Planning a trip to New York City? This 5-day itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors who want to see the city’s top attractions and tours. It includes tips on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.
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- New York on a budget: 10 ways to travel cheap
- New York in December: 10 tips for visiting at Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Table of Contents
Where should I stay in New York City?
After visiting New York City several times and staying in different neighborhoods, I recommend staying in one of these six areas:
- Midtown – The BEST neighborhood for first-timers
- 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 travellers 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.
For our most recent trip, my husband, sister and I stayed at The Archer Hotel in Midtown, Manhattan. (Our trip was not sponsorsed).
We LOVED the hotel because it was modern, clean and located near all the top attractions in the city.
They also have a rooftop bar (Spyglass) with an incredible view of the Empire State Building.
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:
Top 10 things to do in New York City
Below are the top things to see and do in New York according to TripAdvisor.
- 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
About this 5-day New York City itinerary
New York is the biggest city in the USA and there are tons of things to see and do here.
I’ve been to New York several times over the past ten years and I’m always finding new and exciting places to explore while I’m in town.
This itinerary works best for first-time visitors who want to see the city’s top attractions and tours. It’s perfect for those using the New York Pass, since you’ll get free entry to all the attractions on this list.
FLASH SALE! Save up to 30% off the New York Pass. Offer ends November 24th! You have 2 years to activate the pass.
Simply buy your pass online, then show it at the entrance of each attraction to by-pass the long ticket lines.
While the subway is a great way to get around New York, it can be time consuming to go back and forth across the city.
That’s why 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. I’ve included a mix of indoor and outdoor activities, so you can choose which ones you prefer based on the weather.
Day 1 in New York City
For your first day in New York, you’ll spend your time getting a bird’s eye view of the city and becoming familiar with the different neighborhoods.
I recommend checking out the Empire State Building in the morning (when it’s quiet) and visiting the Top of the Rock at around sunset.
Then during the day, you can ride the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour around the city and explore the different areas at your own leisure.
While you can do each day in any order you wish, I recommend doing this day during good weather (no rain) since most of the activities are outdoors.
Empire State Building
Some movies that feature the Empire State Building include Sleepless in Seattle (1993), King Kong (1933), Superman II (1980), Independence Day (1996), and Elf (2003).
It was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1931. You’d have to climb 1,872 steps to make it up to their 102nd floor observatory.
But fortunately, the Empire State Building houses 73 elevators so you can easily enjoy the view from the top without breaking a sweat.
Reservations are required to visit the Empire State Building.
When is the best time to visit the Empire State Building?
Early in the morning (when it opens) is the best time to visit if you want to beat the crowds.
I booked the first time slot (9:00am) on a Saturday morning in July. It was pretty quiet, but by the time we left at 10:00am, it started to get more crowded with people.
Another good time to visit is between 12:00pm and 2:00pm when the morning rush is over.
Is the 102nd floor worth it?
You can visit the 86th floor observation deck or pay nearly twice the price to visit the 102nd floor.
I don’t think the extra cost is worth it because you’re not getting twice the view. The 86th floor is the best in my opinon so save your money for other sightseeing, shopping, and dining on your trip.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Yes, this can be a very touristy thing to do, but I am a big fan of the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. If this is your first time visiting New York, the bus tour can be a great way to get familiar with the city.
While you can take this 1-day bus tour on any day, I recommend doing it on the first day of your itinerary. This gives you a chance to see all the top sights, get to know the city, and learn more information about New York.
The bus tour offers two routes: the Downtown and/or the Uptown Loop. Below are some of my favorite highlights on each route.
- Downtown Route highlights:
- Chinatown / Little Italy
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Wall Street / Charging Bull
- Uptown Route highlights:
- Times Square
- Midtown East
- Central Park Zoo
While on the bus tour, you can enjoy commentary in a pre-recorded guide. The best part about this tour is that you can hop on and hop off at any point of interest.
This gives you a chance to explore some of New York’s most popular areas, such as Midtown East, Chinatown, Little Italy, Wall Street, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock has three levels of indoor and outdoor observation decks that offer unobstructed views of the city skyline.
The RCA Building (now known as 30 Rock) opened in 1933. Its observation decks occupy the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. (The Empire State Building’s observation decks are on the 86th and 102nd floor).
