Best Of, City Guides, New York, USA

New York Itinerary: An Efficient plan for First Timers in New York City

comments 11

New York City – A city that is amazing, endearing yet overwhelming all at once. As a first-time visitor to this amazing place, I can understand how intimidating planning for your NYC trip can be with so many activities and places to check out.

So, I’ve put together an efficient NYC itinerary that is easy to follow for you, whether you’re spending just a weekend in NYC, or a whole week or even more.

New York City

Tips for visiting NYC for the first time

1. Get a travel pass to save money! There are many things to visit and do in NYC, which means you’ll spend money on those activities. Getting a travel pass could ease the pain! Here are a few travel passes you can consider:

  • New York Pass by Go City – This is an all-inclusive pass that allows you to visit as many attractions as possible during the duration of your pass. I’d recommend this if you’re an active traveler who wants to do everything
  • Go City New York Explorer Pass – On the other hand, if you want to take a slower approach and only want to visit select attractions, this is the pass for you. Explorer pass allows you to get discounts on selected attractions.

I will go over in detail whether it’s worth it to get these passes in the Is getting a travel pass worth it in New York? section below. Or, you can see attractions included in the passes to determine whether it’s something you want to do.

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

2. Get the 7-day unlimited Metro pass or pay with OMNY – The easiest and most cost-effective way to get around NYC is by using public transport, or more specifically the subway. Read more on this in the public transportation section below!

3. Download the CityMapper App – the subway will sometimes have route diversion, outage, or just simply not running on certain days. It helps to have CityMapper handy as the app will warn you of these disruptions.

4. Download the NYC Google Maps to your phone – by this, I don’t just mean download the Google Maps app. You can download the whole NYC map to your phone so you can peruse the map when you don’t have data connections (you’ll lose connections in certain spots while taking the subway). You’ll also use less mobile data when browsing the maps! Here is how to download Maps to your phone.

5. Wear comfortable shoes meant for walking – I averaged 22,000 steps a day for the entire week I was in NYC. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it IS! So when I say comfortable shoes, I don’t mean any flat shoes, I mean REAL comfortable shoes made for walking. I stupidly wore my Superga sneakers thinking I’d be okay… but by day 3, my feet were so swollen and in pain that I had to buy emergency walking shoes – a pair of Puma trainers with proper cushions for my sore feet.

6. Learn about the local quirks – Jaywalking, neighborhood nicknames, why the city steams, how to pronounce “Houston” (it’s not like the city in Texas!)… I wrote an entire blog post with stories from my trip to NYC. Check it out!

Steaming NYC
Wondering what those smoke stacks are? Find out in my NYC stories blog

7. Learn how to tip the American way – yes, I know, the tipping culture in the US baffles every visitor. It’s confusing! But, you don’t want to shortchange someone just because you disagree with this social norm. The most common instance where you’ll need to tip is when eating at a restaurant. The general rule of thumb is to tip 20% for average service, 25% for great service, and 30% for exceptional service. You don’t need to tip at establishments where the food is not served to you. Fast food, bakeries, bodega, or dessert places are examples of these establishments, but it certainly would be nice if you felt the staff did an exceptional job. You also don’t need to tip ride-sharing drivers (but again, it is always nice to), but you must tip taxi drivers.

8. Prices do not include sales tax – If you go to a store to buy something, be mindful that the price you see does not include tax. It will be added when you pay at the cashier. This applies to tours and tickets too! But you might be happy to know that clothing and shoes below US$100 are not subject to sales tax, so the price you see is what you’ll pay for those items.

9. Learn the Manhattan grid system and areas – Manhattan contains 214 numbered east-west streets ranging from 1st to 228th, ascending from south to north. Generally speaking, Manhattan is divided into three parts:

  • Uptown is anything north of 59th Street
  • Midtown is from 14th to 59th Street
  • Downtown is anything south of 14th Street.

Then, the areas are further divided into neighborhoods with funky abbreviations, as I’ve talked about in my stories from my trip to NYC. I recommend watching this Manhattan Grid youtube video by Bright Trip to understand Manhattan better.

10. “Downtown” and “Uptown” can also refer to the direction of travel. For example, you’ll say the train is going uptown if it’s going north, and downtown if it’s going south.

11. Wise Card worked super well in NYC – as well as the rest of the US, really. If you’re an international visitor like myself, definitely get yourself a Wise Debit Card. You’ll save the foreign transaction fee with it. I never had to use cash when I was in NYC and San Francisco!

How to get to Manhattan from the Airport

Getting to Manhattan from the airport greatly depends on where you’re staying in Manhattan and which airport you’re coming from.

View of Manhattan from SQ22 flight
View of Manhattan from my flight

1. From Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

You could take public transport all the way to Manhattan, but I find it is easier to take Uber or Lyft from the EWR airport to Newark Penn Station. From Newark Penn Station, you can either:

  • If you’re staying in Lower Manhattan, take the PATH train to World Trade Center, or
  • If you’re staying in Midtown, take the NEC/NJCL train to Penn Station on 34th Street

Take whichever option is closest to your accommodation. Then you can resume via Metro to your accommodation. The last time I did this, it cost me US$21 for the Uber ride and US$2.75 to take the PATH train. Relatively affordable compared to other costs in NYC!

