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New York is a place that is incredibly close to my heart. I practically cherish New York, even though that might sound silly. We usually think of cherish when it comes to people, not places.
Unsurprisingly, this (hopefully extensive) 2 days in New York Itinerary wasn’t the easiest post to write. No doubt about it, trying to come up with a great weekend itinerary for one of my favorite cities was a challenge. I procrastinated for way too long hitting the publish button.
As you know, I’m in New York City all the time. Being a traveler, I’m so lucky to live so close to this sprawling metropolis, because not only is it the biggest city in the entire United States, but I’m able to “see the world” for the cost of a train ticket.
Well, okay. My wallet doesn’t feel lucky. But I do!
However, if a person has only two days to spare, tackling New York is an overwhelming task. Seriously, I wasn’t sure where to even begin with this itinerary, especially for travelers coming to New York for the very first time.
New York is endless. End. Less.
2 Days in New York – Where to Even Begin
Okay, enough lamenting about how hard writing this guide was. You already have a headache.
So let’s just say you landed at JFK or Newark airport, and want to hit the pavement now. Where do you begin?
Honestly, despite loving certain neighborhoods more than others, I still recommend that new visitors spend most of their time in Midtown – which is located smack in the middle of Manhattan. Hence the name.
Although the idea of spending a lot of time in Midtown makes native New Yorkers cringe, we can’t lie and say that Midtown isn’t the classic image of New York that springs to most travelers’ minds.
Why should new visitors miss the chance to see Times Square’s bright lights? Cheer at a Broadway Show? Get incredible views at the Top of the Rock or Empire State Building? Because Midtown has too many tourists and a “tacky” vibe? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.
So, new timers, go to Midtown and have a blast! You’ve my blessing. Being a tourist is one of my best tips for visiting New York for the first time, haha. Have fun with the cheesy souvenir shops, too.
Is New York in 48 Hours Enough Time?
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably wondering if 2 days in New York is enough time to see and do everything.
Haha, I hope you weren’t expecting a different answer. But let’s get real. New York City is the biggest metropolitan area in the United States. Not to mention, one of the biggest cities in the world. Seeing all of New York in two days is laughable.
For instance, I live about an hour away from New York, and I still haven’t see absolutely everything. My NYC bucket list disgustingly long. I have an endless list of museums, theaters, restaurants, and neighborhoods.
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I ever will experience everything in New York in my lifetime.
However, with 2 days in New York, you’re able to at least sample this iconic city, which is the setting of so many movies and television shows, and is the concrete jungle of entrepreneur dreams.
Don’t run around trying to see everything. Make a list of your top ten sights and move on from there. Pack a good guide book to keep you on track. After all, you want some free time in your itinerary. Running from place to place isn’t fun.
How to Get to New York City
New York City has three major airports. Newark Liberty and JFK for international and domestic flights, as well as La Guardia strictly for domestic flights. Each airport is serviced by public transportation.
Keep in mind that Newark Liberty is located in nearby New Jersey, but getting to New York from Newark International is easy enough if NJ Transit has no delays.
Taxis are also readily available for new arrivals, but you’ll pay a shiny penny. For example, the flat taxi rate for JFK to Penn Station is around $50. You’re better off combining the subways and train service for the best prices, unless you’re staying in a neighborhood underserviced by the metro system (doubtful).
As for getting around the city itself, my honest advice is don’t shy away from the New York City subway.
Now I’ll be the first person to admit that the subway’s a little slow and erratic, especially on weekends, but the extensive metro system is still the cheapest way to move around America’s biggest city.
What to See in New York City in 2 Days
Not sure what to see in New York City in 2 days? My goal is to help you create a game plan.
Now, a quick warning, before we continue with this itinerary.
I’m obsessed with museums. Obsessed. It’s simple for me to spend hours in a museum. And New York? Is home to some of my favorites.
So, if you’re searching for the coolest coffee shops or bars, then you might want to check another guide. Consider yourself duly warned.
Day One in New York
Your first day in New York will strictly keep you in Midtown.
New York is huge, and you don’t want to spend your entire day walking for hours as you frantically jet around the five boroughs.
Truthfully, staying in this relatively limited area will keep you moving, while at the same time, logistically making sense as far as transportation is concerned.
Explore Midtown Manhattan
My first bit of advice is to simply wander around Midtown. Savor a taste of the intense bustle of New York City.
I wouldn’t spend too much time in the immediate area around Penn Station (it’s kind of gross), but instead take a walk to Magnolia Bakery on 6th Avenue and enjoy a coffee and red velvet cupcake. Or perhaps go to Times Square Plaza and take in all the bright advertisements. Or hit up Bryant Park for a classic New York setting near the public library.
