what-to-see-and-do-in-new-york-city-the-perfect-three-day-itinerary

New York City is one of the most magical and fun cities in the States. There’s so much to see, do and eat and there’s never a dull moment. Visiting New York City is like stepping into one of those romcoms or tv shows that take place there. You’re surrounded by enjoyable chaos and a feeling of pure happiness. In fact, I was lucky and grateful enough to call New York City “home” for a few months. Even then, I still didn’t get to see everything that the city has to offer in the three months that I lived there.

Most of my friends who visit try to cram a trillion things to do in just one weekend. That’s how many awesome things there are to do there. I know most of you who are reading this post are from the States and are planning to visit New York City as a weekend getaway. While you probably have an endless list of things you want to do, not all of it is probably going to happen for you. There’s simply not enough time in three days to do everything. But, don’t worry. I’ve created the perfect three-day itinerary for New York City for you.

I’ve made your life easier by breaking down major tourist attractions and hotspots and organizing them into three days. You basically have a schedule for each day. As I mentioned before, this post doesn’t cover everything in New York City because there’s no way you can do it in just three days. This just means that there’s another reason for you to go back and explore more. What a great problem to have. Lastly, I’ve also included some yummy restaurants you should eat at because the food scene in New York City does not disappoint. Side note – I’ve eaten at all of these places. I’m not just recommending random restaurants to you. Okay, I’m going to stop yapping so you can read this awesome three-day itinerary for New York City.

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Day 1 in NYC:

The early bird seriously gets the worm in NYC. Your time is limited here so you want to make the most of it. I recommend getting up at around 6:30 or 7:00 on your first full day here. You can sleep on your flight home. This allows you to get as much sightseeing done as possible on your first day so you can take it a little easy on Days 2 and 3. Stop by a cafe near your accommodation and grab a quick bagel and coffee. Then, go out and seize the day.

Central Park

I personally think that Central Park should be the first thing you experience to kick off your three-day itinerary for New York City the right way. Central Park has a beautiful combination of greenery and stunning views of skyscrapers. It’s the place for locals to be on a weekend. I actually lived off of 103rd and Central Park and went there every day. Even though it’s right in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, you’ll find it to be calm and relaxing. There are heaps of cafes and restaurants in Central Park in case you need a mid-morning snack. You can also rent bicycles if you’re interested. I recommend walking around Central Park for an hour or so.

Central Park should be added on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Central Park has so many hidden gems including small lakes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

There are three Met Museums in New York City – The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters. The Met Fifth Avenue is just a few minutes’ walk from Central Park depending on where you exit the park. It’s the largest museum in the United States and showcases 5000 years of art from around the world. I think that their Egyptian collection is the most fascinating.

Tickets are $25 for adults. Discounts are offered for seniors and students. Don’t forget to pack your student ID card if you have one to save a good chunk of money on entrance tickets. Also, your ticket is valid for three consecutive days for all three museums. You can purchase your tickets here and take a look at their opening hours. Purchasing your tickets online will save you so much time. I recommend spending around two to three hours here.

The Metropolitan Museum is a must do on your three-day itinerary for New York City
You’re going to love going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on your three-day itinerary for New York City

If you’re not interested in this museum, there are two other great ones in the area: the American Museum of Natural History and the iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. If you’re a museum junkie like my husband, feel free to spend a little time at all of them.

5th Avenue

Next up on your three-day itinerary for New York City is to stroll down 5th Avenue. If your budget allows for it, feel free to do some high end shopping along the way. Even if you don’t plan on shopping, you should still walk into Saks Fifth Avenue. That store is impressive. By now, you’re probably hungry and are looking for lunch. There are heaps of restaurants and food trucks along this street that will satisfy whatever you’re craving.

Saks Fifth Avenue for your three day itinerary for New York City
Be sure to go in and take a look around Saks Fifth Avenue

Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock

Rockefeller Center is right around the corner from 5th Avenue and should be next on your itinerary for the day. This is where the famous Christmas tree gets put every year. It’s basically a massive complex that consists of 19 commercial buildings. This is home to several restaurants, stores, television networks, and business offices. You’ve definitely earned an afternoon coffee and you need the energy to finish the day off strong. Blue Bottle Coffee is the best and it’s a must-try.

