How to Spend Three Days in New York City: The Ultimate Itinerary

There are few cities in the world that hold the acclaim that New York City has. Known as the ‘city that never sleeps’ New York City is a mass of action, skyscrapers, noise and madness. Even for travelers that don’t consider themselves to be ‘city people’ there is a level of excitement to this place that takes people in. New York isn’t just another urban jungle, it is a ride.

Our three days in New York City itinerary will help you explore the Big Apple from start to finish. Dine out at some of the best restaurants in the city without burning a hole in your wallet, see the top attractions from the Empire State to the Statue of Liberty and experience New York’s culture as it’s the people that make the city tick.

That famous New York view. Harold Stiver/Shutterstock

Where to Stay in New York City

If you’re planning a trip to New York, you are probably under no illusions that accommodation here is cheap. Although we recommend staying in Manhattan, there are neighborhoods that have decent budget options for you to explore. Keep in mind that with so much to do, having a base close to all the action will help you allocate more time to the fun stuff.

Stay out of Midtown if you are on a tight budget and look into your options in Greenwich and Hell’s Kitchen. While the amazing neighborhood of Astoria, just across the East River, has easy access to Central Park and surrounding attractions.

Those fall colors in Central Park are just magical! mapman/Shutterstock

The Best Time of Year to Visit New York

Truth be told, there is no bad time to visit New York. If I could, I’d go back tomorrow. Each season brings something different to the Big Apple and, like a lot of the northeast, there may not be a better time to visit New York than in the fall. With orange leaves floating through the air and the city gearing up for the festive season, New York’s atmosphere is magical.

The winter comes with ice skating, Christmas trees and a festive vibe. But you will roam the city in the cold, which may slow you down. So if it’s your first time, sit tight until spring.

This time of year sees so much color return to the urban jungle. New York may be all about the skyscrapers, but along with Central Park there are so many beautiful green spaces to explore. Join the locals, excited to see the temperatures rise and explore under the balmy sun.

Summer is peak tourist season, so lines for your favorite attractions may be that much longer. But with clear skies and hot temperatures, you’ll have plenty of reasons to be outside and exploring.

The viewing platform at the Empire State Building. Paper Cat/Shutterstock

Day One: Empire State, Broadway, and Times Square

Your first day in New York is all about being a tourist. Begin with ticking off one of the city’s biggest attractions, the Empire State Building. Upon completion, the Empire State was the tallest building in the world and was built in spectacular fashion. At one point, they were finishing one of the building’s 102 floors each day!

Ever since, the Empire State building has been one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world. It’s no shock that visiting the tower is immensely popular, so if you’ve arrived in Manhattan in the morning, you can enter as early as 8am. Begin by exploring the photo and story gallery that elaborates on the astounding achievements that went into creating the building before venturing to the outdoor observation deck at the very top.

Whether it’s your first or fifth time seeing Manhattan from the viewing area, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of man-made creations, parks and the sprawling New York Harbor. From the top, you’ll be able to gaze upon the iconic Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, along with New York’s tallest skyscraper, One World Trade Center, and the Statue of Liberty.

Take as long as you want to enjoy the incredible view. Once you have your fix and your New York City bearings, it’s time to explore the city on the ground.

The High Line Park on a sunny day. Stuart Monk/Shutterstock

From the Empire State, enjoy a short walk through the bustling city on your way to the famous High Line. In the 1930s Manhattan’s street-level freight trains were at last raised off the ground, creating the infrastructure for the present-day High Line. 

With the rise of trucking, the High Line went into disrepair and become an eyesore for residents. But since 2009, the old rail tracks have become one of the most visited attractions in the city, for locals and travelers alike.

The 1.45 mile (2.3km) greenway has become a modern marvel, with over 500 species of plants among the eateries and quaint bars. The walk along the High Line is in stark contrast to the action directly below and provides a peaceful stroll through Manhattan and guides you towards our next activity.

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Let Go Media/Shutterstock

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum isn’t just for history buffs and military enthusiasts. After all, it is a National Historic Landmark and home to the only guided missile submarine available to the public. As you walk towards the museum, you will pass an immense collection of aircraft, along with panoramic views of downtown Manhattan. 

The prime exhibit here is the USS Intrepid. An aircraft carrier that survived several battles over the Pacific and found its forever home in New York and became the base of the museum. Other highlights include the Enterprise shuttle that was a pioneer in NASA’s early space programs.

Views from the Circle Line boat tour. jannoon028/Shutterstock

After departing the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum you will be just steps away from the Landmarks Cruise. Run by Circle Line, this is the perfect on-water activity to do when in New York City. The two-hour journey around the city comes with amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, along with the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park. As you venture around the island of Manhattan, you will learn all about the city’s fascinating history from the Dutch settlement in 1624 all the way to the modern day. 

