3 Days in New York City What to Do

This post is a detailed sample itinerary for spending 3 days in New York City and is intended for tourists and other newcomers to the city, as well as other itinerary ideas.

 

Video of our Manhattan in a Day Tour

 


OVERVIEW

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. 

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, including how to get discounts or free entry.

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 even more 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?.

 


Back to top


 

DAY 1 IN NEW YORK 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 trains. A quick stroll should be enough to give you a sense of New York’s energy.  

However, to learn about Times Square’s history and fun facts, use our things to see in Times Square post for both day and night.  

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. Read our free guide to Grand Central Terminal to learn more about its history, architecture, and secrets.

For a more in-depth learning experience, consider one of the many tours of the terminal, including guided and self-guided options.

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. 


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.

For ideas of what you can see at Rockefeller Center, take a read of our self-guided tour.

Popular options here include the Top of the Rock Observation Deck (next stop), as well as tours of NBC Studios, Radio City Music Hall. There are also ample places to get some food here.

Additionally, you can be here in the morning for a taping of the Today Show or come back in the evening to be an audience member for the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Both are free to attend. 


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 at DuskLeave 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.

Check out our things to do in Central Park post, which includes a map and self-guided tour as well as other tips to enjoy your visit. Download our audio tour app and let us guide you through the park any time of day.

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!

There are many things to do at night in Times Square, including Midnight Moment.

For more evening ideas, check out our guide to 40+ things to do at night in NYC.

 


Back to top


 

DAY TWO IN NEW YORK

– Historical New York – Lower Manhattan

Stroll the oldest streets of the city and see sites from the early days of New York. Be sure to also read our self-guided tour of things to see and do in Lower Manhattan.

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 (86 m) 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). 

Use our self-guided tour to get the most out of your trip to Trinity Church.

When you leave the church, walk a short distance east on Wall Street until you reach Broad Street. 


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 U.S. Congress met after America gained its independence and where George Washington was sworn in as the first U.S. President.

The hall is open to the public free of charge. Inside the hall are exhibits that display early American artifacts, including the Bible used by President Washington at his swearing in. There is also a National Park Visitor Center and free bathrooms.

On the southwest corner is the New York Stock Exchange. 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 domestic terrorist attack, still unsolved, which killed 40 people.

Walk back to Broadway along and walk south to Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan. Along the way, you will pass the Charging Bull statue. It’s from here that our Lower Manhattan GPS-enabled audio tour and our guided tour start from.


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. There are many things to see in Battery Park.

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. In fact, this is our #1 out of 10 free things to do in NYC.

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, slightly longer in the high season, and doesn’t require a ticket. The ferry runs frequently on during the week and slightly less often on weekends. 


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 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 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.

TIP: General admission tickets are included for free with the purchase of the Sightseeing Unlimited and Sightseeing Flex passes. You should also read our sections on combo tickets and discounts


Sunset on the High 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 33rd 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.

 


Back to top


 

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.

We have a self-guided tour of the neighborhood that could help you plan out what you will want to see.


SoHo

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.

 


Back to top


 

OTHER ITINERARIES

There are many other itineraries that you could use to help plan your trip. Many of our neighborhood guides, some of which we linked to in the content above, can help you plan out a 1/2 or full day in just one area. We have several dozens of such guides.

We also have a 3-day itinerary for families. 

Lastly, we have created several things to do posts, including a top things to do post, things to do at night, for free, as well as a family-friendly list.

Tourist Discount Passes

Many people visiting NYC opt for a tourist discount pass. These passes essentially bundle together popular attractions and tours and provide a single price that discounts the ticket prices by as much as 50%. Each of these passes offers its own itineraries to help you best maximize your savings.

We created a comparison post to help you decide which pass (if any) is best for you.

Written by Courtney Shapiro

 

 

Tags: