/ / / New York City Itinerary: 4 Days in The Big Apple

New York City Itinerary: 4 Days in The Big Apple

If it’s not already, New York City (AKA The Big Apple) should be on your travel bucket list. Is there any other city that screams “USA!” quite so loudly? I’m not sure there is. New York City is home to many of the top cultural and historical sites in the United States, as well as being a top shopping and food destination. Essentially, NYC is perfect for any kind of traveler. Here are my recommendations for your 4 days in New York City itinerary

I love big cities. There…I said it. 

Look, I understand that big cities aren’t for everyone. There are some weirdos out there who think cities are bad because they’re all crowded and noisy and dirty and impersonal and cold (in every sense of the word), and I’m over here saying “Yes! That‘s why we like them!” 

I can easily spend a week in NYC (and I have), but for a first-time visit to New York City I would recommend a trip of about 4 full days (4–5 nights). With four days in New York, you can cover a lot of ground without completely breaking the bank on accommodations. 

Can you do New York in 4 days? 

Absolutely! 

Will you see everything? No way. BUT with 4 days in NYC you can cover the top sites plus a few extras as well. I like to try to focus my sightseeing within a certain area each day (for the most part) for maximum efficiency.  

OK, when I write it out like that, it doesn’t sound like much fun, but I promise you NYC is loads of fun. 

Related Post → The Perfect One Day in New York Itinerary

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Where should I stay when visiting New York City? 

I recommend staying in Midtown Manhattan if you can. You’ll find it’s easy to get from there to anyplace you’d like to see on your itinerary. 

I’ve stayed in Long Island City (Queens) and in New Jersey, which did save money on accommodations, but cost time getting to and from Manhattan each day. When we did the trip when we stayed in Queens, Uber didn’t exist yet, so we took taxis at the end of each day. We found that the taxi drivers were somewhat reluctant to take us so out of Manhattan, and it was not cheap. 

Here are my recommendations for where to stay in New York City: 

What should I do on my first trip to New York? 

For your first trip to New York City, I highly recommend you follow this itinerary (see below). We’ll cover all the top sites that first timers shouldn’t miss. You can always go “off the beaten path” if you stay longer or if you plan a return trip. 

It also includes a lot of great free NYC activities and sites

New York City Itinerary summary 

Day 1: Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, The Met Fifth Avenue 
Day 2: Lower Manhattan—Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island 
Day 3: SoHo, Washington Square Park, Chelsea Market, The High Line 
Day 4: More Midtown—Historic Midtown Buildings, Museum of Modern Art, Bryant Park 

Interactive Map—New York City Itinerary: 4 Days in The Big Apple 

Day 1: Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, The Met Fifth Avenue 

Times Square 

Subway stop: Times Square–42 Street (N, Q, R, S, W, 1, 2, 3, 7)  

You’ve seen it in movies and TV shows. Of all the places to visit in New York City, it’s hard to think of anything else that’s more New York than Times Square. Soak it in, take a few photos, wander through so you can say you’ve been there (it’s great at night also). Maybe even buy a cheap souvenir T-shirt or stop in at M&M’s World. 

While you’re here, make a stop at TKTS if you’re interested in getting same-day tickets to a Broadway show. 

Times Square is just a 10-minute walk from the center of Midtown and the recommended hotels in this post. 

Times Square full of cars and people
Times Square is a great way to start your 4-day NYC itinerary.

Rockefeller Center 

Between 49th and 51st Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues | Subway stop: 47-50 Streets Rockefeller Center (B, D, F, M), 49 Street (N, R, W) 

Just a 10-minute walk from Times Square will take you to Rockefeller Center, a New York City landmark that includes 30 Rockefeller Plaza (NBC Studios), Radio City Music Hall and more. In addition to some great shopping and dining, you can take a guided tour of Rockefeller Center, go to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, skate at the Rink, and more.    

If you’re feeling snackish, I recommend stopping at Magnolia Bakery for something yummy. 

Central Park 

From North 110th Street to Central Park South (59th Street), and from Central Park West (8th Avenue) to 5th Ave | Subway stops: There are several subway stops around the perimeter of the park including 5th Ave/59 Street (N, R, W), 59 Street/Columbus Circle (A, B, C, D, 1), Central Park North (2, 3), and 6 stops on the west side of the park. 

Central Park is another of those places that is just so quintessentially New York, you absolutely need to make time in your itinerary to see it. Now, keep in mind that this park is huge. I mean it. Central Park covers 1.3 square miles (840 acres) of Manhattan. You could easily spend an entire day just exploring this place. 

