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FREE Private Tours of New York City with Big Apple Greeter: A Review

FREE Private Tours of New York City with Big Apple Greeter: A Review

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Are you heading to New York City on a budget? Keep scrolling to find out how to sign up for free private tours of New York City with Big Apple Greeter.
This post about Big Apple Greeter New York was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

No trip to NYC is complete without a visit to landmarks like Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. One of the best ways to experience a new city is with a warm and welcoming local guide.

On our recent New York City vacation, we booked a customized tour with Big Apple Greeter and had a blast! They offer a variety of FREE private tours of New York City. What’s better than that?

Want all the details? Below I’ll give you my personal experience of a private tour with Big Apple Greeter and tell you how to book your own tour in 4 easy steps.

Read My Review of a Free Private Tour in NYC

Last year, my family had the opportunity to visit Paris, France. One of the highlights of our trip was walking around a Parisian suburb with a local guide as part of a Paris Greeters walking tour.

So, when I started planning our last trip to New York City, I was thrilled to discover Big Apple Greeter! It’s the same organization and they offer free private tours of New York City.

The organization is made up of volunteer “ambassadors” who are eager to share what it’s really like to live in their city! It’s a memorable way to have an authentic experience and also see famous landmarks.

After reading reviews for Big Apple Greeter tours, I was even more excited about this unique program!

What is Big Apple Greeter?

Big Apple Greeter is a not-for-profit organization that matches worldwide visitors with friendly New Yorkers who are happy to share the city they love. They run free, private tours of New York City with options in all 5 boroughs.

Once you have secured your NYC accommodations, you can fill out their application. Then, you have to wait for them to match you up with a greeter who is available during your dates.

A tour guide with Big Apple Greeter offering free private tours of Brooklyn and New York City
Big Apple Greeter is a volunteer organization of people who are passionate about sharing their city with visitors from around the world. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

What Happens Before Your Walk?

We found out the date and time of our tour about 2 months before our trip. Unfortunately, we had already booked a Real New York Tour during that time frame.

Instead of forfeiting our tour, Big Apple Greeter was able to work with us. They contacted another tour guide to see if he’d be available.

I’m so happy they were able to find our new tour guide, Jeff! And I was impressed that Jeff started emailing with me about a month before our trip.

I sent Jeff our 4-day itinerary and we decided to tour Brooklyn, since my family would already be there for a photo shoot.

It’s also a place my husband and I really wanted to explore. And I liked that Jeff was really flexible about where to meet us and what we’d like to see.

You might be interested in a custom tour of Greenwich Village or lower Manhattan. And private guides are super when you want to see big sites like Grand Central Terminal and Central Park.

The Big Apple Greeter website has a great page on NYC neighborhoods, and your guide can give you guidance based on what you’re interested in.

The night before our walk, we exchanged numbers. This was helpful because we were able to call the next morning to find each other at the meeting spot on Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Our Private Tour of Brooklyn

Jeff called us right as we were wrapping up our Flytographer photo shoot around DUMBO, a trendy area in downtown Brooklyn.

We had spent the previous hour racing around DUMBO for iconic photos. It gave us a sense of what makes the neighborhood so popular!

So, when we met up with Jeff, we shared what we had learned about the area and asked him to fill in any blanks.


We met Jeff near Jane’s Carousel by the water in Brooklyn Bridge Park. He told us of the history of DUMBO and about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The way he told the stories gave us the feeling that he was genuinely excited to talk about his city! That made us more eager to start our private tour and learn more.

Photo of DUMBO in Brooklyn before our free NYC walking tour with Big Apple Greeter
We spent some time watching the boats go under the bridges before our free Brooklyn walking tour. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Next, we got up to explore Brooklyn. We wanted to have lunch at The Osprey. It’s supposed to have a stunning view of downtown Manhattan from the rooftop bar!

However, cameras weren’t allowed. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue and we’d do it for the experience.

But, we only had about 3.5 hours to see Brooklyn and we really wanted to get some nice photos! So, Jeff recommended another spot.

That’s what’s great about a private tour with Big Apple Greeter! You and your guide can make changes on the fly.

Trying New York City Pizza

Our tour started at 11:30 AM, so Jeff and I had previously emailed about including lunch on our tour. Near the Brooklyn Bridge, we had our first taste of real New York pizza at Juliana’s Pizza.

Jeff told us that it used to be a popular pizzeria called Grimaldi’s and had been around for over a century! The owner retired, but then they came out of retirement and moved to a new location to open up Juliana’s Pizza.

Photo of Juliana's pizza in Brooklyn, NYC, one of the most famous pizza spots in New York City
This picture makes me smile every time! Photo credit: Jeff Riback | Big Apple Greeter

There was a line out front, but we were seated after just a few minutes. We ordered a small margherita pizza, which was much larger than we expected!

