NEW YORK CITY: 3-Day Itinerary (The Best and Only!)

New York City view from airplane

There is so much to do and see in the “Big Apple” that a weekend – even an extended one — is not enough time. But, sometimes a long weekend is all you have. So, here’s a simple New York City 3-day itinerary.

And, if you visit during the holiday season – my favorite time of the year to be there – I’ve included some must-see places.

Warning: this plan packs it in from morning until night! Course, NYC is the “city that never sleeps!”

NYC View from plane

NEW YORK CITY 3-DAY ITINERARY

Day 1Times Square, Grand Central Station, Bryant Park
Day 2Rockefeller Center, NBC Studio Tour, Central Park, Broadway Show
Day 39/11 Memorial & Museum, Statue of Liberty

Where to stay

Hotels near Times Square are going to be pretty pricey, but in my opinion, it’s worth the extra money because of the prime location. It’s so central to lots of the key NYC attractions I’ll mention here.

Times Square at night

Manhattan, one of the five boroughs of New York City, mostly consists of Manhattan Island. It’s a long area consisting of three sections: Upper, Lower, and Midtown.

For reference, Times Square is in Midtown. Upper Manhattan is where Central Park is located. The ferries to the Statue of Liberty are in Lower Manhattan.  

A double decker city bus tour is a great way to get an initial overview and “lay of the land.” Booking online through a popular tour company like Big Bus New York is recommended. The hop-on, hop-off tours allow you stay onboard the entire route or get off at any of the destinations you want to further explore.

Times Square, Grand Central Station, Bryant Park (Day 1)

After checking into your hotel when you first arrive, put on comfortable shoes and head out into the city! First stop, the heart of NYC: Times Square. It’s quite the touristy area, but it’s fun to feel the excitement of this huge city by spending some time here.

Next, walk about 5 blocks towards Grand Central Station (Terminal). This bus and subway station is always full of activity, and is a truly beautiful place to see.

Exterior of Grand Central Terminal at night
Grand Central Terminal interior

While you’re there, be sure to find the whispering gallery and try it out. If you stand on one corner of the room and whisper, thanks to the architecture of the walls and room you can hear the person whispering all the way on the other side. An “acoustic phenomenon” is how it’s often described.

Woman in Whispering Gallery
Corner of Whispering Gallery

If you’re in New York City at Christmas time, it’s worth it to next walk about 15 minutes from Grand Central to the department store, Macy’s. The Christmas displays throughout the store are gorgeous.

Macys store sign
Christmas decorations in Macy's

And the window displays are something to marvel at too!    

Macy's Christmas window display

Another Christmas-time recommendation is the Winter Village of Bryant Park. (It’s a 10-minute walk from Macy’s). Have dinner and drinks under heaters and Christmas lights at one of the outdoor restaurants while watching ice skaters. Then, do some Christmas shopping at the numerous, cute village shops.

Skaters in Bryant Park at night

The Empire State Building is just a 10 minute walk from Bryant Park and 5 minutes from Macy’s if you want to hit that attraction while in this area of the city.

Empire State Building at night

Rockefeller Center, NBC Studio Tour, Central Park, Broadway Show (Day 2)

Get up early this first full day in NYC to watch some live segments of one of the network morning television shows. Both the Today Show and Good Morning America are very close to Times Square. You may just get on TV if you’re close enough to the cameras.

Good Morning America location
Today Show set
Today Show hosts on Plaza

Next, walk to the nearby rink in Rockefeller Center and rent ice skates for an hour-long session. Truly, a unique memory in such a cool setting! Book online to ensure you can secure a time.

Ice skating rink Rockefeller Plaza

Rockefeller Center is also home to the huge Christmas tree that is lit every year on live network television.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree lit at night

Next, I strong recommend The Tour at NBC Studios. Besides learning about the history of NBC and 30 Rockefeller Plaza (aka “30 Rock”), during this 65-minute tour you’ll get to see the sets of Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and more.   

Rockefeller Plaza lit up at night

After the tour, head just nine blocks north to Central Park. A stroll through this park in the middle of the city is a must. It’s such a picturesque place with tons to do and see.

I really lucked out the day I visited. A light snowfall made for a magical setting.

Central Park paths

While I have yet to experience it, I think a horse and carriage ride would be worth the splurge, especially if you’re there with a significant other.

Horse and carriage in Central Park

If you enjoy visiting museums, New York City has some of the best. Two of the big ones are the American Museum of Natural History, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Take your pick; you won’t be disappointed.

Explore the Upper East Side

Or, if museums aren’t of interest to you, instead check out some of the neat, upscale shops in the Upper East Side instead. It is the most affluent neighborhood in all of New York City. So, just walking the streets and exploring is fun to do. Plus, you may spot a celebrity or two.

Upper West Side storefront

Before leaving Upper Manhattan, make a stop at arguably New York’s most famous hotel, The Plaza (across the street from the south end of Central Park). Unless you’re a hotel guest, you can’t just walk around, but there is a Food Hall in the lower level with various vendors.

Plaza Hotel

The best way to end your day is dinner in the city and a Broadway show. At Christmas time, the “Christmas Spectacular with the Radio City Rockettes” at Radio City Music Hall is a tough ticket to get, but it’s amazing! I highly recommend it for all ages.  

Radio City Music Hall sign lit up
Rockettes dancers on stage

9/11 Memorial and Museum, Statue of Liberty (Day 3)

On this third day, explore attractions in Lower Manhattan. First, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a sobering, yet unforgettable experience. Book tickets online in advance. Plan to spend most of your morning here (3 hours or so).

9-11 memorial pool
9-11 memorial interior

If you’re not afraid of heights, visit the observatory at One World Trade Center. It’s the tallest building in the U.S. 

One World Trade Center in New York City

In the afternoon of this third day, board a ferry to Ellis Island and visit the Statue of Liberty. Again, tickets purchased in advance online is the smart way to go.

Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island

After getting back to Manhattan, head towards Wall Street, the heart of the Financial District, where the New York Stock Exchange is located.

New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street

Lastly, dinner in the neighborhoods of SoHo or Greenwich Village are a good option. Just walking around the streets of this area has been a highlight for me when visiting New York.

To top off your night, if you’re visiting during the Christmas season, you MUST experience the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show. Accompanied by music, the show repeats itself every 10 minutes.

Christmas lights on Saks Fifth Avenue

And, like Macy’s, the window displays are awesome.

NYC window displays
Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Window Display

More time in New York City?


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Tags: Itinerary, New York City, NYC, Things to do
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Comments

  1. Excellent itinerary. I was recently in NYC for this length of time and this is essentially what my itinerary was (days were mixed around a bit but same highlights). I have a good article on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum if you’re interested in taking a look! https://paulpassingthrough.com/my-takeaways-from-the-9-11-memorial-museum/

    1. Reply

      This is indeed a very good article about the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Thank you so much for posting it here so my readers can access it! Highly recommend, everyone!

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