Winter Touring

New York City receives millions of tourists year-round, but visitors always worry about what options they will have for touring during the winter months. While the weather is always unpredictable (last winter was actually very warm & mild!), it's more likely than not to be cold.

So we are working to prepare for these months. Here are some tours that we offer that make good winter options:

1. Landmarks of Midtown tour: This tour travels through Midtown to see the area's most significant landmarks. It makes numerous indoor stops, including the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, Chrysler Building, and Grand Central Terminal. A great chance to see major icons, while spending only a small amount of time outdoors.

2. Underground Winter NYC Tour: Lower Manhattan: This special winter tour is a great look at the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, without ever stepping foot outdoors. We journey from the Fulton Center through the World Trade Center Transportation Hub to Brookfield Place through a half-mile underground connection & retail complex. We've also added an option to add tickets to visit the One World Trade Center's observatory.

We also, of course, still offer all our tours year-round. Looking for a customized or private tour? Contact us to make arrangements!

 

How New York Created Christmas

Many people do not know how much of modern Christmas iconography and traditions are rooted in New York's history.

The first major connection comes from writer Washington Irving (of "Rip Van Winkle" & "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" fame). Upset that there were few unifying holidays in early America, Irving worked to change that. In his 1809 “A History of New York”  (a comical retelling of the city's Dutch era), he declared the European gift-giver St. Nicholas to be the state’s patron saint, claiming that his image appeared on the masthead of the first Dutch ship to arrive in New Amsterdam.

St. Nicholas Day, or the Feast of St. Nicholas, was for much of history a separate holiday in early December associated with the gift-giving saint.

St. Nicholas then himself became tied to the Christmas holiday thanks to another author, Clement Clarke Moore, who lived in a mansion on Manhattan farm land in what later became Chelsea. In his famous short story, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", Moore described the saint as “a right jolly old elf,” based on “a portly rubicund Dutchman,” in the neighborhood, with his “eight tiny reindeer,” with some other elements borrowed from Irving’s version of the Saint. St. Nicholas Day is traditionally celebrated on Dec. 6 in Europe, but Moore’s poem set his visit on Christmas Eve, informally tying St. Nicholas to the holiday for the first time.

Then, in the 1860s, American political cartoonist Thomas Nast further cemented this depiction with drawings in the NY-based publication Harper's Weekly depicting St. Nick/Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded, fat man in a fur-trimmed cap.

More traditions kept piling up throughout NYC history... Santa's inclusion in Thanksgiving parades, public Christmas trees, decorated store windows, and more.

Today, Christmas remains New York's most enchanting season, and is the busiest tourism season for the city. Holiday markets, elaborately-decorated trees everywhere, bell-ringers... between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day itself, you are hard-pressed to find anywhere in Manhattan where the holiday is not front and center.

You can live this history and magic now by booking my special, seasonal walking tour!

5Pointz, and the Future of NYC Street Art

Several years ago, 5Pointz, the original NYC graffiti "mecca" was lost when the building's owner decided to sell the building to developers. The artists have demanded justice for years, and yesterday a Brooklyn jury agreed the destruction of the art violated the artists' rights. Here are my thoughts on all this:

First, this is a more complicated story than many realize. Contrary to the chaotic, lawless nature of graffiti many artists still cultivate, this was all super organized. The 5Pointz artists were not vandalizing this building. The curator*-- Meres (whose signature art involves lightbulbs)-- sought out this building for a graffiti gallery and asked the owner's permission. The owner, Mr. Wolkoff, agreed, as at the time the neighborhood was undesirable, so who cared. The inside he rented as artist studio space, etc, at low cost. He was known as being very generous, in this regard. So it wasn't even encouraging or allowing the graffiti, it was an active partnership, albeit one where no $$ exchanged hands. So their claim is that they had legit ties to the building, and deserved a say in all this. And that much is fair.

So I sympathize with all this. But my concern is how this ruling will ultimately come back to hurt this community of artists.

