The Best of New York City in 3 Days Itinerary
With more diverse culture and world-class attractions than you'll know what to do with, The Big Apple is known by many as the best city on earth. The island of Manhattan alone will provide you with more than enough to do in a 3-day trip.
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.
We've put together all of the "must-see" and "must-do" New York City attractions and organized them into one easy-to-follow itinerary. Not only will this 3-day itinerary save you time and eliminate stress on your trip, it will also save you money when you use the Smart Destinations New York Explorer Pass.
Sound good? Read on!
John F. Kennedy International Airport JFK, located in Queens, may be the most well-known airport servicing NYC - perhaps because of its reputation for timeliness. It's about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan, which is about a 1-hour taxi ride. A cab ride into Manhattan will cost around $45.
If you don't mind carrying your luggage, use public transportation to avoid the hefty cab prices. You'll have to first take the AirTrain, the airport's public transit line that connects with MTA New York City Transit subways, buses, and rails. You will have to transfer to an MTA subway or train in order to go all the way into Manhattan. Where you connect will depend on your exact destination, but the cost from JFK to most places that connect to midtown Manhattan is only a few dollars.
Newark-Liberty International Airport Although it's actually located in nearby New Jersey, Newark may be your best option if Manhattan is your destination. It is 16 miles from midtown, but the cab ride is actually shorter than the ride from JFK. However, with toll fares, the ride will end up costing the same or more. But plane fares to Newark are usually cheaper than those to other airports so if you're staying in downtown or western midtown, Newark is perhaps your best bet.
Public transportation is also a reasonable option for getting to Manhattan. The Newark AirTrain will connect you to Amtrak, where you will then ride into Penn Station. From Newark to Penn Station is only a little over $10 (much cheaper than a cab) and it can even be quicker than a cab when there's heavy traffic.
LaGuardia Airport LaGuardia, also in Queens but only 8 miles from Manhattan, is actually the closest airport to the island. However, it has a bad reputation for delays and terminal chaos that cause many travelers to steer clear of it. If you're willing to risk it to save a few bucks on cab fare, most major domestic carriers do service LaGuardia. The cab ride will take about 20-40 minutes and will cost $20-$30.
Direct access to public transportation is also available through the MTA New York Transit Authority. The subways and buses charge only a few dollars for a one way trip.
Amtrak runs frequent service to NYC's Penn Station from most major cities in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, like Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. From Penn Station, located on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, you'll easily be able to hop on a taxi, subway, or bus to your hotel. With Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express trains, train travel is increasing and you'll likely want to buy your ticket as far in advance as possible.
Taking the bus to and from NYC from major East Coast cities has become the most inexpensive way to get to Manhattan. Usually, the average fare from places like Boston and Washington D.C. isn't more than $20! Some of the popular bus company names are Megabus, Boltbus, and Vamoose. Or, you could opt to take one of the original "Chinatown Shuttles" that started the bussing trend. For information on these companies, check out Busjunction.
Getting Around New York City
Before we get into public transportation and taxi usage, let's discuss the primary means New Yorkers use for getting around Manhattan—their own two feet. That's right, walking is by far the easiest way, not to mention the most economical, to get around the island. Just remember to pay attention to the traffic flow and don't follow the locals when crossing streets. Instead, wait for walk signals and use crosswalks, and you'll still beat cab and bus traffic in rush hour. As an added bonus to walking, you'll see much more of Manhattan and get a real feel for the city.
That being said, the MTA transportation system is quite incredible; in fact, it's the largest system of its kind in North America. The MTA runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, although not all routes run around the clock. The cost of a one-way subway fare or bus ticket is only a few dollars, making it a much more economical option than the taxi.
The subway system has 24 lines, identified by either letters (A, B, C, etc.) or numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). These routes serve Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
The bus system has 253 local routes and 71 express bus routes in NYC's 5 boroughs. Bus stops are located at street corners and have a tall, round sign with a bus emblem and route number. Most stops also include a "Guide-A-Ride," a sign displaying the route map and bus schedule. For more information regarding the NYC transit system, visit the MTA website.
