Greeting New York City: A Personal Tour of the Big Apple

In April 2011, my (then very new) husband and I were lucky enough to visit New York City for the very first time.  The Big Apple was somewhere that both of us had wanted to visit for as long as we could remember, and what better time to take our first trip than on our honeymoon?!

When you mention to anyone that’s already been to New York that you’re going, you get a deluge of ideas for sightseeing, eating, viewing and enjoying.  While our friends and family all came up with various great suggestions, the one that stuck in our mind the most was applying for a Big Apple Greeter.  In Britain, this is a service which is unfortunately not so well known, which is a shame as it’s something completely different to the rest of the offerings available to tourists.  Friends of ours had used the service some years prior to our visit, and they couldn’t rate it highly enough.

So what are the Big Apple Greeters all about, I hear you ask?  As their website, www.bigapplegreeter.org, states, with a Big Apple Greeter you see New York through the eyes of a New Yorker.  A volunteer service since 1992, native New Yorker act as a tour guide of the city, showing visitors their neighbourhoods and giving them an insight into places they might not otherwise have found.  The tours are also ‘private’ in the sense that there is one guide per couple or small group that apply – no struggling to hear the tour guide above the rabble of a huge group!  Therefore, as our friends spoke so enthusiastically about the service, we decided to apply for a Greeter for our first trip to the city.

Unfortunately, the amount of Greeters is outstripped by the demand (which in itself shows how popular it is!).  We wouldn’t know if we’d received our Greeter until we got to our hotel, and so it was with much excitement that we read the fax waiting for us upon our arrival in our hotel’s reception.  We had our Greeter!

On the morning of the 19th April 2011 we met with our Greeter, Clyde, in our hotel lobby.  Most Greeter tours are scheduled for the first couple of days of your trip, and with good reason: it’s a good way to orientate oneself, and Clyde also showed us how to use the Subway system on our trip over to his native Brooklyn.  For this we were most grateful, as it gave us the confidence and understanding to use the Subway to get about town for the rest of our trip.

Clyde showed us around Brooklyn Heights, and explained the different types of houses in the neighbourhood.  We also took in the magnificent Manhattan skyline for the first time from the promenade, a sight truly to behold!  Unfortunately, the skies were overcast and there was a light drizzle in the air, but this didn’t dampen our spirits as Clyde steered us to an umbrella shop and we continued on with the tour!

Our first glimpse of the Manhatten skyline from Brooklyn, umbrellas in hand!

Our first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn, umbrellas in hand!

We saw some more of Brooklyn and also popped into a visitors’ centre before jumping back on the Subway to Manhattan.  Here we visited the trendy Meat Packing District and walked up to Washington Square Park, with delights such as the Magnolia Bakery, featured in Sex and the City, along the way.  As well as hearing the history of such sites first hand from a native New Yorker, it was really nice to exchange pleasantries and discuss the similarities and differences between the USA and UK with one of our friends from across the pond!

At the end of the tour, Clyde kindly pointed us in the right direction of a bus to take us to the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station; although we had always planned on visiting Grand Central Station, we may not have come across the New York Public Library and its grand interior without our Greeter’s help.  This was the end of our fantastic 3-hour tour – what a way to see parts of New York which are off the beaten track!

Sadly, as the Big Apple Greeters is a not for profit organisation, it relies on public donations.  At the end of our tour, we were more than happy to send a donation to the organisation, and we hope that other visitors to the Big Apple that are lucky enough to use their services are also in a position to help them out.  Anyone that is fortunate enough to receive a Big Apple Greeter can guarantee that they will have one of the most interesting tours they could wish for, and all for nothing.  I hope that the organisation will be able to provide Greeters to other visitors of the city for many years to come.

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