New York City – The Perfect Itinerary for First-timers

I’ve spent a lot of time in New York City, from living there to visiting as a tourist, so I thought it’d be easy to come up with the perfect itinerary for first-timers. But as I started writing things down, I had you doing so many things you’d probably need 40 hours in a day to get through them all! And let’s not even get started on the list of restaurants that you MUST go to. It’s about a mile long!

NEW-YORK-CITY

So it turns out making an itinerary for New York is actually really hard! There are just so many fun things to do and so many amazing restaurants to try that it’s impossible to fit it all in. This is a good thing though, and makes for reasons to come back!

As I slowly deleted out things from my very long list I did my best to come up with a good mix of tourist things and local things to do that should satisfy most of you on your first visit to New York. This itinerary is designed for the traveler who arrives to NY late on Thursday night and leaves late on Sunday afternoon, but you can move things around depending on what your travel schedule is.

A few things to know before you go:

  • The entire city is very walkable, but if you need to get from one end of town to the other a cab or the subway is a great option. If it’s raining I wouldn’t even attempt to try to hail a cab. Just find the most direct route to the subway. Which brings me to my next tip.
  • Download a subway app. It will quickly become your best friend as you make your way around the city. There are quite a few, but I like HopStop best. The subway is safe, but I wouldn’t go by yourself late at night. Wear layers. It can get really hot really quickly underground and depending where you’re going you could be down there for 20-30 minutes. The weekend schedule is different for a lot of the trains, so listen to the announcements carefully.
  • New Yorkers generally dress up more than the average American. They also eat dinner much later. 8, 9, and even 10pm are common dinner times! This probably isn’t too different for most European visitors.
  • Bring COMFORTABLE walking shoes. And don’t pack your favorite pair! The streets are absolutely filthy! I can’t even tell you how many pairs of shoes I went through in that city!
  • Look up a map of NYC and familiarize yourself with the Neighborhoods/Areas before you go.

nyc-cab

Let’s get on to the itinerary shall we?! For your first visit I think it’s easiest to split Manhattan in half into the upper and lower parts of the island. On day one we’ll focus on the lower half and day two we’ll tackle the upper half. If you have time on Sunday we’ll get our toes wet in Brooklyn.

DAY 1

*I have two options for the morning. Option 1 is touristy and Option 2 is more of a typical day in the life of a New Yorker.

 Morning – Option 1

  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island (leaves from Battery Park) – This will take up most of your morning so get there early. (For a free option, hop on the Staten Island Ferry. You can’t get off at the Statue of Liberty, but you will get a nice view of it as well as downtown NYC)
  • Make your way up the island and stop at the 9/11 memorial & museum
  • If Wall Street interests you, check out the NYSE and take a picture with the bull (Trinity Church is nearby if you’re into old churches)

statue-of-liberty

Morning – Option 2

For those of you interested in a less touristy and more ‘New Yorker’ experience, here’s what I would do.

  • Stroll through Chelsea market
  • Window shop through the Meatpacking district
  • Finish the morning with a walk on the High Line

highline

Brunch/Lunch

Afternoon

  • For the afternoon I suggest you wander through SoHo and The Village to get your shopping fix. Take in the low buildings and winding streets. Chinatown is right off SoHo on Canal Street and is where you’ll find knockoffs.
  • When you’re ready for a break grab a slice from Joe’s pizza (the best slice in the city!) or if you’re looking for something sweet hit up Magnolia Bakery (go for the banana pudding or the cupcakes)
  • Head back to your hotel, put your feet up, and get ready for dinner and the evening.

SoHo & The Village

Dinner

Dinner tonight is in the West Village. A few options to try are OTTO Enoteca, Waverly Inn (if you want an extra special meal), or a slice at Joe’s for something cheap (mentioned above). There are a million other great restaurants in the area if these options don’t work for you.

Evening

  • Comedy Cellar (Must get tickets ahead of time) – Mike and I love the Comedy Cellar and go back almost every visit.
  • Once the show is over you’ll have lots of bars nearby to continue the party or you can head back to your hotel to get some zzz’s.

Central-Park

Day 2

Brunch

  • Brunch is definitely a New York experience, so make reservations at Sarabeth’s. If you want something quick grab a bagel on the go (Black Seed Bagel (Nolita), Absolute Bagels, Zabars or Barney Greengrass (UWS), Murrays (West Village), Ess-a-bagel (Midtown), Freds (inside Barney’s department store)

Morning

Time to explore Central Park and Upper Manhattan.

