The 17 worst tourist traps in New York City and where to go instead

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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 cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery, try the amazing cookies at Levain Bakery.

Levain cookies not magnolia bakeryLevain Bakery has the best cookies in NYC.

Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes may be tasty, but with its long lines and previous 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 $4 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 seeing the sights from the top of the Empire State Building, take in the city skyline (for free) on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Brooklyn heights promenade not empire state buildingShutterstock and Daniel Goodman/Business InsiderThe Brooklyn Heights Promenade has a beautiful view of the city.

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.

Arthur avenue bronx new york not little and littleny/ShutterstockArthur Avenue is the real Little Italy.

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.

Nyc citi bike not and Bikes only cost $10 a day.

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 $10 and ride around the city yourself. Read more about how to use a Citi Bike here.

Instead of watching the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium, cheer on the minor leagues at a Staten Island baseball game.

Staten island and Staten Island Yankees stadium has a much better view of the city.

The Yankees may be one of New York’s home teams, but a ticket to the games is pretty pricey. Plus, the stadium isn’t exactly easy to get to in the Bronx.

Instead, head over to Staten Island to watch a way less crowded, much cheaper game at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Sure the players aren’t as famous, but you’ll watch a great game and see amazing views of the skyline.

Instead of battling tourists at Central Park, head to the more low key (and gorgeous) Prospect Park.

Central park vs prospect parkShutterstockThe architects of Central and Prospect Parks were the same.

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 waiting months to have high tea at the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court, have a tea party at Bosie Tea Parlor.

High tea at Bosie Tea Parlor not plaza hotelWho doesn’t love high tea?

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 $55 and comes with 2 teas of your choice, three types of sandwich, macaroons, scones, and cake.

Instead of going to Century 21 for discounted designer fashions, hit up a real NYC sample sale.

Sample sale not century 21260SAMPLESALE and Fifth Avenue almost always has a 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 paying a fee to visit the Statue of Liberty, take a free trip to Staten Island and wave to Lady Liberty from the water.

Staten island ferryShutterstockWave high to the Statue of Liberty from the (free) ferry.

Visiting Statue of Liberty is a classic New York experience, but it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg — especially if you don’t want to climb up all the way to the top.

Instead of paying between $18 to $21 dollars to visit Lady Liberty, hop on the Staten Island Ferry. You’ll have fantastic views of the skyline, Liberty Island, and you can stop by Staten Island, which is a highly underrated NYC borough.

Instead of spending a fortune to ice skate at Rockefeller Center, skate at the less-crowded McCarren Rink in Brooklyn.

Mccarren rink vs rockefeller center ice skatingMcCarren Rink/Facebook and Park in Brooklyn is a great place to skate.

It costs $27 to skate at Rockefeller Center for an adult ticket ($15 for kids) plus $12 for skate rental. That’s a total of roughly $40 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 $8 for adults ($4 for children), skate rental is only $5, and you can skate as long as you want.

Instead of sharing a frozen hot chocolate sundae at Serendipity III, have a romantic night at The Chocolate Room.

The chocolate room not serendipity and sundae at The Chocolate Room is worth a visit.

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 cosy.

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 Midtown Comics, head down to Forbidden Planet NYC for your comics and collectibles.

Forbidden planet and Planet has all the collectibles a comics fan could crave.

Midtown Comics may be well known, but it’s compact location in Times Square can leave a lot to be desired.

Instead, try going down to Forbidden Planet NYC in the Union Square area. Not only is it a whole lot roomier, but they also sell a wide variety of apparel, shot glasses, and figurines, in addition to all the books and comics. Plus, it’s just a few doors down from book store Strand.

Instead of going clubbing in the Meatpacking District, head to where all the cool kids are in Brooklyn.

Shuffleboard royal and isn’t just for old people.

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.

Brooklyn has awesome (and cheaper) bars and nightclubs, plus way less pretentious and annoying people. There’s a wide variety of nightlife, too, from watering holes for cocktail snobs to drunk shuffleboard — we highly recommend the Royal Palm in particular.

Instead of Grimaldi’s Pizza in DUMBO, head down the street to Juliana’s Pizza.

Juliana's pizza not grimaldis in brooklynJulia’s is the real deal.

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 Bathtub Gin.

Bathtub gin instead of museum of and free burlesque show at a speakeasy. What’s more New York than that?

The Museum of Sex might raise some eyebrows, but it’s underwhelming, crowded, and not worth the price for admission. If you’re in the mood for a risqué attraction, make a reservation to see a burlesque show at the speakeasy Bathtub Gin.

Though it looks like a coffee shop in the front, there’s a secret speakeasy in the back where crowds come to watch the Wasabassco Burlesque Show on Tuesdays and Sundays. It’s a far more entertaining way to spend your evening and it’s free (though a tip is highly recommended).

Instead of going to Times Square, go literally anywhere else.

Don't go to times squareShutterstockWe’re not kidding.

Seriously — this city is huge with plenty of boroughs, neighbourhoods, 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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