Are you planning your first trip to New York City and are you overwhelmed by all the things you can do there? Well, I got your back! This was me two years ago, trying to fit everything in one week. So, here is a tried and tested 1 week in New York itinerary so that you don’t have to spend all that time planning! However, I have to warn you, if you decide to follow it, then be prepared for lots of walking! The only thing that’s for sure is that you will visit many amazing places! And of course, you will admire the city from a thousand (or at least it feels like so) perspectives (and high rise buildings)! Are you ready?
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1 Week in New York City: Itinerary Overview
As I mentioned above, this itinerary is for first-time visitors, which means it covers many of the must-see sights in New York City (NYC). Below, expect to find time to get up the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Centre and the One World Trade Centre; visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; walk in Times Square, Wall Street and Central Prak; see the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and a Broadway Musical; and even allow a day for shopping!
Note: Some of the activities below, take place during sunset. The times below are for visits in July. For other times of the year, sunset times will be different and hence you may want to alter the schedule a bit.
Itinerary Highlights: Times Square, Empire State Building, Flatiron Building, High Line, Chelsea Market, Washington Square Park, Top of the Rock, Grand Central Terminal, Roosevelt Island, Museum of Modern Art, Sightseeing Cruise, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, One World Observatory, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway Show
Where to stay?
A question that puzzled me a lot! We spent ages trying to find the perfect hotel that was within our budget. I am not going to get into too much detail here, but if you want to see what our requirements were checkout the first part of my travel diary for this trip. In the end, we decided to stay in the Hilton Garden Inn New York Midtown/Park Avenue [AD]. Generally, what you should keep in mind is to find a hotel close to a subway station, as you will need it a lot. And this brings us to the next question.
How to move around?
Moving around in NYC may sound like a struggle, but it really isn’t. We chose to cover long distances by public transport, mostly using the subway and once the bus. We covered short distances on foot, and we only used taxis when public transport was not convenient. If you are about to use cabs, beware of unlicensed drivers trying to fish people to get into their vehicles. Nobody should approach you for a ride unless you book them in advance.
Book your airport shuttle from Go Airport [AD].
What to book before the trip?
Depending on where you are travelling from, you may want to book flights as early as possible to get cheaper rates. The accommodation should also be on your priorities, especially if you are visiting during the summer. Regarding the attractions, definitely book 2-3 months in advance the very popular ones (such as the observatories) to get your desired time slot. For museums and other attractions in the itinerary (such as the sunset cruise), you can choose to buy their entry tickets online if they offer discounts and to avoid queues. If you want to go to a specific Broadway show, then make sure to book your tickets as well, but if you are more flexible on the show then you may want to check same-day (discounted) prices from the TKTS booth (more on that later).
Buy your Lonely Planet New York City guidebook here [AD].
Day 1 – Arriving in New York City
The first day is all about arriving safely in New York City, from wherever you are travelling from and settle into your accommodation. In the evening, I suggest going for a walk in Times Square, to get a first sense of the city.
17:00 Times Square
Times Square is one of the most popular places to visit in New York City. It is one of the most iconic sights and THE place to be. Sorry, to disappoint you but it’s touristy. Probably the most touristy place you will encounter during this trip. Does it worth it? Probably! Unless, of course, you are agoraphobic, then avoid it by all means!
I bet you already know what to expect to find thanks to the digital media, so take your time to embrace everything: all the crowds, the shops, the theatres, the restaurants and of course the huge billboards. Choose a place to have dinner (expect to find all the big-name American chain restaurants and more), before returning to your accommodation.
Find out more about Times Square here.
How to get there?
Unless you are staying within walking distance from Times Square, then the easiest way to get there is the subway. Times Sq-42 St is the closest station, but if you want to walk a bit around the area, then you can get off at 34 St-Penn Station, 33 St-Herald Sq, or 50 St. All of them are within walking distance from Times Square.
Buy your Hard Rock Cafe Meal Voucher for the NYC Times Square restaurant from AttractionTix [AD].
Day 2 – New York City Highlights
Be prepared for lots of walking today! Starting from a central location, the itinerary covers an area from the Empire State Building, to Chelsea Market to Tompkins Square and back. It covers many of the must-see sights in the city and ticks off two unmissable viewpoints!
