New York City is the most populous city in the United States and the most photographed city in the world. It is known for its Lower Manhattan skyline, Central Park (most filmed location in the world), the Brooklyn Bridge (opened in 1883), Times Square, the Statue of Liberty (a gift from France), the United Nations headquarters and Coney Island’s boardwalk, to name a few. If you’re interested in commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, sports or photography, you’ve probably heard of it.
Being the most populous city in the states also means there is a never ending list of things to do, see and eat in the city. With other 80 museums, almost 27,000 restaurants, 783.8 km² and over 8 million people, it really is the city that never sleeps! You can definitely see New York City in 1 or 2 days but I would recommend spending at least 5 days in the city and even that won’t be enough. There is an endless number of things to do in NYC, you’ll want to come back again and again to enjoy everything the city has to offer.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with choosing what to do in New York City, this itinerary is a perfect mix of sightseeing, discovering food, and the classic New York City experience.
The best neighbourhoods in New York City to sleep in are plentiful: where to stay may be highly dependent on what you want to do and the vibe you want. You can’t go wrong with staying in MidtownManhattan and walking or taking the subway to different districts, especially if it’s your first time visiting. Chelsea is a very trendy neighbourhood and is packed with little eateries and easy access to the Highline. Greenwich Village has movie-set vibes and is a perfect location for a more easy-going trip. You can also stay in New Jersey and take the train across into the city if you’re really trying to do New York City on a budget.
TIP: If you’re looking to do any early morning photoshoots, plan to book your accommodations near your photoshoot locations like Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge or the Flatiron Building so you can sleep in a little later. You’ll thank yourself later.
Transportation and City Pass in NYC
While the subway system is awesome and takes you to all the best neighbourhoods in the city, New York City is definitely best explored on foot. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
If you’re flying to New York City, the cheapest option to get to Manhattan from JFK is spending $10.50 on your MetroCard and take the AirTrain. It’s about 1 to 1.5 to Manhattan. If you’re travelling with friends and/or have luggage you don’t want to take on public transit, you can take a taxi to/from the airport (but be mindful of rush hour traffic).
As is usually the case, the New York City Pass is worth the splurge if you’re interested in at least three top attractions in the city.
What to Eat in New York City
There is an almost endless number of possibilities for food in New York City and any style of cuisine! The best deal you can ask for is a dollar slice of pizza. Check out 99¢ Fresh Pizza for the most consistent slices in the city. New York Cheesecake at Junior’s is the best in town and another classic is a Black and White cookie from Zabar’s. Magnolia Bakerycupcakes were made famous from Sex & the City but I’ve heard their banana pudding is better. The best sushi I have ever had was at Hatsuhana Sushi. The Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Station is a vibe in and of itself!
Included in the post are also restaurants based on the itinerary/location in the day. You really can’t go wrong with anything on this list!
New York City 5-day Itinerary
Day 1: Grand Central Terminal/Oyster Bar Restaurant and Times Square Day 2: Natural History Museum, Central Park, MET, Comedy Cellar Day 3: High Line, Chelsea Market, Bleeker Street, Viceroy Day 4: Brooklyn Bridge, Soho, Laduree, Battery Park and 9/11 Memorial, Monarch Day 5: Rockefeller Centre, 5th Avenue Shopping, Hatsuhana Sushi, Broadway
Day 1: Grand Central Terminal/Oyster Bar Restaurant and Times Square
Start your day at Grand Central Terminal, a world famous landmark in New York City that is more than just a terminal. Not to be mixed up with the Grand Central Station (a post office down the street), Grand Central has retail, dining and is an iconic tourist attraction.
Oyster Bar is the oldest restaurant in Grand Central Terminal and reservations are recommended. If you don’t like oysters, they have a selection of seafood specialties. (NOTE: it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19).
Times Square is a must visit for a first timer but tourists beware: it is definitely a tourist trap! Watch out for costumed characters (you have to pay for a picture with Elmo), caricature drawings, ticket scalpers and chain restaurants (not really a scam but spend your money on better food elsewhere in the city). Take in the lights and the hustle and bustle of the area. It’s almost always busy and if you’re looking for smaller crowds go late at night or early in the morning.
Day 2: Natural History Museum, Central Park, MET, Comedy Cellar
Spend your second day in Manhattan. Start your day with brunch at the Milling Room or Good Enough to Eat (unfortunately Isabella’s closed in 2017, just after I visited) before heading to the Natural History Museum. With over 80 museums in NYC, this one should be at the top of your list. Admission is “pay what you can” with a recommended amount and you can pay one fee for a group. There are over 34 million specimens in the museum. NOTE: You currently have to book a timed slot online due to COVID-19.
