New York City in 6 Days | Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
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Just like Paris, New York City is always a good idea. No matter the time of year, a first-time visitor to New York City will have an overwhelming number of places to see. Initially, it is hard to imagine exploring such a diverse city in a week. Honestly, there is no way to see all of New York, regardless of how long you are visiting. This itinerary will hopefully help you make the most of your time and cover all of the most important attractions.
How many Days?
You could spend 3 weeks in New York City and not get bored. Even a weekend trip can be worthwhile. My recommendation for a first-time visit is around 5-7 days. You will be able to see the top tourist attractions and have extra time to get a feel for the city.
New York is known for being an incredibly expensive city to live in. However, visiting NYC can be fairly inexpensive, as many of the attractions are free. We had a low to moderate budget in all aspects of our trip – accommodations, food, and sights. We looked for free or cheaper forms of entertainment and hotels with the best deals. While NYC has many amazing high-end restaurants, there is also a lot of quick-service restaurants to get a good inexpensive meal.
Day 1: Midtown
New York City has one of the best public transport networks in the USA. However, it is also a very walkable city, within each neighborhood or borough. This itinerary is organized so you visit one to two boroughs each day, taking the subway there and walking around between sights. The first day, we stuck to midtown, where our hotel was located. Midtown is an ideal place to stay, especially for your first time in New York City. It has most of the famous spots you’ve heard before and is centrally located to travel to other neighborhoods. We stayed in the The Hotel @ Fifth Avenue in Korea Town, near the Empire State Building.
The distinctive narrow triangular-shaped building is the first stop on the walk to the High Line. This iconic building is located along 5th Avenue, one of the most popular shopping streets in New York City. Designed by Daniel Burnham, the Flatiron building was built in 1901.
The High Line
It is a 15-20 minute walk from the flat iron building to get to the famous High Line. You will walk through the neighborhood of Chelsea, an affluent area with charming downtown style. If you visit on a weekday morning, you will likely see nannies pushing children to daycare or business people walking past converted warehouses.
The High Line is a park built on an old rail line that runs above the streets. There are multiple different access points to get up to the High Line, located on most cross streets. Along the High Line is art and sculptures, beautiful gardens, great NYC views, and places to sit and eat. The walk along the High Line is 1.45 miles long, but you are free to enter or exit at any point along the track.
If it is lunch time, hop off the High Line near the Chelsea Market, which is an indoor market with grocery stalls and restaurants.
Grand Central Terminal
We then took the subway to the Grand Central Terminal to see this historical train station. Grand Central is not just a transportation hub, it is also an impressive public space. The building has many restaurants, a market, shops, a prominent Apple Store, and a lot of hustle and bustle. It is worth a quick stop, and it takes you close to the next couple sights.
New York Public Library
A quick visit to the NY Public Library is worthwhile if you are into architecture or just want some peace and quiet in this busy hectic city. This huge library will probably be one of the most impressive you’ve seen. The main reading room is nearly 100 yards long, with chandeliers and large arched windows. The entrance itself, with the large lions, is massive and easily recognizable for being a backdrop in many movies.
Just behind the Library is Bryant Park. This park always has a lot going on. A large green space, merry-go-round, plenty of tables and chairs, ice skating in the winter, chess boards, and often live music. Despite everything going on, it rarely feels crowded and is a great escape from the city streets.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
On fifth avenue, in the middle of the concrete jungle, is a gorgeous cathedral. Seemingly out of place, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a huge 13th-century-style Gothic church, built in 1878. If you haven’t been to Europe, this cathedral is stunning.
Day one done, and what is best – you did not have to spend any money on attractions. Whoa! Free Day.
Day 2: Midtown & Harlem
Viewing New York City from above will give you an incredible appreciation for the scale of the buildings and the dominance of Central Park.
The big choice you’ll need to make is Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center. Only 15 blocks apart, the views from both are rather similar. Personally, I believe the Rock slightly has the advantage. The Empire State Building is such an iconic building, but you can’t quite get it in your skyline pictures… if you are standing on it. You can get a great picture of the Empire State Building from the Rock, and the Rock is closer to Central Park and Times Square. The Rock also has 3 floors of both indoor and outdoor observation decks, but they are a tiny bit lower than the one on the Empire State Building. Price is similar for both ($35-40).
We got our tickets for the Top of the Rock through the New York Explorer Pass. Many of New York’s top attractions are included on the pass and you can either choose a set price 3, 4, 5, 7, or 11 attraction pass or make your own pass based on the places you want to see. The 3 paid attractions we wanted to visit in New York cost less than the price of the 3-attraction price, so we made our own and got 10% off the gate price. The pass is good for 30 days, so we could space out the other 2 things we had on our pass (Statue of Liberty and the American Museum of Natural History). If you are planning on visiting more than 3 attractions, check out the New York CityPass. Price it out for yourself, which pass (or any) is most cost effective for you.
