I’m sure we’ve all seen some pretty lame tourist traps across the globe. You know, like that roadside stand offering tickets to see the world’s largest pineapple. Talk about a waste of time and money, although I do love pineapple. But, what are some of the biggest NYC tourist traps? I mean, what attractions should be at the top of your, “What not to do in NYC” list?
As a long time resident, I’m here to share some of my mildly insightful advice since I’ve experienced a lot of what the Big Apple has to offer.
Because let’s be real:
There’s nothing worse than that soul-crushing thought of, “OMG Seriously? I just spent my money on THAT?”
The horror (said totally non-sarcastically)!
I mean, you work hard for your money (you work hard for it honey…), and probably don’t get a ton of vacation time, at least if you’re American.
It’s always gut-wrenching when you waste your precious time and hard-earned money on something overpriced and not particularly enjoyable.
To help you make the most out of your time in New York City, I’ve created this handy post about what not to do in NYC!
Just because something is on this list, doesn’t mean its awful.
Some of these 18 NYC tourist traps are nice but are listed here since they’re super expensive and way too crowded.
Just try and read with an open mind.
Since this entire article is based solely on my opinions, you may agree with some of what is on this list or hate it all.
And that’s okay because we’re all different.
This list of top NYC tourist traps is just here to help you find amazing, NYC attractions that are cheaper, less crowded, and generally, more enjoyable.
So onwards my dear friends, as we navigate this epic list of what not to do in NYC!
Since I am incapable of making it rain money, there’s a high chance that this post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
***Not sure where to stay in NYC? Then check out 414 Hotel (Rooms at this chic, Hell’s Kitchen hotel start at $159 per night and include fridges, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks. There’s even a working fireplace in the lobby!), The James New York (Chic, modern rooms at this Soho hotel start at $177 per night and feature high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, glassed-off bathrooms, plush linens made from natural materials, and more), The Bowery Hotel, (Rooms at this 5-star, Nolita hotel start at $300 per night and are cozy, but stylish, with free Wifi, free bike rentals, exquisite city views, and more). and Pod 39 (Located in Murray Hill, this pod hotel sits inside a residential home from 1918. Rooms here start at $120 per night and are cozy and outfitted with queen-size beds or stainless-steel bunk beds with individual TVs and bedside shelves).***
1. Empire State Building
This 102 story building on Fifth Avenue is a total New York City landmark (even King Kong had an insatiable need to climb this iconic building), so I understand why you’re sitting there thinking, “How can this be an NYC tourist trap?”
I have been to the top and sure, it’s nice enough, until you get bored AF after about five minutes.
The lines to get in are insanely long, even if you purchase your tickets in advance.
Yeah, those will cost you a whopping $43.55 a person! I mean, you could see a deeply discounted Broadway show for that kind of money!
It gets worse. If you actually want to buy skip the line tickets to the Empire State Building, then those bad boys will cost you $80.57 per person.
That’s why, I suggest skipping the insanity all together.
There are ways to see the NYC skyline that won’t make you feel like you just spent a small fortune to wait in line.
Instead of doing battle with selfie-stick wielding tourists at the Empire State Building, try walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (an experience that is amazing in and of itself) and enjoying the exquisite, waterside, beauty of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (AKA the Esplanade).
Located in Brooklyn Heights (right past the iconic DUMBO neighborhood):
This 1,826-foot-long platform and pedestrian walkway is 10,000 times more appealing than the Empire State Building.
Why, you may rightly wonder?
Well, not only are the skyline views here stunning, but this walkway is also free and relatively devoid of tourists.
For my fellow crowd averse, antisocial homies out there, you’re welcome!
2. Junior’s Cheesecake
I’m not saying that Junior’s Cheesecake is bad because, in truth, it’s pretty flippin’ delicious.
This cheesecake giant’s immortal storefront does sit right in the middle of Times Square.
The line to enter this fine purveyor of desserts can get pretty long, especially after all the nearby Broadway shows let out.
Unless you want to spend 30-minutes in line, rubbing elbows with some poor parent’s overtired child, you might want to skip Junior’s.
But the good news?
There are a ton of other to-die-for dessert options in NYC that won’t leave you feeling like a hangry mess.
See, you really can have your cake and eat it too!
So, take a hard pass on Junior’s and head straight to Levain Bakery, at either 351 Amsterdam Avenue, 167 West 74th Street, or 2167 Frederick Douglas Boulevard.
The Frederick Douglas Boulevard location is WAY less crowded and a much better option, at least if you can handle schlepping all the way up to Harlem.