  • You could spend hours wandering through Central Park, so if there are certain things you want to see you may want to map it out. Some of the highlights for me are The Mall, Strawberry Fields (a tribute to John Lennon), Bethesda Fountain, the Zoo, the Boathouse, and the Bow bridge.
  • Stop for a treat at Levain bakery (the cookies are to die for) or Milk Bar (famous for cereal milk and amazing cookies and cakes!)
  • As you make your way down from the Park you can scope out the shopping on 5th Ave and take a looksie at diamonds in Tiffany’s flagship store.

Lunch

No trip is complete without a stop at a Shake shack. The original is at Madison Square park and is probably the best one, but they are all over the city now.

Afternoon

  • New York has great museums, and most first-time visitors want to see the MoMA, The Met, and the Guggenheim. Unless you’re a real museum aficionado visiting one or two should be enough for the weekend. On this itinerary we’ll go to the MoMA. (If you prefer to go to the Met or the Guggenheim you can hit up the Shake Shack in Upper Manhattan for lunch rather than the Madison Square Park location)
  • Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building – the Top of the Rock is less expensive and you’ll get to have the Empire State Building in your photos, so in my opinion going up the Top of the Rock is the better option. (If you don’t plan to see a Broadway show tonight then you may want to see the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building at sunset)
  • If you have extra time you can pop into Grand Central Station.
  • Don’t forget to get a picture of the Chrysler Building–my favorite in the city!:)

times-square

Dinner

Tonight we’re going to see a Broadway show, so plan your dinner in the area. Some suggestions are Toloache, Bar Americaine, and Ca Va Brasserie.

Evening

  • Walk through Times Square (Keep your eye out for the “Naked Cowboy”)
  • Broadway Show (Next time I’m in NY I want to see an American in Paris, but some of my favorites are Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables, and Phantom of the Opera)
  • There are plenty of options for after show drinks or if you want to go out head back down to the Meatpacking district.

Day 3

brooklyn-bridge

      • Grab a quick breakfast so there is time to walk (or bike) over the Brooklyn Bridge. While there isn’t enough time to give Brooklyn a proper visit, this is a good time to scope out the Dumbo area.
      • Stop for lunch at a Brooklyn style pizza joint Grimaldi’s or Juliana’s or treat yourself at one of these locations Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Lizzmonade, or Jacques Torres for chocolate chip cookies.
      • If you do have a little more time you could hit up the Brooklyn Flea Market or walk the Brooklyn Heights promenade. If you don’t feel like walking or biking back you can take the East River Ferry.

Sadly it’s time to go home, but don’t worry I’m sure you’ll be back again for a visit!

If you’re planning a trip with your family or kids, check out my list of kid-friendly recommendations here. If you’re visiting over the holidays, check out my “Christmas in New York” travel guide here.

Happy Travels!

xo, Jenny

59 thoughts on “New York City – The Perfect Itinerary for First-timers

  1. Kim

    Great ideas! Wish I had seen this. I just got back from a week in NYC with the family. Writing about it now, but how nice it would have been to have your ideas and the way you organized areas to visit! So much to see and agree with everything you suggested. Wish I had more time for all these cool restaurants! Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan was probably the highlight for us! Kim

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      Hi, Kim! That’s great! Yah, there is just so much to do and see in NY you could never fit it all in! Glad you had fun with your family! Looking forward to reading about your trip! xo

      Reply
      1. Robyn

        Thanks for the itinerary! Planning a trip in July with 2 full days and a lot of these things are on our “to do” list, now have a better idea of a route!

        Reply
  2. Sincerel, Iru

    I absolutely love your Itinerary and will probably follow it to the T lol. I am going in 3 weeks and my biggest struggle right now is where to stay? What area is central to everything? Would love to hear your recommendation!!!

    Also can i really take no heels?

    Sincerely, Iru.

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      Hi, Iru! So glad this is helpful! I didn’t put up hotels on the itinerary because it’s so hard to know everyone’s budget, but here are a few recs! When my parents would visit me they loved the grand Hyatt because it’s in the center and above grand central station (a little pricey, but not terrible and big rooms). I sometimes like to stay at the Sheraton TriBeCa because I use Starwood points (again a bit expensive but pretty good for ny prices – it right off Chinatown so close to soho) I’ve been told the Jane hotel is in a great location and really affordable although your room is a shoebox! I don’t think you can go too wrong for location because if it’s your first visit you’ll be hitting up both the upper and lower half… Let me know if I can answer any other questions!:) have fun!

