How to Spend Three Days in New York City

new york empire state building at sunsetThis 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:

Day 1
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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.

Battery Park
Battery Park is awesome in New York City
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.

Wall Street
The bull on Wall Street is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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
Trinity Church is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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.

City Hall
City hall plaza is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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.


Day 2
Empire State Building
Empire State Building lobby is a great place to go on a trip to NYC
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's main terminal cannot be missed in New York City
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.

Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center's statue is an icon of NYC
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.

Times Square
Times Square is a must-see on a trip to New York 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)
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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.

Frying Pan
The Frying Pan Bar is one of my favorite spots 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 6pm, most of the tables are taken.

High Line
The Highline Park in the Meatpacking District is a great way to spend a beautiful day in NYC
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.

Day 3
Central Park
Central Park is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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 Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must-see on a trip to New York City
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
American Museum of Natural History is one of the best museums in NYC
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!

Broadway show
The TKTS ticket office in Times Square, NYC
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, Book of Mormon, 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.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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?

  4. 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 :)

  5. 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?

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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. :)

  9. Matt Stone

    My brother ( 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?

  10. 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

      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!

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.!

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 😀 But I’ll do it next time !

  19. 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.

  20. Pete Hamill

    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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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!

  24. 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 :)
    PS What’s the weather like in September? Coming from Ireland so rain and wind is fine!! 😀

  25. 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!

  26. Yev

    Hi Matt, this looks like a great itinerary for New York! I know it’s been a few years since this was published, but is this still an ideal 3-day itinerary? Another thing, do you recommend the similar activities for winter? It’ll be my first time and I’ll be travelling with my parents this Christmas and I’d really like to see the most that I can. :) Thank you for an awesome post. :)

  27. HI Matt. thanks for all the great info. My husband and I will be in NYC in October for about 4 days and I was happy to see that a lot of things we planned to do were on your list too :) Thanks for the museum info. Couldn’t decide which one to see. You helped make our decision a little easier. Thanks again for a great post.

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