Rockefeller Center is another must on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Rockefeller Center is a great place to explore on your three-day itinerary for New York City

Top of the Rock is an observatory at the top of Rockefeller Center. You’ll see gorgeous views of the city from here and you’ll see a stunning view of the Empire State Building. One adult ticket costs $38 and there’s a small discount for seniors and children. Unfortunately, there aren’t any student discounts. You can also purchase a VIP ticket which entitles you to expedited entry and priority elevator access. This ticket costs $75. Personally, I don’t think the VIP ticket is worth it. You can pay for your lunch or dinner with that extra savings. You can purchase your tickets here.

Radio City Music Hall

If you’re interested in seeing Radio City, this is right around the corner from Rockefeller Center. If you’re not interested, you can skip it. It’s the headquarters for the Rockettes. I’ve only been inside briefly, but you’re honestly not missing out. Just take a photo with the building and call it good.

Radio City Music Hall needs to be added to your three-day itinerary for New York City
Radio City Music Hall is another icon in New York City

Times Square

Let’s finish Day 1 on our three-day itinerary for New York City at Times Square. I feel like I don’t need to give you a description of Times Square. It’s an icon and everyone around the world knows about it. Being the most lively and buzzing area of New York City, it’s packed with tourists, talented street performers, restaurants, bright lights, shopping, and more. It’s actually my favorite people-watching spot. Have dinner and drinks in Times Square and call it a night. There are so many delicious dining options and you won’t go wrong.

Times Square is something you have to put on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Times Square truly is a busy yet fun area in New York City

I don’t know if they’re still there or not, but there was a group of girls running around harassing male tourists for photos. The top part of their body was naked and painted red, white, and blue. Their tatas were just out and about. Since they were painted, I assume it was okay. Anyway, they would specifically target males and pose for a photo for a tip. They weren’t happy with less than a $5 tip and would harass them for more money. It was always funny to watch the male tourists’ partners freak out.

Day 2 in NYC:

Day 1 was a little tiring, huh? But, isn’t it cool how much you were able to see and explore in just one day as part of your three-day itinerary for New York City? I promised you that Days 2 and 3 would be a little slower paced. On Day 2, feel free to sleep in until 7:30 or 8:00 am. Your feet are probably tired from all the walking on Day 1 and you need your rest to end this trip strong.

Staten Island Ferry/Statue of Liberty

The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry that takes you from Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan to St. George Terminal on Staten Island. In my opinion, it’s the best bargain that New York City offers as it’s completely free and gives you great views. The ride lasts around 30 minutes and it’s available 24/7. This website has all of the operating times so you can plan your visit accordingly.

The best part is that this ferry offers you a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty is on everyone’s itinerary for New York City, but I highly recommend just seeing it from the Staten Island Ferry and not taking an official tour of it.

Me with the Statue of Liberty — don't forget this on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Taking the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty is a must for any three-day itinerary for New York City

When you get onboard in Manhattan, try to find a seat upstairs on the starboard (right) side. You are guaranteed to have the best view of the Statue of Liberty from the ferry.

Lastly, be wary of anyone trying to sell you tickets for the Staten Island Ferry. There’s no charge to use the ferry.

Wall Street

When you return to Manhattan from Staten Island, head over to Wall Street next. You might want to grab lunch along the way or you can eat around the Financial District. Wall Street is another icon that’s known around the world and it houses many chief financial institutions. This is where the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are. Further, don’t forget to take a photo with the infamous Charging Bull.

Me standing in front of the stock exchange in New York City — add this on your three-day itinerary for New York City
The New York Stock Exchange

One World Trade Center

The One World Trade Center is the main building of the World Trade Center complex. It houses several office buildings. You can also pay to go to the observatory and experience more views of New York City. However, I don’t recommend spending $35 on that. Just take a few photos with the building outside and call it good.

