New York Contrasts Tour
The New York Contrasts tour has become one of the most popular activities in the city: here's what you'll see and why it's worth it.
The famous New York Constrasts tour takes you to discover the five great boroughs of New York: Manhattan, Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. By taking this Tour of Contrasts, you'll also be avoiding the number one mistake many people make when traveling to New York: not leaving Manhattan. Want to know what awaits you past Central Park? Read on!
1. Route and duration of the New York Constrasts tour
The New York Constrasts tour: will take you, in its nearly 5 hours of duration, around New York in a minivan discovering every corner of its most iconic neighborhoods.
There are hundreds of tours with a similar route but it is important to know that this one is the true original. What makes the New York Contrasts tour stand over others is the professionalism of their local guides, which in the end is what makes a tour a much more interesting experience compared to doing it on your own.
Also, it's a bit cheaper than the average of other tours of the style and, considering everything you'll see in 5 hours, it's a very worthwhile way to explore the city.
Get to know the city while saving time
If there is one thing that can convince you to do this tour is that in one morning you can visit very diverse parts of New York that would take you a day or two if you were to go on your own. Keep in mind that, later during your trip, you can revisit the main areas of each borough on your own after taking the Contrasts Tour. This way, you will discover the true essence of each district.
In fact, I recommend that you do this tour as early as possible in your visit to New York, as it will give you a taste of the diversity that the Big Apple is proud of. Later on, go back to the places that caught your attention the most and explore them in detail. Here is everything you will see on the tour.
You'll stroll through its streets as your guide tells you the story about Harlem's iconic brownstones and the illustrious people who have stayed there. You will also see the illustrious Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club, two institutions of New York jazz music that were key to Harlem's cultural development in the 1920s.
Should you take the Contrasts Tour: on a Wednesday or Sunday, you will see Harlem in all its glory as religious congregations will be holding gospel masses and is it possible to attend one of them as you explore the neighborhood. In fact, there is also a Harlem tour that allows you exclusive entrance to a gospel mass, and you can read more about it here: Gospel Mass and Harlem Tours.
In any case, Harlem is a district that is well worth an individual visit, so I'm sure you will want to go back and explore it in depth after the tour.
3. Yankee Stadium
You will visit the iconic Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees baseball team. Here, you will have the opportunity to have your picture taken. Although the tour does not include the entrance to the stadium, you will be able to see the exterior of the stadiums of both rival baseball teams of New York, the Yankees and the Mets.
Of course, if you are a die-hard fan of either team, I recommend that you return to your favorite team's stadium once you have finished the Contrasts Tour. What's more, if you love baseball, you're sure to already have your ticket for a game of one of the two New York teams!
At this stop, you'll take a tour of iconic Bronx locations, including movie shooting locations and New York's most famous street art. On your tour, you'll see hip hop culture on every corner, and you'll understand why the Bronx is the mecca of this movement in the same way that Harlem is the mecca of jazz.
In fact, you'll visit an entire outdoor art gallery known as the Graffiti Universe. Street art is an indivisible part of hip hop culture along with music, rap, and dancing, so this visit will put you right in front of the history of the Bronx and its art movement.
You'll visit New York's largest borough, known for its multiculturalism and for being one of the most important business areas of the city. You will visit the Mets stadium, the Yankees' rival stadium, the stadium where the US Open tennis tournament is held, and the globe from 'Men In Black' in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Among other points of interest, you will also explore the Little India neighborhood.
You will also visit the Malba neighborhood, one of the wealthiest in New York. If you keep your eyes open, you will appreciate the vast difference between this neighborhood and the rest of Queens, which makes the district an amalgam of contrasts in itself. By the way, don't miss the Queens Museum and its giant model of New York! It won't take you too much time to visit and is truly impressive.
Brooklyn is undoubtedly the borough with the strongest identity in New York, with its red brick houses lined with trees on each side of the street and the very famous Instagrammer hot spot overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. To top it all off, the food in Brooklyn is spectacular (especially if you love pizza) and every store and bar has an industrial warehouse vibe that is simply irresistible.
Now that I'm done making it clear that Brooklyn is my favorite borough in New York, I can continue to tell you about this stop on the Contrasts Tour, where you can explore the Jewish quarter of Williamsburg, the industrial charm of DUMBO under the Brooklyn Bridge, and discover the tastes and smells of Chinatown and Little Italy.
7. Useful tour information
The Contrasts Tour: takes place by minivan or air-conditioned bus so that, in the 5 hours of the tour, you can visit New York in style.
