In my opinion, everyone needs to visit New York City. There is something about walking down the sidewalk and looking up to be completely surrounded by insane skyscrapers on all sides. It really is an amazing city! And this is the only itinerary you need to see New York in 2 days.
You’ll find top things do in NYC, plus yummy places to eat, super fun tours you can take and tips for additional things to do in New York City if you have more time.
I have explored the city on two different trips. The second one with my husband who was a little skeptical about visiting and worried that New York wouldn’t live up to its hype. However, after spending a long weekend in New York, thankfully, his mind was changed! New York now sits at the top of his list of places he loved visiting and we often talk about going back.
Of course you could spend weeks exploring ‘the Big Apple’, but for those of us that have limited time and money you can still see and experience so much with just two days in New York!
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What to do in New York For 2 Days at a Glance:
DAY ONE ITINERARY IN NEW YORK:
- Morning: Start your NYC in 2 days off with walking the streets of New York and visiting iconic buildings:
- New York Public Library
- Grand Central Terminal
- Chrysler Building
- Empire State Building
- Rockefeller Center
- Hot Dog Cart
- Levain Bakery cookies to take to Central Park
- Central Park:
- Bow Bridge
- Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
- Belvedere Castle
- Conservatory Water Model Sailboats
- Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
- Times Square/Broadway Show
DAY TWO ITINERARY FOR NEW YORK:
- Morning: Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
- Grimaldi’s Pizzeria ‘Under the Brooklyn Bridge’
- Manhattan Bridge Photo Spot
- Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Tour
- 9/11 Memorial Pools
- One World Trade Center Observation Deck
- Water taxi ride for views of NYC skyline at night
*Use this interactive map to see where all the top spots are on this New York 2 Day Itinerary*
2 Days in New York In-Depth Itinerary:
*If you plan on visiting multiple of the paying attractions in this itinerary, definitely consider buying the New York CityPASS which gives you 9 days to visit 5 out of 9 top attractions in the city.*
Day 1 New York Itinerary:
1. NYC Public Library
The most famous New York Public Library known as the Main Branch was built in 1897 and is known for its marble stairs leading up from 5th Avenue guarded by two regal lion statues. Anyone can enter and see how ornate and gorgeous the library is.
The most famous room is the huge, Rose Main Reading Room with book-lined walls and an incredible ceiling mural of pink and blue billowing clouds. The library is a unique, quick stop to see some of the city’s most ornate architecure.
2. Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station (or Grand Central Terminal) is a world-famous subway station in Midtown Manhatten. It was built in 1913 and still runs today. Even if you don’t have a need to take the Subway from Grand Central, it is fun to take a step inside to see the gorgeous architecture and the amazing teal mural of Zodiac constellations covering the ceiling.
3. Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building was briefly the tallest building in the world at the end of the 1920s before it was knocked out by the Empire State Building in 1931. It’s super fun to see its cool Art Deco spire in the midst of more traditionally shaped skyscrapers.
Since the Chrysler Building is full of offices, there is no need to gain entrance to the Chrysler building as you’d only be able to be in the lobby. However, it’s fun to admire from the street!
4. Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is probably the most famous building in NYC. It is another unique Art Deco building and was built in 1930. It held the title of the world’s tallest building after beating out the Chrysler Building and it become even more famous after the film ‘King Kong’ debuted with King Kong climbing the tower in the movie.
You can see great views of the city from the observation deck plus learn more about the history of the building at the museum exhibition. Get your official Empire State Building observation deck/museum tickets here.
5. Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center is famous for it’s outdoor ice skating rink in the winter (think of any Christmas movie set in NYC and you’ll know what I’m talking about). It is also known for being home to NBC Studios where ‘Saturday Night Live’ is filmed. Plus Rockefeller Center has another one of New York’s many observation decks.
The observation area called ‘The Top of the Rock’ has both indoor and outdoor viewing areas and you can get a pretty straight-on view of the Empire State Building.
You can also get tickets to filmings of your favorite NBC shows like ‘SNL’ or even an NBC Studios Tour. Keep in mind some of these tickets need to be signed up for far in advance.
5. New York Hot Dog Cart
When we were in New York, I had such a desire to swing by a hot dog cart and order myself a New York City hot dog. I guess you can blame this on TV and movies- but I just wanted that iconic moment of heating a hot dog on the streets of NYC beneath the shadow of a huge skyscraper.
