Is NYC worth visiting? This is a loaded question and I’ll be up-front with you right from the start: Whatever answer I provide over the next few paragraphs is going to enrage as many people as it engages.
On the other hand, I’m not going to mince words or proceed in an apologetic manner. While, as a travel professional, I can recognize the inherent merits New York City has as a destination, it doesn’t change the fact that I personally prefer Tokyo or even Los Angeles, or mean that I just “haven’t seen the right places” in New York, as some may insist.
No matter which side of this divide you end up falling on, I hope you will read my words and take them at face value. I also hope you’ll lend your own voice to the discussion if you feel the need to do so—comments are always open on this blog.
Where to Stay in New York
Before I get to some of the reasons I find New York overrated, we should talk about the issue of accommodation. New York hotels are notoriously overpriced, to say nothing of how small the rooms tend to be, the likelihood of finding famous NYC rats in one of them or the simple fact that availability can be low during peak travel periods. In the past, this was primarily a phenomenon limited to Manhattan, but now seems to apply to Brooklyn and Queens properties as well.
A better option, particularly if you want to stay a week or longer so you don’t feel like a frantic tourist, is searching for NYC apartments instead of hotels. This is not only more cost-effective, but also allows you to access parts of the city that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive. For example, apartments in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood and even in Manhattan’s colorful Greenwich Village tend to be much cheaper than comparably located hotels.
Top Things to Do in New York
Walk through Times Square
As one of the most famous NYC landmarks depicted in pop culture, Times Square tends to be a top destination for tourists. Unfortunately, while it’s difficult not to be stimulated by bright neon lights and honking taxi cabs as a human with a nervous system, I’ve always found the Times Square experience to be a bit hollow.
See a play on Broadway
One reason I consider NYC overrated is that I’m not a huge fan of musicals, or of stage plays more broadly. I know, I know—I’m a bad gay. The fact remains, however, that because I don’t really like watching live performances of this sort, the appeal of the Broadway theater district is limited, and in fact approaches zero if I can be frank.
Visit the Statue of Liberty
Spoiler alert: The Statue of Liberty is smaller than you’re probably imagining, particularly compared to many of the behemoth skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan. On the other hand, I do find visiting Lady Liberty to be a fulfilling experience, red-blooded American than I am. In fact, it’s probably my favorite among cliché NYC tourist experiences.
Do the hipster thing in Brooklyn
During my first few trips to the city, one reason I considered New York worth visiting was the ease of bypassing overpriced, overrated experiences with more eclectic, accessible ones. I stayed with a friend in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which at the time was much cheaper than Manhattan. These days, however, the price point here makes its cafes seem less cozy, its boutiques less quirky.
Re-live your favorite 90s TV shows
It’s no secret that many people idealize travel to New York because of what they’ve seen in TV and movies. In particular, I’ve found people (and especially foreign travelers) who visit NYC want to follow in the footsteps of characters from Friends and Sex in the City. The good news? If this is your cup of TV, many companies offer TV tours of New York.
Why I Find New York Overrated
I’ll start with a disclaimer: I haven’t been to New York since the Covid crisis begin; I’m also trying to be sensitive, throughout this article, because I know how much the pandemic has scarred the city. Unfortunately, while I found NYC to be superficially interesting during my first trip in the summer of 2004—it was, at the time, the largest city I’ve ever visited—I’ve been less impressed and more bored by each of my subsequent visits.
To characterize it more specifically, you might say I find NYC disappointing rather than bad or anything of that sort. My global travels, to be sure, have set the bar high—New York is neither as hectic as Bangkok, nor as old as Rome, nor as rich in sights and sounds as Mumbai or Delhi. I might feel differently if I hadn’t traveled so much or if I couldn’t do so, but as it stands I’d rather take a trip around the world every few years than visit New York every few months.
Other FAQ About Visiting New York City
What is so great about NYC?
Most NYC fans cite the diverse population, mesmerizing cityscape, dining and nightlife scene and global connectivity as New York City’s selling point. While these factors might’ve been unique or even singular as recently as the late 1990s, dozens of cities around the world fit this bill to some extent in 2021. New York may be great, but it’s not the end-all, be-all global city.
Do New Yorkers hate tourists?
New Yorkers (native ones this is) don’t exclusively hate tourists—it would be more accurate to say that they hate outsiders. This is understandable, of course, given that wealthy people flocking to Manhattan (and now, Brooklyn and even Queens) has made neighborhoods where locals once lived totally out of reach to all but the upper crust of New York City. I’d be bitter, too!
Is a trip to New York worth it?
A trip to New York is worth the expenditure of time and money if you set realistic expectations, but probably not if you’re expecting your life to be changed. New York is a diverse, dynamic city with some of the best food and most recognizable landmarks in the world. On the other hand, you need to pay dearly for the privilege of being there—and you may not get what you consider to be an appropriate return on this investment.
The Bottom Line
Is NYC worth visiting? On one hand, you should always travel to a place in order to form your own opinion on it. While this may simply end up confirming the hypothesis you had prior to your trip, you should never allow the testimony of a stranger on the internet to lead you down the road of life. On the other hand, if you have limited time and money to travel, I wouldn’t prioritize New York. Far from being “the center of the universe” or “the greatest city in the world,” New York is a crowded, overpriced carnival filled with scammers and snobs, which can never live up to the sky-high expectations set for it in film, TV and other media. Obviously, I hope you end up feeling differently, but it won’t shock me if we end up being on the same page.