The best time to visit is just before sunset so you can enjoy a beautiful daytime view of Central Park and then a spectacular sunset / evening view of the Empire State Building.
If you’re using the New York Pass, enter through the Rockefeller Plaza entrance on 50th Street and go down the staircase to enter the line.
You’ll need to wait in line to receive a time slot. If you have a chance during the day, try to arrive between 9:00am and 3:00pm for the shortest wait times.
If you’re not using the pass, you can purchase your tickets online and select your preferred date and time slot.
Breakfast – Grab a New York style bagel from Zucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish
Lunch – Enjoy a slice of pizza from Joe’s Pizza
Snack – Eat street-style tacos at Los Tacos No.1 or enjoy dessert at Magnolia Bakery
Dinner – Grab dinner and dessert at Junior’s Cheesecake
Day 2 in New York City
For your second day in New York, you’ll spend most of the day sightseeing in Lower Manhattan. This is a busy day, so you’ll want to get an early start and make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum
A trip to New York is not complete without a visit to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Statue of Liberty is a 305-foot (93 meter) statue that’s located on Liberty Island, just off the coast of New York City.
It’s intended to commemorate the lasting friendship between France and the United States. It represents hope, freedom, and justice.
Ellis Island opened in 1892 and became the country’s first federal immigration station. It processed over 12 million immigrants 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.
How to get to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
The best way to get there is by taking a Liberty Statue Ferry from either Battery Park (in New York) or Liberty State Park (in New Jersey).
Your ferry tickets include admission to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The ferry ride is approximately 30 minutes each way and provides stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the New York Harbor.
This attraction is extremely popular and gets booked up fast, especially during peak travel season. I recommend booking your ticket as soon as possible.
One World Observatory
One World Observatory is at the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Trade Center.
You’ll ride the SkyPod elevator up to the 102nd floor where you can enjoy amazing 360 views for up to 45 miles in every direction.
Located in Lower Manhattan, this is one of my favorite observation decks in NYC. From the observation deck, you’ll look out over Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, and New Jersey.
The shortest wait times for the observation deck are mid-morning or in the evening, so I recommend visiting here after checking out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The 9/11 Memorial is located on the site of the original World Trade Center and pays homage to the 2,983 victims of the 1993 and 2001 attacks.
The 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.
Foundation hall is the museum’s largest room where you can see the “slurry wall”, which is a portion of a retaining wall of the original World Trade Center that survived the 9/11 attacks.
Whether or not you check out the museum, I still recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial. It’s twin reflecting pools feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.
You’ll want to give yourself at least two hours to experience every exhibit in the museum. If you’re visiting as a family, keep in mind that the historical exhibition may not be suitable for children under the age of 10.
Just a short walk from the museum, you can check out the Oculus. It’s home to the World Trade Center PATH station, 12 subway lines, and many retailers.
The structure illustrates the portrayal of a bird about to take flight from the hands of a young boy to show that no matter what obstacle New York faces, there will always be hope.
North of the Oculus, make your way to the SoHo (south of Houston) neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. This is one of the prettiest areas in New York City and a prime spot for shopping, dining, and art galleries.
Some popular things to do in SoHo include checking out the cast-iron architecture, especially along Broadway. On this street, you’ll find tons of stores and boutiques.
12 Chairs is a good spot for breakfast, but many locals also go for lunch or dinner here too.
Dominique Ansel Bakery is where you can try the famous cronut. This is a croissant-doughnut hybrid that was launched in 2013.
Boqueria in SoHo is a great place for Spanish tapas.
If you have time, you can also check out Chinatown and Little Italy which are nearby.
Popular attractions in SoHo include the Museum of Ice Cream, New York City Fire Museum, and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art.
Day 3 in New York City
For your third day in New York, you have the option to visit two museums and explore Central Park.
If you have time, you can check out all three museum options, but I personally recommend only sticking to three attractions per day, so you don’t feel too rushed.
I recommend visiting one museum in the morning, taking a break to see Central Park, then checking out the second museum in the late afternoon. But this is your itinerary, so of course you can visit these attractions in any order you wish!