And I got my wish! I don’t know exactly where the hot dog stands were that we visited during our 2 days in NYC, but you’ll find them lining the sidewalk all over the city. I specifically remember seeing one right near Grand Central Station, one a few blocks from Grand Central, and one near the Statue of Liberty. However, as I said, you can find them all over.
6. Levain Bakery
One of our friends recommended making a stop at Levain Bakery and it did not disappoint. Levain is known for their huge, fresh-baked cookies that come out of the oven every day. The bakery started 25 years ago as two friends set out to create the ‘world’s best chocolate chip cookie’. Now, you can pick from all kinds of cookie flavors and they will all be thick, delicious, and will leave you wanting more.
We stopped by the original Levain Bakery location just to the west of Central Park. It’s a super cute, super small spot with a cute welcoming window and some steps you must take down to enter the tiny storefront. We picked up a couple of cookies and took them with us to enjoy on a bench while exploring Central Park. I definitely recommend!
7. Central Park
Central Park is an amazing green space located in the heart of Manhatten. It’s an incredible 2.5 miles long by .5 miles wide and feels like such a refuge from the towering skyscrapers that usually surround you in the city. Central Park is so large, that there are loads of things to see and do within the park.
You could spend hours exploring, or you could just take a short stroll through the park to get a feel for it. Below I’ve outlined some of the things we saw and that I recommend seeing within the park as we explored and enjoyed our time in nature.
Bow Bridge is a famous pedestrian bridge built in 1862 within Central Park known for marriage proposals, first kisses, and its many appearances in movies. The bridge is over the lake and has awesome views of the 5th Avenue skyline. It’s a lovely place to add to your itinerary as you stroll through Central Park.
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
The Bethesda Terrace and Fountain is another area of Central Park you will definitely recognize from movies. They are located very close to the Bow Bridge making them another easy spot to stroll through within Central Park. When we visited, there was a group singing underneath and the acoustics were amazing.
Belvedere Castle is a unique ‘minature castle’ within Central Park located atop the second highest natural point within the park. The castle was built in 1872 as a place to enjoy the beautiful views of the park and surrounding area. The Belvedere actually means ‘beautiful view’ in Italian.
Entrance is free and it makes for another fun and interesting stop as you enjoy your time in Central Park.
Model Sailboats at the Conservatory Water
Based on the model sailboat ponds of late 19th century Paris, Central park’s Conservatory Water provides model sailboats for rent and hosts model sailboat races each Saturday during warmer months. Whether you are a beginner or advanced, you can rent a boat here for 30-minute increments or just sit back and enjoy the ambiance as you watch others sail.
8. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
When you think of New York City museums, you probably think of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, or the Museum of Natural History. However, we decided to visit the unique, smaller and easily digestible Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.
Dedicated to all things design, the museum’s Facebook page calls itself ‘The Nation’s Design Museum’. In size, the Cooper Hewitt is very manageable plus it’s full of cool design exhibits from everyday design like home appliances to design for mobility and everything between (those were some of the exhibits while we were there). Check out their current exhibitions here.
9. Times Square and Broadway Show
One of the best ways to spend an evening in NYC is at a broadway show. Almost all Broadway theatres are between 41st Street and 54th Street and 6th and 8th Avenue. This is the area of Times Square plus a few blocks around Times Square. As iconic as Times Square is, it really isn’t the heart and soul of New York City.
That being said, I do think you need to see Times Square if it’s your first time to the city. You’ll quickly see that it’s a highly touristy area with flashy billboards, chain restaurants and street hawkers. However, it’s fun to see. A great way to see Times Square is to walk through on your way to a Broadway Show.
I’ve seen a Broadway show in New York but when my husband and I went back to the city years later, we ended up not purchasing tickets because I wasn’t feeling well. To this day we (especially my husband) talk about how disappointing it is that we didn’t make it to a Broadway show during our time in the city.
What I’m saying is, if you’re on the fence about going- just go. If you are concerned about the price of tickets (because they can definitely be pricey) there are a couple of options to help you save money. One way is the TKTS booth located in Times Square underneath the large red steps.
You can generally save between 20-50% off. However, you can only purchase tickets for same-day performances and you don’t get much of an option as to what seats you are offered.
My husband and I waited in line (the line can be quite long) to see what tickets were available for that evening and, unfortunately, for the show we wanted to see there were only prime seats left. This meant that even with a discount, the tickets were still more expensive than what we wanted to pay. However, I have purchased tickets one other time from the TKTS booth and was able to save a good amount of money.
