If you can swing it, 72 hours is the ideal amount of time in NYC. If time isn’t a luxury you have, prioritizing your touristy desires is a must, and logistics will either be your best friend or your nemesis. In short, this isn't something to “wing it” on.
Familiarize yourself with subway routes, and be honest about what's a “nice to see” and a “must-see”. Do not spend all your time going from one tourist attraction to another, allow for two to three per day, and spend the rest of the time soaking in the culture, and devouring all the amazing food in America's most diverse city.
The majority of the big chain hotels are in Midtown Manhattan and Times Square. Resist the temptation to stay there, and instead head to Lower Manhattan, the Lower East Side, or Gramercy for a better central location--away from tourists, with closer proximity to much better food and nightlife.
Also, we need to talk about Times Square…
New Yorkers loathe it—if you have anxiety, or dislike crowds, you will too. It’s FULL of people, traffic, chain restaurants, and more people. Staying in a hotel near Times Square won’t give you a feel for the real NYC, and it may drive you crazy with the non-stop stimulation. Go grab your selfie en route Uptown, or before or after a Broadway show—then get the hell out.
Hotels we recommend can be found here. And if you do find yourself in Midtown, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to eat and drink that aren’t packed with tourists and subpar food.
Unless it’s late at night, walking and the subway are the only acceptable modes of transportation--for both your wallet and your sanity. Sitting in traffic in an Uber/taxi isn’t a good use of time or money. Use your handy Google map and select the public transportation setting for the best routes from A to B. After 10pm, grab a cab or an Uber.
Aside from your list of must-see cultural/tourist attractions, here are some slightly off the beaten path to consider.
Start your day by grabbing a bagel and coffee and taking it with you for a scenic walk along the High Line. This elevated rail track went out of use in 1980 and sat vacant until 2009, when it was transformed into an elevated park and greenway. The 1.45 mile park is a great way to walk from Hudson Yards to Chelsea while taking in wildflowers, greenery, and outdoor art installations, alongside amazing views of the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. After your walk, the High Line will drop you in the heart of Chelsea for shopping in the nearby Meatpacking District or perusing the Chelsea Market for unique finds.
There is no shortage of nightlife options in New York City, but jazz at Bill’s Place is one of the most authentic NYC experiences you can have. Take the subway up to Harlem's only authentic speakeasy for some of the best jazz to be heard anywhere in New York City. The self-described “small, cozy elbow touching Harlem parlor” is where legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday got her start, and where you can hear the best of today's jazz. Visit their website to make reservations, and don’t show up empty handed—no alcohol is sold at Bill’s. Don’t be shy about heading Uptown for one of NYC’s most memorable experiences.
If exploring Chinatown isn’t on your list of things to do, make time for a meal at Joe’s Shanghai to eat the best soup dumplings in town in an authentic and fun setting. Eating at Joe’s is a bucket list item for most New Yorkers, and it should be on your list too. Grab some dumplings as an appetizer before dinner or for a snack on your way home.
All museums are not created equal, and with so many to choose from this might not make the top of your list, but it should. The Tenement Museum is an informative look into the history of immigration to New York, and a celebration of the cultural diversity it brought to our country. There are intimate and engaging tours of the apartments residents lived in during the 19th and 20th centuries, and a range of neighborhood walking tours that explore lesser known parts of the Lower East Side.
You will do a lot of looking up while visiting Manhattan. The skyline in and of itself will never get old no matter how long you live in, or visit the city. If visiting anytime other than winter, make sure to enjoy a meal or a cocktail on one of the many rooftop restaurants. There’s no better way to experience a meal, or get Instagram gold like NYC rooftop dining.
Central Park is beautiful regardless of the time of year, but being short on time, don’t spend more than an hour here. Head to Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, or Belvedere Castle and the Strawberry Fields. Then pop over to either the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the nearby Guggenheim or Jewish Museum. There are a variety of free walking tour itineraries found online, and they are super helpful for being efficient with your time while maximizing the experience.
Funky, punk, and wonderful, the East Village has changed from its grittier past, but still encapsulates much of what made it a unique and fun neighborhood. Peruse vintage clothing stores, imbibe at hole-in-the-wall bars, or sunbathe in Tompkins Square Park by day. At night, the neighborhood comes alive with great dining and nightlife options. Be sure and sneak in a drink or a meal, and stroll the area before or afterwards. Start your day with breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company, or grab lunch or dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar. If you don’t have time for either, don’t miss a drink at Please Don't Tell, aka “PDT,” the hidden speakeasy you enter through a phone booth in a hot dog shop.
Shopping and New York City go hand in hand, and some of the best shopping in the world is found on 5th Avenue. Indulge in window shopping (or the real thing) and enjoy an iconic stroll starting at Rockefeller Center and the surrounding Radio City Music Hall. Head up to the Top of Rock observation deck or check out Bar SixtyFive at the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center. From there stroll up 5th, past Trump Tower, then on to the Plaza Hotel at the entrance to Central Park. Head back down 6th and stop for burgers at the Burger Joint inside the Parker Meridien or keep walking towards Columbus Circle and enter into Central Park.
After checking out Lower Manhattan, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, or the Brooklyn Bridge, ride the 6 train Uptown to Little Italy and Chinatown. Little Italy centers around Mulberry Street, with the heart of the action between Broome and Canal Streets. Pop in and out of shops and restaurants and be sure and grab a cannoli at Ferrara NYC, a famous Italian bakery since 1892. As you keep wandering down Mulberry, get your Instagram game ready—Manhattan's first and only mural district is found here through a variety of murals by the LISA project (Little Italy Street Art), a nonprofit organization that has brought a diverse group of street artists to Mulberry Street.
Things will abruptly change once you hit Canal Street. The green, red, and white will instantly transform into the Chinese alphabet, with dim sum shops and markets full of fresh produce and trinkets aplenty. Head to Joe’s Shanghai for some of the best soup dumplings in the city, or visit Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown’s first tea parlor, opened in 1920. Continue pursuing and bargaining with the many street vendors or head to the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in New York City, and gaze up at the 16 foot-tall golden Buddha.
For more on where to nosh, check out our guide to 48 Hours Guide to Eating in NYC.