One World Trade Center cannot be skipped on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Don’t forget to add One World Trade Center to your three-day itinerary for New York City

Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a must for your three-day itinerary for New York City. I recommend taking a subway to Brooklyn and then walking across from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The view of the Manhattan skyline is just spectacular. I think you’ll need around 45 minutes to cross the bridge and this includes you walking at a slower pace and stopping to take several photos.

Brooklyn Bridge at night for a three-day itinerary for New York City
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at night

Empire State Building

The Empire State building used to be the tallest building in the world. However, it has now lost that title. There is an observation deck at the top of the building that provides you with more beautiful views of New York City. There are several packages offered and they start at $42. You can buy tickets here if you’re interested. Instead, I recommend going to a rooftop bar and catching your views of the Empire State Building from here. It’s probably already time for an early-evening cocktail anyway.

Empire State Building is a can't miss on your three-day itinerary for New York City
Empire State Building is another important icon to add to your three-day itinerary for New York City

Broadway Show

Let’s end Day 2 of your three-day itinerary for New York City by watching a show on Broadway. In case you didn’t know, Broadway is actually the name of a street. It’s lined with theaters and shows. Some of the most popular shows include Wicked, The Lion King, Hamilton, and more. I would recommend doing your research and purchasing your tickets ahead of time as there are so many agencies that sell tickets. Plus, buying your tickets ahead of time ensures that you’ll get the seat that you want. Here’s where I buy my tickets.

Broadway is a must on your three-day itinerary for New York City
You have to add “watch a Broadway show” on your three-day itinerary for New York City

After your show is over, go have a nice dinner and some cocktails. You deserve it, you adventurous soul. Be sure to get a good night’s rest so we can tackle your final day on your three-day itinerary for New York City.

Day 3 in NYC:

Welcome to your final day of exploring New York City. I know you’re enjoying your adventure so far. Let’s finish this getaway off strong.

9/11 Memorial & Museum

I saved these two things for your last day in New York City. Personally, I left the memorial and museum feeling incredibly sad and heartbroken. As a result, I wasn’t able to really enjoy the other activities I did later in the day. The memorial and museum honor those who were tragically killed in the gruesome attacks of 9/11.

9/11 Memorial has to be added to your three-day itinerary for New York City
The 9/11 Museum and Memorial will be the most sobering experience on your three-day itinerary for New York City

You can learn more about the events at the museum through the numerous exhibitions. I highly recommend taking your time here. This is not a place where you want to rush yourself.  You can purchase your tickets here and there is a discount for college students.

The memorial is where the former World Trade Center complex stood and has twin reflecting pools that commemorate those who lost their lives. Their names are etched into bronze stones. The memorial is free of charge.

Chelsea Market

It’s probably now lunchtime so let’s go to Chelsea Market. Chelsea Market is one of the best food halls in New York City and has all kinds of yummy food. You can find tacos, sushi, macaroni and cheese and more. I actually had a delicious mac and cheese here. This is located in the Meatpacking District. If time permits, walk around this area when you’re finished eating at Chelsea Market.

Chelsea Market is a must on your three-day itinerary for New York City
What yummy foods are you going to eat at in Chelsea Market?

Flatiron Building

You can’t go inside of this building, but it’s worth taking a few photos of as the architecture is truly unique. As its name suggests, this building is shaped like a flatiron and houses several office buildings.

Flatiron Building is a unique thing to add to your three-day itinerary for New York City
See what I mean about the unique shape of the Flatiron Building?

Grand Central Terminal

Yes, I put a train station on your three-day itinerary for New York City. But, it’s not just a train station. It’s a shopping and dining venue also. It’s typically described as the largest and busiest passenger train station in terms of volume. Odds are that you’ll actually be traveling through here anyway and you won’t have to go out of your way to see this awesome station.

Grand Central Terminal for your three-day itinerary for New York City
Grand Central Terminal in New York City

This is officially the end of your three-day itinerary for New York City. You survived this great, big city even though I jam-packed your days in. I’m only halfway sorry about that. You can use this evening to do whatever you want because you deserve it.

