Has New York City captured your imagination and now you’re knee-deep into planning a New York City trip?
You’re in the right place!
Whether you’re drawn to live here (like me!) or visit for the first or 100th time, there’s no denying the magnetizing pull to take a trip to New York City!
If you’re planning your first time to New York City, this guide has everything you need to know. And if you’ve been here before, this NYC trip planner will help you review the basics and give local tips to expand your New York City itinerary beyond the top sights.
From itinerary ideas with maps, tips on where to stay and eat, how to get around, and more, you have everything you need to plan a trip to New York City that you’ll never forget!
Planning a New York City Trip (Maybe for the First Time!)
Planning an NYC trip can be overwhelming! You’re trying to stretch your budget as far as possible while trying to fit as much in as possible with the days you’re in the city. In fact, how to plan a trip to New York City is one of the top questions I get from readers.
It’s best to break it up into steps so that ultimately you can plan a New York trip that includes your must-sees and dos arranged in an itinerary that maximizes your time in a fun and enjoyable way.
First, decide how many days you will stay in NYC. (More advice on this below.)
Second, choose a hotel in your price range. If your main goal is NYC sightseeing, the midtown east or midtown west areas of Manhattan are perfect spots. These areas are central to many top NYC sights and have many subway lines connecting through the area.
Third, make a list of the top sights and museums you want to see, as well as experiences you’d like to have, i.e. go to a Broadway show. Depending on how many days you have in NYC and your budget, book your entry to as many things as possible in advance to maximize your time in NYC.
Lastly, you’ll want to plan an itinerary with the sights and activities on your list. Using the New York City itinerary ideas below, group what you want to see and do by neighborhood to limit backtracking.
Getting to New York City
New York City has 3 airports nearby, JFK, Laguardia, and Newark Liberty in New Jersey. If your flight arrives into JFK or Newark, it is possible to take commuter trains and/or the subway to get into NYC.
Visitors arriving into Laguardia, on the other hand, have fewer public transportation options, despite the airport being the closest to Manhattan of the 3 NYC metro area airports. If taking a taxi or car service from Laguardia, plan for (at least) an hour’s ride into Manhattan as the traffic can be horrendous in this area depending on the time of day your flight arrives.
I’ve created specific guides for each airport with all the information you need to decide how to get from the airport to your hotel in Manhattan.
New York City taxis are available at JFK and Laguardia. It’s a flat $70 fare from JFK plus tolls and tip. The fare is calculated by the meter for rides from Laguardia. The meter runs even when you are in traffic so the amount will vary depending on the time of day you arrive.
To save money, book a ride with the most trusted shuttle from the New York Airports. They’re comfortable, reliable, and far cheaper than a taxi. In addition to shared rides, they also have private car transport services.
You can also compare private car bookings with Carmel. They are another trusted and long-serving airport transfer service I’ve used and you can rely on.
If you live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic and are coming for your first visit to New York City, you’re better off taking a commuter train like Metro-North, NJ Transit, or Amtrak into the city. Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal (or Grand Central Station) are in the heart of Midtown Manhattan with subway lines connecting from directly within each station.
Or, if you don’t have a train station near you, take a bus directly to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, just 1 block from Times Square.
How to Get Around in New York City
Driving and parking in Manhattan are a nightmare. Avoid driving to and in New York City at all costs.
The best ways to get anywhere in New York City are to take the subway or put on the most comfortable shoes and walk. (I own 2 pairs and wear them all the time to walk around NYC.) These also happen to be the cheapest ways to get around New York City so it’s a win-win!
Keep reading for more NYC subway tips.
And what about that pesky luggage?!
Of course, the easiest way to get around either by subway or on foot is without carrying heavy bags. Many subway entrances have only stairs and sidewalks, restaurants, and other attractions are likely to be crowded and even restrict luggage and other big bags.
So be sure to drop off your luggage at your hotel as soon as you can. Most hotels will securely store your bags even if your room isn’t ready for check-in yet.
Free of your bags, you can move around the city hassle-free, take in your surroundings, and focus on whether you should be heading uptown or downtown. 😉
New York City Walking and Subway Travel Tips
Think of New York City’s streets as a giant tic-tac-toe board across most of Manhattan. Except for lower Manhattan, streets run in a systematic, grid pattern. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the city like an expert pedestrian.
- Streets run horizontally from east to west, from the Hudson River to the East River. About 20 of these numbered streets are equal to 1 mile.