NYC Path Train
NYC Path Train reminds me of MRT back in Singapore

2. From John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

If you’re flying to JFK Airport, you can consider the following options:

  • If you’re staying in Midtown, you’ll want to take the AirTrain Red (US$ 8.25) to Jamaica Station and switch to Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station or Grand Central.
  • If you’re staying in Lower Manhattan, you can take Airtrain Green and switch to A train at Howard Beach Station.

Again, take whichever option is closest to your accommodation. Then you can resume via Metro to your actual accommodation.

How to take Public Transportation in NYC

NYC is a city with amazing connectivity – their public transportation will take you to most places. The subway is the best way to get around NYC, but you could take the bus, Taxi, or Uber. But of course, if your main concern is saving money, you’ll want to take the public transportation.

🚌 Tip: The Big Bus hop-on hop-off 1-day ticket (worth $60) is included in the New York Pass

NYC Subway
A small convenience shop in the subway station

Here are your options to pay for public transportation in NYC as a short-term tourist:

  • Single-fare ticket / Pay-per-ride ($2.90 per ride) – A subway ride in NYC costs $2.90 per ride regardless of distance, which I think is quite pricey. That’s why when my 7-day pass ran out, I mostly walked on foot unless I was going somewhere far that was worthwhile for a subway ride. You can simply tap any contactless credit card at the turnstile, or purchase a ticket at a ticket vending machine in any subway station.
  • 7-day Unlimited ride using MetroCard ($33) – You can buy the MetroCard from the vending machine at any subway station, which you can then reload. A 7-day unlimited Metro pass ($33 per 7 days) costs $33.
  • Contactless payment with OMNY (capped to $33 from Mon-Sun) – With this method, you get to use your contactless debit or credit card using OMNY – No additional actions are required on your part, just tap the card at the turnstile! OMNY stands for One Metro New York, the MTA’s answer for contactless payment. You simply use whatever contactless payment method that you’re already using on the OMNY reader (be it ApplePay, Google Pay, etc). When you use this method, you will not pay more than $33 in total fares from Monday and Sunday – it’s capped at $33!

Unlimited MetroCard vs OMNY: Which one should I use for taking the subway in NYC?

If you think you’ll be taking less than 12 subway rides during your time in NYC, then any of the above methods work. You can buy a single-ride ticket or you can use OMNY.

But, if you have decided that you’ll be taking more than 12 subway rides during your stay in NYC, you might be wondering… which payment method should you use? The answer is: It depends on exactly how long you’ll be in NYC, the device you have, how much you plan to take public transportation, and your personal preference!

So here’s the deal – OMNY and the 7-day unlimited metro costs the same at $33, but look closer and you’ll notice that OMNY is capped only from Monday to Sunday, while the unlimited metro card is good for the next 7 days after activation.

The seven-day period for OMNY weekly cap begins at midnight on Monday and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. Unlimited MetroCards expire at midnight on the 7th (or 30th) day from the day you activated it, regardless of the time you activated the card on the first day. For example, whether you bought and activated the unlimited card by taking a subway ride at 3 pm or 11 pm on Monday, then your card will expire on Sunday at midnight.

Here are some tips to help you decide:

  • First of all, contactless payment with the OMNY method requires you to either have a card that can do a contactless payment or a smart device that is compatible with contactless pay, such as an iPhone, Apple Watch, or Android phone. If you do not have these devices, then you’ll be better off buying the unlimited MetroCard.
  • If you’re arriving in the latter half of the week (say Thursday or Friday), and you’re planning to do more than 12 rides within 7 days, then go with the 7-day Unlimited MetroCard. Given that each ride already costs $2.90, you just need to take the subway more than 12 times to make it worth it – that’s less than twice a day, and trust me, you’ll ride the subway more than that.
  • If you’re arriving earlier in the week (Monday – Wed) and plan to do more than 12 rides within 7 days, then go ahead and use OMNY!
  • OMNY method is more restrictive in terms of the weekly cap, but it’s way more convenient to use, as you do not need to fuss with yet another card – you can just use your phone or smart watch to tap into the subway.
  • The unlimited MetroCard is refillable. Don’t throw away your card after you’re done using it, because you can always reload the card! Otherwise, you’ll have to pay $1 for a new card.

How much time should I spend in NYC?

If it’s your first time in NYC and you want to see everything possible, I recommend spending at least 4 days here. There are so many things to see and do in NYC! I have stayed here for a week and still didn’t run out of things to do.

When is the best time to visit NYC?

Generally, Spring and Fall are great times to be in NYC. Summer could get hot and humid and Winter can get very cold. I think April and May or September to November are all great times to visit NYC. I visited NYC in May and September and can vouch that the weather was great in those months.

However, if you’re a fan of the Christmas season then you’ll want to visit the city in December. The city would be decorated with beautiful lights and Christmas trees – it’s truly a magical time to be in NYC. My very first-ever visit to NYC was in December and I still fondly remember that trip, even though it was nearly 15 years ago.

Tip 💡: The holiday market tour (worth $45) and Christmas Lights walking tour ($25) are included in the New York Pass if you are visiting during the holiday season!

Where to stay in NYC

If it’s your first time in NYC, you’ll want to stay in Manhattan – it will make your life so much easier. However, accommodations in Manhattan tend to be more expensive.

