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New York famously has lots of incredible things to do, and it’s also famously not cheap! That’s why buying a sightseeing pass in NYC is such a good idea when you come to the city because it can save you a lot of money. Top among the choices is the New York CityPASS®.
When we were planning our first trip to New York, we did a ton of research on what to see, where to eat, and the top tours to take. And when we started pricing everything out, the New York CityPASS® kept coming up! The CityPASS® gives you access to five of New York’s most popular attractions and can save you up to 40%!
It includes tickets to the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the American Museum of Natural History, and then you get to choose three more attractions to visit from a list of some of the most popular in New York. It’s a great way to see some of New York’s most iconic sights without breaking the bank. It’s also one of the most straightforward and easy-to-use city passes available in New York.
So if you’re considering purchasing a CityPASS® to help you explore the Big Apple, keep on reading because we’ve written this guide containing everything you need to know about the CityPASS® NYC!
1. What is the CityPASS® NYC?
This pass is super highly rated (seriously it has hundreds of 5-star reviews!) and covers entry to five different NYC attractions. We knew we wanted to visit the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the American Museum of Natural History and those are both automatically included! Then it’s a choose-your-own-adventure type pass as you get to select three more attractions to visit from a total list of six.
The pass costs $138 USD for adults, or $118 USD for kids 17 and under. As long as you use the pass fully and visit all five attractions you’re entitled to, you’re guaranteed to save money.
Using the CityPASS® also means that you don’t have to stand in long ticket queue lines, so it saves you time as well as cash!
2. How does the CityPASS® NYC work?
You pay one flat fee of $138 USD for the New York CityPASS®, which grants you entry to the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the American Museum of Natural History. Then, you can choose three more attractions to visit from the following list:
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (including entry to the Statue of Liberty Museum and Ellis Island Immigration Museum)
- Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
- Guggenheim Museum
So, you get entry to five attractions in total for one set price of $138 USD. The pass is valid for nine days from the first time you use it, which is plenty of time to fit everything in!
You can buy your CityPASS® online up to a year before you plan to use it, and then it’s activated the first time you visit an attraction.
You can also make reservations using the CityPASS® since most of the attractions it covers require you to book a timeslot in advance.
Once you buy your pass, you can download the CityPASS® app and use it to book your tickets for the attractions it covers. It’s really easy and you can do it right from your phone, so no worries there.
3. CityPASS® NYC vs. Pass by Go City vs. The New York Pass
CityPASS® NYC is not the only one of the sightseeing passes available in New York City – far from it! The CityPASS®, Go City, and New York Pass are all popular options. Their names may sound similar but they’re all different, so it’s worth comparing them to see which one is the best option for you.
To sum it up, what we like the most about the CityPASS® is how simple it is. Planning a trip to NYC can be a little overwhelming, so it’s a huge bonus that this is straightforward.
There’s only one option available, and a short list of very popular attractions to choose from. It covers five attractions in total, is valid for 9 days, and costs $138 USD.
Meanwhile, the New York Explorer Pass has different options available, covering entry for between 2-10 attractions. There’s a very long list of attractions to choose from with this pass, which includes tons of museums and walking tours. So you’ve got more choices than you do with the CityPASS®, but this also makes it harder to decide how to use your pass!
The pass by Go City starts from $79 USD for two attractions and costs up to $264 USD for 10 attractions. It’s valid for up to 60 days after the first time you use it, so it’s a good option if you’re staying in the city for a longer period of time.
Our full review of the pass by Go City is available here if you want more info on this option!
The New York Pass
The New York Pass covers over 100 different attractions and tours. New York Passes work for up to 10 days at a time, and there’s no limit to how many attractions you can visit while the pass is valid!
You can buy a New York Pass online for 1-7 days, or 10 days. The 1-day pass costs $149 USD while the 10-day pass costs $399 USD.
The New York Pass is a really good option if you’re the kind of person who likes to fit in as much as you can. This is especially handy if it’s your first visit to New York. Our experience with The New York Pass was really positive when we were trying to pack in as much as we could for a short trip!
However, if you’re a more relaxed kind of traveler and are only in the city for a few days, the CityPASS® NYC will probably prove to be a cheaper option. A 3-day New York Pass costs $249 USD, while the CityPASS® costs $138 USD and is valid for 9 days. The New York Pass covers all of the same attractions the CityPASS® does and many more.
However, you have to think about timing. If you’re only in the city for three days, you may not have the time (or the inclination) to fit in tons more attractions and get your money’s worth, and so the CityPASS® might be the better option.
4. What attractions can you visit with CityPASS® NYC?
As we said earlier in this post, we like that CityPASS® NYC keeps it simple. There’s one option available, so you don’t need to worry about which version of the pass to choose.
And just to recap quickly: for $138 USD, you get to visit five different attractions. Two of these are pre-selected, and then you can choose another three attractions to visit from a total list of six.
