NYC for History Buffs: a 3-Day Group Bus Tour (Day 2)
Get ready for Part 2 of the New York Charter Bus Company-approved NYC history tour!
Miss out on Day 1? No worries. Catch up on our guide to Uptown and Midtown historical sightseeing here. We covered a lot of heritage sites and museums, from Alexander Hamilton’s fully-restored Harlem home to the whispering halls of Grand Central Terminal.
Be forewarned: today is going to be a long one. Between getting to and from Ellis Island and traversing Chinatown and the Lower East Side, your group will have a lot of ground to cover. Believe us, though: the sights and experiences your group will see and have today will be well worth the travel time. Besides, your professional driver will be there after every leg of your journey, waiting with a climate-controlled cabin and plenty of room kick up your weary heels.
Day 2: Ellis Island and the Lower East Side
8 a.m. Breakfast at Katz Deli
No trip to the Big Apple—historical or otherwise—is complete without swinging by this iconic deli for a bagel and schmear. This joint has been dishing out the city’s finest New York-style bagels for decades, so it’s a must-see for anyone craving genuine city fare.
We know this is an early start, but believe us when we say you’ll want to get to Battery Park, the southernmost tip of Manhattan, with plenty of time to catch the ferry.
Serving up legendary corn beef, pastrami, and Kosher deli selections since 1888. Comedically cranky servers and cashiers, fast-paced and authentically New York. $$. 205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002. (212) 254-2246. https://www.katzsdelicatessen.com/group-reservation-request
9 a.m. Ferry over to Ellis Island
So imagine: your driver just dropped you off at Battery Park. You approach the railing that separates the sidewalk and the Hudson River, and look out over the water. You can see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance, but do you see those red brick buildings on that island in front of you? You’re looking at one of the most-visited buildings in New York’s history, where nearly 40% of the entire US population can name an ancestor who passed through here: Ellis Island.
To reach the island, your group will need to take the ferry—there are no roads there. First departures embark at 9:30 AM, but shoot to line up at the security gate by 9 to be safe.
Once you step foot on the island, you’ll be greeted with the same brick-laden buildings over 12 million immigrants were inspected and documented between 1892 and 1954. The facility has since been converted into a museum that showcases the lives, stories, and hardships these immigrants faced.
From the entrance—formerly the Baggage Inspection room—your visitors are free to catch the documentary screening, take a ranger-guided tour through the highlights, or wander the three stories of exhibits at their own pace:
- Ground Floor: Stories and histories of US immigration, even before and after Ellis Island operated
- Second Floor: Walkthroughs of the immigration process, from medical inspections to legal examinations
- Third Floor: Glimpse into the personal lives of these immigrants through personal items, clothes, and dormitory spaces
Looking for a more in-depth Ellis Island guide, or itching to see Lady Liberty instead? Check out our all-in-one guide for Ellis and Liberty Island group travel for more insight on the ferry schedules, when to visit, and what to expect from your tour.
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
Museum documenting United States immigration. Based in the island’s former immigration station complex. Building originally built in 1892, restored to its 1918 French Renaissance Revival appearance. Admission and tours: free. Ferry cost: $14-$18.50 per adult. Ellis Island, Jersey City, NJ 07305. (917) 299-3843. https://www.nps.gov/elis/index.htm
12 p.m. Lunch on Ellis Island
Due to the island’s small size, there’s really only one spot to grab lunch on Ellis Island. That being said,the Ellis Island Cafe will not disappoint. Besides organic burgers and standard New York fare, the menu here features dishes immigrants would have been served as they passed through. Visitors can even pick up a free replica print of the original 1904 menu!
Take your time dining, enjoying the view over the Hudson, or perusing the gift shop before catching the 2 p.m. ferry back to the mainland. Your private bus will be waiting for you at the docks, ready to shuttle everyone to your next stop.
Ellis Island Cafe
Casual, group-friendly cafe in the Museum of Immigration. Burgers, roast beef suppers, vegetarian options. Outside, patio seating with views of the Statue of Liberty. $. Ellis Island, New York, NY 10004. (212) 363-3200.
2:30 p.m. Visit the Oldest Buddhist Temple on the East Coast
The Mahayana Temple in NYC was originally founded in 1962 by Annie Ying. As the story goes, Mrs. Ying was inspired after meeting several elderly Chinese men who had come to the United States to send money back home, but had lost connection to their families during the Chinese revolution. She realized that beyond space for religious organization, Chinatown needed a place for residents to read, chat, drink coffee, and connect with their neighbors.
So she did what anyone would do: rented out an abandoned movie theater and turned it into a Buddhist temple.
Today, the Mahayana Temple attracts thousands of visitors every year and even features a gift shop. Don’t let the commercial aspects fool you, though; this place is teeming with educational potential.
Here your group can tour the museum upstairs, admire the 16-foot Buddha shrine, and donate a dollar to receive a fortune. If your group is feeling exceptionally adventurous, poke your heads into the former movie theater’s main hall. You’ll be rewarded with the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha illustrated in 32 traditional Thai-style framed pictures with Chinese & English explanations—one of only two showcases of its kind in Chinatown.