If you want to save some money, you could stay off Manhattan and stay in Brooklyn, but you’ll probably spend more time and money commuting. It’s up to you which pro and con suits you better!

I stayed in Manhattan both times I visited NYC. Here are some hotel recommendations I’ve stayed at:

  • NoMo in SoHo – Located in SoHo, this hotel is within walking distance of many good restaurants and bars in NYC. It’s also conveniently within walking distance of many subway stations.
  • New York Hilton Midtown – I stayed here on my first-ever visit to NYC. It’s located within walking distance of Times Square, MoMA, Central Park, and best of all, right across from the OG Halal Guys cart! 😋

The NYC Itinerary Overview

OK, so we’ve talked about all the important things about visiting NYC. Time to talk about what to do in NYC!

Below I’ve arranged daily itineraries you can do in NYC. Please note: you don’t HAVE to do the itinerary in the same order as I’ve outlined below, however, I’ve grouped the activities and attractions that are close to each other so that they can be visited together. That’s why I call this my efficient NYC itinerary!

My NYC itinerary can be divided as follows:

To visualize this NYC itinerary better, I’ve created a Google Maps link that marks all the routes and landmarks I’ll mention in this blog.

Map of NYC Itinerary
Map of NYC Itinerary

🗺 Save this map to your phone! If you are a Google user, click on the image of the map above. The map will then be saved to your “Recent” maps viewed. Click here for instructions on how to view the map later. It will work from your phone too.

Day 1: The New York Essentials in Lower Manhattan

As a first-timer in NYC, you’ll want to start your visit by seeing all the must-see attractions. Let’s do that today! Most of the attractions of today will be located in Lower Manhattan and within walking distance of each other.

➡️ PS: The 9/11 Memorial Museum is closed on Tuesday. It’s a place you must visit if you haven’t, so I recommend doing this itinerary on other days that are not Tuesday.

1. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

What’s a first-time visit to NYC without visiting the Statue of Liberty? Of course, this is a must! Not only do you get to see the Lady Liberty up close, but you’ll also get to take a little trip on a ferry to Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the entry point for many immigrants in the mid-1800s to early 1900s who shaped NYC into the city it is today.

Make your way to Battery Park to board the ferry, which departs every 25 minutes from 9:25 am to 4:30 pm.

NYC Itinerary - Lady Liberty
Statue of Liberty

🗽 Tip: Round trip ferry ticket to Ellis Island, entry to the Statue of Liberty, and admission to the Immigration Museum (worth $24) are included in the New York Pass.

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

2. Charging Bull and Fearless Girl at Wall Street

Once you’re done with Ellis Island and back at Battery Park, make your way down to the edge of the Financial District to see the Charging Bull, a famous bronze statue that is an iconic symbol of Wall Street, depicting the “bull” period of the stock market which means optimism and prosperity.

This bull was first illegally dropped outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Wall Street by its artist, Arturo Di Monica, as part of guerilla art in 1989. The bull was then moved to its current location later that year. There is a tradition to rub the bull’s… erm, scrotum when you visit, so you’ll notice that part of the bull is lighter in color compared to the rest of its body. The statue has also been subject to vandalism, being painted blue during the financial crisis of 2008.

After the bull, you can make your way to the Fearless Girl, a statue by Kirsten Visbal to promote female empowerment, which was installed in 2017 and was originally placed facing the Charging Bull. The placement of the girl caused some controversy and complaints from Di Monica as he feels that it changed the meaning and intention behind the Charging Bull. Since then, The Fearless Girl has been temporarily moved to face the NYSE building in 2018. As of 2022, the statue is still there, but it’s unclear how long it will remain.

NYC Itinerary - NYSE Building
The NYSE building

Right next to the girl is none other than the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). However, there is not much you can do here aside from observing from the outside. The building is not open to the public.

2. Ground Zero, 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Tip 💡: The 9/11 museum is closed on Tuesdays!

From the statues, you can walk over to Ground Zero – the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Here, you can see two pools where the two World Trade Center towers used to stand, as well as a memorial that lists the names of all the victims of the September 11 terrorist attack in NYC.

The 9/11 Museum is a MUST visit. The 9/11 incident has shaped NYC (and arguably the world) today. The museum did a great job collecting photos, personal stories, and even soundbites from that day. I didn’t expect to cry in a museum, but there I was, sobbing in the middle of the memorial. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one crying.

It was difficult to go through but necessary and very highly recommended.

➡️ Tip: The 9/11 memorial, museum, and a tour are included in the New York Pass (worth $30)

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

3. The Oculus at One World Trade Center

Once you’re done with the museum, make your way to see The Oculus. Opened in 2016, you can’t miss this white structure from the outside as it is very eye-catching. It looks like large wings on the outside, and once inside it looks like gigantic rib cages and a spine.

The Oculus is a shopping center and a transport hub. You can go inside to take that iconic shot from the middle of the shopping center – it is truly something else.

4. See the city from above

NYC is known for its iconic skyline, so as a first-time visitor, you must visit one of the skyscrapers to enjoy the view. I recommend doing this closer to sunset so that you get a nice light. Take note that you might have to reserve if you come during peak hours.

