Three Days in New York City

By Nomadic Matt | Published August 19th, 2010

This past weekend a friend of mine visited New York City and having never been here before, he wanted to see as much as possible but I only had three days to show him everything. That’s not a lot of time for the “Big Apple.” It made me think though. A lot of times travelers only have a short amount of time in a city. We see the highlights and move on to our next destination. So I thought, NYC is one of my favorite cities in the world and if I only had three days to show you New York City, how could we best spend it? So here’s what we did and how you can maximize your time too:

Day 1
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
statue of liberty
Though the line is really long, if you get here early you can avoid most of it. (Come late and you’ll have to wait a few hours.) Though the Statue of Liberty is interesting to see, the real highlight is Ellis Island where you can learn about the immigrant experience. If the line is too long, take the free Staten Island ferry for photos of the statue.

Battery Park
battery park in new york city
Hang out here for music performances, street performers, watch all the people who are willing to wait for hours to see the Statue of Liberty, or just relax. It’s a large and hectic park but a great place to just sit and rest for a bit.

Wall Street
the bull on wall street
Take a look at the bull, get your photo taken, and then walk to Wall Street and see where the bankers of America destroyed the economy. You often hear people demanding their money back!

Lunch: The Financial district is a great place to catch a bite to eat. I recommend Ulysses Folk House. They have a great outdoor patio, a good menu, and a wide selection of beer.

Trinity Church
trinity church in new york city
Trinity Church is one of the oldest churches in America. The church isn’t the original building but it’s still a beautiful church to see. Around its graveyard you will find the graves of many famous Americans, including Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.

City Hall
city hall plaza new york city
New York’s City Hall is a great piece of architecture, has a stunning park, and a fountain, and a circular tablet about the history of the site.

Brooklyn Bridge
the brooklyn bridge
Right near City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge is an easy 25 minute walk if you don’t stop. Stopping to take photos and meander will make the walk about 40 minutes. You get a lot of great views of the city from the bridge.

Dinner: Since you are already in Brooklyn, have dinner here.

Night: If you aren’t too tired, head to the Lower East Side or East Village for some eclectic students, art, and bars.

Day 2
Empire State Building
Empire State Building lobby
This historic building is a landmark in New York City. The 1930′s art deco interior is beautiful and the view from the top is breathtaking. You can get a real feel for how densely populated New York is. Get there early or during lunchtime to avoid the lines.

Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station main terminal
Grand Central Station is the city’s historic train station. Meant to be torn down, it was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy who raised money for its preservation. There are free historical tours on Wednesday.

Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center statue
This area is always filled with hustle and bustle. Wander around Rockefeller Center to see where they film The Today Show, eat good food, and take the elevator to the “top of the rock” and get another bird’s eye view of the city.

Times Square
times square nyc
The lights of Times Square are mesmerizing. No matter when you come here, it will always be packed. During the summer, there are pedestrian areas where you can sit, hang out, and people watch. If you aren’t shopping or eating however, there isn’t much to do but it’s a fabulous place to people watch.

Lunch: Located on 44th and 8th is the Shake Shack, a great burger and shake place. The original is located down in Madison Square Park but even at their new branch, be prepared to wait up to an hour for your meal. The service is quick but the line is long.

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
After lunch, head over to the MOMA for lots of beautiful modern art, some weird modern art, and some great impressionist art. Van Gogh’s starry night is here. On Fridays after 4 p.m., the museum is free.

Frying Pan
the frying pan bar in nyc
After a long day of sightseeing, head west to The Frying Pan, a bar on a barge on the Hudson River. Here you can drink with the after work crowd as you watch the sun set down over the river. Try to get here early because by around 6 p.m., most of the tables are taken.

High Line
the highline park in the meatpacking district
The High Line is a converted train track that is now an urban walking park. It goes from 22nd street down to the meatpacking district. After a few drinks at The Frying Pan, head down to the Meatpacking District for dinner by walking through the High Line. Or sit down, relax, and watch the traffic go by from the viewing area on 16th street.

