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

Museums, restaurants, parks, skyscrapers... So how can you choose if you only have three days? Don't worry, in this guide I'll tell you everything you need to make the most of your time in New York.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

11 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

You can't wait to get on the plane to enjoy the thousands of things to do that New York has in store for you, but if you only have 3 days, prior organisation is crucial to get the most out of it.

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

An excellent starting point for your trip is in the heart of the island. Central Park, with an area of 3.41 km, is a park that you can cross from north to south in 1 hour on foot, and 20 minutes by bike.

I recommend you take the bike because it will come in handy for all the things to see and do in Central Park. Plus, you have all the energy to ride around the park because it's your first activity of the day. Especially if you go in summer, it's good to take advantage of the coolness of the morning.

The closest underground lines to the north entrance are the M2 or M3. I advise you to start here around 8am, and then continue on to other New York landmarks that are close to the south side.

Starting from the north you have the Harlem Meer, a little known lake but very interesting to see because of the flora that surrounds it. Bordering the lake to the south is the Conservatory Garden. Continue on to the next attraction, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The views from here are wonderful and you can take some photos.

This area is very popular with New Yorkers who go jogging both at the beginning and end of the day - what a great view to take your mind off your tiredness!

Rent bikes by the hour in Central Park

Visit the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art), the museum you can't miss

Continuing south you are getting closer and closer to the Met Museum, one of the best and most important museums in New York. As you only have a short time in the city, we recommend you choose this one to visit. 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.

Book your tickets in advance to avoid the queues. Admission is possible from 10 AM to 5PM. Closed to the public on Wednesdays.

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 and today home to the New York Weather Observatory. It's a 9-minute walk east from the MET.
  • The Lake: The iconic lake over which the Bow Bridge crosses. You can rent a boat and sail over it or just take pictures from different angles around it. More than one scene will ring a bell.
  • The Bow Bridge: The scene of your favourite movies and series, it is the longest bridge in Central Park. And the most romantic! Not only in fiction, but also in real life, many marriage proposals happen here. Ah, love!
  • The Mall: The main path of the park, surrounded by elm trees and especially beautiful during spring and autumn. You can take a literary trail surrounded by statues dedicated to famous writers such as Shakespeare, Walter Scott, etc. And you're sure to be amazed by more than one skateboarder and their skills!
  • Strawberry fields: Nothing like paying tribute to John Lennon in New York. You will see that this memorial is always surrounded by flowers and tributes dedicated to the singer, who was murdered next to his apartment building, just outside Central Park. If you want more details about this story,here is an interesting article, so you can go there with full knowledge of the facts.
  • Alice in Wonderland: Beautiful bronze statue that portrays one of the most emblematic scenes of Alice in Wonderland. Take a photo and pretend you're having tea with Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Hare.
  • Central Park Carousel: The carousel that brings out the kid in you. It's not just kids who enjoy this attraction, many adults take the ride for the best photos.

Visit St. Patrick's Cathedral

As you leave the park you can walk along Fifth Avenue and approximately 9 minutes away you will come across St. Patrick's Cathedral. A neo-gothic architectural monument and the largest cathedral in the United States.

It is open to the public until 6PM and admission is free. Step inside for a moment and admire the neo-Gothic style of the largest Catholic church in the United States.

Enjoy the scenery on the way to Times Square

As you leave 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. Continuing your tour you will also be able to see the grandiose Top of the Rock.

Walk up to 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 neon signage featuring the hottest musical hits of the moment.

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've got a branch right there on Broadway - enjoy it like a local!

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

Climb to 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 Observation Deck is quite popular, so book your tickets to the Empire State in advance. This way you avoid spending time in the long lines and have more time to relax and enjoy the sunset.

If you're still not sure whether you want to climb the Empire State Building or you're torn between the difference between climbing the Empire State Building and climbing the Top of the Rock, it's not an easy choice, but whatever you decide, you'll get it right.

