Planning 3 days in New York City? How can anyone fit the whole of the Big Apple into 72 hours? The short answer is: you can’t. But, you can still have a memorable, culture-filled short break in the city that very rarely sleeps.
Organization is key. That doesn’t mean spreadsheets and print-outs (nobody likes that guy), but a three-day NYC itinerary will be your handy companion for a whistle-stop tour of the city.
This New York guide will focus on just a handful of must-see hotspots; classics, with some inspiration for where to eat thrown in. If you’re looking for the anti-tourist itinerary, check out some cool and unusual things to do in NYC.
3 Days in New York City: Day One
Morning: Take a stroll through Central Park
We’ve all seen that famous view of Central Park from above: a perfect block of lush greenery stretching out into Manhattan with an army of concrete buildings hugging its edges so perfectly, it’s as if the park is protected by some invisible force field.
A stroll through the world’s most-filmed public park – featured in Elf, Night at the Museum, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and loads more – is on most people’s list of things to do in New York. You can easily spend a whole morning within its gates.
Take in the prehistoric bedrock of the park, which is thought to be between 190 million and 1.1 billion years old. See charming sculptures like Alice in Wonderland, and Balto, the heroic Siberian husky. Take in the view from Belvedere Castle, and visit the Strawberry Fields memorial to the Beatles’ John Lennon. Find your own nooks and crannies for a peaceful pit stop, and cast your eye over Cleopatra’s Needle.
If you want to see the entire park in one morning, why not opt for Central Park Bike Rental, and find hidden gems with the help of the park’s app. It’s narrated by notable New Yorkers like Whoopi Goldberg, Scarlett Johansson and Matthew Broderick.
Afternoon: Get lost in the world’s largest natural history museum
The American Museum of Natural History is an icon of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The world-renowned museum, conveniently located across the street from Central Park, is home to over 30 million specimens and artifacts. There really is something for everyone, but if you’re a nut for natural sciences it’s especially worth an afternoon of your trip.
Enter via Central Park West for a good look at an imagined prehistoric encounter between a plucky Allosaurus and a protective Barosaurus momma. Wave at the Alaskan brown bears in the Hall of North American Mammals, and gawp at the size of the blue whale model which hangs dominantly from the ceiling in the Hall of Ocean Life. You can chat to the Theodore Roosevelt statue all you like, he won’t respond. (Not until after dark, at least.)
Marvel at Effie, a 21,000-year-old baby mammoth, as you explore the museum’s huge collection of prehistoric fossils. If cosmic happenings are more your thing, delve deep into the 13-billion-year history of the universe at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The Willamette Meteorite, all 15.5 tons of it, is mind-blowing.
We could go on (and on), but best to just see it for yourself. Don’t miss the ever-changing special exhibitions, including jaw-dropping displays inside the Hayden Planetarium narrated by the sexiest voice in physics, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Foodie Tip: Places to eat near Central Park
There are plenty of expensive and busy places to eat near Central Park. Baker’s Pizza’s hole-in-the-wall is just a short metro ride away. It’s also cheap, cheerful and delicious.
This is no tasteless house of dollar pizza. Jemima K described her life-altering pepperoni slice as “a work of art” that “ceased all conversation”. Need we say more?
3 Days in New York City: Day Two
Morning: Take a cruise to the Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty, America’s Great Lady, Mother of Exiles; she goes by many names. Just a glance inside any NYC gift shop is enough to understand the hold that the Statue of Liberty has over the city’s iconography.
You can just about make out the shape of the statue from Battery Park. If you value your eyesight though, the best experience is to take a boat out to Liberty Island and see Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s copper whopper up close.
Up close, you can actually see that the giant statue is mid-stride. There are audio guides that go into fascinating detail about the statue’s symbolic meaning, including the chains and shackles cast aside by her feet.
Remember, if you want to climb the 377 steps from the main lobby to the crown platform, you have to book this well in advance. Fancy a slightly more exhilarating view of the statue in the summer? Hold on to your hat and take a ride on The Beast.
Afternoon: Discover America’s long history of immigration
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
These words from Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus”, inscribed on the book in Lady Liberty’s left hand, have come to symbolize American values and the idea of the statue as the welcoming mother of those arriving in the United States.
New York’s modern metropolis was moulded by immigrants. In fact, it’s estimated that over 40% of Americans had an ancestor arrive at Ellis Island for processing. European Jews, Russians, Greeks, Italians and others all sailed towards the Land of the Free in search of a better life, many of whom were greeted by Lady Liberty as they arrived.
Someone’s brain brought pizza on those ships, for which all Americans, and crime-fighting turtles, are eternally grateful.
Now, the 27-acre islet in New York Harbor is home to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, easily accessible from Liberty Island, which tells moving stories of dreamers who emigrated to the United States over almost 500 years.
Through photos, authentic artifacts, and an in-depth audio tour, trace the immigrant journey during periods before, during and after the Ellis Island era with a self-guided tour. It’s an experience which puts the bustling, multi-cultural city of New York into fascinating context.
Foodie Tip: The best food markets in New York
Does your trip fall on a weekend? It does? Well aren’t you lucky.
Smorgasburg is the largest weekly open-air food market in America, with locals and visitors alike flocking to Brooklyn for a taste of its sumptuous street food. Eat Ethiopian or gruffle greek gyros. Chow down on bao, and sample the melted marvels that are mozzarella sticks.
All the food-market favorites are available and vegans are well catered for. Eat from 100 local vendors across two locations: Williamsburg waterfront (Saturdays) and Brooklyn Flea (Sundays). Make sure to go on an empty stomach!
3 Days in New York City: Day Three
Morning: Spend the morning with the greats of American art
We have sculptor and art aficionado Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to thank for the treasure chest of American art in New York. Back in the 1930s, European art was very much in vogue, and Whitney became exasperated with the lack of recognition being afforded to homegrown artists.
So, she started her own museum. The Whitney Museum of American Art continues to champion American artists to this day. See pieces by lauded names like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper. Get to know up-and-coming American artists across exhibits of paintings, sculptures, drawings, videos, photography, and new media.
Whitney, as the initiated call it, is at one end of the High Line, New York’s leafy urban rail trail. Why not take in the urban-garden walkway, after your artistic escapade?
Afternoon: Hit the heights for the best views of NYC
One World Observatory
There’s something kind of poetic about rounding off your three days in NYC by taking in sweeping views of this insomniac city. One World Observatory is so much more than your bog-standard lookout deck. The proof’s in the long queues to get in (skip them all by buying them online).
Hop in a SkyPod (that’s an elevator to you and me) and see an LED timelapse of New York’s transition from forest-covered wetland to concrete jungle, as you rise high above the honking yellow cabs and hot dog stands.
Walk over a hyper-real glass floor streaming live videos of the streets below, and listen to fact-laden talks from passionate staff. Grab an augmented-reality iPad and take a helicopter tour of the city.
And, of course, there are the views. The romantic in us says: Aim for sunset, and take in the dying embers of the day during golden hour to wrap up your golden, three-day trip to New York.
Foodie Tip: Stop by the best food truck in NYC
Thiru Kumar – aka the Dosa Man – has been serving mouthwatering Sri Lankan dosas in Washington Square Park since 2001. Thiru is a bit of a celebrity these days, but his veggie-friendly dosas and curries retain all the homestyle flavor they did when he first pitched up his cart all those years ago.
If you’re in town, just check his Twitter account in the morning to make sure he’s serving his delicious street food that day. It’s a 20-minute walk from the Whitney, perfect for lunch!