The Empire State Building Observation Deck
The New York CityPASS® includes tickets to the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. This is a total must-do and it was definitely our favorite of all the observation decks in New York. The views are insane and the building is just so iconic that you really can’t pass up this opportunity!
You also get to visit the 2nd-floor museum on your way up to the main observation deck, where you can learn more about the history of this building and how it won the famous “Race to the Sky.”
It’s also worth noting that the CityPASS® NYC actually includes AM/PM admission to the Empire State Building, which means that you can go twice on the same day! This allows you to go up during the daylight and again after dark for a totally different experience.
Just note that you won’t be able to go up during sunset hours (those tickets are about a $10 USD upgrade). However, seeing the twinkling city lights in the late evening from high above is an amazing experience, so we think that this is a really great bonus to buying the pass.
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is a huge museum right across from Central Park. It’s home to an incredible 34 million (yes, million!) specimens of plants, animals, cultural artifacts, and fossils.
Obviously, only a small portion of this huge collection can be displayed at a time, but there are tons of exhibits to see. From a slice of a 1,400-year-old tree trunk to one of the largest dinosaurs ever found or a rare 20-carat blue diamond, we found this such a fascinating place to wander around.
Oh, and this is also where the Night at the Museum movies were filmed!
9/11 Memorial and Museum (optional)
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a very poignant tribute to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. The destruction of the Twin Towers is one of the darkest moments in New York’s history and shook the entire world.
I know both Bailey and I can remember the exact moment we heard about the 9/11 attacks even though we were just kids.
It’s very surreal and moving to visit the Memorial Garden and the reflecting pools that sit where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Meanwhile, the adjacent 9/11 Museum is huge with so much to take in. It includes personal artifacts that really drive home the human cost of the attacks, and we thought that it was definitely worth the visit.
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise (optional)
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises are a fantastic way to admire New York’s iconic skyline from the water. You also get stellar views of the Statue of Liberty, so it’s a great way to admire her if you don’t have time to take a trip out to Liberty Island.
It’s also pretty relaxing and a really nice thing to do on a hot summer’s day in NYC – just remember to bring some sunscreen with you!
Related Read: If you’re after dinner with a view, the Bateaux New York Premier Dinner Cruise is our pick. It was a really special evening with amazing food, live music, and beautiful views of NYC. Our full review of the cruise has all the details!
Guggenheim Museum (optional)
The Guggenheim Museum’s quirky exterior is super famous, but it’s definitely worth venturing inside to view the extensive collection of impressionist, modernist, and contemporary art that it houses.
The architecture of the building is what helped make this spot a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but getting inside is a whole different experience. My favorite part is the spiral rotunda area which is really the heart of the building. You have to walk up a ramp that winds upward and you’re actually encouraged to run your hand along the parapet – basically a low wall. It has a bumpy feel to it and I learned that this is actually because it’s repainted several times a week!
Works by artists including Vasily Kandinsky, Francis Bacon, and Pablo Picasso are on display here, so it’s a must for art lovers.
Top of the Rock (optional)
Top of the Rock is an observation deck on top of Rockefeller Center. It spreads across three floors, and the highlight is the open-air deck on the 70th floor which gives you insane, unobstructed views of the city.
Even though the CityPASS covers admission to the Empire State Building, we think it’s definitely worth visiting Top of the Rock as well. You can’t see the beautiful Empire State Building while you’re inside it, but you get a fantastic view of it from the Top of the Rock! You also get a really great view of Central Park, too.
Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (optional)
You can use your CityPASS® NYC to take the ferry out to Liberty Island to see Lady Liberty herself and visit the Statue of Liberty Museum. You also get to visit Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and you get audio guides to help you learn more along the way!
The only thing to note is that the CityPASS® NYC doesn’t include access to the Statue of Liberty Monument or Crown, so you’ll need to pay extra to visit those.
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum (optional)
The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is a must for anyone interested in maritime and military history, or space exploration. Among many other exhibits, you can check out the iconic USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that was used in the Second World War, a submarine, and a space shuttle.
It’s really interesting to see how technology has evolved so quickly over the past century, and the interactive exhibits are fun for people of all ages.
Related Read: After you’re done taking in the best NYC attractions, head out for the day to see Niagara Falls from New York!
5. Is the CityPASS® NYC worth it?
Yes! The CityPASS® NYC can make sightseeing in New York significantly cheaper. We also like that it’s really simple and easy to get to grips with because you’re not overwhelmed with what feels like a million different choices.
The CityPASS® costs $138 USD, and covers entry to the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the American Museum of Natural History. Admission to these two attractions costs $76 USD combined, which is already a good chunk of the price of the pass!
The pass then covers you for your choice of three more attractions, out of a list of six. I’ve chosen the ones I did while I was in New York to demonstrate potential savings.