Best day of the week to do this tour
Groups for this tour are maximum 50 people. This means that if you want to avoid the big crowds, it is best to go on a weekday, especially on a Tuesday or Thursday. Weekends tend to be the most popular days, but paradoxically, Saturdays are the day of religious rest for Jews so a visit to Williamsburg tends to be a bit quieter, as you won't see any stores or as much activity on the street. Therefore, if you have to choose one of the two days of the weekend, I recommend you to go on Sunday.
Pick up at your hotel
This tour will pick you up at several different hotels in New York, so if you are lucky enough to be staying at one of them, all you have to do is go downstairs and wait to be picked up. Otherwise, you can simply go to one of the hotels listed at the departure time to begin your tour.
Choose where to end the tour
One important thing is that you can choose between two places in Brooklyn to end your Contrasts Tour: under the Brooklyn Bridge, in the neighborhood of DUMBO, or in Chinatown. My recommendation is to end in DUMBO instead of crossing the bridge back to Manhattan, read on and a little further down I'll tell you the best plans to do after your tour!
The tour on your own
As you'd imagine, you'll be doing quite a bit of walking on this tour but I'd say it's suitable for just about anyone. Part of the tour will be done by transportation, to travel between the different districts you will visit. Remember that you always have the option to go on your own to the sites and monuments by buying a tourist pass or by hopping on the iconic tourist red bus that runs around the city.
Note down the neighborhood you like the most during your visit to come back and explore it in more detail after the tour.
8. Plan for the Contrasts Tour
The Contrasts Tour usually starts early every morning (around 8am) to make the most of the day before lunchtime, so you will have to get up a little early but it will be a perfect way to squeeze every last drop out of your trip to New York.
The duration of the tour will be between 4 and 5 hours, so you can expect to spend about an hour in each district. Is this enough to get to know in detail all the neighborhoods you are going to see? No, but as you know, this activity is like a trailer to the big motion picture that is New York.
The Contrasts Tour does not include food, but luckily your itinerary ends in Brooklyn where you'll find the best pizza in New York. If you weren't planning to leave the city without trying the classic New York slice, this is the place to sample all the goodness of the Big Apple's Italian heritage. To give you some references, here are some restaurants where you can enjoy a well-deserved meal after a morning of sightseeing.
Whatever they tell you, these are the top places in Brooklyn:
- Speedy Romeo - this car repair shop-turned-pizzeria named after a car from 'Grand Theft Auto' is a culinary homage to traditional Italian pizza, with a thin crust and cooked in a wood-fired oven - don't miss it!
- Vinnie's Pizzeria - here you'll find the typical $1 New York slice in a place that doesn't want to impress anyone. The surprise is in the pizza and its taste, which you can enjoy to go: a good idea if you do the Contrasts Tour on the weekend since it will save you the hassle of finding a table in a restaurant.
- Totonno's - a pizzeria famous throughout New York, whose signature dish is a simple but delicious Margherita. Being so popular, you may have some difficulty finding a table, so I recommend this option if you do the Contrasts Tour during the week.
9. Practical information about the Tour of Contrasts
Since the Contrasts Tour ends in Brooklyn, I advise you to spend the afternoon exploring some of its main neighborhoods. My recommendation would be to take a stroll through DUMBO and Chinatown to get to know them thoroughly and end the day as a local would: sipping a drink al fresco at the Brooklyn Barge in Greenpoint, or sampling craft beers at Dekalb Market if it's cold.
On your visit to Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Jewish Quarter, you will see many Jewish people wearing their typical attire which will probably surprise you. Be careful when taking pictures as they may feel uncomfortable if you get them in your picture.
Don't be afraid to go to the Bronx, as much of the tour will be done in your vehicle and the places you will stop are perfectly safe. Although there are still troubled neighborhoods in this area, you will only see the touristy stuff so you have nothing to worry about. That said, another added advantage of the Contrasts Tour is that you will be able to visit the Bronx with peace of mind, as going on your own can be a bit risky.
So much for my guide to the Tour of Contrasts. Now all that's left for you to do is to go out and discover the whole of New York. Enjoy!
10. Other interesting experiences in New York City
If you have already satisfied your hunger for travel in the Big Apple and you want to complete your trip to New York with some of the organized day trips that can be done in one day, I recommend you to check out my practical guide on Day Trips from New York, where you will find a list of my top choices.
Just a little spoiler: you will find why Niagara Falls and the Washington DC excursion are among my favorites.