VoiceMap's NYC audio tours displayed on a map of the city

The best self-guided audio tour apps for New York City 

New York, New York: it might be so nice they named it twice, but in a way it’s also two cities. One is at the mouth of the Hudson River. The other exists in our collective imaginations – and the sitcom Friends proves it. 

Friends was actually filmed at Warner Bros. Ranch in Los Angeles, nearly 3,000 miles away, but in Manhattan’s West Village, you’ll find people taking selfies outside the apartment building that was used for cutaway scenes, to show where most of the gang were supposed to live.

How do I know this? From a self-guided audio tour by TellBetter. Its Emmy-nominated producer Tom Darbyshire calls this “one of the least deserving tourist attractions in the Village,” but it’s an almost perfect example of the imagined NYC, even if it makes “real New Yorkers choke on their lattes.” 

Self-guided tours that put mythical Manhattan on the map

It’s tricky to map the New York that comes to us through news, art, and entertainment onto the grid of the city itself, especially if you’re only visiting for a few days. You could join a walking tour, but following a guide with a group of tourists feels as phoney as a bunch of 20-somethings living in spacious, high-ceilinged apartments. You end up waiting for stragglers and jostling to hear the guide over non-stop traffic.

Good self-guided tours let you start whenever you like, move at your own pace, and pause when something catches your eye, then pick up the tour when you’re ready. Plus, they cost a fraction of what you’d pay a live guide, and you never have to tip!

But “self-guided tour” is a broad category that can include everything from paper maps to signboards to sophisticated smartphone apps. And even when you narrow in on apps, you don’t know what to expect. Some offer well researched, highly crafted storytelling with entertaining voices and immersive sound effects and music. Some feel like incomplete middle school projects. Some follow a route, and use GPS to give turn-by-turn directions. Others are just a collection of points of interest you can visit in any order, without context or direction. 

That’s why we’ve rounded up the five best apps for self-guided audio tours of NYC. We’ve included overviews of how they work, what sort of storytelling you can expect, and the pros and cons of each app. You’ll also find links to download them, along with App Store ratings to guide you.


iPhone App | Android App | Website 

App Store Rating: 4.8 stars (5,654 ratings)

No one gets thousands of five-star ratings overnight, and neither did VoiceMap. The app’s collection of tours around the world has grown steadily over the last ten years. Today, it offers 20 professionally edited, thoroughly tested audio walking tours in NYC, written and narrated by people who know and love the city. 

VoiceMap is about putting your phone away and listening to engaging stories at the places where they actually happened. The app uses your phone’s GPS to automatically play audio along your route and – thanks to careful testing by each and every tour’s publisher – the stories, sound effects, and music play flawlessly. It’s an immersive experience that’s somewhere between listening to a geolocated podcast and exploring a neighbourhood with a tour guide in your pocket.

With 20 tours to choose from in New York City, you’ll find everything from tours through Broadway by different guides with very different perspectives, to storytelling masterpieces in the West Village, to experimental walks that peel back the layers of a single NYC block. That’s the beauty of an open platform: anyone can share their perspective by publishing a VoiceMap tour – so long as they’re willing to go through our publishing process, which includes reviews by script editors and audio engineers.


  • VoiceMap offers captivating and original content that stays with you. Tours are carefully crafted by people with stories to tell, and then quality-checked by professionals. 
  • The app’s growing catalogue of 20 NYC tours is created by a wide range of publishers, from finance writers to Hollywood actors. VoiceMap’s publishers show you a neighbourhood through their eyes, sharing the unique perspectives that come with the territory.
  • The app uses your phone’s GPS to play audio automatically, so you can put your phone away and focus on your surroundings. Clear directions are built into the narration, so you don’t need to reach for your phone to look at maps or play audio, and the tours work offline, without a data connection.
  • Audio is engaging and quality is reliable. Genuine stories are told by real people, and some tours feature voice artists, sound effects and music to help bring events to life. 
  • The user interface (UI) is extremely user-friendly. Use the search bar in the app (or on voicemap.me) to find places, themes, historical events, people – or anything else that appears in the audio scripts.
  • You can preview three audio tracks before downloading or purchasing any tour.
  • Each tour’s total distance and places of interest are clearly marked, and you can use Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze to navigate to the starting point. 


  • VoiceMap is an open platform with a library of tours around the world that’s as diverse as the people who created them. You’ll find tours for all tastes, but read the descriptions and listen to the free previews before you buy  tours. Not everyone wants a nasal whine like Fran Drescher’s in their ear for an hour, even when in NYC.
  • Revenue from VoiceMap’s tours is shared with the publishers that create them, so you won’t find many free tours. 

