Taking a New York City tour is one of the best ways to get an inside peek at New York’s most popular neighborhoods and attractions-whether you want to walk Wall Street, see where the Saturday Night Live magic happens or take Manhattan by boat. Before venturing out on a tour, however, it’s best to be prepared. We asked the city’s top tour guides and attractions managers for tips on what to do (and what not to do) when sightseeing in the Big Apple, and they dished with these 10 essentials.
1. Think of sidewalks as highways. “You would not stop your car in the middle of the highway to take a picture, you’d pull over to the right. The same is true for sidewalks,” says Luke Miller, the founder and owner of Real New York Tours. Miller emphasizes that New Yorkers aren’t rude, just busy, and he says that as long as you step aside and “let the passersby go,” you can stop, gawk and take as many photos as you want.
2. Ditch the stilettos. You’d think wearing suitable shoes would be self-evident, but many tourists have embarked on walking tours wearing shoes that weren’t meant for navigating cobblestones or for trudging through often trash-strewn sidewalks. “Many times people show up in heels or flip-flops,” says Annaline Dinkelmann the owner and principal tour leader at Wall Street Walks, a series of tours in and around the Financial District. No matter how tempting it might be to wear your favorite Manolos on the Sex and the City Hotspots Tour, it’s a no-no, unless you want your feet to be torn to shreds by the end of the day.
3. Dress for the elements. Joyce Weinberg, the owner of City Food Tours, says that she’s “had guests from Florida come on winter tours without a heavy coat, gloves or a hat.” It’s not just Floridians, of course, who make such bone-chilling errors. On any one of City Food’s variety of daily tours, out-of-towners from all over-and even New Yorkers, for that matter-often show up underdressed. “The good thing about Manhattan,” Weinberg says, “is that you can buy just about anything you need along any of our tour routes.”
4. Leave the luggage at home. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which offers free guided tours with admission, out-of-towners will sometimes try to squeeze in a visit on the way to the airport, according to tourism marketing manager David Filipiak. That’s not a smart idea since the Met won’t check luggage, carry-on bags or oversized backpacks, and it doesn’t allow bags in the galleries either. You’ll be equally sorry if you bring an overstuffed bag or backpack on a walking tour. Imagine balancing an oversize duffel while juggling a hot potato pierogi on the Flavors of New York Food Tour-not fun.
5. Consider the children. Miller of Real New York Tours says he’s “baffled” by “people who want to bring their 2-year-old on a six-hour walking tour in February.” It’s not that you can’t take children. It’s that you need to consider tour length, the weather and the style of the tour-giver. The secret to a good tour for any age group, he says, is one where the guides “create a picture rather than just spew historical facts.” For families he suggests tours of Central Park where kids can climb on rocks and generally run around while mom and dad soak up the history.
6. It’s different on the water. People often show up for the World Yacht Dining Dinner Cruises dressed more for a sailing expedition or day at the beach, and when there’s a chill in the air, jeans and boots enter the mix, according to Janice Bennett, the director of travel industry and hotel sales for the company. It’s a common misconception that cruising expeditions are casual affairs, but informal duds are a no-go on high-end liners where the dress code is usually strictly business attire for men and formal or cocktail attire for women. Always check so you’re not left standing on the dock in your sneakers when the ship sets sail. “If you’re prepared,” Bennett says, “then all you need to do is have a good time.”
7. Don’t eat before a food tour. Tony Muia the founder of A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour has seen more than a few guests struggle to eat their way through a pizza tour having downed a big breakfast. You might just need to clear out your whole day, reports Muia. “Think about making late reservations for dinner, or even canceling dinner plans altogether because nobody leaves the tours hungry.” On the other hand, Weinberg of City Food Tours says that those going on dessert or wine and beer tours should eat a little something “so that they don’t get that sick feeling” that can come from having sugar and alcohol on an empty stomach.
8. Plan for traffic because there’s always traffic. Marketing associate Debra Saal at NBC Studio Tour, which takes guests behind the scenes of popular shows such as Saturday Night Live and the Today Show, advises to allow plenty of extra time in getting to your tour. You might hit traffic, jump on the wrong train, get lost or just want to see something else along the way. With multiple daily tours, most operators run a tight ship. “Tours are timed,” Saal says. “We have to leave at the exact time your reservation is for-with or without you.”
9. Do your research. It’s easy to book the first tour that catches your fancy, but it’s important to consider the source of your tickets. Is there an easy way to contact someone if something goes wrong? Are safety concerned addressed? If you want see the city by bike, for instance, hook up with a licensed tour company. Bike and Roll’s president Chris Wogas says that not all vendors are insured and some don’t offer safety equipment. His company rents cycles for a full day, and its guides lead many scenic tours from starting points across the city.
10. Look with your eyes, not your camera. The adage, “How was your vacation? I dunno, I’ll let you know when I develop the film” is still true in the age of digital photography, says Miller of Real New York Tours. He recommends letting the guide finish his or her talk before pointing and shooting and warns of getting too caught up in the quest for the perfect photo. “It’s one of those things where you can only look through the lens so much before you start missing the beauty of the moment. You’re on vacation, so be there.”