Things to Do in Chinatown New York

Things to Do in Chinatown New York

This post is an overview of things to see in Chinatown in Manhattan.

We include tips on where to eat and shop, the best sights to see and where to stay nearby. We also offer guided and self-guided tours.

Let’s explore!

 

Chinatown New York Walking Tour

PLAN YOUR VISIT

Visiting NYC’s Chinatown – the oldest Chinatown in the country – is like being transported to another country and in some ways to another era!

While it may feel a bit touristy, if you look closely you will see a bit of China among the locals, their traditions, and the authentic (and inexpensive) restaurants and food shops.

Wander Chinatown’s narrow streets, lined with tenement buildings over 100 years old.

Contemplate the neighborhood’s past, filled with stories of Irish gangs from the 1850s and mass Chinese migration in the early 1900s.

Walk along Canal Street for “designer” bags or shop for souvenirs. Most of all, eat, eat, eat! 


Let Us Take You Here

Join one of our daily pay-what-you-wish tours. We have tours that are dedicated solely to Chinatown, while others are broader tours with a stop in Chinatown.

We also have a self-guided tour as well as an audio tour. See the section on tour options below for more details.


How to Get Here

There are many ways to get to Chinatown. We recommend that you start your visit at the NYC and Company information kiosk at 210 Canal Street.  

Use this Google Maps link for directions to the kiosk.

Map of Chinatown Manhattan

By subway

  • N, Q, R, W, J, Z or 6 train to Canal Street 
  • B or D train to Grand Street
  • F train to East Broadway

We have two posts on the NYC subway that are very handy:

By bus

M103, M15, 

All the major hop-on-hop-off buses offer at least one stop in Chinatown. Read our comparison post on which bus company might be right for you.  


Consider Staying in Chinatown

While you won’t find hotels on the smaller streets in Chinatown, there are lots of affordable and comfortable hotels on the outskirts of Chinatown.  

Check out the top-rated Chinatown hotels on TripAdvisor.


How Much Time To Spend Here

If you want to get a good feel for Chinatown, try some great food, do a little shopping and soak in the atmosphere, we recommend that you give yourself at least two hours. 

If you plan to eat at a sit-down restaurant add on an additional hour. We recommend where to eat below.

Keep in mind that Chinatown is bordered by many other fantastic neighborhoods to check out. Adjacent to Chinatown are:


THINGS TO SEE IN CHINATOWN

Here are the top ten places to check out in Chinatown.

You can get more detail on these and other sites from our self-guided Chinatown tour for a do-it-yourself experience.


1. Stroll Mott Street

This is Chinatown’s unofficial “Main Street” where many of the first Chinese-owned shops and restaurants opened in the early days of Chinatown.

Today it is lined with Chinese restaurants, trendy bubble tea shops, and tourist-type gift shops.

Must-visit sites include Aji Ichiban Candy Store at 37 Mott Street and the Church of the Transfiguration (corner of Mosco and Mott Sts.) erected in 1801.

Our self-guided tour has details on these stops as well as others not included here.


2. Relax in Columbus Park

­Immerse yourself in Chinese culture by spending a few minutes in this small but lively park.

Here you will find many elderly Chinese people, who come to play cards, mahjong, and other Chinese games.

You will hear musicians singing traditional Chinese songs and playing lutes. Early in the mornings, you may spot a group of people doing tai­chi.

Though this park feels distinctly Chinese, it wasn’t always the case.

The area where the park stands now and the surrounding streets were known as Five Points. You may already be familiar with Five Pints from the book and movie Gangs of New York.


3. Eat Fried Dumplins

On Mosco Street, head to Fried Dumpling, a tiny shop where you can get what some say are the best Chinese fried pork dumplings in town.

Just $1.25 for 5 dumplings!  

Forks are to the right of the register and there is hot sauce on the tiny counter across from the open kitchen where you can see your dumplings being made.

The ladies at the counter are very fast and don’t have time for questions so be ready with cash in hand!


4. Discover the “Bloody Angle”

In the early 1900s, Chinatown was a bed of vice and rival tongs (gangs) battled for dominance. The small, curved Doyers Street was a prime location for gang violence.

