For many, a visit to the Big Apple is a Dream vacation, something they have longed-for for years. Brought up on a diet of TV and Movies all shot in the big city finally getting to visit is the realization of this wish and genuinely a dream come true. But suddenly as they start to turn their fantasies into reality, they realize they know very little practically about the city. Its layout, how to get around, and what to actually do when there. If this is you take a look at our New York Beginner’s Guide to really start planning out that trip.
One essential part of this planning process is your Itinerary. With so much to see and do in the City, this can be an easy hurdle to fall at with many people feeling overwhelmed and instead opting for the dreaded “going with the flow”. While this works for some people on the whole it simply means you do very little. It really is a good idea to at least have a framework to base your trip around. So w have put together a selection of Intinaties to help guide you on your trip to New York. This page is a New York City 4 Day Itinerary, but we have 3-day and 5-day itineraries depending on the length of your trip.
4 Days in the Big Apple
Many trips to New York are short City Breaks, even from Europe, New York’s position means a flight is only 6-7 hours away and prices can be as low as $300, meaning you can fly in experience the trip of a lifetime and jet out all in a long weekend.
4 days is the sweet spot to get to see most of what interests you but without rushing too much. Longer gives you more time to get under the skin of City while less time is doable but you get more of a highlights reel.
But before we get into the fun stuff there are a few things we need to clarify.
4 Whole Days
Naturally, we do not know exactly how long you have in the City but for the purpose of this Itinanty we are assuming 4 full days, That’s 4 days where you wake up AND fall asleep in the City. This means you will have a travel day on either side of this.
If this does not work for you and you were counting a travel day as one of the 4 then take a look at our 3 – Day Itinerary. Staying Longer, try our 5 Day Itinerary.
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?
One thing we hear over and over on Message Boards and Groups is people saying “We never have an Itinerary, We just go with the flow”. It’s repeated over and over by them in an attempt to get others to follow their lead. Honestly, we wince when we read this “advice”, and just feel it’s people trying to justify their lack of planning!
Let’s be clear we are not proponents of rigid and set itineraries, we always do things our own way and shy well away from anything remotely rigid and organized. Tour groups and things like that which require military adherence and rigid schedules have us running for the hills. Trips need to be fluid, flexible, and in line with your moods, the weather, and unforeseen events. But that does not mean you should not have a plan.
When people say “go with the flow” they just mean make it up as they go along. They mean wake up every day and spend the first hour or two discussing what to do today before wandering around for a bit, ending up in times square again, then the park again, missing out on most of the good attractions and going home feeling the need to ruin everyone else’s trip to make up for their poor planning…Maybe this is a bit harsh.
But we have tried “going with the flow” many times, and it’s got us nowhere, having a plan and trying to execute it, while not being a slave to it, has got us the best, most rewarding travel experiences we have ever had.
The key is not to plan too much. Think of some KEY things you want to do while in the City, work out which are near to each other to minimize traveling, and then fill in the blanks with “maybe’s” or just free time to explore. While many people make the mistake of “going with the flow” many just try and plan too much. They overestimate how much you can do in one day and then feel disappointed they haven’t ticked every box. It’s a fine line, but the key is being fluid and changeable, you might just get to a point in the day and are just exhausted, cramming in anything more will only mean you don’t enjoy what you do, better to take some downtime.
You DON’T need to do everything on your first trip as trust us, you will be back!
All our Itineraries are designed to be doable. They are tried and tested, and pretty bare bones. We have tried to put you in the best parts of the City with loads of time to explore and relax and take everything in.
We only plan a couple of MUST DO’s into each day (these are highlighted) and the rest is optional. Some attractions are paid, some are free. We offer alternatives and some added extra’s if you have time and want to “see it all” but base these on mood and energy levels.
Finally, we don’t actually expect you to follow these exactly. These are just a guide for inspiration. Pull up Microsoft Excel, or Google Sheets, or go old-school with a pen and paper! Plan out your own ideas. only when you get it all down on a page do you really see what works and how you will fit it into a day.
But read on and take inspiration from our itineraries, steal the bits you like, bin the bits you don’t, and have fun making your own plan, but once again, don’t plan too much, and don’t be a slave to it. Be flexible and enjoy things, and maybe, just a little bit, go with the flow from time to time.