Dinner in the Meatpacking District: The Meatpacking District is where the trendy, rich, and celebrities come to see and to be seen. Yet despite its upscale nature, there are some affordable places to eat. I recommend Fig and Olive or Pastis.

Night: If you want a night out, you are right close to the West Village, which has some nice bars to hang out in.

Day 3
Central Park
times square nyc
A great way to relax in the city and leave the crowds behind is to spend the day in Central Park. It’s free, there are lots of little paths to walk, and, since it covers over 40 blocks, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions in the park too.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art lobby
The Met is one of the biggest museums in the world and, if you only see one museum in New York, I would recommend this one. They have a wide array of art, historical artifacts, photography, and other exhibits. There’s even a real Egyptian tomb in here. There is a lot to see here so budget a lot of time. Just doing it in a few hours doesn’t do this place justice.

Lunch: Eat somewhere on the Upper East Side.

American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
Made even more famous by the Night at the Museum movies, this museum also requires a lot of time. It’s very extensive and the exhibits are very detailed. I wouldn’t try to rush it. You’ll learn a lot about nature and human society. I particularly like the exhibit on the origin of humans as well as the section on space.

Dinner: Anywhere you desire. Just make it back in time for the Broadway show!

Broadway show
times square nyc ticket office
You can’t go to New York City, the theater capital of the world, without seeing a show. Highlights include: Wicked, Avenue Q, Memphis, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, and American Idiot.

New York City is a big place with a lot to do. Three days is barely enough to squeeze these activities in, let alone finding time to visit all the boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn. If you are coming to New York City and have the time, I would recommend coming here for at least 5 days. However, if pressed for time, following these tips could give you a full three days of fun and excitement in the city that never sleeps.

Not sure where to eat? Here is a list of my favorite places to eat in NYC to help you decide.

comments 53 Comments

Matt, I really liked this article! It was visual (which held my interest) and informative (which means I’ll use it reference when visiting). I’d like to see more of these from you (3 Days in LA, 3 Days in London, 3 Days in Paris, 3 Days in Hong Kong exc exc). It’s simple but what most people have questions on.

… and on a side note, that Mike guy can go F*CK himself! Thought that was the tackiest article ever written in the travel community. If you guys are still friends, then your a better man then I! jajajaja

NomadicMatt

I’ll be having a lot more of these articles. I think they are a good reference for travelers who only have a few days in a city.

Thanks for the support with that whole controversy. You can’t be liked by all. I’m just continuing making my site and let the haters hate.

brought back memories..i was there for almost a month and besides going to these places, I also just walked and walked around NYC..just got back from a whirlwind trip to Bali and Singapore..shd write abt the 3 days I spent in each of these places

This makes me so excited to travel to New York. You managed to squeeze in some great attractions for such a short amount of time! Gonna save this for my next trip to NYC!

Loved the article Matt! I am visiting NYC for the first time and will probably be there for a full week. This gave me a nice starting off point. Any other interesting places in NYC I should be aware of?

NomadicMatt

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, eat in Brooklyn, Washington Square Park is great, so is Union Square.

Ya I like the ‘Three Days in…’ idea. You should stick with that.

Ahh I love NYC. I’ve got to spend a summer there one of these days. If I can wrangle it, maybe next year. I’ve been waiting for some tips on the city, so thanks. Everytime I go I always end up doing random (but fun) things and miss out on all the obvious spots. Still haven’t even glimpsed the Statue of Liberty after four times in the city! Sheesh.

NomadicMatt

Thanks! I plan to do more!

Great article! FYI though the original Shake Shack is in Madison Square Park, not Washington Square Park.

Which is a good thing because I live near WA square and I would be there way too often if it was located there :)

I’ve seen the high line featured on the travel channel before, I just can’t remember which show. As for the bull, I automatically think of the movie Hitch.

This is a great list, Matt! And lovely photos too. I can’t imagine taking 3 days to do all these fun NYC activities listed…My kids and I went to the American Museum of Natural History, Shake Shake for lunch (there’s one right across the street for the AMNH too, btw; it’s indeed a huge wait), and a Broadway show then dinner. Can’t do more than THAT in one day without rushing, I think. Yeah, NYC is all about rushing, but the museums really deserve a few hours at a time, don’t you think?