The last option, of course, is to flag down a NYC taxi. The pros of this option are that you can easily get to an address that is blocks from a subway station, you won't have to share your ride with millions of passengers, and you won't have to navigate the public transit system. On the downside, taxis are subject to traffic and can become quite expensive, especially if the taxi driver realizes you aren't familiar with the area and takes you on a roundabout route. All official New York City taxis are yellow with the rates printed on the door and a light with a medallion number on the roof.
New York Neighborhoods
Manhattan neighborhoods have fractured personalities and fluid boundaries as their cultures have evolved and diversified over the years. However, if you ask a local to guide you to Tribeca or the Flatiron District, more than likely they'll know what you're talking about and be able to point you in the right direction (if not, they're probably not a local).
Although NYC has 5 boroughs, we're presuming that in your 3-day trip, you'll be spending most of your time in Manhattan—where most of the top attractions are. Here's a quick rundown of the Manhattan neighborhoods you'll want to be familiar with, categorized by location (uptown, downtown, midtown). Take a look at a map of NYC neighborhoods to get a better idea of their geographical locations in relation to one another!
- Financial District
- Little Italy & Chinatown
They're two distinct neighborhoods, representing two different cultures, but they share one important thing: an abundance of delicious ethnic food! In Little Italy and Chinatown (the largest Chinatown outside of Asia!) expect to see a large and diverse crowd, but you'll also find small areas of truly ethnic life.
If you know the meaning of this neighborhood's name, you'll be able to find its location: the Triangle Below Canal Street. In the past 30 or so years, this area has become inundated with the chic and elite, as the overflow began spilling in from SoHo. Many celebrities now live in Tribeca's former (and massively renovated) factories and warehouses.
SoHo, the area "South of Houston Street" is an impressively fashionable, and very well-known, neighborhood of cobbled streets, narrow sidewalks, restored buildings, trendy restaurants, and even trendier boutiques - making it a glamorous shopping oasis. Some warn, however, that with its ever-growing popularity, less desirable chain stores are springing up in the area.
- Lower East Side
The Lower East Side has a truly American history, home to a melting pot of immigrants from the early Eastern European Jews to the more recent Latino and Asian immigrants. And although trendy restaurants and shops have begun popping up here, the area still has a strong hold on its immigrant culture, including a look into the life of 19th century immigrants at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
- Greenwich Village (East and West)
In Greenwich Village (both east and west), you'll find New York's thriving counterculture of writers, artists, activists, musicians, and bohemians. Allen Ginsberg resided in East Village in his day, and the Beat poets began their revolutionary art in West Village coffee houses. Expect everything to have an "independent" vibe in this part of town.
Better known as Wall Street, the financial district on the southern tip of Manhattan is the economic capital of the country and the heart of capitalism. You'll find towering skyscrapers of the stateliest fashion, like the Equitable Building and 40 Wall Street.
- Flatiron District
This district takes its name from its architectural centerpiece, the historic Flatiron Building (guess what it's shaped like). However, what it's really known for is designer shopping, particularly for high-end household décor and furnishings. Union Square, the center stage for political rallies, also resides in the Flatiron District.
Although formerly a working-class district, this area now boasts a vibrant art scene and has recently been drawing in a large gay population. With the influx of artistic pursuit, chic restaurants, galleries, theaters, and shops now decorate the neighborhood.
- The Garment District
NYC's Garment District is the gleeful dictator in America's billion-dollar fashion industry. Basically, the designers here decide what you'll be wearing next year. Most of the actual clothing production no longer happens in Manhattan, but you'll still find NYC's famous Macy's, the largest department store in the world.
- Broadway & Times Square
The focal point here, of course, is the entertainment business. Glitzy and full of flashing lights, Times Square is home to tons of music studios, record labels, and production companies. Plus, over 20 theatrical stages can be found on Broadway.
- Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue is Manhattan's shopping mecca, brimming with high-end shops like Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Tiffany & CO, Gucci, and Donald Trump's Trump Tower (a shopping mall). In addition to the shopping, you'll find NYC staples like Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building.
- Central Park
- Upper East & West Sides
The Upper East Side and the Upper West Side (bordering Central park on opposite sides) boast of luxurious apartments for the city's most affluent residents. The area is home to many of the city's museums, including The Met, the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Frick on the East, and the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Historical Society on the West.