Another option to save money is to check out the NYTIX website for discount tickets, lotteries, rush tickets and standing room only tickets. In my opinion, this seems like it may be a better option for discounted tickets.
Day 2 Itinerary for New York
1. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorite things we did in NYC. It felt nice to get a break from being beneath the skyscrapers and instead be over the water looking at the Manhatten and Brooklyn Skylines. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge that connects the two boroughs of Manhatten and Brooklyn.
Cars do drive on the bridge, however, pedestrians are very safe and separated from the cars on their own wooden path down the center of the bridge. I honestly don’t even recall seeing or being bothered by the cars on the bridge. You can also bike or jog on the path if you’d like!
We took the Subway to the Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall/Chambers Street Station which is literally a 1-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge (super convenient), walked the bridge and then ate lunch ‘underneath the bridge’ at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (you’ll find more about that in the next point).
2. Lunch at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria ‘Under the Brooklyn Bridge’
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria was recommended to us by a friend and it was a fun and yummy stop after walking the Brooklyn Bridge. Grimaldi’s pizzas are cooked in coal-burning ovens and because of their open kitchen, you may also get to see the pizza tossed and cooked. It was nice to have a lunch destination in mind after our casual stroll across the bridge so that we had something to look forward to.
When we visited in February, there was a line out the door but the wait did not take too long. The inside is decorated with classic red and white checkered table cloths, old wooden tables, and black and white photos of Brooklyn.
3. Manhattan Bridge Photo Spot
The Manhattan Bridge viewpoint/photo spot is another great spot to visit after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. And if you are looking for iconic Instaworthy photo spots in New York City, this is definitely one of them! It’s just a 5-minute walk from the end of the bridge and offers great views of the Manhattan Bridge which also spans the East River along with the Brooklyn Bridge.
4. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
Statue of Liberty:
One of the most iconic things about New York City is the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. My favorite way to visit the Statue of Liberty is a combo ticket including Ellis Island. I have done this combo trip two different times and both times I was happy we made time to visit both.
Be sure to pay attention if the tickets you purchase include the options you want. Things they may or may not include are ferry tickets, museum access, a guided tour, or pedestal access. Contrary to what you may think, there is no access to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but you can climb to the top of the pedestal.
There are many different options for seeing the Statue of Liberty. For example, if you’re limited on time, you can take a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty which does not include visiting the monument itself. Or you can choose this combo ticket with a museum entrance and a guided tour.
I definitely recommend purchasing tickets in advance to avoid a long ferry queue.
Most trips begin at the Statue of Liberty then visit Ellis Island or you can choose to return to shore and pass on the visit to Ellis Island. However, I definitely recommend visiting Ellis Island. You can spend hours there or get a quick overview in 30-45 minutes.
From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island is known to be an important immigration station in the US from 1892-1924. Millions of immigrants were processed through the facilities at Ellis Island- that’s thousands of people per day!
Now, you can book tickets to tour the main arrivals hall, learn about the health checks, find the name of your ancestor that passed through Ellis Island, and more. My favorite part was seeing writings over 100 years old on a wall from immigrants scratching their names and dates like old-time graffiti.
Like I mentioned above, most ticket or tour options include both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. However, on both ferries I have taken, we had the option to stay on board and skip either the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island if we wanted (since multiple ferries are always running, you don’t just wait on the boat- the boat continues on and you head back to shore).
5. 9/11 Memorial Pools
I recommend making some time in your itinerary to visit the beautiful memorial site of the attacks of September 11th. There are two large memorial pools almost an acre each in size with a 30-foot waterfall in the center dropping into a large hole in the ground. Along the sides of the pools are the names of many people who passed away on that day.
If you have more time, you can also visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum located right next to the memorial pools. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time in our itinerary to make it to the museum, but it looks like a visit would be an interesting experience. You can learn about the history of the site and see photographs and artificats. The museum even has a recovered FDNY firetruck from ground zero on display.
6. One World Trade Center Observation Deck
Located right next to the 9/11 memorial pools is the new (and huge) One World Trade Center. The top of the One World Trade Center is one of the many awesome observation decks in the city. This is the observation deck recommended to me by a friend who lives in NYC. She recommends this one over the popular Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center decks for two reasons:
The first reason is the One World Trade Center is the tallest building in New York/the USA (imagine how crazy tall that must be!). And the second reason is that from the top of this building you have views of the Empire State Building and other awesome buildings since you aren’t on top of them.
