New York City itinerary: How to see the best of New York in four days

New York is the city that never sleeps and getting sleep can also be a challenge for visitors – because there's simply too much to do.

And tourists continue to flock to the Big Apple in huge numbers. In 2017, a record 62.8 million people visited the city, 13.1 million of them coming from overseas.

You could spend a month in New York and still feel like you haven't "done" it all. On the other hand, the heart of the city, Manhattan, is relatively compact – if you plan ahead, you can pack a lot into a short visit.

In just four days you can see most of the famous sights and do many of the experiences. Just be prepared to speed up your pace to New York time.

Day one – Central Park and central art

Guggenheim museum of art, New York City.

The Guggenheim. Photo: Shutterstock

Although it can be pricy, try to base yourself close to Central Park or Times Square to start your visit.

Start your first day in New York with a morning in Central Park – wander through the grassy hills. If you're feeling like a real tourist, rent a row boat ($US15) and head out on to the lake.

On the edge of Central Park East is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org). You could spend all day here, but if you want to squeeze everything in, limit your visit to a couple of hours and check out the highlights: works by Monet, Renoir and van Gogh; Greek and Roman sculptures; and the huge Egyptian collection.

From here, pop across to Lexington Avenue and grab a pastrami sandwich from Pastrami Queen, one of late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's favourites. Head back towards Central Park and turn north to arrive at the Guggenheim museum (guggenheim.org). Again you could spend a lot of time here, but an hour or so should give you enough time to make your way to the top of the spiralling interior of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building and back down, enjoying the exceptional art collection on the way.

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Times Square is best seen at night, when the neon glow of the billboards and giants screens light up the space. The area heaves with crowds at all hours of the day, but the reality is there's not a lot to do here, other than simply walk through and experience what is probably the most famous city square on earth. Now that you've seen it, you can head back to your hotel and go to bed.

Day 2 – Magic in the air

Broadway show ads, New York City

Photo: Shutterstock

No visit to New York is complete without seeing a Broadway show. Unless you have your heart set on seeing a major new hit, such as Hamilton, you'll often find decent discounts on tickets to some of the long-running shows. Same-day tickets can be obtained from the TKTS booth at Times Square. Get there early or you'll find yourself having to queue for quite a long time. If you want to see something in particular, it's best to book ahead online. In September, Broadway Week (which actually goes for more than one week), sees two-for-one deals on many of the best shows in town.

Once you have your tickets sorted, take a short walk north of Times Square to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (moma.org). It's another huge space you could spend all day in, but limit yourself to the highlights you can see in a few hours. The most famous work here is van Gogh's The Starry Night, but you'll likely recognise plenty of the other art from the likes of Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollack and more.

Your next must-do is a visit to one of the major observation decks in the city. While the Empire State Building (esbnyc.com) is probably the city's most iconic building and offers terrific views of city, it has one disadvantage: when you're standing at the top of the Empire State Building, you can't see the Empire State Building. For this reason, the Top of the Rock (topoftherocknyc.com), the observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller Centre, is my recommendation, since it offers a classic view of the New York skyline along with Central Park views to the north.

Broadway shows tend to start about 8pm, which doesn't leave a lot of time for a sit-down meal. Instead, grab a quick bite from one of the city's many street food vendors. Those famous hot dogs aren't exactly fine dining, but you can't visit the city without trying one. Alternatively, north of Times Square, pop into Ray's (736 7th Avenue) for another New York food – giant, thin-crust slices of pizza.

Head to your Broadway show, bearing in mind that many of the "Broadway" theatres aren't on Broadway, but on cross streets. Some of the longest running shows in town include Wicked, The Lion King, The Book of Mormon and the Phantom of the Opera.

If you're not too tired, head back to the Empire State Building. The observation deck is open until 2am, so you can enjoy views of the Big Apple lit up at night.

