3-Day New York City Itinerary: how to make the most of your trip

Museums, restaurants, parks, skyscrapers... So how do you choose if you only have three days? In this guide, I'll tell you everything you need to make the most of your time in New York.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

10 min read

3-Day New York City Itinerary: how to make the most of your trip

The Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background | ©Colton Duke

Can't wait to get on a plane to enjoy the many things to do in New York, but you only have 3 days? Organising ahead of time is crucial to get the most out of the city.

It will be important to decide in advance what activities you want to do and to book tickets and restaurants so that when you get there you don't have to wait in line. Here's my suggested itinerary of what you shouldn't miss.

Day 1: Manhattan's charm

Views from Central Park| ©Steve Lange
Views from Central Park| ©Steve Lange

Manhattan is considered the most iconic and well-known district of New York. It's the image that comes to mind when you remember movies like Home Alone 2, Spiderman or Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Relive those movie moments on your first day and fall in love with the city.

Spend the morning in Central Park

A great starting point for your trip is in the heart of the island. Central Park is a park that you can cross from north to south in 1 hour on foot and 20 minutes by bike.

I recommend the latter option because it will be useful for all the things to see and do in Central Park. Plus, you have all the energy you need to walk around the park because it's your first activity of the day. It's best to start in the northern part of the park, as you will then follow the itinerary to the south.

Obviously, you don't need to bring your bike from home, you can rent bikes by the hour in Central Park, although I recommend you to do it online so you don't waste time once you arrive in the city.

Rent bikes by the hour in Central Park

Visit the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Continuing south you will find inside the park the Met Museum, one of the best and most important museums in New York.

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas are just some of the big names you'll come across among the 2 million pieces of art in the museum.

I advise you to book your ticket to the MET online before your trip to avoid the queues. Admission is possible from 10 AM to 5PM. On Wednesdays it is closed to the public.

Book your ticket to the MET

Continue to enjoy Central Park to the south

Enjoying Summer in Central Park| ©Harry Gillen
Enjoying Summer in Central Park| ©Harry Gillen

Most of the well-known attractions in Central Park are located in the southern half of the park. You may remember iconic movie scenes along the Bow Bridge or characters walking across The Mall.

While you may not have time to get into all of them, take the most iconic photos. Here is a summary of the must-see stops on the south side:

  • Belvedere Castle: built in 1865 in Victorian style, it is now home to the New York Weather Observatory.
  • The Lake: the iconic lake over which the Bow Bridge crosses. You can rent a boat and sail over it or just take pictures.
  • The Bow Bridge: the scene of mythical films and series, it is the longest bridge in Central Park, and the most romantic! Many marriage proposals take place here.
  • The Mall: it is the main path of the park and there are statues dedicated to famous writers such as Shakespeare, Walter Scott, etc.
  • Strawberry fields: a memorial to John Lennon that is always surrounded by flowers and tributes dedicated to the singer, who was murdered next to his apartment building, just outside Central Park.
  • Alice in Wonderland: beautiful bronze statue portraying one of the most emblematic scenes of Alice in Wonderland.
  • Central Park Carousel: not only kids enjoy this attraction, many adults dare to ride it to get the best pictures.

Visit St. Patrick's Cathedral

When you leave the park you can walk along Fifth Avenue and approximately 9 minutes away you will find St. Patrick's Cathedral. A neo-gothic architectural monument and the largest cathedral in the United States, St. Patrick's Cathedral is open to the public until 6PM.

It is open to the public until 6PM and admission is free. But if you want an audio guide and a tour with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, you will need to book your ticket to St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Book your ticket to St Patrick's Cathedral

Enjoy the walk to Times Square

When leaving St. Patrick's Cathedral I recommend you take 50th Street. Across this street is Rockefeller Center, which you can take pictures of from the outside. And if you continue your tour you will also be able to see the grandiose Top of the Rock.

Of course, you can go up to admire the incredible views of New York by booking tickets to the Top of the Rock observation deck. They cost around 40 euros per person and will give you the best views of Central Park and the Empire State Building.

Walk up 7th Avenue and continue towards Broadway for about 11 minutes until you reach the famous intersection with 45th Street. From there, you can admire all the illuminated advertising featuring the hottest musical hits of the moment.

Book your ticket to Top of the Rock

Joe's Pizza, the perfect place to recharge your batteries

Pizza, fast food in New York| ©Jeremy Keith
Pizza, fast food in New York| ©Jeremy Keith

With all the walking you've been doing, you deserve a lunch break, and what better than Joe's Pizza, New York's most famous pizza! You have a branch right there on Broadway.

If you feel like checking out other options, here's a list of the best places to eat in New York.

Climb the Empire State Building observation deck and enjoy the sunset

After a long day of sightseeing in Manhattan, there's nothing better than watching the sunset - the Empire State Building is right there for you! To get there you can take the N, R or W underground lines or walk for 13 minutes.

Keep in mind that access to the Empire State Building observation deck is quite popular, so booking your tickets to the Empire State Building is the best way to go. You'll avoid spending time in the long lines and have more time to relax and enjoy the sunset.

If you're hesitating between the two viewpoints, here's the difference between going up to the Empire State and going up to the Top of the Rock, I'll tell you it's not an easy choice, but whatever you decide, you'll get it right.

Buy your tickets to the Empire State without queues

Enjoy a unique night on Broadway

Come back one last time to Times Square to see the neon lights and close the day with a Broadway musical! The Lion King, Aladdin, Phantom of the Opera... There's something for everyone.

It is also advisable to buy your tickets in advance to Broadway musicals so you don't run out of seats. After that, all you have to do is show up at the door at the appointed time and that's it! Your ears will witness the theatrical talent that lurks behind the scenes.