NYC Itinerary - NYC as seen from Empire State Building Observatory
NYC as seen from Empire State Building Observatory

There are many options if you want to see the city from above. Here are the options:

  • Empire State Building Observatory – This building needs no introduction, it’s the most iconic building in NYC. You have the option to go to the 86th floor or go even higher to the 102nd floor (though I think 86th is enough). Tickets cost $44-77 depending on which floor you want to go to.
  • Top of The Rock Observatory at Rockefeller Center – Tickets cost $40. I think this is the best option to see NYC from above!
  • One World Observatory – Tickets cost $53-63 depending on the package you choose. This observatory is the highest point in NYC, located on the 100-102nd floor of One World Trade Center.
  • Edge in Hudson Yards – Tickets start from $38-42. This is one of the newer buildings in NYC.
  • Summit One Vanderbilt – The only one on this list not covered by New York Pass. But you can still get your ticket ahead of time here for cheaper. Tickets for adults start at $39-45 via the online website, but they will add tax and processing fees and vary depending on the day and time of day. So it’s still a few dollars cheaper to book through my link.

For this itinerary, One World Observatory is the most convenient as you would already be in the area (It’s right on top of the World Trade Center). But I think Top of The Rock has the best view – you can see the Empire State Building and the entirety of Central Park from here!

Tip 💡: If you’re having issues choosing, you could consider getting New York Pass because ALL of the options above, except Summit One, are included in the New York Pass. You can visit even all of them if you want!

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

Day 2: New York Landmarks in Midtown

On this itinerary, you’ll get to explore Midtown, which as the name might have implied… is the middle part of Manhattan, between Downtown and Uptown.

Generally speaking, Midtown is from anywhere between 14th to 59th Street. And you bet there is a lot to do here! You’ll be walking plenty, so definitely put on your most comfortable shoes.

1. Best of NYC Cruise

The Best of NYC Cruise is a 2.5-hour cruise that loops around the entire Manhattan island, starting from Pier 83. They have 4 cruise times a day, at 10 am, 12 pm, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. During the cruise, you’ll see many of New York’s most famous landmarks, including a few that are out of the way and first-time visitors wouldn’t normally see, like the Yankee Stadium. It’s a great way to kick off a busy day!

💡 Tip: The cruise is included in New York Pass (worth $40-46)

2. The Vessel

After the tour, take a walk down to The Vessel – one of the newer attractions in NYC, built as part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. A few years ago, you would have seen The Vessel all over Instagram, with its unique architecture that resembles a honeycomb.

The Vessel from afar

You can access the ground level of The Vessel for free on Monday through Saturday 10am-8pm and Sunday 11am-7pm, with no reservation required (check the opening time here).

Unfortunately, the other levels of the Vessel are not open to the public due to suicide cases that have happened too frequently since its opening in 2019 and again after it tried to reopen in 2021.

3. Edge

If you want to see the city from above, this is another chance! Edge is an observatory with 360 views from the 100th floor, which also includes an outdoor sky deck. It is one of the newer observatories in the city.

💡 Tip: Admission to Edge (worth $38-42) is included in the New York Pass

4. High Line Park

The High Line Park is a scenic 2.3km elevated trail built on a former New York Central Railroad.

From Edge, the entrance to High Line Park is just a short walk away. You can enter the High Line park from the very beginning near the W 34 St & 12 Ave corner, or if you don’t want to start from the very beginning, you can enter from the entrance next to the Bloomberg Building which would also be very convenient from the Edge.

NYC itinerary - View from Highline Park
View from the High Line park

The elevated platform means it’s possible to have a nice peaceful walk through the city. For once, I was able to walk around in NYC without the anxiety that some biker is going to run me over or piss someone off for not knowing how to walk like a New Yorker.

Walking from one end of the High Line park to the other should take about 20 minutes.

🚶🏻‍♀️ Tip: Highline & Chelsea walking tour (worth $39) is included in the New York Pass

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

5. Chelsea Market

The High Line park goes over the Chelsea Market, so as soon as you see signs for Chelsea Market you can follow it down for some good food.

And it’s time for lunch! There are many options at Chelsea Market, but a crowd’s favorite is Los Tacos No. 1. I can definitely vouch that it’s worth a visit! You can read more about it in my food recommendations below.

Los Tacos No. 1
Los Tacos No. 1 in 2023
NYC itinerary - Los Tacos No. 1
Los Tacos No. 1 when I went in 2018

6. Iconic buildings in Manhattan

After you’re done exploring Chelsea Market, walk over to the west side of Midtown, which should take about 20 minutes. Architecture buffs would be ecstatic about this part of the itinerary! I’ll highlight three of the most popular buildings in NYC if you want to check them out, and in this exact order, for more efficient use of your time:

  1. Flatiron Building – You should already be familiar with this building. The name of this building gives away its shape – sharp triangular, like a flat iron.
  2. Chrysler Building – One of NYC’s Art Deco skyscrapers with a distinctly pointed spire and arched crown. I was especially fond of this building as it is the location of one of my favorite video games – Parasite Eve.
  3. Empire State Building – This 102-story Art Deco skyscraper is a cultural icon that has appeared in many classic movies, most notably in the 1930s King Kong movie where Kong climbed the building.