But I promise:
Any trip to Levain Bakery is totally worth it since they have some of the most amazing cookies that I’ve EVER tasted.
These confectionary creations are pure, dessert perfection and come out all warm, moist, chewy, and delicious.
What, not in the mood for a cookie?
Then haul ass to my other favorite dessert place in NYC, Underwest Donuts (638 West 47th street).
And don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you!
Sure, this place is a total hole in the wall that adjoins a real working carwash, but so what?
This place can look as dumpy as it wants since these circles of carbohydrate wonder are moist, rich, non-greasy, and decadently delightful.
They come in a variety of wicked awesome, Wily Wonka-esq flavors like Lavender Vanilla.
What more could you ask for, besides a side of Ryan Gosling of course?
3. Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe it or Not
My mother always told me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
So yeah, mums the word (Get it?? Of course, you do! Lame puns are a GO!)
The only thing that I’ll say about these two NYC attractions is that they are crowded, expensive, and left me feeling disappointed.
I think the Tenement Museum, at both 97 and 103 Orchard Street, is a much better option.
This museum does a superb job of recreating the dark, dank, dirty, and cramped living conditions that typified immigrant tenements throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Prepare to step back in time and enjoy the beautiful stories of former NYC immigrants who called the Lower East Side of NYC home.
Through a variety of unique guided tours, within the museum’s two separate buildings, you’ll appreciate many of the unique challenges that different groups of immigrants faced when moving to NYC.
Some of the museum’s available tours include Under One Roof (The experiences of immigrants who settled in NYC after WWII), Hard Times (A look at how immigrants, from the late 1800s and early 1900s, coped with life’s hardships), Sweatshop Workers (Explore the apartments of sweatshop workers in the garment industry and understand how they lived between the 1890s and 1910’), Irish Outsiders (Understand the discrimination that Irish immigrants encountered during the late 1800’s), and more.
Be sure to book your guided tour well in advance since many of these experiences do sell out quickly (that’s because many of these tours only have 12 available slots).
***You could also visit the incredibly underrated, Frick Collection (at 1 East 70th Street), which is a historic, private art collection, turned museum, where you can marvel at masterpieces from iconic artists like Vermeer, Bellini, Rembrandt, Goya and more.***
4. The Book of Mormon on Broadway
Suffice it to say:
I was not a fan and have seen much better shows on Broadway.
Don’t get me wrong:
I love over the top, raunchy humor just as much as the next girl. And I wanted to enjoy this Broadway musical.
But sadly, I did not.
I also wanna give a special shout out to Waitress (256 West 47th Street), a show that I adored.
I thought it was gonna suck and I loved it.
But the best part?
Tickets to Waitress are reasonably priced and relatively easy to get.
Because let’s be honest:
When you travel, stress-free is the way to be (Click here and find out how to get half-price Broadway tickets the EASY way)
5. Central Park
This immortal NYC park has it all. Strawberry Fields, the Central Park Zoo, Belvedere Castle, etc.
So what’s not to love?
Well, for an anti-social hermit like me, the CROWDS. Everybody visits Central Park and as a result, a trip here can be an anxiety-inducing, claustrophobic experience.
So while it’s a great place to visit:
It’s not ideal for relaxing and taking a quiet afternoon for yourself.
If you’re looking for a bit more peace and quiet within the city that never sleeps, then you may want to steer clear of Central Park.
For a more relaxing park visit:
Try Prospect Park in Brooklyn which, believe it or not, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same two architects who created Central Park.
Because Brooklyn was far less developed than Manhattan in 1867, these two architectural magicians were given more creative freedom and were able to develop a true oasis of greenery.
Visit this exquisite green space and you’ll find vast wooded areas, a lake, a carousel, a zoo, and even a mile-long meadow, all of which combine to create the perfect escape from the busy insanity of the city, at least for a little while.
To get here:
Just take the Q towards Coney Island and get off at, you guessed it, Prospect Park, subway station.
6. Little Italy
I do love Little Italy. I mean, the streets are charming and filled with exquisite street art that is a must-see for anyone visiting NYC.
For every delicious cannoli that you find here, you’ll also encounter a high price tag, as well as a line of about a hundred tourists waiting to get their hands on that aforementioned cannoli.
And I get it.
If I was tourist, I too would head straight to Little Italy so that I could devour some of the delicious, authentic Italian food that this immigrant neighborhood is known for.
Started in the 1800s by Italian immigrants:
Little Italy is filled with traditional Italian shops, bakeries, tenement buildings, and narrow streets, like Mulberry Street, which is transformed into a pedestrian walkway each weekend during the summer.
