Tourist Traps in NYC: 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 of the old World Trade Center‘s memorabilia to unnecessary souvenirs of the Empire State Building, 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 one of the worst tourist traps in NYC. 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.

Costumed Characters

Quite possibly the most notorious of NYC tourist traps is the costumed characters lurking around Times Square, thus topping our tourist traps NYC list. 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. To date, this is still one of the most profitable tourist traps New York has for scammers.

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.

street view of times square at night with taxi cab and people walking along the streets in NYC, New York, USA


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. They’re who you need to avoid in New York. Yes, scalpers are also notorious tourist traps in New York!

We 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 Tripster 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.

Additionally, supposedly must-try dessert shops like Magnolia Bakery may not be worth the long line. The cold, hard truth is that as per locals, Magnolia’s cupcakes aren’t that good.

Related Post: New York Hidden Gems – Unveiling 14 of the Big Apple’s Best-Kept Secrets

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?

View looking in the window at Carmines with their logo on the window and people dinging inside in NYC, New York, USA
photo credit: Carmine’s Italian Restaurant – Times Square via Facebook

Is Times Square a Tourist Trap?

Times Square is undoubtedly a tourist hub with bright lights, characters, and chain restaurants catering to those crowds. However, whether it’s a “trap” depends – for first-timers, it’s an iconic experience, but locals generally avoid it unless they work or see a Broadway show there.

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.

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 if you want to get to your destination faster, pedicabs make a fortune off of tourists.

Pedicabs are available all over the city like in Brooklyn Heights promenade (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.

Related Post: Where to Stay in New York City on a Budget – Live it Up in The Big Apple Without Breaking the Bank

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 or even rent a Citi bike.

Wide shot of a busy NYC street with lots of people and taxis in New York
photo credit: Fabien Bazanegue via Unsplash

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.

How Do I Stop Looking Like a Tourist in NYC?

Ditch the obvious “I ❤️ NY” shirt and bulky fanny pack. Dress comfortably in darker colors for a more city-chic look.

Confidently walk at a brisk pace, and use the subway to get around to blend in with New Yorkers navigating their day.

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 we’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.

Related Post: Free Things to Do in New York City – 20 Amazing Activities

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. It’s one of the best places to visit in NYC that aren’t tourist traps.

daytime view of new york city from top of the rock at rockefeller center

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.

Additionally, if you really want to experience New York City’s finest and get your time and money’s worth, we suggest booking activities like the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island ferry or Lady Liberty cruises instead.

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.

Related Post: Best Time to Visit New York City – An In-Depth Seasonal Guide

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”, we can assure you that it’s another one of the many NYC tourist traps.

Don’t fall for one of the most expensive New York tourist traps. Save your money and skip shopping at the street vendors!

daytime view of the statue of liberty with the nyc skyline in the background

Hotels in NYC

Once your day of sightseeing is done, get some shut-eye in “The City That Never Sleeps”! It’s no secret that staying in a luxurious city like New York can come with a price tag. However, if you’re looking for a deal, you’ve come to the right place!

At Tripster, hotel savings are one of our specialties. Here are some of our favorite New York City stays for a steal:

New York City Attractions

Go New York City Explorer Pass

Visitors to the New York City area should take advantage of the Go New York City Explorer Pass.

Currently offered at a discounted price via Tripster, save even more on travel as the pass lets you get into up to 10 NYC attractions for less than the original price.

The Museum of Modern Art – MoMA

Fill your day with authentic inspiration with a visit to the leading museum of modern art in the world. Grab tickets to MoMA New York City and feast your eyes on a variety of exhibitions with paintings from modern art masters, daily film and video screenings, gallery discussions, and much more.

Man in a yellow sweater standing towards the corner of a white-walled room looking at a piece of art hung on the wall at MOMA
Photo Credit: MoMA The Museum of Modern Art via Facebook

Circle Line Best of NYC: Full Manhattan Island Cruise

Hop aboard the Circle Line Best of NYC to experience parts of The Big Apple as you’ve never before! See stunning skyline views and over 130 iconic landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building–all while learning about the history and culture of NYC from an expert tour guide.

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 toward first-time visitors who just want to see the NYC skyline without breaking the bank.

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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Written by Nicole King

There are only two things that make Nicole really happy–books and travel! When her head’s not buried in a book, she’s most likely...

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