Manhattan is an island full of skyscrapers, monuments, squares, stores, people, and above all life, lots of life. And as unique as any other borough in New York, Manhattan has its own contrasts between Upper and Lower Manhattan. To discover them all and experience Manhattan big time, here's a recommendation for you: the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour.
With this tour, you will see all the points of interest of downtown New York from a bus, with its iconic neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, or Wall Street, as well as the streets that make Manhattan famous as the Fifth Avenue.
Okay, the price may seem a bit high for a bus activity, but when you weigh everything in you can consider this tour as a way to see all of Manhattan accompanied by an expert guide and then keep exploring on your own the areas that you have liked the most, but knowing all the details and historical context of the streets you will return to.
This tour has pick-up points at several New York hotels: the Intercontinental Barclay, the Wellington Hotel, the Riu Hotel, and the Hotel Pennsylvania. The entire tour is by bus with stops at St. John the Divine and Battery Park. The narration of your guide will be entirely in English, throughout the 3 and a half hours of the activity.
One of the advantages of this activity is that you can do it every day of the week except Sundays. Unlike other New York City tours, you don't have to worry too much about doing it on a specific day to avoid crowds, since you won't run into other tourists outside of your group.
Why I like this tour: the reasons I recommend this experience are twofold, the convenience of being able to see all of Manhattan from a bus, which can be a perfect introduction to the city at the beginning of your trip, and the quality of the narration of the guides who will accompany you throughout the itinerary, whose context will get you to know the Big Apple on a deeper level.
Recommended if... you will be in New York for only a few days, if you are traveling with children and they get tired of walking, or if you enjoy visiting a city from the comfort of your seat. In short, this is a tour that I recommend as an introduction to Manhattan to familiarize yourself with the most visited areas of New York.
Useful tips to enjoy the tour of Upper and Lower Manhattan
- Since the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour ends at Battery Park, it might be a good idea to plan your day so that you take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty after the activity. That way, you will have a very complete day of sightseeing with the convenience of saving most of the transportation.
- Don't worry too much about taking pictures on this activity as you won't have a very good angle from the bus anyway. The interesting part of the tour is to visit Manhattan comfortably and with a guide, so that when you are exploring the Big Apple on your own you will know how to handle yourself much better and have some context about each place you visit.
- However, be sure to bring your camera for this tour as you can stop at St. John the Divine and explore inside, and take photos of the interior as it is truly impressive.
The stop at Columbus Circle
A beautiful plaza located at the intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, Central Park South and Eighth Avenue, dedicated to Christopher Columbus (whose statue watches over the rest of the plaza from its pedestal). Here you will find a contrast between the plaza's fountain, the edge of Central Park, and the towering skyscrapers, a typical New York landscape.
The stop at Lincoln Center
Another classic Big Apple landmark, a group of buildings dedicated to the performing arts including operas, theaters, and concert halls. You're sure to have seen Lincoln Center lit up at night in movies, postcards, or photographs, so you're going to want to stroll through here once the sun goes down in the city that never sleeps.
The stop at the Dakota Building
A building that has housed illustrious artists such as Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland, and John Lennon, who was murdered outside its doors in 1980. If you're a Beatles fan, you'll probably want to visit this historic building where thousands of people have gathered to pay tribute to one of the most outstanding musicians of the last century.
The Central Park stop and the tribute to John Lennon, Strawberry Fields
No downtown New York City tour is complete without a visit to this park, and the Upper and Lower Manhattan excursion is no exception. You'll circle the famous Central Park and see the Jacqueline Kennedy Lake Onassis and the area's landmark buildings.
And while you're visiting key locations in Beatles history, you can stop by the Central Park area renamed Strawberry Fields after John Lennon's death and where you'll find the famous Imagine mosaic that pays homage to the musician.
The stop at St. John the Divine
Probably the best-known church in Manhattan, and the largest Anglican cathedral in the world. With its Gothic style reminiscent of the churches of northern France, it is an architectural gem hidden in the vastness of the glass jungle that is New York.
The stop at Columbia University
You will pass by the campus of Columbia University, part of the prestigious American Ivy League and one of the finest teaching institutions in the entire world. The elegant architectural style of its campus is in line with its fame as an organization, offering very nice views full of symmetries.
