Free tours in NYC 2012

Stroll through New York's best parks, breweries and historical sites—all without cracking your wallet.

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Brooklyn Bridge Park

  • Critics choice
  • Free

On April 22 (9–10:30am), Brooklyn Bird Club will present an Earth Day birding tour on Pier 1 showcasing the feathered friends that have returned to the area since this once-industrial shoreline started being refashioned into a bucolic waterfront park in 2007 (RSVP required, rsvp@bbpc.net). In addition to seeking out local wildlife, look for tours organized by the park throughout the summer, including a hike over the bridge to explore the history of its harbor connections, trade routes and the Roebling family that designed and erected it way back in 1883.

  1. Meeting locations vary; for info and schedule, call 718-802-0603 or visit brooklynbridgepark.org.
More info

Central Park, Conservatory Garden

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Central Park Conservancy runs 13 free tours covering just about every corner of the park. On a beautiful day, though, it’s hard to top a stroll through the 70-year-old Conservatory Garden, a trio of French-, Italian- and English-style plots. “Every spring we plant as many as 45,000 bulbs,” says curator Diane Schaub, “and by the third week in April, almost all 24,000 tulips will be in bloom.” 

  1. Meet at Vanderbilt Gate, Central Park, Fifth Ave between 104th and 105th Sts (212-860-1370, centralparknyc.org).
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Chelsea Brewing Company

  • Price band: 2/4

The most popular part of this brewery tour is no mystery to any of us: the free beer at the end. After a 20- to 30-minute walk among the factory’s grain silos, copper barrels and bottling system, visitors can sample either Checker Cab Blonde or Sunset Red Ale and talk to the beer experts with any questions. Enjoy $2 off pints after the tour along with the river view from the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor tables.

  1. Chelsea Piers, Pier 59, 18th St, (at West Side Hwy), 10011
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Fort Totten Park

This 19th-century fort was designed and commissioned in part by Robert E. Lee (before he sided with the Confederacy), but it didn’t end up seeing any action in the Civil War. Still, it’s gotten plenty in the years since. Join the Urban Park Rangers to find out about its stints as the New York–New Jersey Sub-Area Command Headquarters in the early years of the Cold War, and as a U.S. Army Reserve post during Vietnam. Today, the military facility serves simply as a scenic location from which to view Long Island Sound.

  1. Cross Island Pkwy, (Totten and 15th Rds)
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Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers pass through Grand Central daily, but they probably don’t pay much attention to anything other than navigating the crowds. The Grand Central Partnership is out to educate natives and tourists alike on the idiosyncrasies of the terminal and its surrounding ’hood with this free walk. “We’ll have people who work in the area join in during their lunch break,” says public affairs director David Roskin, “and they’ll discover things they’ve never noticed in their years passing through Grand Central.”

  1. Meet in the sculpture court at 120 Park Ave at 42nd St (212-883-2420, grandcentralpartnership.org).
More info

The High Line

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Things are busy atop the High Line, as gardeners and volunteers spend the next six weeks cutting back the plants to allow for new spring growth. Last year the second phase opened the elevated park up to 30th St, so you can explore the new half as well as the old on various Saturday-morning tours throughout the spring and summer, when the Friends of the High Line recount the trestle’s industrial history, and tie it all in to the neighborhood’s meatpacking past. “You can see the old meat hooks on some of the buildings that you pass,” says spokesperson Kate Lindquist.

  1. Meet at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Sts (212-206-9922, thehighline.org).
More info

Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park

  • Free

At this mansion, you’ll learn what life was like when Prospect Park was considered the countryside. Climb the grand wooden staircase to the upper floor, as guides talk about the history of the Lefferts clan, which was one of the wealthiest families in Brooklyn in the 18th and 19th centuries. Once upstairs you’ll see the fully restored master bedroom, furnished with period pieces, including a few that the family owned when they lived in the farmhouse from about 1780 to 1918.

  1. enter at Flatbush and Ocean Aves, Prospect–Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn (718-789-2822, prospectpark.org)
More info

Federal Reserve Bank

  • Free

Lovers of local treasure can get their fill of precious metals at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. This walk beats the grade-school field trip to the local Chase branch with its promise of viewing the gold-bar-filled vault (don’t look too closely lest security get suspicious). First, you’ll hit the museum to check out a collection of doubloons and other coins on display, plus watch a film that describes the Fed’s central role in the country’s banking system and New York’s cash-processing facility (which is in New Jersey). Fascinating stuff, but we’re mostly distracted by the gold bricks.

  1. 33 Liberty St, (between Nassau and William Sts)
More info

Union Square: Crossroads of New York walking tour

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Union Square can certainly seem like it’s at the crossroads of the city at 2pm on a Saturday, which is when this weekly tour takes place. But you’ll find out that this was a hub well before the Greenmarket took root. Follow along as guides from Big Onion Tours tell tales of the myriad rallies, strikes and visits from historical figures that happened here, as well as the area’s stint as New York’s theater district.

  1. Meet in front of the Lincoln statue, Union Square Park, E 16th St at Union Sq East (212-517-1826, unionsquarenyc.org)
More info

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