8 of Our Favorite New York Walking Tours and Apps
Once upon a time, the curious tourist or New York explorer would have to enlist a living, breathing tour guide to learn about the city as they walked. Now, all she needs is her smartphone and a pair of headphones. Check out some of our favorite New York walking tour apps and audio.
Detour and Soundwalk
After a year of getting its bearings in San Francisco and Austin, GPS-triggered audio tour app Detour expanded to a half-dozen cities throughout the world last month, including New York. Detour’s audio tours are either produced in-house or utilize already-existing recordings, though the team plans to eventually open its platform for user-created tours.
For now, you can purchase four New York Detours originally recorded by international audio tour collective Soundwalk, at $4.99 each: a lesson in hip-hop history as told by DJ Jazzy Jay while strolling through the South Bronx, a walk through Little Italy accompanied by the musings of one-time “Mayor of Elizabeth Street” Vinny Vella, and tours of Hasidic Williamsburg from both the male and female perspective. And though not all Soundwalk tours are available on Detour, you can download nearly a dozen others – ranging from Times Square to the Lower East Side – on Soundwalk’s website for a dollar a pop.
Who said tours have to be a passive experience? Stray Boots combines the learning experience of a tour with the all-ages fun of a scavenger hunt. Groups, which can be corporate, student, or simply a group of friends, are given tasks to complete around certain areas, gaining knowledge and earning points as they go. Though available internationally, Stray Boots offers a multitude of experiences in the NYC area, with everything from an East Village dessert tour to a Central Park dog-friendly tour.
Become the most cultured New Yorker on the sidewalk with Float City, a free iOS app that allows you to take a tour of overlooked art, history and architecture in the city. The Office of Visual Affairs’ founder Sascha Mombartz launched the app in October with a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it was recently accepted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Business Incubator. Labeling itself an “archive of stories,” the app offers geo-location tracking services, so you can uncover the hidden artifacts in your area. Users are given the option of exploring on their own, or the app can generate a walking path.
UrbanWonderer functions less like a rambling tour guide, and more like a friend who can rattle off some background about local spots on command; users are shown maps laden with various icons, which they can click to hear or read short summaries of a location’s relevance. Tours feature either specific neighborhoods – like the app’s Williamsburg audio tour, which features a handful of local shops, eateries, and entertainment venues – or themes, like the text-only Film NYC: Manhattan tour, which features famous movie locales throughout the borough.
Official Central Park App
Have you ever wanted to learn about the history of Sheep Meadow from Ferris Bueller or the Great Lawn from Jack Donaghy? Of course you have. The official Central Park app includes celebrity-recorded audio tours of the historic green, with names such as Scarlett Johansson, Neil Patrick Harris, Anne Hathaway and more offering their voices.
Sure, you know about the latest music hall and artesan coffee shop on Bedford – but how much do you actually know about the history and culture of Williamsburg’s south side? Southside Stories, an audio tour of the area, brings the neighborhood’s culture back to life, including real interviews of residents struggling to maintain their identity in a rapidly transforming community.
Why not learn about some free verse while you traverse the East Village? Passing Stranger, created by Danish writer and NYC transplant Pejk Malinovski, is a look into the romantic history of the East Village’s literary scene, guiding you to destinations like Allen Ginsberg’s former apartment and the bar where E.E. Cummings wrote. Featuring original music by lauded composer John Zorn, the audio tour conjures up scenes of decades ago, when writers converged on the East Village based on its cheap rent and open-minded culture.
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