Choosing the best New York Pass for your trip

A trip to New York City is a bucket list trip for many people, and it’s easy to see why. The city that never sleeps really does offer it all for the perfect city break vacation. But with so much to see and do in New York, it can feel overwhelming trying to plan your trip.

This is where I was tripping up as I tried to plan all our activities into one week and tried to find the best New York tourist pass to buy for our trip.

I’m not usually someone who books organised tours or pre-booked travel passes, but I do believe that if they will make your trip easier, more stress-free and more enjoyable, then they are well worth spending the money on.

So in this article, I want to share the process I went through to compare New York sightseeing passes and NYC discount passes and how I picked the best New York pass to buy for our trip.


View from the Top of the Rock

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Citypass New York City: Pros and Cons

Pros of buying a NYC pass:

  • One easy purchase covers all your attractions

  • No need to co-ordinate and carry several tickets and find various confirmation emails for each attraction. You can just show one pass for them all

  • It gives you the flexibility to visit more attractions or change your plans and visit somewhere else included in the pass if you choose

  • Can help you plan your itinerary and focus on what you want to do

  • Having your admission ticket already means you can skip the ticket queue for those purchasing on the door - this queue is often huge, especially in peak season

  • And of course the big bonus - if used correctly, the best New York city passes will save you a significant amount of money

Cons of buying a NYC pass:

  • It’s a large sum of money to spend in one go, especially if you’re not 100% sure what you want to see or what your itinerary is

  • It can feel restrictive to have to activate or use your pass in a certain window of time, depending on which pass you purchase

  • It can feel complicated and overwhelming to pick the right one

  • Not worth the cost if you’re not planning to visit lots of the big attractions


How to get the most from your New York Pass

After initially feeling overwhelmed by the options, I realised I needed to be strategic about what was important to me to see in New York and what was realistic in the one week we would be spending there.

As a first time visitor to New York City, I realised that the size of the city, how spread out the attractions are and the cost of everything meant I had to plan my itinerary meticulously. Read my First Timer’s Guide and one week itinerary (there’s also a downloadable New York trip planner).

Here are my tips and what I did to decide which pass was the best New York tourist pass for me:

  • Decide what attractions you absolutely CANNOT miss. 

  • Work out what the cost of all those admission tickets would be, then compare that total cost to the cost of the pass you’re looking at

  • What is the distance between attractions and can you get there easily? If you’re only in New York for a short time, like a long weekend, is it possible to visit 5 attractions in that time that justifies the pass?

  • Do you have a budget? This should instantly narrow down what passes are within your means

  • Where are you staying and do you have the time to move between your accommodation and all the different attractions


New York Pass Comparison: Which pass did I pick and why?

Empire State Building viewing deck

Since it was my first time visiting New York, I decided these five attractions were my priority:

  • Empire State Building

  • Top of the Rock

  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

  • 9/11 Memorial Museum

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Spending 7 days in New York, 5 attractions meant one major attraction to visit and focus on per day with spare time to explore the rest of the day if we could. Then with two days spare to do whatever we want. We ended up going to Brooklyn on one of those days and taking the free Staten Island ferry on the other day. (all in my NYC itinerary here.)


New York Pass vs New York City Pass

View from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller

There are loads of companies with different options, offers and combinations so it really depends on what you’re looking for. Some packages even include discounts on Broadway shows and helicopter rides.

We looked at three different pass options and the New York Pass was one of the first, but we knew we wanted to be able to spread out the attractions across the week we were in New York. This would have meant buying the 7-day New York Pass for $300 which ultimately meant we wouldn’t really save much money when we only planned to do these 5 attractions:

  • Empire State Building

  • Top of the Rock

  • 9/11 Memorial Museum

  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you have longer in New York or perhaps you aren’t a first time visitor, then you may benefit more from the New York Pass because they have a much broader range of activities and unique things to do in New York which are covered by their pass, such as A candlelight tour of the Catacombs, a Chinatown walking tour, a Central Park bike tour, food tours and bike rentals, as well as the usual tourist attractions.

Instead, the New York City Pass is much more specific.

The New York City Pass offers admission to 8 attractions, some of which are interchangeable.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Empire State Building

  • American Museum of Natural History

    Plus admission to 3 of the following attractions:

  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck

  • Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum

  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

  • Guggenheim Museum

The ones in bold are the ones we selected.

As you can see, this option allows you to visit the most popular attractions - perfect for first time New York visitors, with some flexibility too depending on your interests.

Why did I choose this New York pass?

  • It literally covered all the attractions we wanted to see as a first time visitor

  • It’s valid for 9 consecutive days from the first day of use, so we didn’t feel rushed at all

  • It cost just $136 USD

  • With savings of £97 USD compared to usual admission prices

It only costs $136 USD / £106 - an absolute bargain for the six attractions included in the price, especially when you compare the price of the New York City Pass vs New York pass.


New York Explorer pass vs Citypass

Top of the Rock

As an extra comparison, we also looked at the Explorer Pass. Here’s the comparison I did between the NYC Explorer Pass vs the New York City Pass we ended up getting.

I was actually very close to picking the New York Explorer Pass because it allows you to choose 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 10 attractions and from the first day you activate it, you have 60 days to see all the attractions!

This is actually a great option if you’re a New York resident or plan to visit a few times in a space of 2 months, perhaps for work or visiting friends and family, you could see an attraction each time.

However 60 days isn’t really a benefit if you’re just planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New York for a week or a long weekend!

The variety of attractions are also pretty much the same selection as the New York Pass - which is an amazingly huge selection which I felt overwhelmed by when I was only planning a trip for a week.

Ultimately, the slightly cheaper price of the New York City Pass and the specific attractions it catered to led me to select the New York City Pass as the best pass for New York City and our trip overall.


Tips for the New York City Pass

The Chrysler Building

  • Having the pass often means you can skip the ticket queues to head straight for the entrance so make sure you don’t join the long queues to buy tickets on the day - you already have yours!

  • If you have a strict schedule, some of these tickets will require booking in advance to get a specific time slot, such as Top of the Rock or Empire State Building.

  • We also managed to get an additional discount as these tickets were on sale on the New York City Pass website when we were purchasing, so keep an eye on their website for additional offers or discounts


Summary: Should you buy the New York City Pass?

Obviously the answer to this question is ultimately dependent on your trip preferences, your New York itinerary and what your preferred attractions are. For me, I was able to save a significant amount of money by purchasing the New York City Pass and would recommend it especially for first time visitors to New York City or those wanting to make sure they see all the big tourist attractions available.

What's really important is to write down everything you want to see, work out the ticket cost to buy each admission ticket individually then see if it would be cheaper to buy the pass instead.

Hopefully this NYC pass comparison has helped you come to a decision that’s right for you and your trip too!