Skift Take

New York City tourism trends are a mirror to what's happening in most other major cities. Foursquare data show that tourists and locals still stick to predictable paths, with tourists gravitating to top attractions around Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Every city is different and tourism has increased to outer boroughs but those probably still aren't top of mind for many travelers.

There is a big push by cities and travel brands to get visitors to live like a local, but in the case of New York City, however, it appears that tourists are still living like tourists.

That’s according to data from technology company Foursquare, which tracked the most visited New York City attractions and restaurants by locals and tourists between September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 based on users who have checked in via Swarm, as Foursquare’s mobile app users who have location tracking enabled.

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The data doesn’t suggest that tourists don’t visit neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx but it does show that any attractions or restaurants in those boroughs or areas, if they did make the rankings, were far from the tops of the rankings.

Rockefeller Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum were some of the most visited attractions by tourists during the past year (see charts below). All of the most visited attractions are respected and visited by locals, albeit, locals are only a fraction of total visitors. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, had 6.3 million visitors during its fiscal year 2015 that ended June 30, 2015 according to its internal data. Some 26 percent of visitors were New York City residents while the rest were from the tri-state area and other domestic U.S. and international visitors.

Famed Manhattan restaurants also commanded the ranking for most visited restaurants by tourists, with Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery, Katz’s Delicatessen, and Magnolia Bakery among restaurants with the most visitors. To be clear, these restaurants are local in the sense that they began in New York City and carry flavors, smells and atmospheres that you only get in the Big Apple. But many tourists don’t have sights set on smaller or lesser known restaurants that aren’t in bestselling guidebooks, for example, according to Foursquare’s data.

Tourists vs. Locals

The data show New York City residents largely avoid areas around tourist attractions. City parks were the most visited attractions by locals and that’s likely because many are major public transportation crossroads such as Union Square Park and Madison Square Park in Manhattan. The most visited restaurants by locals were popular New York City chains located in and around midtown Manhattan.

Most places that made the rankings represent New Yorkers’ commuting destinations and lunch spots. Although New York City residents visit the major tourist draws and eat at restaurants and visit smaller attractions in their own neighborhoods those places weren’t the most visited when considering all local check-ins.

There is some overlap, though, with attractions and restaurants frequented by both groups. New Yorkers working in Midtown have trouble avoiding the Times Square area and Central Park is ideal for morning jogs and dog walking, for example. And tourists and locals can’t pass up the opportunity of enjoying a cheeseburger or vanilla milk shake at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (see which places made both lists in the chart below).

Top New York City Attractions and Restaurants Visited by Both Tourists and Locals

Attraction Address NYC Borough Type of Attraction
Central Park 59th St to 110th St Manhattan Parks
Times Square Broadway & 7th Ave Manhattan Plazas
Bryant Park E 42nd St Manhattan Parks
UrbanSpace Vanderbilt 230 Park Avenue Manhattan Food Courts
Shake Shack 691 8th Ave Manhattan Burger Joints
Shake Shack 11 Madison Ave Manhattan Burger Joints

Source: Foursquare

New York City had 58.3 million visitors last year and is one of the world’s most visited cities. NYC & Company, the city’s destination marketing organization, markets points of interest in all five New York City boroughs and recently relaunched its See Your City campaign geared towards getting New Yorkers to visit other neighborhoods throughout the city. Mass tourism hotspots such as Times Square and Central Park aren’t hooks for every traveler but the data exemplify how attractions or restaurants in outlying neighborhoods aren’t being inundated by tourists, or at least they aren’t climbing up to the top of the rankings.

New York City is where global tourism trends are tested that then emanate around the world. Visiting neighborhoods outside of storied old towns and bustling city centers are increasingly popular behaviors for travelers thanks to the Internet helping them discover these places and more seasoned travelers looking to escape from the crush of overtourism in some destinations. Tourist attractions have that designation for a reason, however, and are top inspiration drivers for why most people travel and what most travelers want to see wherever they are.

Top Attractions and Places Visited by Tourists, September 2015-August 2016

Attraction Address NYC Borough Type of Attraction
Rockefeller Center Rockefeller Plaza Manhattan Plazas
National September 11 Memorial & Museum 1 Albany St Manhattan Memorial Sites
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Ave Manhattan Art Museums
Battery Park Battery Pl Manhattan Parks
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) 11 W 53rd St Manhattan Art Museums


Top Attractions and Places Visited by NYC Locals, September 2015-August 2016

Attraction Address NYC Borough Type of Attraction
Manhattan Bridge Manhattan Bridge Manhattan Bridges
Prospect Park Prospect Park Brooklyn Parks
Columbus Circle 4-6 Columbus Cir Manhattan Plazas
Union Square Park btwn Broadway & Union Sq E Manhattan Parks
Madison Square Park Madison Ave Manhattan Parks


Top Restaurants Visited by NYC Tourists, September 2015-August 2016

Attraction Address NYC Borough Type of Attraction
The Halal Guys W 53rd St Manhattan Food Trucks
Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery 1515 Broadway Manhattan American Restaurants
Magnolia Bakery 1240 Avenue of the Americas Manhattan Bakeries
Katz’s Delicatessen 205 E Houston St Manhattan Sandwich Places
Carlo’s Bake Shop 625 8th Ave Manhattan Bakeries


Top Restaurants Visited by NYC Locals, September 2015-August 2016

Attraction Address NYC Borough Type of Attraction
Birch Coffee 56 7th Ave Manhattan Coffee Shops
Dos Toros Taqueria 295 Park Ave S Manhattan Burrito Places
Rue 57 60 W 57th St Manhattan French Restaurants
Chick-fil-A 1000 Avenue of the Americas Manhattan Fast Food Restaurants
sweetgreen 1164 Broadway Manhattan Salad Places


Source: Foursquare


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Tags: culinary tourism, foursquare, locals, nyc

Photo credit: Most of the top places tourists visit in New York City are, unsurprisingly, iconic tourist attractions. Pictured here are tourists at the observation deck of Rockefeller Center. urbanfeel / Flickr

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