Crowds of tourists + narrow streets = no bueno.
If you don’t enjoy feeling like a canned sardine as you walk down the street, then skip Little Italy and head straight to Arthur Avenue.
Located in none other than the boogie down Bronx” (I promise, it’s super safe):
Just take either the Hudson or Harlem MetroNorth railway lines, from Grand Central Terminal, and get off at Fordham (save money by purchasing a round trip ticket before you board the train).
It’s just a 15 minute walk to the gastronomic bliss that is Arthur Avenue.
This is where all the locals go for delicious, authentic Italian food that is reasonably priced. There are also like zero tourists here so that doesn’t hurt either.
Not sure where to eat?
Try Enzo’s (2339 Arthur Avenue), a restaurant where the only thing bigger than the portions are the personalities of the warm and welcoming people who run this authentic Italian eatery (call to make a reservation).
Red sauce and authentic, Italian parmigiana are a religious experience here so definitely don’t leave without trying either of those things.
Eat here and you definitely won’t leave hungry.
***Other fantastic eateries along Arthur Avenue include Randazzo’s ( seafood market), Calandra’s Cheese Shop (for duh, cheese), Madonia Brothers Bakery, Casa Della Mozzarella, and Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodle (get the ravioli).***
7. Pedicab Ride through Central Park
Aww, who doesn’t fancy a guided bicycle ride through Central Park?
Isn’t that just the perfect way to create lasting memories of your trip to NYC?
Sure is…if you want to cry every time you remember how much money you spent on a stank (literally since those poor guys sweat up a storm) ride through NYC’s most famous park.
I did this a total of once and vowed never to do it again. It’s just totally overpriced and not worth it at all.
Want to take a romantic bike ride through Central Park?
Then just rent a Citi Bike instead. The bike costs just $10 a day and is a great way to explore Central Park at your own pace.
8. High Tea at The Plaza’s Palm Court
It’s not that high tea at the Plaza is bad, it’s just that you’ll have to wait a matter of months for a reservation to open up (Plus it’s mad expensive since it’s like $75 per person)
Unless you’re willing to plan and make reservations well in advance, I suggest going elsewhere for afternoon tea.
Per usual, I’ve got you covered. So get those pinkies up ladies and gents because If you’re short on time, and money, then Bosie’s Tea Parlor in the West Village (10 Morton Street) is the place to be.
High Tea is just $39 for one person and $75 for two people. This service includes 2 teas of your choice, 3 types of sandwiches (Available sandwiches include Farmer’s Egg Salad with thyme, Cucumber with cream cheese and dill, chicken breast with golden raisins and curried mayonnaise, Cheddar Cheese and Branston pickle, etc.), macarons, scones, and cakes.
And while the decor is chic and refined:
The atmosphere is still relatively relaxed, so no need to worry about getting scolded for putting your elbows on the table.
The food here is also exquisitely refined, with subtle French influences that take this afternoon tea experience in NYC to the NEXT level
Plus, with over a hundred teas to choose from:
Bosie Tea Parlor is home to the largest selection of teas in the entire city.
This restaurant is a true delight for any tea and dessert mongers out there, like me!
9. Iceskating at Rockefeller Center
We’ve all seen this quintessential NYC moment immortalized in about a thousand romantic comedies.
The real life experience doesn’t live up to the hype.
The lines are horribly long and at $25 per ticket (plus $12 for skate rentals), the price is just downright outrageous.
This rink is small, there are people EVERYWHERE, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get bored after about 2.5 seconds.
Forgo the buyer’s remorse and skate somewhere else.
You can ice-skate just about anywhere in the city since ice rinks pop up everywhere throughout the winter in NYC.
Bryant Park, Wollman Rink in Central Park, and Mccarran Rink will all give you those cozy winter vibes you’re looking for but without the added stress and frustration of waiting in line.
Ice skating in Central Park with the city lit up behind you is probably one of the most romantic things to do in NYC.
Remember to bring cash to the rink since many of these places don’t accept credit cards (a total rarity in NYC).
10. Serendipity NYC
I’m sure you’ve heard of this fine purveyor of desserts, which was prominently featured in the quintessential, romantic comedy of the same name, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.
A restaurant that is undoubtedly doing something right since they currently have three locations in NYC, and many more across the globe.
I am not a fan. I think Serendipity is a total NYC tourist trap that is filled with nothing but long lines, large crowds, and frozen hot chocolates that taste more like chocolate milk than anything else.
I’d skip Serendipity altogether and opt for a more intimate dessert experience at The Chocolate Room (51 Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, not Manhattan) instead.
