If you’re searching for the perfect 3 days in New York itinerary, then look no further! This itinerary was created for first-timers who want to make the most of their trip to Manhattan. It includes tips on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.
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About this 3-day New York City itinerary
New York City is the largest city in the United States. You could easily spend your whole life living in New York and never run out of things to see and do.
I’ve been to New York several times and there are always new and exciting spots to explore in the city.
This itinerary works best for first-timer visitors who want to see the classic landmarks and attractions.
Three days is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of the city. However, it’s important to note that you won’t be able to see everything that New York has to offer in just 3 days.
If you have more time, then I recommend spending at least 5 full days in the city. You can check out my 5-day New York itinerary here to get some ideas.
For this 3-day New York itinerary, I recommend buying the New York CityPASS, which will give you free entry to all the attractions on this list.
Simply buy your pass online, then show it at the entrance of each attraction to by-pass the long ticket lines.
FLASH SALE! Save up to $145 off the New York Pass. Offer ends February 11th. You have 2 years to activate the pass.
I grouped sites and attractions based on their location to help save you time so you can cover more ground when sightseeing.
You can do these days in any order you wish. Each day has 3-4 recommended attractions, which are a mix of indoor and outdoor activities.
Visiting 3-4 attractions per day is a good amount so you can take your time and not feel rushed.
- 5days in New York City itinerary
- First time in NYC? 15 essential travel tips
- New York City on a budget: 10 ways to travel for cheap
Where to stay in New York for first timers
New York is a massive city and there are many different neighborhoods to stay in.
My favorite neighborhood to book your accommodations is Midtown. This provides the perfect base if you’re visiting the city for the first time because it’s easy to walk or hop on the subway to get to everywhere on this New York itinerary.
If you’re only in the city for 3 days, I don’t recommend staying outside of Manhattan. Commuting into town every day is expensive and it will take up precious time that you could use for sightseeing.
Other neighborhoods I recommend staying at include:
- Times Square – The heart of Manhattan. You can’t beat its location.
- Upper East Side – Ideal for museum lovers and close to Central Park
- Lower East Side & Soho – Ideal for shopping
- Greenwich Village & Chelsea – Lots of great restaurants
- Brooklyn– Ideal for travelers on a budget
AVOID staying at Airbnbs in New York since they are illegal. You’re better off booking a hotel for the ease and comfort of your trip.
My favorite hotel to stay at in New York is The Archer Hotel. It’s located in Midtown, just a few blocks away from Times Square and Herald Square. The rooms and bathrooms are clean and have been updated.
They also have a nice rooftop bar (Spyglass), which offers an unobstructed view of the Empire State Building. I highly recommend checking it out, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
Best hotels in New York City
If you’re traveling on a budget, these are the best affordable hotels in NYC:
- CitizenM New York Times Square
- Hotel Scherman (Located in Midtown close to sightseeing and restaurants)
- Artezen Hotel (Close to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum)
If you have some more wiggle room in your budget, below are some of the best mid-range hotels in New York:
- Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East
- Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Penn Station
- AC Hotel by Mariott New York Times Square
If you want to splurge on your accommodations, below are some popular luxury hotels in New York:Booking.com
Top 10 things to do in New York City
Below are the top 10 things to do in New York according to TripAdvisor. This 3 day New York City itinerary includes nearly everything on this list and more!
- Central Park
- The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Empire State Building
- The High Line
- Top of the Rock
- Statue of Liberty
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Manhattan Skyline
Day 1 in New York City
For your first day in New York, you’ll check out the observation deck from the Empire State Building. This is one of the most iconic buildings in the city.
The view from the 86th floor will give you a bird’s eye view of New York and help you get familiar with the layout.
You can also choose to see the view from the 102nd floor, but I don’t think it’s worth the extra cost.
During the day, you can check out the High Line, which is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
This day works best during good weather (no rain or snow) so you can fully enjoy the 360-degree views from the observation deck.
