Manhattan is an island 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 in a big way I have a recommendation for you: the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour.
The Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour
With this tour you will see all the highlights 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 like Fifth Avenue.
In my opinion, the price may seem a bit high for a bus activity, but putting everything in a balance you can consider this tour as a way to see all of Manhattan accompanied by an expert guide and then explore on your own in depth the areas that have caught your attention, but knowing all the details and the historical context of the neighborhoods to which you return.
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. Your guide's narration will be entirely in English throughout the 3.5 hour tour.
One of the advantages of this activity is that you can do it every day of the week except Sundays. Unlike other tours of New York, you don't have to worry too much about doing it on a specific day to avoid crowds, since you won't meet other tourists outside your group.
Why I like this tour: the reasons why 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 change the way you enjoy the Big Apple.
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 may 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'll have a very smooth day of sightseeing with the convenience of saving almost all of your 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, don't forget to bring your camera for this tour as you can stop at St. John the Divine and explore it inside, and take pictures of its interior as it is truly impressive.
Columbus Circle stop
A beautiful square 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 square from its pedestal). The contrast between the plaza's fountain, the edge of Central Park and the towering skyscrapers make this corner a typically New York landscape.
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'll want to stroll through here once the sun goes down in the city that never sleeps.
Stop at the Dakota Building
A building that has housed illustrious artists such as Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland, and John Lennon, who was assassinated at its doors in 1980. If you are a Beatles fan, you will surely want to visit this historic building where thousands of people gathered to pay tribute to one of the most outstanding musicians of the last century.
Stop at Central Park and the John Lennon tribute, Strawberry Fields
No tour of downtown New York City is complete without a visit to this park, and the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour is no exception. You'll circle the famous Central Park and see Lake Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the area's landmark buildings.
And since you are visiting key places in the history of the Beatles, you can stop by the area of Central Park renamed Strawberry Fields after the death of John Lennon and where you will find the famous Imagine mosaic in honor of the musician.
Stop at St. John the Divine
Probably the best known church in Manhattan, and the largest of the Anglican cathedrals in the world. With its Gothic style reminiscent of the churches of northern France, it is an architectural gem that you will find hidden in the vastness of the glass jungle that is New York.
Stop at Columbia University
You will pass through the campus of Columbia University, part of the prestigious American Ivy League and one of the best 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.
Stop in Harlem
You will see Harlem's main neighborhoods and its most prominent buildings, such as the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club as you walk through its history-filled streets learning about the mecca of African-American culture and one of the most interesting places within Manhattan.
Stop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour you will see the exterior of the Met or Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose iconic staircases serve as a gathering place for New Yorkers on a daily basis. A place to chat, eat, and have a coffee watching the traffic and people crossing Fifth Avenue.
Stop at Fifth Avenue
The Avenue of the Millionaires is the maximum exponent of the economic power of New York City, with luxury apartments on every corner and full of old mansions. Also, it is the point where the most exclusive stores of the city are concentrated as well as several of the main museums of the city.
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-see if you are in New York at Christmas for its famous tree and skating rink. The city would not be the same at Christmas without this little corner...
Stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral
One of the most impressive churches in New York, both inside and out. Especially, its large rose window and stained glass windows are something to be admired, besides having an interesting history dating back to the times of the American Civil War.
Stop at the Flatiron Building
No words are needed to describe what is, in my opinion, one of the best works of architecture of the last century, which at the time of its construction in 1902 was considered a skyscraper as one of the largest buildings in New York. Its elegant style is synonymous with New York City and a landmark in the development of the Big Apple.
Stop at SoHo and Greenwich Village
SoHo went from being a neighborhood for working class people and artists in the 1960s and 1970s to an area for yuppies and the wealthy. Time and gentrification known as the "SoHo effect" have turned the neighborhood into an area of art galleries and restaurants that, let's be honest, is a tourist's delight.
Located west of Manhattan, Greenwich Village is the hipster neighborhood par excellence of New York in which a multitude of series and movies that take place in New York are set. Without going any further, in the Village you can see the apartment of 'Friends'.
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 in southern Manhattan. Here you will find some monuments and statues such as the one dedicated to the architect of Italian unification Giuseppe Garibaldi.
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 a number of cultural events each 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 stores, 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 explaining the best things to see and do in Chinatown.
In fact, most of the restaurants in New York City are located in Chinatown, where you can also find establishments that offer real oriental delicacies.
Stop at Wall Street and Battery Park
New York's financial district is a place of worship for some and hatred for others, but the truth is that the area still represents very well 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 the building's facade.
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 Statue of Liberty in the distance as the park's pier is where the ferry leaves for the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island.
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 extending 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 it will give you 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 feel like taking action and discovering New York from the heights, I recommend you to climb one of its mythical buildings, such as the Empire State Building, to enjoy the Skyline from above. I link you here my practical guide so you can know the details about Climbing the Empire State Building. If you are thinking of treating yourself to the best experience you can have in Manhattan, I recommend you the Manhattan Helicopter Flights.
Frequently asked questions
Is it worth taking the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour?
The Upper and Lower Manhattan tour is a great idea to explore the island of Manhattan in one day, understand its context, its contrasts and decide which areas you will explore on your own during your trip.
What do you see during the tour of Upper and Lower Manhattan?
You will visit, among others: Harlem, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Little Italy, China Town and Battery Park - the whole of Manhattan, from top to bottom!
What is the best day to tour Upper and Lower Manhattan?
Any day of the week is good, but I recommend that you do it at the beginning of your trip: it will help you get a good feel for the city, understand its history and ask your guide for local recommendations. From then on, it will be easier for you to explore Manhattan at your own pace.
Which is better: the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour or the Contrasts Tour?
Both are complementary: in the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour you will visit the island of Manhattan and all its corners. On the other hand, in the Contrasts tour the excursion is extended to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Williamsburg, essential districts that you should also visit during your trip to New York.