Midtown is where most of the tourists hang out, sure, but you really breath and live the popularized image of New York by exploring this neighborhood.
See Bryant Park (Especially in Winter)
Okay, as much as I like Bryant Park, it doesn’t exactly steal my heart like Central Park does.
However, if you’re visiting New York at the height of the holiday season, then you need to see Bryant Park’s Winter Village.
Oh, and go inside the New York City Public Library. Free admissions and the reading room is absolutely stunning. Just respect locals who are actually coming to the library to study.
Taste History at Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Station is one of the biggest transit hubs in the city, but its historical charm was saved and preserved – unlike poor Penn Station.
This world famous landmark has much more than trains going to New York State and Connecticut.
In Grand Central, you’ll find a variety of dining and shopping options, and it’s even a good place to go to eat a spot of lunch. For example, you’re able to experience a touch of Denmark by visiting the Nordic Fall Hall and munching on an open faced sandwich.
Just be polite in Grand Central! You’ll see a lot of people on their ways to and from work, and you don’t want to get in their way.
See the Best Views at the Top of the Rock
As much as I loved the Empire State Building, I still think the best views in Manhattan are found at the Top of the Rock. Why? Because you’ll actually see the Empire State Building in your photos.
Head to the Rockefeller Center for your timed tickets. Is it expensive to go to the Top of the Rock? Yeah, sort of. A standard ticket costs $42.
However, if you’re seeing tons of attractions in New York, then invest in the New York CityPASS, because your entrance to the Top of the Rock is included in the costs. The New York CityPASS also spoils you, because the Empire State Building? Those views are bundled into the price too!
Shop on 5th & Madison Avenues
Do you like to throw budgets out the window as much as I do? Excellent. Then it’s time to do some shopping on 5th and Madison Avenues.
The most famous department store in this area is Saks Fifth Avenue. Although expensive, I adore the window shopping and ogling at flashy designer clothes. I always feel as if I’m on the set of The Devil Wears Prada whenever I go to Saks.
On Madison Avenue, you’ll find plenty of consignment stores that sell gently used designer brands. Michael’s, the Consignment Shop for Women, is on Madison Avenue and only a stone’s throw away from Central Park.
Which leads us to the best part of visiting New York for two days.
Take a Self-Guided Central Park Walking Tour
You can’t come to New York City and not see Central Park.
Ahhhhh, Central Park. I’ve done way too much personal reflection wandering through this green oasis.
As for me, I wrote an entire post dedicated to taking a self-guided Central Park walking tour, which I hope will help you experience the gentle magic of this famous urban oasis.
However, don’t worry about powering down your phone and wandering Central Park without a plan. Central Park is very safe during the day so you don’t need to fret much about safety issues if you get lost.
Lose Yourself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Anyone reading this blog already knows that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my favorite museum in the world.
Seriously, this collection of art is my designated happy place. I went to the Met after a broken heart and the exhibits felt like two warm arms around me. This museum is incredible.
Sadly, the Met has eliminated the “pay whatever you wish” ticket for visitors coming outside of New York City. Now standard admission to the Met (including the Cloisters and Breuer) costs $25.
However, I still think the cost for the Met is well worth it. This is one of the most famous art museums in the world, folks. Don’t skip over it.
Take your time looking at the masterpieces and learning about the artists. Don’t expect to see all the exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a single visit. It’s impossible to cover the whole thing in one afternoon.
Last but not least, my tips for visiting the Met will help you plan your stay in this incredible museum.
Day Two in New York
For our second day, we’ll spend a lot more time exploring the Downtown neighborhoods.
Pack extra comfortable shoes, because you’re going to be doing a fair share of walking today, starting in the early morning hours. Let’s get to it.
Cross the Brooklyn Bridge Early
Go early in the morning, before the dazed tourists and enraged cyclists, and cross the Brooklyn Bridge that connects the Financial District and DUMBO.
The Brooklyn Bridge provides some of the best views of Manhattan’s skyline.
Plus it’s cool to think about the fact that this hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge was finished in 1883, which is old by USA standards. You’re walking over a legitimate piece of history.
Explore the DUMBO Neighborhood
Okay, DUMBO is probably the most touristy and gentrified part of Brooklyn ever, but it’s such a pretty neighborhood that you still ought to spend some time exploring the streets once you’ve crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.
Don’t forget to see the most Instagrammed spot in all of New York located on Washington and Water Streets in Dumbo. This view hasn’t changed at all and gives you a peak into history. And it’s hilarious seeing all the influencers striking the same poses. Don’t miss it.
Pebble Beach is also a lovely vista point. I loved sitting on the beach and walking the boats zip in front of Manhattan. Truly beautiful.