Day 3 – Lines and lines

High Line
Traveller use only. The High Line, New York City

The High Line. Photo: NYC&Co/Will Steacy

Spend your next two nights closer to Downtown. Soho or Greenwich Village will let you see a part of Manhattan where people actually live, as opposed to the tourist-ridden Times Square area. Head to the High Line (thehighline.org), the old elevated train line that has been turned into a green and gorgeous walkway, taking you between high-rise buildings with views out to the Hudson River. Follow the High Line to the river and you'll come out at the ferry terminal, where you can board a Circle Line ferry tour that will take you around the southern end of the island, past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then up the eastside and under the Brooklyn Bridge.

When you return to the ferry terminal, you'll see a large aircraft carrier right next door. This is the decommissioned USS Intrepid (intrepidmuseum.org), now a museum featuring a great collection of aircraft, including a Concorde and a Lockheed Blackbird spy plane, but the highlight is an actual space shuttle. The Enterprise (yes, named after the Star Trek spaceship) never actually flew into space but was used for atmospheric test flights. Nevertheless, it's an incredible impressive piece of space exploration history..

For dinner, catch the subway back downtown to Soho. There are plenty of places to eat around here, but a fun and lively place is La Escquina. The Mexican restaurant has three locations in Manhattan, but it's original venue is on Kenmare Street (See https://esquinanyc.com). While it looks like an old-school diner at first glance, a doorway opens on a staircase that leads you into a dimly lit, modern underground restaurant space.

From Soho, take the subway to Washington Square Station and walk to the Comedy Cellar. The legendary basement comedy venue is small, so consider booking your tickets in advance online (comedycellar.com/). This venue is famous for launching the careers of some of the biggest names in American stand-up and, although the website lists who is performing each night, you never know who might show up and perform a set (the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock have been known to make unannounced appearances).

Day 4 – Money never sleeps

Charging Bull and Fearless Girl face off against each other near Wall Street. Photo: AP

Wall Street is a surprisingly small and narrow street, but it's worth strolling down and seeing the New York Stock Exchange, before checking out the famous bull sculpture. Fearless Girl, the temporary artwork of a young girl facing up to the bull, is still in place and has proven so popular it may well become permanent. From here, head to the September 11 memorial – two vast sunken fountains on the spaces where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre stood, surrounded by the names of all that day's victims. The nearby 9/11 Memorial & Museum tells the story of that tragic day through multimedia displays, documents and interviews, along with exhibits of artefacts recovered from the site. See 911memorial.org

Grab a bike from one of the stations of New York's bike share scheme (citibikenyc.com) and ride down to the battery. This part of the city has a bike lane running along the edge of the river so you don't have to fight with the Manhattan traffic. You can follow this bike lane all the way around to the Brooklyn Bridge and, if you have time, you can even go for a ride over it.

Back on the Manhattan side of the bridge, one of the city's main heliports can be found. Several companies run scenic flights around the island from here, such as HeliNY Sightseeing (heliny.com). It's a terrific way to get a new perspective on the city and see how big Manhattan actually is. Flights will typically take you out over the bay, offering a bird's eye view of the Statue of Liberty and as far as Coney Island looking out to the Atlantic Ocean.

For dinner, head back over to the west side of the city to Tribeca, where you'll find an abundance of fine eateries including the Tribeca Grill (375 Greenwich Street, myriadrestaurantgroup.com/restaurants/tribeca/), adjacent to the Greenwich Hotel. Both are co-owned by legendary New York actor Robert De Niro. They're popular with celebrities so keep your eyes open for a visiting Hollywood star.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/new-york 

Nycgo.com 

STAY

Take a look at Traveller's guide to the best places to stay in New York for comprehensive reviews of some of the city's top hotels.

TIP

A New York CityPASS will get you entry to many of the city's top attractions including many of those mentioned above. Passes cost $US126 an adult and can result in big savings if you manage to see a lot of the attractions the pass covers. See citypass.com/new-york 

Craig Platt travelled with assistance from NYC & Co.

See also: The 13 things most tourists in New York miss

See also: The best places to eat in each of New York's districts


 

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