After the tour, enjoy your first dinner in the city and get excited for a grand night ahead. 

The Illuminated facades of Broadway theaters. Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock

A weekend in New York would not be complete without seeing a show on Broadway, especially if it’s your first time in the Big Apple. Broadway has become so popular that it has transcended culture to become a word all on its own. End day one by seeing what all the fuss is about. Shows can book out far in advance, so if you have a show in mind, be sure to book ahead. 

However, with the bevvy of options on offer there will also be a show that has a seat to fill. Broadway has a total of 41 venues, each with over 500 seats. Check out the iconic Phantom of the Opera which has run since 1988, or take in recent hits like the Book of Mormon or Hamilton.

Iconic Times Square at night. Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock

After the show, Times Square is next up. Although you can visit during the day, the crowds, madness and tours can make it a hectic experience. But at night, under the bright lights of Manhattan, Times Square becomes a magical place to people watch. With the rush of traffic and people heading off to restaurants or shows, the energy is electric.

But if you’re up for it, try to time your run to Times Square as late in the day as possible. As crowds disperse, an eerie quiet can descend up the intersection, with just the flashing billboards left. Aside from the odd car horn blasting and siren sounding, you can almost hear the city’s heartbeat. Plus, as the rest of the town goes home, you can easily get up on Times Square’s digital screen and give yourself a wave.

Chelsea Market has so many food options to suit every taste. littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock

Where to Eat on Day One in New York

For lunch of day one, head to the Chelsea Market. As the location of the old Nabisco Factory, this was where the Oreo cookie was invented. But now it is one of the best food halls in New York City. Here you’ll find over 30 vendors slinging cheap eats, none are better than Los Tacos No. 1.

For dinner before or after your Broadway show, pay a visit to Donburiya. It’s hard to find a decent restaurant in Midtown that won’t blow your wallet to smithereens, but the Japanese cuisine on offer is delicious. Try their specialty donburi bowls and the generous onigiri.

Famous Bow Bridge in Central Park. S.Borisov/Shutterstock

Day Two: Parks, Wall Street, and the Statue of Liberty

Once breakfast is sorted, head to Central Park. There’s no better place to shake off the morning rust than within the 840-acre urban oasis. Splitting Manhattan in two, Central Park has been a part of the city since 1859. No doubt, the crowning achievement of New York City has been maintaining this green space as the surrounding buildings soar to the heavens. 

There is a lot to do in Central Park, so it may be worth grabbing your breakfast to go in order to spend more time roaming in the fresh morning air. Keep in mind the park is huge! You may think you trekked from one end to the other, only to find out that you merely went side to side. Grab a park map at the visitor center and plot out a route through Central Park.

Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond in Central Park. Verysmallplanet/Shutterstock

Top attractions include the Belvedere Castle which comes with beautiful views of the park and the Delacorte Theater. Depending on how much time you want to spend here, you could also explore the Central Park Zoo, see the Bethesda Fountain and Conservatory Garden.

The Mall and Literary Walk. Javen/Shutterstock

Before heading on to our next activity, stroll the Mall and Literary Walk, seen in many Hollywood films.

New York City Museum of Natural History. legacy1995/Shutterstock

Next up is the Museum of Natural History. In a city of amazing museums, this one takes the cake. Comprising four floors and over 25 connected buildings, the sheer size of the museum is impressive. However, you will be blown away by what’s on offer inside, with 45 permanent exhibits that are enthralling for young and old. 

The Museum of Natural History has a way of breaking down otherwise complex information that makes it approachable for everyone. You will find dozens of different categories spanning from anthropology to zoology. With millions of artifacts, fossils and various items on display, you could return multiple times and still not complete the whole museum. So pick sections that interest you and explore them thoroughly. 

Highlights that are not to be missed, however, include the Lucy Exhibit, the 95ft (29m) Blue Whale replica and the dinosaur fossil hall.

The New York Stock Exchange. ventdusud/Shutterstock

Once you’re happy with your time in the Museum of Natural History, jump in a cab or take the subway downtown. Next stop, Wall Street. The home of wheeling and dealing, Wall Street is the base of the world’s largest stock exchange and the subject of countless rags-to-riches-to-rags Hollywood flicks.

It won’t take you long to explore the street, after all you can’t go inside the buildings. Wall Street is one of the oldest parts of New York and has long been the center of commerce. Many of the buildings here are in the Art déco design from the city’s construction boom in the 1920s.

The Charging Bull of Wall Street. Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

On Wall Street, you will also find the George Washington statue along with the Federal Hall National Monument. The principal attraction, the Charging Bull, we have saved for last. 

