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AAA Walking Tours

The tour takes 3-5 hours, depending on your pace and the number of listed sites you visit along the way.

Although just a short subway ride from the scurrying throngs and imposing skyscrapers of Midtown, Greenwich Village seems a world apart. Characterized by quiet side streets, secluded courtyards, tree-shaded parks and brick townhouses, the Village is about as pedestrian-friendly a place as you are likely to find in a huge city like New York. A stroll along its relatively peaceful sidewalks offers a break from the frenetic bustle that characterizes much of Manhattan. Walking also happens to be the best way to experience the funky ambience of this famously unconventional neighborhood.

Not only do Village residents have a long history of defying convention, the streets themselves defy the ordered grid that makes navigation so easy in other areas of Manhattan. Fortunately there are plenty of street signs, and contrary to popular stereotype, New Yorkers are often very willing to assist with directions.

The walking tour begins and ends in Greenwich Village's leafy heart: Washington Square, at the southern end of Fifth Avenue. To get there, take the A, B, C, D, E, F or M train to the West 4th Street Subway Station; the park is a block east. You might be disappointed to learn that New York City's subway tokens have gone the way of the pterodactyl, but the fare cards (called MetroCards) that have replaced those distinctive little coins are easy to use, easy to obtain and much lighter in your pocket.

Originally a marsh, the area that is now Washington Square Park was used as a cemetery in the late 1700s. Excavations a century later uncovered numerous skeletons and headstones, much to the dismay of the well-heeled residents who lived along the park's borders at the time. Today you would have a hard time envisioning Washington Square's funereal past, particularly on summer weekends when the park fills with children, chess players, joggers, skaters, couples with baby strollers, people walking their dogs, food vendors, street entertainers, musicians rehearsing and tourists sitting on benches and resting their weary feet. Adding a youthful air to this already vibrant environment are the students of New York University. One of America's largest private universities, N.Y.U. owns many of the buildings surrounding the park, making Washington Square a de facto part of the school campus.

Presiding over this crazy quilt of humanity is the square's majestic Washington Memorial Arch. Dedicated in 1895, the 77-foot-high, white-marble monument at the end of Fifth Avenue was designed by Stamford White to commemorate the centennial of George Washington's inauguration. It replaced an earlier wooden arch temporarily constructed less than a block north on Fifth Avenue. “Washington in War,” a statue of the first president wearing military attire, was added to one side of the arch in 1916 and a second, called appropriately enough “Washington in Peace,” was installed in 1918. Other park monuments include a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, known as the Father of Modern Italy, and a bust of Alexander Lyman Holley, who perfected the Bessemer process of manufacturing steel, giving rise to the U.S. steel industry.

Walk over to the park's central fountain and proceed from there to Washington Square South. The bell tower to your right is part of Italian Renaissance-style Judson Memorial Church, built in 1892. The church is noted for its stained-glass windows, which were designed at the turn of the 20th century by eminent artist John La Farge.

Turn left and head over to Washington Square East. The massive red stone building to your right with fluted walls is N.Y.U.'s Elmer Bobst Library. Set on a pedestal adjacent to the library is a piece of ornate stonework from the university's original Gothic building, which was demolished in the late 1800s. Founded in 1831, N.Y.U. occupies buildings throughout the Village. You'll recognize them by the large violet banners emblazoned with the school's symbol: a flaming torch.

Turn left again and follow Washington Square East to Washington Square North. The building at the corner of Washington Square East and Waverly Place is the university's Silver Center, which stands on the site of the original Gothic structure mentioned earlier. Famous occupants of that first building include painter Winslow Homer, poet Walt Whitman, author Henry James and electric telegraph developer Samuel Morse, who, interestingly enough, taught painting and sculpture and is credited with establishing America's first academic fine arts department. Within the current Silver Center is the Grey Art Gallery, where you can see an array of visual arts on display.

Now walk west along Washington Square North. The Greek Revival townhouses here were built in 1833 for wealthy New Yorkers, but most now belong to the university. Henry James grew up around the corner, and his grandmother lived in a townhouse on this very block. James drew heavily on his aristocratic upbringing in Greenwich Village when he wrote his novel, “Washington Square.”