There were so many shoot-outs, ambushes, and murders on Doyers Street, that it came to be known as “the Bloody Angle”.

The most famous spot on Doyers Street is the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown’s first tea parlor, which opened in 1920.

The interior resembles an American coffee shop with vinyl booths and a counter with stools.

Unlike other food establishments in early Chinatown with their exotic mysterious appearance, Nom Wah’s décor was familiar to non-Chinese diners and made it more enticing for people to come in and try this new type of food. 


5. Be Transported on Pell Street

Walking along this narrow and colorful street one feels as if they are in China due to the small storefronts with awnings and flags written in Chinese.

Pell Street

This short street has a number of interesting sites.

At the corner of Pell Street and Bowery is the oldest townhouse in New York City, built in 1785 after the Revolutionary War.

At 18 Pell Street, you’ll find a dusty corner store selling traditional Chinese trinkets. Its been in business since 1957.


6. See a Giant Buddha

Opened in 1997, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple 133 Canal Street is the largest Buddhist Temple in New York City and houses the city’s largest Buddha statue.

You can enter the temple’s foyer for free (dressed appropriately – this is a house of worship).

If you have time and a $1 donation, go into the temple itself to gaze up at the 16 foot-tall golden Buddha. 


7. Experience Dim Sum

Dim Sum is a meal of small plates of a variety of Chinese foods like dumplings, steamed buns, ribs, seafood, and so many other treats.

This is an excellent way to try many dishes for fairly low prices.

Traditionally, Dim Sum is served on the weekends only, sort of like brunch.

However, many restaurants in Chinatown now serve it on weekdays as well, though the atmosphere is much more energetic on weekends.

When having Dim Sum, instead of ordering from a menu, you are given a large ticket on which the waiters keep track of what you eat.

Choose your food from the carts being pushed around by the servers. If you see something you like, stop the waiter, point at the item, and give your food ticket.

We recommend some places to get Dim Sum below in our Restaurants section below. 


8. See the Mott Street Fish Market

This market is made up of a number of stores selling fish and other creatures of the sea at very competitive prices.

There are a few stores that sell greens and fruit but mainly it’s the fish that bring the locals in to do their weekly shopping.

Mott Street Fish Market

You can also find a massive array of dried goods, from different types of mushrooms, squid, shrimp, and many items you probably won’t recognize. 

Warning: if you are squeamish, do NOT look inside the large plastic garbage bins next to the fish displays.


9. Go to the Museum of Chinese in the Americas (MoCA)

This museum is one of the most important national archives of Chinese history in America. Their permanent collection is extensive.

Over 65,000 artifacts, photographs, documents, textiles, and other objects document the history of Chinese Americans.

 

 

Temporary exhibits are highly topical. Several permanent exhibits are family-friendly. 

The Museum of Chinese in the Americas is at 215 Centre Street.

Note that the museum is free on the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays. Find out what other NYC museums are free here.


10. See the Majestic Manhattan Bridge Entrance 

Though the first thing you will notice about the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge is the traffic and constant gridlock, take a moment to admire the grand archway and colonnade to the bridge. 

 

Manhattan Bridge

 

It was designed by one of the most famous architectural firms of the early 20th-century Carrere and Hastings, who designed the magnificent New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.

The Manhattan Bridge, built in 1908, is not as beautiful as the nearby Brooklyn Bridge (though that is arguable).

But, it provides an invaluable service to New Yorkers as it allows cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and subways to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

 


CHINATOWN FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

There is an overwhelming number of restaurants, food shops, and food carts in Chinatown. This section includes our picks for the best spots.

For an even bigger selection, see our post listing some of the most popular Chinatown NYC restaurants that won’t break your budget.

You can dine pretty well in Chinatown for under $10 for a sit-down meal. You can fill up on amazing street food for under $5!

See below for our snack suggestions.

 

 

Nom Wah Tea Parlor – 13 Doyers St. 

The oldest restaurant in Chinatown, the Nom Wah Tea Parlor menu offers plenty of dim sum favorites like steamed shrimp dumplings, scallion pancakes, pork fried dumplings, and soup dumplings.