💡 Tip: If you’d like to go up to the Empire State Building, admission to the observatory (worth $44) is included in the New York Pass

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

7. Grand Central Terminal

From the Empire State Building, The Grand Central Terminal is a mere few blocks away. Grand Central Terminal is a recognized National Historic Landmark. There are tons of things to see here, but here are my favorites:

  • Main Concourse – Look up and you will see the 12 constellations painted in gold leaf on a Tiffany blue background. You can also check out the Apple store on the east balcony if you’re an Apple fan, it is one of their most unique store locations.
  • The Whispering Gallery – The ceramic arches next to Grand Central Oyster Bar are an acoustic phenomenon that will let you talk to other people on the opposite ends of the corner. Try it out with a friend!

After checking out the whispering gallery, you can go to Grand Central Oyster Bar for some Clam Chowder. It is the oldest restaurant in Grand Central. At the dining concourse, there are plenty of food options too! You can get a burger from Shake Shack or try Magnolia Bakery‘s famous banana pudding.

Click here for more things to do at Grand Central Terminal.

NYC itinerary - Central Park
Grand Terminal Main Concourse

Day 3: Museums and Central Park

Now that you’ve done all the New York City essentials and must-sees, I thought it would be fun to highlight yet another different side of the city. We’ll be visiting a few notable museums today. You’ll still be walking a lot, but at a more chilled-out pace than the other days. Most of these museums are located in the upper east side, in the vicinity of Central Park, on a stretch of fifth avenue called “Museum Mile“.

I’ll be recommending some museums to visit today, but of course, you can feel free to only go to the ones that interest you! While visiting all of them is possible, it would be quite a rushed visit to do in one day. Also, take notes on the days the museums are closed. Museums in NYC are ususally closed for one day in the middle of the week.

1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (The Guggenheim)

Closure Day: The Guggenheim is closed on Tuesdays

If you appreciate modern, contemporary art and architecture, you’ll want to start your day at The Guggenheim. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it has one of the most unique museum designs, spiraling upward in a cylindrical building, with artwork lining up the walls as you continue to walk up.

The Guggenheim isn’t a big museum and there aren’t many permanent collections, so be sure to check what’s on view to see if it interests you. I think the museum is worth checking out once for its unique architecture.

🏛 Tip: Admission to Guggenheim Museum (worth $25) is included in the New York Pass

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

Closure Day: The Met is closed on Wednesdays

Just down the street from The Guggenheim is a name you should already be familiar with. The Met is known around the world not just for its annual star-studded Met Gala, but also for housing over two million artworks.

I loved everything about this museum, especially the area that houses the Temple of Dendur. This area was formerly called the Sackler wing, but the name was removed after the Sackler family’s role in making OxyContin addiction widespread in the US came to light. But the fact remains that it is such a beautiful, photogenic, and serene space.

And if it’s a good day, don’t miss The Cantor Roof Garden Bar on the rooftop!

3. American Museum of Natural History

If you are interested in this museum and you’re coming from the Met, I recommend walking through Central Park from the Met and visiting Belvedere Castle on the way (see my map itinerary!)

Those of you who are interested in dinosaur fossils (real ones!), animals, and gems could spend all day here. Take note that the museum is open every day from 10 am to 5:30 pm.

🏛 Tip: Admission to the American Museum of Natural History (worth $23) is included in the New York Pass

4. New-York Historical Society

Closure Day: The New-York Historical Society is closed on Mondays

So I have a confession to make… I haven’t actually been to the Museum of Natural History, partially because of New-York Historical Society.

You see, on my last visit to NYC, I was well on my way to visit the Museum of Natural History. New-York Historical Society is located right next to the Museum of Natural History. In my jetlagged state, I walked into the New-York Historical Society and paid for the ticket, thinking it was the Museum of Natural History (even though I knew there is supposed to be a very prominent dinosaur bone in the lobby!). I realized my mistake way too late and went along with it anyway.

A Picasso Tapestry at NY Historical Society Museum
A Picasso Tapestry at NY Historical Society Museum

And I’m so glad I made that mistake! New-York Historical Society exceeded my expectations in many ways. There were so many interesting arts and paintings related to New York City, but the standouts for me were the replica of the oval room of the White House, the Picasso Tapestry, and the large collection of breathtakingly beautiful and very priceless Tiffany lamps, made by Tiffany Studios (yes, THAT Tiffany).

If you can, please make time for the museum tour at 2 PM. I got there just in time to join the tour and it greatly enhanced my experience visiting the museum.

🏛 Tip: Admission to the New-York Historical Society (worth $22) is included in the New York Pass

5. Central Park

The museums are already on the fringe of Central Park, so I don’t need to tell you how to get there. Central Park is a massive park in the middle of Manhattan. And allegedly, it is the most filmed location in the world!