Proceed north on Fifth Avenue to Washington Mews, a peaceful pedestrian-only alley on your right. You'll notice a towering Art Deco building, built in 1926, on the other side of the mews. Stables once lined this narrow brick-paved street, but they were replaced by desirable apartments long ago. As you exit onto University Place, the buildings on your right and left are the French and German departments of N.Y.U.

Walk 4 blocks north on University Place to East 11th Street and turn left. Half way down the block on the north side is a small 19th-century building tucked in between two larger buildings and hidden behind trees. This is the Conservative Synagogue of Fifth Avenue, which, like the residences along Washington Mews, was originally used as a stable. Across the street, a plaque to the left of the door at 20 East 11th St. indicates that Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the Village's many famous residents, kept an apartment here in the 1930s and '40s.

Continue west and turn right at Fifth Avenue to the broad stairway of the Salmagundi Club, an artist's organization founded in 1871 as the New York Sketch Club. Members have included Childe Hassam, Louis Comfort Tiffany and N.C. Wyeth. The club took its current name from “The Salmagundi Papers,” Washington Irving's satirical take on social life in early 19th-century New York. Incidentally, it is within “The Salmagundi Papers” that Irving first referred to New York as Gotham, which has been a nickname for the city ever since. The club has occupied the 1853 Italianate mansion—the last of its kind remaining on this stretch of Fifth Avenue—since 1917.

Across Fifth Avenue from the club is the Gothic Revival-style First Presbyterian Church. Completed in 1846, the church was modeled after the Church of St. Saviour in Bath, England. Just a bit farther south on Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 10th Street, looms another example of Gothic Revival architecture: the 1841 Church of the Ascension.

Return to 11th Street and head west. A wall and wrought iron fence on the south side of 11th near Sixth Avenue protects a small corner of a once-larger cemetery. The Second Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue dates back to 1805. Take a peek through the bars into the dim, well-tended space beyond, which is filled with tombstones of various shapes and sizes beneath sheltering evergreen trees.

Continue to Sixth Avenue, turn left and turn left again on West 10th Street. On the south side of 10th is a row of Anglo-Italianate townhouses connected by a single shallow terrace with an ornate iron railing. These residences were built in the 1850s and designed by James Renwick, Jr., who also designed historic Grace Church at 802 Broadway; St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets; and the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C.

Retrace your steps back to Sixth Avenue and cross the street. The building with the pyramid-topped clock tower to your left is Jefferson Market Courthouse, completed in 1887. In the hearts of Villagers this Victorian Gothic landmark ranks second only to the Washington Memorial Arch, although in the early 1960s “Old Jeff” came perilously close to demolition. Angered Villagers came to the rescue, and after a 1967 restoration, it reopened as a branch of the New York Public Library. Behind the courthouse, where a women's prison once stood, is a volunteer-maintained viewing garden.

Across West 10th Street from the courthouse you'll find Patchin Place, a quiet, dead-end street lined with three-story residences. These were built in 1848 as boardinghouses for waiters at a nearby hotel, but in the 20th century Patchin Place counted several renowned writers among its residents, including poets e.e. cummings and John Masefield, authors Theodore Dreiser and John Reed and playwright Eugene O'Neill. Just around the corner on Sixth Avenue is Milligan Place, another picturesque courtyard lined with former boardinghouses, these built in 1852.

Proceed west two blocks on 10th Street to Seventh Avenue and turn left. The intersection ahead where four streets come together is Sheridan Square, roughly the geographical center of Greenwich Village. With so many streets meeting in one spot, the square has earned a reputation for disorienting visitors. Just try to remember your position relative to Seventh Avenue, the main thoroughfare.

A statue of Civil War general Philip Henry Sheridan, for whom the square was named, stands in Christopher Park, which is the triangular park to your left created by the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Christopher and Grove streets. For such a small area, Christopher Park seems crowded with statues. Opposite the general is a grouping of four whitewashed bronze figures known as the Gay Liberation Monument, evidence of the Village's tolerant live-and-let-live ethos. Nearby, a second triangular park created by the intersection of Washington Place, 4th Street and Barrow Street features a viewing garden.

