The Best 3-Day Itinerary for New York City if You Want to See Everything!

This past January I went on a girls’ trip with my best friend, mom, and sister to New York City! My family and I usually spend a day in the City whenever we go to visit family in New Jersey, but this trip was different. We spent a whole THREE days in Manhattan (no train ride in and out of the city!), and it was my friend’s first time ever visiting New York. So even though it was a relatively short trip, we maxed out our itinerary to make the most of it!

Pro Tip: We bought the New York City City Pass on our first day because it included admission to basically all of our must-sees for a much cheaper price and (more importantly) it helped us save time by skipping the ticket lines at most of the attractions. We bought our passes at Rockefeller Center, but you could save even more time by buying them online!

Day 1:

10 a.m. – The MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I think it’s safe to say that my friend, an art history major, was the most excited out of our group to visit this museum. There were hundreds of pieces of beautiful art displayed here that we wouldn’t have completely understood if she didn’t act as our private museum guide. She helped explain the purpose and style of many of the sculptures and paintings that we stared at blankly. But even as someone uneducated in art, I was impressed by the immense variety of art on display. Pieces from so many different nations, regions, and eras were housed in this one massive collection. (And I had just watched Ocean’s Eight so I was imagining Anne Hathaway walking the same halls!)

3 p.m. – Times Square

The bright, shining billboards. The overwhelming amount of people zigzagging around. Every major corporation accounted for in the stores that line the streets. It’s iconically New York. And as one subway poster put it, it’s also “where culture goes to die.” My personal opinion is that if you’re visiting New York for the very first time, you can’t NOT go. See all the crazy characters and caricatures dressed up for photos. Experience the chaos and busyness at least once, and then you can choose if it’s worth returning to.

6:30 p.m. – Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock

If I am being honest, this may be my favorite place in New York. It could be from watching Elf so many times, but Rockefeller Center just feels like such a happy, romantic place to me. In contrast to Times Square, the crowds of people here seem peaceful and joyous as they glide across the ice and wander down the street.

On this trip, I discovered one more reason to love Rockefeller Center- Top of the Rock! It was literally the most amazing experience of our entire trip. And you must go at night. The observation deck atop Rockefeller Center, called Top of the Rock, offers incredible views of New York City no matter what time of day you go, but at night, you get to see the whole city lit up against the dark night sky. Thousands of shining lights make the city feel alive in front of you, and from so high up, it actually feels like you can see the entire city. The Empire State Building and Times Square are easily visible, too. Warning: As beautiful as the view was, it was also January and freezing so bundle up if you go in winter!

Day 2:

10 a.m. – Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is big, beautiful, and a great spot to take corny photos, but after a few minutes, you’ll be freezing and ready to get back on the ferry (if you visit in the winter). On the other hand, none of us had ever been to Ellis Island before, and we definitely underestimated all there is to do and see there. We got to retrace the steps of millions of immigrants that passed through this building as we toured the large reception room, bunk rooms, and more. The displays of personal belongings, travel papers, diaries, etc. makes the experience feel even more real. Plus, for a small fee, you can sit at one of the computers in the library and research if any of your relatives may have passed through Ellis Island. We got quite a few hits from our search! Overall, exploring this place really transports you back in time, although plenty of the museum’s content is also relevant to today.

4 p.m. – 9/11 Museum and Memorial

I was truly amazed by how well this museum memorializes and honors the victims of the 9/11 attack. From the moment you walk in, you are immersed into that day. You hear voice recordings of interviews and conversations between loved ones playing from speakers all around you. You see wreckage from the buildings’ collapses, crushed rescue vehicles, and tattered articles of clothing from survivors. The gravity and sadness of this event is palpable in the air and reinforced by visitors’ solemn silence as they move from display to display. It is heartbreaking to relive that day through the exhibits, but there is also so much care and detail in honoring all those affected by this tragedy. Honestly, it was difficult to go to dinner afterwards and have regular conversation because you leave so aware of the pain that 9/11 caused (which is why I recommend doing this towards the end of the day), but I believe visiting the museum and experiencing the exhibits for yourself is definitely something everyone should make time for when they’re in New York.

The beautiful, black marble (?) memorial pools that now mark where the World Trade Center once stood had a similar effect on us.

7 p.m. – Chelsea Market

Housed in the same building as Food Network’s headquarters, this gorgeous indoor market is a must! Even if you don’t buy anything (because prices can be ridiculously high), the market is still a great place to wander around. There’s plenty of restaurants to browse, sweet shops and bakeries to peruse, and clothing stores to gawk at. Some personal recommendations if you’re looking for snacks that won’t cost you an arm and a leg are the hot, fresh mini donuts at “Doughnuttery” and scrumptious tacos from “Los Tacos No. 1.”

Day 3:

10 a.m. – The American Museum of Natural History

Honestly, if I hadn’t watch Night at the Museum, this one wouldn’t have been as worth it for me. But since I did see the movie, my number one priority was finding the Dumb Dumb statue (aka Easter Island head)! Of course, the other exhibits were impressive, too. Huge animals, fossils, and tribal relics take the spotlight in any room you walk into. Plus, because we had the City Pass, we had access to the space show, Dark Universe. It had mesmerizing visuals even if I didn’t fully understand the science explained in the film (sorry, I was an English major). I highly recommend taking advantage of this exhibit if you have the chance.

1 p.m. – Central Park

The museum leads right out onto Central Park so this was the perfect opportunity to explore the park! We walked heading south and got glimpses of towering trees, chilly ponds, and FAT squirrels. If you can, climbing up on the rock structures throughout the park gives you an even better vantage point, and they’re the perfect spot for photos.

3 p.m. – The Empire State Building

More Elf feelings! If I’m being honest, I associate way too much of New York with movies, but back to real life πŸ˜‰ . The Empire State Building was much more of a curated experience than Top of the Rock was with its history exhibits and a surprise visit from King Kong on the observation deck. However, because we visited the Empire State Building during the day, I actually preferred Top of the Rock! The view of the city during the day just doesn’t compare to seeing the skyline at night. Not to mention, when we went the wind was INSANE so most of our observing happened from inside the closed portion of the observation deck where we weren’t at risk for frostbite.

Aaaahhhh, New York, until next time. . . .

12 thoughts on “The Best 3-Day Itinerary for New York City if You Want to See Everything!

  1. Pingback: NYC in Winter: What to Wear – Memories and Mayhem

  2. New York is a great place to go for a girls’ holiday. I loved seeing the iconic places, and I agree you have to go to Times Square at least once, just to experience it for yourself. The 9/11 Memorial is a must also.

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  3. I’ve been to NY several times but have yet to do the touristy stuff!!! I’m thinking of combining it with a cruise,thank you for the great tips!!!

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  4. Three days is aggressive but you got a lot done – bravo. I have been many times for work so get a few days here and there – I would love to get 3 days straight to try to see more! Great itinerary you pulled together!

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