- Circle Line sightseeing cruise – $41 USD
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum – $33 USD
- Top of the Rock observation deck – $43.55 USD
If you paid for entry to all five of these attractions separately, it would cost you $193.55 USD. However, the CityPASS® only costs $138 USD, so you save $55.55. That’s about a 30% saving – not bad, right?!
And if you take advantage of the fact that the CityPASS® allows you to go up the Empire State Building twice on the same day, you save another $48 USD.
So all in all, we think that buying a New York CityPASS® is a really easy way to save money while sightseeing in New York. They also make it so easy to make bookings via their app, so there really is no stress involved.
Other Things to do While You’re in New York City
While a CityPASS® helps you get into some of the best attractions in the city, there’s no shortage of things to do in New York! I mean you could spend weeks here and still not see a fraction of what the Big Apple has to offer. But if you only have a few days and want some ideas of other must-do activities, here are our recommendations:
- Eat pizza! – New York was home to the first pizzeria in the US way back in the early 1900s and it’s still something this city is known for. I dare say the pizza here is legendary! Top pizza joints include John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and we loved 2 Bros Pizza. Food tours aren’t included in a CityPASS®, so make sure to book a food tour of Chelsea Market to try lots of treats!
- Visit Central Park – This park is basically a movie star! Central Park is huge with great spots like a historic carousel, Belvedere Castle, and even a skating rink in the winter. Feel like you’re starring in a rom-com aboard this horse and carriage ride. It’s 45 minutes around Central Park and a fantastic way to travel in style.
- Fly above NYC – Exploring on the ground is fun, but to truly appreciate the New York skyline, take to the air! Joining a helicopter flight in NYC gives you a front-row seat (or hopefully a window seat!) to all the iconic sights like the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. We chose this 15-minute helicopter flight that flew over Manhattan and it was a highlight, if not THE highlight of our whole trip!
- Cross the Brooklyn Bridge – New York can be expensive, but strolling over the Brooklyn Bridge is completely free! The views of the skyline are stellar and there are lots of vendors if you get hungry. We recommend walking all the way across to Brooklyn Bridge Park for the best views of Manhattan.
- Take a day trip – Not only is NYC full of fun, but it’s close to other amazing destinations you can visit for a day! Head to Washington, DC to check out the White House, try some amazing Philly Cheesesteak and see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, or take a tour from New York to Niagara Falls.
Where to Stay in New York City
New York City is huge – there is just no other way to put it! Even Manhattan (the area you’ll want to base yourself in) is a lot bigger than you think. That’s why choosing the right hotel in the right location is so important during your stay in New York.
Below, we’ve simplified it all for you by choosing a couple of the very best hotels available in the city. All three of these options have ideal locations close to attractions and the subway system. They all have amazing reviews, too, so just choose the one in your budget category and you’ll be ready to pack your bags!
Motto by Hilton – $$$
Motto by Hilton is a gorgeous hotel located in the Chelsea neighborhood only 600 meters from the Flatiron Building and close to the famous Chelsea Market. The hotel features modern decor that has “speakeasy vibes”. In fact, they have a beautiful bar onsite that looks like the perfect place to sip an Old Fashioned. There are a variety of rooms on offer including some that are a little more budget-friendly, and some that are pure luxury with city views!
Prices start from about $400 USD per night plus tax. You can check prices and availability for Motto by Hilton online here!
TBA Times Square – $$
TBA Times Square is where we stayed the last time we visited New York, and honestly, we loved it! This hotel is the perfect combination of comfort and value for money. It was clean, modern, and our room had all of the amenities we needed for an enjoyable stay (air conditioning, k-cup coffee maker, steamer, large shower, big windows, etc). Plus, the location is ideal, it’s only a couple blocks from Times Square!
Prices do range, but they do go as low as $200 USD per night plus tax depending on the time of year and day of the week. You can check prices and book the TBA Times Square online here!
Nap York Central Park Sleep Station – $
For those traveling on a tight budget, Nap York is a budget hostel that’s an ideal choice. Although affordable, this property is immaculate and offers a ton of amenities for a great stay including air conditioning and a shared kitchen. The rooms are modern and the location is about as central as it gets! This property only offers dorm rooms, but they are affordable at as little as $150 USD per night.
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
New York is a HUGE city and planning a trip here can be a challenge. That’s why the New York CityPASS® comes in handy! It gives you access to a shortlist of some of the city’s best attractions, lets you create your own agenda, and helps you skip long ticket lines. Plus you’ll save some cash to spend on some New York pizza – speaking from experience of course … we ate A LOT of pizza here!
If you’re set on getting this pass for your trip, you can purchase a CityPASS® NYC online here!
If you need more inspiration for your trip to the US and New York, make sure to browse our other blogs about the USA. We also write lots about traveling throughout Canada if you’re planning a trip there too.