New York Itinerary – 3 Days in New York City for First Timers

Planning to spend 3 days in New York City, but aren’t sure what to do? To help make your trip planning just a little easier, we’ve put together a New York itinerary to help you make the most of your 3 days in NYC.

From cruises and tours to museums and the great outdoors, you’ll get a real slice of New York life.

Of course, with so many people claiming “you haven’t really been to New York unless—” you may have difficulty deciding just what to do on your vacation. That’s where we come in.

Not only will this itinerary save you time and eliminate stress on your trip, it will also save you money on your 3 days in New York.

This itinerary includes:

  • Empire State Building
  • Landmark Cruise by Circle Line Sightseeing
  • Double Decker Bus Tour
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Top of the Rock
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Central Park Bike Tour
  • Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour
  • 9/11 Tribute Center & Walking Tour

Only have a few days to visit? We’ve also put together a 1 day and 2 day itinerary.

Save on Attraction Admission

Pick up a 7-Choice New York City Explorer Pass® and save off combined admission vs. paying at the gate.

Remember, this 3 days in New York itinerary is just one of many ways to experience New York City.

If you’re interested in the additional options included below, pick up a 10-Choice New York City Explorer Pass® instead!

The New York City Explorer Pass® gives you the flexibility to create your own itinerary, so you can choose from dozens of top attractions and create a vacation tailored to your interests.


Stop #1 – Top of the Rock Observatory

Begin your adventures with the amazing aerial views of New York  available from the Top of the Rock Observatory. It’s one of the most popular things to do in all of New York, and it’s truly a unique perspective on the city.

The Top of the Rock has three floors of indoor and outdoor observation decks, plus 360-degree views of the city below.

Some of the landmarks you’ll be able to spot from this vantage point include the Chrysler Building, the Freedom Tower, Central Park, and more.

Getting In: We recommend reserving between 1-2 hours for this attraction. Anticipate modest wait times this early in the morning.

Stop #2 – Times Square (free!)

By Didier B (Sam67fr) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

By Didier B (Sam67fr) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s about one of the most touristy things to do out there, but it’s a must-see for a reason.

The hustle and bustle of New York City life really converges on Times Square, and it’s a unique chance to see some of the more bizarre figures on NYC pop culture.

It’s also a great place to souvenir shop, with everything from iconic shops like the Disney Store to hole-in-the-wall trinket joints.

Getting In: You’ll likely only want to spend a short time here unless you’re shopping, so reserve between 30 minutes and an hour of your morning.

Lunch in Midtown

Grab a bite to eat in Midtown, remembering to venture away from Times Square if you’re looking for something less touristy (and often, less expensive).

You’ll find everything from salads and sushi to pasta and pizza, so whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll be able to enjoy it for lunch.

If you’re a beer lover, why not check out Heartland Brewing?

Stop #3 – Landmark Cruise by Circle Line Sightseeing
(optional with the 10-Choice Explorer Pass®)

Landmark CruiseThis comprehensive two-hour NYC cruise is a perfect option for those looking for panoramic views of the New York City skyline.

You’ll see all the best features and landmarks of NYC, like the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the United Nations, and more!

Getting In: Tours run every couple of hours; be sure to confirm your desired cruise time and arrive around 45 minutes in advance to allow for ticketing and boarding.

Stop #4 – Central Park Bike Tour

Next, explore the great outdoors with a bike ride through the beautiful Central Park.

A Central Park bike tour is an ideal way to get some fresh air and an eco-friendly way to tour one of the city’s most beloved landmarks.

Some of the many of the top Central Park attractions you’ll see on your tour include the Cherry Hill fountain, Strawberry Fields and Imagine Mosaic, Shakespeare Garden, Belvedere Castle, and the Great Lawn.

Getting In: This bike tour lasts about 2 hours.

Stop #5 – American Museum of Natural History

This attraction is a favorite with adults and kids alike.

The American Museum of Natural History is filled with natural wonders, historic artifacts, and exciting, interactive exhibits that span a vast array of subjects.

Some of the highlights of the museum include their impressive collection of dinosaur fossils, a beautiful room filled with gems and minerals, the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and their detailed dioramas of various animal life.

Getting In: We recommend reserving between 2-3 hours for this attraction.

Dinner on the Upper West Side

Since you’ll be in the neighborhood after your visit to the American Museum of Natural History, we recommend having a leisurely dinner on the Upper West Side. They have an eclectic mixture of everything, with a wide range of price points to fit all budgets.

Day 2

Stop #1 – Double Decker Bus Tour

Double-Decker-Bus-Tour-Downtown-Uptown-Combo-2Explore large portions of the city that you wouldn’t be able to cover on your own with the Uptown/Downtown Double Decker bus tour.

It covers all that major sights and sounds of both of these New York City regions, all while providing informative and interesting narration.

It also gives you the flexibility to hop on and off at your leisure, making this a good option for those who like a little bit of freedom in their itineraries.

Getting In: Your ticket is good for 48 hours, so feel free to use this bus today and tomorrow!

Stop #2 – High Line Park (Free!)

