Tourist Traps in New York to Watch Out for

By Stuart Bak

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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A Guide to New York City Points of Interest

New York is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The streets are alive from day until night and it’s quite true that the city never sleeps. Its iconic skyline is one of the most recognizable with impressive skyscrapers and historic landmarks and the age-old promise of the American Dream never feels too far away. New York City points of interest are too many to count on one hand but here are top 10 places to visit in New York. In no particular order, some of the best New York landmarks are: Williamsburg Bridge While not as famous as its sister bridge, Brooklyn, the Williamsburg Bridge is a great option to avoid the crowds but still enjoy the same experience. Whether you rent a Citi bike and cycle over or take the pedestrian route, it’s a fun adventure leaving Manhattan to explore this hipster-friendly up and coming area that has fast become one of the most sought-after boroughs in Brooklyn. Williamsburg is full of quirky cafes and bars, independent boutiques, tattoo shops and vegan restaurants waiting to be found. Times Square It’s cliché, but Times Square has to be on the New York City points of interest list. It would be like visiting London and not seeing Buckingham Palace. Times Square is a vibrant, loud, bustling, exciting, overwhelming experience – a real sensory overload but that’s part of it. High story buildings loom overhead with dynamic digital advertisements, shop fronts are wide and beckoning with all manner of tourist souvenirs and you can find some of the city’s most famous Broadway shows, comedy venues and theatres a stone’s throw away. Central Park Measuring in at an impressive 843-acres, Central Park is an urban oasis amid the bustling streets of this vibrant city. Framed by skyscrapers and townhouses owned by some of the wealthiest names in the world, Central Park is one of the New York landmarks favoured by all. In the summer you’ll find visitors and locals alike relaxing with their picnics and idle rowers boating on the lake. Even in the winter you can go ice skating or enjoy a stroll through the snow-dusted paths with a hot drink. Whether you're strolling or cycling through - Central Park should be on everyone's must-visit list when in New York. High Line Perhaps one of the newest New York City points of interest: the High Line. Built along an old freight railway line, it’s a creative urban green space elevated above Manhattan’s West Side. It has become a wonderground for nature, art and design making it one of New York’s most unique cultural experiences. Take half a day and walk along the woodlands, stay a while at the sundeck and water feature, stop for lunch at the Chelsea Market food court and enjoy the buskers and artists along the way. There is also a programme of events held throughout the year such as performances, salsa dances and thought-provoking discussions and debates. Top of the Rock The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic New York landmarks but rather than wait in line to get to the top like everyone else, head over to Rockefeller Plaza instead and up to the 360-degree Top of the Rock Observatory Deck to see it from a new perspective. At night the experience is especially breath-taking when the iconic New York skyline is illuminated so you can see the Empire State Building, as well as the Chrysler Building and even over to Times Square. Wall Street’s Bull & Fearless Girl Otherwise known as the Charging Bull, Wall Street’s Bull is one of the many New York City points of interest to be found in Downtown Manhattan’s Financial District. How they managed to sneak a 3000kg bronze bull into the city is anyone’s guess, but thanks to its popularity it’s staying for good. Tip: catch the Fearless Girl by Kristen Visbal, who stares down the bull with hands on hips, before she is relocated in 2019. MOMA If you have a few hours to spare, the Museum of Modern Art (known locally as the MOMA) is an endless display of visual treats that will inspire and also challenge with their range of diverse cultural, artistic, social and political offerings. The permanent exhibitions showcase world-famous pieces from renowned modern artists and there’s a sculpture garden with works by Picasso and Rodin, as well as an art-house cinema. Tip: make the most of the Free Fridays to save on the entry fee. Statue of Liberty There aren’t many other New York landmarks that quite have the same wow-factor as the Statue of Liberty. A symbol in Hollywood films, a chance to get up close to this iconic statue in real life is on most people’s To Do list when planning a trip to New York. Lady Liberty offers unparalleled views of the city from a new vantage point, her crown, and on your way back it would be worth visiting the Liberty Island museum to learn more about her history and how she came to be here, all the way from France. Apollo Theatre Head to the Harlem institution, the Apollo Theatre. It was here that Ella Fitzgerald debuted in 1934, in 1962 the venue catapulted the talented James Brown into households around the country and a mere two years later Jimi Hendrix won first prize at an Amateur Night. Now, you’ll find headliners like Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on stage, but you can still attend the renowned Wednesday Amateur Night to witness some of the hottest up-and-coming talent emerging from the city, too. Yankee Stadium Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, going to the Yankees stadium is a pretty big deal and one of the New York points of interest you won’t want to miss. Situated in the Bronx, the original House That Ruth Built has been flattened but the current Yankees Stadium II is just across the street. There is a museum too with memorabilia from every Yankees player to date. Fun fact: as a little tradition, they play Frank Sinatra’s New York New York after every game.
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The Best Things to do in Greenwich Village

