New York is a beautiful city. And boy, do TV and movies love to remind you of it. Unfortunately, the media also buys into all kinds of tourist traps in New York City which never really live up to the hype. With a city that has this much history, this many people and this much culture, there’s no time to waste on overpriced attractions. Here’s your definitive guide to avoiding bad tourist traps in New York City for the next time you visit.
The Empire State Building … during the day
Yes, you should still put the Empire State Building on your list. However, with the kinds of crowds it attracts, you’re better off putting this one off until nighttime. Here’s a local tip: the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building is actually open quite late – until midnight every night. Instead of heading there first thing in the day, wait until after 10 p.m. to get an unobstructed view of the city that never sleeps, the skyline lit up so you don’t miss a thing.
The Vessel and The Hudson Yards
The Vessel looks like some kind of beehive out of a Sci-Fi movie, and it’s natural to be curious about going inside. It offers an interesting view of the Hudson and the New Jersey side of the Palisades, too. Still, tickets are US$10 a person, and this attraction has a really unpleasant past, so you’re not even allowed to go up alone. It’s closed at the moment, anyway. Instead, take a stroll on the neighboring High Line, where you can get glimpses of the same views as well as a different perspective over the city. The High Line is free to enter, too!
Don’t bother shopping at the Hudson Yards, either. It’s just a glorified mall. And if you want to go to the mall, you’re better off crossing the Hudson. New Jersey is the mall capital of America, and they recently opened the ambitious American Dream Mall.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Just a couple of years ago, Tiffany’s on Fifth Ave announced that they’d open a cafe. So, yes, you can technically grab breakfast at Tiffany, if you really feel like it. We recommend that you … don’t do that. The Blue Box Cafe offers an overpriced menu without much character for a Manhattan restaurant. You’d probably be better off brunching literally anywhere else.
Actually, it’s in your best interest to seek out these independent brunch spots, or to grab a satisfying sandwich at a corner bodega. New York is very much a food city, so go find some local joints to try out instead!
Times Square restaurants and shopping
Although native New Yorkers wouldn’t be caught dead in Times Square, it does have a certain appeal that cannot be denied. So go there! Get your photo taken on the red TKTS steps, snap some pictures of the glistering electronic billboards and sidestep the vaguely threatening mascots who wander the area. But don’t spend any money there.
Yes, the Sephora store is huge and beckons guests like a siren, and the M&M’s store is a fun stop. You may be tempted to reach for your wallet, but you’ll regret it if you do. You can buy makeup and candy literally anywhere; there’s no point paying a premium just because you’re in Times Square.
The food at restaurants surrounding the plaza area is passable, at best, and extremely expensive. Yes, there is a Hard Rock Cafe here. But there’s a Hard Rock Cafe in every major city. Don’t waste a precious meal in the city at Bubba Gump, either. You will be tempted, but as soon as you leave Times Square, an entire world of awesome, affordable food options will open up to you.
And do not, under any circumstances, go to Times Square for New Years.
Rockefeller Center at Christmastime
While the Rockefeller Christmas Tree has become a phenomenon worth elbowing through the crowd to see, everything else in the area is something of a racket. Waiting for hours to skate on the rink by the tree? Pass on that one. There are other outdoor skating rinks in the city. It’s a wonder that “Elf” made it look so easy to get on this ice.
In reality, tickets to skate cost US$28 during the 2020 holiday season, and that’s excluding the cost of a skate rental. While it’s picturesque to look at the skaters below the tree, don’t be one of them. Instead, you can try the picturesque outdoor skating offered by Wollman Rink in Central Park.
Just take the subway
There are so many ways to get around the city. There are only two you should really entertain: walking and public transportation. Do not be tempted by the horse drawn carriages or the “Hop On/Hop Off” bus tours. Pedicabs also aren’t a great idea, and neither is taking an actual yellow cab or Uber. All of these services are just too good to be true, and will force you to pay out the ears for them.
Instead, grab a US$3.25 metrocard and get wherever you need to be in 20 minutes flat. Locals are happy to tell anyone who will listen that the MTA is the worst. Yeah, it’s not a horse ride through Central Park. But it is fast, and it is iconic in its own right.
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