How to Spend Three Days in NYC, According to a New Yorker

This itinerary takes first-time visitors to New York on a tour of iconic museums and parks to newly opened sites and trendy neighborhood restaurants.

Central Park is a retreat within the metropolis of New York.

Central Park is a retreat within the metropolis of New York.

Photo by Shutterstock

Due to its sheer size and ever-changing nature, it’s impossible to do everything in New York City in one visit—or in one lifetime. I’ve been here 17 years and still haven’t seen it all. Yet first-time visitors and locals alike might appreciate a healthy mix of classic and new; of iconic museums and parks and trendy neighborhood restaurants. Let this three-day tour of NYC guide you through both and hopefully spark a lifelong love affair with the city.

Trip Highlight

Summit One Vanderbilt

Sunset at the new Summit One Vanderbilt, one of the city’s newest—and most technologically advanced—observation decks. In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows, the multilevel experience includes an infinity room with mirrored floors and ceilings, digital art installations, and an elevator that takes you high above the rooftop bar area (not for the faint of heart).

Trip Designer

Lyndsey Matthews

Lyndsey Matthews is AFAR’s senior commerce editor and your New York travel expert. She moved to New York City in 2005 to study journalism at NYU. Over the last 17 years, she’s lived in nearly a dozen neighborhoods, from Manhattan’s Greenwich Village to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Sunnyside, Queens. She currently resides in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, where she spends as much time as possible in Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The Egyptian Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Egyptian Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by Shutterstock

Day 1Iconic NYC sites

Even if you want to experience New York City like a local, the one thing you can skip is the rush hour subway commute. Sleep in a little on your first day and linger over breakfast at the newly renovated Park Lane Hotel. Up on the 47th floor, Darling serves up a mean mimosa; it’s also the only rooftop bar on Central Park South. It’s open to the public in the evenings, but during the day it’s reserved exclusively for hotel guests to enjoy the expansive views of the park. If you’re not a breakfast person, grab a to-go coffee at any cart you find on the street and head straight into Central Park.

There are many landmarks to see in Central Park and you can easily create your own walking tour by strolling between the Central Park Carousel, Strawberry Fields, the Bow Bridge, and Belvedere Castle at your own pace. Want to move a bit quicker? Download the Citi Bike app to rent a bike and take a lap of the park (it’s 6.1 miles for the full loop). The Central Park Conservancy also has endless options for walking tours, including seasonal fall foliage tours and ones geared toward birders.

From the Great Lawn at the center of Central Park, you have two choices. Dinosaur fans (or parents with small children in tow) will want to head west over to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. Art and history enthusiasts should turn east and head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My Tried-and-True Day at the Met Museum

It can be overwhelming to pick a route through the 2.2 million square-foot museum. This is my go-to route:

→Take a hard left after entering the Great Hall and stroll through the Greek and Roman Art wing.

→From there cut to the back of the building and take the elevator to the Cantor Roof Garden to see the seasonal art installations. (This is also one of the best rooftop bars in the city IMO—wine or cocktails are for sale and it stays open until 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday from early May through October.)

→Head back down to the second floor to spin through the 19th- and early 20th-century European Paintings wing, where Monet and Van Gogh are featured, and then take the grand staircase back to the Great Hall and make a U-turn to the Medieval Art galleries.

→From there, take a hard right into the Arms and Armor hall and over through the American Wing (don’t miss the iconic Washington Crossing the Delaware).

→Finish your visit in the Temple of Dendur and Egyptian Art galleries. If you’re not starving for lunch yet, the Asian Art galleries one floor above the Egyptian galleries—complete with a replica of a 17th-century style Ming Dynasty garden—are a peaceful escape from the museum crowds.

For a true New York lunch on the go (or to fulfill your dreams of eating on the steps of the Met à la Gossip Girl) grab a hot dog from the “Hot Dog King” himself whose street card is almost always right in front of the Met. For something a little more high-brow, head four blocks north to, yes, another museum (there’s a reason this stretch of Fifth Avenue is called Museum Mile). Fans of early 20th-century Viennese art will want to do a full tour of the Neue Galerie, but everyone will enjoy a meal at the museum’s Café Sabarsky designed to look like a turn-of-the 20th-century Viennese café. There’s a full menu of central European specialties like wiener schnitzel and spätzle, but you can also make a meal out of the extensive cake offerings and tea.

By now it’s late afternoon, and probably time for a drink. Two of New York’s most iconic hotel bars are Bemelmans Bar and King Cole Bar, both known for their exquisite murals and high-end cocktails. Take your pick—Bemelmans is inside the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel on the Upper East Side and King Cole Bar is in the St. Regis just off Fifth Avenue and 55th Street.

First timers may be inclined to go up the Empire State Building, but it’s better to have the iconic building in your skyline pictures. For that view, buy timed-entry tickets for sunset at the new Summit One Vanderbilt to experience one of the city’s newest—and most technologically advanced—observation decks. In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows, the multilevel experience includes an infinity room with mirrored floors and ceilings, digital art installations, and an elevator that takes you high above the rooftop bar area (not for the faint of heart).

The night is young, and you’re probably hungry. Head to Times Square where Urban Hawker, a Singaporean-style hawker center, opened in September 2022. This urban food hall is the brainchild of Singapore’s own KF Seetoh, whose Makansutra guide is akin to a food-stall Michelin guide. Inside, you’ll find more than a dozen street-food vendors serving Hainanese chicken rice, satay, laksa, and more.

