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Gray Line tour bus in New York City
Photograph: Courtesy John Duarte

Guided tours in NYC

Match your preferred mode of transportation to the appropriate tour company.


By bicycle

Bike the Big Apple
You don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to join these gently paced five- to seven-hour rides. Licensed guides lead cyclists through historic and newly hip neighborhoods: popular tours include Harlem (the "Sensational Park and Soul" tour), Chinatown ("From High Finance to Hidden Chinatown"), Williamsburg, and a twilight ride across the Brooklyn Bridge. 877-865-0078, $80–$90 (including bicycle rental)

Central Park Bike Tours
Central Park Bike Tours focuses its attentions on—yes!—Central Park. The main two-hour tour visits the John Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. Film buffs will especially enjoy the "Central Park Movie Scenes Bike Tour," which passes locations from When Harry Met Sally… and Wall Street. You can also book your own tailor-made private tour. 212-541-8759, Apr–Nov daily 10am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm. Dec–Mar daily 10am, 1pm. $40–$49 (including bicycle rental)

By boat

Circle Line Cruises
The Circle Line’s famed three-hour guided circumnavigation of Manhattan Island ($24–$37) is a fantastic way to get your bearings and see many of the city’s sights as you pass under its iconic bridges. Themed tours include a New Year’s Eve cruise, a Fourth of July celebration, an evening "Harbor Lights" sailing tour (Mar–mid Apr) and an autumn foliage ride to Bear Mountain in the Hudson Valley (mid Sept–Oct). If you don’t have time for the full trip, there’s a two-hour "Liberty" tour that goes around downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge and back. From May through September, the Beast ($19–$25) offers a fun, adrenalin-inducing and splashy 30-minute ride. Pier 83, 42nd St at the Hudson River (212-563-3200, Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority.

Circle Line Downtown
The separately run Circle Line Downtown has a more intimate vessel, the Zephyr, for tours of lower Manhattan (Apr–Dec, $28), including summertime Happy Hour cruises on Thursday and Friday nights ($26, May-Oct) for over-21s (May–Oct, $30). The Shark (Apr–Oct; $17–$24) is the downtown offshoot's answer to Circle Line Cruise's Beast. Pier 16, South Street Seaport (866-977-6998, 212-809-0808; Manhattan by Sail Set sail on the Shearwater, an 82-foot luxury yacht built in 1929. The Sunday champagne brunch ($79) or full-moon ($45) sail options are lovely ways to take in the skyline. The eight-sail tall ship, Clipper City, embarks from Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport. North Cove, Hudson River, between Liberty and Vesey Sts (800-544-1224, 212-619-0885; Subway: A, C to Chambers St; E to World Trade Center; 2, 3 to Park Pl. Mid Apr–Oct, times vary

New York Water Taxi
Like their earth-bound counterparts, New York water taxis are bright yellow, speedy and a great way to get around town. Unlike street taxis, they run on a set schedule, and at weekends you can hop on and off with a day pass ($16–26), enjoying neighborhood attractions along the way. Offerings include daily Statue of Liberty Express tours ($16–$26) year-round, daily "Statue by Night" cruises with a free champagne toast for over-21s ($26), and an "Audubon Eco-Cruise" ($36) on summer weekends that takes you to uninhabited South Brother Island, a breeding ground for migratory birds such as the great egret (Jun–Aug, see website for specific days). Pier 17, South Street Seaport (212-742-1969,

Staten Island Ferry
During this commuter barge’s free 25-minute crossing, you get superb panoramas of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Boats leave South Ferry at Battery Park and run 24 hours a day. Battery Park, South St at Whitehall St (718-727-2508, Subway: R to Whitehall St–South Ferry; 1 to South Ferry; 4, 5 to Bowling Green

By bus

Gray Line New York
Gray Line offers more than 20 bus tours, from a basic two-hour ride (with 40-plus hop-on, hop-off stops) to the guided "Manhattan Comprehensive" tour, which includes lunch, admission to Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, and a boat ride to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. 777 Eighth Ave at 48th St (212-445-0848, Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority; C, E to 50th St; N, Q, R to 49th St. $34–$109

