George Washington Bridge

Washington Heights Walking Tour

Every neighborhood in New York has a story, but only a neighborhood within a neighborhood has secrets. Unfortunately, the prerequisite for discovering these secrets is usually the possession of an address within its boundaries, with time and growing familiarity eventually earning the distinction of being accepted within the community as a “local”.

And that’s exactly where Local Expeditions comes into play. Billed as the “anti-tour” and offering “unique 2-3 hour excursions designed by locals for a true New York experience”, the previously mentioned prerequisites are graciously waived.  We spied a new tour available on the website billed as the “Cabrini Heights/Fort Washington” tour, and we got slightly nostalgic for a previous visit during which we stayed with my cousin in Washington Heights.  It was a whirlwind trip that didn’t permit us much time to explore the area and we hadn’t been back since, so we signed up.

Commendably, the business model for Local Expeditions incorporates a 5% charitable donation, as well as a generous wage for the guide, giving back to the community and supporting the wider New York economy.  In the interest of full disclosure, at $40 per person, the cost of the tour is still on the higher end of the market, even factoring the 5% donation in.  Most tours average $20 per person, while tours from established names like the Municipal Art Society and Untapped Cities run at $30 per person.

Washington Heights
Fort Washington was located at the highest point on the island, now in Bennett Park

George Washington Bridge

The Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington BridgeThe tour guide, Jim, used to live in the area.  The larger neighborhood covered is Washington Heights, with greater emphasis on the section mostly known as Hudson Heights.  The tour started off with some time at the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, then moved on to highlight some of the history pertaining to the Battle of Fort Washington, took us past some interesting local architecture and then down to Fort Washington Park for an up-close view of the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse.

Washington Heights
One of the many Art Deco apartment buildings in the neighborhood
Washington Heights
Hudson View Gardens housing cooperative with Tudor-style arhictectural elements

While there was much to see, we feel it necessary to highlight some things to consider: the amount of walking was definitely more advanced than what you would find in other walking tours, partly due to the steep drop from the neighborhood into Fort Washington Park (and the necessary sharp incline back once the tour is over).  Jim’s knowledge displayed a sincere affection for the neighborhood, but there were many significant historical events that could have been better explained — the area has experienced displacement (the Munsee tribe), warfare (Revolutionary), migration (prewar German and Austrian Jews followed by post-Soviet Eastern Europeans), a crime wave (the 80’s crack epidemic) and, most recently, a sustained period of gentrification — but most of this was missing from his commentary.   

At the end of the day, it’s still a great, off-the-beaten-path tour that highlights a unique New York City neighborhood, with some kinks to be worked out.  Check out the Local Expeditions website for all the tours available.

Pair it with:

Brunch at Le Chéile

Le Cheile

Le Cheile

Le Cheile

Here’s what you’re unlikely to ever find at Le Chéile (pronounced leh key-lah, just so you don’t embarrass yourself like we did): burrata, foie gras, caviar, chorizo foam or anything “truffle-infused”. What you will find is solid, no-frills pub food and a number of interesting vegetarian offerings (a few on the breakfast and lunch menus, many more on the dinner menu). And of course, served alongside the food are an eclectic selection of old favorites and local craft brews on tap — it is, after all, a pub! Whether it’s hearty egg-based basics, traditional Irish dishes or one of the more interesting and tasty veggie burgers I’ve ever had the pleasure to put to the test (a pattie, akin to a croquette, on a brioche bun with all the fixings), Le Chéile didn’t mislead or oversell and will more than meet a hungry (or thirsty!) adventurer’s needs.

839 W 181st St

Mon-Fri: 11 am – 3 am
Sat & Sun: 10 am – 3 am

– J.

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