NYC itinerary - Central Park

There are tons of things to do here and the park is massive, but here are a few things I think are worth checking out at the park:

  • Sakura / Cherry Blossom Trees – If you’re visiting NYC in April or May, you will be interested in viewing the beautiful Cherry Blossom trees, because they will be in full bloom. Here is where to find the cherry blossom trees in Central Park.
  • Bethesda Terrace – One of the many architectural features in Central Park. I’m a huge fan of the ceramic tiles that form a pattern on the ceiling of the terrace.
NYC itinerary - Bethesda Terrace in Central Park
Bethesda Terrace in Central Park
  • John Lennon tribute – In the eastern part of Central Park is a small tribute to John Lennon. You can start at the Dakota Apartments on 72nd Street, where he lived with Yoko Ono. It was at the entrance to the apartment that he was killed. In front of the Dakota on the Central Park side, you’ll find the Imagine Mozaic on the floor, a tribute to Lennon’s most popular song, and Strawberry Fields, a tribute to The Beatles’ song he wrote.
  • Sheep Meadow – excellent for a picnic with friends or a solo afternoon nap
NYC itinerary - Central Park
An afternoon nap by myself at the Central Park

🚲 Tip: If you have the New York Pass, a Central Park bike tour (worth $52), a walking tour (worth $27), TV & movies tour (worth $36), and a bike rental (worth $46) is already included.

➡️ Book in advance for New York Pass holders: If you are going during the peak holiday season (such as the June-July summer holidays), an advanced booking is still required on top of buying the pass, because some attractions are popular and might sell out.

6. Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA)

From Central Park, head towards the South end of the park and you’ll find MoMA just a few blocks down.

MoMA is the mother of all modern and contemporary art museums, and it’s a must-visit for all modern art fans. MoMA houses some of the most recognized artworks of our lifetime, including The Starry Night by Van Gogh, The Dance by Henri Matisse, Water Lillies by Monet, The Persistence of Memory by Dali, Campbell Soup by Andy Warhol as well as works by Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jackson Pollock.

MoMA is open every day

🏛 Tip: Admission to MoMA (worth $25) is included in the New York Pass

NYC Itinerary - Starry Night at the MOMA
Trying to see Starry Night at MoMA
NYC Itinerary - MOMA
View of downtown NYC from MoMA

7. Times Square and Broadway

Finally, when you’re done with MoMA, it’s time to walk over to Times Square at Broadway and 42nd Street. Times Square is arguably the most touristy yet must-visit site in Manhattan. Just avoid going there during New Year’s Eve, it’s just not worth it when it’s that crowded.

Times Square is better to visit at night or as the sun is about to go down so that you can see all the billboards and LED signs lit up into the night. I recommend having some hot dogs straight from the street vendors at Times Square, not necessarily for their culinary value, but more for that quintessentially New York experience. Hot dogs were brought to NYC by German immigrants, in the form of push carts in the 1860s. In NYC, the sausages used are made from all beef.

Here is a cool photo I took at (almost) the same place in Times Square, a decade apart. Can you spot some differences?

Times Square is also in the Theater District. You must check out some Broadway shows while you’re in the city, such as Hamilton, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and Book of Mormon are some of the most popular shows.

🏛 Tip: A Broadway and Times Square walking tour (worth $39) is included in the New York Pass

NYC Itinerary - Times Square
Times Square

Day 4: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Lower East Side

Congrats! you’re pretty much almost done with all the must-sees in Manhattan. But you’re not done with New York, no! So it’s time to leave Manhattan and cross over to the other side for a more chilled-out day of arts, food, and walks by the river.

💡 Note: This itinerary is best to do on a Saturday

NYC Itinerary - Manhattan view from Brooklyn
Manhattan as seen from Brooklyn

1. Explore Williamsburg

Williamsburg is a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, filled with things to do and shops to check out. You can start your way from Metropolitan Av station. Here are some recommendations on what to see and visit here.

  • Quimby’s Bookstore – Indie bookstore providing curated titles
  • The City Reliquary – A small non-profit museum where you can see memorabilia of the city. They have both permanent and rotating exhibitions. See what’s on at City Reliquary here.
  • Joe’s Pizza Mohammad Ali Mural – PS: Joe’s Pizza is also not a bad place to grab a bite unless you’re here on a Saturday in which case you’ll want to check out Smorgasburg.
  • Artists & Fleas – A marketplace for craft makers, where you can shop goods from local small businesses. Only open on weekends.
  • Smorgasburg – If you’re here on a Saturday, you might want to check out Smorgasburg, a large open-air food market that started at Williamsburg but has now opened up in many other locations in NYC.
  • Domino Park – A nice park to chill by the east river
  • Mona Lisa of Williamsburg – One of the most famous murals in Williamsburg.
  • More street art – If you are interested in street art and murals, you can see more on my NYC map.


From Williamsburg, you can continue to walk down south for 1 hour. If that sounds crazy, you could take the East River (ER) ferry from South Williamsburg to DUMBO for $2.75 and 12 minutes of your time – click here for the ferry route info. I say, take the ferry.

DUMBO is an abbreviation of “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”. NYC is full of these amazing acronyms! You can read my NYC stories post for more NYC anecdotes like this.

In DUMBO, you must stop by to take one of these shots:

NYC Itinerary - DUMBO
That famous part of DUMBO

It’s the spot where you can see the Manhattan Bridge, along with the Empire state building perfectly framed in one of its lower arches. There will be tons of people here, but if you come early enough in the morning then I reckon you’ll get a pretty nice photo without anyone in it.

Aside from the viewpoint, there are also plenty of places to eat at DUMBO. My recommendation is Juliana’s which is a very popular pizzeria or Shake Shack if you have yet to give it a try by now.

3. Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan

Once you’re done exploring DUMBO, make your way to Brooklyn Bridge. If you have time, you can stroll along the river at Brooklyn Bridge Park first before going to the bridge itself. You’ll get this nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge set against Manhattan.