Since this is right next to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, you can even purchase a combined entrance ticket for both the observation deck and the 9/11 Museum.
*Since we last visited a new observation deck has opened in the city called the Edge Observation Deck that also looks pretty awesome. This one looks pretty awesome because it has a suspended glass floor, an outdoor viewing area with slanted glass panes to lean over the city, plus 360′ views of the city!
Another additional observation deck that looks awesome is Summit One Vanderbilt. It’s a unique mix of art and amazing city views where you get to stand in glass boxes over Midtown Manhatten and even ride an exterior glass elevator.
7. NYC Ferry Ride
One popular New York City thing to do is to take an evening dinner cruise that floats in the New York Harbor with stunning Manhatten views as the citylights turn on. A dinner cruise is a great idea, however if you are looking for something less expensive (muchhhh less expensive) but offers the same amazing views of the city at night-then a ride on the New York ferry is what you want!
Tickets for the ferry are only (get this) $2.75! My friend who lives in the city recommends the East River route for great Manhatten views- plus it’s a great way to get from the Statue of Liberty or 9/11 Memorial area back up to Midtown. To do this you would take the ‘Wall Street/Pier 11 stop to the ‘E 34th Street’ stop.
Be sure take the ferry at night to see the amazing twinkling lights of the crazy amounts of skyscrapers and other buildings. One of the most memorable parts of our weekend getaway to New York City was admiring the lit up skyline at night. It’s such an awesome experience. Make sure to find a way to do that!
There are multiple ways to purchase a ferry ticket like on the app, a ticket agent, a ticket machine or the website.
Additional Things to Do for a Longer New York Itinerary:
- Explore The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
- Stroll along the Highline– a 1.45-mile long park built along
- Soak up the sun at Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk
- Take a trip on the Roosevelt Island Tram
- Ride the carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park with Brooklyn Bridge views
Tours to Experience New York in Two Days:
If you are someone who enjoys a good guided tour once in a while ( I know that I do) here are some great options for New York City tours! I haven’t had the chance to take any of these tours- but they look awesome and the reviews are great:
- New York in One Day Guided Sightseeing Tour (travel by bus and boat to see top sights in NYC jam-packed into a one-day tour!)
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour (enjoy a boat ride and museum admission to both the Statue of Liberty Museum and Ellis Island)
- Manhattan Sky Tour: New York Helicopter Flight ( experience the Manhatten skyline and harbor from the sky on a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour)
- Go City: New York Explorer Pass (choose 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 10 NYC attractions for one low price)
- NYC Dinner Cruise to see City Lights (see stunning nighttime views of the New York City skyline and harbor along with a delicious dinner)
- Boroughs of NYC: Harlem, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn & Coney Island (get out of the major districts of Manhatten and tour neighborhoods not usually seen by tourists)
- Harlem Hip-Hop Walking Tour (guided tour by a hip-hop historian in Harlem and see popular locations for hip-hop music videos and hear exclusive stories!)
- Central Park TV and Movie Sites Walking Tour (enjoy Central and see more than 30 filming locations from your favorite movies and TV shows!)
How to get around NYC in a Weekend:
I feel like this is stating the obvious, but the best way by far to get around New York is the NYC Subway System (and bus). I highly recommend purchasing a MetroCard which is a card you use to swipe on and off the Subway or bus without having to purchase a ticket each time.
There are multiple types of MetroCards you can buy. For example, a pay-per-swipe card that deducts money for each ride or you can purchase an unlimited 7-day or 30-day card. It’s super easy to buy these cards at a MetroCard machine in a Subway Station. Or you can see all of the possible places to purchase a card here.
If for some reason you do have a car in NYC with you (maybe you are on a road trip) be sure to see how much your hotel charges for parking or that your other accommodations have parking available nearby. And you will want to keep your car parked and use the Subway during your time in the city.
Parking lots can be very difficult to find and charge around $50 per day. Less expensive street parking can technically be available in places within the city but it is difficult to find an open space and will require a lot of time spent driving around the block.
*Sidenote- if you ARE on a road trip up the East Coast, be sure to check out my top things to do in Acadia National Park article. You for sure need to add Maine and Acadia National Park to your east coast road trip itinerary!
And that is my recommendation on what to do in New York City! Please let me know if you have any questions about other things to do in New York City. I love talking all things travel!