As I was studying to get my NYC sightseeing guide’s license back in 2018—yeah, I’m a licensed tour guide; hmu if you’re interested in a tour—I devoured a TON of NYC guide books. From the conventional to the quirky, I’ve read almost every New York City guide there is and I’ve learned what makes a guide book worth reading. A good guide book goes beyond giving you the basics. It captures the essence of a place, gives you the kind of insight that brings a location to life, and is also entertaining to read. With these things in mind, I’ve rummaged through the NYC guide books I’ve read over the past couple of years in search of the creme de la creme. As a result, here are ten NYC guide books that will make you feel as though you’re exploring NYC without leaving your seat.
One hundred and eleven places sounds like an intimidating number of places to read about, let alone visit, but this guide book is a surprisingly breezy read. It’s the perfect book for someone who has already seen what makes New York famous but want to know what makes it quirky. You won’t read about the Empire State Building or the New York Public Library, but you will learn about New York’s night court and the cupcake ATM on the Upper East Side.
Here’s a harsh truth: you’ll never be able to walk every inch of New York City. Due to limits on time, accessibility, and how much pavement-pounding your poor feet can handle, this is one goal that will remain unchecked on your bucket list. But don’t be too bummed. William Helmreich has already has achieved this goal for you and has been kind enough to write a book about it. Not only has Helmreich walked through every single block of each borough of New York, he has also mingled with NYC residents and officials who live in these neighborhoods. If you want to know what life is really like in New York, this book is for you.
This NYC guide covers the most conventional places in New York, but it reveals its unconventional stories. Through nine self-guided walking tours, you’ll learn the dark, shocking, and sometimes hilarious stories behind NYC’s most famous buildings and landmarks. This is the perfect book for history buffs with a sense of humor or those who think they know everything there is to know about Manhattan.
Shopaholics: this one’s for you. People are quick to tell you that Brooklyn is the trendiest borough but they’ll hesitate to give you the specifics on the most stylish shops and cutest cafes. Well, with Insider Brooklyn, the secret’s out. This guide gives you nearly 300 pages of where to shop and where to eat in Brooklyn, with options that can fit any budget. Don’t be mistaken that this book is just a long list of hipster shops; Insider Brooklyn is packed with Insta-worthy photos that will make you want to whip out your credit card.
Brooklyn is NYC’s coolest borough but it might also be the weirdest. Secret Brooklyn brings to light all of the borough’s oddities, from its miniature Statue of Liberty sitting in a parking lot to its beach full of historic trash. This book will show you that there are surprises around every corner in Brooklyn, especially in the neighborhoods where you least expect it.
Walking Queens: 30 Tours for Discovering the Diverse Communities, Historic Places, and Natural Treasures of New York City’s Largest Borough by Adrienne Onofri
This is probably the most detailed walking guide for Queens that you’ll ever come across. Not only does this guide give you insight into all the neighborhoods of NYC’s largest borough, but it also gives you step-by-step directions on how to get to these landmark places and stunning houses. While this might be a tedious for the armchair traveler, once you get past the lines upon lines of navigational directions, you’ll find that there are hidden gems and valuable information within this guide—and within Queens.
This is the best travel book you’ll read about Staten Island, probably because it’s the only travel book you’ll find about Staten Island, which is a pity because as this book reveals, SI is such an interesting place, seeped in history and natural beauty. Trust me when I say that this book will make you think that New York’s Forgotten Borough is its best kept secret.
If you still need convincing why the Bronx should be included on your travel list, crack this guide book open. This book will give you at least a dozen good reasons to visit the Bronx, including City Island and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Plus, since this book was co-written by Bronx borough historian Lloyd Ultan, it’ll be like you’re getting a personal tour of the borough from its greatest expert.
Manhattan is the island that gets most of the attention, but did you know that dozens more islands make up NYC? Get to know the wild, colorful, and sometimes bone-chilling stories of places like Rat Island, North Brother Island, and several others. After reading this guide, you’ll never forget that New York is a network of islands.
This book is in a similar vein to The Other Islands of New York, except it follows Thomas Halaczinsky’s adventure sailing around New York’s islands in a 30-foot boat. Halaczinsky recounts engaging stories about the islands and his experience sailing to them, but it’s really his photos that will make your jaw drop.
Any other NYC guide book recommendations? Share it in the comment section!