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New York City | © Jörg Schubert / Flickr
New York City | © Jörg Schubert / Flickr
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12 Tips to Escape the Tourist Crowds in New York City

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 18 July 2017
Like yo-yo weather and “train traffic,” tourists are a part of daily life for New Yorkers. Whether you’re a local or a visitor yourself, the best way to deal with slow walkers, selfie-stick wielders, and sidewalk hogs is to not deal with them at all. For those who identify more like a “traveler” than a “tourist,” here are 12 tips to escape the tourist crowds in New York City.

Visit during the off-season

Just as New York City’s beauty comes out most during the springtime, so do its tourist crowds. Avoid the herds of selfie-stick-wielding travelers by visiting during the city’s low season (yes, even New York City has one). The months that feature more extreme weather, such as June and July in the summer and January and February in winter, are the best times to have the city to yourself.

New York winter
New York winter | © Nick_H / Pixabay

Leave big-name attractions behind

Iconic New York City attractions such as Broadway and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are as great as they are congested. Luckily, the city boasts a bounty of alternative entertainment. Take in an off-Broadway (or, if you’re feeling daring, an off-off-Broadway) show or visit a less-mainstream museum to enjoy your fill of theater, art, and culture without the crowds.

Live like the locals do

Or, rather, live where the locals do. On your next visit to New York, skip the hotel in favor of an Airbnb stay. Not only will you be able to find more budget-friendly rates, but staying at a local’s residence affords more privacy, greater diversity, and, best of all, freedom from other tourists.

Explore the city’s less popular boroughs

Move over, Manhattan: New York City’s other four boroughs take the cake as the best destinations for escaping tourist crowds. From Brooklyn and Queens to the more mysterious Bronx and Staten Island, the city offers endless attractions, all easily accessible via subway, bus, car, and ferry. Travelers will find public parks, museums, renowned restaurants, and much more in each of the city’s five boroughs. Tourists, on the other hand, are mostly found in one.

Take advantage of the city’s gratis offerings

Any local can tell you that the best of New York City is available without spending a dime. After a look at Lady Liberty? Skip a packed and pricey visit by hopping aboard the Staten Island Ferry, a free ferry providing unobscured waterfront views of the Statue of Liberty. Seeking skyline sights? Enjoy city vistas free of charge via rooftops across New York City, such as the popular boutique bar atop Williamsburg’s 23-story William Vale.

Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry | © Mike Steele / Flickr

Get an early start

If you simply can’t resist the pull of Central Park or the attraction of Fifth Avenue (and who would blame you if you couldn’t?), be sure to time your visit for as early in the day as possible. If you arrive at opening times, you may just be treated to a rare city sight—a top tourist attraction without any tourists.

Central Park
Central Park | © mland31 / Pixabay

Turn to locals when planning your itinerary

Sources such as Yelp and lifestyle blogs are invaluable when planning your New York City experience. More often than not, these are the best authorities on local restaurants, attractions, neighborhoods, and more. Leave out-of-date guide books to the rest, and listen to the locals for your most memorable vacation yet.

Adopt the local’s choice for transportation

Instead of piling into a tour bus, try exploring the city the way its inhabitants do—on foot. Whether you choose to create your own walking tour or to simply wander the streets, this is by far the best way to experience pedestrian-packed New York City. Tip: Brooklyn’s Bushwick and Queens’ Astoria are excellent lesser-known areas for walking—just be sure you keep to one side of the sidewalk.

Walking in New York
Walking in New York | © RyanMcGuire / Pixabay

Skip the tourist traps

Times Square, the Empire State Building, and food crazes (New York City has seen everything from rainbow bagels to the now-iconic cronut) are best left to the more— shall we say?—patient pedestrians. If you would rather not spend hours waiting in line or being poked and prodded by crowds, then steer clear of tourist-aimed attractions.

Take the road less traveled (literally)

It may surprise you to learn that the Brooklyn Bridge is best enjoyed from afar. Today, the world-recognized attraction is more likely to yield views of the backs of strangers’ heads than of New York City’s skyline. Luckily, you can escape the crowds at the lesser-known Williamsburg Bridge and Roosevelt Island Tram, two aerial pathways providing unbelievable—and unobstructed—city views.

Roosevelt Island Tramway
Roosevelt Island Tramway | © Jörg Schubert / Flickr

Avoid chain restaurants

In a cosmopolitan hub such as New York City, you’d have to be an out-of-towner to choose a chain restaurant over the city’s many independent eateries. We recommend you forego familiar spots in favor of exploring global cuisines in local ethnic enclaves. Koreatown, Little Egypt, Curry Hill, and Little Poland are only a sampling of the city’s various locally beloved food and cultural destinations.

Katz’s Delicatessen
Katz’s Delicatessen | © City Foodsters / Flickr

Attend a local event

Rather than sticking to traditional tourist activities, try rubbing elbows with locals at one of the city’s many festivals and fairs. From barbecue to LGBTQ art, and from independent film to technology, the city offers something for every interest. With a little pre-holiday research, you can tailor your tourist experience to be just as unique as you are.