3-day Itinerary in New York City
Explore the best things to do in New York City in 3 days based on recommendations from local experts.
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This part-park, part-museum, part-concert hall swallows central Manhattan, and many of the city's most notable attractions are situated next to it or within its limits (the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, to name a few). But travelers insist that you shouldn't just pass through Central Park on your way to another place. This 843-acre green space is a favorite of New Yorkers and tourists; you can come here to exercise, dine, go to the zoo and more.
“Central Park is fantastic year-round, and is a must-see for anyone coming to New York," says Josephine Danielson, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. "People may not realize Central Park has several hidden treasures. If you’re looking for something different, I tell guests to visit the Conservatory Garden."5-15 minute walk
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Visitors love the American Museum of Natural History off Central Park West. Whether you're exploring the interactive exhibits on the land, the sea or outer space; user reviews take on a common theme. This museum is incredible. Even the cafeteria and gift shop are worth your notice.
There are approximately 32 million artifacts inside, spread across four city blocks, 25 buildings and through 45 exhibition halls, so don't even plan on seeing everything in one day. The Rose Center for Earth and Space is a particular favorite, but you should also plan on visiting the dinosaurs, the Hall of the Universe and the Butterfly Conservatory (on display from October through May). Local experts also say this museum is one of the best things to do as a family visiting New York City. "It’s an imaginative place, good for anyone of any age ... and it's educational and interactive," says Richard Tucker, head concierge at The Refinery Hotel. Local experts say the institution is one of the city's can't-miss museums.15-20 minutes by subway
- 3#3View all Photos#3 in New York City0.7 miles to city center0.7 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
This iconic plaza has it all – beautiful sculptures, an enormous skating rink, a fishbowl view of NBC Studios, plus hordes of stores and restaurants. Though undoubtedly there will be intense crowds, this is an experience that's worth having at least once. During the wintertime holidays, the plaza sparkles with an illuminated Christmas tree and skaters gliding across the ice rink. But don't fret if your New York adventure doesn't take place during the cold months. There's plenty to do year-round. If you plan ahead, you can spend a morning watching a taping of the "Today" show, an afternoon observing the city from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and an evening catching a performance at Radio City Music Hall.
Travelers say the Top of the Rock offers some of the best views of Manhattan and say the experience is worth every penny. Visitors recommend booking the combo ticket that includes a tour of the building and the observation deck access.10 minute walk
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Some say that Times Square is like a five-block metaphor for New York City itself – it's exciting, colorful and always jumping. Others describe this area of midtown Manhattan as artless, overpriced and congested. Perhaps this commercial stretch from West 42nd to West 47th Street is a little of both, and though locals would advise you to avoid it, you should at least catch a glimpse of its neon lights. Most travelers recommend visiting the area after dark to see the marquee displays. Many add checking out Times Square before or after a Broadway show is the perfect time to fit it into your schedule.
Times Square's biggest tourist draw is the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. Revelers crowd the area to see New York's famous Waterford crystal ball descend 77 feet from a pole on the One Times Square building. If you're feeling brave, take a trip to New York and Times Square at this time of year and watch the ball drop for free! Just plan on coming in the early morning and staying all day, and note that the area is super crowded, even by New York standards.5-15 minute walk
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Some out-of-towners spend their entire New York trip at one show or another on the Broadway circuit. And if you like plays and musicals, this is where you should be: "The Great White Way" represents the heart and soul of American theater. Considering that nearby Times Square is a dizzying maze of sights and sounds with no real starting point, some visitors suggest you can see all you need to of that neighborhood just by trundling back and forth between shows.
Travelers agree that attending a Broadway performance is a must on any visit to the Big Apple. Most were impressed with the beautiful marquees, the cozy theaters and the exceptional talent on stage. "Broadway is so much a part of the fabric of NYC. It’s synonymous: New York and Broadway," says Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, the city's tourism organization. "And there’s something for everybody, it’s family-friendly and there are shows for adults."
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Set on an abandoned rail track on Manhattan's West Side, this sprawling nearly 1½-mile-long landscaped park stretches over three of the city's most lively neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen. Standing 30 feet above street level, the High Line offers sweeping views of the Hudson River and Manhattan's cityscape. But the vista isn't the only reason visitors and Manhattanites flock to this manicured green space. Here, you'll find continually changing public art installations, a handful of food vendors and a sprawling picnic and sunbathing area (known as the 23rd Street Lawn).
Recent visitors recommend escaping to the High Line when you need a break from the city's hustle and bustle. Many say on a sunny day this is one of the best ways to take in the views of Manhattan, calling it "urban oasis."20-25 minute walk
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New York City Tourist 101 dictates that you must swing by this landmark structure in midtown Manhattan. And despite the hefty admission fees, the crowds and the long lines, recent visitors insist that you won't be sorry. In fact, taking a trip to the top of the Empire State Building is either the perfect way to begin or end your Big Apple excursion – on a clear day you'll be able to the see the city's major highlights some 1,050 feet beneath you. Pick up the multimedia tour, available in eight languages, which guides visitors through the icon's exhibits and views with additional background on the building's history. The tour is included in the admission price and given to guests to enhance their visit.