For breakfast, I recommend grabbing something to eat near your hotel or the Empire State Building. Below are some of my favorite breakfast spots:
- Andrews NYC Diner (Great if you want a big traditional breakfast)
- Best Bagel & Coffee
- Aux Merveilleux de Fred (Amazing French pastries and coffee)
For lunch, Chelsea Market is a great option. This food hall has tons of different options no matter what you’re in the mood to eat.
For dinner, check out a restaurant in Midtown near the Empire State Building. Below are some recommendations depending on what you feel like.
- STATE Bar and Grill (American food)
- Tacombi (Mexican food)
- Barn Joo 35 (Korean food)
- Izakaya MEW (Japanese food)
- Toledo (Spanish food)
- Shake Shack (burgers and fries)
Empire State Building
Start your day by booking the first time slot (9:00am) to visit the Empire State Building. The early morning is the best time to visit if you want to beat the crowds.
I went up the Empire State Building during the first time slot in the summer and it was pretty quiet. I purchased my tickets in advance, so I didn’t have to wait in line. (There was only a short wait to get through security).
This gave me plenty of time to enjoy the view from the 86th floor without too many people around. It didn’t start to get crowded until after 10:00am.
Reservations are required to visit the Empire State Building.
When you buy the New York CityPASS, you’ll also get a bonus same-night visit to the Empire State Building.
You just need to reserve a time for your first visit. Then for your same-night visit, just show your CityPASS ticket for re-entry.
Why is the Empire State Building so famous?
The Empire State Building is famous because it was once the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1931.
The building has also been featured in over 250 movies and television series since the film King Kong was released in 1933.
How long can you stay at the Empire State Building?
There are no time limits for your visit, so there’s no need to feel rushed. Most people spend at least one hour at the Empire State Building.
First thing in the morning (when it opens) is the quietest time to visit. You can also go between noon and 2:00 pm which is also quiet.
The High Line
After visiting the Empire State Building, make your way to the High Line.
The High Line is a park that’s a beautiful spot to visit anytime of the year. It was built on an abandoned elevated railroad that stretches from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards in New York.
While you’re walking on the High Line, you’ll see a variety of artwork, unique architecture, peaceful landscaping, and historical sites.
There are lots of benches to sit and relax in the park. So feel free to sit, relax, people watch, and enjoy the skyline view of the city.
If you have more time to spare, I recommend grabbing lunch at Chelsea Market, which is one of the best food halls in the New York City.
From authentic street tacos to Thai food to doughnuts and bagels, there is something for everyone at this market.
The lunch hour can get quite busy, so try to visit in the morning or the late afternoon. Some of the best places to eat here include Los Tacos N°1, Very Fresh Noodles, Lobster Place, Miznon, Friedman’s, and Mŏkbar.
More great spots to visit near the High Line include Little Island and Hudson Yards.
Located at Pier 55, Little Island is one of the newest public parks in New York City. It’s a green oasis and a unique spot to see the city skyline.
If the weather is less than favorable, head indoors to Hudson Yards. This is a great spot for shopping and dining.
It’s also where the Vessel is located, which is a public square and garden. However, the Vessel remains temporarily closed.
After exploring the High Line, Chelsea, and the Meatpacking District, grab dinner near the Empire State Building.
Then head back up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building to see the city lit up at night.
Day 2 in New York City
For your second day in New York, you’ll spend your time exploring Lower Manhattan and Brookyln. There will be a fair amount of walking, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
I also recommend bringing a bottle of water to stay hydrated and a portable fan if you’re traveling during the summer months. It can get really hot in New York, especially when waiting for the subway.
For breakfast, I recommend grabbing something near your hotel, Battery Park or Liberty State Park (New Jersey).
Keep in mind that you’ll want to arrive early to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Below are some quick breakfast options near Battery Park:
- Inatteso Café
- Black Seed Bagels
- Bluestone Lane Battery Park Café
For lunch, there are snack bars available on all boats. Liberty Island also offers multiple food options.
You may also bring a picnic lunch if you wish, but no food or beverages are allowed within the Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum
If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, you must check out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people to commemorate the lasting friendship between France and the United States. It represents hope, freedom, and justice.
