New York City 3 Day Itinerary – 3 Days in the Big Apple

So you are finally making that dream trip to the Big Apple. You have spent your whole life dreaming of NYC. It’s in all your favorite films, Music, TV, and all over your Instagram. All your friends have been and now finally it’s your turn…flights booked, Hotel sorted…but what the heck do you actually do when you get there? How do plan your day and fit everything in? How do you get around and what is worth your time and what isn’t! Argh, it’s a minefield.

What you need is an itinerary. Not a rigid unchangeable tour, but a basic outline of what your movements will be, where to go, what to see, and how to get there. We are pretty much the masters of putting together game plans and have the perfect New York City 3 Day Itinerary just for you to get the absolute best experience out of your long weekend in Manhattan.

New York City 3 Day Itinerary

3 Days in the Big Apple

New York is the City of the Mini Break. With hotel prices so high, and little in the way of Downtime, New York is a destination geared towards whirlwind visits where you cram in as much as possible.

3 days is just about enough to get into the swing of things in the City. To peer under the covers and get a smell of what the city is all about. You can visit all the Highlights, and see all the BEST sights the city has to offer.

3 Whole Days

For the sake of this Itinerary, we are assuming you will be in the City for 3 whole days. This would mean a travel day on either side or if you are coming from nearby at least an early start. But for the sake of this itinerary we are writing off a day on either side, so toy will wake up and fall asleep in the city for 3 whole days. This is your quintessential LONG weekend and will require 4 nights in a hotel.

  • Arrive Thurday – Hotel
  • Full Day Friday – Hotel
  • Full Day Saturday – Hotel
  • Full Day Sunday – Hotel
  • Depart Monday

If this does not work for you and you were counting a travel day as one of the 4 then you probably just need to trim some fat off the ends, We do not plan much for our arrival and departure days so skip those and just streamline the days you will be there.

There is a HUGE amount to see and do in New York, so if you can really consider staying longer. You will see a lot more on our 4, 5, and 7-day Itinarys than you can fit on a 3 day.

Hotel Location

Where you are staying in the City may have some bearing on your Itinaery and for the purpose of this Itinerary, we are assuming you are staying in or around Times Square. This includes Hells Kitchen and Murray hill and most of Midtown, where 90% of Tourists actually stay. You can still make this work if you are saying Downtown or even in Brooklyn but it will be more of a commute most days.

How To Get Around New York – We give you tips on the best way to get around the city for each of our days.

Is An Intinary A Good Idea?

It is amazing how many times we hear people say they do not plan itineraries. They just “go with the Flow!” and “see where the mood takes them”. They want an “authentic experience” and not be tied down to a rigid itinerary.

While there is some sense in what they say, on the whole, it is terrible advice. We don’t want to be too critical but honestly, we see this advice as tantamount to saying “we couldn’t be bothered to plan our trip properly, which ruined our trip, and now we want to ruin yours to justify our laziness”…hmmm, maybe we did a poor job of not being critical!

The thing is, we have done so many trips, and the ones where we “went with the flow” or as we call it “winged it” we enjoyed far far less than ones when we actually did proper planning!

There is definitely something to be said by staying flexible. I don’t think we have ever stuck to an Itinerary 100%. Things change, you bite off more than you can chew, Weather has it says, your legs tire, bad moods happen, you just fancy doing something else than you planned. We get all that and we have experienced all this and more.

But until you start putting plans down on paper it’s pretty hard to visualize how a trip will actually come together. Only then can you see what fits together and what is not possible. How you will link up parts of the City and how you will get around and fit everything in.

Without doing this, you will instead spend the first part of every day having the same old discussion, “what are we doing today”. You head out and find the flow doesn’t go anywhere, you wander around a bit see very little, and do nothing.

This is your lifetime shot at the Big Apple, make it happen! By planning an Itinerary you are doing prudent planning to ensure everything goes well. It’s not glamourous or cool, but it ensures you have a plan!

“No plan survives contact with the enemy

However, do not be a slave to it! This is where the compromise fits in. Know what you plan to do but prioritize and be flexible. If the weather doesn’t play ball or you just run out of motivation or time, be ready to adapt, think on your feet, and just do something else.

Having the Skeleton of a plan in place though just allows you to do so much more, it will get you to the right parts of the city, to the best attractions and things to see and do. It’s not going with the flow, it’s CREATING the flow!

Of Course, some people will reject this advice, and that’s fine too, if you really just want to rock up and see what happens you will still have a great time, any time in NYC is pretty special and tbh you will never really know what you are missing by not planning properly, and you can come back and tell everyone how great it was, and how they shouldn’t plan either, otherwise they will show you how much better their trip was than yours!