By David Berkowitz from New York, NY, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By David Berkowitz from New York, NY, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The High Line is one of New York City’s hidden gems.

It’s a beautiful green park made from the remains of an old elevated rail line that runs from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street. Along the way you’ll pass through the artsy neighborhood of Chelsea.

Visitors can choose to walk the entire 1.45 miles, or get off at one of several descent points.

Getting In: The High Line is free for all! Visit the High Line website for more detailed information about what you can see and do along the trail.

Lunch in Chelsea

Descend from the High Line in Chelsea for a bevy of culinary choices. One of our favorites is Chelsea Market, an enclosed urban food court that offers everything from pizza to burritos to curry to baguettes.

Bonus: it’s also a good place to shop for souvenirs!

Stop #3 – Empire State Building

Begin your afternoon with a visit to one of the most iconic buildings in all of New York City – the Empire State Building.

Ascend to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building of this architectural marvel for some of the best views and photo opportunities.

In addition to being a fascinating structure, the Empire State Building is also steeped with historical significance. There’s a lot to offer for architecture buffs, for example, with regards to its art deco décor. Don’t forget your camera!

Getting In: We recommend reserving at least 2 hours for this attraction. Keep in mind that elevator lines will add to your overall time spent at the attraction.

Stop #4 – Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
(optional with the 10-Choice Explorer Pass®)

Spend the remainder of your afternoon in one of the best art institutions in the world – the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Located in an airy and contemporary space, their significant collections of painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and more are thought-provoking and inspiring.

The world’s greatest artists are all represented at this museum. You’ll see works by Monet, Warhol, Seurat, Dali, Picasso, Pollack, and more. Be sure to check out the gift store before you leave!

Getting In: We recommend reserving between 2-3 hours for this attraction.

Dinner in Midtown

Midtown is one of the busiest areas of the entire city, and it’s filled with tons of restaurant options for you to choose from.

You could choose to dine at the MoMA’s own Modern restaurant, or wander mere blocks away for choices as diverse as French, Chinese, Cuban, Greek, and contemporary American fare.


Stop #1 – Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty NYC
Hop aboard a ferry to set sail for two of New York City’s most famous attractions – the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Liberty Island features the iconic Lady Liberty statue, with tours of the grounds and access to different parts the statue available through the National Park Service.

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is another awesome attraction on a separate island, offering a chance for many Americans to explore their heritage, and for all to soak up the vibrant history of this once-hectic immigration center.

Getting In: Your Explorer Pass® provides round-trip ferry transportation only; some areas of the Statue of Liberty require separate tickets purchased in advance.

Stop #2 – 9/11 Tribute Center & Walking Tour

Founded by the September 11th Families Association in order to commemorate the lives lost in this tragic event, the 9/11 Tribute Center is a meaningful and poignant attraction.

At this center, you’ll be able to hear the story of 9/11 from those who were there that day – family members who lost loved ones, recovery workers, nearby residents, and 9/11 survivors. This tour includes a visit to the Memorial.

Getting In: We recommend reserving about 1-2 hours for this attraction. Tours last 1 hour.

Lunch in Lower Manhattan

Explore the area a bit south and east of the 9/11 Tribute Center for some great Lower Manhattan lunch choices. Or, there are also plenty of options in Tribeca.

If you haven’t had a chance to try a slice of New York-style pizza yet, now’s your chance!

Stop #3 – Battery Park (free!)

By Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Head down to the southernmost point of Manhattan and enjoy the lovely waterfront views available at Battery Park.

There are a number of small attractions within the park, like the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Skyscraper Museum, as well as some public art pieces like the beautiful sculpture entitled “The Sphere.”

Getting In: Admission to the park is free for all, but some of the activities may require additional costs. We recommend reserving about a half hour for Battery Park if you aren’t planning to visit any of the other attractions.

Stop #4 – Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour
(optional for the 10-Choice Explorer Pass®)

This is another one of those can’t-miss landmarks you’ll want to make sure you get a chance to see before leaving NYC.

Take a walking tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and the DUMBO neighborhood with experienced and insightful tour guides to get a real feel for the area.

You’ll learn about the inspiring and exciting history of this iconic bridge, plus get a chance to explore the boutiques, shops, art galleries, and tasty restaurants in Brooklyn.

Getting In: Advance reservations are required. This tour lasts 1.5-2 hours.

Dinner in Tribeca

Once you return from your walking tour, venture out into Tribeca to explore the many culinary options that dot the neighborhood.

You’ll find everything from French and Mexican to vegan cuisine and Asian fusion. Be sure to leave a little time to explore the neighborhood, too!

Let’s Recap

So there are our suggestions for how to make the most of your 3 days in New York. Walk a little, cruise a little, tour a little, and explore a little – it’s all here.

Visit the above attractions with a 7-Choice New York City Explorer Pass® and save big on combined admission prices.

If you’re feeling like you want more out of your vacation, pick up a 10-Choice New York Explorer Pass® instead – this itinerary offers options for both!

Explorer Pass® holders can also save even more on shopping, dining, and additional attractions with the included extra discounts.

New York City Explorer Pass

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