Hop Kee  – 21 Mott Street corner of Mosco Street, basement level

Serving Cantonese classics like lobster in white sauce, sweet and sour pork, and lo mein since 1968, this bustling restaurant in a clean, well-lit basement-level space, is a favorite among New Yorkers hungry for a nostalgic meal at very good prices.

Jing Fong  –  20 Elizabeth Street between Canal Street and Bayard Street

This huge banquet hall is a great place to experience Dim Sum.

If you are a big group, you will get your own table, but when it is crowded you will have to wait in the crowded lobby until a table is free.

There is also the option to sit at communal tables.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles  – 1 Doyers Street

A small and cheap restaurant that is adored by New Yorkers. The dough that makes their noodles are literally pulled and stretched out by hand.

They are served in broth or by themselves with add-ins such as duck, chicken, or vegetables. Cash only.

Dim Sum Go Go – 5 E Broadway at Chatham Square

If you feel like having dim sum but want to leave behind the mystery of pointing at unknown foods from wheeled carts, try this full-service restaurant.

Menus are provided with a full description and photos of the food. 

Joe’s Shanghai – 9 Pell St.

Joe’s specializes in the ever-popular soup dumplings, pan-fried noodles, soups, and Shanghai-style spare ribs.

You can even order an entire fried fish covered in a thick, brown gravy.

Joe’s has been named “Best Restaurant” by the likes of Gourmet Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and New York Magazine.


Chinese Snack Foods

Fried Dumpling – 106 Mosco Street

This shop is a hole in the wall, but you can’t miss it as there is usually a short line to get 5 fried pork dumplings for $1.25.

They also have pork buns, and vegetarian dumplings but they cost a bit more and aren’t as good as their signature dish.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – 65 Bayard Street between Elizabeth and Mott Streets

At $5 a scoop, it’s a bit pricey, but they have unusual flavors like ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seed. There are plenty of old-fashioned American flavors as well.

They also do a great job with familiar flavors such as Mint Chip, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Vanilla Fudge.

Mei Li Wah Bakery– 64 Bayard Street between Elizabeth and Mott Sts

Juicy, tender, and tangy pork fills their buns and costs less than $1!

If you are a vegetarian or just want to try something different, try the lotus paste steamed buns with the consistency of peanut butter and a taste similar to that of chestnuts.

Golden Steamer – 143A Mott Street between Hester and Grand Sts.

Tucked away in a small storefront among the bustling fish market you’ll find the most delicious pumpkin steamed buns in all of New York City.

The roast pork buns are good too and there’s an array of sweet and savory baked and steamed items ranging from $1 to $3.


SHOPPING IN CHINATOWN

If you’re looking for jewelry, handbags, perfume, sunglasses, watches, wallets, shoes, etc. walk along Canal Street between Broadway and Mulberry Street.

You will have many shops to choose from. Don’t be shy about ‘haggling’ (negotiating) – try it and you may get a better deal.

Though we don’t endorse purchasing knock-off counterfeit handbags, we can provide you with information about where and how to do this.

Don’t forget – selling counterfeit goods is a crime, so be careful in who you deal with.

Here are some tips:

First, you can visit legitimate stores licensed to sell goods. Merchandise can sometimes be knockoffs of your favorite brands or have logos meant to resemble those of the fancy name brand bags.

If a shop does carry fake bags, they won’t make it obvious and you will have to go to the way back of the shop and have a look.  

Another option is to look for illegal street peddlers selling knockoff sunglasses, handbags, and watches out of suitcases or on sheets laid out on the sidewalk.

If they suddenly pack up and runoff, it means that they have spotted the police.

For those brave enough, you can deal with individual sellers who presumably have better quality counterfeit items.

These hawkers stand on street corners (notably Mott, Mulberry, and Baxter Street on the north side of Canal Street) and will walk past you saying quietly “handbag, purse” to women or “watches” to men.

If you indicate you are interested, they will take you off to the side and discreetly show you pictures of the items they have.

If you want to make a purchase, you then follow them to semi-secret, but generally safe, locations to complete the deal.