- Avenues run vertically from north to south. The distance between avenues is greater than streets. More or less, 7 avenues is equal to 1 mile.
- 5th Avenue splits the east side from the west side. Address numbers get lower the closer the building is to 5th Avenue and higher the farther it is away from 5th Avenue.
- Broadway is the exception. It runs diagonally, interestingly enough, following an old Native American footpath.
- As you walk south below 14th Street, the full grid pattern ends.
The New York City subway extends throughout the city. No matter where you want to go, it’s likely a subway line is heading in that direction. Here’s the subway info you need to know to look like a pro.
1. Download an NYC subway app or keep a PDF to save on your phone. Everyone’s already looking at their phone so you’ll blend right in as you check the map for the right train or stop.
2. Know the difference between express and local trains. On the map, express train stops are marked with a white circle while local stops show a black circle. As the names imply, local trains make every stop. Express trains make select stops.
3. The subway or bus fare is $2.90 per person each way with free transfers between the subway and city buses.
4. All subway turnstiles are also equipped with a “Tap & Go” payment system. Using your phone’s wallet (i.e. Apple Wallet), you can tap your phone at the turnstile to pay instantly. Using this system, you can pay for 3 people plus yourself at one time.
5. If you use the Tap & Go payment system, pay with the same device and card each time. If you spend $34 within a 7-day period, the rest of your rides within that same 7-day period are free.
6. Metrocards can still be purchased and used on subways and buses. The larger automated machines in the stations typically accept cash, debit, and credit cards. But, the smaller machines are for purchases made with credit cards or debit cards only. (If you live outside the U.S., use 99999 as your zip code.)
7. You can buy pay-per-ride Metrocards or unlimited weekly or monthly passes. There’s a $1 charge to get the actual card before loading it with money or time. (Save the $1 and use the Tap & Go payment system instead.)
8. If you prefer to use a physical Metrocard and plan to ride the subway at least 12 times, the weekly unlimited pass will save you money regardless of how many days you stay in New York City. Unlimited passes are good for just 1 person, as you can only swipe it once every 18 minutes, except if you’re making a free transfer from train to bus.
One last thing to consider for travel within NYC…
Bike rentals are plentiful. I wouldn’t suggest riding along the streets on your first visit to New York City, but scenic rides along the city’s greenways and through parks are great ways to combine sightseeing and transportation.
ProTip: For more dos and don’ts in New York City, take a look at these important New York City travel tips!
New York City Itinerary Planning
When you plan a trip to New York City, the most exciting part is choosing which things to see and do while you’re here. But it can also be overwhelming! There’s an endless number of things to choose from and you only have so much time and money.
There are a couple of NYC itinerary ideas below to help you get started. They include some of the best New York City tourist attractions. You can also use this mega list of the Best 100 Things to Do in New York City for extra inspiration and ideas.
ProTip: You’ll also find a more specific day-by-day plan in this 4-Day New York Itinerary.
New York City Itinerary Idea #1 – Classic NYC Sightseeing
Times Square with its neon signs, bright lights, Broadway marquis, crowds of people, honking horns, and yellow taxis, all combine for a whirlwind welcome to NYC. Especially for first-time visitors to New York City, it makes sense to start at this iconic crossroads.
While you’re looking up, down, and all around Times Square, you’re sure to notice all the Broadway Theaters and the billboards advertising what’s playing. A TKTS Booth sells discounted tickets for performances on that day and the next. The TKTS app lets you know which shows have discounted tickets on sale that day.
If you’re set on seeing a particular show, though, it’s better to get your tickets in advance since there’s no guarantee the show you want to see will have discounted seats available.
Either way, seeing a Broadway show is an absolute must! It’s a quintessential New York City experience.
ProTip: Don’t waste time waiting in line at TKTS, and instead, do as the locals do! Come back to TKTS 30 minutes before show time. There are always some tickets available with practically no wait in line. Or go to the TKTS location near Lincoln Center. It’s much more civilized than the one in Times Square. Alternatively, try your luck in a Broadway ticket lottery, like this or this.
Walk east along 50th Street, crossing over 7th Avenue, then 6th Avenue, to reach Rockefeller Center. On your way, you’ll see Radio City Music Hall and maybe even a Rockette or two if you’re spending Christmas in New York City.
The plaza at Rockefeller Center hosts the Today Show and their summer concerts, as well as the 30 Rock Center skyscraper, home to the SNL studios and the observation deck at the top. When it’s winter in New York, you’ll find the iconic Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the ice skating rink.