The Bushwick Collective-- today's NYC graffiti "mecca", and where I do my Brooklyn art tour-- happened because lots of Bushwick commercial property owners agreed to the same as Wolkoff had years ago... allowing artists to use entire blocks as a canvas, for free. And that has a strict curator as well, local businessman Joseph Ficalora. After seeing this case play out, how many building owners of the next Bushwick Collective or 5Pointz will say "no" when asked, because they fear a future lawsuit? I worry about that.

Many of these artists benefited immensely from 5Pointz, more than any legal compensation can offer. Popular NYC street artists, such as Jerkface or Danielle Mastrion, made their names there. It helped legitimize graffiti, aerosol art, and mural as legitimate forms of art. They had a great deal there and, eventually, it ended.

Moreover, the destruction of 5Pointz, while genuinely sad, helped spread out the NYC street art scene, thus allowing more artists to prosper. Its destruction led to the creation of the Bushwick Collective, the Welling Court Mural Project, The New Allen, and so many other art collectives inspired by 5Pointz. This growth has benefited hundreds of amazing artists. Ultimately, I argue, the destruction helped the community more than it hurt.

Ideally, this ends with property owners respecting artists more, and fostering better, clearer partnerships.

The artists all insist today that this ruling will change the graffiti world. But maybe not in that way they expect.

Click on the image below for a link to my gallery of the final art days of 5Pointz:

[*And heavily curated it was. No one painted on 5Pointz's walls without going through Meres, and getting his blessing. There were signs all over the building that insisted any (commercial) photography must get a permit from Meres, and his contact info printed thereon. It was as organized as an art gallery, albeit all outdoors.]

Bushwick Street Art

Years before I became a full-time tour guide, I've been visiting Bushwick, Brooklyn, to photograph & document its vibrant street art scene. I've been collecting my photos in a Flickr album for 3 years. Many of these pieces are long gone, replaced by new murals and new artists. Such is the transient nature of street art... and what makes visiting these areas such an adventure, there's always new art to discover!

Click the image below to view a gallery of years-worth of Bushwick street art.

And interested in discovering the area's current art? Check out my walking tour!

Time Out Recommends Our Victorian Flatbush Tour!

We are extremely honored & proud that our Victorian Flatbush walking tour has been included in Time Out New York's list of "10 fascinating architecture tours in NYC". They write:

The name ‘Victorian Flatbush’ is a bit of a misnomer, as the neighborhood actually includes stately Queen Anne, colonial, Tudor and neo-Revival homes. Tour the area to spot countless examples of stunning architecture, a church that Peter Stuyvesant founded in 1654 and the city’s oldest high school. This walk also offers a glimpse at the process of gentrification—a controversial topic in this neck of the woods.

This is a fantastic, truly local tour that explores a neighborhood that is both a microcosm of the rich history of Brooklyn, but also features some of the most stunning residential architecture in the borough. We have several available dates this Autumn, which is the perfect time to take a stroll through this dynamic area.

Come discover for yourself what is so special about Flatbush!

Space Invader in NYC: A Guide

Most street art fans are familiar with the work of French artist Invader. Taking his name from an early arcade game (and his style from those early 8-bit graphics), Invader began a global project in 1998 called Space Invaders, affixing tile mosaics to the sides of buildings. Today, his work can be found in large cities in dozens of major countries. He is one of the world's most famous (and still anonymous) street artists.

Invader has visited NYC several times and left behind numerous installations. Many, as happens often, have been removed, vandalized, or stolen. My aim is to create a list of all remaining pieces in NYC (as of late 2017) that I have personally verified. If I am missing any, or if any are gone since I last saw them, please comment below!

