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12 Terrible Tourist Traps in New York City (And How to Avoid Them)

Tourist traps New York City, horse carriage in Central Park

All things considered, tourist traps in New York City are few and far between. With that said, there are still a few prevalent scams you should be aware of before visiting the Big Apple.

In this article we’ll go over what to avoid in NYC so you have the best trip possible. I’ll flag a few tourist traps in New York City and tell you how to avoid them. If you have one to add, leave it in the comments for other readers!

Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.

Tourist Traps in New York City

Taking photos with the characters in Times Square

If you’re taking pictures in Times Square and a costumed character starts walking towards you, run. They’ll want to pop into your pictures and then ask for a tip, usually a generous one, and get confrontational if you don’t.

To make matters worse they’ll often call over their friends. Next thing you know you’re tipping Megatron, Elmo and Mickey Mouse $20 a pop wondering how you got caught in this obvious NYC tourist scam.

Take your photos in Times Square, but be prepared to say “no thank you” when characters approach. If one of them asks for a tip, even if you didn’t ask them to be in your photo, be confident and tell them to beat it.

Times Square, tourist traps NYC
Times Square is the epicenter of tourist traps in New York City

Fake “Uber” Drivers at the Airport

Folks who have traveled a lot are likely familiar with the unlicensed taxi/rideshare drivers trying to pickup passengers as they leave the airport. Unfortunately New York City isn’t immune to this well known tourist trap.

Plan ahead and figure out how you’ll be getting to New York City from the airport before landing. Although most of these unlicensed drivers will likely drop you off safely (but you never know) they’ll rip you off and charge you exorbitant price tag.

If you choose to use a rideshare app or take a cab there are clearly marked pickup locations at every airport. The guys standing inside the terminal or hanging out in their car offering rides are scammers.

New York City tourist traps, taking a fake Uber from the airport

Buying Fake Tickets to the Statue of Liberty

The Battery is a park on the southern tip of Manhattan, and is the jumping off point for cruises to the Statue of Liberty. Most days at the park you’ll run into vendors selling tickets to the Statue of Liberty – but this is a scam.

There is only one authorized vendor (Statue City Cruises) that sells tickets to the Statue of Liberty. The rest of these vendors are preying on tourists. I strongly recommend buying tickets ahead of time, or pop into the only official ticket office inside Castle Clinton National Monument.

They vendors at the entrance to the park often resell tickets at a steep markup. Either that or they misrepresent the experience they’re selling, offering to take you to Lady Liberty but in reality only taking you on a cruise around it.

Buying fake tickets to the Statue of Liberty, tourist traps in New York City

Italian Restaurants in Little Italy

Most folks may assume that Little Italy is a surefire destination for appetizing Italian food. Unfortunately you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you just pop into the first Italian restaurant you see in Little Italy.

Since most restaurants ride the coattails of the neighborhood’s history it’s one of the biggest tourist traps in new York City. That isn’t to say there aren’t any good places to eat — but heed with caution.

My quick restaurant recommendation is Emilio’s Ballato. It’s an old-school New York joint that’s fed celebrities and socialites (like Barack Obama) and the food lives up to the hype.

Little Italy, Scams in NYC
Exploring Little Italy can be fun while visiting New York City, unfortunately it’s full of tourist traps

Handing Street Performers/Vendors your Phone

A common scam in New York City is when kids approach you selling candy, and then say they take Venmo/Zelle when you reply you don’t have any cash.

A lot of folks will innocently hand their phones over so the kids can input their usernames. It isn’t until the vendors leave that they realize the kids took the time to send themselves a generous $1000+.

You might be able to get your money back after disputing it with your bank, but that’s a headache no one wants to deal with. Don’t let anyone else use your phone, it’s one of the most widespread tourist traps in New York City.

The Monks Offering Bracelets or Talismans

Men dressed up as Buddhist monks will often walk around high-traffic areas offering blessed bracelets and talismans. Sometimes they’ll even start tying the bracelet onto your wrist before you have a chance to react.

They’ll then ask you for a donation to help build their temple, and even show you a sheet showing a long list of donations. The donations are often north of $50, and meant to guilt you into donating a generous sum.

In reality these men are just running an age old New York City tourist trap. As wrong as it might feel, don’t trust the monks in Central Park or Times Square.

Tourist Scams New York City, Buddhist Monks at the Rockefeller Center

Food Carts without Pricing in Touristy Areas

If you come across a food cart without any pricing on the menu, ask how much your meal will cost before ordering. The last thing you want is to be paying $25 for a hot-dog that would’ve ran you $5 down the block.

Fortunately most vendors are honest and clearly label their prices so you don’t have to lose sleep over this New York City tourist trap. Worst case, if they try to rip you off, don’t take the food and find somewhere else to eat.

Tourist Scams New York City, Vendors with No Pricing

Climbing to the Top of the Empire State Building

Of the five observation decks in New York City the Empire State Building is the biggest tourist trap. Fighting words, I know, but hear me out.

It’s the oldest observation deck in the Big Apple and feels dated, but ironically it’s usually the most expensive. That’s not to say visiting will be a bad time, but you can get a much better value elsewhere.

Another reason to visit a different observation deck is because from the Empire State Building, you can’t actually see the Empire State Building! Head to Top of the Rock or Summit One Vanderbilt for a better experience.

