8 Tourist Traps To Avoid In Times Square

From the porn shop and peep show capital of the early 1980s to today's family-friendly tourist attraction, Times Square is an iconic destination that nearly 360,000 pedestrians travel through every day. Times Square, now filled with pedestrian plazas, is where Broadway, 42nd Street and 7th Avenue converge. Visible from outer space with its lit-up buildings, Times Square is home to some of the world's most famous live theaters—and some of the kitschiest and trite tourist traps. Some will even go so far as to claim that the entire area is a tourist trap, a pricey place that locals avoid unless they are going there to work. 

However, if you are going to visit New York City, it's hard to resist the siren call of such an iconic neighborhood — and near-impossible to avoid if you're looking to take in Broadway shows. However, a trip to Old Broadway and Times Square doesn't mean you have to fall into the snares that lure tourists to part with their money for little value in return. Be on the lookout for these eight tourist traps and find alternatives that will make your stay memorable. 

Beware the monks in orange

Who doesn't want to support world peace and accept the blessings of seemingly benign monks on the streets of Times Square? As you wander around taking in the sights and sounds, the bald monks in orange robes seem to offer just that at first glance. They'll slip wood-beaded bracelets on your wrist and ask you to sign their book supporting the building of a Tibetan temple. The problem is that if you don't give what they consider a sufficiently large enough donation — a minimum of $20 — they'll harangue you and chase you down the street demanding money.

The thing is, they're not really Buddhist or Tibetan monks. Actual New York Buddhist monks have sounded the alarm that these are "fake monks" who are not affiliated with any Buddhist temple. Their aggressive and hostile tactics have nothing to do with raising money for a temple and are just a different form of panhandling. If you are approached by someone in orange robes offering you a small gift, whether a bracelet, medallion, or prayer card, don't take it. Say no and keep on moving.

Skip the wax museum

Madame Tussauds is in no way a scam. It's quite a legitimate wax museum, one of the world's most famous of the genre and an Instagrammer's dream. It's an even better way to get pictures with celebrities and costumed characters than some of the tourist traps listed below. Yet, in a city that loves its museums — there's one for everything from sex to immigration to the subways, along with the more famous art and history museums — why spend your time going to a museum that can be found in 21 cities worldwide? You could drop $38 to $55 for a ticket and see a reproduction of the New York subway system, or you could visit the actual NYC subway system for free just blocks away. 

If you're really looking for an authentic Times Square museum experience that you can't get elsewhere, check out The Museum of Broadway where, for $34, you can spend hours learning about the history of live theater in the United States with exhibitions you won't find anywhere else. This new museum opened on Nov. 22, 2022, providing a four-floor, 26,000-square-foot space dedicated to sharing the history and glamour of Broadway shows through the ages. Plus, a portion of each ticket sale goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Overlook the chain restaurants

As tempting as those bottomless soup and salad bowls are with the buttery breadsticks, going to Olive Garden — or any chain restaurant, really — in Times Square is a costly tourist mistake in multiple ways. It will cost you time waiting in lengthy lines, money as you pay premium prices that are higher just because of the location, and the opportunity to experience real NYC food that you can't get anywhere else. Chains such as the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Bubba Gump Shrimp are mainstays on the Great White Way, perhaps because they appeal to people who want to know for certain what they are getting and are seeking the comfort of a familiar menu. 

If you're in Times Square to catch a show, there are great places near Broadway to eat that offer a genuine New York City experience that can't be had elsewhere. While they may be unfamiliar, there is no shortage of recommendations to be had from Yelp or your friendly hotel clerk. Everyone has a favorite, and you could eat a month of meals and still not experience all of the unique dining options in Times Square and the surrounding area. Even grabbing street food from one of the vendors up and down the sidewalks will provide you with memorable fare and a taste of real Times Square.

Don't get scalped

Tickets to Broadway shows ain't cheap. And when the big stars are playing the stage or the hottest show is sold out, it can be tempting to buy a ticket from the person on the street selling them for a song. If you give into temptation, you may find that you'll be singing that song on the street locked out of the show you wanted to see. Too often the scalpers are selling you fake tickets and you'll be turned away at the door of the theater when the ushers scan the bill of goods that you've been sold. 

