3-Day Itinerary for NYC: Where to Go and How to Get There

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Downtown Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo credit: Judy Antell
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NYC offers a wealth of activities. To winnow down your choices, our curated 3-day Itinerary for New York City gives families time to catch a Broadway show, explore top museums and grab a fantastic pastrami sandwich. You will feel like a local, using the NYC transit system and sharing insider tips with your friends and family.

This New York City itinerary will help you travel all over Manhattan from uptown to downtown, midtown to Greenwich Village, Central Park to Liberty Island. As you head out sightseeing, remember that avenues run east and west and streets run north and south.

Make sure you also scroll down to the bottom of the post for details and tips for using a MetroCard on the subway.

Here are a few terms you should know before you go:

  • Uptown–Above 59th Street
  • Downtown–Below 14th Street
  • Midtown–Between 34th Street and 59th Street
  • Lower Manhattan–Below Chambers Street
  • Upper Manhattan–Above 96th Street

Ready to get started on your NYC adventure? Let’s go!

Read More: Where to get the best bagels in New York City

New York City Itinerary Day 1: Downtown Manhattan with Kids 

For your first day in NYC, explore the oldest area of the city to catch some of the best views and dig into its rich history. Since the Statue of Liberty tops the list of must-see attractions, start here and work your way north. Liberty Island is a must for families with school-age kids. As you walk through the day, immigration and nation-building are themes.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Since all the destinations are close together, put on your walking shoes and grab a bottle of water to explore. An umbrella and a rain jacket are great additions to your backpack too.

How to get there: Head south to Battery Park, a green space where all the morning’s activities are located. It’s located at the tip of Manhattan. Catch a downtown subway and get off at the Whitehall St/South Ferry station for the 1 or the R train.

Read More: Fly into Newark for Cheap and Get to NYC in Less than 1 Hour for $13!

Statue of Liberty – First Stop

New York City Harbor
Admission Varies

The Staten Island ferry passing in front of Lady Liberty. Photo credit: Judy Antell

How to get there: Take the Statue City Cruises ferry, which departs from Battery Park, to explore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, an additional stop. First ferry leaves at 9 a.m. and last one departs at 3 p.m. with extended hours during peak seasons. Ferry tickets must be reserved in advance (sometimes well in advance) and are required for all passengers. When purchasing tickets, be sure to choose the experience you are looking for. There are options for just exploring Liberty Island (no Statue of Liberty access), walking up to the pedestal or walking up to the crown. All passengers will go through an airport-style security screening.

As a symbol of freedom and liberty known worldwide, the Statue of Liberty sits on a 12-acre island in the middle of New York Harbor. You can take a walking tour of the island, visit the museum and even go inside the Statue of Liberty.

Make sure to walk through the museum to learn how the French and the Americans worked together to build the statue. Then climb over 200 stairs to the pedestal for one of the best views of lower Manhattan (Pedestal Access). Or continue climbing to the crown (Crown Access). Lady Liberty, as the statue is sometimes called, is a must see.

Ellis Island

After exploring the Statue of Liberty, board a Manhattan-bound Statue Cruise for Ellis Island. From 1892 until 1954, Ellis Island welcomed 12 million immigrants to the United States. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum walks visitors through the facility that processed close to 5,000 people a day.

A Junior Ranger Booklet is available covering both locations. Concessions are available at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Museum or grab some to-go before boarding the ferry. I stopped at Inatteso Cafe, 38 West St., for sandwiches and cookies.

SheBuysTravel Tip: To tour both islands, give yourself the morning — it will take about three or four hours. Reservations are a must for the ferry. Pedestal Access and Crown Access at the Statue of Liberty both are booked with the ferry ticket and can be limited in availability. Both tours are separate timed tickets. Tickets are timed for the Statue of Liberty ferry, though no special ticket is required for Ellis Island.

Castle Clinton and Battery Park – Second Stop

Battery Park
Open seven days a week from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free

After touring Ellis Island and taking the ferry back to the dock at Battery Park, explore the Castle Clinton National Monument, located steps from the ferry dock. Standing where Manhattan began, Castle Clinton was built as a fort to protect against a British invasion during the War of 1812. It’s served many uses over the years — an immigration station, a beer garden and even an aquarium — but still has antique cannons for viewing.

Junior Ranger booklets are available. Spend 30 minutes or an hour, depending on interest.