We visited the Top of the Rock first thing in the day, right when it opened, so it’d be pretty empty. And it was. The views are unbelievable. If you are willing to wait or pay the extra for the VIP tickets, the best time to visit is just before sunset or at night.
We then walked to Central Park and spent the next few hours exploring the park. Central Park is 840 acres, so there is quite a bit to explore. We split our time in Central Park in half and visited Central Park again on our last day in New York to see what we missed.
Central Park has a beautiful pond in the middle, where you can rent rowboats. There is a Zoo, amazing landscaping, an ice-skating rink, more lakes, an open-air theatre, athletic fields, playgrounds, several fountains and statues, and numerous walking paths. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is also within Central Park. Because of its prevalence in movies and TV shows, walking around the park you get a weird sense of familiarity.
Free Harlem Walking Tour
Many large cities around the world have free walking tours. New York has several because of how huge it is. There are tours of most neighborhoods, including Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chinatown, and the East Village. We decided to do the tour of Harlem. Harlem has such an interesting history behind the neighborhood that we felt would not be understood unless walking around with a local. Along with pointing out the architecture and telling stories, our guide had us sit in on a jazz concert and pointed out the best food spots in the area.
After visiting Harlem, we went back to Midtown to explore Times Square. Personally, Times Square is a bit of a let down from what you anticipate it being. Yeah, there are large screens, crowds of people, and huge stores. However, many go to New York believing that Times Square is the heart of the city, and it really isn’t. It is at the center of tourist traps, random people trying to sell you cheap souvenirs or get you to visit their failing club. It is worth a quick visit to say you have, but don’t expect to stay for very long.
This is the perfect night to watch a Broadway show if you are interested. We entered in the Hamilton Ticket Lottery daily, hoping for a stroke of luck. Unfortunately, we never won. You might be a bit luckier, or possibly are willing to actually pay for tickets to one of the many great Broadway shows.
Day 3: Statue of LIberty
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Ask someone to name a landmark in New York City, the Statue of Liberty will likely be one of their first. Lady Liberty is quite the imposing figure.
Admission to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the ferry to get there, costs $18.50. You can also reserve access to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal for no additional charge if available. Or you can go all the way up to the Crown for an extra $3. We got the Pedestal reserve ticket, which includes access to a small museum and a bit of an elevated view. The audio tour is also included for a bit of extra information.
The line to get on the boat at Battery Park is usually very long. You will likely need to wait a couple ferries before you can get on at each of the stops. The ferry takes you from Battery park to the Statue of Liberty then to Ellis Island and back to Battery Park. You are allowed to stay as long as you wish at both places, but they do close rather early (4 pm). Go early so you have time at both the Statue and Ellis Island.
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum takes you back in time to when immigrants coming to the United States by boat landed on this Island before integrating into America. The audioguide tells stories of families and people who walked through the building – both uplifting and heartbreaking stories. Some of the rooms and displays were a bit disappointing for such a well-known museum on a critical subject, but all in all, it was informative. You will need 1-2 hours to walk through the museum at a minimum.
Be a part of a live Studio Audience
Want a free night of entertainment? If you have a bit of prior planning, you can sign up for being a part of a live studio audience of one of your favorite shows. Many shows film in NYC to a live audience, a few hours before they are shown on TV. It is not a long commitment and leaves you with time to enjoy the city for the rest of the evening. If you have never been to a TV show taping before, you will gain a bit of an appreciation of how it is done. We were part of the audience of Late Night with Stephen Colbert and saw a fencing match, some live music from the On Your Feet musical, and some interesting interviews.
Here are some of the links for signing up to be part of the audience of the more popular shows:
Day 4: Brooklyn
Time to get out of Manhattan. Brooklyn, one of New York’s 5 boroughs, is known for its Hipsters and Immigrants.
Brooklyn BOTANICAL Garden
If you cannot make it to Japan to see their Cherry Blossoms, a visit to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in the spring is gorgeous. Even if you are visiting during another season, there are beautiful blooms to see. If you love botanical gardens, this is one to see. If you are not, this one is not necessarily world-renowned and can be skipped.
We visited on a Friday morning, meaning it was free! On other days it is $15.
Prospect Park & Green-wood Cemetery
Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s Central Park. Like Central Park, it has an art museum, a zoo, an outdoor theatre, and plenty of nature and walking trails. We prefer nature to large cities, so whenever we visit a place like New York City, we flock to parks.