Not that all scalpers are selling fake tickets — some work with ticket brokers and simply sell last-minute or marked-up tickets, which is legal as long as they stay 500 feet away from the door of the theater. One way to distinguish between the real and fake ones is to ask to photograph the seller. People selling legitimate tickets should have no objection. 

Better yet, tap into some of the safe ways to get discounted or rush tickets to Broadway shows. Download TodayTix, which is considered one of the best apps to download for visiting New York City, and get access to last-minute tickets and the added perk of being able to skip the lines. It's also worth visiting TKTS Times Square, where you can get rush tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows for sometimes up to half-off! 

Shop for bargains, not counterfeits

Spread out along the sidewalks of Times Square are vendors offering you the latest in designer purses and other goodies at a discount. While Canal Street is the most famous location for discount shoppers who want to snag fake designer items at a low price, the vendors can be found throughout the city and you can't go far in Times Square without walking by a blanket covered in purses, watches, or sunglasses. 

Be aware that if you buy what appears to be a designer item, it could be (and likely is) counterfeit. In fact, New York Police occasionally raid the streets, confiscate millions of dollars in fake goods, and arrest the vendors selling them. If you want a look-alike, you're likely to be better served by shopping online or at outlet stores. When that bag you've been looking for forever catches your eye on the streets of Times Square and you decide you really must have it, then make sure you know what you're getting. Also, be prepared to haggle and walk away if the vendor gets too pushy.

Costumed characters expect tips

It's a very touristy thing to do, and many people head to Times Square because they want their pictures taken with the costumed characters wandering the streets. Whether you consider them panhandlers or performers making a living, be aware that these characters aren't there to give you free photos. In fact, some actors are very insistent about demanding tips once you have taken your picture with them. While it is legal to ask for a tip, getting aggressive and forcing you to hand one over is not. It's also good to know that most of these licensed characters are not being portrayed by the studios that own them. They're freelancers looking to make a quick buck off of unwitting tourists.

Talk to your kids before you head to Times Square and decide ahead of time if you're going to get a family shot with the costumed characters. If you do, be prepared to tip them. Better yet, ask them upfront how much they expect to avoid a scene. Most are looking for between $5 and $10. Have the money in-hand before you take the pictures and give it to the performer as you have the shots you want.

You'll sing a sad song with these CDs

New York is filled with the rich and famous, and those seeking celebrities can easily get star-struck. While there are many actual artists performing on the streets of New York who put out tip jars, beware of those proclaiming their fame while not performing. If someone hands you a CD or DVD, don't take it. It's not just a Times Square tourist trap, it's a scam.

These supposedly up-and-coming "artists" will tell you they are on the verge of stardom and you can hear their music on the CD they're offering you. They might even offer to sign them, giving you a valuable collectible and an "I knew them when" story to tell your grandchildren. The only story you're likely to tell to your grandchildren if you take the CD is how they chased you down demanding money for their "gift." When you get home and try to play the CD, you'll find the media is often blank or illegally produced and the seller has no relation to any music that might be on there.

Skip the high-priced souvenir shops

When you have all those friends waiting at home for their "I heart N.Y." t-shirts or miniature models of the Statue of Liberty, those floor-to-ceiling windowed shops with all the souvenirs you can dream of offer a mighty temptation. Just know that if you choose to buy your souvenirs at a Times Square souvenir shop, you're going to be paying premium dollars. The shops are counting on tourists not knowing the city and not knowing that the exact same goods can be found for half the price just a few neighborhoods away.

Tour guides and travel blogs offer several alternatives, with most first citing Chinatown and the famous Canal Street as a place where you can get t-shirts and other goodies at rock-bottom prices. Another alternative is the shop Memories of New York on Fifth Avenue, which has been selling officially licensed goods for 30 years. Better yet, head over to the Meatpacking District and visit the sprawling Chelsea Market, where you can find a wide selection of souvenirs, including those made by local New Yorkers rather than stuff imported from China.