My first trip the “The Big Apple” in 1976 was a scary event. Gunshots, sleaze, litter strewn streets and even policemen appeared to patrol in groups of 3. Even so there was a magnetic draw from the pinnacles of this skyscraper landscape, the constant noise of traffic, sirens and people. New York City feels alive, and in spite of its intimidation, I had the surreal feeling that I was an extra in a major movie.
Today New York City still breathes but the air is clearer, the streets are safer and, post 9-11, one could even say it feels warm and welcoming. One can walk from Central Park to Battery Park, almost 5 miles in a straight line, and feel totally safe.
A slightly longer, meandering stroll will take you through the composite, ethnic routes of this incredibly diverse city. The avenues dissect the streets like a knife through a cake as Japantown, Chinatown, Little Italy and the Irish Quarter mark neighbourhoods that were once deemed territorial boundaries. Think beyond the shop facades and try to imagine how it was in the early days when immigrants did what they could just to survive.
To appreciate the present one has to acknowledge the past and I am a great fan of walking tours in big cities. By all means take in the iconic, must-see, tourist sights but set some time aside to get beneath the surface and experience at least one New York neighbourhood. There are a wide range of companies who can enhance your time in the city. Some offer walking tours for groups whilst others will put together a bespoke tour where you have your own personal guide to show you “their city”.
Definitely take a look at www.bigonion.com. Here you will find the broadest selection of group walking tours including Gangs of New York, Central Park, Immigrant New York and the excellent “Original Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour”. Most of the “walk only” tours cost $20 per person – those which include food or admission fees are extra. Typical duration is 2 hours. Other in-depth walking tours are offered by www.walknyc.com operated by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic James and Michelle Nevius – one of whom personally escorts each tour. They offer group tours but I would recommend contacting them for a bespoke private tour that can be structured around your individual requirements. Cost guideline is approximately $100 for a 2 hour tour for up to 4 persons (i.e. $25 per person if there are 4 of you). Extra hours are pro rata.
Compared to the New York of 1976 the city of today is a stroll in the park!