Renowned as a hub of African American culture and history, including the Harlem Renaissance of the '20s and '30s, Harlem gave the world such icons as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Today, you'll find the area to be rich in history and aesthetically pleasing with beautiful brownstones and a plethora of churches.
Central Park, an 843-acre common, is the country's first man-made, landscaped public park. Central Park is complete with an expansive playground, a children's zoo, a boathouse, an ice skating ring, acres upon acres of green grass, and, of course, dozens of people, walking, biking, and lounging.
New York City Accommodations
Staying anywhere in Manhattan isn't likely to be cheap, but you can get reasonable deals. Your best bet is to shop around a bit before making a decision, as prices are always fluctuating. Check out the following hotels first, known for prime location, quality lodging, and good value.
Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square This 45-story hotel towers over Times Square and bills itself as the only all-suite hotel on Broadway in the area. At this hotel, you'll certainly be in close proximity to all the biggest tourist attractions. As all the rooms are all suites, you can expect a good amount of space to spread out, making it perhaps better for families. You'll be in the middle of the action but still enjoy a peaceful "home base" to start and end your days. Although it's not a "budget" hotel (you're in Times Square, after all), you can expect reasonable prices.
Courtyard by Marriot New York Manhattan/ Midtown East At the Courtyard in the heart of Midtown East, you'll find yourself in walking distance of 5th Avenue dining and shopping and the Financial District, and at a good starting point to reach anywhere on the island (it's less than a block from the subway). The rooms are clean and spacious, and the staff is friendly and helpful. The room rates are very decent as far as NYC pricing goes, particularly for the value of this hotel.
Courtyard by Marriot New York Manhattan/ SoHo This is one of the newer Courtyard hotels in New York City (opened in 2010) and its vibe meshes perfectly with the cool and classy SoHo neighborhood. The rooms are on the smaller side, but travelers have said that they are "well laid out" and "not cramped." You'll find a SoHo-style café in the lobby and other convenient amenities. In addition to a first-rate SoHo location, you'll be near Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Canal Street. The room rates are similar to the Courtyard in Midtown East.
The Waldorf-Astoria (Midtown, near 5th Avenue) The Waldorf-Astoria offers the elegance of a "grand hotel" experience with the contemporary convenience of amenities and services. The building is a landmark in itself, an Art Deco building with several restaurants on site. The staff is dedicated to providing guests with a "luxurious boutique" experience and the rooms are a good size. The hotel's proximity to 5th avenue makes it conveniently close to most of Manhattan's top attractions. Some find the Waldorf-Astoria a bit pricey, but if you look for discounts ahead of time, you'll surely get your money's worth.
The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park A little out of the main tourist area (although Battery Park is where Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty Tours depart from), The Ritz-Carlton in southern Manhattan offers a spacious, quiet, and safe location. Rooms on the river-side of the Ritz also have fantastic views of The Statue of Liberty. Guests agree that this hotel is not as deluxe as the Ritz in Central Park, but the staff is just as helpful and the room rates are considerably cheaper.
Affinia Dumont (Murray Hill, South of Midtown East)If you want to stay in Midtown for the convenient location and still feel like you're on a getaway, the Affinia Dumont is a good fit. Spacious rooms and suites also make it a good option for families. This hotel prides itself for a focus on comfort, relaxation, and rejuvenation. They even have specially designed pillows with 6 comfort options. Although you might not find state-of-the-art flat screen TV's, you'll feel at home at the Affinia. Affordable room rates (and even better discounts) are another plus.
New York City Itinerary
Day 1: Times Square & City Tour
Attractions: NBC Studio Tour, Top of the Rock, Times Square, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, City Sights Downtown Tour
Dining: Skylight Diner, John's Pizzeria, Katz's Delicatessen
8:00 AM: Breakfast at Skylight Diner
Start your day bright and early with a big breakfast at Skylight Diner, located in the Hell's Kitchen area of NYC since 1966. Skylight is conveniently located near Penn Station (a quick train ride from Times Square), and the prices and portions are much more reasonable than anything you'll find in Times Square. Traditionally a Greek restaurant, this 24/7 diner has a little of everything.
