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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!
Planning a trip to NYC?
If you are booking your trip to New York City, here’s a tldr of some of the top tours, hotels, and more!
🗽 Top Experiences and Tours in New York City:
NYC Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Top of the Rock Observation Deck
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Ferry
Or get your NYC GoCity Explorer Pass and save on ticket prices!
🛌 Top Hotels in New York City:
citizenM New York Times Square
Martinique New York
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!)
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
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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MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Here are my top travel tips and resources to help you save money and plan your trips effectively! If you're looking for more tips, head over to my travel tips resource page or my comprehensive guide on trip planning.
- Booking Flights: When it comes to finding great flight deals, I always start my search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. To save some cash, consider flying mid-week or on the weekends, opt for carry-on only with budget airlines, and be open to red-eye or early morning flights. Check out my in-depth guide on how I find the cheapest flights.
- Accommodations: I'm a stickler for finding the absolute best deals on my stays, so I will obsessively oscillate between a few booking sites: Booking.com (in general) and Agoda (for Asian destinations). When it comes to vacation rentals, there's Airbnb or VRBO.
- Travel Insurance: It's always a wise decision to purchase travel insurance for international trips. I can't stress this enough - it's highly recommended! For international travel insurance, I suggest considering World Nomads or SafetyWing. SafetyWing, in particular, stands out as one of the few policies that cover Covid-19. They also offer excellent monthly policies that are perfect for digital nomads and long-term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: My go-to travel credit card for booking trips is the Wise travel card. I love that there are no foreign transaction fees, so I can pay like a local and never get any surprises at the end of my trip. You can also withdraw cash from the ATMs wherever you are. With Wise, you are always guaranteed the best exchange rate, and I have saved sooo much money just by using this card. Most of the time, I get charged the exchange rate I see on Google, plus or minus a few cents.
- Tours: Most times, I prefer traveling independently but sometimes, getting a guide and a local's perspective makes the experience all the more enriching. When it comes to tour bookings, I trust Viator and GetYourGuide to provide me with excellent options. In Asia, I choose Klook as they are the biggest provider in the region. Plus, you can often get entrance tickets and discounted prices!
- Transportation: To navigate through public transit options and plan my journeys from one place to another, I rely on Rome2Rio. When it comes to rental cars, I compare rental companies and find the best deals through DiscoverCars.
- Connection: It's essential to me to have seamless connectivity wherever I go. I need it to navigate to new places, Google what's around me, and keep in touch with my loved ones. But fumbling around with multiple SIMs has always been a nightmare, which is why I choose Airalo when I travel. No more switching SIMs, just purchase a plan on your phone, on the go, anywhere, and stay connected.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever I need to check out early or take advantage of a long layover, I securely store my luggage with LuggageHero. It's a reliable service that allows me to roam around freely. As a bonus, you can use this link to enjoy your first hour of FREE luggage storage on me!
- What to Pack: I always have packing anxiety once I've left home—you know the phantom feeling that you've forgotten something even though you've checked 372836 times. So I made my own packing list and use it religiously before every trip, and by religious I mean I tick off that list at least 7 times before I zip up my bag. Check out my in-depth packing list here.