3 Days in New York City What to Do

If this is your first visit to New York you may feel overwhelmed by the number of sights you want to see, so we’ve created these itineraries that will help maximize your time so you can make the most of every day. Since New York City is the city that never sleeps, you can see a lot even in one day. Our suggested activities are just that – suggestions. We’ve filled each day to the brim but go at your own pace. This budget-friendly 3 days in New York City itinerary can be used in conjunction with our pay-what-you-wish two hour guided walking tours or our self-guided tours.  Also in this post are links to other posts with in-depth information about the sites recommended as well as information on how to visit them and how to purchase tickets when necessary.

If all you have is one day, we have a one-day itinerary that gives you a hearty taste of New York, taking you to places you’ve heard of and always wanted to see. With activities for morning, afternoon and night (and ideas for meals), our one-day itinerary will leave you exhausted but happy. If you are traveling with kids, tweens and teens, you may want to look at our 3 day itinerary with Kids in New York City.

Be sure to look at our comprehensive guide of Things to Do in New York City for evenmore ideas.


If you are planning on using one of the hop-on, hop-off buses to get around NYC, almost every stop listed below is near a bus stop.  Be sure to read our post on which New York bus tour is best for you.  Now get ready to take that first bite of the Big Apple!  You may also want to consider saving money on the big attractions, like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty with a tourist pass that packages attractions together for one flat price.  If you aren’t sure about getting a tourist pass, read our post comparing them at New York City Attraction Passes: Which One Is the Best to Buy?.

NEW YORK IN ONE DAY –  Bright Lights, Big City

Throw yourself right into the heart of the city in Midtown Manhattan.

Times Square

Times Square

Times Square is actually a triangle between Broadway and Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street to 47th Street. Subways that go to Times Square are the 1,2,3,7, N,Q,R and S. A quick stroll should be enough to give you a sense of New York’s energy.  To learn about Times Square’s history and fun facts, we have a pay-what-you-wish two hour Midtown Manhattan tour or use our things to see in Times Square post as well as our self-guided tour of Midtown Manhattan. When you are ready to move on, head back to 42nd Street and walk east one long block to 6th Avenue. There you will find Bryant Park, a calm park to catch your breath from the frenetic pace of Times Square. There are food kiosks along the west side of the park. At the far end of the park, the magnificent building you see is your next stop, the New York Public Library.


New York Public Library

New York Public LibraryExit Bryant Park on 42nd Street and walk down to the corner of 5th Avenue where you will find the main branch of the New York Public Library built in 1913. Step inside to see the grand Beaux-Arts lobby and the giant Reading Room, where a scene from the 1984 film “Ghostbusters” was filmed. Don’t forget to say hello to ‘Fortitude’ and ‘Patience’, possibly the world’s most famous pair of lions. Click here for more  information about the library and to find out about tours of the library, including our tours and tours offered by the library itself.


 Grand Central Station

grand central terminal tourFrom the library, continue walking east on 42nd Street two long blocks. On the way, take a look up in the sky and you’ll see the shimmery, scalloped spire of the Chrysler Building.  Enter the station (officially named Grand Central Terminal) through the doors at the intersection of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. The lower level has restrooms and a very large, high quality food court. It’s a great spot to grab lunch before heading to the next stop on the tour. If you’d like to learn more about Grand Central’s history and learn some of its secrets, join us for our pay-what-you-wish two hour tour of Grand Central or use our self-guided tour.  For information on tours offered by other organizations look at our Grand Central Terminal Guide.


Rockefeller Center

Prometheus Rockefeller CenterLeave Grand Central and walk back along 42nd Street to 5th Avenue to do some window shopping. Enter Rockefeller Center by walking along the short pedestrian path known as The Channel Gardens, located along 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Straight ahead of you is the behemoth 30 Rockefeller Center and beneath it is the lower concourse where the famous ice skating rink and Christmas tree are in the winter months. If you want to explore the entire Center, there are various walking tours. We also have a self-guided tour of the center.


Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Top of the Rock View

For a bird’s eye view of New York City the observation deck at the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza is in many ways the better option than the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center. One of the benefits is that tickets are for specific time slots so you aren’t wasting time waiting in line. Also, at the Top of the Rock you can get a selfie with the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower (One World Observatory) and you – all in one picture! See our Top of the Rock visitor’s guide for ticket and hours. (If you aren’t sure which skyscraper view is best for you, read our post about the pros and cons of each of the big three: Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, or One World Observatory?)


