If you’re visiting the Big Apple and you’re on a budget, don’t worry, because there are free walking tours in NYC that help you discover the most famous places in the city. Plus, you’ll get insider tips that only the locals know about, all without breaking the bank.
We’ve spent lots of time in New York since we lived for five years just two hours from the city. We also quickly realized that we could explore different parts of the city without spending too much money.
If you don’t have much time to get out and see the most popular places in NYC, or if you’re traveling on a budget, this guide will give you several free walking tours in New York City. So, depending on how long you’ll be in the city, you can take one or more and get to know different areas of the Big Apple.
In a nutshell, these are the free tours in New York that I recommend:
- Free walking tour of NYC
- Brooklyn Bridge & DUMBO walking tour
- SoHo, Little Italy & Chinatown walking tour
- Central Park walking tour
- Broadway & Times Square walking tour
- Greenwich Village walking tour
1. The best free walking tour in New York City
A free tour of New York is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the Big Apple’s main attractions. With this tour, you’ll visit the most famous NYC landmarks, so it’s a great tour to take on your first day in the city. For me is a must-do walking tour in NYC.
This free Manhattan walking tour begins in the Financial District, where you’ll pass Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, the Fearless Girl sculpture, and the Charging Bull statue at Bowling Green. You’ll also walk by the World Trade Center and Ground Zero, the former site of the Twin Towers. Check out the 9/11 Memorial, a poignant reminder of one of the city’s most historic and tragic events.
Afterward, you’ll visit Battery Park, one of the best spots to see the Statue of Liberty. In addition, you’ll pass through the old town of New Amsterdam, where the last remaining Dutch-style houses are located. Overall, this is a basic tour, but perfect if it’s your first time in NYC.
- Highlights: Wall Street, World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial, Battery Park
- Meeting point: In front of Bowling Green
- Duration: 2 hrs, 30 mins
- Description: This basic free walking tour of NYC takes you to some of the most iconic places in the city, such as Wall Street, the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial, and Battery Park, where you can see the Statue of Liberty.
2. Brooklyn Bridge & DUMBO walking tour
When you go to New York City, one of the things you must do is cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Fortunately, several free tours in New York take you across this iconic landmark, and you can learn interesting facts and anecdotes about the bridge from a local guide. In particular, I recommend this tour, which crosses Brooklyn Bridge and takes you through the DUMBO neighborhood.
As you walk across the bridge, you’ll get lovely panoramic views of the New York skyline, so have your camera ready! Then, check out the modern neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Here, you’ll find alternative boutiques, luxury restaurants, and hip cafes, which is why it’s one of the most popular places in NYC.
This is another free on-foot tour of New York that I recommend, although since COVID began, the tour company has been charging a minimum fee of $25 per person to keep group sizes small.
- Highlights: Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO
- Meeting point: World Trade Center
- Duration: 2 hrs, 30 mins
- Description: This guided tour takes you across the Brooklyn Bridge, where you’ll get beautiful views of the New York skyline and cross over into DUMBO, one of the most modern neighborhoods in the city.
3. SoHo, Little Italy & Chinatown, another NYC free walking tour
New York is full of interesting communities and neighborhoods, and this tour goes to SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown, three distinct parts of the Big Apple you can’t miss.
You’ll start with a walk through SoHo, one of the most expensive and artsy neighborhoods in Manhattan. Among the galleries, shops, and bakeries, you’ll also see impressive architecture, like the Haughwout Building, a five-story commercial loft.
Then, you’ll continue the tour by visiting Little Italy, an area with amazing food and rich Italian heritage. Your guide will tell you about Little Italy’s immigrant history and take you to the most famous eateries on Mulberry Street, where you can sample local cuisine like cannoli or cheesecake.
Finally, you’ll end up in Chinatown, stopping first at the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, home to a 16-foot Buddha statue. Then, visit the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and walk down historic Doyer Street, where you’ll see the notorious Five Points landmark and try traditional Asian dumplings.
Like the previous tour, this free walking tour in NYC now charges a minimum fee of $35 per person to keep the group to 10 people or less and adhere to COVID regulations.
- Highlights: SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown
- Meeting point: Duarte Square
- Duration: 2 hrs
- Description: This tour includes a walk through the artsy SoHo neighborhood, a visit to the local shops in Little Italy, and a look at the historic landmarks in Chinatown.
4. Central Park, NYC free walking tour
There are tons of great things to do in Central Park, one of which is a free NYC walking tour. I suggest doing this tour, which is led by a former Central Park employee who will share their favorite spots.
During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of the park and how it has changed over the decades. You’ll also pass by lots of famous movie and TV locations and see the park’s different landscape features like the Great Lawn, the Sheep Meadow, and The Ramble.
Get lovely views of The Lake from Bethesda Terrace, pass by Wollman Rink, and take a stroll along the Mall and Literary Walk. Your group will also visit Conservatory Water, a scenic pond with beautiful bronze statues, including Alice in Wonderland. You’ll want to bring your camera to capture gorgeous photos of landmarks like the Gapstow Bridge, the Bow Bridge, and Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon Memorial.
Since COVID began, this guided tour has a minimum fee of $25 per person, but it’s well worth the price!
