NYC in 3 Days: How to See the Big Apple in 72 Quick Hours

June 19, 2018

When you only have a few days to explore the city, it is imperative that you use your time wisely. It is possible to experience a great deal of NYC in 3 days, especially if you use this itinerary as a guide.

I grew up within a quick train ride of New York City. From as early as I can remember, I’ve taken field trips to the Bronx Zoo, seen musicals with my family, and strolled around the city with my friends. And I still have not seen it all.

Table of Contents:

new york city skyline at sunrise with Empire State Building in foreground in NYC, New York, USA

NYC in 3 Days: Know Before You Go

Although this itinerary should be used as a guideline for your trip, there are a few things you must consider when planning your vacation.

Where Should I Stay in NYC?

New York City is full of hotels, hostels, cozy bed and breakfasts tucked away in towering brownstones, and other accommodations. While the type of lodging you book will influence the overall price, location is the primary cost driver.

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If this is your first trip to NYC, I recommend staying anywhere in Midtown Manhattan. Yes, it will be expensive, but it is convenient for first-timers. Additional locations in Manhattan, such as the Upper West Side, offer upscale accommodations with a luxurious price tag.

Other boroughs such as Brooklyn and Queens offer quaint, chic accommodations near popular bars and restaurants. However, these hotels are quite far away from all the landmarks and attractions you’ll want to see during your first visit to the city.

Plus, if you do your research, you can find excellent deals on NYC hotels. Keep in mind that peak seasons such as summer and winter will have higher nightly rates.

What Should I Pack for NYC?

Packing for NYC depends directly on the season. If it’s winter, get ready to bring layers upon layers and a warm coat. In the summer, bring a jacket—it can get chilly at night.

Regardless of the season, packing the following items is recommended:

  • Comfortable Walking Shoes
  • External Battery or Extra Cellphone Charger
  • Camera
  • Tour, Attraction, or Show Tickets
  • Jacket
  • Backpack or Day Pack

How Do I Get Around NYC?

Of all the items you should bring to NYC, comfortable walking shoes are the most important. As you explore NYC in 3 days, you will be doing a lot of walking. Many of New York City’s main attractions are within walking distance of each other, but in the off chance that you need an alternate form of transportation, the Subway, taxis, and ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft are all great options.

After a few short hours, you’ll see how easy getting around NYC really is.

Ready to go? Your NYC vacation begins in Manhattan.

crowd of people walking through times square in NYC, New York, USA

Day 1: Exploring Midtown Manhattan

Start your NYC adventure discovering all that Midtown has to offer. If you’ve selected a hotel in this area, you’ll be perfectly positioned for a day of exploring.

Breakfast at Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen

Fuel up for the day with craft coffee and breakfast at Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen. Located at 121 Madison Ave #5, New York, NY 10016 (Madison Ave + 30th Street), this cozy cafe provides a wide assortment of menu items guaranteed to please everyone in your group.

Once you’ve successfully got your caffeine fix and fuel for the day, lace up those walking shoes and head over to the Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building

Just a six-minute walk away from Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen, the Empire State Building is a must for first-time city visitors. The 360° city views on the 86th and 102nd floor are unbelievable. Since this is among the most popular destinations in NYC, go as early as possible in the morning. Crowds tend to be the smallest between 8:00 am and 11:00 am.

To beat the ticket line, get your Empire State Building tickets in advance.

Bryant Park

Once you’ve seen New York City from high in the sky, start the 10-minute trek to Bryant Park. This small park is one of my favorite places in Midtown.

Throughout the year, the park hosts different food and goods vendors. It’s the perfect spot to grab lunch or cup of coffee, sit down, and just watch the energy of the city. Plus, in the wintertime, the park transforms into a winter wonderland with ice skating, hot chocolate, caroling, and more.

Times Square

If you’re attempting to experience NYC in 3 days, a trip to Times Square has to be on your list. Times Square is just a few blocks away from Bryant Park. While Times Square is admittedly one big tourist trap, everyone has to experience it once in their life.

Spend as much time as you’d like here. If you want, check out the wide range of attractions that call this area home, such as

A few quick tips for dealing with Times Square:

Don’t eat at the chain restaurants.
They taste the same as back home and are far more expensive. Instead, head to neighboring areas such as Hell’s Kitchen, Koreatown, or the Flatiron District for local restaurants and eateries.

Do not take a picture with the characters.
Trust me on this one. These characters are the worst tourist trap of them all. Walk on by.

Always look where you’re walking.
With the abundance of tourists and locals converging in one spot, it’s all too easy to take the wrong turn, run into someone, or miss a traffic signal. Put the phone down and keep your head up when walking.