It’s also one of the most recognizable statues in the world, located just off the coast of Manhattan near Ellis Island.
Ellis Island is where over 12 million immigrants were received from steam ships that came to New York City until it ceased operations in 1954.
The main building is now a museum where you can visit to learn about the island’s history and the nation’s immigration past.
This is one of the most popular attractions in New York and gets booked up fast. If you’re traveling during peak times (summer, major holidays, and Christmas), I recommend booking your tickets as soon as possible.
You can buy your tickets online or reserve your spot using the New York CityPASS. This ensures that you’ll guarantee your spot on the ferry and won’t have to worry about long lines or sold-out tickets.
How to get to the State of Liberty and Ellis Island
If you’re using the New York CityPASS, you’ll receive a free General Admission ticket for one Statue City Cruises ferry ride to and from Liberty Island and Ellis Island.
You’ll also get a free audio guides and admission to the Statue of Liberty Museum and Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
You can catch the ferry from either Battery Park (in New York) or Liberty State Park (in New Jersey).
Reservations are required to visit this attraction. Due to its popularity, I recommend booking your tickets as soon as possible.
You can book your timeslot online or through the CityPASS portal (if you’re using the pass).
When is the best time to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island?
First thing in the morning is the best time to visit if you want to beat the crowds. You can avoid long wait times by arriving at Battery Park before 10:00am or boarding from Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
Allow at least 2 hours to visit one island and 5 hours to visit both islands.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum offers an in-depth look at the September 11th attacks through artifacts, testimonials, and first-hand accounts. Here you can explore the permanent collection, foundation hall, and the pavilion.
It’s located on the site of the original World Trade Center and pays homage to the 2,983 victims of the 1993 and 2001 attacks.
Some of the highlights to see here include:
- The twin reflecting pools, which feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.
- The “Survivor’s Staircase”, which is a remnant of the staircase that hundreds of people used to escape the building.
- The “slurry wall”, which is a portion of a retaining wall of the original World Trade Center that survived the 9/11 attacks.
- The “Last Column”, which is 36-feet high and covered with mementos and memorial inscriptions.
The best time to visit is after 12:00pm to avoid the morning crowds.
Reservations are required to visit this attraction.
If you’re using the CityPASS, you can book your date and timeslot through the online portal.
Brooklyn Bridge & DUMBO
After visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, make your way to the Brookyln Bridge.
You can walk across the bridge, which is one of my favorite things to do in New York. Or if you want to give your feet a break, you can hop on the subway.
To walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, use the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway, which begins at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place.
You can also get to the pedestrian walkway via the staircase located in the underpass on Washington Street/Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street.
The New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge is absolutely beautiful, especially right before sunset. I’ve done this several times and it never gets old.
If you choose to ride the subway and skip walking across the bridge, there are also some great spots in Brooklyn to see the Manhattan skyline.
- Brookyln Bridge Park (check out Pier 1)
- Pebble Beach
- Time Out Market (check out their elevated outdoor terrace)
- Brookyln Heights Promenade
Once you’re in Brooklyn, I also recommend visiting DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge.
This is a beautiful neighborhood is filled with cobblestone streets, cute cafes, tasty restaurants, and photo opportunities.
One of the most popular spot to take photos in DUMBO is at the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street. If you want to take a photo here, make sure to arrive early or be patient.
After exploring DUMBO, grab pizza for dinner at either Julianna’s Pizza or Dellarocco’s Brick Oven Pizza.
For dinner, I recommend checking out one of the popular pizza spots in Brooklyn. Julianna’s Pizza and Dellarocco’s Brick Oven Pizza are my favorites. Grimaldi is another good option.
Day 3 in New York City
For your third day in New York, you’ll check out one of the most popular museums in the city, explore Central Park, experience the view from the Top of the Rock, and end the trip by watching a Broadway show.
