First time in NYC but only have 3 days to see all the major attractions? Been there before but missed some of the must-sees? Then this is the post for you!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Manhattan on two separate occasions. Both of them were 3-4 days because that is all my schedule allowed. The first time I went it was at the end of November (Christmastime – aka the best time to visit the city, in my humble opinion), and the second time it was in the middle of October (this is also a gorgeous time to go, as all the trees are shedding their leaves and Central Park is a sight to see this time of year).
I consider myself pretty skilled in planning trips and getting the most value out of short amounts of time. I always volunteer to plan itineraries when going away with family or friends, and I truly enjoy the process.
*Disclaimer: my trips are mostly focused on seeing the most sights in a short amount of time (including eating wherever is in the area I end up in, as opposed to planning trips around restaurants), and transportation on a budget (a.k.a. a lot of walking and taking the subway, as opposed to cabs or Uber), but feel free to alter this itinerary to whatever fits your travel style! This is meant to be a mere guide 🙂
My biggest tip is to divide your days into neighbourhoods or areas that are close together, maximizing your time and avoiding unnecessary travel time.
So, here’s my guide if you only have 3 days to enjoy this iconic city (all photos are taken by me unless otherwise noted):
Day 1: Lower Manhattan + Brooklyn
- grab some breakfast in Soho or Little Italy (I recommend Jack’s Wife Freda)
- walk around and explore the colourful buildings and bright restaurants in Little Italy
- explore Chinatown, then subway or walk (I love walking and walked around most of Manhattan) to the World Trade Centre, where you can experience the 911 Memorial (there is also a museum there, but I would opt out of lining up and spending time in there as it will take some time out of your day – the outdoor memorial itself is powerful enough) – this is about a 30 minute walk, which will give you a better view of the city if you choose to walk it!
- walk over to the Financial District (10 mins) and explore the iconic Wall St. (don’t forget to take the tourist must picture with the bronze Charging Bull structure) – this is a true concrete jungle where every building is the same colour
- after having lunch in the area, walk 10-15 minutes to the Brooklyn Bridge
- you can either choose to walk halfway and admire the view of Manhattan (+ take some great photos!), or you can choose to walk the entire bridge like I did, which is only around 1.8km – the views from this bridge are very cool, I recommend this!
View of Manhattan from the other side of the bridge
- if you decide to walk the whole way to Brooklyn, feel free to explore the hipster neighbourhood of Dumbo, which is immediately on the other side of the bridge – you can also grab a slice of Brooklyn pizza (Grimaldi’s) or a burger at Shake Shack
View of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn
- walk back or subway back to Manhattan (you might want to subway after all the walking in the morning!)
- grab dinner at a nice restaurant in Manhattan, and relax for the rest of the night
Day 2: Midtown
- start the morning with a sightseeing cruise around the island of Manhattan – I highly recommend Landmark Cruise: Circle Line; you get a well-rounded view of the major parts of the city, including: the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, and stunning views of the skyline of the city
- (On that note, I’d recommend cruising by the Statue of Liberty as opposed to actually going there – it’s on a separate island, which means the trip there including line ups would take up at least half a day, and the photos would not be as comprehensive considering how close you would be to the statue).
- when you get off the cruise, you will be in Midtown – feel free to grab lunch at any of the delis in the area, and explore Times Square and Grand Central Station (both of which have been featured in countless films and TV shows)
- The Plaza hotel is also in Midtown, and it is a cool area to walk around in
Day 3: Upper West Side + Central Park
- start the day with a NY bagel from Bagel Talk on Amsterdam Ave
- Walk over to Levain Bakery for some of the best soft amazing chewy chocolate chip cookies – they are pricey but totally worth it
- walk over to the American Museum of Natural History (5 min walk) – even if you’re not a museum person, this particular one has some very cool exhibits (it was also the museum featured in A Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller)!
- If you prefer art museums, check out The Met on the other side of Central Park, but save that for the afternoon, as we are heading to the park then!
- grab lunch from a hot dog/pita cart surrounding the museum/Central Park – when in Rome!
- walk across the street from the museum to Central Park and spend a couple hours there – the park is huge and there is lots to do! Walk around, rent some bikes, take photos and enjoy nature
- subway to Rockefeller Centre around sunset (TRUST ME) and go up to the Top of The Rock for the best (in my opinion) 360 degree views of the city!
- I suggest this observatory over the top of the Empire State building, because you can actually SEE the Empire State from the Top of the Rock, and let’s be honest, that building is an iconic sight of the city!
- I went to this building at sunset, and it was the best time to go, because you get to see the city during daytime, during night time and in between (aka magic hour) – make sure to find out when the sun sets at the time of year you decide to go, and book a time slot online ahead of time! There is always a long wait time, and if you go the day of and get in line, you might not be able to go up until 2 hours later. However, if you book ahead of time, you can show up just before your time slot without having to wait!
- Have dinner at your place of choice in Manhattan
- Explore Times Square if you want to see it at night (different sight than during the day for sure!) or watch a Broadway show to finish off your trip!
I hope you enjoyed this guide! I realize that there are lots of places I missed – you can’t possibly see it all in 72 hours; but I tried to include all the major tourist attractions without rushing through the days.
What else would you have liked to see in this guide? Or if you’ve been to NYC before, what was your favourite place? Let me know!