NYC is notorious for its nearly unavoidable crowds and long lines. Many visitors don’t take into consideration that they will need to add extra time into their schedules to wait in line to buy tickets, pick up tickets at will call, and for the attraction itself.
Below is a list of my favorite ways to avoid long lines in the city—and spend more time enjoying NYC.
Buy Your Ticket Online
One of the best pieces of advice that I constantly give tourists is to buy attraction tickets online in advance. You’ll avoid the long lines to buy tickets and often get shuffled to the front of the line.
The only downside is that you’ll need to print out your tickets in many cases as some attractions don’t have the technology to allow you to download your tickets to your phone. Many attractions allow you to purchase your ticket without choosing a day or time, so you can print at home before your trip and decide the day and time of your visit later.
Visit Top Attractions Early or Late
In New York, sleep is for suckers. The top attractions in the city also tend to draw the most lines—but the busiest times tend to be late morning. Arriving at the top attractions when they first open is the best way to avoid lines and crowds.
Statue of Liberty is one of the biggest time suckers in NYC. Plan on taking the first or second ferry to the islands to avoid crowds, or visit in the rain. Most tourists avoid the statue like the plague in the rain, but most of the experience is indoors.
The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are open late; visit late at night to avoid lines and photo bombers. Buy your tickets online and print out before your trip. If you’re visiting Top of the Rock, consider visiting Bar57 at the Rainbow Room instead; you’ll get access to a semi-private view that’s only one floor below the viewing platform.
Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Bryant Park is popular from Thanksgiving to a week after New Year’s. Head to the rink first thing in the morning to avoid skating into too many people. You can also reserve your tickets to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center online to avoid huge lines to get onto the rink.
Central Park gets pretty crowded in the spring, summer, and fall; you won’t need to wait in line, but if you’re planning on biking, your experience might be dulled by bike traffic. Bike early, and visit northern edges of the park to avoid crowds.
Lines for the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art are shortest at lunch time and 30 minutes after the museums open. The Museum of Natural History is quietest at lunchtime and the last two weeks of September.
One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Museum offer timed tickets to keep crowds low and lines short. Buy online to get your preferred time.
The Brooklyn Bridge is quietest early in the morning and late at night.
Avoid Museums on Rainy Days
Most visitors head straight to the museum when the forecast looks lousy. Though you’ll escape the rain, you won’t avoid the lines. It’s best to visit the museums on a sunny day–preferably when it’s extremely hot or humid to avoid the heat.
Check out “10 Activities for Rainy Days in NYC” for alternative activities.
Restaurants – Look Up Least Busy Times on Google
If you’re headed to a restaurant with notoriously long lines, look the restaurant up on Google to find the least busy times. Yet some restaurants almost always have lines (especially during peak travel seasons). For these restaurants, I can offer the following suggestions:
Katz’s Delicatessen – head late at night for a post-bar snack; they’re open till 5 AM.
Black Tap – order your burgers and shakes through the app Caviar and have it delivered to your hotel.
Do – visit Tuesday or Thursday first thing in the morning or just before closing to avoid long lines for cookie dough.
Tim Ho Wan – eat this Michelin-starred dim sum at non-traditional meal times like at 4 PM; avoid weekends altogether.
Di Fara – head to this pizza haven at 11:30 AM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays—and in the rain.
Shake Shack – preorder your burgers, shakes, and custard online before picking up at your desired location.
Clinton Street Baking Company – eat breakfast for dinner Monday through Thursday to get a seat at this wildly popular brunch spot.
Avoid Major Stores on Weekends
Weekends tend to draw more crowds into the city from the suburbs, and most New Yorkers head to the shops on these days too.
Try to go shopping as soon as the stores open on the weekdays to avoid long lines at the registers.
Don’t Hop On or Off Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses
Try saying that five times fast!
The hop-on, hop-off buses advertise how easy it is to use the buses as a form of transportation, they don’t give a heads up on the lines you’ll face getting back on the bus.
Lines can get pretty long. Buses are often full in peak seasons, meaning you might see a few buses pass before you find one you can board.
Hop-on, hop-off buses in NYC can be a useful tool to acclimate yourself to the city and to get a feel of the most popular neighborhoods. Yet the traffic in the city can be so horrendous that you might end up losing an entire day to the buses.
Catch the first bus in the morning of your first full day in the city. Ride the entire loop without hopping off, and make note of the neighborhoods you’d like to explore further.
Buy VIP Tickets or Before Hours Tickets at Museums and Attractions
Most of the major attractions and some of the larger museums offer VIP tickets and before hours tours and tickets. This means you can explore the attractions without waiting in line and without dealing with massive crowds.
Some of the attractions that offer VIP or before hours entry include:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock
- Empire State Building
- Museum of Modern Art (offers early entry for select galleries to members)
- The Intrepid
If you’re not up for shelling out extra cash for the VIP lines, check out the best ways to check out New York City on the cheap in my book, NYC in a Day.
Preorder Your Cronuts
If you’ve ever wanted to try Dominique Ansel’s famed donut-croissant hybrid but didn’t want to wait in line at a god-awful hour early in the morning, good news: You can now preorder your Cronuts online two weeks in advance and pick them up any time of day.
You can also bypass the two-Cronut limit by going this route and order up to six at a time.
Visit Between Halloween and Thanksgiving
The quietest time in the city is generally the weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Try visiting just after Halloween for the fewest tourists and shortest lines.
The weather is usually mild at this time with a few cold days and a few warm days with chilly nights.
Get the NYC Go Pass
Most of the city discount passes, like the New York Pass and the Sightseeing Pass, force you to pick up your passes in person at one of their designated locations.
The NYC Go Pass allows you to download your tickets or the app straight to your phone to bypass the lines altogether. Just reserve your tickets to your activities, and show up with your pass.
Again, remember that these tips are just guidelines. You might want to call the attraction or activity in advance to ensure you’re heading over at just the right time. Download my book, NYC in a Day, for more tips on how to avoid crowds in NYC.
Do you have any tips and tricks to avoid lines in NYC? Mention them in the comments below!