But for everyone else, get planning and use our Intinaries as your Guide…

Excel

We only provide these Itinanries as inspiration. Every traveler has different wants and desires and we cannot come up with one single itinerary that will please everyone. But our Itineraries are how we visit the City and are designed to get your own Grey Matter working and get you to adapt and modify our plans to help you build your own.

We show you how to group attractions and unlock parts of the City. You can then juggle these around to your own schedule and desires. We hope no one follows our Itineraries to the Letter but uses them as a guide to really work out how to take o the City!

We always use Excel, or Google Docs to organize our days and help plan out where we plan to visit and what we plan to see. This ALWAYS ensures we get the most out of all our trips.

Final Note –

You will see we have planned out full days and put them in order for you, however, we do not really recommend sticking to the day order. Instead, we recommend deciding the order based on the weather forecast. We often have bad weather days and some attractions really do not gel well with poor weather. The Observation Decks and outdoor attractions really do not work great if it’s lashing it down.

So look for put weather rating and when you get to the City adjust your plan accordingly if poor weather is on the horizon! It’s normally short-lived and the perfect chance to head into the Museums or other indoor attractions.

Ok, let’s get into it.

Day 0 – Arrival Day

The plan for the arrival day really depends massively on where you are coming from and how you are arriving, and what time. Essentially whatever method we use to get into the City we do not really plan much for our arrival day.

We usually fly in from transatlantically from the UK which means a mid-afternoon arrival. So we will go with this. However, the issue with long-distance travel is things can and do go wrong. Even if the Plane arrives on time there are endless hold-ups possible in the airport, traveling to the City, and even checking into your hotel.

With this in mind, even the most optimistic of plans can go awry. Plus you are likely to be very tired. It may only be mid-afternoon, but that can translate to very late in your body-clocks time. Plus Air Travel is just inherently tiring.

On the whole, we just plan to get to the hotel and then head out for an explore. Head to Central Park, Check out Times Square and the Rockefeller, and generally acquaint yourself with the City.

We have had good success with a show or The Ride, in the first evening to keep us awake, but make sure you have a VERY large time buffer.

Dinner

We tend to go simple with dinner on the first evening. We are very tired and just want some food before hitting the hay. A simple Chain Restaurant or NYC Pizza or Hotdog stand is enough to get us through till morning.


Day 1 – High Lights

Let’s get this clear, you are only in town for a short time so we got to pack things in! We suggest using an Attraction Pass of some type, which we go into detail about below. This is going to be a BUSY and exhausting day. You can trim it down but we tend to use the first-day adrenaline and buzz to power us through!

Morning

Times Square – First Stop is the world Famos Times Square. While this is our first destination it’s here more as a place to start off. We need to visit here first to pick up tickets for our Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour. But we might as well take in the sights and sounds of the most visited location in the States!

Hop On Hop Off Bus – Optional – ($59.99)

These bus tours are a whole load of fun. We need to be real though they are just about the epitome of Tourist Traps. They are pretty poor value (a far more useful 7-day Subway pass costs just $33) and do not really work that well for transport.

But we enjoy them and we did state at the beginning of this we recommend using an attraction pass for this Itinerary, and these tours are included and stop at all the attractions we are suggesting today, so you might as well use it. If you opt to not use a Pass then just stick with the Subway. It’s not as fun but faster and cheaper.

So you will need to head to Times Square to pick up your ticket and board the Bus. The Downtown Loop takes you from stop 1 at the M&M Store, through Times Square, across 54th Street to The Empire State Building right down %th Av towards Downtown, then back up the ring road along the Hudson Shoreline. It’s great fun, with a nice audio commentary, and shows some really nice highlights of the City from your open-top vantage point. You won’t be on long as you need to hop off at our first stop.

Big Bus Route Map

There are now 5 Observation Decks in the City, but the oldest and most Iconic is still our favorite. You really can’t say you have been to New York unless you have been up the Empire State! So we start off nice and early with a trip up one of the most Iconic Buildings in the World for a simply Mindblowing View.

<<<Everything you need to know about the Empire State Building Expereince>>>

China Town

After hopping back on the bus we hop back off at Chinatown. The main purpose of this is to explore and take in New York’s vibrant Chinese Encalce, check out its junk shops’ bizarre Grocery Stores, and most importantly grab Some Dim-Sum. The Dim-Sum restaurant here offer some of the best and cheapest food toy are likely to find in the City so it’s the perfect spot for some lunch! Then Back on the Bus.

Afternoon

The Bus will now take you around the downtown area offering some great views of the Skyscrapers. We are not getting off today though which might seem odd, but we are back here tomorrow. You could walk down from Chinatown via City Hall and Wallstreet or hop off for an hour at battery park, but we still have a lot to pack in today.