For me New York is the best city in the world. I love it!

I’d highly recommend that people take a free ride on the State Island Ferry, which travels between lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The trip takes about half an hour and offers some really incredible views of Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Statue of Liberty. Upon arrival in Staten Island, you can either explore or just go right back around and get on the next departing boat back to Manhattan! Just make sure that one the way out you stand outside in the back!

Easy to follow and great pictures with this 3 day guide to NYC. Last time I was in NYC, I went to MOMA and had an awesome time, love that museum!

Perfect way to spend 3 days in the best city in the world!!! I used to live right next to Battery Park and would pretty much hang out there every day. :)

Matt Stone

My brother (TrailOfAnts.com) says I should say hi whilst you are here and take you out to get wasted. Am heading out tol do just that! Fancy a beer or two?

NomadicMatt

Send me an email!

I was in New York for three days this March and it’s amazing how much you can fit into such a short trip. With most things in walking distance or a short subway ride away there are few sites which aren’t easily accessible. I’d particularly reccommend the Highline though, a really lovely way to get a different perspective on the City. Thanks for the article Matt!

NomadicMatt

The highline is one of my favorite things about NYC!

NomadicMatt

Thanks! If I can do it, anyone can.

Dave

Don’t forget to swing by either Katz’s or the 2nd Avenue Deli for a classic (if overpriced) taste of NY!

NomadicMatt

I went to Katz. I thought of including it but it’s pretty expensive. A sandwich and soup was $22!!!! Too rich for my blood but i did enjoy the food!

I didn’t know about the free tours in Grand Central. That sounds like fun. I’m a local but I’m still such a Tourist!

Nice one Matt, the photos really compliment this post well. I’d add stopping in at Jimmys Corner just off of Times Square – it’s a small little dive filled with boxing photos, ran by Jimmy who was Ali’s corner trainer

Wow, I had more days there than 3 and didn’t get this much done! Partially because I went along with friend’s suggestions and got a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, but I went overboard, I paid for them all! I lived on those buses. Some of it was great, other parts a complete waste.

The one that I absolutely recommend though is taking a night-time bus tour. The top of an open air bus gliding through the city lights is truly mesmerizing! That I would suggest to people without reservation.

Glad to see MOMA in there. The only museum I took in during my visit. I held it in reserve for a rainy day and walked until I dropped.

I love this overview of NYC! I’ve been twice myself, and loved every bit of it! I do think you did a great job of hitting the high-points, and you even covered some that I wasn’t so aware of! Great post! Please visit my new blog and see my very first post about “packing light” – a great skill when visiting big cities like NYC!

Quite Nostalgic..!! nice thought to spend three refreshing days in NYC

You got two of my favorite spot, The Frying Pan and the High Line. Which I took a lot photos of. Your 3 days trip for your friend is very well plan, great post

Wonderful touring! You can’t go wrong with MOMA, even for people who are not the artsy type=)

Another excellent travel report and well documented with great photos! I’ve been to NYC a couple of times and this post really makes me wanna go back!

Btw: Thanks so very, very much Matt, for taking you’re time to let me know about the RSS-feed problem on my blog! I’m a bit late reporting back as I have observed it for some days, but have not found any reasons or something wrong. So I guess it has to be a fluke.

I have printed this out, I am going to New York for Halloween so def wanna do some of the items on your blog posting.

can’t wait, i have my costume ready and everything, i arrive on halloween so it shoudl be fun!

NomadicMatt

Glad I could help!

irma

hey! im going this weekend to ny and i just read your article. there’s only one thing i would like to say, THANKS, man this is so perfect for me and my friends. you should keep writting about other places. congrats.!

Jack

This is great, but you can’t miss South Street Seaport during the summer!

B

Outstanding!

And, to be efficient about Central Park, rent a bicycle!

as a new yorker, i must say… this list is a great guide. Good thing to share with visitors :)

I like this place and yes, it is worth visiting. There are so many attractions. Please do not miss out on the city.

liz

Great pictures! You really covered your bases! Next time you travel to NYC you should consider checking out Family In New York. They can certainly show you the typical tourist sights but can also build a tour for you that takes you off the beaten path!