SeaGlass Carousel – Third Stop

SeaGlass Carousel
Battery Park
Open Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
$6 per person

After a morning of history, head east to the 2015  merry-go-round, the SeaGlass Carousel, in Battery Park. Instead of horses, riders can hop on a fish to whirl around the pavilion to classical music. I jumped on along with my teen.

Walking Tour of Lower Manhattan – Fourth Stop

Explore Lower Manhattan on a 3 day itinerery. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Top Sites:

  • Charging Bull and Fearless Girl
  • Trinity Church
  • New York Stock Exchange

Next up, Broadway (the diagonal street that slices through Manhattan from north of the Bronx to Battery Park) and Wall Street, two of New York’s best-known streets. Since there are several notable sites in the area, walk the half-mile up Broadway to Wall Street. Start at Broadway’s beginning, far from the stars and lights of the theater district, and head north to Wall Street, the financial heartbeat of the United States.

After walking Broadway a block from Battery Park to Morris Street, you will find the Charging Bull Statue. Continue up Broadway and walk by Trinity Church, located at 75 Broadway at Wall Street. The first church was built in 1698 and rebuilt two times. A notable building from the American Revolution, people fleeing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center found shelter in the church from falling debris.

From Trinity Church, turn down Wall Street (across the street) and walk to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), at 11 Wall St. Unfortunately, tours aren’t available, so just grab another picture. Find the Fearless Girl statue looking up at the New York Stock Exchange. Next head across the street — a mere minute walk — to the next destination.

Federal Hall National Monument – Fifth Stop

Federal Hall National Monument
26 Wall Street
Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free

As the first Capitol of the United States, the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch offices, Federal Hall offers another history lesson. It’s where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States.

Federal Hall’s visitor center is at the Pine Street entrance. During the summer, it’s open Saturdays as well. Junior Ranger booklets are available.

After touring Federal Hall, head to the subway station at Broad Street for the Brooklyn-bound J Train (it will be headed north) and exit the Essex Street Station. 

Tenement Museum – Sixth Stop

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

103 Orchard St.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
All tours cost $30 per person

How to Get There: From the Essex station walk west three blocks. The visitor center is located at the intersection of Orchard and Delancey streets.

After learning about the immigrants at Ellis Island and Castle Clinton, take the opportunity to walk through their homes. A guided tour at East Side Tenement Museum will lead you through an apartment that’s a time capsule and tells the story of one family.

In our case, it was the Moores, an Irish family, who moved there in 1869. The story of the Moore family reminded me how much domestic life in the U.S. has advanced, with indoor plumbing, proper nutrition and electricity. Mrs. Moore did her laundry in the small yard out back next to a pair of outhouses that served the entire building.

The building housed 7,000 working-class immigrants from 1863 until 1935. With specialized tours focusing on Irish immigrants, Jewish immigrants and sweatshop workers along with neighborhood tours, get an understanding of an immigrant’s life more than 100 years ago.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Our tour required climbing several flights of stairs and walking through dank and dark apartments with uneven surfaces. The subject matter is best suited for middle school students and older.

After the tour, walk up Orchard Street for dinner, a quick three-tenths of a mile walk, to Houston Street.

Dinner at Katz’s Delicatessen – Sixth Stop

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 E. Houston St.

Katz’s Deli is a New York icon. The pastrami-on-rye sandwiches (almost $27 for a sandwich) are pricey but I ordered a half and got a bowl of Matzo ball soup. This location is as original as it gets, with locals dining alongside the travelers.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Since the sandwiches are so big, split one between the kids.

After dinner, walk south to Little Italy for dessert. Or hail a cab along Houston Street.

Dessert in Little Italy – Seventh Stop

Ferrara Italian Bakery
195 Grand St.

Ferrara Italian Bakery offers a cannoli and cappuccino fix with table service. Or grab a gelato on the street and walk around Little Italy. As a bonus, Little Italy sparkles at night with lights on the buildings and hanging over the streets.

Or eat like the Italians and have cheese for dessert.

DiPalo’s Fine Foods
200 Grand Street

DiPalo’s Fine Foods has been there since 1948. Lou DiPalo sells only Italian cheeses and he loves to talk about happy cows – just ask him.

How to Get There: From Katz’s Deli, walk south on Orchard St. for two blocks until Grand Street and head west eight blocks (about half a mile).

Time to head back to the hotel. Grab a subway at one of the three MTA Subways Stations near Canal Street with service on the J, N, QR, W, Z and 6 trains.

