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Interview With Manhattan Walking Tour Founder: 'I Am NYC. NYC Is Me.'
Want to feel like a “real” New Yorker? Then break out your best walking shoes and hit the street. But where should you go? And what should you do? That’s where a great walking tour guide comes in handy. And one of the best is Garry Zafrani, founder of Manhattan Walking Tour.
A native of Brooklyn, the 60-something Zafrani grew up in New York City and loves every inch of it. That’s why he decided to share his love of his hometown on foot. And that’s why he heads out on a daily basis with a small group of visitors to share the joy of discovering the many sights, sounds, tastes and complex history New York has to offer. CityPASS had a chance to visit with Garry, a man who can really talk the walk when it comes to the Big Apple.
Why should a visitor take a walking tour of New York City?
It is how you get to know a deeper history of New York City. On a bus you see a building and you might get a year and the architects name from the guide before he is on to something else. With a self-guided book about half the time your not even sure you are in the right place. But with a great walking tour guide you find out why Brownstones have so many steps, who lived on what floors, how much one costs in NYC today and what life was like then and now!
What can people expect to see on a walking tour that they might not see otherwise?
Manhattan Walking Tour specializes in finding the stuff not in the books; places where poems were written about the house you’re looking at. Wall Street has a lot of big buildings but somewhere in the middle are several streets that haven't changed much since the 1800s. You won't see that otherwise. And on those streets are some of the best beer and spirits spots in the city. A good guide gives you many pieces of information you might want when you strike out on your own.
How long have you been a tour guide to NYC?
I had 20 years at the Guest Services Desk at a major hotel advising people where to go before I started the Manhattan Walking Tour Company.
You've grown up with the city. How has New York City shaped who you are?
We are a reflection of each other; strong, feisty, resilient and filled with a lot of energy. I am NYC. NYC is me.
How has your city changed in your eyes?
New York is safer and friendlier (don't tell anyone, we like to surprise them) and people seem to be willing to help each other. Also the energy now is filed with a great aura.
Is there anything special that a walking tour person should bring on a tour? Shoes? Snacks? Camera?
Of course you will want to wear good walking shoes and bring a camera. But our tours have 8 people or less so what you really need to bring is your smile because we will be friends by the end of the tour. Most of our tours have stops that include food and NYC is one of the best places to eat in the world. So let us feed you.
What are a few different walking tours of the city that you might take a visitor on?
These are my favorite combos: New York's High Line was ranked as one of the Top Ten places to visit in the whole world last year! Manhattan Walking Tour has seen this brand new park grow from its beginnings as an elevated train line, and we'll tell you the inside stories you can't get anywhere else. The High Line is a great New York story of industry, history, and everyday New Yorkers working to make our city even better. On top of the amazing stories, the High Line is a work of art in itself, with views of the dynamic neighborhoods and cutting-edge architecture around it. Pair the High Line with our Greenwich Village Food Tour, and you'll have your finger on the pulse of New York City and some of the most incredible food in NYC.
Times Square has an iconic stature and fun history. It was shaped from the mid 1800's to the present. Included on the tour are architectural styles (Beaux arts, tenement housing, use of white terracotta, etc.), and all the highlights you see on TV like the New Year's Eve ball drop.
Greenwich Village is my favorite for several reasons. It’s a historic part of town (1640s to 1900) so there are many styles of architecture. There are great places to snack on the tree-lined cozy streets. It has been rich and poor many times so the styles reflect the artist community and affluent aristocratic New Yorker. It answers the question, “how the village has maintained its unique character throughout the years.” The tour is a little over 2 hours, but combined with Times Square about 3.5 hours, and the history spans 300 years for a great overall view of NYC.
Other great walking tours include: Chinatown and Historic Downtown are paired for their Immigrant experience, and the international foundations from which our country started. It’s not just one group, but Dutch, Irish, Chinese, English, Italian, German and Jewish waves, all of which lived in the same houses at different times. The food in Chinatown is world famous. We will help you make a reservation for the 9/11 memorial, since we end a couple of blocks away, for 4:30 pm.
Hell’s Kitchen and Central Park are paired for the way they look at the great social experiment that is NYC, with over 160 languages spoken. Two hundred countries are represented in NYC, and many of those countries have more people here than in their own capitols. This is an amazing food lover’s tour. Our Central Park is the culmination of this great social experiment equalizing rich and poor. With all the food in Hell's Kitchen you will need Central Park just to walk it off.
Do you ever run into celebrities on a walking tour?
The list goes on and on, but I loved when one of those open top Double Decker bus guides started saying over the mic: "Look a true NY star sighting. It's Garry, one of NYC's best handball players and a great tour guide." My whole group looked up in amazement!
If you had to pick one neighborhood in New York to walk around, what would be it?
Way too limiting! The great thing about it is you can go to Korea town for BBQ and later in another place have the best Druze food in the city. You can do Trapeze school on one side of town and then head for great music in another part. It's all only 20 minutes by subway. I love it all. Please don't make me choose!
Anything else people should know about Manhattan Walking Tour?
Our secret Formula is 8 persons or less: Facts. Fun. Food. And we hope that will make us Friends.
Anything special that CityPASS holders should know?
New York CityPASS is a great way to see the major attractions, and Manhattan Walking Tour is way to know our NYC soul.
For more information visit manhattanwalkingtour.com