Buy your tickets to the Empire State Building without queuing up

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.

If you plan well and buy your tickets in advance, you're sure to get a great seat. 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 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 find great works of art. From the Statue of Liberty to the top of the Empire State Building to the latest collections at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Get the best tourist card and treat yourself to a visit to each and every one of them.

Head to the Statue of Liberty

There's nothing better than seeing the emblem of liberty to start the day. Take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty first thing in the morning. You have two stops: one in Manhattan, Battery Park, and one in Liberty State Park, in the state of New Jersey. I advise you to get on in Manhattan. That way you'll have a better view of the island as the boat pulls away. You'll get some great photos of the New York skyline to remember.

First stop at Liberty Island, the island where the Statue is located. You can skip the queues and access both the museum and the observation deck directly if you buy your Statue of Liberty tickets in advance.

At the end of your tour, take the ferry again, but this time in the direction of Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum. You'll learn a lot about the great waves of immigration that made the state of New York, and the United States, the great multicultural region it is today.

If you are someone who is passionate about history, I recommend taking a guided tour.

Buy your tickets to the Statue of Liberty

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 admission is by turns, so be on time. Calculate the distance you need to get there. For example, from Rockefeller Center it takes about 6 minutes on foot.

The museum is worth 2 to 3 hours, as it contains more than 200,000 pieces of art distributed in its 6 levels. It is a very complete museum where 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.

Book your tickets to MoMA without queuing up

Tour the Chinatown neighbourhood

When you arrive in Chinatown, you'll probably feel like you've left New York. Temples, shops, houses, signs... everything in the neighbourhood will make you think you're in another country in a matter of minutes. With the D underground line from MoMA you'll be there in 25 minutes.

Take advantage of the rest of the afternoon to visit Columbus Park, a park where you can witness the great work of cultural preservation that Chinese immigrants have done in New York. Then walk to 133 Canal Street and visit the Mahayana Buddhist temple.

To complement your visit to this New York neighbourhood, I recommend downloading the virtual audio guides available on the Sounds of Chinatown project website.

The idea behind this initiative is to capture the acoustic essence of the neighbourhood through different sounds whose location you can follow on a map with your mobile phone.

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 to see both the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.

If you choose a Knicks game, you'll need to head to Madison Square Garden. The underground lines that drop you off at 34th Street - Pen Station, the closest station, are 1, 2 and 3.

If you prefer to watch their rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, your destination will be on the other side of the bridge, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Nets' home arena.

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 every borough in New York City

Since you already know Manhattan so well, why not take advantage of 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 in just 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.

You can start your tour from the Central Park exit towards the N, R, W underground station. From here, walk along the avenue and visit some of the most emblematic shops on Fifth Avenue. There are also a few souvenir shops so you won't go home empty-handed.

On your Fifth Avenue tour, you will come across some of the world's most recognised brands and companies. Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, etc. Some of them are impressive architectural structures and are worth a few minutes to admire.

  • Apple Fifth Avenue: This incredible Apple design shop offers you a moment to relax and browse the latest Apple devices.
  • Tiffany & Co.: The iconic jewellery store that Audrey Hepburn frequented in Breakfast at Tiffany's is right on the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street.
  • Trump Tower: The skyscraper in whose atrium Donald Trump used to live with his family. Today it is home to luxury flats, shops and cafes.

Discover the interior of Grand Central Station

If you continue walking on Fifth Avenue for about 13 minutes, you will approach Grand Central Station. This is the end point of every train to New York. About 750,000 people pass through this station during the day. You can take pictures by the stairs and relive the most unforgettable tense moments from your favourite series and movies.

You can also take the metro to your next destination. To end the day (and the trip!) at One World Observatory, take the 4 or 5 underground line. Two birds with one stone!

See New York off 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 in the south of the island. You can buy your tickets to the One World Observatory online or access with a tourist card 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 walk them when you get off One World!

Skip the line tickets for One World Observatory