For those not ready to go to sleep yet, saunter across Sixth Avenue to Pebble Bar, a new bar located on the upper floors of a four-story townhouse in Rockefeller Center. The second-floor bar is open to walk-ins, but if you want to order some light bites with your cocktails, reserve a table for the third-floor lounge.
A street scene in Manhattan's Chinatown

A street scene in Manhattan’s Chinatown

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

Day 2Immerse yourself Downtown

You can’t go wrong with a dim sum breakfast at Golden Unicorn on East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which itself dates back to the 1870s, when immigrants from China settled around Mott, Doyers, and Pell streets).

Then head north to Canal Street, the main artery of the neighborhood, bustling with stores and sidewalk vendors selling T-shirts, electronics, trinkets, iPad covers, and toys. For a deeper dive into the neighborhood’s history, visit the Museum of Chinese in America on Centre Street in a building designed by Maya Lin, the architect best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Over on Broadway, start your shopping adventures in SoHo at Pearl River Mart, a 50-year-old family business and longtime local staple for imported Asian items, including ceramics and fancy chopsticks.

Continue your Soho exploration off Broadway—which is mostly full of larger chains these days—and pop into one of the neighborhood’s independent bookstores. When you purchase a coffee or a gently used volume at Housing Works Bookstore, Café and Bar, you’ll be helping support programs for people living with AIDS. Over on Prince Street, the original McNally Jackson has been selling historical memoirs, international literature, and much more since 2004. It now has locations in Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Southstreet Seaport, as well.

For a reprieve from walking, the cozy bar at the Crosby Street Hotel is ideal for a martini, or grab a beer at Fanelli Cafe, a bar at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets that dates back to the 1860s and still retains some of the old neighborhood’s flavor.

Head north now to the ultra-charming West Village. On MacDougal Street are historic venues like Café Wha? (where Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix performed when starting out) and Caffe Reggio, open since 1927. At the heart of the neighborhood is Washington Square Park, a popular place for protests, students, competitive chess matches, street musicians, and—at the base of Fifth Avenue—an iconic arch dedicated to George Washington. On any given day, it’s fun to stroll or sit and people-watch for a while.

New York was once a late-night dining city, but recently its locals have gravitated toward earlier reservations as a way to end their WFH days sooner rather than later. So if you book a 5 or 6 p.m. reservation at a hot spot like the Michelin-starred Italian eatery Don Angie on Greenwich Avenue, you won’t be the only ones there. Which is great, since it’ll give you plenty of time to eat and make an 8 p.m. show—whether you’re heading up to Times Square for a Broadway performance or staying in the neighborhood for a jazz show at the Village Vanguard or Smalls.
The Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

The Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Photo by Shutterstock

Day 3Bagels, boats, and Brooklyn

Start your day downtown with a classic NYC bagel with cream cheese and lox. There are hundreds of bagel shops to choose from in the city, but you’ll want to head to the Lower East Side where Russ & Daughters opened in 1914 and has remained a favorite through four generations of family ownership. There’s always a line here and you won’t find any seating inside—but the inconvenience is worth it.

While inflation has affected pricing on nearly everything in NYC, the Staten Island Ferry, which started operating in 1905, continues to operate for free 24/7. The 25-minute ride between Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and St. George Terminal on Staten Island takes you right past the Statue of Liberty. Simply hop off in the Staten Island terminal and board the next boat back to Manhattan for a leisurely hour on the water.

Just opposite the Staten Island Ferry Terminal back in Manhattan is a brand-new playground with concrete slides and splash pads for kids to burn off some energy. And the park’s aquatically themed SeaGlass Carousel is open to all ages to enjoy a ride on an iridescent fish.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a dozen restaurants in NYC, but his newest venture is down at the South Street Seaport, the historic waterfront neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. Located on the site of the former Fulton Fish Market, the Tin Building by Jean-Georges is a 53,000-square-foot culinary marketplace with more than 20 restaurants, bars, and fast-casual dining spots, as well as an Asian retail market, a bakery, and a high-end candy shop.

Most first-time visitors to New York never leave Manhattan until they need to head to the airport. But you’re not most travelers. For unexpected—and less crowded—views of the Brooklyn Bridge, skip walking the one-mile long suspension bridge and take the ferry from Wall Street/Pier 11—just south of the South Street Seaport—one stop to the DUMBO/Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn. For $4, the four-minute ride carries you across the East River and drops you right at the base of the famous bridge where you can explore the formerly neglected waterfront that’s been reborn as Brooklyn Bridge Park. Locals flock here for the soccer fields and basketball courts, excellent playgrounds, food kiosks, public art, a man-made beach area on the river, and lots of open lawns and benches for sunbathing and people-watching. If you have time, enjoy a spritz on the rooftop of the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge to take in the view from above.

After leaving the waterfront, head up the hill to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for postcard views of Manhattan. Walk along the length of the promenade and then head deeper into Brooklyn to the NYC Transit Museum where kids and adults alike can explore historic subway cars—with original ads, wicker seats, and ceiling fans—located in a decommissioned station in Downtown Brooklyn. If you get hungry along the way, stop into L’Appartment 4F, a French bakery that started in its owners’ Brooklyn apartment during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Of course, you can’t visit New York without getting pizza. It’s impossible to name the best in the city with options like Di Fara and Totonno’s, Scarr’s Pizza, and Roberta’s, but Lucali is one of the top contenders. At this Carroll Gardens institution, chef Mark Iacono hand-kneads his dough and proofs it for 24 hours. He then tops his pies with house-marinated tomatoes and bakes everything in a wood oven to create his signature thin, crispy crust. It’ll be even more rewarding than expected after the usual two- to three-hour wait for a seat in the small, candlelit dining room. Pro tip: Get in line at 4 p.m. to add your name to the list, and then hit a wine shop and an ATM (it’s BYOB and cash only). While you wait, hit up a neighborhood bar like Brooklyn Social, Henry Public, or the Long Island Bar, all within a 10-minute walk.
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