Return to Manhattan & Walk in Battery Park
Upon returning to Manhattan, your feet will need a break so take a quick rest by spending some quality time in Battery Park.
The Battery is home to stunning harbor views (of my home state New Jersey) and splendid gardens. Nearby, it’s not a far walk to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial.
If you’d rather skip over the 9/11 Museum (not judging you, it’s an emotionally rough place), then Battery Park is also an easy place to take the Statue Cruises to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The latter is especially fascinating if you have ancestors who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. It’s a living piece of history.
Visit the 9/11 Museum and Memorial
September 11th, 2001 changed New York City (and the world) forever.
Although heartbreaking, it’s still worth paying a visit to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial and remembering this horrific day. Many horrible events happened after 9/11, too, which vastly transformed our worldscape, but try to ignore politics inside the museum. Instead take the time here to think about the victims and their families.
I’m not someone who dissolves into a crying mess easily, but even so, the museum crushed me, particularly the exhibit about United Airlines Flight 93.
If you think the museum would be too intense for you, then just stick to seeing the Memorial. Use the time to reflect at the glittering pools.
And please, please, please demonstrate respect for the victims’ lives at the Memorial.
I’m not joking about this. Way too many tourists think that just because the Memorial is beautiful that it’s appropriate to snap big grinning selfies at the pools.
Stop. Just stop. People freakin’ died horrifically at this exact spot.
Not to mention, families of the victims still visit the Memorial on a regular basis. Don’t make light of their grief. September 11th happened well over a decade ago. That doesn’t mean acting like an ass at the Memorial won’t hurt the families. Be kind.
Buy Your Tickets to the 9/11 Museum in advance so you don’t have to wait in a crazy long line.
Go to Artsy Chelsea
Chelsea is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan. Seriously, there are so many things to do in Chelsea that you can easily spend an entire day in the area. However, we are crunched for time, alas.
Personally, I’d focus on art and food. Chelsea is home to a variety of art galleries, some which require reservations ahead of time. Plan in advance.
In this neighborhood, your stomach will never feel empty. You’re able to sample diverse foods inside the famous Chelsea Market. Don’t count calories here.
See American Art at the Whitney
Not tired of art yet? Then go to the Whitney Museum of American Art, located on 99 Ganesvoort Street.
Inside this museum, you’ll find the best of American art and photography, and unlike the Met, you’re able to see the entire museum in one afternoon.
However, in my opinion, the best part of my visit to the Whitney Museum was enjoying the spring sun on the many outdoor galleries.
The unobstructed views of the One World Trade Center made my heart so happy. Don’t miss out on the rooftop bar even if you’re not a huge fan of art.
Stroll Along the High Line
Next you’ll see another amazing public park: the High Line.
This elevated green space is unique, because it was built on top of freight rail line. You’re able to peer down the streets of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District with a bird’s eye view.
Like much of Chelsea, the High Line is home to wonderful art. Sculptures and street art catch your eye, and make you reflect on life.
Come early. The High Line is crowded in the afternoons especially on beautiful sunny Saturdays and Sundays!
8. Scale the Vessel
Last but not least in this 2 days in New York Itinerary, you’ll want to climb the Vessel and take some Instagrammable photos for your feed. Even if you’re not “into” social media, the Vessel is still really cool to visit and it’s free.
However, you do need to reserve your time slot in advance. Reservation times are a necessary evil, because they keep the crowds to reasonable numbers.
The nearby mall is great for a final bit of shopping, too.
Where to Stay with 2 Days in NYC
Finally, to complete this 2 days in New York itinerary, we’re going to talk about places to rest your head at night.
Time for some bad news. New York City’s high prices impact accommodation. Budget travelers absolutely need to exercise caution with their choice of hotels and hostels, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when rates increase even higher.
My advice for location is to stay somewhere near Midtown, so you’ll have easy access to all the sites. The high prices are worth the transportation trade offs. You don’t want to stay in New Jersey and deal with NJ transit to come in and out of the city. Trust me, you just don’t.
Below, are my recommendations:
- Arlo Nomad. Rooms from $210/night, book on Booking.com or TripAdvisor.com
- Pod Hotel Times Square. Rooms from $196/night, book on Booking.com or TripAdvisor.com
- The Redbury Hotel. Rooms from $245/night, book on Booking.com or TripAdvisor.com
If you’re someone who cares about trendy bars and restaurants, then perhaps a neighborhood like the East Village would be better suited for your needs. Again, do whatever is best for you.
I hope you had a good time reading my 2 days in New York Itinerary. Do you want to go to New York? What do you want to see and do in the Big Apple? Have a great trip! As always, thanks for your endless support.