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.

To help ease your trip planning woes, we’ve also included both indoor and outdoor options to make sure that this itinerary can work for you no matter what time of year you head to NYC.

This 3 day itinerary includes:

  • Big Bus New York Sightseeing Tour
  • Empire State Building
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum OR Landmark Cruise
  • Double Decker Bus Tour
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Top of the Rock
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Met Breuer OR Central Park Bike Tour
  • Whitney Museum of Art OR Brooklyn Bridge Tour

Only have a few days to visit? We’ve also put together a 1 day , a weekend in New York itinerary, and a full week in New York City itinerary.

Tip: Check out our helpful 3-Day New York City Itinerary infographic here.

Save on Attraction Admission

Pick up a 7-Choice or 10-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.

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.

Spending more than a few days in NYC? Head over and check out our suggestions for spending a week in New York – enjoy!

Sign Up and Save an Extra 5%

*Valid for All-Inclusive and Explorer purchases

DAY 1

Stop #1: Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Sightseeing Tour

new-york-Classic-Tour-2-day-ticket-by-Big-Bus-3Begin your adventure by getting to know the city while on a hop-on hop-off double-decker bus sightseeing tour.

It covers dozens of major sights and sounds that you must see when visiting NYC, all while providing informative and interesting narration.

A few of the top sites you’ll see include the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Madison Square Garden, and many more.

The tour provides a great overview of the city’s major landmarks and history while giving you the flexibility to hop on and off at any of the included stops along the way, making this a good option for those who like a little bit of freedom in their itineraries.

Getting In: Hop On Hop Off Big Bus New York Tours are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

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 converge on Times Square, and it’s a unique chance to see some of the more bizarre figures in 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.

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.

Check out our guide, Things to Do in Times Square, to make the most of your visit to this busy neighborhood.

Stop #3: Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum (indoor option)

Intrepid-Sea-Air-and-Space-Museum-Shuttle-Pavilion-4This science and history museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of American military craft across generations.

They offer a variety of permanent and special rotating exhibits that highlight specific conflicts or vessels, all with real artifacts, authentic photographs, and behind-the-scenes info. The Intrepid itself is also a National Historic Landmark, so even just a quick walk across the ship is like stepping back in time.

Now, as an exciting bonus, our admission includes the Space Shuttle Pavilion! See the Enterprise, the shuttle which was responsible for so much of the progress made in early NASA spaceflight programs (Mercury and Gemini).

There are also several photos and other artifacts as part of this exhibit, so be sure to stay for a while to scope the whole area out.

Getting In: Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum tickets are included as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #3: Landmark Cruise by Circle Line Sightseeing (outdoor option)

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!

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.

This tour runs only seasonally, so be sure to check on their website (or ours) to see when the cruise is available.

Getting In: Landmark Cruise: Circle Line Sightseeing tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #4: Met Breuer (indoor option)

The-Met-Breuer-1Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s newest addition – the Met Breuer. The expanded collections of the Met’s contemporary and modern art holdings have been rehoused in this stunning Marcel Breuer construction, an artistic marvel in itself.

Come here to explore a wide variety of artistic genres ranging from painting and photography to sculpture and performance art. They also offer a wide selection of special programs and events – so be sure to check their calendar before you visit to see what’s on!

Works on exhibit at this prestigious art museum include everything from painting and photography to sculpture and textile arts. They often feature contemporary artists in the midst of their careers, too, so a visit here is like an insider peek into the art world.

Getting In: Met Breuer tickets are included as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #4: Central Park Bike Tour (outdoor option)

central-park-bike-tourIf the weather is nice and you’re not feeling roaming around inside, 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. It’s also one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground in Central Park and really get a feel for what locals love about this vast greenspace.

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.

For more information about the Park, check out our comprehensive guide, Things to Do in and around Central Park.

This bike tour lasts about 2 hours.

Getting In: Central Park Bike Tours are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #5: American Museum of Natural History

american-museum-of-natural-history-new-york-city-museumsThis attraction is a favorite with adults and kids alike, and has something to appeal to every interest and taste.

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.

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

Getting In: American Museum of Natural History tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Day 2

Stop #1: Empire State Building

Empire-State-Building-Observatory-1Begin 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!

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. Read all of our Tips for Visiting the Empire State Building before you go to make the most of your visit.