American Museum of Natural History
Located in the Upper West Side neighborhood, the American Musem of Natural History is one of the largest and most innovative natural history museums in the world.
It was established in 1869 and has been featured in the movie, Night at the Museum. The best things to see here include:
- African elephants
- Willamette Meteorite, which is the largest meteorite found in the United States
- The Blue Whale, which is 94 feet long
- Lucy, which is one of the most complete skeletons ever found of Australopithecus afarensis.
This museum is super popular and gets booked up fast. You’ll need to buy your tickets online to reserve your spot.
If you’re using the New York Pass, you can select your date and time for the American Museum of Natural History on their official website.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a must-visit museum for anyone interested in naval history or space exploration.
It’s located on the Hudson River and is situated on the same aircraft carrier that served in World War II and the Vietnam War.
Some of the best things to see here include:
- Space Shuttle Pavilion, where you can see NASA’s first prototype orbiter
- Concorde, which is the world’s fastest commercial airplane
- Submarine Growler, which served during the Cold-War era
- Kamikaze, an exhibit about the Japanese Kamikaze pilots and American sailors during WWII
- Hanger Deck, where you can walk through the historic aircraft collection
Bike through Central Park
With over 532 movie credits, Central Park is the most filmed movie location in the world. The park is the largest in Manhattan which occupies 840 acres, and it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Since the park is so big, one of my favorite ways to explore the park is to rent a bike. This is a better option than taking a horse-drawn carriage ride, because there is much debate about how the horses are treated.
You can also walk around the park too if you prefer, but you’ll be able to cover a lot more ground when riding a bike.
Plus, if you’re using the New York Pass, you can get a free bike rental to do Central Park sightseeing at your own leisure.
Below are some of my favorite highlights of Central Park:
Bethesda Fountain – Bethesda Terrace and fountain features its famous “Angels in the Water” statue, which has made an appearance in films such as Home Alone 2, Mr. Deeds, and Enchanted.
Belvedere Castle – This miniature castle offers beautiful panoramic views of Central Park. It’s free to go inside and check out its two observation decks.
Strawberry Fields and Imagine mosaic – This is a memorial to John Lennon from The Beatles. Many people come here to pay tribute to the British rock musician. Sometimes there is a busker playing live music, which makes it a nice place to relax.
Shakespeare Garden – This is a beautiful spot to visit during the warmer months when the flowers are in bloom. It covers four acres of plants that change according to the season.
Bow Bridge – This Victorian-era bridge is one of the most iconic features of Central Park. It’s a great spot to see views of the Manhattan skyline.
The Mall & Literary Walk – This is a beautiful walkway that leads to Bethesda Terrace and fountain.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Opening its doors in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art is one of the best and largest in the world.
Here you can check out modern and contemporary art, architecture and design, painting, drawings, sculptures, photography, prints, films, and electronic media.
Mid-days and afternoons tend to be the quietest times to visit the museum. It’s open until 5:30pm Sunday through Friday and until 7:00pm on Saturdays.
Booking timed-entry tickets in advance is highly recommended.
Breakfast – Grab a baked good or savory breakfast at manman
Lunch – Enjoy authentic Mexican food at El Mitote
Snack – Try the famous cookies at Levain Bakery
Dinner – Have a burger and milkshake at Shake Shack
Day 4 in New York City
For your fourth day in New York, you’ll spend most of your time exploring Midtown Manhattan.
Then in the evening, you have the option to check out a New York Yankees game (depending on the time of year) or take a beautiful Manhattan cruise.
Start your morning off by doing a tour of Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall. Below is some more information about each tour so you can choose the one that best suits your interests.
Madison Square Garden All Access Tour
Madison Square Garden is the World’s Most Famous Arena and is home to the NBA’s New York Knicks, NHL’s New York Rangers, and hosts concerts, boxing matches, and other live events.
If you love history, sports, and entertainment, then taking a tour of Madison Square Garden should be on your itinerary.
On this 60-minute tour, you’ll learn about the history of the venue, step inside the locker rooms of your favorite teams, enjoy backstage access to the arena, visit a luxury suite, and get an up-close view of the concave ceiling from the Chase Bridge.
