How to Visit New York: What You Can Skip

Okay, this is the one that’s going to get me in the most trouble: A list of the famous tourist attractions that you can safely skip when you come to New York City. After covering the basics and the must-sees, it only stands to reason that there’s some stuff that’s boring, overrated, or just so inconvenient that it’s not worth visiting if you’re short on time. I’ll try to include some helpful alternative suggestions in case you’ve got your heart set on one of these destinations, or so you don’t feel too bad for these landmarks.

  • The Statue of Liberty. I know you’re going to catch hell for this one, but let me state up front I’m a fan of the Statue of Liberty: I raised money for the restoration of the statue when I was a cub scout as a kid, and of course I’m the son of immigrants, so I’m inclined to like the thing. But getting to the Statue of Liberty is a colossal pain in the ass; You’ve got to get all the way downtown, get on the ferry, swing by Ellis Island on the way, and when you finally get there, you can’t even go up the statue anyway. Lame. Worst of all, you’ll have killed half a day or more, and the kids will only have had lousy food to eat — the snacks available on Liberty Island are worse than what you’d get from any street vendor in Manhattan. What to do instead? Take the Staten Island ferry. My friend Grant Barrett did a great job of capturing exactly why I recommend the ferry:

I highly recommend taking the Staten Island Ferry. First, because it’s free. Second, because it gives a great view of the Manhattan skyline. Take it around dusk (it leaves every half-hour before 8 p.m., I believe, and every hour after), so that there’s daylight when you go out, and darkness when you come back. It goes near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (close enough to get pictures, but not very, very close), and the view of the city lit up at night really is quite amazing. It’s good to do towards the end of your stay in the city, because it’s fairly peaceful and refreshing, and because after spending so much money it’s nice to do something that costs nothing. And, if it’s hot out, it’s guaranteed at least 10 degrees cooler on the water. You have to rush through the terminal once you reach Staten Island so you can take the same ferry back (they make you get off), otherwise, you have to wait another half-hour for the next one. Also, if you take the 1 train subway to the ferry, make sure to be in one of the first five cars.

  • South Street Seaport. Okay, some of the historical displays at South Street Seaport are kind of interesting. But mostly it’s a tourist trap, a big giant mall with stores like The Gap and Victoria’s Secret, which you could just check out at home. Like its west coast counterpart, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, what was once a truly historic gateway to the city’s shipping lanes is now largely divorced from its own history and focused more on selling you lousy souvenirs. And getting to the Seaport can take a lot of time, since it’s not particularly close to any subway stops. Besides, you didn’t come all the way to New York just to eat at a Pizzeria Uno’s in the shadow of some tall ships.
  • Carnegie Deli and Katz’s. Overrated delis where the quality of food was long-ago eclipsed by the tourist trade that they rely on for their core business. Carnegie Deli’s even opened up a franchise in Las Vegas, a sure sign that they’ve drifted from the idea of being a deli in the great tradition of all the neighborhood delis that make some of the best food in New York. Instead of either of these places clinging desperately to an imaginary golden age, wander around a random neighborhood and drop in on a deli and ask them what’s good. And please don’t be that person going to Katz’s to see where the scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed — if that scene makes you want to eat corned beef, then keep your desires to yourself.
  • U.S.S. Intrepid. This one’s easy; The aircraft carrier-turned-floating museum is actually pretty interesting, giving a nice view of planes, spacecraft, and naval vessels. But it’s out of commission until late next year, so there’s no point swinging by.
  • Staten Island. New York City is much, much more than just Manhattan. But there’s always been an ambivalence about Staten Island’s role in New York City, both from the perspective of the island and from the other boroughs. When you get out of Manhattan, you should hit Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx first. Of course, you can spend 30 minutes or so on the island while you’re waiting for your return ferry.

Alright, I expect some of you are gonna let me have it in the comments. I can’t wait to hear why I’m right or wrong. Thanks to Luca for the shot of the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island ferry. To see all of the posts in this series, check out the archive of How To Visit New York.