Continue again east, out of Rockefeller Center, to 5th Avenue and see the striking facade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest Gothic Revival Cathedral in North America. Head inside to tour the cathedral on your own or with a guide.
When you’re done, you’ll be back on 5th Avenue, famous for its upscale boutiques and department stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue just next to St. Patrick’s. Walk along the avenue for a first-hand look at the busy combination of traffic, tour buses, and pedestrians.
Undoubtedly, one of the things you’ll want to do when you visit NYC is to get a birds-eye view over the city. Luckily, there are several skyline attractions nearby. You just need to decide which one(s)!
Summit One Vanderbilt is just off 5th Avenue along 42nd Street. It’s NYC’s most popular skyline experience. Combining glass exterior walls and mirrored walls, floors, and ceilings inside with the gorgeous city skyline, you’ll be immersed in the city views like never before. You’ll also get the best views of the Chrysler Building!
The Empire State Building is a classic NYC landmark that needs no introduction. There are observation decks on the top of the Empire State Building at 86th and 102nd floors, as well as historical and cultural exhibits about this famous skyscraper. If you choose the Empire State Building, head south on 5th Avenue (street numbers going down 50, 49, etc.) to 34th Street.
The Top of the Rock observation deck is on the 70th floor of 30 Rock right in Rockefeller Center. From this vantage point, you’ll get to see and photograph the skyline with the Empire State Building in it. To visit the Top of the Rock, return to Rockefeller Plaza.
Whichever you choose, you must purchase your tickets in advance. These attractions have timed-entry tickets that do sell out, especially during peak travel times like summer, holidays, and weekends.
Pro Tip: While you’re in this midtown area, you should also consider visiting MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, on W. 53rd St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. Bryant Park and the classic main New York Public Library building are on 42nd St. & 5th Avenue. Grand Central Terminal is a block away along 42nd St at Park Avenue. These 3 sites are just steps from Summit One Vanderbilt.
New York City Itinerary Idea #2 – Art, History, and a Classic Stroll
Several museums line the east and west sides of Central Park. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is along 5th Avenue at 82nd Street on the Upper East Side. It’s part of Museum Mile along with others like The Guggenheim and the Neue Galerie. While you’re there, head up to the roof terrace for a gorgeous view overlooking Central Park and the skyscrapers of midtown beyond.
The American Museum of Natural History, with its adjoining science center and planetarium, is on the opposite side of the park on 81st Street and Central Park West, close to the New York Historical Society. Both, the Met and the Museum of Natural History are both worthy stops whether it’s your first time in New York City or not.
From the Temple of Dendur to Impressionist paintings by Monet and Renoir at “the Met” and the Prehistoric Halls and ocean and mammal exhibits on display at the Museum of Natural History, these stops offer the quintessential NYC museum experience.
Choose 1 of these museums to begin your day. After a few hours, and likely the onset of some museum fatigue, head outside for some fresh air and a stroll through Central Park. You can even rent bikes to tour the park.
Central Park spans from 59th Street to 110th Street between 5th Avenue and Central Park West. Walk the pathways and discover Sheep’s Meadow, the Lake, and all the fountains, monuments, gardens, and bridges along the way.
In the area of Central Park between the museums, you’ll easily reach famed spots like the Bow Bridge and Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. To help navigate, download a Central Park app to show where you are in relation to the park’s popular sights.
Meander to the opposite side of the park from where you entered and walk toward whichever of the above museums you have left to visit. Spend your afternoon enjoying another of New York City’s incredible museums.
ProTip: Alternatively, if you’d rather only do 1 museum, head to the Met for the morning. After a couple of hours, explore Central Park. Then, venture into one of Manhattan’s most classic uptown neighborhoods for some of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
New York City Itinerary Idea #3 – Exploring Lower Manhattan
Yes, Times Square needs to be seen, but it should also be left.
When you’re planning a New York City trip, it pays to take the subway down to Lower Manhattan and do a bit of exploring. Not only will you see some of NYC’s most famous sights, but you’ll also have the opportunity to see the oldest and most historic parts of Manhattan.
A few important and iconic sights should not be missed while you’re at Manhattan’s southern tip.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum remembers and reflects on the events and the lives lost during the terrorist attacks. The experience is emotional but poignant and so well-designed.
The reflecting pools are in the original tower footprints with the names of victims inscribed around the edges. The museum houses artifacts like a damaged firetruck and personal anecdotal accounts of the day. The memorial and museum simultaneously honor the fallen, inspire a sense of Patriotism, and encourage a continuing faith in the goodness of humanity.