Manhattan:

  1. Lower East Side: On Ludlow St, between E. Houston & Stanton, look across from the Hotel Indigo, for a classic Invader
  2. Lower East Side: Also on Ludlow, between Delancey & Broome, look up on the east side of the street for a crowned Invader.
  3. Lower East Side: On Broome St, between Allen & Eldridge, look above the pizza shop awning for Leonardo of the TMNT.
  4. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Broome & Delancey, look up on the east side of the street for Michelangelo of the TMNT.
  5. Lower East Side: On the intersection of Kenmare & Mott, look above the doorway for a spray-can piece.
  6. Lower East Side: On Mulberry St, between Hester & Canal, look at the back of the lot being developed (will be gone soon!) for a fiery Invader.
  7. Lower East Side: On Mulberry St, between Grand & Hester, look up on the east side of the street for superhero character.
  8. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between E. Houston & Stanton, look up on the east side of the street for a drinking Invader.
  9. Lower East Side: On Lafayette St, between Prince & Spring, look up on the east side of the street for a flowery Invader.
  10. Lower East Side: On Orchard St, between Stanton & Rivington, look up on the west side of the street for a soda can.
  11. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Hester & Canal, look up on the fire escapes on the west side of the street, for a strip of Invaders.
  12. Chinatown: On Division & Orchard, look up on the west corner, for Raphael of the TMNT.
  13. East Village: On Avenue A, between E. 9th & E. 8th, look up on the corner for a classic Invader.
  14. East Village: On 2nd Ave & St. Mark's Place, look up on the corner for Spider-Man.
  15. East Village: On Avenue A & E. 3rd, look up on the northeast corner for a classic Invader.
  16. East Village: On Bowery & Great Jones St, look up on the southwest corner for a beat-up Invader.
  17. SoHo: On Thompson St, between Broome & Grand, look on the west side of the street for a beat-up Ramones piece.
  18. West Village: On 6th Ave & Waverly Place, look above the diner for a burger-chomping Invader.
  19. West Village: On Minetta & Bleecker, look up above the cafe for two classic Invaders
  20. Chelsea: On W. 14th St, between 8th & 9th Aves, look up on the south side of the street for a large Big Apple Invader.
  21. Meatpacking District: On Washington St, between E. 13th & Little W. 12th, look up on the west side, under the Standard hotel, for Buster Bunny
  22. Meatpacking District: On 10th Ave & W. 17th St, look above Artichoke Pizza for Donatello of the TMNT.
  23. Hudson Square: At Pier 40, look on the south end of the building for a classic Invader.
  24. Hudson Square: On Varick St, between Downing & Clarkson, look up on the west side of the street for a classic Invader.
  25. Upper East Side: On E 61st St, between 2nd & 3rd Aves, look up above a doorway on the south side of the street, for a key-holding Invader
  26. Upper East Side: On 2nd Ave, between E. 94th & E. 95th, look up on the west side of the street for a flowery Invader.

Brooklyn:

  1. Bushwick: On Troutman St, between Wyckoff & Irving, keeping looking up on the west side of the street for a tribute to Cost & ENX.
  2. Bushwick: On Gardner St, between Johnson Ave & Randolph St, look up on the west side of the street for Joey Ramone.
  3. Williamsburg: On Bedford Ave, by N 5th St, look for an eye-level installation.
  4. South Williamsburg: At Broadway, between Keap & Rodney Sts, look above KidSuper for a classic Invader.
  5. Greenpoint: At the corner of Nassau & Kingsland, look above Vinnie's Pizzeria for pizza-munching Invader.
  6. Bed-Stuy: On St. Johns Place, between Utica & Rochester, look up on the south side of the street for a speeding Invader.

Any questions? Please comment below!

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Forest Hills, Queens - Special Tour

On Wednesday, November 8 at 10am, I'm doing a special walking tour outside my usual roster... a tour of historic Forest Hills, in Queens. You can book online via Viator.

New York City has few more beautiful neighborhoods than this. Planned on the model of the garden communities of England, on most days it feels like a place out of time.
 
It is also a neighborhood steeped in history. Its famed West Side Tennis Club was once home to the US Open and has housed concerts from stars like TheBeatles, Bob Dylan, and The Who. Forest Hills is the birthplace of a lotof talent–- Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, the Ramones, Billy Eichner, Carroll O’Connor, the fictional Spider-Man, & more.
 
 We will explore the history of this neighborhood, and its home borough, as we walk through this gorgeous neighborhood.
 
This special walking tour is for those who love unique residential architecture and nature hidden in a large urban area.  This will be a relaxing stroll through tree-lined streets in the peak of Autumn color.

