Tips for Free Walking Tours in New York

By Kathy Adams

Even if the tour is free, bring money for tips and stops along the way

Tips for Free Walking Tours in New York

A free walking tour offers one of the best and potentially most enjoyable ways to explore parts of the Big Apple. Besides seeing the sites up close and personal, you'll learn a little history, hear stories of the famous and infamous and get an insider's view or a taste of a top destination. Though the tour guide will mention noteworthy details along the way, prepare yourself for the excursion by reading up on the actual tour and the weather forecast in advance.

Even a "free" walking tour isn't completely free

Tour guides should be tipped for their time. Free Walking Tours by Foot recommends a tip of $5 per person in your group if you've enjoyed the tour, but the actual tip amount is up to the individual. Stops encountered along the walking tour may also optionally cost money, such as a purchase from a street vendor in Chinatown or a stop at a historic pub. If unsure whether one of the stops includes ample time for a food or drink purchase, contact the tour company in advance.

Reservations are most likely required

Even though the tour is free, a limited number of openings are available for many walking tours. Check the information page about the chosen tour to determine the reservation requirements. If bringing a child in a stroller, include the child in the reservation so the tour guide gets an accurate head count for the outing.

Arrive on time really means arrive early

Other guests and the tour guide expect to leave at the designated time, as destinations along the route expect the tour group at a specific time. The tour guides might also have other tours to run later in the day. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to ensure your spot and to hear any important updates from your guide before the tour. If you show up when it's time to leave, your spot might have been offered to passersby interested in the tour.

Wear comfortable shoes

Even if a one-mile tour seems like a short distance, you might be on your feet for two or three hours. Heels or other fashionable footwear that look better than they feel are best left for another occasion.

Consider if you can bring a stroller or wheelchair

Although walking tours welcome strollers and wheelchairs, accessibility may be limited at some destinations due to stairs. Read the specifics for your chosen tour in advance to determine whether the tour is appropriate for those not traveling on foot. If uncertain, contact the tour company before making a reservation. The company can recommend a better tour option, if necessary. Likewise, maneuvering a stroller in a busy tourist area such as Times Square can be a bit difficult, so it's best to ask as many questions as possible of your tour operator before the day of the tour.

Other things to note before the tour

In many cases, a walking tour goes on even if the weather is less than ideal. Check the forecast ahead of time and dress accordingly, wearing rain gear, a winter coat or whatever allows you the most comfort on the journey. Tours can be canceled during severe or extreme weather; contact the tour company if the weather seems questionable before you head out.

Dress in layers during cool or cold weather. Even if the weather requires your warmest coat, indoor stops on the tour will be warm. Easy-to-manage layers can make the tour experience much more enjoyable. New York weather can be in the single digits or teens during cold winter days, along with wind chill to make the air feel as if it's below zero. When the weather hovers near freezing and there's precipitation in the forecast, moisture on the pavement can freeze and cause black ice, which is slippery and dangerous. In summer months, temperatures can reach into the upper 80s or even the 90s with humidity to match, so consider your comfort level before venturing out during the extremes.

Pets are generally not allowed on walking tours unless the tour page states otherwise. Even if Fifi is the friendliest dog ever, other guests on the tour might not feel comfortable around her.

About the Author

Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.