Where to begin in New York City? The metropolis with an outsized reputation offers an equally immense array of pleasures, even the tiniest portion of which is too lengthy to mention here. Who better to turn to for advice, then, than the man behind one of the Big Apple’s best tour companies? We asked Seth Kamil, the president and founder of Big Onion Walking Tours, to list his 10 favourite spots in the city.
The Brooklyn Bridge
In a city packed with iconic structures, Kamil picks the 132-year-old bridge as his one “must-do for all locals and visitors.” You can opt for Big Onion’s Brooklyn Bridge and Heights tour, which begins in Manhattan, or cross the span yourself and then stroll along Brooklyn Heights Promenade or Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
This triumphal arch at the entrance to Prospect Park commemorates the Union Army of the Civil War. Kamil calls the park itself the “lesser-known masterpiece” of Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the team that designed Central Park. The arch is discussed during Big Onion’s Prospect Park tour and Park Slope tour.
The Staten Island Ferry
“Most people are unaware that New York has more coastline than almost any other city in the world,” says Kamil, who suggests hopping on this free ferry for great views of the city from the harbour.
The High Line
Once an elevated section of freight railroad that carried goods to and from Manhattan, the High Line was transformed into a public park in 2009, when its first section opened. Today, its three sections total 2.3 kilometres and offer a great perspective of New York’s west side, says Kamil. Weather permitting, the park is included on Big Onion’s Chelsea and the High Line tour.
Grand Central Terminal
“It’s just spectacular,” says Kamil of what is arguably the most famous train station in the world. “The recent restoration is magnificent, and the station is an architectural treasure inside and out.” Kamil says the Municipal Art Society’s free daily tour of the terminal is “well worth attending.”
Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center
The 360-degree view from the observation deck at the top of the 70-storey Rockefeller Center has what Kamil believes is the best view of the city. “It’s not too tall and is well located,” he says, citing the center’s midtown Manhattan location.
The Long Island City waterfront
Kamil’s company doesn’t offer a tour here (at least not yet), but he says this post-industrial neighbourhood in Queens (across the East River from Manhattan) is booming culturally and economically, and is just starting to appear on tourists’ radar.
Striver’s Row and Astor Houses
Head to Harlem on your own or with Big Onion’s Historic Harlem tour to see these famed row houses, both sets of which have been designated as New York City landmarks for their late-19th-century architecture.
The Harlem estate of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the United States, was completed in 1802 and is an early reminder of rural Manhattan, says Kamil. There’s no Big Onion tour here yet, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the home or wandering through Hamilton Heights, the neighbourhood in which it sits and that Kamil calls “architecturally splendid.”
The Union Square Greenmarket
Kamil calls this one of the best farmers’ markets in the United States, and you can see why. Open four days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), it’s packed with vendors selling a bewildering array of products, including shrimp, ostrich eggs, apple cider, organic veggies, sheep’s milk cheese, grass-fed beef, flowers… the list goes on and on. Big Onion’s Gramercy Park and Union Square tour visits the market, but the company also teams up with the Union Square Partnership to conduct the free 90-minute Union Square: Crossroads of New York tour every Saturday at 2 p.m.