NYC Itinerary - Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. Most visitors walk or bike through the Brooklyn Bridge. You can walk across the bridge, which will take you approximately an hour, or you can rent a bike. Either way, there will be a lot of people on the walking platform!

NYC Itinerary - Brooklyn Bridge
Pretzels at Brooklyn Bridge

➡️ Tip: If you have the New York Pass, a Brooklyn Bridge, and DUMBO tour (worth $35), Brooklyn Bridge Bike Rental (worth $40), and Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour (worth $27) are already included.

4. Explore the rest of Manhattan

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you’ll find yourself in Lower Manhattan. You can explore the rest of Manhattan according to your interest. I’ve marked a bunch of restaurants, bars, and points of interest on my NYC map. Or, read on to find more things to do in NYC below!

Other things you can do in NYC

So you’ve combed my itinerary and have done everything you want to do in that itinerary. Well, fret not – NYC truly is a city that never sleeps. Here are a few more recommendations what you can do while in the city.

Things to do in the Lower East Side

Lower East Side is one of Manhattan’s most happening neighborhoods. Take your time to enjoy Manhattan’s best food, art, and music scene.

  • Hester Street Fair – If you are here on a Saturday, you can check out this open-air street fair, where you can hunt for vintage goodies.
  • Katz Deli – A famous deli serving Jewish American cuisine. You can read more about it in my food recommendations below.
  • The Bowery Ballroom – Fans of indie music can catch a show at this intimate venue. See what’s on at Bowery Ballroom
  • Alphabet City – This area is a small portion of the east village where the streets are named Avenue A, B, C, and D. You can find restaurants and Bars here.
NYC Itinerary - Katz Deli
Pastrami on Rye from Katz Deli

More things to do and places to visit in Manhattan

  • Comedy Cellar in West Village – A comedy club in West Village. You won’t know the lineup until you show up, but many famous comedians (such as Dave Chapelle) have been known to make a surprise appearance. It’s considered to be the best comedy club in the country. Make reservations here.
  • Sleep No More in Chelsea – The ultimate immersive theater experience, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, that I can’t describe with words. Even if I try, you’ll likely have a different experience than me, due to the flexible “choose your own adventure” format of Sleep No More. You just have to experience it yourself and go with the flow. As it is located near Chelsea in Midtown, I would suggest fitting this on the Day 2 itinerary above. Buy tickets here.
NYC Itinerary - Sleep no more
My mask and a ring I got from Sleep No More
  • Amateur night at The Apollo in Harlem – This requires traveling uptown to Harlem and only happens on Wednesdays, but it was worthwhile to make the trip out there! Similar to Comedy Cellar, you just never know which future superstar is making their debut night here, which has included names like Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonders, Lauryn Hill, and Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five. Buy tickets here.
NYC Itinerary - Apollo Theatre
Apollo Theater in Harlem
  • Bohemian in NoHo – An exclusive restaurant in NoHo, located in Andy Warhol’s former studio. You can only dine here if you know the name of someone who has been here before.
  • Strand Bookstore in Union Square – A large bookstore specializing in used and rare books.
  • The Django in Lower Manhattan – A Jazz Bar in Roxy hotel. Good for drinks and live acts.
  • The Back Room – One of the original speakeasies from the prohibition era still in operation today. They serve drinks in unassuming white tea cups, just like how people used to enjoy their poison of choice back in the prohibition days!
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s at Blue Box Cafe – Fans of the jewelry brand would want to check this out. You can have high tea at a cute cafe fully decorated in that popular Tiffany Blue shade. Be sure to reserve a table here.

Other things to do in New York

  • Coney Island in Brooklyn – If you’re visiting New York during summer, you can check out Coney Island in the southwestern part of Brooklyn. It features a whimsical seaside amusement park close to the beach, with games, food, and fairs.
  • Brooklyn Bowl – A music venue combined with a bowling alley. You’ll definitely have a great time here.

Where and What to Eat in NYC

There are many good places to eat in NYC, and I enjoyed eating my way through NYC during my stay. Here are a few standouts that I truly enjoyed during my stay:

Los Tacos No.1 – Yes, I queued for this. Yes, it is located in the extremely touristy Chelsea Market. But YES, it was worth it. They only serve 4 types of tacos. I tried cactus (nopal) tacos for the first time here – while this was not my cup of tacos, I do recommend trying it at least once and highly recommend the other three tacos.

Los Tacos No. 1
Los Tacos No. 1

Levain Cookies – Worth. the. damn. hype. Just go get yourself their walnut chocolate chip cookie and you can thank me later. If there is a line, don’t fret because it moves super fast… so there is no reason why you shouldn’t go! I originally planned to buy the cookies and then walk over to Central Park to eat them, but let’s be honest – they only lasted a few steps outside the bakery *mouth waters from thinking about their cookies*. The original branch is on the Upper West Side, but you can find Levain in many parts of NYC now.

Levain Cookies
Levain Cookies – I think this was chocolate chip walnut

Kosher American Jewish Deli – Comprising approximately 13% of NYC’s population, the Jewish community in NYC is the largest in the world outside of Israel. The Jews immigrated to NYC from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, and these immigrants created what is now known as a Jewish delicatessen (or deli for short). At these delis, you can find the classic pastrami on rye and my new-found love: Matzo ball soup, among other dishes – some of which are unique to Jewish Americans.

