Manhattan is an island of skyscrapers, monuments, squares, shops, 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 neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village or Wall Street, as well as the streets that make Manhattan famous such as Fifth Avenue.
In my opinion, the price may seem a bit steep for a bus tour, but when you put everything on a balance you can consider this tour as a way to see all of Manhattan accompanied by an expert guide and then explore the areas that have caught your attention in depth on your own, but knowing all the details and historical context of the neighbourhoods you 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. 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, as you won't run into other tourists outside 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 change the way you enjoy the Big Apple.
Recommended if... you're only going to be in New York for a few days, if you're travelling with children and they soon get tired of walking, or if you enjoy visiting a city from the comfort of your seat. All in all, this is a tour that I recommend as an introduction to Manhattan to familiarise 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 tour. That way, you'll have a very smooth day of sightseeing with the convenience of saving most of the transportation.
- Don't worry too much about taking photos on this activity as you won't get a very good angle from the bus anyway. The point of the tour is to visit Manhattan in comfort and with a guide, so that when you're exploring the Big Apple on your own you'll know your way around 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 the inside and take pictures of the interior as it is truly impressive.
Columbus Circle stop
A beautiful square at the intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, Central Park South and Eighth Avenue, dedicated to Christopher Columbus (whose statue stands on a pedestal overlooking the rest of the square). The contrast between the plaza's fountain, the edge of Central Park and the towering skyscrapers make this a typically New York landscape.
Stop at Lincoln Center
Another classic Big Apple landmark, a group of buildings dedicated to the performing arts including opera houses, theatres 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 wander around 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 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 gathered to pay homage to one of the greatest 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 while you're visiting key places in Beatles history, you can stop by the area of Central Park renamed Strawberry Fields after John Lennon's death and where you'll find the famous Imagine mosaic in honour of the musician.
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's an architectural gem tucked away in the vastness of the glass jungle that is New York.
Stop at Columbia University
You'll pass through the campus of Columbia University, part of the prestigious American Ivy League and one of the best teaching institutions in the world. The elegant architectural style of its campus is in line with its reputation as an organisation, offering pleasantly symmetrical views.
Stop in Harlem
You'll see Harlem's main neighbourhoods and landmark buildings, such as the Apollo Theatre and the Cotton Club, as you wander the history-filled streets, learning about the mecca of African-American culture and one of the most interesting places in Manhattan.
Stop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour you'll 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
Millionaires' Avenue is the epitome of New York City's economic power, with luxury flats on every corner and lined with old mansions. It is also home to the city's most exclusive shops as well as several of the city's major museums.
Stop at Rockefeller Center
Also known as Rockefeller Plaza, it is made up of several buildings, the most famous of which is the Comcast Building, which houses the Top of the Rock observatory. Whether you climb to the Top of the Rock or not, Rockefeller Plaza will be a must-see if you're in New York at Christmas time for its famous tree and ice-skating rink. The city wouldn't 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 behold, and it has an interesting history dating back to the time of the American Civil War.
Stop at the Flatiron Building
No words are needed to describe what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest 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 working class and artists' neighbourhood in the 1960s and 1970s to an area for yuppies and the wealthy. Time and gentrification, known as the 'SoHo effect', has turned the neighbourhood into an area of art galleries and restaurants that, let's be honest, is a tourist's delight.
Located on the west side of Manhattan, Greenwich Village is the quintessential New York hipster neighbourhood in which a multitude of series and movies set in New York are set. For example, the Village is home to the 'Friends' flat.
Stop at Washington Square
If you've seen 'Girls', you'll be familiar with the triumphal arch in this pleasant square, which is one of the main meeting points for locals in southern Manhattan. You'll find a number of monuments and statues here, including one dedicated to Italian unification architect 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 neighbourhood known as Little Italy, which is 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'll travel to China, or at least a little piece of it in one of New York's most famous neighbourhoods, Chinatown. Mainly a neighbourhood of Chinese shops, where you'll see sign after sign in the language of the Asian giant and you'll find a multitude of products of all kinds. Here's an article explaining the best things to see and do in Chinatown.
In fact, the majority of New York's restaurants are in Chinatown, where you'll also find establishments offering true 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 is a good representation of a city whose wealth is largely generated by a single building: the New York Stock Exchange, which you'll instantly recognise by its large American flag hanging over 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'll 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 extends the itinerary to the whole city: you'll see Manhattan, Harlem, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, with the difference that you'll get off at their featured neighbourhoods to explore the area.
Your guide will accompany you throughout and, similar to the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour, this is a perfect experience to do on arrival in New York, as you'll get a taste of each borough of the city so you can pick 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 above, I recommend you climb one of its legendary buildings, such as the Empire State Building, to enjoy the skyline from above. I'll link you here to my practical guide so that you can find out all the details about Climbing the Empire State Building. If you're thinking of treating yourself to the best experience you can have in Manhattan, I recommend you the New York Helicopter Tours: Tickets and Prices.
Frequently asked questions
Is the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour worthwhile?
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 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 there, you'll find it easier to explore Manhattan at your own pace.
Which is better: the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour or the Contrasts Tour?
Both tours are complementary: on the Upper and Lower Manhattan tour, you'll tour the island of Manhattan and all its nooks and crannies. The Contrasts tour, on the other hand, takes you to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Williamsburg, essential districts that you should also visit during your trip to New York.