On-Location Tours
Whether you’d prefer to sip cosmos à la Carrie Bradshaw, splurge at Blair and Serena’s favourite department store, or visit the Bada Bing, On-Location’s well-organized bus trips allow TV fans to simulate the experiences of their favorite characters from Sex and the City, Gossip Girl and The Sopranos. Or hop aboard the "New York TV and Movie Sites" tour and visit more than 40 sites from big- and small-screen productions such as Seinfeld and The Godfather. All tours are led by actors, which gives an insider perspective on filming in New York. 212-683-2027, $24–$48

On foot

Big Apple Greeter
Set up in 1992, this independent nonprofit scheme offers visitors an alternative to the organized tour format. Sign up through the website at least four to six weeks ahead and you’ll be paired with a volunteer "greeter," who’ll give you an informal, personal two- to four-hour introduction to one of the city’s neighborhoods (your choice or theirs). All meet-ups are free, though donations are appreciated. 212-669-8159,

Big Onion Walking Tours
New York was known as the Big Onion before it became the Big Apple. The tour guides will explain why, and they should know—all guides hold advanced degrees in history (or a related field). Among the walks is one devoted to the "Official Gangs of New York" and a weekly "Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour" that explores the history of the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and Little Italy with a few samples of cultural cuisine along the way. New to the list is the "Satan’s Seat" tour, based on established documentarian Ken Burns’s film Prohibition, which visits infamous locations from this volatile period in American history. Private tours are also available. 888-606-9255, $15–$18; cash only

City Running Tours
Jogging junkies can get their daily endorphin fix while seeing the sights on Michael Gazaleh's personalized routes, including the New York run, which starts in Brooklyn Heights, traverses the Brooklyn Bridge, then proceeds through the Financial District, Tribeca, Chinatown, Soho, the Village, Gramercy and Times Square before ending at Central Park. Groups are kept small—just two or three people, on average—so Gazaleh and the 18 guides he employs are able to customize each tour to fit the participants’ athletic abilities and cultural interests. 877-415-0058, From $60

Harlem Heritage Tours
Now operating more than ten bus and walking tours led by lifelong residents of the neighborhood, Harlem Heritage aims to show visitors the soul of the borough. The "Harlem Civil Rights Multimedia" tour takes tourists, by bus and by foot, to landmarks associated with Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, and uses historical video clips to make sites come alive. The "Harlem Renaissance" tour walks you to the sites of Prohibition-era speakeasies, clubs and one-time residences of artists, writers and musicians. The company also offers a "Harlem TV and Movie" tour, which highlights numerous film locations in the neighborhood. 212-280-7888, $25–$55.

Justin Ferate
This venerated historian wrote the book on Gotham walking tours. No, really—the city commissioned him to write the NYC tour-guide licensing exam, which he designed to educate and assess would-be guides. In addition to a regular roster of tours covering everything from midtown murals to the quaint attractions of the Bronx’s City Island, Ferate leads specialty tours—such as one exploring the artwork of historic subway stations around the city—and offers a free 90-minute trek through Grand Central Terminal and its environs every Friday at 12:30pm. 212-223-2777, $20–$25; cash only

Municipal Art Society Tours
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) organizes bus and walking tours in New York and further afield. Many—such as "42nd Street Deco"—are led by architects, designers and writers, and reflect the society’s focus on contemporary architecture, urban planning and historic preservation. There’s also a guided walk through Grand Central Terminal on Wednesdays at 12:30pm (suggested donation $10). Private tours are available by appointment. 212-935-3960, recorded information 212-439-1049; From $15

Each culinary outing is led by company founder Myra Alperson, who’s been writing about New York’s food scene for more than ten years. Taking you to corners of the city you’d never visit on your own, Alperson fills you in on the neighborhood’s culinary and cultural history, introducing you to chefs and shopkeepers, street food and snacks along the way. Trips have included South Asian cuisine in Jackson Heights, Queens, and the kosher-Caribbean combo tour in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 212 222 2243, $49–$54

Urban Oyster
Brooklyn-based Urban Oyster partners with local businesses and the Brooklyn Historical Society to give tour-goers insight into the individuals that make the city tick, such as food vendors and brew-masters. On the "Food Cart" tour ($40), you might meet Fatima, the 23-year owner of a popular Midtown halal cart, or visit a third-generation Brooklyn coffee shop on the "Eat Like a Local" tour ($49). Beer lovers will savor the "Brewed in Brooklyn" tour ($55), which illuminates the borough’s suds-making legacy with tastings along the way. 347-618-8687, $24–$60.

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