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Ever since I was old enough to comprehend moving pictures, and progressed from cartoons to non-animation, I grew up watching American TV. And I would always see the glamorous side of New York City portrayed in shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Gossip Girl and Sex and the City. It always looked so chic and like the coolest people lived here, I grew up desperate to visit the Big Apple. So when the opportunity came to visit New York, I made sure to spend as much time as possible here so I could experience eeeeeverything! I spent 10 days in New York, mainly because I didn’t want to rush my experience here and I have a severe case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Ordinarily, New York can actually be done in a lot less time, so in this post, I will be sharing my 4 days in New York itinerary with all the things you have to do without FOMO, condensed into 4 days!
New York City is actually pretty walkable, and most locals walk. A lot. Otherwise, NYC’s public transportation system is pretty well connected. We purchased a 7-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard which allowed us to take both unlimited rides on the subway and bus. It only costs $32! That’s a lot cheaper than you would expect for a city like this. Individual subway or bus rides cost $2.75, so you’ll just need to ride 12 times to break even. Also, you can’t come to New York and not ride the Subway?!
The best way to get around is with Google Maps and an internet connection, so you always have the latest bus and train connections at your fingertips. I highly recommend getting an international e-SIM, like Airalo that lets you roam anywhere in the world. The best thing is it’s an e-SIM so everything can be just done via the app. You can forget about switching SIM cards and running the risk of losing these pesky little things!
Alternatively, you can always download an offline map on Google Maps and try to find your way around. This works if you’re super confident in reading the map, as you can’t view bus and train times with the offline map.
The biggest question I had while looking for accommodation was, “Which neighborhood should I stay in New York?” since everything is so spread out. Should I stay in the heart of it all–Manhattan and contend with the noise and crowds? Or somewhere in Williamsburg or Brooklyn–where it’s much quieter and rental prices are cheaper, but I’d have to commute into Manhattan every day?
After much deliberation, I decided to stay in Manhattan, so it was convenient to hop back to our hotel any time during the day (which was a really wise choice!).
If this is your first time in New York, I would recommend staying in Manhattan, particularly in Midtown. Prices are a bit high here, but you may be able to snag an affordable Airbnb if you book early. Otherwise, prices get a little cheaper once you move South toward Tribeca. Bear in mind though, Manhattan is a very busy city so be ready to put up with street noises. There seems to be construction going on everywhere too, so get some earplugs!
⇢ New to Airbnb? Check out my complete guide on Everything You Need To Know When Booking On Airbnb (Even If It's Not Your First Time!)
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Sightseeing in New York can be expensive. But with the CityPASS, you can save up to 40% on the top attractions in New York, including the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, American Museum of Natural History, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, and more!
The CityPASS is a prepaid ticket booklet that allows you to skip the line and save up to 50% with their special discounted prices! You can choose between their 3 or 6-attraction pass, depending on how many attractions you plan to visit. Instead of constraining yourself to seeing all attractions within a day or two, you can spread these out over a relaxing few days as the pass is valid for 9 consecutive days. Click here to get your pass!
(This is accurate as of January 23 2019.)
4 Days in New York Itinerary
*You can refer to my map that’s color-coded based on the days in the itinerary detailed below.
The thing with such a popular city is that you’ll have to anticipate crowds every single day, every season (as you’ll see in my photos). The best times to avoid crowds are first thing in the morning or really late at night. However, you can’t afford to only be sightseeing early in the morning and late at night, so you’ll just have to contend with the crowds at certain attractions. So keep this in mind when planning your trip.
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Day 1: National Museum of Natural History, Central Park, The Met, Midtown, Times Square
Visit the National Museum of History first thing in the morning, as the line for tickets can get really long. Or, skip the line by purchasing the CityPASS! Duration: 2-3 hours
Take a stroll through the famous Central Park, featured in numerous movies and TV shows. Be warned that it is huge! It might even be better to cycle around the park. Duration: 1-2 hours
New York City is filled with art museums, and if you only visit one, make it the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There’s even a rooftop garden that’s worth a visit. Also, be sure to sit on the Met steps just like in Gossip Girl! Bonus points if you bring your own yogurt. Also, it’s super cool to know that so many celebrities have walked up and down these stairs at the annual Met Gala.
Avoid wandering aimlessly around the extensive collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York with a 2-hour guided tour. Learn about the burial rites of Ancient Egypt and see the well-preserved tombs. Hear all the gossip about the Temple of Dendur and the Antioch Chalice. Save your previous sightseeing time and skip the line, and see the best of the museum with a guide that can take you to the highlights. Book your guided tour here.