Hudson Yards

The Bus will run up the western coastline of manhattan with some really wonderful views and you can jump off at the final stop. We then make our way to the New Hudson Yards Development. Here you can visit the VEssel, the Shiney new Shopping Center, and gawk at the huge new skyscrapers that have shot up overnight. You can also take a journey up to the Edge.

Edge Dusk

The Edge – ($41.00)

<<<Everything you need to know about the Edge>>>

This is one of New York’s new Observation Decks, and it’s a bit special. Jutting out from the Side of the Building and offering panoramic views out over the whole City. There are a few disappointing elements of the experience but overall it’s a great experience and while you are here, and it’s included on the Pass, why not. And you can even have a glass of bubbly at the top and toast your New York Trip!

High Line

<<<Everything you need to know about the High Line>>>

This is a bit of an option depending on how you are doing for Time and energy. But if you get the chance, take a stroll down the High-Line. The Highline is a Disused Railway line that’s been converted into an elongated Park. It’s a touch of Nature in the middle of the Concrete Jungle. If you have time you could get all the way down to Little Island, another of New York’s new Green Spaces.

Evening

Top Of The Rock

New York Skyline Top Of The Rock Night

Top Of The Rock – ($43)

<<<Everything you need to know about the Top Of The Rock >>>

Really! Another Observation Deck!

Yes we know we are packing them in. But you REALLY have to see New York from above at both Day and Night! If you want to drop an Observation Deck for Today, Drop the Edge. The Top Of The Rock is a real close second to the Empire State Building and actually has a FAR Supirour view, as you actually get to see the Empire State Building. Head up the rock at night to witness the City in its absolute finest evening dress!

You could also consider the Summit here instead of Top Of The Rock, but er caution against that here. As an experience, it just takes too long and Time is of the essence with this Itinerary.

Dinner

This is a completely mad day and you are definitely going to be shattered. So a big meal is not really going to work tonight. Again look for something simple and relatively cheap. We have some special meals planned for later…


Day 2 – Downtown

  • Good Weather Day
  • Getting Around – Today we move back to the Subway System. We usually reccoemend buying a 7 Day Pass, but with only 3 days in the City this may be a poor chpice as you need to complete at least 13 trip to make it worthwihile. Instead just pay the per trip price of $2.75 per trip.

Morning

Today is a real early start so hopefully, you go a nice early night after yesterday. Again we are packing things in today, if you want a more relaxed trip you can drop things out from the below list but really, you would be better off planning on staying for longer.

Statue Of Liberty

<<<Everything you need to know about the Summit – Statue Cruises>>>

We start off with the most iconic of attractions anywhere in the world. Lady Liberty. A visit to New York is really not complete without a trip over to Liberty Island and a close-up look of the Statue. While you can see the statue from Battery Park, it’s pretty far off and many people feel let down. You really need to hop on a boat and get up close and personal.

There are a few options for getting close, but the best, and the only one to land on the Island is the Statue Cruise.

911 Museum and Memorial

<<<Everything you need to know about the 911 Museum>>>

After your cruise out to the Island, we head to the 911 Memorial and Museum. The Tragedy of that day is now woven into the fabric of NYC and a visit to the Memorial is essential. We also highly recommend heading into the Museum as well. It’s is a staggering memorial to the event of that day and the whole museum is built into the very foundations of the old buildings. The various exhibits actually situated in the old underground floors of the buildings. It really is a must-see. But be aware it’s a pretty intense and moving experience and can leave some people pretty shaken as the horrific events of the day are revisited!… More Here.

One World Observatory – Optional

You can also consider heading up the One World Observatory. This is a great observation deck and very different from the others. It is not actually our favorite but it’s still worth a visit while at the WTC if time allows.

You will probably be pretty peckish by now so look for something cheap to eat such as a Hotdog, or head to Lower Broadway where there are some Malls and a nice concentration of food outlets.

Note – Due to restrictions on numbers it is best to head straight to the Museum and One World Observatory as soon as you get to the Memorial. Head to the Box Offices to secure your return times. On Busy days these really can sell out early, if it’s really busy head to WTC before the Statue Cruise and get your slots booked for later that day.

Afternoon

After a frantic morning, we take the pressure off a little and head to one of our favorite places in New York. Brooklyn. Jump onto the Subway and head under the river to Brooklyn. It is possible to fit in a little of Wall Street too as we jump on the Red line at Fulton Street.

Dumbo And Brooklyn Bridge Park

Here you will find some of the best views in all of New York. The Skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park is literally out of this world and there are some really iconic views to be found in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Pebble Beach offers iconic views of Brooklyn Bridge with the Skyline behind them. We think this is maybe a case of a picture paints a thousand words…so here is 5!