ProTip: There are typically long lines to enter the 9/11 Museum, especially during peak travel periods. Save yourself a ton of time and book a timed-entrance ticket in advance. You can read more tips in this Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum guide.
From this part of Lower Manhattan, It’s also a great opportunity to see the sweeping city and harbor views from the One World Observatory. Again, purchasing tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line is a smart way to maximize your time.
Head further southeast towards Trinity Church and the New York Stock Exchange. In this area, you can see where Alexander Hamilton is buried, walk along Wall Street, visit Federal Hall, and stroll through Battery Park. Along the way, look out for the Charging Bull and Fierce Girl statues, too!
From Battery Park, you can access boats to visit one of New York City’s most famous attractions, the Statue of Liberty. Take a boat ride tour to Lady Liberty or opt to pass by from a short distance on the free Staten Island Ferry. Either way, the views of Manhattan from the water are stunning!
If you take the boat directly to Liberty Island, your ticket will also include entry to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which is one of the most interesting museums in NYC!
End the day by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. This classic NYC stroll takes you along the pedestrian promenade in the center of the bridge. The views of New York City and its harbor are breathtaking. As you walk, wonder over how such an impressive structure was built before the days of power tools!
Pro Tip: Many visitors like to head into Brooklyn and get pizza. I highly recommend going to Juliana’s. It’s just a few minutes walk once you go down the steps on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. I think it’s perhaps the best pizza in all of NYC!
New York City Itinerary Idea #4 – Discover NYC’s Neighborhoods
Whether you want to shop in Soho, see classic NYC in Greenwich Village, eat well in Chinatown, or gallery-hop in Chelsea, you’ll glimpse more of the “real” Manhattan by heading away from midtown’s more touristy spots.
The best part is that each NYC neighborhood has its own character, charm, and things to see and do!
There are so many things to do in Chinatown NYC that you can easily spend the better part of a day uncovering the neighborhood’s gems. Regardless of how much time you have, go with an empty stomach! Chinatown is overflowing with amazing eats from dumplings to dim sum, to noodles, and original Chinese ice cream flavors.
Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighbor one another from south to north along Manhattan’s west side.
No trip to New York City is complete without spending some time in “the Village.” There are so many things to do in Greenwich Village, but the neighborhood’s tree-lined blocks, small streets, and artsy ambiance are what draw locals and visitors to this classic New York City neighborhood.
Whether you want to people-watch in Washington Square Park, have lunch at a charming cafe, boutique-shop, visit famed TV and movie filming locations, or search for ghosts, you’ll fall in love with everything that is Greenwich Village.
Chelsea is home to the much-loved elevated urban greenspace, the High Line, which needles a pathway through the area. The views, street art, architecture, and ambiance along the High Line Park walk will leave you feeling like a true New Yorker.
If you’re coming from Greenwich Village, explore the cafes, beer gardens, and shops on your way to the High Line entrance at Gansevoort Street.
Be sure to stop at Chelsea Market for some gourmet bites whether you’re in the mood for tacos, noodles, or falafel. The market is just one of the many top things to do in Chelsea and an absolute can’t-miss! The neighborhood is also home to numerous art galleries and the fantastic Rubin Museum of Art.
And if you walk the High Line from south to north, you’ll finish in Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s newest neighborhood in midtown west.
How Many Days Do You Need in New York City?
To have time for NYC sightseeing, as well as time to enjoy museums, Central Park, and the city’s restaurants and theaters, plan to spend at least 4 days in New York City.
Of course, if you have less time, all hope is not lost! You can plan a trip to New York City with only 1-3 days but you’ll need to have realistic expectations, hyper-focus on your must-sees and dos, and plan an NYC itinerary that allows you to be swift and strategic.
When is the Best Time to Visit New York City?
Generally speaking, the best time to plan an NYC trip is in the Spring and Fall. In particular, April, May, and even early June come with good weather, flowers in bloom, and fewer people than during the summer months.
Similarly, Fall is a great time to visit NYC. September, October, and early November come with cooling temperatures, but the weather is typically the most beautiful of the year. You’ll also miss the rush of summer and Christmas season visitors.
Of course, if you want to spend Christmas in New York City, December is the best month to visit. The tree at Rockefeller Center is lit and midtown Manhattan sparkles from the holiday lights and markets. Just be prepared for big crowds. December in New York City is one of the most popular times of the year to visit.