Nicole

I was just wondering how you got around to all the different places, and if you could a rough estimate on how much u spent on travel. I am wondering about the trains/metros but was wondering if a small town person like me could do it without getting lost! Any other tips about hotel suggestions or anything else would also be great! Along with this, keep in mind I am a broke college kid on a tight budget.

NomadicMatt

NYC subway.

Shaz

Ah – there are a few more options to make these even better/quicker/more efficient –
* cycle tour around Central Park (use a reputable bike shop, plenty just around the southern side) which go early and cover nearly all of the park including stops for information/history.
* take one of the big speedboats rather than a Staten Island ferry (although you can’t get off onto the island). Firstly, heaps of fun twirling on the river, secondly only 1/2 hour of your day, third some good commentary on the river sights. Tickets near the Circle Line near Hell’s Kitchen next to the Intrepid maritime museum.
* definitely get a New York Pass – you’ll quickly get your value, and there are some unusual ones in there as well for things you may not otherwise know, or you can “pop into” while on the way to something else.

Mathieu

“You can’t go to New York City, the theater capital of the world, without seeing a show.”
Thanks for adding to my frustration :D But I’ll do it next time !

Rob Davies

Excellent list Matt. I sadly never got to see half of what you mentioned when I went back in 2005 (Then again at the time, I wasn’t really into Art), but I would gladly go back and visit again as I love the city. Heck, I’d like to live in New York one day if I could.

Was really good to hear of places I wasn’t aware of either, such as the High Line.

One small complaint though, London is the Theatre Capital of the world.

While this is a great overview for people who have never been to NYC you’re 2nd and 3rd days are ENTIRELY too much for someone to do in 1 day…. People just have to pick and choose what is important to them. Standing in line to go up Empire State or Rockefeller alone is at least an hour. One should just pick one of those to go up. (I would suggest the Rock because it gives you a sweet downtown shot with Empire State in the picture, and gives you a great aerial view of Central Park.) Times Square and Grand Central I guess if you just go snap a photo and leave. MOMA and Highline are an afternoon each in themselves. The MET and Natural History in 1 day?? I once spent 5 hours in the Natural History Museum. Once you’re done, the last thing you want to do is to go to another museum. Again, great overview, but more like a 5 day itinerary.

Jo Jo a go go

Im just about to hit New York for the 1st time ever with only 3 days , so excited. So overwhelmed. Perhaps i just dont sleep? I have to say out of all of the 3 day NYC itineraries on the net, this one looks the most appealing to me. It ticks a lot of boxes In an order that sits well with me.thanks Matt :) BTW do you know if the Xmas tree at the ice rink will be up in Mid November? This has to be added to the list.

PC

I’m planning on going to NY with my daughter this summer. We have 3 days and I would like to make the most of it. What part of NY should I be looking for a hotel, that’s middle of the road price, to make the most of this itinerary?

NomadicMatt

Anywhere in Manhattan.

Hi Matt, this past August I made my first ever trip to NYC with my daughter and absolutely loved it (too bad we didn’t run into you, hehehe). I wrote a few posts about our jam-packed 4 day trip. Such a fabulous city, would love to go back, but probably won’t. I try not to visit the same place more than once, there are just too many wonderful places to go in this world and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I love your posts, so informative! Keep up the great work!

Elaine

This was so helpful thank you!
I’ve got 4 days in September but one of them I want to spend just getting lost!
Thanks :)
Elaine
PS What’s the weather like in September? Coming from Ireland so rain and wind is fine!! :-D

tanisha

How much would this 3 day itenary approximately cost?

Thank you for the article. I have a 40th surprise birthday outing to plan and this is very helpful for two people who have never been to NYC. Thanks.

Stuti Mohan

I love your blog. I’m planning a trip to the US next week and am just using your website for planning the itinerary!

Would love to see more suggestions around which areas to stay in and where to get good street food!

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