Looking to cover New York City’s highlights in a weekend? This two-day, action packed itinerary will take you through the best of the best. Be prepared: you will do a lot of walking. My two weekend trips to NYC have seen me average 13 miles a day according to my Fitbit. This fast-paced New York City itinerary will keep you on the move and is definitely for the go-getters who want to see and do as much as possible in a short amount of time.
Day One in New York City
Start your weekend in NYC in lower Manhattan and finish the day in Midtown.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Yes, it’s touristy, but the history here is fascinating. You almost certainly know someone whose relatives passed through Ellis Island when they immigrated to the US. Make sure to buy your tickets ahead of time, and book the earliest boat possible. If you have your heart set on visiting the top of the Statue of Liberty, book as early as possible. You’ll get to visit both islands on your trip. You can spend as much or as little time as you want on each island. Book your tickets here.
Highlights of Lower Manhattan
Once you return to Manhattan, take some time to explore the financial district. You’re only a few blocks away from the famous Charging Bull statue, not to mention the Fearless Girl installation that’s staring it down. You can continue north to see the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall where George Washington took the oath of office as he became the first president.
If you’re hungry for lunch, look for the Fraunces Tavern, which is both a historic eatery and a museum. You can get colonial style food and pay a visit to the banquet room where Washington bid farewell to his top commanders just before resigning his commission at the end of the Revolutionary War. And you can’t go wrong with gorgeous food presentation like this beef pie.
Head west from here and pay a visit to the World Trade Center memorial. The monument is absolutely perfect in its design and as someone who vividly remembers that day it’s extremely moving. Take some time to wander and read the names. Just please show some respect and don’t take your jumping selfies here. The roses stuck in some of the names are placed there on the person’s birthday. The September 11th museum is on the same site if you have extra time in your schedule.
Right next door is the Oculus, a large mall and transit hub with a very unique design. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no doubt that the white beams inside are visually striking. Once you’ve snapped a few pictures (or done some shopping) hop a subway train to Midtown to explore Central Park. There are several stations that provide easy access to the park, so decide what area you want to explore and choose a route based on that.
This large, green rectangle in the middle of New York City is incredible to see from the air if you fly into one of the city’s airports. It’s even more impressive to wander. We were lucky that there was a little fall color left as we wandered the pathways. I particularly liked climbing on the large rock formations. If you stick to the south end of the park, there are several striking views of the Midtown skyscrapers from various viewing points.
If you choose to head further north, there are some beautiful lakes and ponds to explore. Belvedere Castle is a top spot for photography. The structure was built as an observation point and is still the weather reading station for the park. It’s open to visitors, so feel free to climb the winding stairs all the way to the top. Once you’ve had your fill of the park, hop a bus or a train to the east side to visit the United Nations headquarters.
United Nations headquarters tour
We chose a train route that took us to Grand Central Station so we could snap some photos there. It’s about a half mile walk from there to the UN, but it was worth it. Be sure to pre-purchase your tickets to guarantee yourself a time slot in the late afternoon. Between going through security, exploring the exhibits, and the tour itself, we spent about 2.5 hours at the UN. Read more about our tour here.
Times Square and TKTS discounted Broadway tickets
Once you finish your tour, head back to tourist central aka Times Square. You can snap some pictures of the crazy billboards and dodge creepy characters and massive crowds as you try to navigate the sidewalks. In the center of Times Square, you’ll also find the TKTS booth aka your portal to discount Broadway tickets (you can skip this step if you’ve already bought tickets). Same day tickets for evening performances go on sale at 3 pm, so if you plan on seeing a show there’s no point in showing up before then. A staff member told us that the line typically begins forming an hour before the booths open, though we showed up after five and had no problem getting tickets. The line was quite long, but it moved very fast as there are about a dozen ticket windows serving customers. You can save even more money by seeing an afternoon matinee, but it’s not a very efficient use of time if you’re trying to pack a lot of sightseeing into a quick trip. Most of the shows offer 40-50% discounts.
Once you’ve secured your tickets, you should have time for dinner before the show starts. I’d recommend venturing away from Times Square (did you really travel to New York City to eat at a Friday’s?) and finding somewhere a few blocks away. You’ll find great little eateries from cheap pizza-by-the-slice places to fine dining on almost every block so locating something to suit your taste should be easy. If you have extra time to kill, find a little bakery or dessert shop and have a sweet treat.
Go to Broadway
I’d spent years dreaming of seeing a show on Broadway, so this was a huge deal for me. The doors typically open about an hour before the show, though there’s really no need to line up as long as you arrive with enough time to find your seat before it starts. I wore the same outfit all day as we didn’t want to have to head back to Brooklyn to change clothes and I felt like the sweater dress and fleece tights I was wearing and the khakis and button down my boyfriend had on fit right about in the center of the range of outfits we saw. There was everything from fancy cocktail dresses to people in sweats (maybe don’t be that person) in the crowd, so as long as you look presentable you should be fine.
Once your show is over, you can call it a night. You probably did a lot of walking today. Head back to the hotel and get some rest. Or hit up one of the dozens of bars in the area for a drink if you can still keep your eyes open.
Day Two in NYC
Are you ready for another action-packed day in New York City? Get up early and get ready to do some more exploring. You can sleep when you’re not on vacation.
Start your day with breakfast or brunch in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Brooklyn. You’ll get great views of the Manhattan Bridge and are within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge. Once you’re done eating, head towards the water and explore the Brooklyn Bridge Park. There are some great photo spots of both bridges and the lower part of Manhattan across the water.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge has become a popular tourist activity. It’s such an iconic landmark that it’s easy to see why. Unfortunately, that makes it really crowded. The earlier in the day you can get to it, the more pleasant it will be as you’re less likely to run into crowds of tourists that shove you into the bike lane (true story). They really mean it when they say not to leave locks on the bridge, as evidenced by this sign.
You can wander through several of Manhattan’s famous neighborhoods starting at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. There are plenty of walking tours available or you can wander on your own (or do what we did and have a relative who lives there give us our own private tour). Chinatown, SoHo, TriBeCa, and Greenwich Village are all within walking distance so depending on your tastes you can find somewhere that appeals to you.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, grab lunch here before making your next stop. I’d recommend Chinatown or Greenwich Village for restaurants.
Visit a museum
Once you’ve explored lower Manhattan, hop a train to your museum of choice. The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the American Museum of Natural History are both fantastic, though there are dozens to choose from. I loved the Met’s displays of Egyptian artifacts, but the extensive collection of dinosaur bones at the natural history museum were fascinating too.
If you finish up early at your museum of choice, you can always pop into Central Park for a bit more wandering. Most of the museums close around five, so you should be able to wrap up your day then. Grab dinner somewhere in the vicinity, and decide whether you want to check out the nightlife or call it quits.
What are your must-dos for a weekend in New York City? Let me know in the comments.
Read more New York posts here:
- Touring the United Nations Headquarters in New York City
- Thacher State Park
- Albany, New York Dining Guide
- Niagara Falls State Park
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