Our picks

Flappers, Beats, Freaks and Punks: A West Village Walking Tour to the Jane Hotel | $9.99 This tour opens your eyes to the West Village’s chequered past, taking you everywhere from vanilla TV hangouts like Sex and the City’s famous bakery, to the townhouse where Sex Pistols musician Sid Vicious had a fatal overdose, administered by his own mother. Bring kleenex.

The High Line tour by TellBetter: How NYC’s park in the air got off the ground | $11.99

Hear the story behind this oasis high above the streets – once a ruined elevated train track, now an icon of urban renewal – and find out about the swimming pools, rollercoasters, and 700 other potential incarnations that this green walkway might have become instead. 

Browse VoiceMap’s 20 New York City tours here.


iPhone App | Android App | Website 

App Store Rating: 4.9 stars (201 ratings) 

Gesso has eleven very well-produced audio walking tours in New York City that use your phone’s GPS to play audio automatically at specific locations en route. The app’s tagline – ‘audio for temporary locals’ – has a nice ring to it, but it also says a lot about the audience they’re targeting. You’ll find a tour about the origin of hipsterism in Williamsburg, for instance, but you won’t find anything in Central Park, Greenwich Village, or Broadway. Travelling like a local has its appeal, but most of us want to gain insights into a couple of the sites that made the city famous.


  • This is one of very few apps that goes beyond the reciting of facts and uses audio to tell stories, with music and sound effects that add to the experience.
  • The app uses your phone’s GPS to automatically play commentary and give directions. 
  • Some tours are free.
  • The audio is professionally produced. 
  • The user interface (UI) is slick.
  • You can listen to a single track before purchasing paid tours.
  • Each tour’s total step count and distance in miles is clearly marked, and you can use Apple Maps to navigate to the starting point. 


  • Gesso doesn’t seem to add tours to its NYC catalogue regularly.
  • The content is very niche and – unless you’re into NPR-style voices – it tends to feel a bit pretentious. 
  • If you’re looking for insights and commentary to listen to at major sites, you won’t find it on Gesso.
  • It’s unclear whether the tours on offer are kept up-to-date. Most are labelled ’Summer 2020’ or ‘Summer 2021’, so they may not age well.
  • A robot voice gives you directions at the end of each track. It’s a bit jarring and impersonal, especially when the bot mispronounces place names. 

Our picks

SoHo: A Retrospective | Free

A touching tour that was produced by a lifelong resident and founder of the SoHo Memory Project, who called this neighbourhood home in the 70s and lived amongst the artists that transformed it. 

Brooklyn Bridge | $11.99

On this tour, you’ll “meet the men, and woman, that advanced the science of bridge building by constructing this work of Practical Grandeur.” You’ll also find out how the bridge served as a backdrop for the Black Lives Matter Movement. 


iPhone App | Android App | Website

App Store Rating: 4.8 stars (733 ratings)

The concept behind TravelStorys is promising: informative commentary plays automatically at various ‘story sites’ using your phone’s GPS location. But the content is dull and stories are in very short supply. Navigating back and forth through an unintuitive app and then having to direct yourself to the ‘story sites’ might feel like more hassle than it’s worth. 


  • The app uses your phone’s GPS to automatically play commentary when you reach a ‘story site’.
  • All the NYC tours in TravelStorys’ app are free.
  • The user interface (UI) is visually appealing with photos to look at while you download tours.


  • There are only four tours in New York City (all of which are in Manhattan) and one tour in Newark. You might find this app more useful in other cities.
  • Commentary is mostly a collection of facts without a sense of story or place. Despite knowing your exact location, Travelstorys doesn’t point out what you’re looking at in the here and now, which feels disconnected. The app may be better suited to armchair travel.
  • There are no audio directions and no in-app map so – unless you know NYC incredibly well – you’ll have to navigate between stops by constantly switching between apps.
  • Narration relies on stiff scripts that don’t seem to be written for audio, and the voiceovers are stilted.
  • There’s no way to pre-listen or preview a tour without downloading it first – even when the tours have price tags attached. 
  • Neither the tours’ starting points nor their total distance is clearly marked.
  • Tours like Lower Manhattan Landmarks are poorly thought out. Taking the tour requires buying a ticket and spending the better part of a day taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, which doesn’t feel like a fair exchange for a collection of Wikipedia-style facts.
  • Software bugs crop up from time to time, so having mobile data or internet access is advisable. 