      Reply
  3. Rebecca

    My cousin is about to go and study in New York for three months and he’s leaving in a couple of weeks, I asked him if he’d done any reason and he said he hadn’t (apart from music venues, he’s a musician!) so I had to give him your blog post as a good starting point for his time in the city, what a great guide! It means the rest of us can be lazy safe in the knowledge an expert has done all the work for us.

    Reply
  4. Roelene

    hello! What a great tips! Our family of three are visiting NY for the first time first week of December. Any ideas for a 7 day itinerary with a 10 year old boy? We are from South Africa and New York is going to be a lifechanging experience. Got a great hotel in Upper West Side. Thank you. Xx

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      Thanks, Roelene! That sounds like an amazing trip! I started making you list, but then realized I might as well do a post on it so I’ll try to have it up on the blog next week!

      Reply
      1. Sara

        Did you ever make a 7 day suggestion? I am taking my two boys 15 and 13 and loved your short itinarary suggestions. We are staying in an air B and B in Hamilton Heights NY. It is close to the trains so we should be able to get around pretty easily. Should we get a subway pass for the week?

        Reply
        1. Judy

          I was also looking for a 7 day itinerary. There will be two families. 4 adults and 7 young adults ranging from 20-24. We are leaving this Friday, May 20th. I love the short itinerary, but would also love to have some more ideas for a longer stay. Any recommendations are appreciated.

          Reply
  5. Blaithnid

    i just learned today that I’m getting to NYC as a surprise 30th bday gift!
    The research has officially begun and I started with your article! SO GREAT!
    Thank you so much .. I’m probably going to follow it to the letter!
    Also thank you for the additional advice on Hotels.
    Am I right in saying so what if your hotel is not amazing as really you plan to spend very little time in it?

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      That’s so exciting! You lucky duck! Yes, I would agree with the hotel thing. Even the expensive hotels can be a bit disappointing for how much they cost! I’d put your money towards activities and dinners rather than splurge on a hotel! Happy 30th!!

      Reply
      1. Blaithnid

        The day has come!!
        I am barking on my trip TODAY ~ yay
        Have just shown your itinerary to my new husband and he is very excited!
        We have just downloaded the HopStop app!

        Wish me luck ☘
        Blaithnid X

        Reply
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  8. Heather

    I am just putting our itinerary together for our trip in two weeks and this is so useful! THANK YOU.

    We’re staying in East Village.

    We are going for a full week, so would you suggest we just break up what you have written here? Or do you have a weeks itinerary/ideas that could help?

    I love the ease of your schedule, it feels so chilled but focused, which is exactly what we want for our first experience of the city!

    Would you also recommend we get any passes too?

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      Hi Heather! Have so much fun! You’ll love the East Village! Perfect place to stay! I don’t have a full week itinerary, but it will give you time to try out lots of good restaurants and enjoy the city! I haven’t done a pass before, but I’ve heard they save a LOT of money if you’re doing all the major sights. Probably worth looking into!

      xo

      Reply
  9. Kim

    Hi! Love your itinerary! I am planning a trip on nov 28th! I have been several times and love the city!! We are doing a bus trip for the day and am planning on having a paper for everyone on the bus – things to do and see!
    Anything special I should include??
    Thanks so much!!! So excited to see what you tell us!!
    Cool little shops to make sure we go to!! We will be there from about 11-7!

    Reply
  10. Tammy

    What is the best night to go to a Broadway show? We have the option of Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. We are planning to see the Lion King.

    Reply
    1. Traveling Chic Post author

      Hi Tammy! I don’t think it will make a difference in terms of your enjoyment! It might be a little harder to get tickets Friday and Saturday as they are likely busier nights but that’s all I can think of! Have fun – the Lion King is great!

      Reply
  11. Emma

    Hi
    I’m traveling to NY by myself next year. Would you say everything in your itinerary would be suitable for a single traveler.
    Thank you

    Reply
  12. Kelly

    Ahhh this is perfect!! My friend and I are visiting NYC in February for three days. Already reserved a spot for brunch – we’re so excited!

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    Just booked for 5 days to New York later this year and your itinerary is fantastic. Everything we had planned to do is on there and more. Am so looking forward to coming.

    Reply
  14. Alina

    Thank you so much for these wonderful recommendations. You are very organized, and I really like to be organized as well. My best friend and I are going on a girls’ trip in a couple of months. We are busy moms, so it will be great to explore NYC for a little bit. Thanks again!

    Reply
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  17. Nadine

    Great post. We are planning on visiting New York in early December 2016. Do you have any advice about visiting or things to in winter?