08:00 Empire State Building
If you are travelling to the USA from the East, then take advantage of jet lag and use you early wake up call to enjoy the Empire State Building without meeting any crowds. There are two observation decks, one on the 86th floor and one on the 102nd floor. We visited both, but in my opinion, the 102nd floor didn’t offer much.
Find out more about the Empire State Building here.
How to get there?
The closest subway station to get to the Empire State Building is the 33rd St and the 34th St – Herald Sq.
10:30 Flatiron Building
Continue your walk towards Madison Square Park and take some time to marvel at the architecture of this triangular building, another iconic sight of NYC. Unfortunately, the building at the moment is empty, but the owners took this as a chance to renovate and modernise its interior.
11:30 The High Line
Next stop of the day is this elevated park, built on the site of a former railway line. It is a long stripe of greenery next to buildings and above wide roads. As you walk you can find benches to make a short stop and even a small shop and cafe that supports the park.
Find out more about the High Line here.
12:30 Chelsea Market
Next to the High Line, you can find Chelsea Market, one of the most popular markets in NYC. There you can find local produce, interesting retail shops and some restaurants. The place is ideal to have your lunch break and refuel for the rest of the day.
Find out more about the Chelsea Market here.
14:30 Washington Square Park
This park, in memory of George Washington, features a fountain and an arch, the Washington Square Arch. There is a blend of local artists, dog walkers and ice cream tracks that offer a nice spot to unwind from the hustle of the city.
Find out more about Washington Square Park here.
15:30 Tompkins Square Park
This park on the other side of the city may not be as well known as the previous one, but it provides an opportunity to get off the main sights and see another perspective of NYC. On your way there, don’t forget to pass by the historic Astor Place and St Mark’s Place.
Find out more about Tompkins Square Park here.
16:30 Union Square Park
Making your way back to central Manhattan, make a stop at Union Square and take a look at the Metronome, a large digital clock on a building surrounding the square. The art installation is made up of two sections: a digital screen displaying LED numbers, and large circular structure attached to a wall which whisps white steam during the day. If you want to see the square from a few levels up, enter the DSW (Designer Shoe Wearhouse) store and go on the third floor, where you can find large windows overlooking the park. In the area, you can also find the Strand Book Store, one of the most historic bookstores in NCY with “18 miles of books”.
Find out more about Union Square Park here.
18:00 Rockefeller Center
The last stop of the day is the Rockefeller Center. Book a sunset entry slot for the Top of the Rock Observatory, to enjoy both daytime and nighttime views of the city. Besides, make sure to arrive a bit earlier, so that you can have time to walk in the Rockefeller Plaza, and see the nearby Radio City Music Hall. Once you reach the top, you will be able to marvel at THE most iconic view of NYC, with the Empire State Building standing proudly in the middle of the frame. On the other side, you will be able to enjoy views of Central Park. In contrast, with your morning visit to the Empire State Building, expect this one to be crowded. Finish your day with dinner in the area, before returning to your accommodation.
Buy your Top of The Rock tickets from AttractionTix [AD].
Walking Route Directions:
Note: If your accommodation is within this route, feel free to take a short break ;). We took two breaks: one after visiting the Empire State Building and one before going to the Rockefeller Center.
Day 3 – Manhattan Views
Today, the day covers another set of must-see places. Starting with the Grand Central Terminal and finishing off with a sunset sightseeing cruise around Manhattan.
10:00 Grand Central Terminal
Start your day with a walk around Grand Central Terminal to marvel its exquisite architecture as seen in endless movies. In the train station, apart from trains and train signs, you will also find a variety of shops and restaurants. Before leaving don’t forget to spot the famous clock and look at the ceiling of the Main Concourse. Upon existing look up to catch a glimpse of the Chrysler Building.
Find out more about the Grand Central Terminal here.
How to get there?
The closest subway stations are 5th Avenue-Bryant Park and 33rd St.
11:30 Roosevelt Island
Continue your morning walk towards the Tramway Plaza. On your way there, don’t forget to take a look at the United Nations Headquarters. Once you reach the tramway plaza, buy a return ticket and head for the aerial tramway. In a few minutes, you will reach Roosevelt Island, a small island in the East River. Take some time to walk towards the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park and admire the views over Manhattan. Alternatively, you can take a bus that tours the island. The bus departs outside the tramway station.
Find out more about Roosevelt Island here.
How to get there?