Looking up at the art deco skyscraper from the ground is also pretty spectacular, especially in the evenings when there's a little mood lighting. The Empire State Building's tower lights have maintained a tradition of changing color to recognize various occasions and organizations throughout the year since 1976. In 2012, its iconic tower lighting system was modernized by replacing its flood lights with a dynamic lighting system unique to the Empire State Building, with more than 16 million colors in limitless combinations and effects. The Empire State Building stages dazzling light shows celebrating holidays and events, often synchronized to music broadcast simultaneously on iHeartMedia's radio stations.20 minutes by car and 15 minutes by boat
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This brightly shining beacon draws visitors year-round. So let's discuss your visiting options. The most popular method involves waiting at least 90 minutes for the ferry to cart you from Battery Park (in Lower Manhattan) to the statue located on Liberty Island, then making a stop at Ellis Island before returning to the mainland. The first boat of the day leaves at 9 a.m., the last boat leaves around 3:30 p.m., but almost all travelers complain of the long, disorganized lines and security screenings on top of the $18.50 ferry fee for such an abbreviated trip.
To avoid some of the hassle and make the most of your day, travelers offer a few tips. One, get in line extra early so that you can get on one of the first boats. Two, purchase a ticket and catch the ferry at the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey (you'll get the same tour but face shorter lines). If you're short on time, have no fear – you can still view the monument from Battery Park or the High Line. Taking a guided tour is another hassle-free way to see the iconic landmark. Several of the city's best boat tours circle the Statue of Liberty, making for some spectacular photos.10-15 minute walk; 10 minutes by subway
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The National September 11 Memorial & Museum serves as the primary tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as the six lost in the 1993 bombing. The memorial's twin reflecting pools and man-made waterfalls rest as eerie footprints where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers once stood. The 1-acre pools are enclosed in bronze panels on which the names of every victim are inscribed. The museum spans across 110,000 square feet and relays the narrative of the attacks through a series of multimedia displays, real-time recordings, authentic artifacts and an interactive table.
Recent visitors cited the overall atmosphere of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as sobering but moving. "After 9/11 the whole city changed, the mentality changed," says Shawn Harris, head concierge at the WestHouse Hotel New York. "What was knocked down, we rebuilt, and it's a monument to our strength. It's gorgeous inside even though a little somber." Many travelers say they were impressed with the site as a whole, noting its respectful and informational displays.
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Just south of Times Square lies some of the most beautiful 4 acres in Manhattan – Bryant Park. Though its lush green space has existed for more than 150 years, Bryant Park was a revitalization project of the 1990s that made it a sanctuary for locals and tourists alike. This is the preferred place for midtown Manhattan professionals to come eat lunch, for fashionistas to strut during fashion week and for performers to showcase their talents during Broadway in Bryant Park and Piano in the Park.
You don't need a preplanned event to enjoy Bryant Park – you could simply come here to enjoy the scenery or to use the free Wi-Fi. Recent visitors do offer a few suggestions though, like stopping in the New York Public Library (which sits facing the park's Great Lawn), ice skating around the Pond or riding on the French-style carousel. The list of activities doesn't stop there. Bryant Park also hosts yoga and tai chi classes, knitting circles, chess tournaments and literary events. Unsure of where to start? Mull over your choices in the park's eateries: Bryant Park Grill and Bryant Park Café. Recent visitors say a stroll through this park makes for a delightful respite from the busy city and many note how well-maintained the grounds are.5 minute walk
- 2#12View all Photos#12 in New York City0.3 miles to city centerFree, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerFree, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
This main branch, officially called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, attracts plenty of book lovers, history junkies and architecture aficionados. Most people swing by the Bryant Park landmark to say hello to Patience and Fortitude (the famous stone lions guarding the entrance) and to admire the lovely beaux-arts design.
If you're in the mood to read, you'll find an exhaustive collection of maps, in addition to special collections of English and American literature, English Romanticism and rare books. This library is also the site of several lecture programs and a children's section. Recent visitors were impressed with the library's beautiful architecture and say it's a great place to wander through if you have an hour or two to kill.10 minute walk
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It's fitting that St. Patrick's Cathedral would be on the same street as stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels. That's because for many people, shopping is a religious experience, and here between 34th and 59th streets you'll find the holy grail. Even if you're not planning to put your credit card to work at high-end stores, travelers say a stroll along Fifth Avenue is a must. It's one of the top places top shop in the city, according to local experts.
Though some say Fifth Avenue's stores are too expensive to go all-out, the ritzier storefronts stand side-by-side with more reasonably priced shops like Gap, the Disney Store and Sephora. The stores on Fifth are somewhat mainstream, however; if you have a funkier style, head to SoHo.10-15 minute walk
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This sprawling cathedral sits amid the hustle and distinctively secular bustle of Rockefeller Center. But that doesn't take away from its otherworldly vibe. Whether you're religious or just making an architectural pilgrimage, you can't help but be impressed by St. Patrick's.
Travelers love the small historical church's beauty and stained glass windows but say you don't have to carve out too much time to see it. Previous vacationers also suggest visiting at Christmastime to really see the church in all its glory.5-10 minute walk
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No museum in the United States is as celebrated as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spilling over with masterpieces from all over the world, including notable collections from Ancient Egypt and classical antiquity, "the Met" is an art experience unlike any other, and like much in New York, it's impossible to see all the museum has to offer in one day (or even two days, for that matter). If you've never been there, then you should definitely visit its permanent collections (the first floor's Greek and Roman art, Egyptian art and the second floor's Islamic art exhibits are especially popular with travelers). If you've already visited the Met a time or two, then plan your next trip around the semiannual exhibits by the Costume Institute, or head to The Met Cloisters, an offshoot museum that's dedicated to medieval Europe's art and architecture located in Fort Tyron Park.
Travelers adore the Met, calling the facilites and artwork first-class. Many suggest consulting the museum's website to strategize what exhibits you'd like to see ahead of your visit to make the most of it. You can also sign up for a separate guided tour for a more in-depth understanding of the museum's contents.
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