New York City Itinerary: Hotels for Families in Midtown

With a central location, Midtown/Times Square offers lots of options for families, close to dining, shopping and subway stations. This hotel travel guide will help you find the right hotel for your stay.

Iconic Luxury

Founded by John Jacob Astor, the St. Regis New York offers a stately property with in-room chandeliers and upholstered walls. A luxury house car service for complimentary dropoffs within a 10-block radius of the hotel.  And St. Regis’s King Cole Bar created the Bloody Mary. If it’s a special occasion, this is your hotel.

Located at 2 W. 55th St.

Suites with Kitchenettes

The Residence Inn New York Manhattan Times Square offers a midtown location near Times Square with two-bedroom suites. The suite has a kitchenette with a full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and sink that makes take-out and between-meals snacks a breeze. Breakfast and WiFi are included in the room rate.

Located at 1033 Avenue of the Americas.

Value

The Moxy New York City Times Square offers a unique take on the micro-hotel concept. The Moxy rooms feature two configurations utilizing bunk beds: a queen bed with a twin bunk overhead or a quad bunk with 2 sets of bunk beds side by side. What kid doesn’t love a bunk bed? The design cues are city chic. The WiFi is free, but breakfast isn’t.

Located at 485 7th Avenue.

Read More: 21 Great NYC Hotels for Families

New York City taxis
Photo credit: Pixabay

New York City Itinerary Day 2: Enjoy NYC’s Park and Animals

Day two of your three-day New York itinerary focuses on the animals in the American Museum of Natural History then exploring Central Park, both favorites among kids. Wear comfortable shoes; the day of sightseeing starts on the Upper West Side and ends in Midtown.

How to get there: First, depart your Marriott International Midtown hotel to head north. Take the A or B  MTA subway train (Bronx bound) and exit at 81st / Museum of Natural History.

Natural History Museum and the Hayden Planetarium – First Stop 

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th St.
Open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. by timed reservation
Admission varies

A must for families with kids of all ages, my teen daughter spent hours exploring the American Museum of Natural History. A sprawling museum that could take all day, so hit the highlights, like the Hall of Dinosaurs, Lucy the early human, the giant blue whale and the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda along with the Hall of North American Mammals.

Carve out a little time for the Hayden Planetarium to learn more about the world beyond our atmosphere. It’s located on-site and requires an additional timed ticket.

SheBuysTravel Tip: I recommend eating lunch at the Natural History Museum’s Food Court located on the lower level. During our visit we enjoyed salads, though pizza, burgers, sandwiches and a selection of desserts are available. Before arriving, reserve tickets to the Hayden Planetarium to make the best use of your time.

After exploring the museum, walk across the street to Central Park, a top free activity in New York City.

SheBuysTravel Tip: FLoad a Central Park map on your phone and find your phone’s compass. Even after living in New York City for several years, I still get turned around in the park since all its paths curve and meander.

Central Park, 3 Day Itinerary for New York City
Central Park offers an escape for visitor and locals alike. Photo credit: Pixabay

Walking Tour of Central Park – Second Stop 

Enter Central Park across the street from the Natural History Museum. Head for the Swedish Cottage and stay out of the Ramble, a thicket of woods. I’ve had to use my phone’s compass to navigate out.

Continue to Shakespeare’s Garden and tour Belvedere Castle (donations accepted) to grab a photo of the NYC skyline from above.

Then head south to Conservatory Water. The sailboat rental concession is currently closed but you can brng your own small boat.

If the kids want to paddle a boat, head to Loeb’s Boathouse to rent one. Then grab an ice cream cone at the Loeb Boathouse Cafe Express.

Then stop by the Hans Christian Anderson Statue and the Alice in Wonderland Statue.

Up next, walk to the Bethesda Terrance, Fountain and Arcade. If the kids need a pretzel, find one at Bethesda.

Next walk south along The Mall, a wide tree-shaded sidewalk. Then head to the 1908 Carousel, which is open seven days a week when the weather permits (11am to 5pm in the winter and 11am to 6pm the rest of the year). Admission is $3.50 per person, cash only.

After the Carousel, walk to the Chess and Checker House. Then move on to The Diary, a visitor center for Central Park.

Lastly, stop by the Central Park Zoo to see the sea lions and other creatures between April and early November, when it’s open. Admission varies and requires a timed entry ticket.

Throughout Central Park there are also lots of playgrounds to enjoy.

Eloise at The Plaza Hotel – Third Stop

The Plaza Hotel
1 W. 59th St.
Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

How to get there: From Central Park exit at its southeast corner, The Plaza Hotel is across 59th Street.