It might seem unusual to go to a cemetery while traveling, but Green-Wood Cemetery is one to check out. Marvel at the mausoleums of the rich and famous. Walk through the cemetery or go on a trolley tour. You’ll see the graves of Jean-Michel Basquiat, William “Boss” Tweed, Henry Ward Beecher, and other politicians, Civil War generals, and inventors.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
We had a New York slice of Pizza near Green-wood at Luigi’s and then took the subway to Brooklyn Heights Promenade. With one of the best views of the New York skyline, Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a tree-lined walkway alongside the water. It was one of my favorite spots in New York. On one side you have the old red brick Brooklyn homes and the breathtaking views on the other. It is a great place to watch the sunset or just sit and feel the breeze on a warm day. Along with the Manhattan skyline, you can see the Statue of Liberty.
We then walked a few minutes to the area of Brooklyn known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), passing the Brooklyn Bridge on the way. This is a trendy area with cobblestone streets and trendy restaurants and shops. Converted warehouses and more great views of the Manhattan skyline.
We then backtracked a bit, walked back to the Brooklyn Bridge to cross it. You can cross the Brooklyn Bridge from either direction (Brooklyn to Manhattan or Manhattan to Brooklyn). The benefit of walking to Manhattan is you get to see the skyline as you walk across.
The Pedestrian Walkway begins at Tillary Street and Adams Street. There will likely be a group of people seeking out the entrance, the same as you, so it is actually quite easy to find.
The 1.3 miles long Bridge crosses the East River and will likely take 30-60 minutes to walk, depending on the crowds and how many times you stop to take pictures. It is a bit claustrophobic at times from all of the tourists and the bicyclists going by. Regardless, it is quite the experience. This historic bridge is a stunning mix of stone and metalwork.
Day 5: Downtown
The Financial District of Manhattan is located on Wall and Broad Streets and is the neighborhood with the New York Stock Exchange, the Charging Bull, Federal Hall, and Trinity Church. It is not only the financial heart of New York but also the whole United States. Regarding U.S. History, Wall Street is the location where Washington was inaugurated as the first President and where the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Wall Street was named for the large wall that was built on that street. It was erected by the Dutch in 1652 who were living in a section of New York they called New Amsterdam. Scared that the English colonists would attack them during the Anglo-Dutch war, they built a wall for protection.
Nowadays, there is no wall, just large financial buildings, and homes for the wealthy. It is a very pedestrian-friendly zone, with many streets blocked off to car traffic.
Finished 10 years after the attacks, the September 11 Memorial sits right at the location of the former Twin Towers. At the location of the towers are large square reflecting pools with waterfalls along the sides. All of the 2,977 victims’ names are inscribed on the pools. The area surrounding is beautifully landscaped with white oak trees. The waterfalls drown out the sounds of the city, making this area a great place to reflect.
There is a museum on the site as well which costs $24 or is free on Tuesdays after 5pm.
St. Paul's Chapel
The Little Chapel That Stood, or St. Paul’s Chapel, was founded in 1766. It is just a couple blocks from the 9/11 site and is a quick stop. It’s remarkable in that it survived two great disasters: the great fire in 1776 and the 9/11 terror attacks. It was famous before 9/11 for being the location where many great historical figures worshipped, including George Washing immediately after his inauguration.
New York’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the US. There is a thriving immigrant population living in this neighborhood. The narrow, busy streets are lined with various Asian shops and restaurants. You can stuff yourself full with delicious food or just take in the amazing smells that waft out. Head to Columbus Park to see locals playing mahjong or practicing tai chi. If you are interested, there is also a Museum of Chinese in America in the North section of Chinatown.
Washington Square Park
A perfect location for people watching. Washington Square Park is a cozy park with a beautiful fountain and a large arch in the center. Just sitting for 30 minutes you can see entertainers, musicians, a man covered in pigeons, a guy giving out free hugs, or college students playing hacky sack. There are a few food vendors in the park, where you can get a crepe or hot dog.
After visiting the park, you can walk around the Greenwich neighborhood surrounding it.
Day 6: Final Bits & Museum
If there was anything you did not get time to see or want to revisit, this is the day to do it. You can also spend this day exploring one or a couple of New York’s famous museums.
We re-visited Central Park, walking around the North half of the park.
Central Park is also close to most of New York’s most popular museums.
American Museum of Natural History
We are not the biggest art-enthusiasts, so our museums of choice are usually science or history related. The American Museum of Natural History has exhibits on dinosaurs, outer space, ancient civilizations, and much more. You will likely recognize many of the rooms if you have seen the Night at the Museum movie. This is a massive museum, so be prepared to walk.
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