To start I’d suggest looking at a map of the park and choosing a few things there you want to see such as the Central Park Zoo, the Alice in Wonderland Statue, Belvedere Castle or the Conservatory Water (where you can rent a model boat to sail on the pond).  

The southeast corner of Central Park is just a 15-minute walk from Rockefeller Center. If you want to walk all the way to the Conservatory Water and the Alice in Wonderland Statue from Rockefeller Center, expect a walk of closer to 30 minutes. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art at dusk.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

1000 Fifth Avenue | Subway stop: 86 Street (4, 5, 6) 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is one of the most important museums in the world. Even if you’re not a fan of art or museums, consider making the Met a part of your trip. The permanent collection includes works by great artists from the ancient to the modern, and they frequently mount major special exhibitions in a space so stunning it’s worth the price of admission just to explore the building.     

Though you used to be able to get in with whatever size donation you could manage, admission to the Met is now $25 for all who are not residents of the state of New York or a student in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Regular student admission is $12. Tickets are valid for same-day entry to both Met locations (Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters). 

Get your skip-the-line ticket for the Met now! 

Other options for Day 1 

If you still have some time and/or energy in your day, here are a few other things you can do near Central Park:  

Day 2: Lower Manhattan—Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island 

Brooklyn Bridge 

Manhattan side subway stops: Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall (4, 5, 6), City Hall (N, R), Park Place (2, 3), Chambers St. (J, Z) | Brooklyn side subway stop: Jay Street/MetroTech (A, C, F), Borough Hall (2, 3 or 4, 5) 

Seeing the iconic Brooklyn Bridge up close should be on your New York City itinerary. For great views of the skyline, start on the Brooklyn side of the bridge and walk into lower Manhattan.  

You don’t have to walk across the entire 1.1-mile pedestrian walkway of course, though you certainly can. If you’re short on time, I recommend just walking out to the first tower from the Manhattan side for some good photo ops.  

Those who have a fear of heights, be warned that you can see through the wood slats on the walkway a bit, giving you glimpses of the speeding traffic below. And pay attention as you go. Bikers cross the bridge also and many of them move quite quickly. Stay in the dedicated pedestrian lane if you’re walking. 

A single white rose at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

9/11 Memorial 

9/11 Memorial | Closest subway stops: WTC–Cortland St (1) and Cortland Street (R, W) 

In my opinion, the 9/11 Memorial is absolutely a must-do on your trip and one of my favorite free things to do in New York City.  

The terrorist attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the city forever. It’s one of the most moving and beautiful memorials that I have ever had the privilege of seeing.   

The Memorial is open to the public every day from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.  

Optional: The 9/11 Memorial Museum is at the same location. Though I haven’t had the privilege of seeing it, I’ve heard great things. There is a charge for admission to the museum. Admission is free on Tuesdays from 5 p.m., but there are a limited number of tickets. They are distributed on a first come basis starting at 4 p.m. 

Or book a 90-minute guided tour of Ground Zero (with optional museum entry) to learn more about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. 

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Lower Manhattan from a distance with a text overlay that says 4 days i New York City, itinerary, tips & map.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island  

Ferry from Manhattan departs from Battery Park | Subway stops: South Ferry Station (1), Whitehall Street (R), Bowling Green (4, 5) 

The Statue of Liberty is absolutely my favorite of all the places to see in New York City. Buy your tickets ahead of time online, especially if you want to climb up to the crown. Those tickets can sell out weeks or even months in advance.   

Even if you don’t want to go up into the pedestal or the crown of the Statue of Liberty, you can purchase a “Grounds Only” ticket to enjoy the cruise over to Liberty Island (with great views of both Lady Liberty and lower Manhattan) and just walk around the monument exterior. I would still recommend purchasing this ticket online in advance, as these can also sell out especially during peak tourist times.   

View of the lower manhattan skyline from Liberty Island
And check out this view of Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty pedestal!

Ellis Island admission is included in your ticket, so go ahead and take advantage if you have time.    

Cruises from New York depart from Battery Park, which is a nice place for a picnic lunch before or after your trip to Liberty Island. A falafel wrap from a nearby food truck makes a great lunch. 

Book your Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ticket now! 

Other options for Day 2 

If after you disembark from your ferry trip you still have some energy and want to continue exploring, there are a few more historical sites in lower Manhattan you could visit. 