- Highlights: Central Park
- Meeting point: 2 Columbus Circle
- Duration: 2 hrs
- Description: This guided tour is a wonderful way to see Central Park’s top attractions in a short timeframe. Check out sights like Wollman Rink, the Alice in Wonderland statue, Conservatory Water, Strawberry Fields, the Gapstow Bridge, The Lake, and Bethesda Terrace.
5. Broadway & Times Square, another free NYC tour
Broadway is one of the most iconic places to visit in New York, and if you’re a theater lover, this guided tour is for you. It’s led by a Broadway actor, so not only will you see famous landmarks, but you’ll also hear captivating insights and stories from an insider.
As you make your way through the Theatre District, you’ll walk along 42nd Street and learn about New York’s show biz history. You’ll also pass Shubert Alley, the oldest gift shop on Broadway; the Edison Hotel, a vintage Art Deco hotel; and the George M. Cohan statue, named after the famous American singer, dancer, actor, and producer.
Your guide will also take you through Hell’s Kitchen and past the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, or “Smokey Mary’s” church, which is known for its heavy use of incense. Then, make your way to Times Square, which was originally a horse-trading district, and pass by TV recording studios for The Tonight Show and SNL, among others.
This walking tour in NYC was free, but right now it costs $39 per person to adhere to COVID regulations and keep groups small.
- Highlights: Broadway and Times Square
- Meeting point: Dufy Square
- Duration: 1 hr, 45 mins – 2 hrs
- Description: This tour is led by a Broadway actor who will share interesting tidbits and stories about NYC’s Theatre District. Walk along 42nd Street and pass by iconic sites like Shubert Alley, Smokey Mary’s church, the Edison Hotel, and the George H. Cohan statue.
6. Greenwich Village walking tour
Last but not least, Greenwich Village is an awesome hub for NYC’s counterculture that you must see. My recommendation is to do this 2-hour tour, which takes you to the most historic areas in Greenwich Village.
For example, this neighborhood was popular with artists, writers, and musicians, attracting legends like Jimi Hendrix, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jackson Pollack. During this free walking tour in NYC, you’ll see Jones Street, which was featured on Dylan’s album, The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, as well as Café Society, the first integrated club in NYC.
Other highlights on this tour include the Friends Apartment; Cherry Lane Theater, the oldest off-Broadway theater in New York; and the Isaacs-Hendricks House, home to a renowned merchant family. You’ll also see the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that sparked the LGBTQ+ movement.
As you walk through Greenwich Village, you’ll see remnants of its bohemian vibe and gay rights history, as well as some of the most beautiful areas of Manhattan, like New York University and Washington Square Park, one of the best parks in NYC.
Like the other free tours in New York, this one now charges a fee ($35/person).
- Highlights: Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park
- Meeting point: Waverly Place & 6th Avenue
- Duration: 2 hrs
- Description: This counterculture tour takes you through Greenwich Village, a historic bohemian neighborhood. Start at New York University and head to Washington Square Park, passing interesting sites along the way like Cherry Lane Theater, the Friends Apartment, and Stonewall Inn.
My experience with NYC’s free walking tours
Without a doubt, these free walking tours in NYC are one of the best free things to do in New York City. For five years, we lived just two hours from the Big Apple, so we’ve visited this place lots of times and have done several of these tours.
On our first visit, we did the basic tour to get an introduction to the city. We loved it so much that we decided to book another free New York tour, this time in Spanish, through Midtown Manhattan. At that time, there were more free walking tours in NYC, but most of them cost money now. That said, the price is about the same amount we’d leave as a tip, so we didn’t mind the added fee.
When COVID-19 allowed us to safely travel again, we took a tour through Chinatown and Little Italy, like this one, and the Central Park tour, both of which charge a minimal fee now. Despite having walked through Central Park plenty of times, we discovered so much about this landmark thanks to our guide, Sarah. We wouldn’t have gotten that experience without her, so we loved it!
Also, the cost of these tours ends up being more or less the same whether you pay when making the reservation online, or at the end of the tour as a tip, so either way, they’re totally worth it.
What should you tip for a free walking tour of NYC?
Even when there were more free tours in New York, it was still expected that you would leave a tip for the guide at the end. These knowledgeable tour guides work hard and do their best to provide an awesome experience (and they do!) so they deserve to be compensated.
We recommend tipping at least $20 per person, although we liked our tours so much that we ended up paying $30 ($60 for we two) for two of the free NYC walking tours we did. The only one we didn’t leave a tip for was the one in Central Park since we had already paid when making the reservation. However, some people in our group did leave a tip at the end of the tour because our guide, Sarah, did a phenomenal job. Honestly, if we had had some spare change at the time, we would’ve tipped, too.
For other paid tours that we’ve done, we’ve left $10 tips. So, even though some tours are advertised as free NYC tours, many guides rely on the tips, so I recommend giving an amount that works for you and that fairly compensates the guide for their hard work.
I hope this article helped you find a great tour, and that you enjoy the Big Apple as much as we do. If you’re going to spend several days here, I suggest reading our guide on the best tours in New York City so you can get a closer look at some of the top attractions.
If you have any questions or you’d like to share your experience with one of NYC’s free walking tours, leave me a comment below. Until then, have a great time in the city that never sleeps!