Best Places to Eat in New York City

Here’s the fun part – food. These are a few of my favorite restaurants in New York City. I’ve personally eaten at all of these places and I’m sure you will love them. If you need something fun to do on your last evening since I left that up to you, you might consider doing a food crawl. There are so many delicious things you need to try and not enough time.

Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle

This restaurant is located and Chinatown and it’s a no-frills type situation. The queue can be quite long, but it’s worth it. Don’t expect anything too fancy. It’s a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and they pack people in. You’re expected to leave as soon as you’re finished eating. There’s no time for chit-chat as the owners are focused on getting customers in and out as efficiently and fast as possible.

There are a few dishes they’re known for and they all consist of homemade, hand-pulled noodles. Hence, the name. The noodle soup is delicious and their pan-fried noodles are even better. The prices are cheap and they only accept cash. This is my absolute favorite place to eat in New York City.

La Masseria

This is a homemade Italian restaurant that will blow your mind. It’s located on Broadway so it’s the perfect place to grab a bowl of pasta and a drink after a show. Their Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese is the best. You’ll never want your bowl of pasta to end.

Bareburger

I know people are obsessed with Shake Shack and won’t even consider another burger joint. But, I promise you that Bareburger is more superior. There are a few locations around New York City and all of their ingredients are organic and fresh. Drop by and get a milkshake even if you’re not feeling a burger. Their milkshakes are the definition of delicious.

$1 Pizza Slices

The $1 pizza slices you see all over New York City make for the perfect snack or lunch. You can’t visit New York City without getting a $1 slice. You would be doing New York City an injustice if you did that. My favorite pizza joint is 2 Bros Pizza and they have quite a few locations scattered around the city.


Nathan’s Famous

This place is my jam. They have the best hot dogs and fries ever. They have a few restaurants and food carts. Both options are great. When I craved fast food in New York City, this was always my go-to.

Quality Meats

If you’re on a budget when traveling to New York City, this is not the place to go. However, this is the perfect place to go if you’re in the mood for steak and splurging. This is one of my favorite steakhouses in the entire world. It’s totally worth the prices. Definitely make a reservation before you go and don’t forget to order the parmesan waffle fries.

Aroma Espresso Bar

This place is perfect for breakfast or a quick lunch. It’s right around the corner from One World Trade Center. Their prices are very reasonable and their food is delicious. I don’t remember much about the coffee because I wasn’t a coffee drinker when I was living in New York City. However, I can fully attest that you won’t go wrong with anything you order there.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

New York City isn’t really a place you go to eat good barbeque. Being from the South, I don’t put up with subpar barbeque. But, Dinosaur knows what they’re doing. It’s quite reasonable for New York City and their ribs and brisket are simply finger-licking good.

Jimmy’s Corner

Jimmy’s Corner is the place to go if you’re looking for cheap alcoholic drinks. It’s situated on a side street near Times Square and no one knows about it except for locals – and well, you. Have I mentioned that it’s cheap? I got a bottle of beer there for $1 during happy hour. How is that even possible in New York City?

I hope that you found this three-day itinerary for New York City helpful. As long as you follow my itinerary, you’re bound to have a great time. Although there is much more to see in New York City, this itinerary will take you to the major attractions in your limited amount of time. I know you’ll already be planning your next visit back to this wonderful city.

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About Author

Disha is a travel and lifestyle blogger who has visited 85+ countries with South Africa and the Maldives being her favorites. She gets butterflies sharing her travel and life experiences through words. She loves freedom, sunflowers, and long walks on the beach with her husband. She's obsessed with helping others live a life they don't have to escape from. Lastly, she makes travel more accessible, inclusive and attainable one trip at a time.

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14 Comments

  1. This itinerary is perfect! I’ve always placed NY on the backburner on my places to go because I feel like I can never have enough time with this place – there’s just too much going on! But this definitely seems to squeeze the best of New York into 3 days and now I’m reinvigorated to attempt it at long last! 😍 Thanks for the motivational boost!

  2. I love New York, always ready to visit the city again! I’ve discovered a few new places from your post, like Aroma Espresso Bar and Nathan’s Famous (can’t believe I’ve missed their hot dogs)! Thanks for sharing!

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