Radio City Music Hall: Stage Door Tour
Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theatre in the world. This venue is part of the Rockefeller Center complex and is famous for its annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes.
Their 60-minute Stage Door Tour will give you an insight into the history of the building and its Art Deco design.
You’ll get to see the sweeping arches of the auditorium, learn about the secrets of the Great Stage, and meet the dancers of the Radio City Rockettes.
Midtown Manhattan is the central area of New York City and has some of the most recognizable attractions, such as Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
It’s also a great neighborhood for restaurants and shopping along Fifth and Madison Avenues. Below are some more great things to see and do in Midtown:
- Bryant Park
- New York Public Library
- Flatiron District
- Grand Central Terminal
- Shopping at Herald Square
Times Square is my least favorite place in the city because it’s crowded, full of tourist traps, and it’s a popular spot for pickpockets.
But if you’re visiting New York City for the first time, then you MUST check out Times Square so you can see the glitz and glam yourself and form your own opinion.
Times Square is one of the world’s busiest pedestrian areas and entertainment hubs which receives nearly 50 million visitors annually.
Here you’ll find retail stores, chain restaurants, Broadway Theatre, street performers, huge billboards, and tourist attractions.
If you plan on going to a Broadway show, I always recommend reserving and planning ahead, especially during peak travel season.
For last-minute tickets, TKTS booth can be a great option if you’re not too picky about which show you want to see.
But if you have a must-see show on your NYC bucket list, then you’ll want to buy your tickets in advance. Some popular shows include Aladdin, the Lion King, MJ: The Musical, Wicked, Hamilton, and the Book of Mormon.
Weekend shows (especially Saturday night) are the most popular times to see a Broadway show.
Below are some more fun things to do in Times Square:
- Visit M&M’s World New York or Hershey’s Chocolate World
- Take a photo with your favorite cartoon character (don’t forget to leave them a tip)
- Check out a rooftop bar
- Attend a live taping of a late-night show (Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah)
- See a comedy show
- Play an escape room
- See an Off-Broadway show
- Eat at the Hard Rock Café
- Eat cheescake at Junior’s Cheesecake
Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is the largest train station in the world and one of the most beautiful landmarks.
Even if you’re not riding a train, many people come to see the Main Concourse with its zodiac-themed ceiling mural.
Technically, the mural is backwards, which is a mirror image of what you’d actually see when looking up at the sky.
Other interesting things to check out at Grand Central Terminal include:
- The Whispering Gallery, which is on the dining concourse near Oyster Bar
- The world’s largest Tiffany glass clock, which is outside the building
- Tennis court, which is tucked away on the fourth floor
- Lower Level Dining Concourse, where you can find many great eateries
Madame Tussauds is a wax museum founded in 1835 by the French wax sculpture, Marie Tussauds in London, England. Its popularity has paved the path for similar museums in major cities around the world.
Madame Tussauds New York is located right in the heart of Times Square. It’s one of the most unique attractions in the city since you can hang out with your favorite musicians, A-list stars, sports legends, and world leaders.
On average, it takes around six months and over 2,000 pounds of wax to make one figure. Each strand of hair is also fitted individually, which can take a month to complete.
With your New York Pass, it includes Madame Tussauds General Admission plus MARVEL Universe 4D Movie. Plan to spend at least 60 to 90 minutes here.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral Tour
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a neo-Gothic Catholic church in Midtown and one of New York’s most famous landmarks. It’s the largest Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral in the USA and the church covers a whole city block.
It took 21 years to build and opened to the public in 1879. This is a great place to visit if you love architecture and history.
It’s free to go inside and look around and you don’t have to be Catholic to enter. If you’re interested in a more in-depth visit, then I recommend taking a tour of the cathedral.
It’s a 50-minute self-guided audio tour on Apple iPads with headphones provided. You can also enjoy the tour on your own smart phone or tablet.
New York Yankees game
In the evening, you have the option to check out a New York Yankees game or Harbor Lights Cruise. Baseball season runs from Aprils to October, so if you love baseball, this can be a great activity to add to your New York itinerary.
I recommend checking the New York Yankees schedule before your trip to see which days they are playing a home game.
With your New York Pass, you can grab a Grandstand level seat where you’ll have awesome views of the field and jumbotron.
