The Definitive Guide to Ecotours in NYC

Jeremy Lehrer

With its rooftop farms, green buildings, habitat restoration projects and pioneering eco experiments, New York City is a living showcase of urban sustainability. The City’s green marvels will capture your imagination, whether you’re a newbie interested in sustainable architecture or an urban agriculture connoisseur who wants to Instagram the City’s largest rooftop farm.

If you want to explore the green side of NYC, you can choose an eco-themed tour with an expert guide or construct a custom itinerary delving into your areas of interest. In doing so, you can see what the future might look like—in NYC and other cities around the world. Check out the possibilities below in our comprehensive rundown.

Brooklyn Army Terminal. Courtesy, NYCEDC

1. Green Guides

Some of NYC’s top tour operators offer tours revolving around sustainability. Turnstile Tours’ eco-themed expeditions include a Dumbo waterfront journey that surveys the impact of climate change, several excursions in Prospect Park and a Brooklyn Army Terminal Tour that highlights the adaptive reuse of the complex as well as the work of sustainability-related innovators like FabScrap and Cartridge Evolution.

Courtesy, Farm.One

New York Adventure Club will give you insiders views into Farm.One, a high-tech indoor vertical farm; Javits Center, whose sustainability features include an expansive green roof complete with beehives; and Brooklyn Grange’s Sunset Park rooftop farm, NYC’s largest such urban agricultural site.

Those looking for a marine perspective to urban sustainability can board Classic Harbor Line’s Schooner America 2.0, a hybrid vessel that alternates between its wind-powered sails and battery-powered propulsion. The company’s AIANY Urban Ecology Tour, led by an architect and a scientist, explores green infrastructure that supports NYC’s resilience and marine ecology.

Finally, Bike Rent NYC’s guided tours rely on a long-established source of renewable energy: pedaling.

2. EcoQuests

The City’s ecology is vital to its long-term resilience, and the New York Botanical Garden organizes monthly eco-minded scavenger hunts that enlist citizen scientists to investigate the City’s biodiversity. Gathering data through the iNaturalist mobile phone app, participants learn about threatened populations, restoration efforts and invasive species while fighting the snowballing conundrum of “plant blindness.” The accumulated data informs policy, research and restoration efforts. To join, follow the instructions on the NYBG’s EcoQuests home page.

Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

3. Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was originally built as a shipyard in the early 1800s. It is now an industrial park, innovation center and sustainability hub. The entire Navy Yard development is an exemplar of adaptive reuse, in which legacy structures are given new purpose. The Navy Yard’s Building 92 showcases the transformation; since its renovation, it’s attained LEED Platinum status, the highest designation given by the USGBC to assess sustainable architecture. The building features an interactive Sustainability Scavenger Hunt that educates students and families about its green features. These include rainwater recycling, a green roof and repurposed wood. Turnstile Tours offers several tours of the Navy Yard, all of which touch on its green elements. The Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm at the Navy Yard also hosts its own seasonal tours, open houses and other events.


Union Square Greenmarket. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

4. Farmers’ markets

NYC farmers’ markets give shoppers access to fresh food while reducing their “food miles.” They are a wonderland of fresh produce and a multitude of other offerings like wine, locally caught fish and vegan baked goods. No matter which neighborhood you’re staying in, there’s a market somewhere nearby—the GrowNYC searchable guide and market map [PDF] list the full set of locations and times. Talk with growers to find out about their offerings and which restaurants they sell to—and add those eateries to your itinerary. You can entertain youngsters at the farmers’ market with scavenger hunts for the likes of green veggies, root vegetables and foods in various colors.

5. A DIY ecotour

If you’re in NYC between late spring and early autumn, you can tour several of the City’s urban farms. In addition to visiting Brooklyn Grange’s sites, you can volunteer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Red Hook Farms or Harlem Grown. If high-tech agriculture is your thing, join a group to see vertical farming at Square Roots.

Another DIY itinerary could revolve around a couple of the City’s notable “horticultural architecture” sites. The Union Square store of beauty brand Innisfree has an 1,800-square-foot vertical garden; and, along the East River, a 9,000-square-foot vertical green wall—the City’s largest yet—is growing at Pier 35.

6. Other resources

Throughout the year, groups and businesses organize events where participants can learn about green architecture, urban farming and sustainable fashion. When you’re planning your trip to NYC, check out Eventbrite’s listings for sustainability events to see if any interest you. Meetup groups like Urban Sustainability NYC, GreenspaceNYC and Brooklyn Permaculture also organize events, tours and discussions.