Having lived in NYC now for almost five years and hosting my fair share of visitors, I’ve learned what is “worth it” and what is simply not. Tourist traps are all over NYC and it’s easy to fall victim to them, especially if you’re looking for what is sold to you as “an authentic New York experience”. This is my ultimate guide to New York City!
Going to the top of the Empire State Building is often seen as a “right of passage” on your visit to NYC. When you take a step back and think of it, what did you really get from that experience? You’re out $50, were herded into elevators like cattle, and have the exact same skyline picture as everyone else who has ever visited NYC. Set yourself apart by visiting one of New York’s many rooftop bars for skyline views. It’ll be less crowded, you’ll get to relax, explore a new neighborhood, and sip on a cocktail while enjoying the views. What could be better? Some of my favorites are The Press Lounge, Refinery Rooftop, and Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel.
There’s so many reasons why horse-drawn carriage rides through Central Park are a bad idea. They’re incredibly expensive, inhumane, and unnatural. They’re one of the worst tourist attractions in the city. Instead, you can rent high-quality bikes near Columbus Circle. For a fraction of the cost, you’ll be able to see the entire park on your own time! If you’re in a time crunch, you could bike the entire park in about an hour, but you could also easily spend the whole day in the park. You’ll be able to see all that Central Park has to offer: Sheep’s Meadow, The Great Lawn, the Jackie O. Reservoir, and the North Woods.
Unless you want to spend a large chunk of your day being herded onto a boat and taken to Liberty Island where you’re too close to even take a picture, the Staten Island Ferry is a much better alternative. It’s free, the ferries run every ~20 minutes, and you get an unobstructed head-on view of Lady Liberty. Head out onto the upper deck where you can get a clear shot. Not to worry, if you miss it on the way there, you get a second chance on the way back!
Bonus: the views of Lower Manhattan from the ferry make the trip even more worth it!
Helicopter tours are as unsafe as they are incredibly expensive. You’ll drop at least $250 for a 20 minute ride around Manhattan, and it’ll be over before you know it. Instead, consider booking a dinner sunset cruise. They’ll take you on a sightseeing cruise down the Hudson, around Battery Park, and up the East River. You’ll be able to get spectacular views of both sides of the city, the Statue of Liberty, as well as the famous bridges! Plus- dinner!
Most (if not all) theaters will offer same-day rush tickets for Broadway shows! To take advantage, arrive at the box office as soon as it opens (for higher demand shows, there will likely be a line forming 30-60 minutes before it opens) and ask if they have any rush tickets available. The prices will vary, but I’ve scored tickets for as little as $35! There are a couple of catches. You likely won’t be able to pick your seats, and groups may be split up. There’s really not a bad seat in any of the theaters, and how much talking do you really do during a show anyway?
Don’t waste time waiting in line for things like TKTS. They may make you feel like you’re getting a good deal, but in reality you’re actually paying very close to face value. Rushing the theaters are by far the best way to get cheap tickets!
Big Bus tours are perfect if you’re looking for an inauthentic look into NYC. They’ll speed through neighborhoods without you even getting a chance to appreciate them, you’ll walk away feeling unfulfilled. Instead, head to the Museum of the City of New York on the Upper East Side. MCNY is an amazing and thorough look into the history and culture that makes New York City so special. You’ll learn about unique neighborhoods like Astoria and Brooklyn Heights, the evolution art and theatre scenes, and the NYC food scene (of course!), to name a few. I personally find it fascinating to see old pictures of Manhattan and how it has changed over the past 300 years.
While taxis and other ride share apps can be helpful in a pinch, the subway is cheaper, more authentic, and often times faster than sitting in New York traffic. Familiarize yourself with the subway map, utilize Google Maps, and don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions. Despite their reputation, New Yorkers are generally very nice and can help you navigate the subway if you ask (just find someone who doesn’t appear to be in a hurry, unless you want a cold shoulder and a middle finger). Google Maps is typically very accurate and takes into consideration any delays or changes in service in real time.
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