Follow the walking route directions to the Tramway Plaza, and then, take the cable car to the island. Use the same way to go back.
14:00 Museum of Modern Art
Visit one of the most popular modern art museums in the world. Five floors of abstract creativeness wait for you to explore. The museum’s cafe is also great for your lunch break. Browse the 200 000 exhibits of the museum relating to contemporary art, photography, sculpture and more. On your way there from the Tramway Plaza, don’t forget to check out the Trump Tower and the 432 Park Avenue skyscraper, the highest residential building in NYC. Note that MoMA offers free entrance every Friday evening.
Find out more about MoMA here.
Alternative 1: Return to the United Nations Headquarters to take a guided tour of the building.
Alternative 2: Visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is very close to the starting point of the sightseeing cruise. The museum also gives you the chance to wander into a retired BA Concorde aircraft (extra payment).
18:30 Sightseeing cruise
Take one of the sunset sightseeing cruises for a tour of Manhattan from the water. Here I recommend taking the Circle Line Harbour Lights Sightseeing Cruise which takes you on a tour starting from Pier 83. You will pass next to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, opposite the Financial District and underneath the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges during golden hour. The last leg of the tour will be more of a night tour, so again you will get a bit of both daylight and nighttime views.
Find out more about the Harbour Lights cruise here.
How to get there?
Exit MoMA and walk along 5th Avenue, up to the Rockefeller Centre. Then, take bus M50 towards West Side 42nd St Pier Crosstown from the intersection of 46th Street and 6th Avenue (stop name: W 46 St & 6 Av) to Pier 83 (stop name: 12 Av/W 42 St). There are 8 stops in between and you need to ring the bell for the bus to stop. The Pier is across the road. For the return trip, it may be more convenient to take a taxi, depending on where you are staying.
Buy your Circle Line Harbour Line tickets from AttractionTix [AD].
Walking Route Directions:
Day 4 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Central Park
This is one of the most relaxed days, as only two sights are included. But don’t be misled, you will still need to walk a lot, especially in the museum.
10:00 Metropolitan Museum of Art
First stop of the day is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or simply “the Met”) on the 5th Avenue. It is one of the top 5 most visited museums in the world and features collections from all over the globe. You can easily spend days exploring its exhibits that range from paintings to armouries to mummies. For lunch, I suggest you check out the Rooftop Garden Bar on the 5th floor for great views over Central Park. Note that the rooftop terrace may close in short notice due to weather conditions.
Find out more about the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.
How to get there?
The closest subway stations are the 86th St and the 77th St.
14:00 Central Park
Next to the Met museum is the Central Park. Spend your afternoon in one of the largest parks in NYC. Its central location makes it the most visited park in the USA. The park covers an area larger than 3 km2 and in its grounds, you can find many activities to do. In the park you can find a statue of Alice in Wonderland; rent a boat from the Loeb Boathouse; go to the Strawberry Fields; see the Cherry Hill; cross the Bow Bridge, or visit the Central Park Zoo.
Find out more about Central Park here.
18:00 Times Square
Return to Times Square for another evening. The possibilities for things to do there are endless. Alternatively, if you have a specific place to go for dinner, use this space here!
Walking Route Directions:
Day 5 – Lower Manhattan and the Financial District
Spend the morning in Financial District, cross the Brooklyn Bridge and then return via the Manhattan Bridge. Have a quick lunch stop in Chinatown and finish the day with a Broadway Musical. You couldn’t ask for anything else!
09:30 One World Trade Centre
Visit the highest building in NYC (and the whole US) and enjoy the panoramic views from the One World Observatory. In less than a minute, you will be transported from the ground floor to the observation platform on floor 102. The experience continues to the 100th floor. The building was completed in 2015 and stands right opposite Ground Zero.
Find out more about the One World Observatory here.
How to get there?
The closest subway stations are WTC Cortlandt, World Trade Centre and Cortlandt St.
11:30 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Spend the rest of your morning, taking in all the information in the underground 9/11 Museum. The museum features items from that day and a no-photos exhibition detailing everything that happened. Before entering, take a look at the two Memorial Polls on the exact place that the Twin Towers used to stand with the names of those killed on that tragic morning inscribed on the surface.
Find out more about the 9/11 Memorial and the Museum here.
Buy your 9/11 Memorial and Museum tickets from AttractionTix [AD].