  • Federal Hall. It’s free! 
  • Trinity Church. The churchyard is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Alexander Hamilton’s burial site). 
  • City Hall: open for group and individual tours, but make your reservation in advance. 
  • Bowling Green: NYC’s oldest public park 

Day 3: SoHo, Washington Square Park, Chelsea Market, The High Line 

Do some shopping in SoHo 

Short for South of Houston (pronounced HOW-stun…not like the city in Texas), the SoHo neighborhood has become a top shopping destination in NYC. If you’re looking for great vintage designer clothing, check out What Goes Around Comes Around on West Broadway. If you’re into lipstick, try the Lip Lab by Bite Beauty where you can design your own custom lip colors. 

And you’ll certainly work up an appetite from all that shopping, but if you can, wait until Chelsea Market for lunch today. If you’re like me and when it’s time to eat you simply MUST eat, we enjoyed getting lunch at Chobani SoHo on Prince Street. Yes, there was a lot of Greek yogurt. We thought it was a fun and unique lunch experience and would definitely go back. 

Or try a 2-hour guided walking tour of SoHo, Chinatown and Little Italy. Book now! 

View of Washington Square arch from below.
The Washington Square Arch is a top New York City landmark.

Washington Square Park 

At 5th Avenue and Waverly Place, West 4th Street, University Place, Macdougal Street | Subway stop: West 4 Street–Washington Sq (A, C, E, B, D, F, M) 

Just a few blocks away from SoHo is Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park with its famous white marble arch. Named for Geroge Washington, the area was officially made a public park in 1827.  

Washington Square Park is a great place to rest your weary feet for a bit and do some people watching. You’ll likely find a lot of NYU students hanging out and/or studying here, as many of the university’s campus buildings ring the park. 

Chelsea Market 

75 9th Avenue | Subway stop: 8 Ave–14 Street (A, C, E) 

After your people watching at Washington Square Park, head over the Chelsea Market for lunch or dinner. It’s about a 20-minute walk or you can take the subway (A, C, or E). (If you want to do Chelsea Market for dinner, head to The High Line first (see below) after Washington Square Park). 

Chelsea Market has to be one of the top indoor foodie destinations in the U.S. if not the world. It draws literally millions of food fans every year. You’re sure to find something (or many things!) here to make a great meal…and dessert. 

The High Line 

Ganesvoort St to West 34th | Closest subway stops: 8 Ave–14 Street (A, C, E), 34 Street–Hudson Yards (7) 

People walking on the New York City High Line with buildings and trees in the background.

The High Line is a public park and greenspace in lower Manhattan, but it’s not JUST a park. It was created on old raised train tracks. 

The High Line opened in 2009 and is nearly 1.5 miles long, running from Gansevoort Street to West 34th. There are points of access at many places along the High Line (including elevator access), and restrooms are located at Gansevoort St., 16th St., and 30th St. 

This is the kind of place you really have to see to believe. Though I haven’t yet seen as much of the High Line as I would like (time didn’t allow it), walking the entire length of this unique park is definitely on my New York City bucket list. 

Other options for Day 3 

If after your visits to SoHo, Greenwich Village and Chelsea, you’re still looking for things to add to your itinerary try: 

Day 4: More Midtown—Historic Midtown Buildings, Museum of Modern Art, Bryant Park 

Historic Midtown Buildings 

Start day four of your NYC trip with a tour of historic buildings in Midtown Manhattan. Follow the directions below to do your own self-guided tour or consider booking a guided tour. 

Book your Highlights of Midtown Architecture Tour today! 

Empire State Building 

20 West 34 Street | Subway stop: 34 St–Herald Square (B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, W), 33 St (M) 

There are those who say that everyone needs to pay a visit to the Empire State Building on their trip to New York City.  You can go as high as the 102nd floor. The main observation deck is on the 86th floor.  

I do not like heights, nor do I generally pay money to stand atop them. I will admit right now that in all my NYC trips, I’ve only ever admired the Empire State Building from the ground. As I’m writing this my palms are literally starting to sweat thinking about going up there. I’m not joking. Yuck. 

But don’t mind me. You can book your tickets for the 86th floor observation deck here! 

Get the full Empire State Building experience and book this special ticket to see amazing views of NYC from the observation deck twice in one day—day and night. 

Exterior of a large marble building in New York City.

New York Public Library–Stephen A. Schwartzman Building 

476 5th Ave | Subway stop: 5 Ave–Bryant Park (7), 42 St–Grand Central Station (4, 5, 6) 

After you get your land legs back following your ascent up the Empire State Building, head up 5th Avenue about 7 blocks (10-minute walk or so) to the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman Building. You can enter the building for free, but it is still a functioning library building so please be library quiet. 

