Get to Know NYC Tour Guide Robin London

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Robin London is a New York native, tour guide and history buff, specializing in the city’s dark past. The founder of Metro New York City Tours hosts a range of walking tours, including the popular NYC mob tours. In “American Mafia Little Italy,” visitors explore the heart of Little Italy, once ruled by New York’s most powerful gangs. And in “Tongs of Chinatown: Gangs of NY Five Points”, they’ll learn about Chinese migration to the city, underground opium dens and the ruthless gangs of Five Points. London also offers a range of other walking tours, from the “Greenwich Village Food Tour” to the “Jewish Lower East Side,” but she’ll also create custom itineraries to suit visitors’ interests, with plenty of stops to nosh along the way.
How did you get into your field of expertise?

I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 25 years as a comedian, storyteller and actor. I got into the tour guide trade by what you can say was an accident. Friends of mine (were visiting) from overseas and had been on a cross-country tour. When the tour came to NYC, the company hired a NYC tour guide. They threw the tour guide off the bus because he was rude. When I heard the story, a light went on in my head: I can do that.

How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?

As I started doing research about becoming a guide, I found out it was not that easy. It isn’t just pointing out iconic sites. I started going on tours myself to learn about the profession from other tour guides and see how tours are conducted. I immersed myself in learning the history of the city and getting licensed. Once that was completed, I started doing my own tours. I read books and articles about the different parts of the city to keep up with ongoing history.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Today the streets of New York are my stage and each tour is a new production. I am a third-generation native New Yorker who never gets bored exploring the city I love. I will share personal experiences, extensive knowledge and anecdotes of life in the Big Apple in my native “New Yawk” accent.

One of your specialties is mob tours. What does this involve?

When doing research of the city I discovered the history of the mob. I was intrigued by the power that gangsters held in helping form the city and country. I knew some “made men” from growing up in NYC and wanted to learn all I could about the mafia. I spoke to many people from the old neighbourhoods and learned some things no one knew. I felt there was a niche in the tour industry that has not been tapped. This was my opportunity to share with mob and gangster fans the real stuff and walk the streets they ruled and used as their playground.

Do you have a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?

I feed off the crowd — you have the read the audience.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love meeting people from all over the world and sharing my passion of NYC.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?

We were going to Chinatown and I jokingly said, “Don’t forget to take your passports,” and a woman turned to me and asked if they took U.S. dollars.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job you don’t like?

Two women recently hired me for two days. On the first day they were hungover and we had to cut the tour short…Don’t do a tour if you’re hung over! And if you have children, don’t drag a four-year-old on a two-and-a-half-hour walking tour.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain the benefits of hiring a guide?

You’ll get all the inside information, you’ll see all the hidden places the guidebooks won’t take you to. It’s a whole way of presenting that to people instead of walking by and saying, “I saw it.” It’s hearing the stories. Those are things you don’t get from a guidebook.

Tell us something about NYC that only a guide would know.

I know the streets of New York; I’ve seen it evolve. Only a true New Yorker knows what stores to visit, where’s the best food, which are the oldest bars to go into. It’s such a big city …and you might feel part of it with somebody who knows people.

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