Although many people would argue that crowds are a quintessential part of the New York experience, it’s safe to say that most New Yorkers will avoid the tourist crowd at all costs. There’s a fine difference- regular New Yorker crowds walk in brisk paces with different destinations, a tourist crowd are all flocking to one spot, and likely toward one long line. The latter is the one you want to avoid.
It may sound a bit counter-intuitive having The Full-Time Tourist avoiding tourist crowds, but that definitely does not mean I can’t find creative ways to see parts of touristy New York. Here are some tips on how to avoid the tourist crowd in New York City:
WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Statue of Liberty
ALTERNATIVE: Governor’s Island
Hear me out on this one. Unless you want to climb the Statue of Liberty (think squished staircase where people can barely go up and down), you probably just want to see it. Although there are ferries that pass it, such as the ones to Staten or Ellis Island, the ferry to Governor’s Island is inexpensive ($2), not all that busy and you still have a great view of Lady Liberty.
And if you catch the first or second ferry out during the week, the island offers free bikes from 10 am – 12 pm for one hour. So grab a bike and do a little trip around the island. In its centre is a graffiti park and art installations that make a great place to have a picnic.
WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Empire State Building
ALTERNATIVE: Top of the Rocks
Not only is Top of the Rocks less expensive that the Empire State building, it’s also less busy and it’s a better view of the New York skyline: the only building you can’t see in the skyline from the Empire State building is the Empire State building. Plus, you can book tickets in advanced and opt for a package deal that includes the NBC tour and the Museum of Modern Art (which typically charges a non-optional $25 fee).
WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: Grand Central Station
ALTERNATIVE: Grand Central Station… at off-peak hours
Obviously admiring the interior of iconic buildings, like Grand Central Station, the Flatiron building, Chrysler building, Empire State building, etc., cannot have an alternative- it’s why they’re so iconic. But that doesn’t mean you are stuck with flocks of iPads and selfie sticks. (Absurd!) Just go at off-peak times… for tourists.
My personal tip for avoiding tourist crowds is to consider whom your typical tourist is- families or a group of some description. And considering the larger the group, the longer it takes for them to assemble, early mornings, mid-afternoons between mealtimes and late evenings are your best shot to avoid the added chaos.
This does not include Times Square, which unless you are completely determined to go, you should avoid. But if you still want to go, try early mornings before 10 am or at night, when it’s all lit up. I went at 11:30 pm after a Broadway show and the crowds weren’t as crazy as they can be.
WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: A show… that is pretty popular.
ALTERNATIVE: Buy tickets in advanced
The most important part of planning poetry readings, Broadway shows, Shakespeare plays, comedy nights or late night talk shows is to buy those tickets early. Especially in New York where some of these are won by lottery (looking at you, late night talk shows and Shakespeare in the [Central] Park). This one may seem a bit obvious, but late-night-last-minute ticket planning means less sleep for the day ahead.
WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
ALTERNATIVE: The Natural History Museum, the Frick Collection
Although I did visit the Met on my NYC trip, it is way to big to see in one day. So unless you plan to visit a couple of times, you may feel a little cheated. (I did not, however I did wish I had more time to visit more exhibits- the Egypt, South East Asia and European wings looked pretty cool.) However, it is pay-what-you-want. (Recommended: $25)
A smaller pay-what-you-want museum just so happens to be right across Central Park, and apparently its planetarium is pretty cool. But the planetarium is the only part of the Natural History Museum that you have to pay full admission for.
The Frick Collection also requires full admission ($20 for adults, $10 for students) BUT is spectacular. It’s an American Versailles. Henry Frick, a wealthy industrialist in the late 19th and early 20th century, had amassed stunning pieces of art and furniture for his renaissance-inspired home. He intended for his mansion to become a museum- and a beautiful one at that!