This is the classic New York Public Library Building with the lions out front and the beautiful interior. There are free exhibits available as well as free tours.

Inside the Grand Central Terminal main hall with sun streaming in through the large windows.

Grand Central Terminal 

89 E 42nd Street | Subway service: 4, 5, 6, 7, S 

Just a few blocks away from the Schwartzman Building is Grand Central Terminal. I love this building. It’s one of my favorite buildings in New York and has been a city landmark since it opened in 1913. 

Grand Central is still a functioning station with 4, 5, 6, 7, and S subway and Metro-North Railroad train service.  In addition to being a stunning building it also includes over 90 shops and restaurants, making it a great place to stop for lunch on your tour around Midtown.

Chrysler Building 

405 Lexington Ave | 42 St–Grand Central (4, 5, 6, S) 

View the Chrysler Building in New York City from below.

The famous art deco Chrysler Building was briefly the tallest building in the world until the Empire State Building passed it by. The Chrysler Building lobby is free to enter, but the rest of the building is leased office space not open to the public. Of interest in the Chrysler Building lobby is the 110-foot-long Edward Trumbull mural “Transport and Human Endeavor” on the ceiling. 

Museum of Modern Art 

11 West 53 Street | Subway stops: 5 Av–53 St (E, M), 57 St (F) 

My absolute favorite free activity in New York City is to visit the Museum of Modern Art on UNIQLO Free Fridays. All visitors get into MoMA for free from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Fridays. Regular adult admission is $25 and you can buy your tickets online ahead of time.         

The museum can get quite busy during Free Fridays, so I recommend getting in line well before 5:30 p.m. so you can be one of the first in the door or waiting until after 6 p.m. Any large items have to be checked, and the last time I was there they did not allow me to enter the exhibit space with my water bottle.   

Picnic dinner in Bryant Park 

My favorite cheap dinner in New York City is to grab a couple of kati rolls at the Kati Roll Company on West 39th then walk to Bryant Park for some great people watching. You could also grab some picnic fixings at the Whole Foods across the street from the park.   

If people watching sounds dull, you can participate in free activities or play some of the free board games there. The last time we were in the city my sister joined in the free group bingo at Bryant Park, just one of the many free activities they offer there. 

Other options for Day 4 

Other things to add to your New York itinerary based on your interests and the time of year you travel 

Metropolitan Opera 
I have yet to get to New York on a trip when I can go to the Metropolitan Opera. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and one day I will go. If you have any interest in the performing arts (I mean, even just at tiny bit) and you can go to the Met, then by all means go to the Met. The Metropolitan Opera is THE premiere opera company in the world (not just hyperbole). EVERYONE wants to sing there. Go. 

Baseball 
I love baseball, but I cannot in good conscience recommend that you go see the Yankees play. (Go, Mariners!) It’s physically causing me pain to write this, but if you are a fan of baseball you probably should at least scratch Yankee Stadium off your bucket list (or whatever..I guess…if you have to). I’ve been there and done that so next up is Citi Field to see the Mets play.  

Broadway show 
It’s like the Met, but not opera. In other words, EVERYONE wants to perform on Broadway so if you have the means to catch a show do it. Beware of ticket resellers though and proceed with caution. You may be able to get same day deals through TKTS. Use the website to get real-time listings of all the shows with discounts for the day. 

How to get around New York City 

I say this so often, but I will continue to say it over and over: use your feet and the subway. I’m serious about the subway. You’ll get where you want to go cheaper than Uber or taxis and of course much faster than walking (for the most part).  

If you go to New York City and don’t ride the subway does your trip even count? I don’t think so. You really need to do it, and honestly it is an easy and cheap way to get around the city while you’re there.   

Using the subway in NYC should be a part of your trip experience. You’ll quickly get the hang of it. Yes, sometimes it smells bad and sometimes the trains aren’t running properly, but you really should try it. 

You can find subway maps on the MTA website.

Taxis are a fine option for getting around New York City especially if you are going someplace that just doesn’t have an easy subway route or a nearby stop.  

My one experience with Uber in New York was not great (it was partly my fault), but my sister used Uber exclusively on her last trip to NYC and it worked out great for her.  

I hope you enjoy your 4-day visit to New York City.  

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Full view of the Statue of Liberty in New York City with pedestal and a text overlay.

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