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When you’ve only got one day in a new city, what do you do to make the most of it?

Maybe you pick one or two must-see attractions and concentrate your time there. Or you throw the itinerary out the window and let yourself wander from neighborhood to neighborhood, soaking up the atmosphere. Or maybe, as I did on a recent trip to Brooklyn, you take a tour.

In fact, I took two. As an independent traveler, I tend to avoid big coach tours — you know, the ones that have the canned narration over the P.A. system and only let you off the bus for two minutes at a time. I opted instead for two small-group tours that each focused on a particular aspect of the local culture — because even though my time was short, I still wanted a true taste of the place from a local’s perspective.

What Not to Do in a New City

In the morning, Matt Levy of Levys’ Unique New York led a “Graffiti to Galleries” tour with an emphasis on street art in both Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s latest “hot” neighborhood — and Bushwick, where crumbling factories are being reclaimed as canvases for young artists. The tour took us to places I’d have never thought to visit on my own.

street art bushwick brooklyn



street art bushwick brooklyn



Brooklyn native Dom Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours, focused his tour exclusively on homegrown shops and galleries, and the people who run them. We heard the stories of Dewey Oblonsky, who started her own colorful candy shop after being laid off after decades working in the fashion industry, and Lori Fields, who creates custom-designed sweatshirts at a place called Neighborhoodies. Forget the ticky-tacky tourist shops. For travelers who love to support small businesses and come home with souvenirs they couldn’t buy anywhere else, this is the tour for you.

olga guanabara brooklyn dumbo



dewey's candy dumbo brooklyn



Levys’ Unique New York offers customized tours for individuals and groups. Rates vary widely depending on the size of the group, but generally cost about $50 per person per hour for a private tour. Made in Brooklyn Tours cost about $35 per person for a half-day tour.

Want more ideas for exploring your next destination in depth? Check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

One Response to “Bright Lights … Big City … Small Tours”

  1. Anne says:

    I am definitely and independent traveller who avoids tours as much as possible.

    But if I travel to a place where I am not comfortable to get around and if I can find small tours like the ones you have described then then I am still open to the option.

    It sounds like you received some great local insight!!

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