Since the Plaza Hotel is the hotel the children’s book Eloise is based on, it’s a perfect stop for families. Grab breakfast or a meal at the Champagne Bar, which features a special Eloise menu.

Then shop downstairs at The Plaza Hotel gift shop, where the Eloise Shop awaits.

Since you recharged, walk about a half-mile east on 60th Street to the Roosevelt Island Tram for one of the best midtown views.

Roosevelt Island Tram – Fourth Stop

How to get there: From The Plaza Hotel on 59th St. walk five blocks east to Second Avenue, about half a mile.

The Roosevelt Island tram costs the same as any other MTA fare. You’ll have to swipe twice — once in each direction. But it’s worth it. The bright red tram cars climb up and over the East River to get to Roosevelt Island. Get some great views of the city and watch the traffic below. Get off and re-board at Roosevelt Island to return to Midtown.

After a full day, head back to your hotel. The MTA Lexington Ave./59th St. Station offers service on the N, R, 4, 5, and 6 trains, two blocks from the tram station. Another day of exploring awaits in New York City.

NYC Itinerary Day 3: Exploring New York City’s Arts and Stars

After exploring the parks and animals of New York City, it’s time to get fancy by seeing some art, architecture and a show. On your last day in town, your NYC itinerary focuses on Midtown and the Theater District.

Rockefeller Center – First Stop

Rockefeller Center
45 Rockefeller Plaza
Free to enter; tours additional admission

How to Get There: From your Midtown Manhattan hotel, take the MTA subways D or F and exit the 47-50th St./Rockefeller Center Stop. Rockefeller Center takes up an entire block from 5th to 6th Avenue and between 49th and 50th Streets. 

Visiting Rockefeller Center is great year-round, but seeing the Christmas tree is extra special. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Top of the Rock

Since Rockefeller Center offers a skyscraper building tour along with shopping and dining, you should start your day here. After reserving tickets online, bypass the box office lline for the Top of The Rock observation deck tour. After a quick elevator ride, explore three different floors, all with incredible views of Manhattan from the observation deck. Offering epic views of Central Park, this is also the best way to see landmark buildings like the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building.

After the Top of the Rock tour, walk around Rockefeller Plaza, stopping by the boutiques and stores. Don’t miss the LEGO Store to see NYC landmarks built in LEGOs — the kids will love it. During the winter, the Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink and tree are located in the plaza.

Since it’s time to feed the kids, I recommend staying at Rockefeller Center. Between the Plaza and the concourse level, I found almost 30 different places to eat.

Radio City Music Hall

Next, tour the legendary theater and home to the Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall, located at 1260 6th Ave. The Art Deco theater in the Big Apple features rich architectural details from a bygone era.

Bribe the kids with a chocolate chip cookie from Jacques Torres Chocolate, located in the concourse of Rockefeller Center. Then walk four blocks, less than quarter of a mile, to MoMA.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Second Stop

11 W. 53th St.
Open Sunday to Friday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday open until 7 p.m.
Admission for adults, kids under 16 free

How To Get There: From Rockefeller Center walk four blocks north along 5th or 6th Ave. to 53th St.

New York City’s art museums and galleries offer some of the finest collections in the world. If I have to choose one, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is best for families with recognizable masterpieces and programs just for kids. Other good choices include the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

If your kids have short attention spans, head straight for the fifth floor at MoMA. That’s where you can find Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Dance by Henri Matisse along with works from Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso.

Lastly, remember to walk through the gift shop for unique souvenirs. After art comes architecture, so head to a grand Gothic Cathedral located on Fifth Avenue.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Third Stop

Fifth Ave. between 50th and 51st St.
Open 6:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. every day
Free

How to Get There: From the MoMA, walk three blocks down Fifth Ave. to 51st St.

Great architecture that doesn’t require a trip to Europe — you can see it while you visit New York. In the center of Midtown, walk through the neo-Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. During my last visit, I heard a girls’ choir performing and they sounded like cherubs.

Up next, walk half-mile to a grand train station and some dinner.

Grand Central 3 Day Itinerary for New York City
Grand Central Terminal is a Beaux Arts masterpiece. Photo credit: Pixabay

Grand Central Terminal – Fourth Stop

89 E. 42nd St.
Terminal open from 5:15 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Dining Concourse hours vary
Free to Enter

How to Get There: From MoMA, walk down 5th Ave for seven blocks to 43rd St. then walk east for two blocks. Or, walk to 42nd St. and walk two blocks east, passing Bryant Park along the way.