During your visit, be sure to keep chatter to a minimum in the main shrine areas. Your group should also dress appropriately, covering your shoulders and knees. Your driver will be more than happy to look after your jackets, covers, or change of clothes before and after this stop, especially if you’re touring the town on a mid-summer scorcher.
Largest Buddhist Temple in New York City, and home of NYC’s tallest Buddha statue. City campus for the Eastern States Buddhist Temple of America. Public weekend services. 133 Canal St, New York, NY 10002. (212) 925-8787. http://www.mahayana.us/
4 p.m. Walk Through a Historically Accurate 19th Century Apartment
Peel back each of these apartment parlor’s 22 layers of wallpaper—a new layer added every time a new family moved in—and see how each tennent’s story reflects the lifestyles, ideals, and histories of not only the Lower East Side, but the country as a whole.
For those who like their history hands-on and undeniably real, we recommend the Tenement Museum. It’s an immersive walk-through of historically preserved apartment spaces as you’d see them in this traditionally immigrant-saturated neighborhood over the decades, complete with docents, guides, and actors in period costumes. From historically accurate decor and furniture to family portraits of the families who actually lived there, this museum experience is like taking a step back in time.
The museum offers guided tours of 6 apartments, each with a particular time period on display: from saloon owners of the mid-1800s through factory workers of the 1950s. We especially recommend the “Hard Times Tour, which focuses on the lives of Gumpertz and Baldizzi families—despite living in this building in different centuries, their shared struggles, dreams, and survival strategies reflect the broader hardships of immigrants during the 1870s and 1930s respectively.
A Lower East Side preserved tenement building, originally built in 1863. The museum is accessible through guided tour only. Group tours available for 15 or more visitors, if booked at least 4 weeks in advance. Walking tours and food tours also available at an additional cost. Also available for after-hours tours and private events. Apartment tours: $18-20 for adults. 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002. (877) 975-3786. https://www.tenement.org/plan-a-visit/
7:30 p.m. Dinner in Chinatown
Hop back over to Chinatown for a taste of authentic Chinese delights you can’t get anywhere else—this side of the Pacific, anyway. As New York City’s oldest dim sum house, Nom Wah Tea Parlor takes its seniority and history very seriously. There’s a reason why this place has stuck around for over 90 years—including the bloody Tong Wars that wreaked havoc on this street near the turn of the century—and that reason is its heartfelt, family-style atmosphere and dedicated regulars.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Serving fresh-to-order small dishes since 1920. Old-school and vintage. Dumplings, scallion pancakes, almond cookies, and mooncakes available year-round. Groups of 7 or more should reserve online. $. 13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013. (212) 392-6800. https://nomwah.com/
10 p.m. Speakeasies
Okay, sure, the era of speakeasies has come and gone. And your average New York City speakeasy isn’t exactly hush-hush, especially if their Insta-worthy ambiance and expansive web presence have anything to say about it.
However, if you’re looking for an authentic glimpse into the secret underworld of Prohibition-era NYC—or just a really good cocktail—hitting up the city’s speakeasy-themed bars and lounges is a great place to start.
Have your driver swing you back to your hotel to freshen up, because you’ll want to trade out your walking shoes for something nicer before your night on the town.
It’s worth noting that, by virtue of being hole-in-the-wall speakeasies, many of these places are what the restaurant industry calls “intimate”—in other words, very small with limited space. We suggest splitting your group up into smaller parties and establishing a rotating shuttle route between each bar. That way, everyone can get a taste of each lounge without overwhelming the bartenders.
Don’t worry about ordering that extra drink, either; let a trained professional handle the ride plan and your group will be free to kick back at any of these New York City speakeasies:
PDT (Please Don’t Tell)
Low-key yet stylish. Tons of taxidermy. Enter through the phone booth behind East Side hotdog joint Crif Dogs, and dial 1 on the old rotary phone. Mish-mash of elegant cocktails and hotdog combos. $$$. 113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009. (212) 614-0386.
Dark, lavish, and glam, with a clubhouse feel. Chandeliers and woodgrain bar tops. Enter through the back of the Envoy Art Gallery. Unconventional craft cocktails and prosecco on tap. $$$. 131 Chrystie Street, New York City, 10002. https://www.figurenineteen.com/
Warm, rich space with an ethereal mural above the bar. Enter through the unmarked door just inside the Village Yokocho Japanese restaurant. Constantly changing menu featuring authentic Prohibition drinks. $$$. 8 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003. (212) 777-5415.
Personalized NYC History Tours Made Easy
Whether your group decides to follow our itinerary or forge your own path, New York City Charter Bus Company will be with you every step of the way. All you need to do is assemble your team of history hounds to get a rough headcount, list out your dream NYC tour itinerary, and call our representatives at 917-388-9602. We’re available around the clock to answer your questions and provide an instant free quote, no strings attached!
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