For an additional resource to discover more shops in Chinatown, check out Time Out NYC.


GUIDED TOURS OF CHINATOWN

Free Tours by Foot

We offer several pay-what-you-like tours that are focused on, or include, Chinatown in Manhattan.

Our SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown Tour runs twice every day and spends about 45 minutes in Chinatown. 

Sometimes, we run a stand-alone tour of Chinatown.  We also offer Chinatown as part of two other history walking tours. 

Our Chinatown Food Tour – this is a 2-hour tour that explores both the food and history of Chinatown.  This runs on a weekly basis.  

See our current tour calendar for our tours, times, and descriptions.

New York City Tourist Passes 

Both the New York Pass and the New York Explorer Pass include guided food and history tours of Chinatown for free. These passes can be very valuable if you are planning on visiting many attractions.  

Bus Tours

All the major hop-on, hop-off bus companies have at least one stop in Chinatown. You will get a narration of the neighborhood from the onboard tour guide while you drive through.  

For a more in-depth guided tour, consider one of the bus companies that offer a tour guide who gets off the bus with you and walks you through the neighborhood.  

Read our post on which tour bus is right for you.


Chinatown Walking Tour

Very few neighborhoods encapsulate the diversity and international draw of New York City like Chinatown.

Interestingly enough, this neighborhood sits in the place of a former famous neighborhood in New York, the Five Points, immortalized in the book and film “Gangs of New York.” A relatively new phenomenon in the city, Chinatown is still growing.

Join Free Tours by Foot for a peek into this ongoing chapter in New York City’s rich immigrant history.

 

Chinatown Food Tour

 

As part of the tour, you will see the restaurants and stores that make up everyday life here. You will be approached by street vendors selling everything from exotic fruits to questionable brand-name handbags.

You will also get a chance to pass through important neighborhood centers like Columbus Park, where Chinese men and women congregate to talk about local happenings and play their card and board games.

All of the sites and stops in Chinatown will paint a picture that will make the world feel small while at the same time remind you of just how big it really is.

Church of the Transfiguration Chinatown TourHere are the sites that will be covered on the tour:

  • Columbus Park
  • Church of Transfiguration
  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor
  • Chatham Square
  • Shearith Israel Cemetery
  • Kimlau Memorial Arch
  • Edward Mooney House
  • Manhattan Bridge Entrance
  • Mott Street Market
  • Mahayana Buddhist Temple
  • Museum of Chinese in Americas

Tour information

Reservations: This tour currently runs as a private tour only.

Where: Tour departs from the intersection of Canal and Baxter Streets (map).

Duration: Approximately 2 hours.  Approximately 1.5 miles (2k) in distance.

WhenView our full tour Calendar

Cost: This tour is free to take, and you get to decide what, if anything, the tour was worth when it’s done.  A name-your-own-price tour is a tour for every budget.

Save more money with a tourist discount pass and our Guide to NYC on a Budget.

Language: Tour is in English.

 


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NYC Subway Bus and Other Ways to Get around New York

How to Get Around NYC

This post covers how to get around NYC by subway, bus, bike, taxi, boat, on foot, and even a sky-tram!

Be sure to check our separate guide to traveling to and from NYC’s 3 airports.

How to Use the NYC Subway

GET AROUND BY NYC SUBWAY

The subway system is a very efficient way to get around the city.

It may seem confusing when looking at the map, but as long as you know how to use it before you hop on a train, you will discover how convenient the subway is.

Be sure to read our in-depth post on navigating the New York City subway.

Official Midtown Subway Map

In that post, we explain everything from how to tell the difference between local and express trains, how to transfer between stations, and how to find the station you need when there are multiple stations with the same name.

It’s also good to plan in advance which New York City Subway MetroCard to buy so you can figure out which card is best for the length of your visit and the number of people in your group.

NYC Metro Cards

If you have a smartphone, there are many free apps that will make your subway experience incredibly easy.

We’ve used a number of them and share our recommendations in our post about which NYC subway app is best

A fun way to learn how to use the subway is to take our All-in-One Tour or Manhattan Night Tour. As we use the subway during the tour, you’ll get a lesson from our guide.

