Sightseeing with New York City's Empire State Building in the distance
Court Prather on Unsplash

New York City Sightseeing Passes: A Buyer's Guide for Every Type of Traveler

What makes choosing a New York City sightseeing pass difficult is the same thing that makes it hard to pick a Manhattan restaurant or find an eligible New Yorker on a dating app: too many options. While some cities only have one or two attractions passes available, New York has at least half a dozen, and each comes with a bewildering array of decisions to make. How many attractions do you want to see? How much time do you want to spend sightseeing? What’s your budget? And, crucially, will you actually save money with a pass or could you pay less in total by forking over full admission costs? (Pro tip: Add up the prices for regular admission for the places you want to visit to make sure the cost of the discount pass is indeed a discount.)

In the pages that follow, we’ve analyzed the six leading tourist passes and their offerings in order to help you figure out which pass—if any—is right for the type of traveler you are. You might just discover that the only NYC pass you need is a MetroCard for riding the subway.

New York CityPASS
New York CityPASS Ticket Booklets
New York CityPASS
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Statue of Liberty in New York City
Image by Ronile from Pixabay
C3 by CityPASS
  • What’s included: admission to any three of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, plus Hornblower's sightseeing cruises
  • Price: $84 for adults, $64 for kids ages 5–12
  • Time to use: 9 days from first use
  • Benefits: streamlined for those with little time
  • Caveats: Make sure you don’t spend more for the pass than you’d spend paying full price for the three attractions. For instance, regular admission to the Statue of Liberty ($18.50) + the American Museum of Natural History ($23 or pay what you want) + the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($25) = $66.50 (or less, depending on what you pay at the Natural History Museum). That’s $17.50 less than the price of the pass. It’s smart, then, to look up the attractions’ full admission prices in advance and only use the pass if you're choosing the more expensive spots such as the sightseeing cruises and the observation decks at the Empire State Building (regular admission $36) and Top of the Rock ($38). 
  • Bottom line: a decent option for sightseeing dabblers—but remember to do your admissions arithmetic in advance
  • More info: www.citypass.com/new-york-c3
Screenshots of the New York Pass mobile app
Screenshots of the New York Pass mobile app
The New York Pass
  • What’s included: What isn’t? With this all-inclusive pass—available as a swipeable, credit-card–like hard copy or in a mobile version downloaded via smartphone app (pictured)—you get access to more than 100 attractions and tours, ranging from the iconic (Statue of Liberty, MoMA) to the niche (the Museum of Sex, a gospel tour of Harlem).
  • Prices: $134–$469 for adults, $99–$299 for kids—though you should check the website for special offers. Savings per attraction increase the more sights you’re able to cram into your allotted days. 
  • Time to use: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, or 10 days, with no limit to the number of attractions you can experience each day
  • Benefits: huge, varied selection; freedom to see just about everything worth seeing; a handy mobile app
  • Caveats: You probably won’t have time to squeeze in enough sightseeing to make the 1- or 2-day option worth the price of the pass. As a matter of fact, you'll need to stay pretty busy on longer stays, too, if you want to get your money's worth.  
  • Bottom line: a more-is-more approach geared toward sightseeing completists with enough time, energy, and gumption to take New York by storm
  • More info: www.newyorkpass.com
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One World Observatory in New York City
Maria Eklind / Flickr
The Sightseeing Pass — New York
  • What’s included: another smorgasbord of admissions to more than 100 attractions and tours, including, most notably, One World Observatory (pictured)—an exclusive with this pass
  • Prices: pay-by-day option $139–$449 for adults, $120–$314 for kids ages 3–12; pay-by-attraction option $69–$259 for adults, $59–$249 for kids ages 3–12; check the website for sales and special offers 
  • Time to use: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 10 days; with FLEX pass, you can pay a set price for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, or 12 attractions of your choice, valid for 30 days after first use
  • Benefits: tons of choices for things to do; only discounted pass that includes One World Observatory; comes with $40 credit for tours, sights, and Broadway shows not covered by pass
  • Caveats: As with the New York Pass, this one (which is slightly more expensive) only becomes cost-effective if you can fit in enough attractions in the time you have in the city. Not a smart option for short stays or travelers who prefer a leisurely pace. 
  • Bottom line: strictly for go-getters who have several days to explore, aren’t into downtime, and don’t fear museum fatigue
  • More info: www.sightseeingpass.com/en/new-york
Screenshot of attractions available with New York Explorer Pass
Screenshot of some attractions available with New York Explorer Pass
New York Explorer Pass
  • What’s included: admission at 3, 4, 5, 7, or 10 attractions and tours from more than 90 options, ranging from standbys (the Met, the Statue of Liberty) to unique local experiences (a walking tour of the Bronx’s Italian neighborhood on Arthur Avenue) to tourist traps (Madame Tussauds); you don’t have to pick your attractions ahead of time
  • Prices: $94–$270 for adults, $70–$200 for kids ages 3–12, depending on how many attractions you opt for
  • Time to use: 30 days from first use
  • Benefits: flexibility to choose attractions on the go; easy-to-use smartphone pass; 30-day validity invites a relaxed pace for those on extended stays
  • Caveats: As with the C3 pass, you’ll want to check each attraction’s full-price admission ahead of time to make sure you don’t pay more for the pass than you would by paying regular admission—a danger with the 3- and 4-attraction passes in particular
  • Bottom line: a pass designed to let you take your time—just be sure the prices add up to savings
  • More info: gocity.com/new-york/en-us/products/explorer
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
Audrey Kang
Build Your Own New York Explorer Pass
  • What’s included: discounted admission to at least two of the more than 90 attractions in the New York Explorer Pass inventory; select which attractions you’d like to see from the company’s website, then download your discounted pass on your smartphone
  • Price: varies based on number of attractions chosen and their regular admission prices; discount increases the more attractions you add—select two and you get 10% off regular admission, save 15% when you choose three, and get 20% off with four or more
  • Time to use: 30 days from first use
  • Benefits: Savings are guaranteed because what you pay is based on a percentage of the attractions’ regular admission price.
  • Caveats: You have to pick what you want to do ahead of time, requiring a little research and reducing spontaneity.
  • Bottom line: an excellent, savings-guaranteed choice for planners who know exactly what they want to see before they leave home
  • More info: gocity.com/new-york/en-us/products/build-your-own
 
Double-decker buses in New York City
Bethjbraden [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
What about hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tours?

We’ll let Pauline Frommer, author of Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City, take it away on this one: 

“I think New York is best appreciated on foot or on public buses and subways,” she writes. “Not only do you learn more about the city that way, but you meet locals rather than peering at the streets from afar, almost as if you were watching it all on TV. And you’ll actually see more than you will if you waste time waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for the next of these hop-ons to arrive. If you insist, the top bus tour is Big Bus. Departing from various locations, hop-on, hop-off bus tours start at $55 for adults for an 8-hour Manhattan tour—more if you get a 48-hour pass, less if you book online.”

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MetroCard public transit pass in New York City
Lucas Klappas / Flickr
MetroCard

Though it won’t gain you entry to any museums, the most valuable pass you can purchase—by a long shot—is a MetroCard for riding New York City’s buses and subway trains. You’ll be charged just $2.75 per ride (after paying a $1 fee for getting a new card), and you can go pretty much anywhere at any time of day or night in safety and with relative efficiency. Yes, the subway is often crowded, eternal construction projects can snarl plans, and you will definitely spot rats on the tracks if you stare long enough. But public transit is still the quickest and cheapest way to travel from one place to another in the city. Consult our guide to getting around New York for some helpful pointers on navigating the system. 

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