You’ll find a dimly lit, cozy cafe that is devoid of screaming children, hurling themselves across the floor because they received chocolate sprinkles instead of rainbow ones.
Be sure to stop by and try any of their decadent brownie sundaes, cakes, or ice cream sandwiches.
All are insanely delicious and worth every calorie, which is high praise when coming from a dessert addict like me.
11. Grimaldi’a in DUMBO, Brooklyn
I don’t HATE Grimaldi’s since it’s an NYC pizza institution that first started with its flagship store at 1 Front Street in Brooklyn.
Grimaldi’s pizzerias have taken over the world, with multiple locations all across the United States.
And while I don’t dislike their fresh, coal-fired, brick-oven pizza (It’s only sold by the pie, not slice), I honestly don’t think Grimaldi’s is the same place it used to be.
Which makes total sense when you realize that Patsy Grimaldi sold his iconic pizzeria back in 1998.
This former owner of Grimaldi’s has opened up another pizza place just down the street, known as Juliana’s.
I’m gonna go a little rogue here since I’m not a HUGE fan of either Grimaldi’s or Juliana’s.
Totally blasphemy, but I can’t help it.
The lines at both places are long, the prices are high (I mean it is just pizza after all), and the pizza was OKAY, but nothing exceptional.
For my money:
I’d buy pizza from Eataly instead. This innovative Italian food market/restaurant creates a unique food experience with fresh ingredients, exciting new flavor combinations, and modern cooking techniques that will leave your tastebuds singing with delight.
Dining here is a multi-faceted experience since this complex offers a comprehensive Italian food experience that includes everything from grocery shopping to upscale restaurant dining.
The downtown store is conveniently located at 101 Liberty Street, right next door to the must-see, World Trade Center Memorial.
12. Times Square
I don’t often say this, but I LOATHE Times Square, like with the burning fury of a thousand suns.
Not only is it crowded AF, and filled with tourists who just stop and stare in the middle of the sidewalk, but there is seriously nothing culturally exciting, or redeeming about this place.
I do anything and everything in my power to avoid this overcrowded, cultural wasteland of high prices and perplexed tourists at all costs (In fairness, I’m an anti-social hermit who hates crowds and people in general, so part of this is just me).
I would happily walk an extra fifteen miles just to avoid the madness that is Times Square.
If you’re planning a trip to New York for the first time, then I get why you feel like you need to visit Times Square.
It is practically the center of the universe. Just be careful since everything here is an overpriced, NYC tourist trap.
The restaurants here are overpriced and mediocre at best while the shops carry expensive, low-quality souvenirs that will disintegrate 5 minutes after you purchase them.
Do not try and sneak a photo of those costumed superheroes, Elmos and Mickey Mice (yes and I meant that in plural form) that creepily troll through Times Square.
You might be able to sneak a pic, but if you’re caught, they will be pissed and come after you for a tip, even if you aren’t in the photo yourself!
And they are mad aggressive about it too, so just don’t do it.
13. The Meatpacking District
I think I went here once and vowed never again since it was insanely expensive and I felt like a sardine that was packed into a very tiny tin can.
If you’re in New York and into the clubbing scene, check out Williamsburg, Brooklyn instead.
The atmosphere is much less pretentious and way more down to earth; basically a more relatable social scene that is more my style, not that I actually go clubbing anymore, but you get the idea.
Checking out Brooklyn is a must on every New York itinerary these days.
***Not sure where to go clubbing in Williamsburg? Then try The Panther Room (State of the art sound system, 452-person capacity, and 2 floors of dancing mayhem), Bembe (International dance club with music from around the world), Black Flamingo (Miami-style cocktail bar and taqueria with nightly dance parties), and The Woods (A chill, canteen-like bar with picnic tables out back and weeknight dance parties).***
14. Yankee Stadium
It pains me to put this one on this list of NYC tourist traps since I’m a die-hard Yankee fan forever and always.
The tickets can be expensive, the stadium is crowded, and the cost of the food and drinks are insane (they even have pour counters on all of the alcohol bottles so that you don’t inadvertently get extra booze).
If I wasn’t a Yankee fan but still wanted to experience all the awesomeness of a baseball game in NYC, then I’d definitely get tickets to see the Mets at CitiField.
You’ll get the same experience, except the tickets will be cheaper and the stadium will be less crowded since the METS aren’t exactly known for being a winning team.
If any Yankee fans ask, you didn’t hear this from me.
***For the best tickets, use StubHub and purchase your tickets about an hour or two before the game (unless it’s a high profile game). This is the time when sellers will start lowering their prices since they’d rather make some money off their tickets than none at all. ***
15. The Statue of Liberty
I get it.