Day 0 – Arrival Day
For this day we are almost going to write it off. We are assuming a Travel Day from a fairly distant location and most of the day will be taken up traveling. If you are screeching in from a nearby location you can skip this and count Day-1 as your travel day.
It really is best not to plan too much for Travel Days as delays and tiredness can really add unnecessary stress. Remember just because your flight lands at 2 PM does not mean you will arrive then. You still need to get through the Aiport which can take 30mins-1hr+ then get from the airport to your accommodation, another 1-1.5 hours, and then check-in and get to your room suddenly it’s 5 pm, and your reservation at 4 pm at wherever has been missed.
We find the best thing to do on arrival day is to only plan things that are alterable. Such as exploring Central Park, checking out the Rockerfella Tree at Christmas, Doing a little shopping, taking a look at Times Square, essentially anything that is not going to be a huge disappointment if you are delayed. Simply enjoy the City with the time you have and do not stress about getting anything done, just explore.
It’s the first day and you are likely very tired so a simple dinner normally works best, Something familiar or quick and easy. There are many Chain Restaurants in the City or hunt out some NYC Pizza. Really don’t plan something really important to you as the chances are you will be too tired to care.
Day 1 – Get High
- Good Weather Day
- Getting Around – This Day will mostly be on foot. You can use the Subway, Taxi, or Uber to reduce any long stretches, such as if you find yourself quite a way into the park and just want to get back to your hotel. Bt on the whole this day remains in Midtown and is mostly walkable.
Yes, Cannabis is now legal in New York but this is definitely NOT what we are talking about here! The New York Skyline is one of the most magical sights in the world and getting up above it in one of New Yorks Many Observation Decks is an incomparable experience. So we start our trip off doing just that, Getting High above the City Streets for the best view in the world.
Unless you have flown in transatlantic then we start the Day off climbing to the top of the City. If you aim to be at the Building from 9-9:30 am it gives you time for a nice Hearty Welcome Breakfast. Then give yourselves 1:30-2 hrs to get up the building, take in the stunning views, and get back down again.
Note – We said IF you have not flown transatlantic, if you have you may well be extremely jet-lagged. Use this to your advantage and get out and explore while the day is still young. A sunrise walk in the park or a quiet stroll around Times Square, then be up and ready to get a really good head start on the day
From the Empire State spend some time Exploring. You are on 5th Av and 34th Street so take some time to take all that in, heading into Macy’s, exploring the store, and slowly working your way across to Times Square. Explore the square and maybe grab some lunch.
After this, we recommend exploring Central Park properly. Walk up the Mall, see Bethesda Terrace, get lost in the ramble, and seek out some movie sights. Visiting the Park is one of the most rewarding parts of visiting New York, it is a wonderful patch of nature right in the heart of the metropolis with simply amazing skyline vistas over the trees!
After exploring the park we suggest heading back to your hotel to freshen up ready for the second attraction of the day.
The Summit is New Yorks Newest and most impressive observation deck. Visiting at Sunset gives you 3 different lighting scenes and shows the city and the deck in all its best lights. Early on you get to see the view and the different sections of the deck in daylight. Then as the sun sets the scenery, hopefully, colors up and gives an incredible display. Finally, as it goes dark you get to see the whole city in its wonderful evening dress. The dazzling lights sparkle and the whole scene is completely breathtaking.
The Deck is also indoors and has a lot going on so it’s easier to spend a good amount of time up there. We used to suggest the Rockerfeller deck in this slot, but we now prefer the more varied and interesting summit Deck. You can pass the time before sunset in the Bar, exploring the different sections of the deck and going up in the Glass Elevator.
Note – You will have to book, and book VERY early for Sunset Viewing. The Summit is also not included on any Passes so if you want to use a Pass attraction here definitely consider the Top if The Rock Instead.
It might not seem like it but this sort of day will definitely be tiring but not so much you would be completely shattered. This makes this a good time to fit in a show or a special meal. You could hit a rooftop bar but really you will have had quite a lot of rooftop experiences today already!