13:30 Wall Street
Continue your walk in the narrow streets of Financial District, until you reach the famous Wall Street and the NYC Stock Exchange. There is not much to see here, apart from the movie-stared buildings, so once you take your photos, head to the next stop.
14:00 Brooklyn Bridge
Most people walk a part of Brooklyn Bridge (which has separate lanes, for cars, pedestrians and bicycles) and then return to Manhattan. Hence, the crowds at one end of the bridge. However, if you continue walking further towards Brooklyn, the crowds fade away (but not completely disappear) and you have a more enjoyable walk. Beware of walking on the bike lane, you are not supposed to, no matter how packed the pedestrian lane is.
15:00 Dumbo Area
Once you reach Brooklyn and depending on how much time you have, you may want to spend some time in the Dumbo area. Dumbo stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass and offers some popular photo spots with the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop.
16:00 Manhattan Bridge
Return to Manhattan using the Manhattan Bridge. This bridge is not as crowded as Brooklyn Bridge but it is noisier, as pedestrians share it with trains (don’t worry, there is a clear separation between the trains and pedestrians). The main reason for choosing to return on foot, rather than taking public transport is the opportunity to take photos of the Brooklyn Bridge.
17:00 Chinatown and Little Italy
On the other end of the Manhattan bridge, is Chinatown. The area is full of Chinese and Asian restaurants and a good place to refuel. Right on the edge of Chinatown, you will find Little Italy, which is focused on Italian cuisine. If you have time on your hands, choose a place to have an early dinner. Alternatively, you can continue your walk to Nolita (which stands for North of Little Italy). You may want to have a break at your accommodation before heading to the next stop.
19:00 Broadway Show
Saving the best for last, head to Broadway and watch one of the numerous musicals and shows (time may be different than what mentioned above). Make sure to book in advance for the best seats. However, truth to be told watching a Broadway show is expensive (more expensive than London’s West End shows) and a balcony back seat can cost up to $100. The day also matters, so visiting on a weekday is usually cheaper than Fridays and Saturdays.
A way to save money is to wait for last-minute discounted tickets. However, bear in mind that not all shows release last-minute tickets, and those seats may have restricted view. There are several ways to get same-day tickets. The most popular is to stand in line at one of the TKTS booths around the city and buy a ticket. However, this will take up most of your day, as you need to start queuing early in the day. Another way is to buy the discounted tickets online, but you need to ensure the reliability of the website and check the booking fares. Finally, some performances offer same-day lottery tickets, where you register your details before the show (either online or in-person), and a number of lucky winners get a cheap entry ticket.
How to get there?
Most Broadway theatres are located in the Theatre District which is close to Times Square. You can follow the directions there from the first day.
Buy your Broadway show tickets from Ticketmaster [AD].
Walking Route Directions:
Note: Depending on the number of stops you make along the way, it may take you less time to cross Brookly and Manhattan bridges than what is stated above. Google Maps recommend about half an hour per way.
Day 6 – Shopping in New York City
This is the last full day in NYC, and you may want to unpack that credit card from your suitcase.
10:00 Herald Square
Herald Square is a hub for chain retailer shops that will easily keep you busy for a few hours. Don’t forget to pass by Macy’s, one of the most known and historical department stores in the area. Depending on your budget and accommodation location you may want to do your shopping in another area of NYC. Other well-known department stores are the Bloomingdales and Century 21.
Alternative 1: If you prefer some time in nature you can head to Governor’s Island. To get there you need to travel to the Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and get the ferry from there. Note that the island is only open seasonally.
Alternative 2: Another great place to visit is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is best known for its architecture, which comes in contrast with the nearby buildings. The museum houses a varied collection of art exhibits.
How to get there?
Herald Square is served by the 34 St-Herald Sq subway station.
Day 7 – Leaving New York City
This day is free, and depending on your departure time you may want to go for a last walk around your accommodation or check out a place you didn’t have time to do earlier. If you have more days available, you may want to visit some of the other boroughs of NYC (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx or Staten Island), as this itinerary only focuses on Manhattan. Viator [AD] also has numerous day trips departing from NYC.
Have a nice trip!
P.S. Although a must sight, the Statue of Liberty appears only briefly in the above itinerary. This is because when I tried to buy tickets to get to the Crown of the statue three months before our trip, there were none available. So, we decided to skip that attraction and save it for another time, when we will not visit the city during busy July.
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