Central Park
Central Park

Leave the sidewalks behind and head for greener pastures by exploring the southern part of Central Park. Enter at 59th Street and Central Park South and make your way to The Pond and Gapstow Bridge for a great photo op. Best to have a map with you if you want to explore more of the park, so here is our self-guided tour.  We also offer pay-what-you-wish guided Central Park tours as well.


Wrapping up your day with a Broadway Show 

Where to buy Discount Broadway tickets Times Square - TKTS booth

There’s no better way to wrap up a trip to New York City than seeing a Broadway show.  Be sure to read our post on ways to get discount Broadway theater tickets. If you are flexible about what show you see and don’t mind giving up some of your city exploring time, go to one of the several TKTS tickets booths throughout the city for discounted tickets for shows playing the same night. Ticket availability and inventory can change quickly throughout the day so browse real-time listings on their website or on the official TKTS app. We suggest going to the TKTS booth and line up before they open (hours vary by location). It does eat up some of your day, but it is well worth the discount!

DAY TWO IN NEW YORK – Historical New York

Stroll the oldest streets of the city and see sites from the early days of New York.

Trinity ChurchTrinity Church on Wall Street

At the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway is this gothic revival church was built in 1846. Trinity Church, whose spire is 284 feet tall, was once the tallest building in New York City. Step inside to admire the stained glass windows and stroll into the cemetery and see the grave of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the US Treasury (and whose face is printed on the $10 bill). When you leave the church, walk a short distance east on Wall Street until you reach Broad Street. Use our self-guided tour to get the most of your trip to Trinity Church.


Wall Street

New York Stock Exchange Exterior Wall StreetFor all the sites along Wall Street and the Financial District check our self-guided tour of Wall Street. There are three buildings not to miss, all located at the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets. On the northeast corner you will see an impressive stone building with George Washington’s larger than life statue in front of it. This is Federal Hall National Memorial. It was on this site that the first American Congress met after America gained its independence and where George Washington was sworn in as first president. The hall is open to the public free of charge. Inside the hall are exhibits that display early American artifacts as well as public bathrooms.

On the southwest corner is the New York Stock Exchange. You will recognize the NYSE by the American flags flying along the façade. It was the events of 9/11 that prompted the tradition of hanging the flags along the building. On the corner across from the Stock Exchange is a short limestone building with no name plaque. Built in 1913, this was formerly the headquarters for the J.P. Morgan & Co. The Wall Street side of the building retains pockmarks caused by the shrapnel from a 1920 bomb attack, still unsolved, which killed 40 people. Walk back to Broadway along and walk south to Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan.


Battery Park Netherlands Memorial Battery Park

Since the 1800s, the site of the park has served New York City in a number of ways. First, it was where New York built a fort, Castle Clinton, to defend against the British in the War of 1812. In the second half of the 19th Century, before Ellis Island was built, the former fort structure was an immigrant depot.  The park has a beautiful waterfront with vast views of the New York Harbor including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Should you decide to visit these places, here is our guide to visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Keep in mind that visiting Lady Liberty will eat up several hours of your day, not even including Ellis Island. Instead we recommend that you take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry.


Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry Free ToursAs a time-saving, budget-conscious alternative to visiting the Statue of Liberty, we recommend a free ride on this commuter ferry. During the boat ride you get a good view of the Statue of liberty and Ellis Island and stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. The ride there and back is about 50 minutes and doesn’t require a ticket. The ferry runs frequently on during the week and slightly less often on weekends. Plus, the ferry departure dock is close to the starting point for our Lower Manhattan tour if you’d like to join us.


National September 11th Memorial and Museum

Memorial Pools 911 MemorialPlan your visit to the Memorial with our detailed guide Visiting the 911 Memorial and Museum. Enter the Memorial plaza from Liberty Street and Greenwich Street. There is no entry fee to this public memorial plaza. You simply walk on to the plaza and can spend as much or little time as you want there. The centerpieces of the Memorial are the Reflecting Pools, two massive cascading fountains set in the exact location that the twin towers stood. Inscribed around the bronze edges of the pools are the names of those who died on 9/11. For details on the other sites within the Memorial we have a short, self-guided tour and also offer several pay-what-you-wish tours that include the 9/11 Memorial as a part of or as the main focus of the tour.