I became obsessed with Matzo ball soup, so I hit up as many delis as I could. Here are a few delis that I loved when I was in NYC:

  • Katz Deli (in Lower East Side) – This is the place that introduced me to Matzo ball soup, so they needed to be mentioned. The Harry Met Sally thing is pretty cool too, I guess 😁
  • Sarge’s Deli (in Midtown) – Out of all the Jewish delis I tried, their pastrami sandwich is the best! They also have the most homely ambiance, and their Matzo ball is pretty good.
  • 2nd Ave Deli (in Upper East Side) – OK, by now you guys have definitely caught on that I visited all the famous delis because of my Matzo ball soup obsession… and the one at 2nd Ave Deli was my favorite Matzo ball soup out of them all. It comes with carrots! and a choice of 3 types of carbs!
NYC Itinerary - Matzo Ball Soup
Matzo Ball soup from 2nd Ave Deli

Babka – A type of bread swirled with chocolate and cinnamon, popular with the Jewish community in eastern European countries. Many have said babka is the best sweet to get in NYC. Breads Bakery is a popular place to get Babka from in NYC.

The Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th – Because you haven’t been to NYC without tasting that magical secret white sauce, made popular by none other than the New York cabbies themselves. They have carts all over the city now, but the OG one is this one on 53rd and 6th.

When I first came to New York, I stayed at the Hilton, which you can see in the background of the photo below.

NYC Itinerary - Halal guys
The original Halal Guys cart

Each time we pass by this corner around dinner time, this one food cart would have a long line snaking out. So one night just before flying back, I decided to join the line – and then I understood why. Their gyro platter with the white and red sauce is SO delicious and relatively affordable for New York’s price. I liked it so much that I hand-carried one on a flight back to LA for my family to try!

Be careful of the red sauce – they are legit spicy.

NYC Itinerary - Halal guys
It was as good as I remembered

Is getting a travel pass worth it in New York?

(All currency in this calculation is in USD)

The New York Pass allows you to visit as many attractions as possible during the duration of your pass. Sounds good? Well, it depends. I would only recommend this if you’re the type of traveler who likes to move fast and want to see everything.

If you follow my itinerary above, your New York Pass utilization could look like this:

Day 1Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island$24
9/11 Museum$30
Top of the Rock Observatory$40
Day 2Best of NYC Cruise$46
Chelsea and High Line Walking Tour$39
Empire State Building$44
Day 3Guggenheim Museum$25
Central Park Bike Tour$52
Total value$367
3-day New York Pass(-$249)
Potential Savings$118

And if you decide to take the Big Bus Tour on one of the days, it would add even more to the total value of the pass to be $427. A 3-day pass costs $249 at the time of writing, so you could potentially be saving $118-178 with the New York Pass.

Of course, this is all dependent on your planning ability to use up the pass to its full potential. This is why even though the New York pass is available for up to 7 days, I can only advise getting the 3-day pass and doing as many things as possible during those days to make it truly worth it.

However, if you decide that you want to chill and only visit a few select attractions, you can consider Go City New York Explorer Pass instead. You’ll save money through this pass, provided you pick high-value attractions that cost $35 or more. The pass is good for 60 days after activation so that you can take your time!

My recommendations for such attractions:

  • Top of the Rock – $40
  • Central Park Bike Tour – $52
  • Best of NYC cruise – $47
  • The vessel – $39
  • Edge – $42
  • High Line Tour – $39

Okay, that was one long post on everything I know about NYC! I hope this post has been useful to you. And as usual, if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.

Links in this post may generate small commissions that keep this website running for free, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
Filed under: Best Of, City Guides, New York, USA

Written by Melissa

Hi there! 👋🏻 I'm the "Girl" in Girl Eat World. I love eating, traveling and sharing my travel experiences in this blog. During the day, I work as a designer in tech. More about me →


  1. Emma Taynton says

    Hi, my husband and I are going to NYC all the way from Scotland in June. We’re here for a week so hopefully we can fit everything in! Your article is amazing and we will definitely use it. Xx

  2. Nandhini says

    Gratitude for the insider tips! Your advice led us to mouthwatering food and the breathtaking views from the Top of the Rock. NYC became a dream come true.

  3. Jazmin says

    Hi Melissa!
    Thank you SO much for making this- it’s extremely helpful as it will be my sister and I’s first time in NY!
    I was wondering if you had a pdf or printable version of this?

    • Melissa says

      Hey Jazmin, I don’t have a printable version but that’s a great idea – i should make one! I hope you have fun with your sister 🙂

  4. Nico Ringoet says

    Hi Melissa

    Just wanted to drop a message here saying that your blog for first-time visitors of NYC has proven to be spot on. My family and I had a blast during our 4 days in The Big Apple. Many thanks!

  5. Sara Thomas says

    im travelling this summer and so excited to do this itinerary.. thanks a million

  6. Aleesha Hussain says


    I just wanted to say this was incredibly helpful, and thank you so much for writing it! It’s been surprisingly difficult to find solid travel itineraries for NYC so I really appreciated how thorough and detailed this was. Thank you!

    • Melissa says

      Thank you Aleesha for taking the time to write this comment. I appreciate it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *