If you saw my NYC video I posted the other week, you’ll know I had a great time exploring the Big Apple in the midst of the Holiday season. What I’d like to talk more about today is how I got about this amazing city.
I had been told by a few people that a bus tour was by far the best way to get around the city whilst actually seeing it and learning about it at the same time. I met the guys from Big Bus Tours at the World Travel Market in Excel in London a month before my trip and they offered me complimentary tickets. They were one of the companies we were considering so I couldn’t say no. Here’s how my experience with them went…
Review: NYC with Big Bus Tours
Big Bus Tours run three tours in New York: the Uptown Loop, the Downtown Loop and the Holiday Lights Tour. My aim was to experience all three of them during my four days in town and thanks to the hop-on-hop-off nature of the tours they weren’t too difficult to fit around my plans. We had multi-tour tickets although they also offer single day and multi day tickets for each loop. The street agents were great and exchanged our vouchers for tickets no problem – they really knew their stuff about where all the stops were too. There was also a Brooklyn Tour I didn’t have time to try out which leaves from near the Brooklyn Bridge.
Big Bur Tour NYC: Downtown Loop
Having spent my first full day at an NFL Jets game, I wanted to dedicate the next day to exploring Manhattan. The Downtown Loop was perfect for this. We strolled down to the Flatiron building and hopped on there. As you alight each bus there are free headphones to plug into the dock in front of each seat. For international visitors there is a recorded commentary available in various languages but we were able to make the most of listening live to our tour guide. We experienced several tour guides as we hopped on and off buses and I have to say their ability to inform, educate and make us laugh was consistently brilliant. I learnt for instance that NoLiTa stands for North of Little Italy, and that NoHo and SoHo stand for north and south of Houston respectively, and that Houston is pronounced Howston, and that SoHo used to be nothing like the celeb haven it is now, and that 5th Avenue divides Manhattan into east and west… Basically, I learnt heaps!
The new World Trade Centre building by Battery Park was shrouded in cloud but that didn’t dampen its impact; our guide’s knowledge of the impact of that dreadful day on the surrounding buildings was fascinating and I learnt so much. The Freedom Tower, as it is known, was deliberately built 1776 feet tall in a nod to the year of Independence. We hopped off and explored the moving 9/11 Memorial site, which was still a week or two away from opening when I last visited in 2011.
From there we strolled along the riverside past the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street to the Brooklyn Bridge and strolled onto the magnificent structure. We then hopped back on the Big Bus where we had alighted and took it up to the Highline at Chelsea, past the harbour where our guide pointed out a lesser known Titanic memorial and the area where Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky live surprisingly close to one another! We got off at stop 13 and walked along the Highline, formerly a railway line that was too expensive to knock down so was converted into a beautiful scenic walk.
It was super chilly so by the time we had walked around the new harbour section of the Highline we were ready for some food and warmth. We stumbled across a great place called Lucy’s Mexican and got some awesome burritos and Coronas. When we got back on at stop 14 our guide was a particularly informative and helpful lady called Diana who recommended a great cheesecake place called Junior’s on 45th at Times Square. Times Square is a ridiculous place, by the way. American Eagle was my fave store and we even saw someone propose there!
Big Bus Tour NYC: Holiday Lights Tour
Whilst waiting for the conditions at the Top of the Rock to clear, we took the Holiday Lights tour from the M&Ms store at Times Square past the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and fantastic window displays. Our guide was Brian, who was full of amazing stories about the history of New York and had an ability to make us chuckle even when we were stuck in traffic. We even went over the Manhattan Bridge on the Holiday Lights tour, which gave us a phenomenal view over to the Brooklyn Bridge.
From 13 feet up you spot a bit more than when on foot, or maybe that’s just because Brian was so good at pointing things out, from historical locations to celebrity dwellings. He told us how every food outlet in the city has a grade of hygiene, shown on a sign at the front. Once he made me aware of that I spotted them everywhere! It was so good getting a local’s perspective on things, like how none of the locals go anywhere near Times Square on New Year’s Eve because it’s such a crush, I never knew that!
It was drizzling and cold for our tour but there is the option to sit outside and get the best view or sit under cover at the front up top and stay warm. There are also free ponchos!
Big Bus Tour NYC: Uptown Loop
The next day we stayed on the Big Bus continuously for the whole Uptown Loop as we were in a hurry. We circumnavigated Central Park which I learnt hosts no less than seven bodies of water thanks to another great guide. I also learnt that buildings with four stories or less are known as ‘walk-ups’ as there is no elevator! We also saw some green cabs and were told that these are uptown cabs which can’t pickup in midtown, whereas yellow cabs can go anywhere. Apparently, believe it or not, it is illegal to honk in non-emergency situations in NYC!
We hopped off at the second to last stop at Central Park South so we could check out the Plaza Hotel from Home Alone 2 and do some shopping on 5th Avenue.
The Verdict: NYC with Big Bus Tours
I would highly recommend Big Bus Tours NYC. The tour guides are friendly and helpful and really know their stuff so you get a true local’s perspective and learn heaps, whilst having some laughs along the way.
All three tours I did were worth doing in their own right and the best bit is you can hop on and off as much as you like to fit the tour around your plans. With only a few days in the city, this was the perfect way to explore the Big Apple without being stuck on the subway all the time.
The only downside was that the tours can take longer than expected due to traffic, so allow extra time.
Need to Know
You can also get 1 and 3 day tickets
Free: Headphones, commentary, ponchos
Buses are hop-on-hop-off as many times as you like