times square nyc

So you’re finally making the trip to the Big Apple. You plan to see all the sights, take in a Broadway show, and check out the amazing dining scene. But all that is going to be heavy on the wallet.

While there are a free things to do – wandering Times Square, looking for admission-free museum days, walking the High Line in NYC – most of the top attractions are going to cost you. If you want to get more for your dollar, you should buy a New York CityPASS. Offering admission to up to six New York attractions, the NYC CityPASS is a smart way to save money when visiting New York attractions. 

What’s Included

There are two types of passes to choose from: the New York City CityPASS and New York C3 Pass. There are ten attractions in total to choose from on these New York sightseeing passes – nine on the CityPASS and ten on the C3. With the NYC CityPASS you get tickets for six different attractions; three of these are pre-set and three you can choose yourself from a list of three pairs. If you go for the NY C3 Pass, you will get to choose three from the ten on the list.

The New York City CityPASS

The three preset attractions included with the NYC CityPASS are:

  • The Empire State Building: an iconic landmark famous throughout the world, you’ll get amazing views over the city from the observation deck on the 86th floor, including Central Park, the Hudson River, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. As well as the observation decks, there are some interesting exhibitions, such as Dare to Dream, detailing the engineering and construction of the building.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art: featuring a collection spanning over 5,000 years, the museum is the largest art museum in the United States and houses over two million works.
  • The American Museum of Natural History: an astounding collection of over 33 million specimens relating to the natural world, the universe and human cultures, the museum has 45 permanent exhibition halls as well as a planetarium.

You then get a choice of one from each of these three pairs of attractions: 

  • The Top of the Rock Observation Deck: located in the heart of the Rockefeller Center, three observation decks – both interior and exterior – offer fantastic views of the city. – OR – The Guggenheim Museum: the building itself is a good enough reason to visit the Guggenheim. Once inside though, you will be treated to some of the best art from the 20th century, including works by Picasso and Cezanne.
  • Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: giving you the chance to explore Liberty and Ellis Islands, you get a round-trip ferry ride, an audio tour on each island and also entry to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. – OR – Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises: this company offers a number of different cruises allowing you to experience as much of New York City as possible. With the NY CityPASS you can choose from the Harbour Lights cruise, Liberty cruise or Landmark cruise, or a ride on the speedboat, the BEAST.
  • 9/11 Memorial and Museum: this museum houses artifacts examining the events of 9/11 and the impact it had – and continues to have – on the United States. The memorial gives you the opportunity to pay your respects to those who lost their lives on that fateful day. – OR – Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum: if you’re interested in American military and maritime history, this museum is a good choice. The admission gives you access to Growler, the only American guided submarine open to the public, and the Space Shuttle Pavilion, the prototype NASA orbiter which paved the way for the country’s successful space shuttle program.

The New York C3 Pass

The NY C3 Pass gives you all the same options as the NYC CityPASS plus Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises. You get the choice of their one-hour International Sightseeing cruise or their two-hour Alive After Five Happy Hour cruise. Both cruises give you the chance to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn Bridge (you’ll want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge later), and the Manhattan Skyline, and much more.

view from the empire state building at night

How CityPASS Works

Both passes are valid for nine days from the date of first use, giving you ample time to see the attractions included.

Visit the CityPASS website and choose the type of pass you want to purchase.

You can choose to have the passes emailed to you, shipped to your address (check the website to see if they deliver to your home country), or sent to your hotel in the United States or Canada. Alternatively, you can buy passes from any of the partner attractions in person.

Once you have your passes, all you need to do is present the tickets at the attractions you want to visit, enter and enjoy. If you’re using the paper booklets, don’t take the tickets out yourself; let the staff at the attractions do this for you.

Most of the attractions only allow for one entry. The exception to this rule is the Empire State Building, which allows you one daytime entry plus a bonus night entry (this only applies to the NYC CityPASS, not the C3 Pass).

A great advantage of the pass is that you get to jump the lines, particularly beneficial for attractions like the Empire State Building, where you can expect huge lines to get in.

Cost of NYC CityPASS

The NYC CityPASS currently costs $126 for adults and $104 for children aged six to 17, giving savings of over $90 per person. The NY C3 costs $83 for adults and children over 13 years and $63 for children aged four to 12, offering savings of up to 25% off the regular prices. These prices are correct at the time of writing (The CityPASS website states that as of March 2019, the prices of the NYC CityPASS will increase.)

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Upgrades to the NYC CityPASS

The New York City CityPASS and C3 Pass offer free general admission to the attractions mentioned. If you want to get a bit more out of your experience, there are several upgrades available. These include:

  • the Butterfly Conservancy at the American Museum of Natural History;
  • an audio guide for the Metropolitan Museum of Art;
  • Rockefeller Center tour discount;
  • flight simulators at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum;
  • a pre-boarding photo with Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises.

Our NYC CityPASS Recommendations

Despite many trips to New York City, we hadn’t made it to the top of the Empire State Building, a must-do for most visitors to NYC. Lines are always long, people waiting are cranky, and we hadn’t planned it right. Relying on some tips on using the NYC CityPASS, this trip we made it!

We headed to the top of the Empire State Building in the evening, around 10:30 pm. It was a chilly evening and although the lines were pretty short, our CityPASS got us in even more quickly. The view from the top is jaw-dropping. We walked around the perimeter, pointing out the things we knew, and wondering why we had never done it before. We weren’t able to make a day time visit, our schedule was full of commitments, but the CityPASS tickets gives you both a day and night admission.

I could easily spend all day at the American Museum of Natural History. While it might be hard to dedicate that time of time during the nice weather, on a cold winter day, there’s nothing better than exploring a museum. And AMNH is one of the best.

I’m particularly fond of the Fossils Hall (located on the fourth floor) and the Human and Culture Halls (spread over numerous floors). We recommend downloading the map and planning out what you want to see, especially if you have limited time. If I lived in NYC I’d be a regular at this museum.

The architecture of the Guggenheim Museum is as interesting as the modern and contemporary art inside.

911 Memorial NYC

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is probably on most New York City visitor’s lists. It’s moving, gut-wrenching, and tell the story of the attack from a local perspective. It’s not only a tribute to those who lost their lives but also honors the thousands of people who helped in the rescue operations in the days and months that followed.

The Memorial is outdoors, adjacent to the Museum. It’s well worth the walk by, even if you’re not in the frame of mind to visit the Museum. And yes, I think you need to be prepared for the visit, and probably not have much else on your schedule that day. 

If you’re already been to the 9/11 Museum, or if you’re not ready to commit to that emotionally heavy of a visit, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is an equally fine choice.

This maritime and military history site has a collection of impressive exhibits including the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, and the Growler submarine. We spent far more time going through everything than we thought we would, still leaving much unseen and for a return visit.

times square photo

Finding a NYC Hotel

With thousands (and thousands) of hotels in Manhattan – let alone the outlying areas – finding a hotel can be complicated. Prices span budget to highly luxe, you just need to match up your budget with the best location. I have lots of favorites, but honestly, I usually stay somewhere different each time I visit.

The map and tool below is a big help in saving the time involved in choosing a New York City hotel.

New York City is a fabulous city to visit, with plenty to keep you occupied for days on end. With the NYC CityPASS or C3 Pass, you will make your money and time go further, giving yourself time to enjoy the New York City attractions and sample what this great city has to offer.

Disclosure: We received a complimentary NYC CityPASS for purposes as part of attending an event.