 


HOW TO GET AROUND NYC BY BUS

Public Bus

How to get around New York City by busMany travelers don’t take advantage of the wonderful bus system.

In fact, there are New Yorkers who have never stepped foot on a bus! That’s because they don’t know the benefits of taking a bus.

Most often buses are used as a supplement to a subway ride as some destinations are easier to reach using both the subway and bus in tandem.

The bus appeals to visitors who want an above-ground view of New York City and who have some extra time.

Very detailed instructions can be found on the MTA’s website

Here are the basics:

  • Buses cost $2.75 per ride. Buses accept the MetroCard and exact coin change (no pennies or paper money). You get a free transfer to another bus or the subway within 2 hours if you paid with a MetroCard.
  • Bus stops are located approximately every two blocks at street corners with a sign that displays a bus emblem and route number. Some stops have bus shelters with large ads.
  • Most stops have a “Guide-A-Ride” information box displaying route maps and schedules. Look at the Guide-A-Ride to make sure the bus you want will be stopping there.
  • Buses display their route number on the front in the electronic display sign at the top of the bus. If you see that the word Limited or LTD, this means that it is an express bus that doesn’t make all stops along the route but stops approximately every ten blocks
  • You can transfer from local to express buses just like you would along with subways.
  • Crosstown Buses run east and west along major streets, those streets such as 42nd Street or 14th Street, that are two-way and have four lanes rather than being single lane one-way streets.

TIP: Newer buses now include USB outlets that allow you to recharge your phone while you are riding. How cool is that!


Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tours

Bus tours are a great way to get a taste of the Big Apple without having to navigate the busy streets on your own. 

Read our post to find out about the different bus tours you can take and if one of them is right for you. 

 


TAXIS AND UBER/LYFT

Taxis

Manhattan’s streets are flooded with yellow taxicabs and you can hail one from the side of the street. The process is just like what you may have seen in the movies.How to Hail a NYC Taxi

There are some guidelines that will help you get a yellow taxi to stop.

There are also some important rules to know once you are actually inside the taxi.

Our post on using New York City taxicabs has many helpful hints.


Uber or Lyft

Most people by now are familiar with Uber and Lyft, private, app-based car service companies.

Taking an Uber or Lyft can be a good alternative to using a yellow taxi.

We explain the pros and cons of using these companies in our post using Uber in NYC.

We compare Uber cars and yellow taxis and also information on how to take an Uber from the 3 major airports. 


DRIVING IN NYC

Driving in New York City can be intimidating, so much so that we strongly suggest using other modes of transportation to navigate the city.

If you’re headed in from out of town via car, you’ll want to leave your car parked for the duration of your stay.

Here are a few tools that might make your journey easier around NYC easier, and save you a few dollars on parking:

  • Waze – Outsmart traffic with this crowd-sourced navigation app.
  • Parking Panda – Search and reserve available parking in NYC!
  • SmoothParking.com – Decipher NYC street parking regulations.
  • NYC Parking Guide – Everything you need to know about NYC parking, all in one place.


BY BOAT

NEw-york-east-river-ferry-300x200

If you have the time and budget that allows you to take a boat tour or cruise, these tours offer you the chance to see the city from a whole different perspective.

There are many boat tours and options so we’ve gone through all the information out there and compiled it in our post on which New York City boat tour or cruise is best for you?

Keep in mind that if you have a tourist pass, some boat tours are included in these. If you haven’t decided about getting a tourist pass, check out our post to see if one of the New York tourist passes are for you.

For an alternative travel experience that will also save you time if traveling between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, the East River Ferry is a quick commuter ferry that costs $2.75 per person one way.

While it costs more than a subway ride, it is a great way to admire the city from a different vantage point and pass right by or under our stunning bridges (like the Brooklyn Bridge).

One of the best free excursions you can have in New York City is taking the Staten Island Ferry from which you will get a phenomenal view of the harbor.

Our post will give you all the details, schedules, and tips on making the most of this unforgettable ride.

If you find the cost of a boat tour doesn’t fit your budget, read our post on how to get out on the water for free or for very little money so you can enjoy those incredible views without spending a boatload of cash!


