Regardless of how long your NYC trip is, it’s impossible to see everything in the Big Apple in just one vacation. New York City is filled with museums, galleries, shops, landmarks, parks, theaters, and so much more. When planning your NYC trip, you are probably wondering how long to plan it for. I’ve found that 4 days in NYC is ideal – although you’ll definitely want to take more than one New York City trip.
Whether you are a first time visit to NYC or have visited multiple times, you’ll want to have a plan. Our sample four day New York itinerary is a good starting point, but make modifications to personalize your experience. You may also want to switch around the days based upon operating hours, weather, or other factors.
We’ve received complimentary activities and hotel stays in NYC over the years, but have also paid our own way. This post contains affiliate links and a purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Agenda Ideas for 4 Days in NYC
If you are planning a trip to NYC, it may be a good idea to purchase a CityPASS. You’ll pay one price to receive a discount on multiple attractions. This can be the best way to save money For New York City, there are two options:
The standard CityPASS allows you admission to five attractions. These include:
- The Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum or the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The C3, which may be a better option for 4 days in NYC, includes any three of the following:
- The Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- The Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- City Cruises
- Edge at Hudson Yards
You won’t need to choose which attractions you plan to visit when you buy the CityPASS. Keep in mind that some attractions may require advance reservations or have limited/changing operating hours.
You’ll need to research that in advance before traveling to NYC for your trip. If possible, make those reservations in advance – especially if you are only going to be in NYC for a short trip. Once you activate the pass, you will have a limited amount of time to use it, so it’s not something that you can choose to keep for multiple separate visits.
Day 1: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
There are ample opportunities to see the Statue of Liberty from afar. There are a number of vantage points from above, as well as boat rides like the Staten Island Ferry and the Circle Line. You can also see it from Battery Park. We recommend visiting this famous landmark on your first day.
But, if you want to go right to Liberty Island, there’s only one way to get there – on a Statue Cruises ship. They are the only authorized ferry service to Liberty Island, and tickets are very reasonable. They are also one of the options on CityPASS. Ferry tickets may also be available at the two departure points: Castle Clinton in Battery Park or Liberty State Park in New Jersey. But these aren’t guaranteed.
Keep in mind that these Statue Cruises tickets only allow for admission to Liberty Island – not to the interior of the actual statue. You’ll have to include the pedestal or crown option with your Statue Cruises ticket. These are very limited and needed to be reserved well in advance. Note that crown access isn’t currently available due to the current situation.
Don’t make the mistake that many NYC tourists make. As you walk to Battery Park, you’ll see a number of vendors offering tours and tickets to the Statue of Liberty. These are offered at a premium – well above the actual price for the official ferry service, and since there is only one official ferry service, you should purchase your tickets directly from them.
Buy your tickets as soon as you have dates for your NYC trip. You will have to choose the specific date of your trip because some of the options do sell out. If it’s open during your trip, I would recommend adding the option to visit the crown to your ticket. It’s a beautiful view up there, and it’s such a unique experience.
Ticket options include:
- General admission (ferry ride, access to the Statue of Liberty grounds and museum, access to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, and an audio tour)
- Pedestal reserve (includes everything in general admission plus access to the pedestal)
- Crown reserve (not currently available, but included everything in pedestal reserve plus access to the crown)
- Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour (includes everything in the general admission ticket, as well as a ticket to the Ellis Island Hard Hat tour)
In general, you will spend at least a few hours going to the Statue of Liberty. Because you have to take a ferry to Liberty Island, it generally takes a while to get over there. You’ll also want to spend some time walking around the island and visiting the museum. Plan for even more time if you want to spend time at Ellis Island.
Because of this, we are only including the Statue of Liberty in the agenda for the day. You will probably have plenty of time in the evening to do something else and should consider having a nice meal and then relaxing and getting ready for Day 2. Here are our recommendations for the best NYC restaurants for kids.
Day 2: Times Square, Broadway, and More
Get ready for a busy day, because day 2 includes a lot of walking! While you can also take taxis, public transportation, and/or rideshare services, walking in NYC can also be a lot of fun. You’ll never know what you’ll see.
We’d recommend that you save this day for one where you’ll have some nice weather to explore the city. You can start anywhere, depending upon where you are staying.