I’d never had New York pizza before and appreciated the simple flavors. Jeff showed us how to fold our pizza and it was definitely the way to avoid dropping toppings.

And it was just the right amount of food to energize us for the rest of our tour!

Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade

After a delicious meal, we headed to Brooklyn Heights via the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Jeff kept insisting that we needed to walk the promenade for the panoramic view.

Holy moly! The Brooklyn Promenade is a great spot to see the NYC skyline! We were able to see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

There were tons of benches lining the promenade so residents and tourists could sit and just marvel at this incredible city.

Photo on the Brooklyn Promenade in Brooklyn Heights during a free walking tour through Big Apple Greeter
Jeff took our photo on the Brooklyn Promenade during our private walking tour of NYC. Photo credit: Jeff Riback | Big Apple Greeter

We walked along the Promenade and then up to the gorgeous neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. While we walked, Jeff shared fascinating information about the area.

He pointed out historical homes, brownstone rowhouses, and Plymouth Church. It was lovely to walk the tree-lined streets and see neighborhood playgrounds.

This is the part of the tour where my husband and I truly fell in love with Brooklyn!

Photo of carriage houses in Brooklyn Heights as seen on a free walking tour of New York City
These are historic carriage houses that we came across on our private walking tour of Brooklyn. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Brooklyn Heights had the artsy vibe of NYC, but with a more suburban feel. We even saw kids from a local private school (adorably) protesting in the streets while others performed songs for their parents!

I think if we had explored Brooklyn on our own, we wouldn’t have known to venture into the residential area. I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on the core of Brooklyn Heights.

My Thoughts on Our Private Tour with Big Apple Greeter

Time flew by and soon Jeff told us we needed to wrap up. He knew we needed to get back to our hotel before heading out for the Late Show with Seth Meyers taping.

He was kind enough to be in charge of the time. This allowed us to be present and enjoy our tour instead of checking our phones constantly for the time!

Photo of our NYC tour guide on our Big Apple Greeter free walking tour of New York City
Jeff even took the subway with us after our tour! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Not only that, but he was kind enough to walk with us to the correct subway station and rode the train with us until our stop.

I quickly asked my husband to take a photo of us when I realized that our tour was over and we might not see Jeff again! It was quite bittersweet.

7 Perks of Booking with Big Apple Greeter

Photo of our New York City private walking tour of Brooklyn with Big Apple Greeter | new york greeters
Our guide taught us so much about Brooklyn history as we did our NYC walking tour. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung
  1. It’s Completely Free

    I cannot stress this enough. The costs of New York City attractions add up quickly. Big Apple Greeter is a great way to enjoy an in-depth private walking tour no matter your financial situation.But, since they’re a volunteer-run organization, donations to the organization are appreciated. This allows them to continue offering these amazing services.

  2. You Get a Private Tour of NYC

    I know there are several free walking tours of NYC, but this is the first free private tour I’ve found. I mean, you get a personal New York City tour guide. And it’s FREE. Crazy!

  3. It’s Customizes the Tour to You

    Since this is a private tour, you can customize the tour to fit your interests. You can pick the New York City neighborhood and let your guide know what you’d like to see.Maybe you want to see as much street art or historic architecture. Or maybe you want to know where true New Yorkers like to eat.Most tours last 2-4 hours. We only had about 4 hours, including lunch, and it felt a bit short. I think 6-8 hours would have been optimal.

  4. You Can Maximize Your Time

    Because it’s private and customized, you won’t waste your time seeing things you aren’t interested in. When you have a limited time in New York City, this is crucial!Plus, you’ll be with a New York City local. That means you won’t waste time getting lost or trying to figure out how to get to your next stop.And your greeter will take care of planning your NYC itinerary, so you can relax and go with the flow.

  5. You’ll Get Great Recommendations from a Local

    An extra perk of the Big Apple Greeter tour is that your guide really wants to help you.You can ask recommendations of other places to visit, which NYC tourist attractions to skip, or where to find a good steak. Our guide told us about Benjamin’s Steak House in Midtown Manhattan.I felt like we got solid advice from someone who didn’t want us to waste our time (or money) on things!Jeff even sent us a follow-up emails with Broadway shows his wife recommended and additional dining options for us.It’s touches like that that really set Big Apple Greeter apart from other tours.