Our pick

Lower East Side Arts and Activism Backstory | Free

This sets itself apart from the app’s other tours by offering personal perspectives on four NYC establishments (each around half a mile apart) via four short interview-format audio tracks that make up the 30-minute tour.

Bloomberg Connects

iPhone App | Android App | Website
App Store Rating: 3.9 stars (195 ratings)

Bloomberg Connects is a free arts and culture app, so it can’t be directly compared with self-guided walking tour apps. It offers digital guides (not ‘tours’) to more than 200 museums, galleries, sculpture parks, gardens, and cultural spaces around the world, about 50 of which are in New York City – although some are for temporary events. 

If you’re looking for a credible museum guide in the Big Apple, this is a great choice. There are currently three outdoor guides in the city. If you don’t mind navigating with static maps that are more like museum floorplans and doing a fair bit of reading, you could use these to explore Central Park, Governors Island, and Hudson River Park.


  • All the content is free. (The app was created by Bloomberg Philanthropies to help give people easier access to cultural organisations.)
  • The app hosts content by a wide range of institutions and experts.
  • If you’re looking for a credible museum guide, this is a great choice. 
  • The app aims to “make it easy to discover arts and culture, anytime, anywhere,” so is well-suited for browsing at home.


  • The content is informative, but not at all immersive. Think plain facts versus engaging stories.
  • The app doesn’t use GPS so you need to determine your exact location at every stop.
  • Static, floorplan-style maps are provided for indoor and outdoor tours (instead of something like Apple or Google Maps) which aren’t always fit for purpose. The scale of the map for the Hudson River Park tour, for instance, is too small, making it difficult to use.
  • Not all the tours have audio. Many stops just have a picture and a paragraph of information. Some stops list times for tours led by live docents. 
  • This isn’t entertainment or a passive learning experience; you’ll have to work for each piece of information, much like you would when using a guidebook. Where stops have audio, you’ll need to locate yourself and play it manually. Or you may need to look for codes at various stops and enter them in the app. 
  • The app is not particularly user-friendly, and you’ll likely find yourself having to click back and forth to find the content you want.

Our picks:

The Morgan Library & Museum | Free

Learn about the different rooms that house a rich collection of manuscripts, rare books and works of art as you walk through the library. 

Central Park Conservatory’s guides | Free

Look out for codes at the Women’s Rights Statue on the Mall and Belvedere Castle, which have audio tracks you can listen to. Some of the other audio tracks in the park are voiced by celebrities, but are hit or miss.

New York City GPS Audio Tour

iPhone App 

App Store Rating: 4.7 stars (13 ratings)

This app offers two tours of NYC, although ‘tours’ is a stretch. These are more like audio guidebooks, with long lists of tracks to listen to in any order, and no directions between stops. The NYC Combo Tour covers an enormous swathe of the city and five separate neighbourhoods, including Midtown Manhattan, which can be purchased as a separate, shorter guide. Budget extra time for designing a game plan of which places you want to visit, and expect a stream of underwhelming facts when you get there.


  • If you want a rolodex of fact-filled audio files about New York City, you can download it here for $19.99. 
  • The app covers all New York City’s big-hitters.
  • You can download and listen to a ‘demo tour’ before making a purchase.
  • The app makes limited use of GPS to play audio automatically. 


  • The app only has two guides: the Midtown Manhattan Tour  ($4.99) and the impractically long NYC Combo Tour ($19.99)
  • The content is lacklustre and tends to put facts first, without providing context or finding a narrative.
  • No directions are provided so you’ll need to navigate between stops. 
  • GPS functionality is limited. The start of each bite-sized audio track plays automatically via GPS (as long as you get yourself to the right place) but that’s as far as it goes. If you want more detail, you’ll need to click ‘Learn more’. At sites like St Patrick’s Cathedral, for example, you’ll be advised to cross the street for a better view – but you’ll have to pause the tour while you get yourself there.  
  • Expect lots of screen time and few opportunities to put your phone away and enjoy your surroundings. Bring a battery pack or be prepared to find a charging station.
  • You’ll need to spend time crafting your own itinerary to get any utility from the impractically long NYC Combo Tour. The costs may well outweigh the benefits.

It’s been called the Greatest City in the World, the Melting Pot, the Big Apple. And it wouldn’t be NYC if you weren’t bombarded with choices. Pick an audio tour or three, head into the concrete jungle, and be grateful that time is on your side. This is the city that never sleeps, after all.

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