On this day, we recommend you visit the following spots:
- Times Square – this is a must-see, especially if you are a first time visitor to NYC
- Bryant Park – during the winter months, there is a beautiful winter village, including food kiosks, shops, and an ice skating rink
- Rockefeller Center – consider purchasing a ticket to the Top of the Rock to get beautiful views of the city, and don’t miss walking around Rockefeller Plaza.
- Radio City Music Hall – a beautiful building to see, even if you don’t go in to see a show
- Empire State Building – make this the first stop of the day if you plan to go up to the top because the lines can get long throughout the day
Wondering if you should go to the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building? You probably won’t need to do both, but both are options on the CityPASS. Read our post to help you decide which is the best option for your trip.
You can also end this day by seeing the Broadway show of your choice. For more popular shows, you’ll want to purchase your tickets well in advance to ensure availability. But, if you are more flexible, you can get a great deal at the TKTS booth in Times Square. Visit when they open for the greatest ticket availability.
Most Broadway shows are dark on Mondays, so you’ll want to check the show schedules before you plan your trip. Shows also have matinees – usually one or two on the weekend and one on Wednesdays.
Day 3: American Museum of Natural History and Central Park
If you are visiting NYC with kids, I definitely recommend spending some time at the American Museum of Natural History. This large city museum is offered as part of the CityPASS, and does currently require reservations to attend. They are open Wednesdays through Sundays, although during school holidays they may be open additional days.
Like most museums, I’d recommend visiting early – around opening time. That way, you’ll be able to visit for as long as you’d like before leaving – well before the museum closes. You’ll want to make your timed admission reservations early, because same day reservations may not be available.
There are many exhibits in the museum, including traveling special exhibits. We especially loved the various dinosaur exhibits. The museum also has a planetarium, but it is currently closed.
After touring the American Museum of Natural History, you can head over the world-famous Central Park. The park itself can be intimidating to tour because it’s so large. When I’ve visited with my kids, we’ve gone directly to the Central Park Zoo. Fans of the Madagascar movie will recognize the Central Park Zoo as the home of Alex the lion and his friends in the movie.
The Central Park Zoo is easily visited during a half-day, although you can also include a visit to the 4-D theater. The zoo is open year-round and includes some great animal exhibits. Our favorites are the sea lions, the penguins and sea birds, and the snow monkeys. There is also a gift shop, as well as a cafe.
After touring these two top attractions in NYC, you’ll have a free evening. Consider seeing another Broadway show, enjoying a great dinner, or relaxing in your hotel room this evening.
Day 4: Choose Your Own NYC Adventure
There are so many fantastic things to do in New York City that it was hard to narrow things down for day four. So, we’re providing you with several options for landmarks, attractions, and other things to do on your last day in New York City.
Here are some options:
Circle Line Tour: We absolutely love the Circle Line sightseeing cruises. There are several options to choose from, including a Best of NYC and a Landmarks Tour. They run anywhere from 1-2.5 hours depending on the one you choose and are definitely worth the time and money.
One of the best ways to get a good overview of the city is to take the Landmarks Tour. You’ll be able to see famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the High Line, One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, DUMBO, South Street Seaport, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge.
The Ride: This unique bus ride isn’t a traditional tour. Instead, it’s a full NYC experience, where you’ll be entertained throughout the entire journey. We definitely recommend doing this as something completely unique.
The High Line: Walk through this elevated public park, which was built on a former New York Central Railway elevated freight line track. It’s a nice oasis in the city, and has some great views and pretty vantage points.
Grand Central Terminal: If you happen to be in the area, walk into this beautiful, historic train terminal. It’s absolutely worth seeing, even if you aren’t taking a train from Grand Central Station.
One World Observatory: this observation deck offers gorgeous views of the city, and is also a special place in the history of NYC. There are several different ticket options giving you various wait times to get to the top.
The 9/11 Museum is adjacent to the One World Observatory in Lower Manhattan, but they are individual entities requiring separate tickets. You could definitely combine a visit due to the proximity. You’ll also be within walking distance to the Financial District.
The Tenement Museum: I haven’t been to this unique museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but have heard great things about it. There are several different guided tour options, and you’ll want to look at their website in advance to find the tour that is best for your family. Tickets can and should be purchased in advance.
Some of our favorite hotels include the following. Many are within walking distance of some of these top attractions:
More resources: Read our New York City Travel Tips post here to read hotel, attraction, and restaurant reviews, tips, and ideas.