(If interested in this tour on other dates, please contact me to arrange a private tour.)

New tour added: Street Art in Queens!

Many tour companies (including us!) offer tours of the amazing street art scene in Brooklyn... we are proud to be the first to offer a tour of the growing art scene along the Queens waterfront!

This tour will explore Long Island City (former home of 5Pointz-- NYC's original graffiti mecca), seeing how the art there is evolving, encounter the best views of the Manhattan skyline, and journey by ferry to the growing Welling Court Mural Project. Guests will also have an opportunity to visit the Socrates Sculpture Park.

This is a great tour for urban explores, artists, and photographers! Tour fee includes a scenic ferry ride back to Manhattan.

Inquire for available dates or custom tours!

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Special Tour for US Open Fans!

The US Open is coming up soon, and Queens is getting ready for one of its biggest annual events!

For attendees & fans of the tennis tournament, I am offering a special version of my World's Fair-themed tour of Flushing Meadows Park on Saturday, September 2 at 11am. This tour will explore numerous World's Fair landmarks, discuss the history of the US Open, and end with a visit to the famous Panorama of the City of New York.

Interested in other dates? Inquire for a private tour!

We All Scream For Ice Cream

Ask any New Yorker what the city's best ice cream is, and the two words you'll hear most are: Ample Hills. The Brooklyn-founded company (their name derives from a Walt Whitman poem about the borough) has several locations around the city... plus one at the Walt Disney World resort. For the past two Summers, the company has offered a challenge: visit all NYC locations in one day, and join the ranks of their illustrious Hillionaires Club (with glory and swag as your prizes). And for the past two Summers, I have completed this challenge.

I love challenges like this-- such as the recent Wave Walk-- because they encourage New Yorkers to explore their city in fun ways.

Of the 7 NYC Ample Hills locations, the hardest to reach is their summer pop-up at Riis Beach, way out on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. I began my journey, this year with a friend, around 11am in lower Manhattan, where I boarded a ferry to Rockaway Beach (*cue Ramones song here*). This hour-long ferry ride has some scenic views...

Rockaway-bound!

Rockaway-bound!

The view from the ferry as it zooms past Coney Island.

The view from the ferry as it zooms past Coney Island.

We then take the complimentary shuttle bus from the ferry over to Riis Beach. At stop #1, we were given our Tour de Hills card which would be stamped and signed by an employee at each stop after purchasing one scoop. I opt for the location's exclusive flavor, the cherry lime rickey sorbet.

Yum!

Yum!

From here, we board the Q35 bus from the Rockaways up to Brooklyn. Once we reach that borough, there will be less distance to travel. In Brooklyn, we board a subway at Brooklyn College up to Prospect Heights, where we make our second stop at the company's original location. At this point, it is about 2pm. Here, I get their exclusive flavor, the Commodore (salted honey vanilla ice cream with homemade honeycomb candy and chocolate-covered potato chips.)

It all started here.

It all started here.

For the remainder of the Brooklyn locations, we walked from one to the other. We started by walking down historic Flatbush Avenue, through downtown Brooklyn, to the new Dekalb Market Hall, where Ample Hills is one of many vendors. Their exclusive flavor here is Harry & Eigel's Marbled and Malted (chocolate malted ice cream with crushed malt balls and chunks Juniors cheesecake).

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

From here, we wandered past Borough Hall (built in 1848!) and wander through NYC's first historic district... Brooklyn Heights. I showed my friend Steve the historic Plymouth Church, which under the leadership of preacher Henry Ward Beecher, was a key abolitionist site in the mid-1800s. We then take the newly reopened Squibb Bridge down to Brooklyn Bridge Park. At the park's Pier 5, we find one of Ample Hill's other seasonal shops. Their special flavor? The Coffee of Kings.

By now, my stomach is like, "More ice cream, really?"

By now, my stomach is like, "More ice cream, really?"

