People love to visit New York City.
But tourists, especially those seeing the Big Apple for the first time, often get sucked into expensive and overrated tourist traps.
These are the places you should skip, and alternatives that are more authentic, cheaper, and more fun.
Instead of seeing the sights from the top of the Empire State Building, take in the city skyline (for free) on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
The Empire State Building has great views of the city, but it’s not worth the expensive ticket and long lines.
A better way to take in New York’s amazing skyline? Go across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. It’s free, beautiful, and one of the best places to see NYC’s skyline, day or night.
Instead of being gouged for “Italian” food in Little Italy, go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
Little Italy is a sad little strip nestled right above Chinatown. The real Little Italy — with its amazing Italian-American food — is on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
You can find fresh cheese at Casa Della Mozzarella, an amazing selection of fish at Cosenza’s, and a slew of fantastic Italian-American bakeries.
Instead of taking a pedicab ride, rent a Citi Bike.
Pedicabs are a part of life in NYC, especially around Central Park and midtown where it can be hard to catch a cab. But they can be expensive and slow.
We recommend trying a Citi Bike. You can sign up for a day pass for $US10 and ride around the city yourself. Read more about how to use a Citi Bike here.
Instead of waiting months to have high tea at the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court, have a tea party at Bosie Tea Parlor.
High Tea in the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court is iconic, but even with a reservation, you’ll likely be waiting for your table and tripping over tourists in the process.
Your tea and pastries will be much cheaper at Bosie Tea Parlor in the West Village. High Tea for two is only $US55 and comes with 2 teas of your choice, three types of sandwich, macaroons, scones, and cake.
Instead of battling tourists at Central Park, head to the more low key (and gorgeous) Prospect Park.
Don’t get me wrong, Central Park is great, with Shakespeare Gardens, grassy knolls, and a gorgeous double skyline with skyscrapers rising above the trees. But man, is it crowded.
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was created by the same architects — Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — but they had much more free reign with their Brooklyn design and were able to create a real pastoral haven. With woods, a lake, and a mile-long meadow, anyone who visits Prospect Park will forget they’re in NYC for a little while.
Instead of cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery, try the amazing cookies at Levain Bakery.
Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes may be tasty, but with its long lines and recent health code violations, this tourist stop is highly overrated. A much better option is the beyond-delicious Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side.
The cookies are gigantic (they look more like scones than cookies), and though they cost $US4 per cookie, they are the tastiest, softest, and most scrumptious cookies I’ve ever tried. Try the chocolate chip and walnut cookie and thank me later.
Instead of going to Century 21 for discounted designer fashions, hit up a real NYC sample sale.
The racks at discount designer store Century 21 can be fun to pick through, but more often than not these stores are chock full of deal-seeking shoppers and tourists, long lines, and picked-through inventory.
A better idea is to hit up some of NYC’s amazing sample sales. There’s usually always something going on 260 Fifth Avenue (sign up for email updates here) or in SoHo — Racked NY always has a great rundown.
Instead of spending a fortune to ice skate at Rockefeller Center, skate at the less-crowded McCarren Rink in Brooklyn.
To skate at Rockefeller Center, it costs $US27 for an adult ticket ($15 for kids) plus $US12 for skate rental. That’s a total of roughly $US40 to skate with 150 other people for an hour and a half.
McCarren Rink in Brooklyn is a better option that is both less crowded and cheap. It costs $US8 for adults ($4 for children), skate rental is only $US5, and you can skate as long as you want.
Instead of watching the city flash by on a tour bus, go walk around.
New York City tour buses can help new arrivals get a feel for all of NYC’s neighborhoods, but a much better (and healthier, cheaper) option is to just walk around.
From the Upper West Side to the Financial District, every area in New York has a distinct personality. If you want a more in-depth look at each neighbourhood, there are walking tours you can sign up for.
Instead of going clubbing in the Meatpacking District, head to where all the cool kids are in Williamsburg.
The Meatpacking District may be where certain celebrities, big shots, and models hang out, but for the rest of us, it’s expensive and you may not even be able to get past the door.
Williamsburg has awesome (and cheaper) bars and nightclubs like Output, plus way less pretentious and annoying people. There’s a wide variety of nightlife, too, from watering holes for cocktails snobs to drunk bowling.
Instead of sharing a frozen hot chocolate sundae at Serendipity III, have a romantic night at The Chocolate Room.
The made-from-scratch treats at The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn far exceed those at Serendipity III, and the ambiance is much more romantic. Perfect for a birthday or a date, the restaurant is dimly lit and cozy.
If you’re not sure what to order, try the brownie sundae and their ice cream sandwiches. All their cakes — from classic chocolate to chocolate almond — are also delicious.
Instead of Grimaldi’s Pizza in DUMBO, head down the street to Juliana’s Pizza.
Grimaldi’s has slowly become more and more of a tourist trap through the years. Patsy Grimaldi sold Grimaldi’s pizza parlor in 1998, but he opened another little pizza place down the street recently that he calls Juliana’s.
And while Grimaldi’s is just ok, Juliana’s is the real gem — its ingredients are fresh and vibrant, the pizza isn’t greasy, and they make a truly amazing sauce. Don’t forget to try the homemade Brookie deserts (a combination of a brownie and cookie).
Instead of seeing sex toys and exhibitionist exhibits at the Museum of Sex, go to a burlesque show at Galapagos Art Space.
The Museum of Sex might raise eyebrows, but it’s underwhelming, crowded, and not worth the price for admission. If you’re in the mood for a risqué attraction, get tickets to a burlesque show at Galapagos Art Space.
With fire breathing, aerial performances, “tantric yoga,” and more, this will definitely be a far more entertaining way to spend your evening. Plus, the venue is gorgeous.
Instead of going to Times Square, go literally anywhere else.
Seriously — this city is huge with plenty of boroughs, neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions to explore.
Walk through Times Square if you must, take your pictures, and then never, ever go there again.
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