Day 2 – Downtown
- Good Weather Day
- Getting Around – While there will be a large amount of walking today, the relocation to Downtown means you are going to need to use some form of transport. We have heard of people walking downtown. But this will take you at least an hour and a half eachway just to reach downtown, and take you past several Subway stations. The best plan here is jump on a subway to whisk you Downtown, explore on foot and then hop back when heading back uptown. You should also use a Subway to get over to Brooklyb Bridge Park, before walking back over the Bridge.
Today we are going to fit some epic New York Sights and Attractions into one day. Today will encompass a lot of walking but you will get to see SO much of the City it’s well worth it.
We start off with one of the most iconic and well-known tourist destinations of them all, the Statue of Liberty. We head here first as unless you have pre-booked you need to grab a ticket (you will need to do this is using a Pass). Getting there early ensures you get the pick of the times. But if you have pre-booked you could rearrange the order of this itinerary to suit.
The Statue Cruise is the only way to actually get to Liberty Island with all other options just getting you a distant view. While some budget-conscious may be ok with just seeing the Statue from battery park we definitely prefer getting out for a closer look. The tour will take 2-3 hours depending on how long you linger on the Islands. If you chose to really go in-depth on Ellis Island you can spend a long time there!
After the cruise back to the Mainland, we will assume it’s around Miday. We head straight to the 911 Museum and Memorial. This is one of New Yorks’s most important locations a really a must-see. It’s a really somber and reflective place. The Museum is pretty Viceral and really takes you back to the events of that day! More Here.
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.
If you have time you can also head up to the One World Observatory. It’s not our favorite observation deck but offers a really different perspective from all the others. It is also the highest. Definitely worth considering if you have an all-inclusive Pass.
From either the WTC or Lower Broadway head east into the financial district and Wall Street. There is loads to see here and it’s amazing to actually be in the center of the world’s financial markets. you can see the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall, the Charging Bull, and various headquarters of some of the oldest and richest financial institutions in America.
Next on the list today is Brooklyn Bridge. The best way to do this is to jump on a Subway, either a red or blue train, and duck under the east river to Brooklyn. Here you can walk down to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here you will get probably the best view of the Manhattan Skyline anywhere in the City. You can walk over to Pebble Beach for more views and up into Dumbo.
After exploring for a while you can head up to the Bridge and hike back across it to Manhattan. We suggest doing it this way as you are looking directly towards Manhattan as you hike the bridge, those who hike it the other way have the best view to their backs!
Chinatown – Optional
Now back on the Island, it’s a short walk up to China Town. Grab some amazing Chinese Food before jumping on a Subway Train back to Midtown.
Tonight is the perfect chance to get up high and enjoy some drinks on top of the world. Find the best Rooftop Bars here.
Dyker Heights – Optional
If you are here at Christmas then we urge you to consider adding the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights onto this part of your trip. These wonderfully decorated homes are part of the holiday experience in New York Now and a real treat. As you are in Brooklyn the Subway ride out is much shorter.
Day 3 – Museums
- Bad Weather Day
- Getting Around – It really is quite incredible how much walking you will do on a day like this and how tired your legs will get. As such, we reccomend making things easier on yourselves and using the Subway to get too and from the Musuems, both of which are midway up the Park.
Any trip to New York would not be complete without at least one trip to a Qoeld Class Museum There are several in the city and for our Itinerary we have planned two of the best.
We head straight to the Natural History Museum to revel in the delights of this incredible Natural World. There is so much to see at the Museum from the intricate Diaroamas to the spectacular Fossil Halls and so much in between. This will take up your full morning. Then head out and grab some lunch, there are some nice Delis near the Museum. Head into the Park for an awesome Picnic.
The Second Museum of the day is very different. The Met looks more at the wonders of Humanity and the impact of the arts over the entire history of our species. It’s anything but a load of old paintings and really is a wonderful place to visit. Read more here.
These two museums are the titans of the Museum world but there are plenty of others if you want to try something different. Our rundown of New Yorks Best Museums can be found here.
Trust us when we say this is more than enough, and you will be shattered after a day like this.
After all that culture, you really deserve to let your hair down and have some fun. A fantastic meal and Show are the perfect way to celebrate in the City, or just head back to another Rooftop bar, or just hit an Irish bar or even a club!