Duration: 1-2 hours (depending on your interest)
The world-famous Grand Central Station often featured in movies and TV shows is one of the busiest train stations in the world. But that doesn’t steal from the allure of this architectural marvel. Aside from being a transportation hub, it also boasts myriad restaurants and shops. There’s even an underground oyster bar that I’ve heard is amazing. Head downstairs and find the whispering arches, where you can whisper messages diagonally across the gallery! That’s what I’m doing in the photo above, I don’t just like randomly sniffing corners in walls… Duration: 45 minutes
The New York Public Library is worth a visit for its main reading room, and also the beautiful floor-to-ceiling marble. Entrance is free! Duration: 1 hour
Just across the street is Bryant Park, where you can soak in the atmosphere of New York City. They often have performances in the park so watch out for those! Duration: However long it takes to relax 🙂
No visit to New York is complete without visiting the iconic Times Square! Prepare to be rubbing shoulders with fellow tourists as this place gets packed. Be wary of your belongings as well, as this is a high-traffic area, so pickpockets are rife. Also, don’t be fooled by the off-brand Elmo’s and Elsa’s walking around trying to take pictures with you. It’ll cost you! I recommend coming really late at night, as late as you can! Then you’ll have Times Square almost to yourself! Duration: For the rest of the night!
Day 2: Flatiron Building, Chelsea Market, High Line, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock
First thing in the morning before the tourists start rolling in, stop by the Flatiron Building to admire this famously odd-shaped building! Duration: 30 mins
Close by is a food haven, Chelsea Market, where you’ll get to sample foods from all over the world. I really loved the vibe here, felt a little like Platform 9 3/4! Save your diet for tomorrow because every day at Chelsea Market is a cheat day. You can’t not try their oysters, fresh lobsters, and uhm, everything else??? Duration: 2 hours
Take the back exit of Chelsea Market and you’ll reach the stairs up to The High Line. It’s a perfect vantage point for seeing the city from a slightly elevated viewpoint. Duration: 1 hour
If you are a TV fan, I would highly recommend going for The Tour at NBC Studios, where you get to see where shows like Saturday Night Live are filmed. Remember to book your slots early!!! I was so bummed that I couldn’t get tickets to a show cause they were sold out when I tried to book a week prior 🙁 Luckily, I managed to see a bit of the studio when I attended a taping for Late Night with Seth Meyers. I recommend securing your tickets at least 2-3 weeks in advance especially if you are a bigger group, as this tour is highly popular and has limited spaces. Duration: 1 hour
Walking the streets of New York City, you’ll definitely see the Empire State Building in the skyline. There is an observation deck where you can get a good view of New York City!
Another observation deck close by is Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center. Both are most beautiful during sunset but… also the most crowded! It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it’s just one of those NYC bucket list items you need to check off!
Of course, many people ask the question: Is the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock better? It depends on what you’re after. Obviously, if you’re on Top of the Rock, you get the view of the Empire State Building and vice versa. Well, if you get the CityPASS, you get to see both!
Duration: 2 hours (depending on how much crowd you have to fight off)
Day 3: Financial District, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island
Visit the Financial District and check out the New York Stock Exchange. Also, head to Wall Street to take a picture with the Charging Bull. Apparently grabbing the bull’s nether regions will bring prosperity? It’s also a highly touristy spot so come as early as you can to avoid the crowds! We had to fight the crowds for almost 15 minutes before we got our picture! With a million other people in the background, no less! Duration: 30 mins
Amidst all the fun this city is, New York was also home to one of the most tragic terrorist attacks in history. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum houses tributes to the victims of the attack and is well worth a visit. Duration: 2-3 hours
After the towers were destroyed in the 2001 attacks, the futuristic Oculus World Trade Center was built in its place. It’s located adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and is totally symmetry heaven. There’s a subway station downstairs so you can move onwards from here.