WALKING AROUND NYC 

How to get around New York City on foot

New York is known as one of the great walking cities of the world. Most of the city is flat and perfect for strolling. It’s also the cheapest way to get around.

Exploring NYC on foot is also the best way to get a real feel for the city.

Consider one of our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours We offer over 35 different walking tours of New York City!

Finding your way on foot in most of Manhattan (and some neighborhoods in the outer boroughs) is fairly easy.

Streets are mapped out on an easily navigable grid system of uptown/downtown numbered streets intersecting with crosstown avenues.

The numbered grid plan, however, only exists above Houston Street on the east side and above 14th Street on the west side.

In Lower Manhattan neighborhoods, you’ll notice that the streets are named rather than numbered.

Here’s where apps and maps come in handy so you don’t find yourself on the corner of West 4th Street and West 10th Street. (An anomaly of New York that even confuses New Yorkers).

In the days of smartphones and tourist books with great maps, you won’t have too much trouble walking the city, but here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan into East Side and West Side. Avenues run north and south while streets run east and west.
  • Since each numbered street has a West and an Eastside, the building numbers on streets change from East to West at 5th Ave.  So if you are looking for a building that is 123 East 25th St, you know it is east of 5th Avenue, whereas 123 West 25th St would be west of 5th Avenue
  • Most people will tell you addresses in a shortened form using only numbers, so if someone tells you “it’s on 52nd between 5th and 6th” that means 52nd Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue. This rule applies in Manhattan. The borough of Queens is a whole other situation! Bring a map if you go out there!
  • When walking along an avenue, an average person with a brisk pace can walk about one block in a minute. Walking on a numbered street crosstown between avenues takes about 3-5 minutes. Of course, it takes longer if you are walking casually and enjoying the sights.
  • Knowing your walking pace per block or avenue and using the grid system you can estimate the walking time or if it is better to take another form of transport. Let’s say you are 50th Street and 6th Avenue and need to go to 30th Street and 2nd Avenue, you have to walk 20 blocks south and 4 avenues east. That’s approximately 45 minutes walking at a brisk pace.
  • Lastly, safety should always come first. When walking around at late night in unfamiliar or unpopulated areas, you might want to play it safe and take other transport or hail a taxi rather than walk.

Sidewalk Etiquette 

Know your sidewalk etiquette in New York City

New Yorkers take the pedestrian ‘rules of the road’ quite seriously and you may innocently aggravate someone who is rushing somewhere and they may not-so-innocently snap at you.

It’s good to know these few things about how to walk on the sidewalk:

  • Walk on the right. The most basic rule of the road applies to sidewalks as well.
  • Don’t come to a complete stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Walk to the side of the street if you need to stop to do something.
  • Stay in your lane. Straight lines and 90-degree turns keep sidewalks running smoothly.
  • Do not walk and text. This is a big one. And definitely, don’t stop to look at your phone on the subway stairs.
  • On escalators, especially in the subway, stand on the right. The escalators are wide enough to accommodate two people and people use the left side of the escalator to walk.

Here’s a humorous article on sidewalk etiquette that covers the basic sidewalk dos and don’ts.  

In addition to strolling on your own, a great way to explore the city is with a walking tour. 

We have a wide variety of tours that highlight the history, ethnic neighborhoods, architectural and historical landmarks, and food of NYC.
 


TRAVELING NYC BY BIKE

NYC on Bike

With a growing number of bike lanes and an eco-minded mentality to rely less on public transport and travel by bicycle, NYC is increasingly becoming cycle-friendly.

Traveling by bike can be fun and in some cases an economically smart way of getting around New York City.

There are hundreds of shops that rent bicycles so looking at our post will help you see what choices are out there and what works best for you.

Also, you can use the city’s bike-share program, although not entirely suited for tourist sightseeing, there are some ways you can make it work for you, so read our post for all the information.
 


BY TRAM 

How to get around New York City by the Roosevelt Island tram

If you want to see the city from way up in the sky, you don’t need to take a helicopter ride. Instead, take the tram to Roosevelt Island.