Central Park: The Natural History Museum is across the street from Central Park: NYC’s iconic 843-acre park and the most visited urban park in America. You can visit the Belvedere Castle, Central Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields (memorial to John Lennon, who was murdered just off the west side of the park), Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, Conservatory Garden, Loeb Boathouse on The Lake (you can rent a boat and paddle around the lake), The Mall and Literary Walk, Central Park Carousel and Conservatory Water. In the winter you can go ice-skating on the Wollman Rink or Lasker Rink. In the spring, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms. You could honestly spend an entire day enjoy all the park has to offer but in this itinerary you can enjoy a classic New York Hot Dog and an ice cream before making your way to the MET.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET): The MET houses an incredible display of art spanning over 6,000 years and is the largest art museum in the United States. Admission is also “pay what you can” and is another location you could spend all day at or dedicate a few hours to wander through.
West Villageand Greenwich Village: The best Italian food in the West Village isI Sodi, where you can have dinner before heading to Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. SmallsLIVE Foundation is a not-for-profit arts organization and you can book tickets at the Smalls Jazz Club in advance or get their walk-in special ($25) if there’s space. Next, head to the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground location where now-famous comedians started out including Ray Romano, Dane Cook and Jerry Seinfeld. Be prepared for a deep belly laugh of a night! There is a two item minimum per person (drinks and/or food), reservations are a must, no cameras during the show and the house is always packed! If you’re still feeling like living up the New York City nightlife, stop by Fat Black Pussycat next door to the Comedy Cellar for a night cap.
Day 3: Meatpacking Districtand Soho
Start your day by walking the High Line – a park built on the disused southern portion of the West Side Line (old raised train tracks). Get off at the Chelsea Market: a food and retail hub in the heart of the Meatpacking District. There’s something for everyone here: art, food, museums, flea markets, you name it! For a decadent and Instagram worthy milkshake, stop at Black Tap (the milkshakes are way better than their burgers).
Spend the afternoon shopping on Bleecker Street: an east–west street in Manhattan and also known as the Greenwich Village nightclub district.
End the day on a rooftop patio with amazing views of Central Park and New York City at Viceroy.
Day 4: Brooklyn Bridge, SoHo, Laduree, Battery Park and 9/11 Memorial, Monarch
Start the day off by taking the subway to Dumbo, Brooklyn and stop on Washington Street for a classic view of the Brooklyn Bridge and stop at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. You’ll find the Empire Fulton Ferry, Fulton Ferry Landing, Greenway, John Street, Main Street, many gardens, and six action-packed piers in Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you want some photos with no (or less) people on Brooklyn Bridge, head there early in the morning (I mean 6 am in the summer). Stop for breakfast or brunch at the Time Out Market in Brooklyn which boasts 21 eateries and 3 bars. You could spend an entire day in Brooklyn, but this itinerary takes you back for a walk across Brooklyn Bridge to SoHo.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge (45 minutes) to SoHo for designer boutiques, fancy chain stores and high-end art galleries. I particularly love window shopping at the Ted Baker store. Dash is the well known boutique started by the Kardashian sisters.
You’ll want to stop at Ladurée in SoHo for lunch: it is the famous tea shop and restaurant in Paris. The SoHo location has a beautiful hidden garden outdoor patio and an amazing menu that you’ll be sure to enjoy.
Next, head to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum to take a minute to reflect on the tragedy of 2001. The 9/11 Memorial is free and open to the public seven days a week, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Museum tickets can be purchased and I highly recommend a visit if you have some time.
Finally, spend the evening at Monarch: a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the Empire State Building.
Day 5: Rockefeller Centre, 5th Avenue Shopping, Hatsuhana Sushi, Broadway
Have an early brunch at a delightful restaurant called Penelope followed by views of the city from the Top of the Rock. I recommended the Top of the Rock rather than going up the Empire State Building because you get a great view of the Empire State Building AND the same view of the city. You can book reservations online.
Next, spend some time on 5th Avenue exploring the shops and picking up a few souvenirs (if that suits your fancy). If you’ve done too much walking in the last few days, take a break in Central Park by working your arms and resting your legs in a canoe on the lake.
You’ll need to make reservations at Hatsuhana Sushi for dinner: and if you go to any restaurant in NYC you have to go to this one. The food is so fresh and the sushi rolls are melt-in-your-mouth amazing.
Spend your last evening going to a show on Broadway. Some tips for getting cheap broadway tickets: 1. Wait in line on the day of the show at TDF’s TKTS Booth under the red steps in Duffy Square (47th Street and Broadway) where you can get tickets 50% off 2. Rush tickets: go to the Box Office when it opens (10 am most days or 11 am Sundays) or enter an in-person lottery (for popular shows like Wicked) or online lottery through TodayTix).