    Reply
  18. Graham

    Visting NYC in late June – would like to rent an apartment.

    Where would you recommend that within walking distance of at least some of the main attractions but perhaps a little quieter at night (I’m a light sleeper!)

    Reply
  19. Aisha

    Thank you so Much for this post. I am travelling to New York on March 23, from Uganda, East Africa and this is my first trip. can’t wait to have the broadway experience. single traveller here so really excited for the experience . This helped.

    Reply
  20. Desiree

    HI Jenny,

    Thank you so much for this very helpful guide. By any chance, would you have a guide good for 5 days? :)

    Reply
  21. Taylor

    Great post! I love the ideas as they’re still relevant a year later! The ideas and recommendations on this site are well though out and one can tell they come from someone with experience!

    All of these recommendations and ideas are something that I look for when writing my own itineraries or sharing them through my community. I’ve started a company called LocalStumbler, a platform that connects travelers to locals for customized itineraries. We launch or new re-vamped site in the next couple of days and would love to connect and see we can help each other.

    Happy Travels!
    Taylor

    Reply
  22. Sara

    What a wonderful find prior to my 7 day NYC trip! I am 45 and was fortunate enough to go back to school and complete lifelong dream of having my degree. This is my grad present from my parents…better late than never, right?!
    Anyway this trip is definitely a bucket list item and beyond excited! Going with my stepmom aka Mams-56yrs old) and just can’t decide where all to go! Of course we have the pass for the tourist sites (Museum of MA, Statue of Liberty, 9/11 museum) and are going to a Broadway show and staying smack dab middle of the hustle and bustle… but…after researching I have come to the realization that 7 days is not nearly enough to see it all!
    We are also planning on hitting up The Rock, The Cathedral, flea market area (a request by Mams), Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, and 5th Avenue. We also would like to visit all boroughs.
    What else would you recommend to make it the best trip ever? Also if you have the time, helping with what attractions to do on same day for best time management, would be amazing! I believe our Broadway is set for 8pm on Friday or Saturday night.
    The dining options are endless so confused there. We will splurge for a couple of meals but need economical, yet good and memorable options, for the majority of meals.

    Any additional advice or “must go” attractions, areas will be so appreciated! Also the best apps for subway and map for navigating our way would be great!
    God Bless and thanks again for your informative article! ????????????????????????????????????

    Reply
  23. Floyd Warren

    Great itinerary! We are going to NY from 1-5 May and will use your itinerary as our basis. We are struggling with hotel locations. We are thinking about Times Sq area near Broadway. Any ideas.
    This is a bucket list item for my wife and me and we are excited. You have been a huge help since this will be our first visit to the Big Apple. Thanks

    Reply
  24. Lyndsey

    Hey!! I am visiting NYC with my best friend and we will use your itinerary as our outline, too!! We are excited that you have planned out our trip for you!! :)
    Thanks so much!!!

    Reply
  25. Lyndsey

    Hey!! I am visiting NYC with my best friend and we will use your itinerary as our outline, too!! We are excited that you have planned out our trip for us!! :)
    Thanks so much!!!

    Reply
  26. Peggy Redden

    a jog in central park is on my bucket list. is it safe to jog there? What time can you start if you enjoy early morning jogs. What part of the city would you stay in to be within wal I ING dustane. I’d love to walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge also.

    Reply
  27. Caroline Gadd

    Absolutely loved your info. We are visiting in February 17 and I simply cannot wait. We will definitely be basing our 7 day visit on your info. Is it better to buy a NYC Pass than pay individually or are there other options? Thank you sooo much for this info. Kind regards, Caroline x

    Reply
  28. Jessica

    Great itinerary! We are going to New York in a few weeks and are starting to plan out what we will be doing there. I am really wanting to see a Broadway show, any tips on where to get discounted tickets? We will definitely be checking out some of the places you recommended. Thanks!

    Jessica | Nearby Wanderer

    Reply
  29. Christine

    My husband and I are excited to visit NYC for the first time! It’s mainly because of the US Open since my husband is a tennis fan… But we have flexible tickets so we can check the city out. I’m so happy that I’ve come across your blog, super helpful! We are definitely taking the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty on the first morning! I can’t wait to watch the Broadway Shows and have a photo with the Empire State Building as background! :) Thank you!

    Reply
  30. Tiffany

    Great post!! Do you have recommendations on where to stay with teenage boys? Trying to decide between the Towers of Waldorf or a Hilton in Times Square.

    Reply

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