New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world to explore as a visitor. There are tons of unique things to do, see, and experience. However, there are also tons of tourist traps. Today I'm going to go over the most common tourist traps so that you don't get tricked when you're visiting!
Watch my video on this below and subscribe! Note, I share even more tourist traps in this article than in the video so if you've already seen the video keep scrolling for the newest tourist traps that have popped up. I can update this more often than the video.
1. Times Square
You've seen it in tons of movies, TV, and online so of course you want to experience Times Square in real life, right? Well, I don't blame you. It seems like a lot of fun! But the reality is that it is filled with more tourist traps than anywhere else in NYC because the only people that go here are visitors. I'm not going to tell you NOT to go to Times Square because I think that everyone should see it in real life at least once. However, be careful because there are tons of tourist traps here. Some of the most common ones are costumed characters, the guys selling CD's (that are often blank), and the fake monks. For more details on each of these scams, scroll down.
2. Costumed Characters
From the moment you step foot in the Times Square area you'll notice costumed Disney and Marvel characters, naked painted women, and people dressed as the Statue of Liberty on stilts. If you take a photo with them, they will often demand upwards of $5 to $10. So be careful because that is a lot for a photo! However, the worst offenders are the fake Disney and Marvel characters. Emphasis here on FAKE because Disney is not affiliated with this in any way (trust me, I worked for Disney for five years and have been in several meetings where we tried to find a solution to this)! What they will do is jump in your photo without asking and then demand payment. What is even worst is that when one of them sees the other is jumping in they all join in and suddenly you have 5 costumed characters asking for $5 each. This could cost you up to $25 or more! Remember, if you did not ask them for a photo then you do not need to pay them. However, if you did ask them for a photo be prepared to pay them a few dollars. It's the polite thing to do.
3. CD Guys
This one is another classic scam that you'll see tourists falling for constantly in Times Square (so don't be one of them)! What happens is a man will walk up to you and offer you his mix tape saying it is a gift. He will ask for your name and then sign the CD saying its an autograph for you. Then when you take the gift he will suddenly ask for a donation and try to charge you saying that now he can't sell the CD because he signed it with your name on it. Do not fall for this! What makes this even worse is that the CD's may not even have music on it at all, it could be blank.
4. Fake Monks
This is one that angers me a lot because it is disrespectful to Buddhist culture. There are men that are dressed as monks walking around the Times Square area that ask you to donate to their social cause. They will offer you a fake coin in exchange for a donation and show you a note pad that has "all the people that donated" on it. Don't fall for this. Often they write those names on it to make it seem like more people donated than they really did. Plus your money goes directly into their pockets, not to any social cause.
5. Madame Tussand's & Ripley's Believe It Or Not
This is less of a scam and more just down right bad tourism. If you're visiting NYC don't go to Madame Tussand's or Ripley's Believe It Or Not. You learn nothing about NYC culture or experiences there. It is a place only tourists go. For more authentic NYC experiences, check out my video on the 12 best things to do in NYC. That will highlight real things to do in the city that are more fun and unique to NYC!
6. Chain Restaurants
NYC is known for having some of the most incredible dining experiences, restaurants, and bars in the world. We have cuisine from practically every country in the world, and even the world's best restaurant (Eleven Madison Park). So why in your right mind would you go to Applebee's or TGI Friday? Please get a real NYC experience and go to some of the incredible eateries we have. Watch my video on the best restaurants in NYC or read my article here for some suggestions.
7. New Years Eve in Times Square
If you want to do this, it's not your fault. It seems incredibly glamorous on TV. It looks like you're having an amazing party with front row seats to celebrity performances, but the reality is much different. Here is a real run down of what happens during NYE in Times Square. First, you have to arrive 18 to 12 hours before the "show" starts and are placed in a fenced area with no bathrooms. It is winter so the temperature is often below freezing. You are not allowed to leave the fenced in area or you will lose your place (there are no seats, only standing room). Hungry? That's too bad. You'll have to bring everything with you because you can't leave the fenced area to buy food or you'll lose your place, but remember, don't drink too much because there is no where for you to go to the bathroom in the fenced in area. If this hasn't made you want to not go already, the worse news is that when the celebrity performances start you can barely hear anything because the audio goes right to the live camera that is broadcasting on TV not to the crowds. Then the big moment happens, the clock strikes 12! Confetti falls and it's awesome for a few minutes but then every one wants to get out of that area at the same time so the foot and car traffic is horrendous. You can barely move. It's absolutely not worth it. Instead, just go to one of the fabulous NYC parties like the one offered at the Mckittrick Hotel or the Classic Harbor Line NYE cruise. That is a much better experience.
8. Cheap Electronic Stores in Midtown
These stores are found throughout the midtown area and use the "bait and switch" technique to sell to innocent tourists who can't come back and complain when the product stops working a week later because their vacation is already over. What happens when you go to these stores in they often have sign in the window stating that they are selling a product for a very cheap price, then when you go inside and ask for the product they say they are out of stock and try to sell you a more expensive item that is "better for you". The problem is that since they are not a valid retailer there is no warranty on these products (and often they are fakes). These companies rely on tourist sales because they know that tourists are only in NYC for a short amount of time and can't come back and complain. Instead of going here, I recommend B & H Photo Video or Best Buy. That is where I buy all of my electronics.
