This past weekend, a friend of mine visited New York City. He’d never been before and 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. Travelers often have just a short time in a city. We see the highlights and move on to our next destination. So if I’m going to show someone one of my favorite cities in the world in only three days, what should we see and do? Here’s what we did and how you can get the most out of your time too:
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
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.) The Statue of Liberty is interesting to see, but the real highlight is Ellis Island, where you can learn about the immigrant experience coming to the US. If the line’s too long, take the free Staten Island ferry for photos of the statue.
Hang out here for music performances, street performers, to people watch, or just to relax. It’s a large and hectic park but a great place to just sit and rest for a bit.
Take a look at the bull, get your photo taken, and then walk to Wall Street and see where bankers 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 is one of the oldest churches in America. The church isn’t the original building, but it’s still beautiful to see. Around its graveyard, you’ll find the graves of many famous Americans, including Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.
New York’s City Hall is a great piece of architecture and has a stunning park, a fountain, and a circular tablet about the site’s history.
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’re 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 art and bars.
Empire State Building
This historic building is a landmark in New York City. The 1930s 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 is the city’s historic train station. It was going to be torn down but was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy, who raised money for its preservation. There are free tours on Wednesdays.
This area is always filled with hustle and bustle. Wander around Rockefeller Center to eat good food, see where they film The Today Show, and take the elevator to the “top of the rock” for another bird’s-eye view of the city.
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 and hang out. If you aren’t shopping or eating, there isn’t much to do, but it’s still 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 there are long lines even at their new branch, so be prepared to wait up to an hour for your meal.
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 4pm, the museum is free.
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 6pm, most of the tables are taken.
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. Despite this, there are some affordable places to eat.
Night: If you want a night out, you’re close to the West Village, which has some nice bars to hang out in.
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 wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions in the park too.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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’s a lot to see here, so budget a lot of time—a few hours doesn’t do this place justice.
Lunch: Eat somewhere on the Upper East Side.
American Museum of Natural History
Made even more famous by the Night at the Museum movies, this museum also requires a lot of time. The exhibits are interesting and detailed, so 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!
You can’t go to New York City, the theater capital of the world, without seeing a show. Current 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 find time to visit all the boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn. If you’re coming to New York City and have the time, I recommend staying for at least five days. But if you’re pressed for time, following these tips will give you a full three days of fun and excitement in the city that never sleeps.
Not sure where to eat? Here’s a list of my favorite places to eat in NYC to help you decide.