveals incredible urban graffiti and murals that stretch the length of building walls. Learn the difference between, and significance of, a tag, a mural, and a paste-up. Brooklyn’s aerosol scene is concentrated around an exhibition called the Bushwick Collective, created to beautify the neighborhood with vibrant street art.
Jewish Heritage and Food Tour of the Lower East Side
WHERE: Lower East Side
The history of Jewish settlement goes back to the days of New Amsterdam in the 17th century. Surprising facts like these fascinate participants on Levy’s Unique New York Jewish Heritage and Food Tour. Home to centuries of Jewish immigrants from around the world, the Lower East Side culture and culinary traditions grew over time and remains vibrant. Guides introduce traditional noshes like bagels, bialys, pickles, and pastrami, served up with stories about famous Jewish personalities, from Guggenheim to Bugsy Siegel.
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Act I: Broadway’s Beginnings Tour
WHERE: Nederlander Theater, NYC
The legends, mysteries, and history of Broadway are revealed during the nearly two hour Broadway Up Close walking tour. Learn how the theater and musical scene earned its place in the history of the city. Professional actors serve as guides, explaining how shows are created, and the critical differences between a Broadway theater and an Off-Broadway theater. Theatrical spirits of the past may also make an appearance.
The Sopranos Sites Tour
WHERE: New Jersey
Fans of the Sopranos can walk in the footsteps of Tony, Paulie, Vito, and Carmela on this half-day Sopranos Sites Tour. Guests bus from Midtown Manhattan into the heart of Tony Soprano’s New Jersey, led by a guide who worked as an actor on the show. Enjoy a beer in the “Bada Bing Club,” visit the famous Holster’s Ice Cream Parlor, and see more than 40 filming sites from the popular HBO series.
The Tenement Museum Tour
WHERE: 103 Orchard Street, New York
The New York City of the 19th and early 20th centuries was a melting pot of immigrants from around the world. Their stories are told through interpretive tours of The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. Visitors take guided walking tours through cramped apartments, restored to showcase what life was like for tens of thousands of early immigrants. Meet residents (played by costumed interpreters) who lived in the apartments, and who detail their struggles to achieve the American Dream.
Tour of Ellis Island Immigration Museum
WHERE: Ellis Island
For many new immigrants to America, the first stop on their journey was not New York City, but offshore, on Ellis Island. Here, new arrivals were sorted and their health was checked before being allowed to continue into the city. Today, National Park Service Rangers conduct guided tours of Ellis Island and its Hospital Complex, chronicling the island’s history during the busiest years of immigration from 1892 to 1924. The tour leads visitors through exhibits, including photos, films, archival material, and recordings.
Flushing Chinatown Food Tour
Bring your chopsticks and appetite to experience the delicious and sometimes fiery flavors of Chinese cuisine in Queens, with the Flushing Chinatown Food Tour. Led by local foodie Joe D., the tour highlights off-the-beaten-path restaurants and regional Chinese specialties like Henanese pot stickers, fresh tofu, Xinjiang lamb kebabs, Sichuan chicken, and all the goodies at local hawker stands.
42nd Street River-to-River Tour
WHERE: 42nd Street
The 42nd Street River to River Tour shines the spotlight on one of the most visited streets in New York City. Home to some of the most iconic places in town, including Times Square, Bryant Park, the New York Public Library, Theater Row and the United Nations, 42nd Street cuts a swath through Manhattan between the Hudson and East Rivers. The tour highlights local notables, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, and a certain Man of Steel, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman.
City of Dreams Tour with CityRover
WHERE: Lower East Side
Get the down low from locals on the city’s Lower East side on City Rover’s City of Dreams Tour. Knowledgeable resident guides help guests go off-the-beaten-path in original immigrant neighborhoods of the East Village, Nolita, and Little Italy. Stop in for a pint at McSorley’s, the oldest Irish pub in New York City, and for tastes of homemade mozzarella at Di Palo’s Fine Foods.
Kenny Kramer’s Reality Tour
WHERE: New York City
None other than the real Kenny Kramer himself leads the most uniquely authentic Seinfeld tour in town. The Kenny Kramer Reality Tour is a theatrical multi-media tour that delves into the story behind the show, as well the history of Kramer himself. The bus tour winds its way through the city, visiting all the sites made famous in the most popular sitcom of the 1990s, including Monk’s Restaurant, and the Soup Shop.
Birth of the Cocktail Tour, a Drinkable History of New York
WHERE: New York City
New York’s early drinking culture made it the center of an American cocktail scene, particularly during Prohibition in the early 20th century. Led by a sociologist or spirits journalist, the Birth of the Cocktail Tour traces the beginnings of the American cocktail, including the famous Bloody Mary, dips into saloons and speakeasies both old and new, and imparts mixology wisdom from keen local cocktail historians and enthusiasts.
WHERE: Midtown and Times Square
Climb aboard a double-decker, tricked out motor coach known as The Ride for a slow cruise through the streets of Midtown Manhattan. This experience is a multi-media entertainment extravaganza complete with Virtual Reality, street performers, and musicians, all interacting with the audience of coach riders. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows and stadium seating ensure every rider gets a front-row view of the street action.
Manhattan Street Art Tour
WHERE: Lower Manhattan
The art of American graffiti has evolved since its illicit tagging days of the 1970s. The Manhattan Street Art Tour in the southern portion of the island showcases the best of the city’s vibrant urban art culture in Lower Manhattan. The walking tour traces the gritty roots of the art form and translates opaque tagging terminology. Highlights include historic landmarks like CBGB’s music hall as well as famous artists like Shepard Fairey.