Exterior view of the Oculus Center. Kit Leong/Shutterstock

The iconic sculpture always has a crowd, patiently or anxiously waiting to get their photo. Get in line or simply catch a glimpse of the famous landmark before walking over to the Oculus.

The massive transportation hub was built after 9/11 and its impeccable interior is a must-see. Because of its white exterior and wing-shaped tips soaring to the heavens, it is a hard building to miss. The striking interior is the real highlight, however. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the sparkling white steel beams create an A-frame like structure that will have your camera working overtime.

The Statue of Liberty and Manhattan at sunset. Pit Stock/Shutterstock

As the sun falls over New York City, there is still more to see and tonight you’ll have the chance to see the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty in front of a blazing sunset. End day two with a tour for a closeup view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site taking in the famous statue under the early evening light. 

After ample time to take photos and appreciate the marvelous creation, you will cruise past Ellis Island. This island was the point of arrival of over 10 million would-be Americans who arrived between 1890 and 1954. In fact, over half of the country’s present day population has a connection with this historic place.

From there, turn towards Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge for unforgettable views of the cityscape under the dwindling light. 

Where to Eat on Day Two in New York

To help wake you up and fuel your second day adventures, enjoy breakfast at Clinton St. Baking. Rated as one of the top brunch spots in Manhattan, the restaurant maintains its down-to-earth vibe despite its growing popularity. Take your pick of dishes on their eclectic American menu, infused with flavors from Mexico and the Southwest.

As you venture through New York’s Financial District, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to stop by Sam’s Falafel Stand. Sam’s has become a local institution serving up simple eats that taste amazing and can be had on the go. 

After enjoying some delicious cheap eats, it is time to treat yourself. Kochi, in Hell’s Kitchen, serves up mouthwatering Korean cuisine across either a seven or ten-course menu. The restaurant received a Michelin star in 2019 and its fixed price courses make it an attainable date night.

Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

Day Three: The Met and the Brooklyn Bridge

Begin your last day in Manhattan by visiting one of the biggest museums in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, otherwise known as the Met. With the largest gallery space in the US, the Met presents art works that date back centuries, harking from all parts of the world.

The Met has dozens of different sections, so like the Natural Museum of History, you may have to pick and choose. Lest you want to spend all day there, not that I would blame you. Popular sections include the Egyptian Mummies, Greek exhibits, classical sculptures and, of course, their amazing collection of paintings. Inside the Met you will find Rembrandt’s Aristotle and Van Gogh’s Self Portrait.

Apple logo at the entrance of their 5th Avenue store. pio3/Shutterstock

After leaving the Met, you will be across from the famed Fifth Avenue. The most famous street in New York is often referred to as Millionaire’s Row and is Manhattan’s best shopping street. The shopping here is well documented with an abundance of high-end shops, including the iconic Apple store on the edge of Central Park.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, standing alongside the statue of Atlas and the Rockefeller Center. lazyllama/Shutterstock

Walking along the Avenue is a great way to simply get a taste. Aside from checking out the shops, be sure to stop by the stunning St Patrick’s Cathedral.

As your time in New York comes to a close, go out with a bang by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. From wherever you are in New York, you can unlock a Citi Bike and cruise the streets on your way to the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Better yet, sign up for a bike tour that will help you reminisce on your time in New York City. You’ll ride through several neighborhoods, hit up Wall Street and Battery Park as you journey along the behemoth waters of the Hudson River. 

Brooklyn Bridge views as you cycle across it. Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock

End with a ride across the Brooklyn Bridge. The 1 mile (1.6km) journey offers yet more amazing views of the city, so take your time and soak it all in. 

Where to Eat on Day Three in New York

Begin day three in the heart of Greenwich at the Banter. Serving up healthy breakfast items from avocado toast to the Banter Bowl, to match their wellness drinks and iced teas, you’ll have plenty of energy to go after your final day in New York City.

Enjoy your last meal in New York, sampling some of the city’s best pizza. Scarr’s Pizza is all about New York-style slices, with the owner having grown up at slice joints and honed his craft at institutions like Joe’s and Lombardi’s. Scarr’s Pizza has a fun 1980s theme, with simple but excellent slices.

It’s time to sadly say goodbye to New York! Jason Sponseller/Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

There are great cities around the world that you can see over a long weekend or seven days. There’s no doubt that three days in New York will only scratch the surface, but you choose to explore this incredible city, you will have endless things to do. 

There are attractions, activities and adventures for all personalities. There are several world-famous museums, buildings and attractions that didn’t even make this itinerary. That is the power and beauty of New York City and one that is sure to have you planning another trip soon after.   

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.

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