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NYC Tourist Traps: What to Avoid in the Big Apple

Hollywood paints New York City as a picturesque city where all your dreams come true. Between the glitz and the glamor they see in the media, tourists often come to the Big Apple with stars in their eyes. This, unfortunately, makes it all too easy for visitors to fall for the many NYC tourist traps.

From outlandish prices to unnecessary souvenirs, the city is filled with tourist traps and scams targeted at first-time visitors. Don’t fall for these common NYC tourist traps during your vacation in the Big Apple.

Times Square Tourist Traps

Times Square is a tourist trap. Since it is your first time in New York City, you should experience Times Square. However, be warned — this area of Manhattan is crawling with tourist traps.

Image via Amy / flickr
Image via Amy / flickr

Costumed Characters

Quite possibly the most notorious of NYC tourist traps is the costumed characters lurking around Times Square. You’ll quickly realize this is a scam by looking at the condition of the costumes. Mickey Mouse looks a bit off, huh? While many tourists won’t go near the creepy characters (and you shouldn’t either), others, sadly, fall for the trick.

The scam is fairly simple:

Tourists want their picture taken with Donald Duck or Superman in Times Square. The character plays along as the visitors take their picture. The next thing you know, Superman is asking you for money. That picture wasn’t free!

Plus, these characters are not contracted employees of entertainment companies such as Disney, DC Comics, Marvel, or Sesame Street. You should also know that NYC has strict laws in place that limit the activities of these characters in Times Square. Those two facts alone should be enough to deter you from taking a picture with any of the suspicious characters.

Caricatures

One of the latest NYC tourist traps in Times Square is caricatures. These over-the-top portraits are available at every theme park, festival, and carnival around the world. Yet, people continue to want a goofy painting of themselves when on vacation in New York City.

In Times Square, these whimsical drawings can cost you a pretty penny. Before you hand over your cash, think to yourself, “Do I really need a weird drawing of myself surrounded by bright commercials, TV screens, and buildings?” The answer is most likely “no”.

Ticket Scalpers

To access many of the Broadway shows and theaters, you need to venture through Times Square. On your way, you’ll likely run into individuals looking to sell you Broadway show or concert tickets. I hate to break it to you, but $50 orchestra level tickets to Hamilton are one of the biggest NYC tourist traps. Should you fall for this scam, good luck entering the theater with a fake ticket. There’s a reason tickets are scanned before you enter the theater.

First, Broadway shows do not sell tickets through individuals — no matter what the scalper tells you. You should only purchase Broadway show tickets through the show’s box office, a trusted 3rd party such as Reserve New York City, or at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

A rule of thumb — if the ticket price seems too good to be true, it is.

Chain Restaurants

Due to the hustle and excitement of Times Square, it can be all too easy to be sucked into the NYC tourist traps. Perhaps the worst trap is the over-the-top chain restaurants such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Olive Garden.

You’ve traveled all the way to NYC — the land of endless, remarkable food — and you dine at an Olive Garden in Times Square? These chain restaurants are just as much of a tourist trap as the costumed characters. You’ll eat the same exact food as you would back home, but for an astronomical price. Plus, the wait is far too long. Why wait hours to eat at a chain restaurant when local NYC restaurants surround you?

Central Park Tourist Traps

Every first-time NYC visitor needs to experience Central Park. No matter what time of year you visit, the spacious park is wonderful. However, while visiting the renowned park, do not fall for these notorious NYC tourist traps.

No matter if you're in Central Park or Times Square, avoid the pedicabs.
No matter if you’re in Central Park or Times Square, avoid the pedicabs.

Bike Taxis/Pedicabs

If you’re visiting Central Park, walking around and seeing the sights is the best part. However, some tourists fall for the allure of a pedicab or bike taxi. No matter if the convenience of sitting down sounds appealing or you want to get to your destination faster, pedicabs make a fortune off of tourists.

Pedicabs are available all over the city (especially Manhattan) but target Central Park as a way to hike up their rates. Depending on the pedicab company and/or driver, you could be charged anywhere from $5 to $11 (or more) per minute. Sounds a bit ridiculous, right? That’s because it is.

On top of all that, these NYC tourist traps are not that convenient. A bike pedaling multiple individuals in a cabin can be slower than walking. When visiting Central Park, take your time, look around, and soak it all in. Don’t fly through on a pedicab that depletes your entire vacation budget in a single sitting.

However, if you are interested in biking through Central Park, be sure to check out one of the many bike tours.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

While a horse and carriage ride through Central Park is unbelievably romantic, be sure to do your due diligence before hopping in any nearby carriage. Certain carriages are not regulated through a tour company nor do they charge a reasonable price. To avoid these NYC tourist traps, make sure your chosen carriage ride company is legitimate, such as the horse and carriage rides through Central Park Sightseeing.

The Crowds

While Central Park is absolutely worth the trip for those visiting the Big Apple for the first time, those who aren’t a fan of crowds should head to other NYC parks such as Prospect Park, the Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Astoria Park.

Skip Rockefeller Center and go ice skating at Bryant Park instead.
Skip Rockefeller Center and go ice skating at Bryant Park instead.

Rockefeller Center Tourist Traps

Those who visit New York City during the winter months naturally want to see the enormous Christmas tree and skate on the famous ice rink. But I’d advise that you skip this.

Ice skating at Rockefeller Center is expensive and honestly, exhausting. Unless you magically visit when no one is there, you’ll wait in line for what seems like an eternity before you skate a few laps around the rink. With the extraordinary amount of people skating at one time, you end up skating at one specific speed the entire time. From the skate rental to the actual admission cost, ice skating at Rockefeller Center is quite the tourist trap.

If you’re set on ice skating, head over to Bryant Park for cheaper admission/skate rentals and a more “Winter Wonderland” landscape.

Little Italy Tourist Traps

Tourists flock to Little Italy to experience what they believe is the real deal. Of course, you can get pizza, pasta, and espresso here, but you’ll also experience:

  • Never-Ending Crowds
  • High Prices
  • A Commercialized Neighborhood

To avoid another set of NYC tourist traps, skip shopping and eating in Manhattan’s Little Italy and head to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Here you’ll find genuine Italian-American food, families, culture, and more.

Shopping in NYC Tourist Traps

Picture this:

You’re walking along the street in NYC when you come upon a street vendor with a Coach purse for only $75. What a deal, right? Wrong.

Street vendors are as frequent as pedicabs in NYC. Although it may be tempting to purchase that totally real autographed vinyl of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, I can assure you that it’s another one of the many NYC tourist traps.

Save your money and skip shopping at the street vendors!

NYC Tourist Traps
Avoid the NYC tourist traps at all costs.

Don’t Fall for the NYC Tourist Traps

At one point or another in our travels, we’re all tourists. However, that doesn’t mean we need to fall for the extravagant traps, prices, and scams targeted towards first-time visitors.

When visiting the Big Apple, be on the lookout for these NYC tourist traps and save yourself time, money, and your sanity.

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