From the park, it is a half-hour walk over to their flagship Gowanus location, where all of their ice cream is also produced. Their special flavor pays homage to the nearby Gowanus Canal, which is one of the most polluted canals in the United States. (Believe it or not, that "honor" is helping draw lots of new residents and development to the area).... This flavor-- 'It Came from Gowanus'-- is salted dark chocolate ice cream with hazelnut crack cookies topped with white chocolate pearls and orange-scented brownies.

The flagship location has a party room and a rooftop deck.

The flagship location has a party room and a rooftop deck.

Finally, we were finished with Brooklyn and rewarded ourselves with a long (and air-conditioned) subway ride to Manhattan. We get off the train at Times Square where we walked over to Hells Kitchen, to the Gotham West food hall. This is the final stretch. Their special flavor is the Hells Kitchen Sink (dark chocolate and Guinness extra stout with chili-spiced brownies and toffee bars). This was the only exclusive flavor that was a mixed bag.

Almost done!

Almost done!

One more to go! From Hells Kitchen, we walked down to 34th St and headed down the High Line. This 1.5-mile long park is just the breather we need before our final stop. At the end of the Line (literally), we enter the Meatpacking District, where we encounter our 7th stop of the day... Ample Hills' location next to Bubby's on Gansevoort Street. At this point, it is about 7pm. I go, of course, for their exclusive flavor, 'Floating Along the High Line' (root beer ice cream with mini-marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles). Here, the employees validate our cards and present us with our prize pack.

The finish line.

The finish line.

Victory!

Victory!

This was followed by a subway ride home with a stomach full of ice cream. See you again next Summer, Ample Hills! In the meantime, if anyone knows of any other crazy NYC challenges, send them my way. There's nothing more I enjoy doing on my days off from touring than racing from one end of New York to the other!

Tips for Taxis!

While the subway remains the cheapest and most efficient way to get around this city, for many visitors, taxis feel like a more private and safer option. So here are our tips for navigating New York's taxi system.

  1. Know your taxis!
    There are many types of cabs available in New York City... including private towncars, livery cabs, ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft, and even dollar vans. But the classic yellow taxi remains the most ubiquitous. 

    But there are also now the green taxis. The difference? Yellow taxis can take you anywhere in New York City. The green taxis, designed to better serve the outer boroughs, however, have certain restrictions... they cannot accept pickups in Manhattan below 110th St. on the West Side, and below 96th St. on the East Side, or at either LaGuardia or JFK airports. If you hail one in an outer borough, they are allowed to make dropoffs, though, in those areas.

  2. Getting a taxi at the airport.
    The most important rule of getting a taxi at the airport is to never accept a ride from someone inside the terminal, or outside, offering you a ride. These solicited services are illegal. For a safe & legal ride, get in the official taxi queue outside the terminal. The line may seem long, but often they move quickly. Taking a cab back to the airport? Cabs provide a flat-rate for this service.

    (Side-note: Check traffic reports before you go. Public transit-- ie. the AirTrain-- may be the better option.)

  3. Know your rights!
    Passengers in NYC taxis have certain legal rights. Know yours, and you can protect yourself from unprofessional drivers. These include the ability to go anywhere in NYC that you request... a cab driver cannot legally refuse to take you to a destination once he has pulled over for you. You can also request a specific route or roads. You can also request the driver turn off a radio or turn on/off an AC, etc.

    For the full Taxicab Passenger Bill of Rights, or to file a complaint, see their official website.

  4. Tipping!
    Tipping your driver is customary in the United States. Your average tip ranges from 15-20% of the final fare, depending on your satisfaction. If paying by credit card, most cab credit machine screens have an option to automatically add on the tip % you decide on, and provide you with a complete receipt.

  5. How to hail a taxi!
    We often see tourists with their hands out on the curb, attempting to hail a taxi, growing frustrated as numerous taxis pass them by without stopping. That driver is (probably) not ignoring you... he likely is either off-duty or already has a passenger. There is a very simple way to tell if a taxi is available: look to see that their light (the four-digit identifier code on the roof) is on. If yes, hail away. If no, keep an eye out for the next available one.

    You are looking for this:

We hope this helps!