Take a ferry across to Staten Island and see the famous Statue of Liberty up close on the way! Be sure to grab a spot at the window (on the right side) once you board the ferry, to get the best views, cause it does get crowded and you wouldn’t want to be tiptoeing to see over someone’s head. Once on Staten Island, there isn’t much to see, so catch the next ferry back to Manhattan! Psst, this route is completely free! If you’d like you can also take the ferry to Ellis Island and visit the Immigration Museum for $18. It’s also included in the CityPASS! Don’t be fooled by the pushy salespeople outside the terminal who will try to sell you a ridiculously expensive ferry package. Just walk on by and tell them you have a ferry to catch! Duration: 1-2 hours
Tonight, take the opportunity to catch a Broadway play! Or maybe even off-Broadway! It’s one of the best things to do in New York and is going to be worth every penny. When we were in NYC, we saw a musical almost every night! For more popular musicals, you’ll need to book way in advance. When we were visiting, we had Dear Evan Hansen and Anastasia booked weeks in advance. But we managed to get tickets to Kinky Boots the day before! Of course, if you’re sure of your dates and what musicals you’re after, it’s best to book in advance so you won’t be disappointed! Click here to book tickets in advance.
The best thing about watching shows in New York is that the cast usually comes out for signings after the show! I managed to get a picture with the famous Ramin Karimloo, a Broadway legend, who starred in The Phantom of the Opera as the Phantom, and Les Misérables as Jean Valjean! I also got Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco’s signature after his Kinky Boots performance. Couldn’t get a photo with him cause there were too many teeny boppers in the way, and I guess he’s more high profile 🙁
Day 4: Brooklyn
Wake up really early and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge– and hopefully have it all to yourself! It was packed when I went 🙁 But it’s still worth the walk! Don’t forget to turn around and catch the skyline of Manhattan every so often! It is quite a walk so wear good shoes! My trusty ol’ Converse Chuck Taylor’s saw me through the whole trip, and these are the absolute comfirst pair of shoes I have. Not to mention, they go well with everything! Duration: 1 hour
Of course, you have to take some photos under the Brooklyn Bridge! And where better than Dumbo? It’s not named after the flying elephant, it’s an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
Fun fact for Gossip Girl fans! The building on the left was actually the set of Dan Humphrey’s Loft! Want to do a Gossip Girl Film Location Tour? Read my full guide on how you can DIY it! Duration: 1 hour (depending on the crowds)
Spend the rest of the day exploring New York’s hipster central, Williamsburg and just getting lost!
Other things to do in New York City
- Catch a baseball game! Check schedules in advance.
- So many shows were filmed in NYC, including Gossip Girl which was set right here in the Big Apple. If you’re a fan, you might want to visit some of these popular filming locations and see them with your own eyes! Check out the top Gossip Girl locations following my guide here!
- Attend a live taping of a show! Check for taping schedules here. Most of them work on a lottery system. Book way in advance!
- Watch a Broadway show. I’ve said this but I can’t stress it enough! Even if you’re not a musical goer, you’re gonna find something you love here. Case study: My dad is the kinda person that falls asleep during musicals, but once he watched one with us on Broadway, he was hooked and was the one suggesting we watch one every night! See what’s on and purchase your tickets in advance on Tickpick.com
- Have a slice of New York Pizza at Joe’s Pizza. Forget about Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza’s. New York has the real deal, and the best I’ve ever had in my life. #truth
- Whether you’re a Sex and the City fan or not, do yourself a favor and grab a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but these were insanely good. Thank me later! Kill two birds with one stone and make it a walking film tour!
- Of course, if you have time, you can’t not walk up and down Madison Ave and 5th Ave and shop your socks off!
- If you haven’t yet tried Shake Shack, do it!
Visiting New York Checklist
⇢ Compare flight prices to New York
⇢ Compare accommodation options and prices on Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
⇢ Book your New York CityPASS
⇢ Buy Broadway tickets in advance on Tickpick.com
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
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I wish I’d seen this before our trip to New York last year! We saw so many incredible places, but lack of planning beforehand definitely meant we missed out on some of the things I’d most wanted to see. Your photos are beautiful and looks like you had the most amazing time! Thanks for all your tips, will definitely bookmark this one for the next time we venture over to the big city! xoxo
Thanks Shannon! I’m sure you’ll be able to head back to the Big Apple and hope my itinerary helps 😉
New York is one of my favorite places in the world. I really like your itinerary. Thank you for sharing!
Mine too! Thanks for reading 🙂
I love NYC!! This was a great agenda for someone’s first time in the city!! Well done!! It was fun to read this post and reminisce from my travels there! Cheers!!
Love this! Bookmarked it for future reference. I want to go to NY so badly abd and I have even started making some itineraries, but each time it kind of overwhelms me. Your post is really helpful. And I love the pictures ??
I really wish I’d read this article before I visited NYC for the first time a couple of years ago! So much great info in here for first-timers. Your pictures are amazing too. Will be keeping this for my next visit!