Getting In: Empire State Building tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

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. There are some excellent options for lunch in Chelsea (including the famed Chelsea Market), if your timing works out to find you in this area around mid-afternoon.

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.

Stop #3: Top of the Rock Observatory

top-of-the-rockFor comparative purposes, you’ll want to conclude your afternoon 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.

We recommend reserving between 1-2 hours for this attraction, although visiting this late in the day will mean longish wait times. If you’re only choosing one observation deck on your NYC itinerary, make sure to visit early in the day.

For more information, read all of our Tips for Visiting the Top of The Rock before you go. It will help you to make the most of your visit.

Getting In: Top of the Rock Observatory tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #4: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Museum-of-Modern-Art-2Spend 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!

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

Getting In: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

DAY 3

Stop #1: Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty NYCHop 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.

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

Getting In: Statue of Liberty Ferry Tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #2: 9/11 Memorial & Museum

9-11-Memorial-and-Museum-1

The indoor option for your last day is one of the most important attractions in all of NYC – the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

It’s a poignant reminder of all that we lost in the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001, and reminds us all about the way the world changed after that fateful day.

Explore the museum’s several exhibition galleries that study the attacks, honor the lives lost both in 2001 and 1993, and feature several artifacts.

Getting In: 9/11 Memorial and Museum tickets are available with the New York City Explorer Pass.

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.”

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: Whitney Museum of Art (indoor option)

NYC Whitney Museum of American art (3)Another one for the art lovers is the beautiful Whitney Museum of American Art.

This innovative museum has long been important to New York City’s arts scene for its dedication to living artists, both established and up-and-coming, and for their groundbreaking exhibitions of never-before-seen American art.

Visitors to this Lower Manhattan mainstay will get to enjoy their full range of exhibits and programming, which includes everything from twentieth-century painting to works of art made just last year! 

Getting In: Whitney Museum of Art tickets are included as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

Stop #4: Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour (outdoor option)

brooklyn-bridge-walking-tourThis 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.

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

Getting In: Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour tickets are available as an option on the New York City Explorer Pass.

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.


3 Days in New York City Itinerary

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The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

Comments

  1. Anne Orange says

    This is really useful! Thank you! I am planning a trip to NY for October and want to make the most of the four days we will have there.
    Anne

  2. Jonathan says

    Your plan looks like a lot of stops, but it does not say which mode of transport to use between each stop, time or cost. Could you please let us know these things, I would love to try this. Thanks.

  3. Aline says

    How can you do a tour of NYC without visiting the MET? I would definitely do the Met over Met Breuer, especially if you’re already going to the MoMA and the Whitney. Also, places like the Brooklyn Bridge can definitely be visited without a tour.

    • Casey Makovich says

      You could definitely go to the MET instead of the Met Breuer! Both are included attraction options on The New York City Explorer Pass, too. Like we said, this itinerary is just a suggestion to spark some itinerary planning inspiration, you could follow a number of other attraction combinations–no two NYC experiences are the same!

  4. Tammie Grobschmit says

    To really experience the nightlife of the city is recommended to be there on a Friday or Saturday night?

  5. says

    This itinerary works for tourists who want to do touristy things, but New York City is so much more than museums and tours. I do think it’s fun and important for first and second-timers to add a few major attractions to their itinerary, but that’s not how they experience the real New York. You suggest lunch and dinner in neighborhoods, but you don’t suggest actual restaurants. You might want to do a follow-up post with more details, some off-the-beaten-path suggestions, and maybe even ask a New Yorker to write the article.

  6. rosa says

    to go around the attractions do we use the big bus too or the pass is only to get into the places and we have to figure how to get tho the attractions ?

    • Casey Makovich says

      Hi Rosa,

      You could definitely use the Big Bus for some transportation, and it is an included attraction option on The New York City Explorer Pass, but as the bus is subject to the same traffic as cars and taxis and follows routes that optimize sightseeing (often not the most direct routes, from point a-to-point-b), we suggest walking when you can and learning a metro system (a real NYC experience!) for the fastest transportation. Plus, both are great ways to get to know your way around NYC and find unexpected things that might spark your interest along the way.

  7. Prasanth Gangadharan says

    Hi,
    I am visiting New York with family on the 15th of March and will stay there for three days.
    We are first timers and want to book the 10 choice three day itinerary.
    Please provide cost and the complete itinerary and booking methods.

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