Rockefeller Center

If you have time before dinner, a quick trip to Rockefeller Center is a must. The famed plaza is only a 10-minute walk from Times Square. Fans 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, and other classic NBC shows will love seeing where the action happens.

For more epic views of the city, head to the Top of the Rock observation deck. Unobstructed views of the towering skyscrapers, Central Park, and the buzz of Manhattan make for one memorable NYC experience.

If you visit Rockefeller Plaza during the winter time, be sure to get pictures of the Christmas tree. However, although ice skating at the iconic rink may be enticing, skip it. You’ll wait in line forever for minimal skating time with a hefty price tag.

Dinner at NYY Steak

To get into the New York state of mind, eat dinner at NYY Steak. This Yankees-themed restaurant is perfect for sports fans, families, and those who appreciate a good steak dinner.

Of course, if steak or the Yankees aren’t your thing, you have a whole world of restaurants to choose from. After all, you’re in NYC!

After dinner, you can choose to go back to your hotel to rest up for the next day or see what events are going on nearby. To truly experience NYC in 3 days, you have to fit in a concert, festival, or event! Luckily, the city is filled with lively entertainment night after night.

exterior of nyc museum of natural history

Day 2: Museums & Broadway

Now that you’ve gotten your bearings and discovered Midtown Manhattan, it’s time to visit some of the city’s legendary museums and shows.

Breakfast at Norma’s NYC

Known for their drool-worthy breakfasts, Norma’s NYC in the Parker Hotel is a must for breakfast. With all the walking you’ll be doing in NYC in 3 days, starting your day with a hearty meal is key! From french toast that could pass as dessert to savory egg dishes, Norma’s menu has everything you want from a breakfast joint.

After fueling up for the day, your first stop is the Museum of Modern Art.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Considered the leading museum of modern art in the world, the MoMA houses a multitude of iconic works, exhibitions, tours, and more, all across a variety of artistic mediums. Even if you don’t fancy yourself an “artistic person,” you’ll find something to captivate your interest at the Museum of Modern Art.

Plan to spend a few hours roaming the galleries, participating in gallery talks, or taking a docent-led tour.

Also, since the MoMA is among the most popular things to do in NYC, get your tickets ahead of time so you can skip the ticket line.

Lunch at Sacco Pizza

Only a 12-minute walk from the Museum of Modern Art, Sacco Pizza is a no frills, no nonsense, NYC pizza spot. Grab a slice (or two) of your favorite type of pizza and immerse yourself in the culture of NYC right from your seat.

American Museum of Natural History

Next on your NYC in 3 days itinerary is the American Museum of Natural History. If you are traveling in NYC with kids, they’ll recognize this stop from the movie, “Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller. Sadly, these exhibits do not come to life. But with a little imagination, they just might!

To get here from Sacco Pizza, you’ll either need to grab a cab or an Uber/Lyft or take the Subway. If you elect to ride the Subway, walk to 7th Avenue and take the B train to the 81st Street stop.

As you roam the galleries of this famed museum, you’ll encounter everything from preserved dinosaur bones to the Hayden Planetarium. With so much to learn and explore, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours here.

Again, like most museums and attractions in NYC, purchasing your tickets in advance allows you to maximize your time inside the museum. The last thing you want to do is spend three days in NYC waiting in ticket lines!

Central Park

If you have the time, go on an adventure through Central Park. All you have to do is walk out of the museum and into the park. It’s right there!

As you wind your way through the park, keep an eye out for landmarks such as:

  • The Central Park Zoo
  • The Alice in Wonderland Statues
  • Sheep Meadow
  • Wollman Rink
  • Belvedere Castle
  • Friedsam Memorial Carousel

After you’ve completed your Central Park excursion, grab a cab or Subway back to your hotel, find a place to eat a quick dinner, and get ready for a night on Broadway.

Your Choice of Broadway Show

You can’t attempt to see NYC in 3 days without securing tickets to a Broadway show. Whether you watch a classic such as Phantom of the Opera or a newcomer, you’ll be blown away by the level of talent these actors, musicians, and stage crews possess.

Since Broadway is experiencing a resurgence with shows such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, it is imperative that you book your show tickets far in advance. If by chance you didn’t have the opportunity to do so, don’t worry! There are other ways to secure tickets, including:

Rush Tickets

If there’s a particular show you’d like to see, skip breakfast at Norma’s and go to the box office first thing in the morning. Ask if any general rush tickets are available and the cost. Each show will have a different rush policy and price, so do your research beforehand.