Empire State Building, tourist traps NYC
Climbing the Empire State Building is a popular New York City tourist trap, but admiring it isn’t

Buying a Mixtape

With the rise of streaming services the mixtape scam in New York City isn’t as widespread, but it’s not fully done away with either. In the scam musicians park themselves in high traffic areas to sell their CDs.

They’ll sign a copy of the CD with your name, and then ask for money in exchange. Even if you say you don’t want the CD they’ll guilt trip you by saying they can no longer sell the it because it has your name on it.

It’s been so bad that Times Square has even put up signs saying “if you’re handed a compact disk it’s free, tipping is optional.” You know the worst part? Most of the time the CD you’re buying doesn’t even have music on it!

Junior’s Cheesecake

I want to like Junior’s Cheesecake, but I just can’t recommend it in good faith. The restaurant is a victim of its own success, they’ve gotten too big and their quality has unfortunately suffered the consequences.

The cheesecake is inconsistent, and usually dry. It’s a real shame because Junior’s has been a beloved institution since 1950 but now it’s just another tourist trap in New York City.

Junior's Cheesecake in Times Square, NYC, tourist traps New York City

Pedicabs and Horse Carriages

Pedicabs and horse carriages have a pricing system that isn’t necessarily a scam, but is definitely a rip-off. They usually charge by the minute, and $6+ a minute doesn’t seem like a lot until you’re paying $180 for a half hour ride.

That price tag is the same as some of your flights back home! Often times the price tag is hidden until the end of your ride. Next thing you know you’re cancelling dinner reservations because you spent that money on a ride.

You can avoid falling victim to this common tourist trap in New York City by agreeing on a price with the driver before hopping on. Or better yet, walk, it’s good for you!

Tourist Scams New York City, Pedicab

Rolf’s German Restaurant (Seasonal)

Rolf’s just might be the most well known Christmas restaurant in New York City, but boy does it leave a lot to be desired. Not only is getting a reservation a headache, the food itself is mediocre at best.

Sure the decorations are over the top, but they come at a steep cost. The restaurant is one of the biggest tourist traps in New York City, but ever year folks line up outside clawing to get a table.

Tourist Traps in New York City that are *Actually* Worth It

A tourist trap is defined as an establishment that caters to tourists and overcharges for their goods and services. Having said that, there are a few places that fit the bill but should still be experienced at least once.

Katz’s Deli

Katz’s Delicatessen is one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City, and it boasts wraparound lines daily. The crowds can’t resist the $28 world-famous pastrami sandwich.

Touristy? No doubt. Overpriced? Some would call it highway robbery. Worth it? Absolutely.

The folks who claim it’s one of the biggest tourist traps in New York City don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re missing out on a piece of history (and a hell of a sandwich) by skipping over Katz’s.

Tourist traps NYC, Katz's Deli

Cruises around Manhattan

There are a number of cruise companies that sail around Manhattan, but sadly most locals write the experience off as another New York City tourist trap.

It’s a shame because a cruise can be a real treat. The best way to make sure you get a good value is to hop aboard a cruise during the off-season. There are less tourists and the lack of demand drives down prices.

Christmas Markets (Seasonal)

You’d be making a mistake if you avoid the Christmas markets in New York City. Even if it’s just to window-shop, visiting is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

The vendors sell goods at a premium, but the stalls are full of unique gems. Some folks consider the markets annual tourist traps in New York City, but it’s one of the best way to support small businesses and celebrate the holidays.

Bryant Park Winter Village
The Winter Village at Bryant Park is full of tourists, but visiting is well worth it

Tips for Avoiding Scams in New York City

Don’t Break Stride for Peddlers

Most of the tourist traps in New York City can be avoided by steering clear of peddlers on the street.

As uncomfortable as it might be, act like you can’t hear them and don’t slow down. Don’t give them the opportunity to give you a sales pitch. Keep it moving and you’ll look like a local in no time.

Agree to Prices Before Accepting a Service

You can apply this tip to most things in life, discuss pricing before accepting goods or a service. Whether it’s a street vendor, a pedicab or a food cart – talk about the cost to avoid being blindsided later.

If you do find yourself in the middle of a New York City tourist trap turn the products down and walk away. Most scammers assume you’ll want to avoid confrontation and shell out the cash to

Do Your Research Before Traveling

All it takes is a little research to avoid falling victim to the most prevalent tourist traps in New York City. Decide which restaurants and attractions you want to visit before settling for a place that’ll rip you off.

New York City Tourist Traps (Post Summary)

In short, he’s a roundup of the scams in New York City you should be aware of.

  • Taking photos with the characters in Times Square
  • Fake “Uber” Drivers at the Airport
  • Buying Fake Tickets to the Statue of Liberty
  • Italian Restaurants in Little Italy
  • Handing Street Performers/Vendors your Phone
  • Food Carts without Pricing in Touristy Areas
  • Climbing to the Top of the Empire State Building
  • Buying a Mixtape
  • Junior’s Cheesecake
  • Pedicabs and Horse Carriages
  • Rolf’s German Restaurant (Seasonal)

I hope this article helps you steer clear of tourist traps in New York City.

Until next time. Cheers!