For breakfast, I recommend grabbing something to eat near your hotel or by the American Museum of Natural History. Below are some of my favorite spots:
- Daily Provisions – Upper West Side
- Mila Café
For lunch, go somewhere in the Upper West Side near Central Park. Below are some ideas to get you inspired:
- El Mitote (Authentic Mexican food and margaritas)
- Harvest Kitchen (American food)
- Arte Café (Italian food)
For dinner, eat in Midtown near Rockefeller Center. Below are my recommendations:
- Junior’s Restaurant & Cheesecake (Famous for their New York cheesecake)
- Bill’s Bar and Burger
- Carmine’s (Family-friendly Italian food)
- Kellari Taverna (Greek bistro)
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History occupies more than 186,000 square meters and is one of the largest museums in the world and has been featured in the movie, Night at the Museum.
Founded in 1869, the museum’s collection contains over 33 million specimens of fossils, plants, animals, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts. Below are some of the highlights of the museum:
- Department of Mammalogy – This is the third largest collection of recent mammals in the world.
- Department of Ornithology – One of the largest collections of bird specimens.
- Dinosaur fossil collection – The most popular includes Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus.
- Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites – The most popular one is Ahnighito, which is the largest meteorite on display at any museum in the world.
- Lucy, which is one of the most complete skeletons ever found of Australopithecus afarensis.
Reservations are required for this attraction. The best time to visit is before noon to avoid crowds.
Explore Central Park
After checking out the American Museum of Natural History, make your way over to Central Park. This is the largest park in Manhattan and has been featured in over 532 movies.
The best way to explore the park is on foot or by renting a bike. If you want to get a more in-depth and personalized experience, then I recommend taking a walking or bike tour of Central Park. Below are some of the most popular ones:
- Central Park 2 Hour Electric Scooter Tour
- Highlights of Central Park Tour
- Private Central Park Pedicab Tour
There are also many free things to do in the park. Below are some of my favorite highlights:
The Mall and Literary Walk – This is a beautiful pedestrian esplanade in Central Park. In the warmer months, you’ll find hundreds of people here including street performers and local artists selling their work.
Bethesda Terrace and fountain – At the end of the Mall, you’ll find Bethesda Fountain which features its famous “Angels in the Water” statue. You might recognize this area from the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Belvedere Castle – It’s free to go inside this little castle where you’ll be treated to a beautiful view of Central Park.
Strawberry Fields – This is a must-visit spot for any Beatles fan. The Imagine mosaic memorial is dedicated to John Lennon, who was shot nearby.
Alice in Wonderland – There is a wonderful statue depicting Alice and the Mad Hatter Tea Party. This is a favorite spot for children and kids at heart.
Shakespeare Garden – Many of the plants and flowers in this garden are mentioned in the works of Shakespeare.
Cleopatra’s Needle – This is the oldest structure in Central Park and was constructed in Egypt in 1400 BC.
After exploring Central Park, grab lunch at El Mitote in the Upper West Side. This Mexican restaurant serves up delicious tacos, burritos, bowls, and margaritas.
For dessert, head to Levian Bakery which is famous for their 6-ounce chocolate chip walnut cookie.
Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock has three levels of indoor and outdoor observation decks that deliver incredible views of the city skyline.
This is my favorite observation deck in New York City, and I highly recommend visiting in the morning or just before sunset. It’s the perfect place to see both Central Park and the Empire State Building from above.
If you prefer to visit in the morning to see the sun illuminate the skyline, then head here first and check out the American Museum of Natural History in the afternoon.
Reservations for the Top of the Rock are not required but recommended.
See a Broadway show
One of the most popular things to do in New York is to see a Broadway show. If this is on your NYC bucket list, then I recommend reserving and planning ahead.
If you’re not too picky which show you see, then TKTS booths can be a great way to score last-minute tickets.
But if you have your heart set on attending a particular show, then you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance. Some popular shows include Aladdin, the Lion King, MJ: The Musical, Wicked, Hamilton, and the Book of Mormon.
Keep in mind that weekend shows (especially Saturday night) are the most popular times. Week days offer more choice if you’re trying to get last-minute tickets.