This ride is just $2.75 using a MetroCard and lasts approximately 2 minutes.

Because it is largely residential, there isn’t a huge draw for tourists to visit Roosevelt Island, though there are a few things that might be of interest.

The tram ride might be two of the most exciting minutes you’ll spend in New York City.

 


GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORTS

Of course, before you can enjoy any of these rides, you’ve got to get to New York City first, so see our advice on finding cheap flights to New York City, as well as our guide on getting to and from NYC’s airports including JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.


THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK

Once you have settled in, and you’ve mastered the art of getting around New York City, where should you go?

Our blog is packed with suggestions, for example, check out our list of New York City’s top attractions and how to get discounts.

We also have suggested itineraries for 1,2, or 3-day visits,  a post on what to do with kids in NYC, and a comprehensive list of free things to do in NYC.

 

New York City Explorer Pass

New York Explorer City Pass | Deals and Discounts

This post explains how to use the New York City Explorer Pass to save money on popular tours and attractions.

We also attempt to answer the question of whether it’s worth the money or not.

In addition to these factors, we’ll also provide details about how to save money on the passes themselves!

Let’s get started!


HOW DOES IT WORK?

The New York Explorer Pass is a service that allows you to pay one flat price for 3, 4, 5, 7, or 10 different attractions.

It’s pretty straightforward. The more activities you choose, the more money you’ll potentially save.

Depending on which tours and attractions you choose, you should save somewhere around 30% off of retail prices, though you could potentially save up to as much as 50%.

Some of the attractions included with the Explorer Pass include skip-the-line privileges, allowing you to avoid potentially long waits in a ticket line.


COVID-19 Update:

Most NYC attractions are open but have limited capacity or other restrictions currently in force.

You can find out more information by clicking on the attraction links on the Explorer Pass website.


Listen to tour guides Lori and Katherine discuss these passes on an episode of our NYC Travel Tips podcast.

This podcast offers bite-sized audio clips with tips on how to plan your trip to NYC. You can get our podcasts on Apple, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts.


HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Here is a breakdown of how much you can expect to pay per activity with each level of this tourist pass.New York City Explorer Pass

The numbers in red are the average price per attraction/tour for each type of pass.

These prices are as of May 2021. Be sure to check their website to confirm prices. (TIP – they often offer deals)

  • 2 Attraction Pass- $73 for adults and $51 for children
    • [$36.50/attraction/adult and $25.50/attraction/child]
  • 3 Attraction Pass- $94 for adults and $70 for children
    • [$31.30/attraction/adult and $23.30/attraction/child]
  • 4 Attraction Pass- $124 for adults and $89 for children
    • [$31/attraction/adult and $22.25/attraction/child]
  • 5 Attraction Pass- $140 for adults and $107 for children
    • [$28/attraction/adult and $21.40/attraction/child]
  • 6 Attraction Pass- $159 for adults and $124 for children
    • [$26.50/attraction/adult and $20.66/attraction/child]
  • 7 Attraction Pass- $178 for adults and $139 for children
    • [$25.43/attraction/adult and $19.86/attraction/child]
  • 10 Attraction Pass- $229 for adults and $175 for children
    • [$22.90/attraction/adult and $17.50/attraction/child]

Although this service is a great way to save money on popular activities, some of the 90+ attractions included may actually be cheaper without the pass.


How does it compare to other tourist passes?

When it comes to tourist attraction discount passes, the Explorer Pass, and its competitor, the Sightseeing Flex Pass, are in the middle ground.

This is a great option if you know that you want to see at least 3 popular tours and attractions, but you don’t want to feel like you are in a rush.

For a tour pass calculator, click here.

New York City Passes

In comparison, an all-inclusive pass requires you to pay per day (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 10 days) for dozens of attractions.

This type of pass has even more savings potential than the Explorer Pass, but you will need to keep busy to realize these savings.

It’s also the riskiest type of pass as you could end up losing money if you don’t use it correctly

Most passes include a similar list of popular items, but there are significant differences. Read our section on whether the Explorer Pass is worth the money.

We have a whole post dedicated to the differences of all available tourist attraction passes available in NYC.