Walk to Penn Station; catch a train to Rockefeller Plaza. About a 20 minute ride. The E subway line towards Parsons-Archer is the most direct route.
9:30 AM: NBC Studio Tour
Now that you're in Times Square, your first stop will be the NBC Studio tour at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (the infamous 30 Rock building). Inside NBC's New York operations, you'll find the filming studios for "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," "The Today Show," and more. This 70-minute tour will kick off your Times Square experience by putting you in the heart of the action.
11:30 AM: On Top of the Rock
Now that you've seen what's inside of the building, check out the famous view from above at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. The 6-level observation deck, located 800+ feet above the street, gives you one of the most spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, including a view of the Empire State Building!
12:30 PM: Lunch at John's Pizzeria and Explore Times Square
Spend a few hours exploring Time Square and testing out some New York-style pizza at John's Pizzeria on West 44th Street, in between 7th and 8th Avenues. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from Rockefeller Plaza to Johnny's so it might be a good idea just to do some sight-seeing on your way over. Of course, you'll want to take a walk down Broadway, and make sure you check out the Times Square Visitor Center. If you're traveling with kids, visit the Times Square Toys 'R' Us store to see the 60-foot indoor Ferris wheel.
3:00 PM: Madame Tussauds' Wax Museum
Your next Times Square stop will be Madame Tussauds' Wax Museum, where you'll find all your favorite celebrities. From Madonna, to Derek Jeter, to Notorious BIG, take photographs with sculptures so real looking that you could even fool your friends.
5:00 PM: Tour Manhattan with the City Sights Downtown Tour
Now that you've gotten a good look at what Times Square has to offer, round off your day by hopping on the City Sights Downtown Tour. The ticket booth and departure point are located at the City Sights NY Visitor Center right inside Madame Tussauds. This way, you can get a feel for the city in the evening and make sure you see all of NYC's top landmarks. Plus, your 24-hour pass allows you to take the bus again tomorrow to some of your destinations.
Dinner at Katz's Deli
When your City Sights tour hits the Lower East Side (the Williamsburg Bridge at Orchard Street), hop off and head up to Katz's Delicatessen, a NYC staple. It's the oldest and probably the most famous Deli in NYC, recreating the flavors of the "Old World" since 1888. Some of the biggest hits are the Reuben and the sinfully delicious cheesecakes—another New York classic.
Day 2: Midtown & Statue of Liberty Cruise
Attractions: Empire State Building, City Sights Downtown Tour, ZEPHYR Liberty Cruise (Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn Bridge), Grand Central Terminal, 5th Avenue
Dining: Murray's Bagels, Pacific Grill, Juniors Restaurant OR Oyster Bar & Restaurant
9:00 AM: Breakfast from Murray's Bagels
Today, start your day off the New York way with a traditional NYC bagel. Murray's is a big name in Manhattan, and you'll enjoy full-flavor, plump, golden-topped bagels you can only find in New York. Plus, with its convenient location in the Midtown section of the Avenue of the Americas, you're within 10 minutes of your next stop.
Walk Northwest to 14th Street and catch a subway or commuter train up the Avenue of the Americas to 33rd Street. The ride will only be a few minutes; then walk east on W. 33rd Street until you hit 5th Avenue and see the Empire State Building.
10:30 AM: Empire State Building Observatory
Congratulations, you're at the world's most famous skyscraper and New York's biggest icon, The Empire State Building. After you've gotten your fill from the outside looking up, ride the high-speed elevator up the 86th floor and snag a view from the observatory. The 360-degree NYC views are absolutely stunning.
12:00 PM: Hop back on the City Sights tour bus
With your 24-hour pass still valid, get back on the City Sights tour bus at 34th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues for convenient and leisurely transportation to the South Street Seaport.
1:30 PM: Lunch at Pacific Grill
Now that you're at the South Street Seaport, enjoy some seafood or pasta at Pacific Grill on the dock of Pier 17. You'll enjoy a lovely view of the Manhattan Skyline and the Verrazano Bridge while you eat.