Day 4 – Hudson Yards – Highline – Chelsea
- Moderate Weather Day
- Getting Around – Use the Subway to get over to the west side of the City. There will be alot of walking involved so make sure you save your feet when you can.
Today is a more ad-hoc day. The aim here is exploration, and seeing as much of the City as possible. We start off in Greenwich. There are a host of movie sites in this area you need to check off such as Carrie Bradshaws Apartment, The Friends apartment, and the Ghostbusters Firehouse.
The area around Grennicha Tribeca is really relaxed and nice, hunt out a nice bar to grab some Brunch (we never say no to some Mimosa), and just take in the more residential Side to New York.
After a relaxing time exploring Grennich head over to the start of the High Line. There is a lot going on this side of the city nowadays and the High Line is a great way to link these up. As you stroll along this pleasant inner-city park, converted from a disused elevated Railway, you can break off to check out the attractions along the way.
First up is Little Island. This new floating park is a modern and interesting park space built on floating platforms above the Hudson. It’s an odd little curiosity and one you have to check out.
Chelsea Market is right at the heart of the hip and trendy meatpacking district and is filled with artisan stores and traders. The perfect place to pick up lunch and great for finding nice little trinkets to take home as souvenirs, you are sure to find something much nicer than some tat from a Times Square junk shop!
Finally, we come to the New Hudson Yards Development. This area of the City was an empty disused railyard until the $25billion redevelopment that required building a platform over the rail yard and springing up some of the Cities latest and shinest Skyscrapers. Taking of which…
As your trip is now painfully drawing to a close there is just one final chance to get up high and take in that view, this time at the amazing Edge Viewing Deck. This brand new deck protrudes out of the side of the building offering glass floors, stunning views, and a narrow point that provides that “Titanic” moment over 1000ft above the ground with the incredible New York Cityscape all around. Take time to sample a glass of Champagne from the bar as you savor this incredible City.
Intrepid – Optional
If you have time and are interesting in Military history the Intrepid Museum sits at the end of the High Line. This incredible Museum is set o the decks of the USS Intrepid Aircraft Carriers and has some of the best Aircraft ever to fly in its decks. There is also one of the remaining Concords and the Space Shuttle Enterprise on display. Read more here, it’s well worth Checking out!
As today has focused on the west side of New York, Today is the perfect chance to hit Hell’s Kitchen. Restaurant Row has a huge number of amazing restaurants covering just about every imaginable cuisine in the world. If you can’t find something amazing to eat here you really are a lost cause!
Day 5 – Leaving Day
Like the arrival day, we rarely plan anything too exciting for our leaving day. We tend to spend the day filling any blanks we missed or, just exploring parts of the city we missed, or really enjoyed for an encore!
As we usually arrive from the UK, our flights out tend to be Red-Eye’s leaving late on in the afternoon or early evening so we still get almost a full day but it never feels that way.
We normally take a long lazy lunch and grab drinks somewhere along the way. With all the stress of packing up and checking out (we leave luggage with the concierge until it’s time to leave), it isn’t worth having a rigid plan, and we are always clock watching, ready to head out to the airport.
New York Attraction Pass
For this Itinerary, we have listed 7 Paid attractions for you to visit. This can end up being quite costly.
- 1 – Empire State Building -$45
- 2 – Top Of The Rock / One World Observatory -$43
- 3 – Statue Of Liberty -$23.50
- 4 – 911 Museum -$28
- 5 – American Museum Of Natural History -$23
- 6 – The Met -$25
- 7 – The Edge -$41.50
Total – $229 per person!
That is quite an outlay, and many people will start cutting from the list to save some money. However, there is a great way you can save money on visiting attractions without cutting things out and that is by using an attractions pass.
There are several options for New York and one of our favorites is the Go New York City Explorer Pass. A 7 attraction Pass, that would cover all the above attractions costs only $169, saving you over $60. (even more with our Discount Codes)
Also if you are intent on seeing and doing everything there is also the New York Pass, this is an all-inclusive pass, and if you added in a few of our optional attractions such as One World Observatory and The Intrepid Museum then the total cost would come to $306. A 4 Day New York Pass is only $206 saving over $100, and there is room for a whole load more!
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!