This is my favorite building in New York City. The Beaux-Arts masterpiece, Grand Central Terminal, was built in 1913. Since it’s the largest train terminal in the world, it’s a top destination. With dining and shopping along with commuter trains and subways, locals and travelers alike flock to this building.

The main concourse features an astronomical ceiling, a four-sided brass clock and Tennessee marble. The clock is rumored to be opal with a worth of more than $10 million. Not to be outdone, the exterior features granite with expanses of divided-light windows and sculptures. And check out the Whispering Walls, in the dining concourse. Thanks to the acoustics of the arches, a whisper can turn into a shout.

Lots of options for dining here. The Oyster Bar is the oldest business in Grand Central and offers an iconic NYC dining spot. More casual dining, like Shake Shack, is on the concourse level.

After dinner, it’s time to see a Broadway show. So grab a subway train in Grand Central Terminal and head to Times Square.

Theater District for a Show – Fifth Stop

The theater district runs from 40th to 54th Streets and from 6th to 8th Avenues.

How to Get There: From Grand Central Terminal take the MTA subway S Train and exit at Times Square Station for the Theater District.

With audiences full of families, a Disney on Broadway production is my choice for a kid’s first time seeing a theater performance. Packed with tunes they know by heart, elaborate sets and glittering costumes, these shows keep kids glued to their seats. But older kids may enjoy Hamilton, Six or other more mature musicals.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Sure you can hope for last-minute reduced seats, though I reserved seats way before my trip to ensure my family sat together. Here are some ideas for scoring cheap Broadway tickets.

TImes Square
Times Square glows and goes 24-7. Photo credit: Pixabay

Times Square – Sixth Stop

Intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue

After a show, celebrate a great trip with the brightest lights in the city: walk through Times Square to see the street performers and shopping. Your NYC itinerary wouldn’t be complete without seeing this tourist favorite.

Remember, Times Square is a major MTA subway stop with service on the N, Q, R, S, 1, 2, 3, and 7 trains.

Late Night Dinner in Times Square– Seventh Stop

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

1650 Broadway at 51st St.
Open from 7 a.m. to Midnight

Ellen’s Stardust Diner has all the musts, plus a real kids’ menu. Find all-day breakfasts and diner classics like blue plate specials and deli sandwiches along with shakes. And the waitstaff sings! It’s a fun way to end your New York City itinerary.

Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery

1515 Broadway at 45th St.
Open from 6:30 a.m. to Midnight

Since it topped the “best cheesecake in New York” list for years, Junior’s is the no-brainer choice for cheesecake. I found a dense, not-too-sweet, ever so creamy NY-style cheesecake. I ordered the plain and I didn’t share. It makes a great midnight snack.

Read More: Where to Feed Kids in NYC

Using a NYC MetroCard with Kids

To explore the city via the NYC subway, head to the nearest subway station to purchase an MTA pay-per-ride subway card. I use the MetroCard vending machines but it can also be purchased at the subway station booths. The vending machines accept credit cards and usually are faster than the booths, which might be closed.

Each fare is $2.75 when using a MetroCard. A single ride ticket is $3 via the vending machines or booth.

The MTA unlimited passes come in 7-day and 30-day options. Stick with a pay-per-ride card unless you will ride the subway more than 14 separate times.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • MetroCards can be used on subway trains and local buses.
  • Up to three kids 44″ and under can ride for free with an accompanying adult.
  • Free kids usually crawl under the turnstile before the paying adult swipes their card or use the nearby accessibility gate.
  • $1 new card fee applies to all new cards.
  • Metro cards bend easily so keep your cards in a protected place, like a wallet.
  • Free transfers between trains in the same station.
  • Know if you are traveling Uptown (Bronx) or Downtown (Brooklyn). Trains and subway platforms will be labeled and maps are in each train car along with multiple spots in the subway station.
  • Since there are lots of stairs to navigate, pack your lightest stroller.
  • Hold hands if traveling with smaller kids, especially during peak periods.
  • Make sure your child knows to go to a NYPD officer or MTA personnel if lost. Give kids a card with contact information in case of emergency.
  • If this is your first trip to NYC, stay away from express trains and buses.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The NYC MTA is phasing out MetroCards and encouraging the use of its OMNY contactless pay system, using your phone or a credit card. Currently, both systems are in use.


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