Book your tickets for a Broadway musical

Day 2: Architectural wonders

Entrance to the Top of the Rock| ©HelloTickets
Entrance to the Top of the Rock| ©HelloTickets

In New York you'll come across great works of art. From the Statue of Liberty to the latest collections at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Get the best tourist card and treat yourself to a visit to as many as you can.

Head to the Statue of Liberty

There's nothing better to start the day than seeing the iconic Statue of Liberty. To do this, I recommend booking a Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry tour.

First you stop at Liberty Island, the island where the Statue is located. You can access both the museum and the observation deck directly.

At the end of your tour, get back on the ferry, but this time head towards Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum. You'll learn a lot about the great waves of immigration that made New York and the United States the great multicultural region it is today.

Book a Statue of Liberty Tour

See around Rockefeller Center

Back in Manhattan, you can take the 1 underground line towards Rockefeller Center, which takes about 30 minutes. In this famous complex of buildings you'll find shops, restaurants and even, if you visit New York in December, a skating rink!

Experience American television at the NBC studios, have a coffee and rest in the central plaza and finally, if you haven't already done so because you chose the Empire State Building, climb to the Top of the Rock.

Being a very touristy city, New York has plenty of dining options for you. I recommend that you take advantage of the end of your visit to Rockefeller Center and look for a restaurant in the area. Here's a list of the best restaurants near MoMA, our next stop on the itinerary.

Skip the line tickets to the Top of the Rock

Appreciate the wonders of MoMA

People inside MoMA| ©Alex Palmer
People inside MoMA| ©Alex Palmer

With your stomach full, you can head on to the next activity of the afternoon. The Museum of Contemporary Art is open to the public from 10:30 AM and is open in shifts, so be punctual.

It is worth spending 2 to 3 hours in the museum, as it contains more than 200,000 pieces of art distributed in its 6 levels. It is a very complete museum in which you have a lot to see, as its collection is not only made up of paintings but also architecture, photography, sculpture, cinema, etc.

On your way out, take a look at the MoMA shop, which is well worth a visit. And remember to book your MoMA ticket in advance so you don't miss out due to lack of space.

Book your MoMA tickets without queuing up

Tour the Chinatown neighbourhood

When you arrive in Chinatown you'll probably feel like you've left New York, or even the country. Take the D underground line from MoMA and you're there in 25 minutes.

Make the most of the rest of the afternoon:

  • Go to Columbus Park: a park where you witness the great work of cultural preservation that Chinese immigrants have done in New York.
  • Visit the Mahayana Buddhist temple: you will find it walking towards 133 Canal Street.

End the day on a high note at an NBA game

What better way to end the second day than to attend a real NBA game! You can get NBA tickets and watch:

In this article I tell you all about how to buy NBA tickets and their prices.

Book your tickets to an NBA game

Day 3: One city, many styles

Fifth Avenue in Manhattan| ©Doug Kerr
Fifth Avenue in Manhattan| ©Doug Kerr

After two productive but exhausting days, take it easy on the third and final day.

I advise you to book a long-term tour for this. This time, let the experts take you around and tell you facts you may not know about the Big Apple.

See the best of each New York borough

Since you already know Manhattan so well, why not book the New York contrasts tour to get a better overview of the rest of the city?

You'll walk through Manhattan, Harlem, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn for 5 hours! With this tour you'll understand why it's said that each New York borough has its own personality and you'll get to know the best neighbourhoods in New York.

Plus, this tour starts early in the morning, which is perfect for you to have the rest of the afternoon free for last minute shopping.

Buy the Contrast Tour here

Fifth Avenue Shopping Tour

Fifth Avenue is one of the main avenues running through Manhattan. The buildings and shops along Fifth Avenue represent the luxury of New York. In fact, it is considered one of the most expensive avenues in the world. There are also a few souvenir shops to make sure you don't go home empty-handed.

Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cartier? Some of them are impressive architectural structures and are worth stopping for a few minutes to admire them:

  • Apple Fifth Avenue: you can relax while you browse and get to know the latest of their devices launched on the market.
  • Tiffany & Co.: the iconic jewellery store that Audrey Hepburn frequented in Breakfast at Tiffany.
  • Trump Tower: the skyscraper in whose atrium Donald Trump used to live with his family. Today it is home to luxury flats, shops and cafés.

Discover the interior of Grand Central Station

If you continue walking along Fifth Avenue for about 13 minutes, you will approach Grand Central Station. This is the terminus of every train to New York.

About 750,000 people pass through this station each day and you can take the opportunity to take pictures by the stairs, relive the most unforgettable tense moments from your favourite shows and movies and even book a tour of Grand Central Station to learn all its secrets and history.

Then take the underground to your next destination on the 4 or 5 underground line.

Book a tour of Grand Central Station

Say goodbye to New York in style at One World Observatory

View from One World Trade Center Observatory| ©Kai Brinker
View from One World Trade Center Observatory| ©Kai Brinker

The One World Observatory is one of the best viewpoints on the south side of the island. You can buy your tickets to the One World Observatory online or access it with one of New York' s tourist cards from 9am to 9pm.

The views of the city will leave you open-mouthed. You will go up to the 102nd floor in a lift that will show you the architectural evolution that New York City has undergone throughout its history.

Unlike the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock, any time is the ideal time to go up. Plus, One World Trade Center is currently the tallest skyscraper in Downtown, so you'll have Wall Street and Ground Zero at your feet - don't forget to tour them on your way down from One World!

Skip the line tickets for One World Observatory