Show Lotteries

Some Broadway shows have tickets available on a lottery system. Visit the box office a few hours before showtime to put your name into the lottery. At a predetermined time, winners are drawn and these lucky individuals have the opportunity to purchase two show tickets at a significant discount. Again, each show will have their own lottery policies.

Say No to Scalpers

If someone approaches you with tickets to the show, just say “No.” Oftentimes, these tickets are fake and overpriced.

Also, a few words of advice before you go to your intended show:

Arrive Early

Try your hardest to show up before the doors open. No one likes having their show interrupted to seat the latecomers. And, most shows will not seat you until intermission if you show up late!

Dress Appropriately

Long gone are the days of dressing up for the theater. While you cannot show up in your pajamas or workout attire, you do not need to wear your finest duds to a show.

Be a Respectful Audience Member

While you are able to eat purchased food and beverages inside the theater, please do so quietly. There’s nothing quite like the crinkle of a wrapper to ruin a pivotal moment in a play…

Also, turn off your cell phone! Silent mode isn’t enough. We can all hear your phone vibrating, too.

After your show, venture back to your hotel and get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow is your last day visiting NYC in 3 days!

daytime view of the statue of liberty with the nyc skyline in the background

Day 3: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, 9/11 Memorial & Museum

On your final day in New York City, you’ll learn all about the history of this vibrant metropolis. Bring your camera and your curiosity for this day-long historic excursion.

Breakfast at George’s

You’ve got a full day of walking ahead of you. Rise early and fill up at George’s. Conveniently located at 89 Greenwich Street, George’s menu features everything from Eggs Florentine to piles of pancakes. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with breakfast in NYC.

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island & 9/11 Memorial & Museum Tour

The best way to see these three iconic landmarks is on the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island & 9/11 Memorial & Museum tour operated by Walks. Rather than purchasing three different tour tickets and times, everything you want to see and learn is in one tour.

Length of Time

This tour is approximately 8 to 9 hours long, depending on traffic and crowd size. Along the way, you’ll skip the ticket lines for these destinations and head right into the history.

Three Tours

Your tour begins with an early ferry ride to Liberty Island for a guided Statue of Liberty tour with exclusive access to the statue’s pedestal. From there, you’ll embark on a guided tour of the Ellis Island immigration center and museum. Once back on land, your tour continues at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and surrounding area, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once inside the museum, tour guests have free reign to explore on their own.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

For the best tour experience, wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of it! Also, bring a refillable water bottle, a few snacks, and an appropriately-sized backpack. Certain items may not be allowed inside the landmarks or museums, so please check the tour information before packing your bags for the day.

Your Choice of Dinner

Since it’s your last night in NYC, do a bit of research and go to dinner at a restaurant that peaks your interest. With a simple Google or Yelp search, you’ll find every type of cuisine imaginable in NYC. If you need a bit of assistance, here are a few suggestions right in the greater Midtown Manhattan area.

Take A Stroll

After dinner, carve out some time for a leisurely stroll back to your hotel or around the neighborhood. Take in the city lights, noises, and ambiance. You’ve conquered NYC in 3 days! Reflect on the memories as you head back to your hotel to get ready for the trip home.

tourists taking photos in new york city

Bonus Excursion Ideas

Since this itinerary for discovering NYC in 3 days is more of a loose guideline rather than a concrete plan, you may find time for bonus excursions. If so, add any of these destinations to your trip.

Visit Another Borough

There is far, far more to NYC than Manhattan. Yet, most tourists never make it out of Midtown. Although most of the notable sites and landmarks are in that area, there’s a whole other world outside of Manhattan.

If you have the time, I highly recommend a visit to another NYC borough. Queens and Brooklyn are top choices among visitors for their wide variety of cuisine, entertainment, and activities. To make the most of your visit, do your research and have a plan before you go.

Spend Half a Day at Central Park

I discover something new every time I visit Central Park. If your schedule allows it, spend at least half a day enjoying the beauty and wonder of Central Park. Pack a picnic, a blanket, and lay out on one of the lawns and relax! Or, check out the zoo, the gardens, and the winding trails.

Discover the High Line

The High Line is a public park built out of old, unused train tracks and rails above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. The park features various gardens, overlooks, walkways, and more. Throughout the year, several events are held at specific sections of the park, including concerts, poetry readings, and community festivals.

Take the time to walk along the High Line for a new perspective on the city.

NYC Brewery Tours

It should come as no surprise that NYC is home to several tantalizing breweries. Go behind the scenes and learn more about the brewing process on one of the many brewery tours throughout the city. Of course, drink responsibly!

Discover NYC in 3 Days: The Ultimate Itinerary

Using our itinerary as a guide, you’re all set to explore NYC in 3 days. Where will your Big Apple vacation take you?

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