3:00 PM: Pick up your tickets for the ZEPHYR Cruise
Present your Go Select New York pass at the Circle Line booth on Pier 16.
3:30 PM: ZEPHYR Seaport Liberty Cruise
Climb aboard the ZEPHYR Seaport Liberty Cruise on Pier 16, and prepare to sail in luxury past NYC's most famous landmarks, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Governor's Island, Ellis Island, the World Financial Building, the Chrysler Building, and Battery Park.
5:00 PM: Head towards Grand Central Terminal
Get on the subway at Fulton Street (the 4 or 5) and ride to the Grand Central Terminal stop on 42nd Street.
5:30 PM: Grab dinner in Grand Central Terminal
It doesn't get more New York than Grand Central Terminal. Plus, there are lots of dinner options to choose from. For an inexpensive New York chain, try the landmark Juniors Restaurant, famed for its 10oz. steak burgers. If you're looking for more of a "fine dining" experience, continue on the afternoon's seafood trend and tryOyster Bar & Restaurant.
Evening Adventure: Explore 5th Avenue
Spend your evening window-shopping and taking in the extravagance of 5th Avenue, "the most expensive street in the world," celebrated for its prestigious shopping, as well as hotels, bars, and other glamorous attractions. The main tourist area is between 49th Street and 60th Street.
Day 3: Central Park & Museums
Attractions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, American Museum of Natural History
Dining: Sarabeth's, Picnic lunch in Central Park, Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too, Hungarian Pastry Shop
9:00 AM: Breakfast at Sarabeth's
Start your third day of travel off with a delightful breakfast at a favorite restaurant among New Yorker's, Sarabeth's. It's particularly known for sweet "spreadable fruits" to top your pastries with. Sarabeth's on the Upper East Side by Central Park is also a convenient location for your day's attractions.
10:00 AM: Walk along Central Park to the Met
It's about a 10-minute walk down 5th Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
10:15 AM: Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art
You're at the most-visited attraction in New York, and there's tons to explore! The Met has so many collections and exhibits that you can't possibly see it all in one visit, so you may want to do a little research ahead of time to figure out what you're most interested in.
12:30 PM: Pick up Picnic Supplies
You have several options for picnicking food, depending on what you're in the mood for. You could pick up some groceries from a market like Citarella on 3rd and 75th, look for a farmers market, stop in El Paso Taquería (they have Mexican sandwiches that are less messy than tacos), or if you're willing to travel a ways from the Met, head to Bouchon Bakery on the southwest corner of the Park in the Time Warner Center. Of course, you could always just grab a famous New York hotdog from a street vendor!
1:30 PM: Picnic Lunch in Central Park
There's no better way to experience Central Park than to enjoy a nice picnic while people-watching. Walk around for a bit and find your favorite spot. We suggest picking up or printing out a Central Park map ahead of time, as it's a big place!
3:00 PM: American Museum of Natural History
Your second museum of the day, on the west side of Central Park, is one of the biggest museums in the world. The American Museum of Natural History is most well known for its impressive collection of dinosaur fossils and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, which houses a 94-foot whale model.
5:00 PM: Take the Subway to your Dinner Destination
Hop on the subway outside the American Museum of Natural History (at 81st St) up Central Park West to the northernmost part of Central Park. Depart at Cathedral Parkway and walk west on 110th St. to Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too.
5:30 PM: Dinner at Miss Mamie's
Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too on the way Upper West Side serves up some serious soul food. You'll feel like you're in an Alabama kitchen in this cozy dining room with a red and white checkerboard floor. Everyone - from Columbia students to uptown church ladies to VIPs like former President Bill Clinton - feels at home at this inexpensive soul-food restaurant.
Evening: Dessert at Hungarian Pastry Shop
Save room for dessert; Hungarian Pastry Shop (just down the street from Miss Mamie's) has some of the best pastries around. You'll love the old-fashioned atmosphere and huge chocolate croissants.
Buy Now & Save!
With this 3-day itinerary and the Go Select NYC pass, you'll pay 25% less than the gate prices (that's over $50!) on the top New York attractions. You'll experience the best New York City has to offer at the best rates. All you need is one convenient pass to guarantee the trip of a lifetime.