Who doesn’t want to get up close and personal with the awe-inspiring grandeur of good ol’, Lady Liberty?
Your answer might change when you realize that it’s $23.50 for an adult ticket to see this iconic, New York City monument.
Let’s be honest, there isn’t much to do once you arrive on Liberty Island, besides visit an okay museum.
You also won’t be snagging any amazing photo ops since you’ll be standing almost right on top of her.
I prefer to see the Statue of Liberty from aboard the Staten Island Ferry. Not only are the panoramic views incredible, but this fantastic ferry service operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Sit back, relax, and marvel at the beauty of the Statue of Liberty as you peacefully float across New York Harbor.
This ferry ride typically lasts about 25 minutes and departs from Whitehall Terminal, at 4 South Street, Manhattan, every 30 minutes (and every 15 minutes during rush hour).
Thank me later:
Because not only are the views of the NYC skyline incredible, but the tickets are FREE, aka the best price tag EVER!
16. Shopping Along Fifth Avenue
Strolling down 5th Avenue, like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, sounds romantic…until you actually do it.
First of all, everyone and their brother’s, sister’s, cousin’s dog is walking along Fifth Avenue.
And, they all stop short every five seconds so that they can gawk at all the ultra-chic, high-end retailer that calls Fifth Avenue home.
You know, icons of luxury like Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, etc.
As a result:
Walking is beyond difficult, if not impossible. Add in the fine art of stepping into overcrowded stores as you attempt to try things on, and you may decide to call it a day after walking down a solitary city block.
Most of the stores that sit along Fifth Avenue are high-end brands that are bougie beyond my wildest dreams.
If shopping in NYC is a must for you, then check out some of the city’s more budget-friendly stores. You know, places like INA NYC, Primark, Flirt Brooklyn, etc.
There are a ton of fun, reasonably priced, places to shop. You just have to slowly back away from Fifth Avenue first.
And if you’re in need of some serious shopping inspiration:
Then check out my detailed guide to 12 of the Best Places to Shop in NYC on a Budget.
17. Eating at a Hot Dog Cart
I honestly didn’t even eat at hot dog carts when I wasn’t a vegetarian.
But I get:
These street vendors (along with the Nuts 4 Nuts guys) are NYC icons.
You see them everywhere, especially around some of NYC’s hottest tourist traps (I’m looking at you Times Square… cue Jaws music).
I can’t blame you for wanting to stop and try a dirty water dog for yourself.
That would be a travesty since this city is home to some of the best food trucks in the entire world.
Think of dining at a hot dog cart as a heinous food crime of epic proportions.
Who knows how long those hot dogs have been sitting in that water.
I highly doubt that you want to spend the rest of your vacation in the bathroom
If you must have a hot dog in NYC, then go to Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway). It’s cheap, fast, delicious, and open 24-hours a day.
They also serve a variety of fresh, tropical, fruit juices that will help make you feel healthy (ish), especially after ingesting that nitrate bomb of yours (aka hot dog).
18. Magnolia Bakery (I still love their Banana Pudding. #justsayin’)
I have no problem standing in line for dessert, especially since my love of sugar runs real deep.
There are just so many other dessert shops out there that are infinitely better than Magnolia Bakery.
First of all:
The lines here are so long, that the bakery may actually run out of, well, everything before you get the chance to order.
And while their banana pudding is worth every calorie (and it’s made of banana, which is a fruit, so obviously it’s healthy and the calories don’t count), I just can’t risk leaving without my dessert fix.
Yup, my love of dessert is THAT serious.
So, if you’re looking for another NYC bakery to love, then check out Milk Bar (They have East Village, Chelsea, and Upper West Side locations).
You’ll probably have to wait in line here too, but Milk Bar’s quirky spin on traditional desserts makes this bakery totally worth any and all potential linage.
Their cupcakes may not be as pretty and pristine as the ones at Magnolia.
They still offer a unique variety of sweet treats, like their famous crack pie, b’day truffles, and cereal milk soft serve (not my fave but other people seem to love it), that all combine to create a total must-visit bakery for any dessert lover in NYC.
And I promise:
Everything you order at Milk Bar is just as Instagrammable as what you might get at Magnolia Bakery.
Thankfully though, many of these top NYC attractions have alternatives that, dare I say it, are even better than the original; things to do in NYC that won’t force you to wait in 3 hour long lines, or spend your entire life’s savings.
And if you’re as hyped as I am about saving all this coin and freeing up all your vacation time, then pin this now and read it again later!