9. Shopping on 5th Ave
You've seen it in the movies and magazines. It's 5th Ave. The super exclusive, trendy street where all the designer stores are. It's true, this street does have a lot of designer stores, and that is important to know if you make less than $200,000 a year and have a family. If you are middle class or below then I recommend heading to Union Square, Nolita, West Village, or Herald Square where you won't have to pay $300 for a coin purse.
10. Big Bus Tours
There are so many great ways to see the city, and a bus tour is not one of them. Often when I say this people say something along the lines of "But I did it in X city and loved it!". Well, the difference is that NYC has TERRIBLE traffic so your bus tour will be similar to a traffic jam and when there isn't traffic, the bus driver is speeding along trying to finish the route in time for the next tour so you barely see anything. Have you ever enjoyed sitting on a bus in a traffic jam for 2 hours? I don't think so. Instead, I recommend doing a tour with Urban Adventures. They do awesome tours all over the city by locals in a small group setting (often no more than 10 people). I recommend their craft beer tour, craft cocktail tour, and Midtown sights & bites tour.
11. Bike Taxi's and Pedi Cabs
If you want to blend in an not look like a tourist then don't take a bike taxi or pedi cab. No locals take them because they are extremely expensive and slow. Instead take the subway or call an Uber/Lift.
12. Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center
This is another one you may have seen on TV or in the movies. How romantic would it be ice skating under the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center? Wouldn't that be lovely? The answer is sadly no and it is because so many people want to do it that you have no space to yourself. It is incredibly crowded and expensive. Instead, just go to Bryant Park, where skating is free if you bring your own skates (and much cheaper if you need to rent). Plus they have an adorable winter village there with shops, and fun bakeries.
13. Fake taxi's from NYC airports
I feel so bad for visitors that get scammed by the fake taxi's at NYC airports. It's can be tough to tell who is fake (even locals sometimes fall for it). The easiest solution to this (if you insist on not taking public transportation to the city), is to get in the taxi line. To find this all you need to do is look for the signs for a taxi or ask one of the airport employees. NEVER take a taxi that is not in this line because they will charge you a lot more. Also, unlike many cities worldwide, Uber's and Lifts are not allowed to pick up passengers at NYC airports so you will need to get in the taxi line if you want to have a car bring you to your destination.
14. Subway beggar's
You'll notice as you ride the subway that there are a lot of interesting "sites". One of them are the beggar's that enter the train car and share this dramatic story about how something bad happened to them. They will ask for money often claiming that they only need X amount and then they will be out of their situation. However, the truth is that most of these people are drug addicts that make up stories to get people to feel sorry for them and give them money. The story changes completely day by day. I've seen several of these people come up with completely different tales on why they are in the situation they are in. The bottom line is they are lying and are going to use your money for drugs. Do not give them. Plus it is illegal to do so any way.
15. Fake tickets for the Staten Island Ferry
I've personally never encountered this but I've heard it happens so I want to warn you. The Staten Island Ferry is an FREE way to see the Statue of Liberty up close so a lot of tourists will go on it for that reason. However, sneaky scammers have learned that they can tell tourist's that they need to buy a ticket to board the ferry and sell them fake ones. This is not true. You do not need a ticket to board the ferry. It is 100% FREE all day, every day.
16. Canal Street - Fake designer goods pawed as being real
Canal Street is known for selling fake designer goods. People go there specifically for that. It's truly amazing the quality of these fake goods. They look real! However, one thing to look out for is those that say they are real and try to up charge you. You should never pay more than $100 on Canal Street for anything.
17. Scalper tickets outside of Madison Square Garden or Barclay's
If there is a sold out performance happening near Madison Square Garden or Barclay's you'll often see ticket scalpers trying to sell you tickets to the event. Sometimes these tickets are real, but more often they are fake. Do not buy them. The scalpers will charge you hundreds of dollars and then the ticket ends up not scanning.
18. Money exchange places that take high commission rates
Be very careful when exchanging money in touristy areas because some places charge very high commission rates. I recommend reading this article on how to exchange your money so you get the most for it before arriving in NYC. It will save you tons!
Once you’re here you can change your currency at The Change Group New York (212-391-7258; changegroup.com) or Travelex (516-300-1622; use the store locator at travelex.com or go to their location at Herald Square or Times Square). And more is less (or less is more). That is, if you convert more of your currency, you’ll have to pay less in transaction fees. At a place like the Omnex Group Uno Foreign Exchange, an unpretentious-looking midtown storefront (43 West 33rd Street), you may pay no fee to exchange more than $300.
19. Souvenir Shops in Times Square
Many of the shops in Times Square will charge a lot for the classic tourist goods. If you're looking to save money on them go to Canal Street or Jack's 99 Cent store. They will be MUCH CHEAPER there.
20. Best Tours New York
This should be called "Worst Tours New York". I'm sad to add this one to the list because two years ago they were a great company. However, over the last couple years they have seriously gone downhill. Best Tours advertises that they will give you an amazing tour of the city. The reality is that it is very common for them to have no tour guide show up, cancel last minute because the tour isn't full enough (even if as many as 9 people are on the tour), and it is impossible to reach their customer service if you want a refund. If you don't believe me, take a look at their reviews here. Ironically, if you look on their website all of their tours are rated 5 stars by "real customers" (false, you can't even leave a review on their site). They have a phone number on their site which directs to nothing but their online chat bot, who will not help you at all. Long story short. Don't book a tour with them. Instead, I recommend Urban Adventures.