Very well written and very well planned. Loved ur pictures too. Heading to the US later this year and ur article will surely come handy when in NYC.. Thanks a lot
I didn’t know what a FOMO was, but I realized I am TOTALLY one! I leave no stone unturned when I go on a destination vacation 🙂 As a NJ native, this is nicely done! I am headed to NYC in a couple weeks and this was a good reminder to work the Chelsea market into my weekend.
I am so glad I have found this itinerary before I go to NYC, I always get FOMO and this has been so helpful to break down a plan! Thanks
NYC is a distant dream for us at the moment, but we always loved the vibes from that city! Looks like you made the most out of that trip and we are going to have your tips and itinerary in mind when we go there, thanks for sharing 😀
Sending good vibes only,
Patricia & Miguel
I’m obsessed with NYC and think it’s the greatest city on earth! I lived there for two years while at grad school and loved every minute of it. I just have to say that you did such an excellent job capturing the essence of the city in your post and photos and it makes me wish I could click my heals and head back there now!
I am saving this for later, New York is the top of my bucket list and has been for a very long time. One day!! I love how detailed the article was, you have thought of everything 🙂
Very beautiful post and well written. NY is on my bucket list. As you mentioned, grew up watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S., can totally relate with myself. Would love to visit this city someday. Your picturesque are stunning. Thanks for sharing.
This makes me so excited for my trip in may!!
This is awesome! I wish I would have had this for my first visit…it was so overwhelming! I’ll definitely use this guide for my next visit so I don’t miss a thing. Love the pics!
I have to say that’s a pretty solid first timer’s guide! Looks like you had a blast. 🙂
I certainly did! Thanks Stacy 🙂
Oh that’s awesome! I’m going to New York in the end of April and I will definitely follow some tips you provided! I can’t wait to go to the Top of the Rock. 😀
That’s awesome!! Have the best time there 🙂 be prepared for the crowds though. If you don’t need to see the sunset, I’d suggest going first thing once they open!
What beautiful images making me fall in love with NY all over again! I went for my 21st birthday and so so wish I can return soon. I also used the City pass and found it the best value for money! Such a beautiful and informative guide!
Thanks so much for reading! So lucky that you’re able to celebrate your 21st birthday in NYC:) my next milestone is 30 so hopefully I’ll be able to spend my 30th there!
What an amazing post! Love this. Pictures are very beautiful, going to follow you on Instagram
Thank you so much Mayuri! You’re so sweet ????
Hey! LOVE this post! It’s super helpful and really informative. Love that you included a link to helpful apps (especially the bathroom one). Quick Question– would you recommend buying broadway tickets on TickPick or New York Show Tickets (nytix.com)? Just want to make sure the tickets I buy are legit. Thank you so so much!!!
Hey Mona, thanks so much for taking the time to read it 🙂 I’m not sure which bathroom app this is? Haha. You should buy broadway tickets from TickPick. I don’t think NY Tix has ticket sales, they just provide show times for live show tapings like Jimmy Fallon, etc.
This is a fantastic post, I have an American trip planned out in my head and you have SUPER helped with the NY section! ❤ Lovely photos as always ❤
I’m following this the next time I go to NYC. Your pictures look amazing, they really capture the life ad spirit of the city!
Love this…what a help, as I’m leaving in two weeks for a first time visit…so many opinions and tips from everyone I know. Your list sounds fun and stress free as well as catching the highlights. What’s your thoughts about the “NYC hop on hop off bus”?
Hi Patty! I’m glad this guide helped you 🙂 I had the best time in NYC and want everyone to be able to experience it in the best way possible too! I actually did not experience the hop on hop off bus, but IMHO, NYC is a city best explored on foot cause there is so much to see! And if you ever need to get anywhere further, the subway is a great way to experience NYC like a local 😉
I’ve NEVER been to NYC – can you believe that?
But it is on my list, especially now I’m living
in North America.
I just got back from NYC.
The natural history museum and the MET on one day? That is impossible 🙂
The MET is huge and took me over 3 hours..and that was me hurry-ing. lolz
Yeah it really depends on your interest. I didn’t go in the MET so it didn’t take me much time. However, 3 hours in each museum makes 6 hours so it could actually be doable! 🙂
Hi! Thank you very much for these goods tips! I did have a question, are these days planned out based off what is close to each other? I wanted to know if I went based off of your itinerary, would I be bouncing back and forth from location to location or everything is near each other?
Hey Mindy! They are mostly close to each other, though there may be a tiny bit of bouncing back and forth just because you won’t be able to complete everything in an area in one day. You can check out the map I’ve added that I’ve color coded according to days 🙂