Harbor Lights Cruise
One of the best things to do at sunset is to see the city lit up. While you can check out some free skyline views of NYC, taking an evening cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to enjoy the magic of Manhattan.
The Harbor Lights Cruise allows you to sip on a cocktail while sampling hors d’oeuvres as you sail along the water.
There’s also a knowledgeable tour guide that provides interesting facts and history about all the landmarks you’ll see.
On the cruise, there is an outdoor deck so you can enjoy the fresh air as you drift past Hudson Yards, Chelsea Piers, One World Trade Center, and the Statue of Liberty.
If the weather is too cold or rainy, you can grab a seat in their temperature-controlled indoor deck that offers huge panoramic windows, so you won’t miss any sights.
Day 5 in New York City
For your fifth day in New York, you’ll spend the morning exploring the Meatpacking District, Chelsea neighborhood, and Hudson Yards. Then in the afternoon, you’ll check out the Upper East Side and visit a popular modern art museum.
Highline Chelsea Meatpacking tour
Start your morning by heading to Chelsea Market where you’ll be taken on a 2-hour guided tour of the High Line and Chelsea neighborhood.
I’m a big fan of walking tours, especially in New York because it can be a great way to learn everything you need to know about the area and get some local insider tips and tricks.
This tour is included for free with your New York Pass. You just need to reserve your spot online in advance. It’s a popular tour and tends to get booked up fast, so I recommend reserving as soon as possible.
If you’re not using the New York Pass, you can take your own self-guided tour of the area.
The High Line
No matter the time of year, the High Line is a popular elevated park to visit among locals and out-of-towners alike.
This 1.5-mile public park was built on an abandoned elevated railroad that stretches from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards in New York.
Some of the best things to see along the High Line include:
- Artwork – You’ll find works of art such as sculptures, installations, and murals.
- Architecture – You’ll see unique buildings surrounding the park.
- Landscaping – You’ll see a variety of plants and flowers.
- Historical sites – Along the Hudson River is Pier 54 where survivors of the 1912 Titanic were rescued and brought here.
- People watching – There are benches to sit along the High Line to relax and enjoy a skyline view of the city.
Located in the heart of New York’s Meatpacking District is Chelsea Market. It’s in the former National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) factory which was built in the 1890s. The historical architecture of the building makes it a great spot to visit.
Here you’ll find one of the best food halls in the city where you can enjoy tacos, Thai, doughnuts, bagels, gelato, cheese, and more delicious eats.
After grabbing a quick bite, you can check out the local shops that sell flowers, unique gifts, home goods, and specialty foods.
It can get really busy at lunchtime, so it’s best to visit during the morning or 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.
Located in Husdon River Park, Little Island is one of New York’s newest public parks. It’s free to visit this green oasis, where you’ll be treated to incredible views of Manhattan and New Jersey.
There is also two stages here to enjoy theatre, music, and dance performances.
The Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. It’s suspended in mid-air, which will make you feel like you’re floating in the sky.
You can also look 100 stories down through their glass floor or lean out over the city on angled glass walls.
Visit any kiosk outside the Edge entrance to reserve your entry for the next available time slot. You just need to scan your pass and proceed through security.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, and the Guggenheim Museum was his most notable achievement. Here you can see its magnificent collection of modern and contemporary art.
Inside the museum, you’ll notice its distinctive spiral ramp which is 1,416 feet long. I recommend starting from the top floor and making your way down to explore the various exhibitions and galleries.
The most popular artworks here include:
- Vasily Kandinsky, Composition 8 (Komposition 8)
- René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’empire des lumières)
- Jeff Koons, Puppy
- Faith Ringgold, Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach
- Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Can’t Help Myself
- Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series
- Louise Bourgeois, Maman
- Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Crucifixion
5 day New York itinerary FAQs
Is 5 days enough for New York?
5 days is the perfect amount of time for first-timers to see the main highlights and attractions in New York. If you don’t want to feel rushed, then I recommend spending at least 7 or 10 days in New York City.
How much money do I need for New York for 5 days?
Based on the average cost other travelers spend, you should plan to spend around $316 USD per day on your trip to New York. This means a vacation for one week (per person) will cost around $2,214 according to BudgetYourTrip.