Panoramic view of Central Park and the Hudson in New York
Stuart Bak

Tourist Traps in New York to Watch Out for

Want to avoid the Big Apple taking a bite from you rather than, you know, the other way around? Our guide to the tourist traps to watch out for in New York is here to help! We’re talking cartoonish scams on Times Square, totally avoidable Empire State Building queues, and the perks of side-swerving Central Park. Read on for our whistle stop guide to New York's most notorious tourist traps, plus how to avoid them and what to do instead…

New York Tourist Traps: The Statue of Liberty

Man photographing the Statue of Liberty

We know, we know, but hear us out! Of course we understand that you can’t go to New York without checking out the Green Goddess at close quarters. That would be crazy, right? Right. But there are good ways and bad ways of experiencing *the* emblem of American freedom.

Case in point: it'll set you back a cool $20+ to disembark with the tourist hordes at Ellis Island, have a poke around the so-so Immigration Museum then spend the next half hour taking awkward selfies that, at such proximity to Lady Liberty, are always doomed to failure. Sure, you can climb the spiral staircase inside to get a view from the statue’s crown. But a) there’s an additional charge for that; b) there are 354 steps and c) you can’t actually see the Statue of Liberty from here because, well, you’re inside it.

Novelty souvenir rubber ducks including one as the Statue of Liberty

Our advice? Save your time and dime and avoid this classic NYC tourist trap. There are fine views of the statue to be had from all over Manhattan: try the Brooklyn Bridge or indeed any observation platform (of which there are many). Better yet, take the free – yes, free – Staten Island Ferry for a 25-minute round-trip across New York Harbor that affords some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty in town. It runs 24/7, year-round, so there are plenty of opportunities to travel in lull periods. Oh, and did we mention it’s free?

New York Tourist Traps: Times Square

Times Square street sign and yellow NYC cab

Like innocent moths to a particularly gaudy flame, tourists are drawn to Times Square in their multitudes. You can spot them a mile off: slightly bamboozled expressions, phone cameras held gormlessly aloft as they clog the sidewalks, all eager to secure that essential Insta-perfect selfie. But tourist traps don’t come much more crass, crowded and over-commercialized than Times Square. 

Astronomical prices at glossy-looking chain restaurants like the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Olive Garden should be matched by out-of-this-world food. Alas you’re paying a premium for location only, and the distinctly average food is likely to bring you down to earth with a bump. Even the legendary Magnolia Bakery dessert store just isn’t worth the looooong wait.

Store selling souvenir NYC snow globes

Stores hawk overpriced souvenir tat that’s seemingly designed to self-destruct five seconds after purchase and Broadway tickets offered by street touts at prices that seem too good to be true are precisely that. After all, $50 is *a lot* to fork out for a souvenir fake Hamilton ticket.

Wanna see Mickey Mouse drop character and morph into a pushy, big-eared street rat? Course you do! Times Square is overrun with third-rate Mickeys, Donalds, Elmos, and Marvel and DC superheroes, i.e. characters designed to appeal to kids. None of these are affiliated to the entertainment companies that spawned them and all of them will try to trick you into having your photo taken with them before aggressively demanding ‘tips’ for their troubles. Avoid, avoid, and furthermore, avoid!

New York Tourist Traps: Empire State Building

Manhattan skyline including the Empire State Building

The image of King Kong clinging to his beloved Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and batting away airplanes from atop of the Empire State Building is one of the most iconic in movie history. But does that mean you should visit this Art Deco monolith? No, dear reader, it does not. Sure, it’s an architectural masterpiece and yep, it’s bucket list material for sure. But popularity means queues as long as the tower is tall (1,453 feet). Ok maybe not quite that long, but you get the general idea. Prices are also sky high, and increase the higher up the tower you want to go. In short: it’s a classic New York tourist trap. But if astronomical prices, super-long queues, and being crammed into elevators like sardines is your thing, then go for it!

Alternatively, johnny-come-lately observation platforms like Edge and Summit One Vanderbilt offer more modern, multi-sensory experiences as well as – perhaps critically – boasting views of the Empire State Building itself. Try the City Climb at Edge for a knee-knocking al fresco stroll across the roof of one of NYC’s tallest skyscrapers. Or enjoy rather more down-to-earth views from the Brooklyn Bridge, a New York must-see in its own right.

New York Tourist Traps: Central Park

Busy Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, New York

Central Park is free to visit, and don’t the tourists (and scammers) just know it! It’s amazing how a tract of land that’s many times the size of Monaco, more vast than the Vatican City, and could fit upwards of 600 football fields can feel so incredibly… busy. Tourists flock to this Big Apple centerpiece for its indisputably fine collection of attractions. To wit: a cute miniature castle that doubles as a weather station, a tranquil memorial to John Lennon, the gorgeous neoclassical Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, and the extraordinary Metropolitan Museum of Art. And that’s just for starters.

Central Park pedicabs

Pedicab drivers swarm the paths, charming unsuspecting tourists into taking rides that will likely end up costing you anywhere from $5-11 per minute! Frankly you might be quicker if you walk. You’ll certainly be richer. In summary: if crowds ain’t your bag, give Central Park a wide berth. In spite of its huge size, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a quiet spot here at any time of year.

Instead, hit up the equally pleasant (and far less busy) Hudson River Park (great for cycling!) or Brooklyn’s pretty Prospect Park. The latter was designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated 19th-century architects who were also responsible for – yup, you guessed it – our old pal Central Park. Prospect is a little over half the size of its more famous cousin and provides a tranquil retreat from the madness of the city, counting sprawling areas of woodland, great meadows, a lake, a zoo and a carousel among its many charms.

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