Certain parts of New York are simply iconic, from Central Park to Lincoln Center. To that list you’d have to add Greenwich Village, home of beat poets, cool jazz, and, lately, good restaurants and shopping. Here are some of the best things to do in Greenwich Village. Washington Square Arch Washington Square Park, not surprisingly, is named for George Washington— he was actually inaugurated in New York as the country’s first president. The original arch was made of wood and designed to commemorate the inauguration. The marble one that stands there now was designed by the notable architect Stanford White. You can see statues of Washington and other noted leaders throughout the park, as well as performers, chess players, dog walkers. Even protesters. It’s an essential historic stop on any tour. “Friends” apartment Whether you’re obsessed with Friends (the show, not your actual ones) you have to admit that the apartment in the series is pretty iconic. The apartment - at least the exterior - is real, and you can stop by and take a few pics for posterity. It’s located at 90 Bedford Street on the corner of Grove. There’s also a great restaurant called Little Owl on the ground floor. Take your photos, find a fountain to jump in, go have a coffee, and your Friends experience will be complete. Macdougal Street Once known for being the epicenter of cool - Bob Dylan played his first gig there; Hemingway drank there; and numerous other luminaries lived, worked, or hung out there - Macdougal Street is another one in the Village that has seen an urban renaissance. Go stroll it for its history, as well as its places to eat. For starters, the once-legendary Caffe Dante is now simply Dante, and has rebranded itself as a bar/restaurant that’s known for being a great date spot. Stop by Café Wha? where Jimi Hendrix and Dylan used to play, and grab a drink and some oysters at the Mermaid Oyster Bar. But mostly, just go soak up the vibes. [caption id="attachment_3429" align="alignnone" width="2048"] Photo courtesy of Cafe Wha?[/caption] Stonewall Inn The site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Inn is a bar, entertainment space, and historic landmark all in one. It’s in the heart of Greenwich Village, on Christopher Street, and is a vital part of the history of the Pride movement. It’s also the first LGBT-history site in the country listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and the first LGBT-history site in New York City. Go have a drink, buy a t-shirt, listen to some music, maybe play some drag bingo and be a part of the history. [caption id="attachment_3431" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo courtesy of The Stonewall Inn[/caption] IFC Center There are movie theaters, and then there’s the IFC Center, the premiere home of independent cinema in New York. Go not just to impress your friends by knowing that the latest New Wave film is playing here, but for a quintessential New York experience. It has five theaters, plenty of premieres of independent, documentary and foreign films, and a documentary festival every fall. Plus cult and classic movies on weekends. The ultimate NYC film experience, and a classic Greenwich Village one to boot. And if all this New York history has given you a hankering for more, while you're downtown, go check out Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. [caption id="attachment_3408" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo credit: IFC Center[/caption] Blue Note There are jazz clubs, and then there’s the Blue Note. If the name is familiar, they have branches around the globe, and it's hosted just about every jazz great. Opened in 1981, it’s now one of the premiere jazz clubs in the city. You’ll see headliners like Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner as well as legends like Stevie Wonder and Liza Minelli. But you’ll also get to see up and coming jazz musicians. If you like jazz- or just want to experience a piece of New York nightlife history- check this one out. [caption id="attachment_3425" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo credit: The Blue Note[/caption] Bleeker Street Once the center of a kind of urban hippie chic, Bleeker Street fell into disrepair, boasting empty storefronts and a desolate feel. But it's bounced back, and is now home to lots of chic stores and restaurants—definitely worth a visit. Visit vegan darling By Chloe, beloved by celebrities. And it's kosher, to boot. Also worth checking out: Bessou, which offers modern Japanese comfort food--yes, that’s a thing. The Porto Rico Importing Co. has been in business since 1907, and is a must-stop for tea and coffee lovers. Coffee is roasted daily; you’ll find some teas you won’t find anywhere else.) And The Village Tannery has been offering up its leather goods since 1973—it’s even open at night. Now you feel like you’re in the Village. [caption id="attachment_3442" align="alignnone" width="480"] Photo credit: Porto Rico Importing Co.[/caption] Spending New Year’s in New York? Here are some ways to make the most of it.
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