Go back to Seventh Avenue and continue south to where Seventh intersects with Bleecker and Barrow streets. Turn right on Barrow and follow it for one block to Bedford Street. Another right will bring you to 86 Bedford St., better known as Chumley's, a restaurant opened in 1922 that served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. A veritable Who's Who list of literary greats have frequented Chumley's over the years, including James Agee, e.e. cummings, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck.

Return to Bedford and Barrow, turn right and then make a left on Commerce Street. Where the street curves to the left stands the Cherry Lane Theater, founded by Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1924. One of the city's first off-Broadway venues, the theater has showcased challenging, experimental plays by the likes of Eugene Ionesco, David Mamet, Harold Pinter and Sam Shepard for more than 75 years.

Follow the bend in Commerce Street until you're back on Bedford, then make a right, after which you will immediately be confronted by two Greenwich Village superlatives. On the corner at 77 Bedford St. is the Isaacs-Hendricks House, which was built in 1799 and is recognized as the oldest in the Village. By comparison, the house next door at 751/2 Bedford, built in 1873, is a relative newcomer. With just one glance, however, you can guess what its claim to fame is. At under 10 feet wide, 751/2 Bedford has earned the reputation as the narrowest house in the Village. Edna St. Vincent Millay lived there briefly during the 1920s.

Walk south on Bedford to Seventh Avenue and turn right. Turn right again on Leroy Street, which for a short stretch is known as St. Luke's Place. The impressive row of Italianate townhouses along the street's north side was constructed in the 1850s for New York's mercantile elite. Ornate facades, grand entryways, tall windows, shade trees and a park across the street make these some of the most sought after addresses in the Village. Number 6 was the home of Jimmy Walker, mayor of the city 1926-32. Two lamps, which traditionally identify the mayor's house in New York, still frame the entrance.

Retrace your steps back to Seventh Avenue and cross it, following Leroy Street east to Bleecker. Make a right onto Bleecker in front of Our Lady of Pompeii, a large Roman Catholic Church built in 1928 for the Italian immigrant community. Continue on Bleecker, but when you reach Sixth Avenue be careful: Four streets intersect here making it somewhat tricky to find where Bleecker resumes. Follow Bleecker to Macdougal Street and stop. If your energy levels are beginning to dip, you're in luck. With a café at every turn, this intersection is known as café corner, a perfect spot to sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee.

After you've revived, proceed east on Bleecker to LaGuardia Place. This area of the Village is thick with second-hand clothing and record stores, cafés and intimate nightspots offering live jazz and rock music. The Bitter End at the corner of Bleecker and LaGuardia features live entertainment and even sports a plaque honoring the establishment for its “contribution to the artistic life of New York.”

Turn left on LaGuardia. Halfway up the block on the east side of the street you'll spy a bronze statue of Fiorello LaGuardia, New York City mayor 1934-45. The statue shows the diminutive 5'2" LaGuardia, known as ”the little flower,” stepping forward, mouth open and hands poised as if clapping. While far from the dignified posture one might expect of an honored statesman, the statue captures the enthusiasm and energy of one of the city's most popular mayors, who served three consecutive terms during a difficult period in the city's history and is remembered for his sweeping reforms and efforts to curb corruption.

Continue north on LaGuardia to West 3rd Street and turn left. On your left will be a bright red Victorian building housing the Number 2 Fire Engine Co. Notice the painted carving of a woman's face over the arched main door. From 3rd Street turn right onto MacDougal, which is one block after Sullivan. The historic Provincetown Playhouse, which opened in 1916, is on the left side of the street. The theater has played a pivotal role in fostering the early careers of many playwrights including Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugene O'Neill as well as numerous actors, directors and set designers, and it continues to produce innovative plays to this day.

Just a few steps north and you're back at Washington Square Park. Before you finish your tour, however, walk farther north, crossing West 4th Street and Washington Place. The building at the corner of Waverly Place with the elaborate marquee was the home of Eleanor Roosevelt 1942-49. A plaque to the left of the entrance pays tribute to the first lady. To return to the West 4th Street Subway Station, backtrack to West 4th Street and turn right. The station is one block ahead of you.

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