The stop at Harlem
You'll see Harlem's main neighborhoods and its most prominent buildings, such as the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club as you walk its history-filled streets learning about the mecca of African American culture and one of the most interesting places within Manhattan.
The stop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour, you'll see the exterior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose iconic staircases serve as a gathering place for New Yorkers on the daily. A place to chat, eat, and have a coffee watching the traffic and people cross Fifth Avenue.
The stop at Fifth Avenue
The Avenue of the Millionaires is the maximum exponent of the economic power of the city of New York, with luxury apartments in each corner and full of old mansions. Also, it is the point where the most exclusive shops of the city are concentrated as well as several of the main museums of the city.
The stop at Rockefeller Center
Also known as Rockefeller Plaza, it is made up of several buildings of which the most famous is the Comcast Building, which houses the Top of the Rock observatory. Whether or not you go up to the Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza will be a must if you are in New York at Christmas for its famous tree and skating rink. The city wouldn't be the same at Christmas without this little corner...
The stop at St. Patricks Cathedral
One of the most imposing churches in New York, both inside and out. Especially, its large rose window and stained glass windows are something to be admired, as well as having an interesting history dating back to the times of the American Civil War.
The stop at Flatiron Building
Words are not needed to describe what is, in my opinion, one of the finest works of architecture of the last century, which at the time of its construction in 1902 was considered a skyscraper as it was one of the largest buildings in New York. Its elegant style is synonymous with New York City as it is one of the most iconic landmarks of the Big Apple.
The stop at SoHo and Greenwich Village
SoHo went from being a neighborhood for the working class and artists in the 1960s and 1970s to an area for yuppies and the wealthy. Time and gentrification, known as the "SoHo effect", has turned the neighborhood into an area of art galleries and restaurants that, to be honest, is a tourist's delight.
Located west of Manhattan, Greenwich Village is the quintessential New York hipster neighborhood in which a multitude of series and movies that take place in New York are set. Without going any further, in the Village you will be able to see the 'Friends' apartment.
The stop at Washington Square
If you've seen 'Girls', you'll be familiar with the triumphal arch of this pleasant square, which is one of the main meeting points for locals south of Manhattan. Here you'll find some monuments and statues like the one dedicated to the architect of Italian unification Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The stop at Little Italy and Chinatown
And while we're on the subject of Italy, you'll find a piece of it in the neighborhood known as Little Italy, home to the city's best Italian restaurants and many cultural events a year celebrating New York's Italian-American community.
From Italy, you will travel to China, or at least a little piece of it in one of New York's most famous neighborhoods, Chinatown. Mainly a neighborhood of Chinese shops, where you will see sign after sign in the language of the Asian giant and you can find a multitude of products of all kinds. Here is an article on the best things to see and do in Chinatown.
In fact, most of New York's restaurants cater to Chinatown, where you can also find establishments that offer true oriental delicacies.
The stop at Wall Street and Battery Park
The financial district of New York is a place of worship for some and hate for others, but the truth is that the area does not fail to perfectly represent a city whose wealth is generated, in large part, in a single building: the New York Stock Exchange, which you will recognize instantly by its large American flag hanging on the columns of its façade.
In front of the Wall Street Stock Exchange, you will see the famous 'Charging Bull' sculpture, a symbol of America's economic prosperity.
Finally, the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour will take you to Battery Park, located on the southern tip of the island. From here, you will be able to see the State of Liberty in the distance as the park's pier is where the ferry to Liberty Island departs from.
Other interesting experiences in New York
If you liked the idea of visiting New York by bus, the Contrasts Tour is similar to the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour but extends the itinerary to the whole city: you will see Manhattan, Harlem, Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, with the difference that you will get off at their featured neighborhoods to explore the area.
Your guide will accompany you at all times and, similar to the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour, this is a perfect experience to do upon arrival in New York, as you'll get a taste of each borough of the city so that you can take the one you like best and explore it thoroughly on your own.
New York from above
If you're up to the challenge of discovering New York from up high, climb one of its iconic buildings, such as the Empire State Building, to enjoy the skyline of the city from a bird's eye-view perspective. Here's my useful guide to know the details about Empire State Building Tickets. If you'd like to treat yourself to the ultimate experience you can try in Manhattan, you can't miss the Manhattan Helicopter Flights.