New York is the city with a million things to do, but not everything is worth your time and/or money. More often than not, guide books have been pointing people to the same played-out attractions that are far removed from the authentic New York experiences visitors (and locals) could be having instead. So it’s time to cut through some of the b.s.: Tourists, I’m about to change your whole itinerary. And as for you NYC locals reading this, am I right or am I right?
Here are the NYC tourist traps you can skip, and what you should do instead:
Skip the hot dogs and pretzels for the halal carts. Hot dogs and pretzels carts are a thing of the past; you won’t catch any New Yorkers buying food from there, but you’ll see locals line up down the block for chicken over rice from the halal carts. Get in line, too. You won’t regret it. (But if you must have hot dogs while you’re here, get them at Gray’s Papaya).
Skip the view from the Empire State Building for the view from Rockefeller Center because from there you can see the Empire State Building and Central Park. Or, if you’re not will to shell out $40+ per person, skip both buildings for the view from a rooftop bar.
Skip the hop on hop off bus for the MTA buses. You’ll pass by most if the same sights for a lot less money, and you get the bragging rights of mastering NYC’s bus system.
Skip the chain restaurants in Times Square for restaurants anywhere else in New York. Did you really come all this way to the culinary capital of the world to eat at an Olive Garden?
Skip 5 days straight in Manhattan for 1 day in each borough. Sure, there’s a lot to do in Manhattan, but if you stick to just one borough, then you haven’t really experienced New York.
Skip Manhattan’s Little Italy for the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue. Once upon a time, the Little Italy in lower Manhattan was the center of Italian immigrant life. But don’t be fooled by the neighborhood’s name; what’s left of the Italian community has moved on to Arthur Avenue and Staten Island. You’ll find a decent plate of pasta if you head over there.
Skip getting your photo with the characters at Times Square for getting your portrait drawn. Not to knock someone else’s hustle but you don’t want to pay five bucks to take a selfie with a dude in a shoddy costume. Your money will be better spent getting a goofy caricature of yourself from a sidewalk artist.
Skip fancy pizzerias for dollar pizza. Maybe I have bad luck and get served the off pies, but nearly every time I go to an upscale pizzerias, it seems like glorified cheese on toast. On the other hand, dollar pizza has never let me down; it’s filling, tasty, and cheap (Note: for the best quality dollar pizza, go to the places that are packed with locals).
Skip the Brooklyn Bridge for the Manhattan Bridge. If it’s past 9 a.m. and you’re planning to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, fuhgettaboutit! By then the bridge will be way too crowded with pedestrians and cyclists for it to be enjoyable. Either wait until it’s really late at night or really early in the morning to cross the iconic bridge, or take its underrated substitute, the Manhattan Bridge. You’ll get similar views of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, plus you’ll get the Brooklyn Bridge in your photos.
Skip cabs and rideshares for the subway. Unless you want to waste time and money, hopping in a car in Manhattan is a futile, frustrating pursuit. Save yourself the headache and take the subway instead. However, disregard this if you’re trying to get around the outer boroughs. While Manhattan is lavished in subway coverage, the four other boroughs didn’t get nearly that same amount of love and most of the buses that service them are abysmal.
Skip shopping on Fifth Avenue for Soho if you want prettier architecture, but if you want better stores, skip them both for shopping in Williamsburg. Similar to what I said about eating at chain restaurants in New York, did you really come all this way to shop at the same stores you’ll find everywhere else?
Skip the horse rides and pedicabs through Central Park for biking in the park. This has been billed as the classic thing to do for couples, but paying five dollars a minute at minimum to be dragged around the park does not sound romantic to me. You’ll have a more memorable time exploring the park on a bike.
Skip bus tours for walking tours. The sites of New York are worth way more than two sentences during a drive-by. You can’t even take good pictures from a bus.
Skip Times Square in the daytime for Times Square at night. If you must go to the psychedelic ad-fest that is Times Square, go at night so can appreciate how bright it is there. If you don’t mind staying up late, stick around at 11:57 p.m. for the ‘Midnight Moment,’ where you’ll witness an artistic surprise.
Skip the Chelsea Market for the Time Out Market New York, or any other food hall. Don’t get me wrong: Chelsea Market has good food. But it doesn’t have a monopoly on good food. If you don’t want to deal with the long lines and crowding, you have plenty of options. I’m partial to Time Out Market New York because of its rooftop views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
Skip the pay-as-you-go MetroCard for the unlimited MetroCard. This obviously depends on how long you’re staying in New York, but if you’re planning on being in the city for more than five days and/or you’ll be using public transportation multiple times a day, the weekly unlimited MetroCard is a good investment. Paying $2.75 per trip can add up very quickly, so I’d rather pay $33 for the week.
Skip the souvenir stores for things actually made in NYC. You can get t-shirts and tchotchkes with the New York name on it anywhere. But it’s less common to come by products actually designed and manufactured in NYC. Earn bragging rights of having an authentic New York item by shopping at one of these stores.
Skip being afraid of locals. People from outside of New York swear that New Yorkers are rude, but that stereotype isn’t entirely true. We’re not rude; we’re just misunderstood. When you live in a place where time is money and there never seems like there is enough of either to go around, of course people’s default mode is to rush about. But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our humanity. New Yorkers take pride in helping out lost tourists, and in the rare moment that they aren’t in a hurry, go ahead and ask them for recommendations on the best spots in the city.
I hope this article has given you a better idea of what NYC tourist traps to steer clear of when you’re in New York and what’s actually worth your time instead. And for the locals watching this, are there any other NYC tourist traps you would tell a visitor to skip?
Watch my video on NYC tourist traps!
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