  6. It’s Like Exploring NYC with a Friend

    What my husband and I appreciated most about our New York City private tour is that it felt like we were walking around with a friend.From enjoying lunch at the pizzeria to riding the subway together, it just felt like we were 3 people having fun together.I also felt this about our Paris Greeter tour, so I’m hoping it’s a universal trait! We even got to know a bit about Jeff and his family.Later, we appreciated having a contact in NYC. We knew if we had a quick question, we could call Jeff and he’d help us. We didn’t need to do that, but it was comforting to know we had a real person we could go to in the city.

  7. You Get Great Photos

    When you are traveling solo, it’s hard to get photos of yourself (besides selfies). And when you are traveling with a partner, it’s tricky to get photos of both of you!With Big Apple Greeter, you automatically have someone who you can hand your camera to and ask them to take a photo. It might not sound like a lot, but we don’t typically hand our cameras to strangers.And we lucked out because our guide brought his own camera. Later that evening he emailed us the photos he took!

Are You visiting NYC for the first time? Read my 4-day New York City itinerary with tips for new visitors!

How to Sign Up for a Big Apple Greeter Tour

You need to apply at least 3-4 weeks before your trip. And not everyone who applies for private tours of New York City with Big Apple Greeter will get one. Our guide Jeff told us they’re only able to provide tours to about 2/3 of guests.

Photo of a private walking tour of New York City with Big Apple Greeter, free tour in Brooklyn
Our guide helps my husband figure out how to get back to our hotel. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung
  1. Book Your Hotel

    Your first step is to secure accommodations. You must be staying at least 2 nights in one of NYC’s 5 boroughs. It’s a requirement to apply for the Big Apple Greeter free private tours of New York City program. And you have to be able to state exactly where you’ll be staying in New York City.

  2. Pick a Neighborhood for Your Tour

    In the application, you’ll need to state which areas of NYC you’d like to tour. Think about what you want to get out of this tour.Are you wanting to see all the top attractions in Manhattan? Would you like an in-depth tour of Little Italy? Or would you prefer something off the beaten path?I suggest learning a bit about the different boroughs by searching online or reading their Neighborhood Profiles.

  3. Fill Out the Form

    Next, fill out this online application. They’ll ask you to choose your top 3 walking tour dates/times. Try to do it your first full day in New York City to really get the most out of it.

  4. Wait for A Reply

    This is the hardest part. If you’re a planner, like me, try not to schedule anything for the dates/times you listed on the application.At some point, you’ll hear back whether a greeter is available for your stay. Until you get the name and phone number of the greeter, it is not confirmed.

Book A Free Custom New York Tour with Big Apple Greeter

I especially recommend looking into private tours of New York City with Big Apple Greeter if you’re a first-time visitor to the city. It’s also great if you’re looking for something different than regular guided tours.

Our Big Apple Greeter tour of Brooklyn was definitely a highlight of our trip to New York City!

Love this post about Big Apple Greeter NYC tour? Check out my NYC 4 Day Itinerary, Real New York Tour review, best NYC day trips, Museum Hack tour of The Met, kid-friendly NYC itinerary, New York City travel tips, NYC tours for families and how to get free tickets to Late Night with Seth Meyers!

Find out about this free NYC tour of Brooklyn and how to get your own free walking tour of New York City
Get private tours of New York City through Big Apple Greeter, which offers free NYC walking tours all over the city #bigapplegreeter #tourofnyc #freetourofnyc #tourofnewyorkcity #newyorkcityattractions #nycattractions #nycactvities
Big Apple Greeter is a volunteer organization that offers free private tours of New York City

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Karen Beddow

Friday 1st of March 2019

Thanks so much for this I've just applied to do one


Monday 4th of March 2019

Oh I'm so excited for you! It's such a cool opportunity!


Friday 15th of June 2018

NYC is my dream destination and you definitely had an exceptional tour, Marcie. Your pictures whetted my appetite, especially seeing what a blast you had there. How many days would you recommend staying in NYC to see all the highlights?


Friday 15th of June 2018

Gosh, I think it would take years to see all the highlights! We were there for 5 nights/4 days and we would have loved to have 1 more day. But, we're planning another visit in the next year or two. If you want to try to do one big NYC trip, I'd aim for a full week. That way you can catch a few shows, do a few tours, explore on your own, and have some down time.


Thursday 14th of June 2018

This looks like the greatest time! I’m going to try a walking tour next time I'm in a big city! How cool you got to go to NYC!



Thursday 14th of June 2018

It was our first time to NYC and I definitely see what all the hype is about!


Wednesday 13th of June 2018

I had no idea that did free tours. Going to remember this the next time I visit


Wednesday 13th of June 2018

Yes! They are a donation-based volunteer program and it's amazing!


Wednesday 13th of June 2018

Wait this is such a great idea! I'll have to do this next time I'm in NYC


Wednesday 13th of June 2018

They do them in all the boroughs!

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