 


How long is The Explorer Pass valid?

Another advantage of the Explorer Pass is that it is valid for a total of 30 days.

If you’re planning to visit NYC for a week or more, then this is an excellent benefit to consider which isn’t included in other passes.

While some of the tours they offer may require reservations, you’ll have pretty much an entire month to use the pass, so there shouldn’t be too many problems with that.


Are there any limitations?

Each location you choose to visit will count as one of the attractions on your pass – there are no multiple entries allowed.

There’s no risk in getting the New York Explorer Pass.

Even if you decide not to use it, you can get a full refund for non-activated passes at any time within the first 30 days of purchase.

 


TOP ATTRACTIONS NYC EXPLORER PASS

Although there are more than 90 different activities included with the New York Explorer Pass, some of them are undoubtedly better than others. 

In this section, we’ll provide a list of the most popular attractions that give you the best bang for your buck, ensuring you’ll receive the biggest possible discount.

All prices are current as of October 2019.

As you can see, all of these attractions are typically much more expensive when you purchase individual tickets. 

Even if you’re only interested in a few of these activities, it may still be worth picking up the Explorer Pass for the discount.

Here are a few more attractions you may want to consider. 

Some of these attractions could be cheaper with other tourist passes/deals. There may also be some price changes over time, but in most cases that will only increase the discount. 

If you want to get the best possible deal, please make sure to read our full post covering New York tourist passes and compare each service.

 


IS THE EXPLORER PASS WORTH IT?

As a reminder, when using the Explorer Pass, the lowest price you can expect to pay per attraction is $22.90 for adults and $17.50 for children (unless they are running special discounts). 

It will become quickly obvious that there are some tours and attractions included in the Explorer Pass that simply won’t be worth it and you will likely be better off paying for them separately.

Nevertheless, some might feel that the convenience of the pass makes it worthwhile to spend a little extra on certain services, and this is what the tourist pass companies are banking on.

That said, the following attractions are much cheaper on their own or through other discount services, so you’d be better off not using the New York Explorer Pass for admission to these locations.


Other Factors to Consider

In addition to these activities, it’s also worth noting that there are many walking tours included with the Explorer Pass. 

We offer several pay-what-you-wish New York walking tours which are an excellent alternative that won’t cost as much, so it doesn’t make any sense to use the pass for these services.

You may also want to keep in mind that the New York Explorer Pass only provides general admission for a majority of the attractions included. 

Some attractions offer premium experiences that you will need to pay additional for.

Several of the locations featured on this pass offer their own discounts for seniors, students, and active-duty military.

There are also quite a few attractions that offer free or very cheap tickets for children, so it will be important to consider where you want to go and what they charge for kids before purchasing a pass for your young ones.


How to Save Money on the New York Explorer Pass

In addition to the discounts you can get with this service, there are also usually at least a few different ways to save money on the purchase of a New York Explorer Pass.


1. Look into Group Discounts

New York Explorer Pass actually offers their own discounts for people traveling in groups of 10 or more. Make sure to call them before making a purchase to learn more about this offer.


2. Check for Frequent Sales

During the off-season, Explorer Pass will typically offer sales on their passes. These discounts typically range from 20% – 50% off, so there’s a lot of potential to save a decent chunk of money on the pass.

If you plan to travel to New York City during the offseason, this could be a great opportunity to significantly cut your costs.


3. Use a Discount Site

You can usually find the New York Explorer Pass on discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, and at times they will offer special prices you won’t find anywhere else.

In addition to their pricing structure, these sites also frequently offer additional coupon codes for an extra 10% – 20% off, and you might be able to use these coupons to save even more money on this tourist pass.


4. Check Costco

Although they are not currently offering any deals on the New York Explorer Pass, Costco has sold this product in the past, and there’s always a chance they will do so again.

If you’re already a Costco member, this could be a great way to use your membership to save money on travel expenses.


5. Children’s Discount

Depending on which level of pass you get, you can save anywhere from $14 – $54 on New York Explorer Passes for your children. 

That said, it should be noted that many of the activities and attractions they offer are already free or cost much less for kids.


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