After exploring the area and taking in the incredible vistas of the City…it gets even better, as we take a hike across Brooklyn Bridge. This is a wonderful and Iconic stroll across one of the most famous bridges in the world with stunning views of Manhattan the whole way…it really is “pinch yourself” stuff!

<<<Everything you need to know about Walking The Brooklyn Bridge>>>

Now safely back in Manhatten jump back on the tube and get back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for a special evening.

Evening

Tonight we are planning on hitting the town. Our favorite fancy dinner in New York is one of the Cities many Steakhouses. There is just something so New York about grabbing a giant hunk of meat.

After that, or before, or both, we recommend heading up to one of New Yorks’s Best Rooftop Bars. Grab a Cocktail and drink in some of the best views of the City. A really stunning end to a really wonderful day. And once again you are going to hit the hay hard tonight!


Day 3 – Culture

  • Poor Weather Day – Make sure you plan this day for the worst weather day of your trip!
  • Getting Around – There is minimal travel today but again make use of the Tube, but it is even possible to achieve todays goals by walking. But if the weather is really poor that might be a bad plan.

Morning

Museums

Really New York has some of the best Museums in the world and it would be remiss to visit and not take in at least one of these cultural treasures. So this morning we suggest heading to the one that stands out to you the most

Just choose one as these are far too big to visit more than one in such a condensed timescale.

<<<Everything you need to know about Central Park>>>

If you chose either the Natural History Museum or the MET then you will already be well places to Visit the park so we suggest a stroll back through the park to take in the sites and movie locations of one of the most famous parks in the world.

Afternoon

Mid Town

After the morning’s culture, we suggest a bit of a rest-bite and take in something a little more touristy for the afternoon. There is a lot to see in the area such as Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, St Patrick Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Macy’s on 34th Street, 5th Av Shopping, Times Square, Bryant Park.

Basically, we just suggest exploring the area and taking in the sights and attractions that interest you the most.

Evening

The Ride

The Ride – $79

<<<Everything you need to know about the Ride>>>

As Darkness falls we recommend checking out the Ride. We love this unique New York Attraction. It’s a cross between a bus tour and a show, mixed in with live-action street performances. It’s hard to explain but incredibly fun and absolutely hilarious at times.

Alternatively, if you are want to visit a Broadway show check out the TCKTS boot in Times Square to back some cheap TCKTS for any available performances.

Dinner

Tonight we suggest heading to Hells Kitchen. Restaurant row (46th Street between 8th and 9th Av) contains literally hundreds of small independent eateries covering just about every imaginable cuisine on the planet. If you can’t find something amazing to eat here there really is little hope for you!


Day 4 – Leaving Day

Like our Arrival day, we never plan anything too rigid for our last day. Hopefully your flight out is quite late so you can still enjoy the day, but we tend to relax a little more and just take in the City. Check out any location you missed in the mad rush of the last 3 days, and just get ready for your departure.

For some reason, we always end up in an Italian restaurant for lunch and then while the final hour or two away in an Irish bar. Both are great ways to round off your trip before embarking on your journey back to the Airport.


Using an attraction Pass

We advised you earlier that following this Itinerary it would probably be wise to consider using an attraction pass. Here is why… despite is seeing just about everything we wanted in New York and not sticking to just Paid attractions we do seem to have racked up quite a few and these will take a BIG dent out of your wallet!

  • 1 – Big Bus – Hop On Hop Off – $59
  • 2 – Empire State Building -$45
  • 3 – Top Of The Rock – $42
  • 4 – One World Observatory -$43
  • 5 – Statue Of Liberty -$23.50
  • 6 – 911 Museum -$28
  • 7 – The MET -$25
  • 8 – The Edge -$41.50
  • 9 – The Ride – $79

Total – $386 per person!

That’s quite a lump of cash if only there was a way of doing all that, along with all the free attractions we included, and actually paying a lot less? Well, there is… attraction passes. Both the New York Pass and the Go City New York Explorer Pass cover all the attractions we have listed, and more and come in at significantly less than paying separately.

They are some big savings and there is even the possibility of doing even more as we certainly have not maxed out the passes in this itinerary. And you will usually find even more savings if you take a look at our review pages as we often have promo codes to reduce prices even more!

If you want to know which pass is best check out our New York Pass Comparison

Have Your Say

What is your ideal New York Itinerary? What would you fit in that we missed? Have we done too much? Do you think you could do more? Feel free to let us know in the comments below. We love hearing your thoughts and ideas, and as we said to begin with this is only a guide to get the juices flowing so feel free to give us your thoughts!

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