Where to Stay in New York City
The best “planning a New York City trip” hotel tip is to be within comfortable walking distance of a subway station. From there, you’ll be able to access all the places you’d like to visit.
Generally, when looking for a great place to stay for an NYC trip, visitors focus on the east and west sides of midtown, as well as neighborhoods like Chelsea, Greenwich Village/West Village, and the Financial District in Lower Manhattan.
And while it may be tempting to stay a bit off the beaten path to save a little money, consider how much time you have in New York City and how comfortable you are navigating the subway.
Taxis, Ubers, and the like are expensive and can easily erase any savings you may get with a cheaper-priced hotel in a further off neighborhood. Similarly, if you only have a few days, you don’t want to waste time with a long “commute” to the sights and places you want to visit.
A word of caution! Airbnb is illegal in New York City despite the listings you may see that are available.
Do people book Airbnbs for their New York City trips? Yes.
Is it risky to book accommodations through Airbnb when you plan a trip to New York City? Incredibly! Anything can happen including the person who rents the Airbnb getting caught before your stay, leaving you without a place to stay.
For a detailed breakdown of the best places to stay in NYC, neighborhood by neighborhood, head over to my guide dedicated to hotels in New York City. Whether you’re looking for an upscale hotel room or you’re planning a trip to New York for first-time visitors, you’ll find the best hotels for your budget and needs.
For a quick glance at some New York City hotels, take a look at these native New Yorker-tested accommodations.
Where to Eat in New York City
I’m not a food critic, but I’m no stranger to a fantastic meal. If you’re looking to let your inner foodie out, I’ve listed some of my favorite places to eat in New York City with more than enough to make your taste buds smile.
Whether you’re looking for authentic Indian food or the best veggie burgers in NYC, New York City has an endless number of fantastic restaurants. Just promise yourself to stay away from tourist trap chains and fast food! You can get those anywhere. Instead, take advantage of NYC’s incredible food scene.
All of the suggestions below are based on my own unforgettable NYC eating experiences. (I’m hungry just typing these!) If you have your heart set on a specific restaurant, it’s worth it to make reservations ahead of time.
Planning a New York City Trip FAQs
To plan your first trip to New York City, there are 3 important steps to get started.
1. Decide how many days you’ll be spending in the Big Apple.
2. Choose a hotel in your price range, preferably in the midtown east or west areas of Manhattan. These areas are central to many top NYC sights and are well-served by numerous subway lines.
3. Make a list of the top attractions and museums you want to visit, as well as experiences you’d like to have, i.e. see a Broadway show. Depending on how much time you have and your budget, book your entry to as many things as possible in advance to maximize your time in NYC.
4. Group the things you want to see and do by area to maximize the time you have in New York City.
The cost of a New York City trip is up to you! There are hotels, restaurants, and experiences in all price ranges. However, “budget” hotels are still likely to cost more than budget hotels in other destinations, not to mention they’re far and few between. Expect to pay between $250-$300 a night for a mid-range hotel.
Luckily, there are lots of free things to do in New York City like walking the Brooklyn Bridge, exploring Central Park, seeing the lights of Times Square, reserving a spot on a free walking tour, and riding the Staten Island Ferry for great views of Lady Liberty!
Start with deciding how many days you’ll have and where you’ll stay. From there, you can logically group your sightseeing plans and experiences based on which neighborhoods they’re in so you can limit any backtracking.
The most cost effective (and time effective!) way to travel around NYC is to use the subway. It’s quick, inexpensive, and can get you to nearly everywhere you’d want to visit in New York City.
If it’s your first time in New York City, focus on the iconic sights and museums that interest you most. These are likely to be places like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Met, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Times Square, and Broadway.
Nearly everywhere you go in NYC, you’ll be able to use a credit or debit card. This even includes hot dog vendors and food trucks. So, there’s never a reason to walk around with huge amounts of cash in your purse or wallet.
One place where you will need some cash, though, is Chinatown. Some restaurants and shops are cash only so it’s best to be prepared with some U.S. dollars when visiting this neighborhood.
The cheapest way to get around New York City is on foot! NYC is highly walkable and pedestrian-friendly. When you need to give your legs a rest or want to get someplace quick, take the subway. It’s cheap, fast, and covers almost all of New York City.
Planning a New York Trip?
No problem! Using the tried and true local tips and advice in this guide, you’re on your way to planning an unforgettable trip to New York City!
So, what are your questions about planning a New York City trip?
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