Freedom Tower at One World Observatory

Freedom Tower view daytime

As an alternative to visiting Top of the Rock for your 360-degree bird’s eye view of New York City, visit the Freedom Tower atop One World Trade Center. It is HIGHLY recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance, as you must select a specific date and time. Tickets are $32 and up. Read our guide to getting tickets to the Freedom Tower for more information If you are planning on purchasing a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for your time in NYC, several companies see combo tickets that include entrance to the Freedom Tower.

Sunset on the Hi
gh Line

High Line

Take the A or C train uptown from Fulton Street Station to 14th Street and 8th Avenue. Walk to 10th Avenue where you will find the 14th Street entrance to the High Line, an old elevated train track that was converted into a free, urban park with incredible views of the Hudson River waterfront. The High Line is narrow but long and runs to 30th Street. There are exits every two blocks and wooden lounge chairs to sit back and watch the sunset. The buildings along the High Line have an interesting history as well which you can learn about High Line self-guided walking tour and our audio tour. Of course, you can always join our pay-what-you-wish High Line/Chelsea tour as well. Finish up with food from one of the dozens of food shops at the Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue and 16th Street.


DAY THREE  IN NEW YORK – Live Like A Local

Spend the day doing what New Yorkers do on their days off: walk, shop and eat.

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Visit the Brooklyn BridgeHead over to Brooklyn by subway to begin your walk over the bridge. For information about subways, starting points, and history of the bridge, check out our self-guided tour of the Brooklyn Bridge. Including time to take photos of the incredible views of the skyline and the harbor, give yourself 45 minutes from start to finish of the bridge. If you are curious about life outside of Manhattan, we have two tours of the area, our 2 hour Brooklyn Heights Tour and our 3 hour Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO Tour.


Lunch in Chinatown  

Chicago chinatown food tour bbq kingFrom the bridge exit, walk north on Centre Street, through the civic district lined with neo-classical courthouses. On Worth Street make a right and walk one block to Columbus Park, always filled with locals playing cards, socializing or doing tai-chi. One block past the park is Mott Street, the main street of Chinatown. If you want to delve deeper into this fascinating enclave, we have a self-guided tour of Chinatown. There is no shortage of inexpensive restaurants along Mott and the side streets. After your meal, walk north on Mott Street to Grand Street and make a left.


Little Italy Little Italy, New York City

Technically Little Italy starts when you cross Canal Street, but Chinatown has become so crowded that most of Little Italy is more like a Chinatown extension. For the most authentic Italian experience, walk along Grand Street and Mulberry Street where you can find some of the oldest Italian food shops and restaurants in all of America.


Haughwout Building SoHoWalk through this trendy, fun neighborhood and its Historic Cast Iron District with impressive, decorative buildings. You will get the opportunity to peek into some of SoHo’s impressive art galleries and fashionable boutiques. Our SoHo Self-Guided Tour and Neighborhood Guide can help you locate the highlights of the neighborhood.

Note: These neighborhoods are fun to walk through on your own, but to really get a true sense of what they were and are all about – in just two hours — we offer a pay-what-you-wish  SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Tour.


A night out in Greenwich Village

Cafe WhaFor a huge variety of restaurants and nightlife, the Village is THE place to go. Here’s our self-guided Greenwich Village Tour including a neighborhood guide with suggestions of where to eat, shop and see live music or comedy. The heart of the Village is Washington Square Park, that bustles with street musicians, performers, and a downtown lively vibe. Take a short stroll through the park before you sit down and settle into your evening meal or entertainment venue. If you are interested in a more thorough exploration of this cultural and historical neighborhood, we offer several pay-what-you-wish guided tours: a Greenwich Village Neighborhood Tour, a Ghost Tour, and to sample different foods in the area, try our two-hour guided Food Tour. To eat at your own pace, here is our self-guided Food Tour. No matter how you choose to explore Greenwich Village, we guarantee that you spent time in this one-of-a-kind New York neighborhood.

Be sure to come back to New York again

– there is never a shortage of things to see and do!


Written by Courtney Shapiro