You did it — you decided to take on the concrete jungle that is Manhattan — perhaps for the first time. Whether you’re heading there for a long weekend or a midweek getaway, you want to go armed with some kind of plan so you don’t find yourself wandering aimlessly in a city where efficiency matters. This 4-day New York itinerary is especially perfect for first-timers who want to spend all four days in Manhattan hitting some of the top tourist attractions and sneaking in some shopping time plus a hidden gem or two.
Thinking of Brooklyn instead? No problem, this rooftop pool in New York City will be an awesome home away from home while you explore that borough. But if you’ve never been to NYC before, especially if you’ll only be there for three nights, I suggest devoting all of your time to Manhattan.
Here’s your 4-day New York itinerary
First thing’s first: your 4-day New York itinerary. I’m a total travel nerd, so you get it in a spreadsheet — just as I’d make one for myself. Remember that this should be fluid and used as a guide; if you see an amazing street performer, stay awhile and watch instead of racing off to an activity just because it’s on your list. If the weather report for the day looks great in the morning and crappy in the afternoon, switch around your activities if that works better. Lunch is on the itinerary but you ate breakfast late or you’re just not feeling hungry? Skip it.
Remember: I’ve been a professional traveller for years and move at a pace that may simply be too much for some people. And that’s OK! I want to help you see and do as much as possible with the limited time you have in NYC, but I also want you to survive it…and enjoy every memory you make along the way. At the end of the day, I want you to make this 4-day New York itinerary your own.
In addition to the spreadsheet, which will help you see your trip at-a-glance, I’ve also provided some extra details below that you may find helpful.
Pro Tip: you’ll find that my 4-day New York itinerary is heavy on walking and light on public transit. That’s (1) because NYC transit can take some getting used to, especially if you haven’t spent much time in cities with complex transit systems, and (2) walking ensures you take in all of the additional sights, smells, sounds that make up the magic of NYC.
Finally, for the sake of creating this 4-day New York itinerary, I used the most middle-of-the-road hotel in terms of price point — the Iberostar 70 Park Avenue. So, if you choose a different one, you’ll need to keep in mind that some of my suggestions around the hotel should shift based on your new location. Lunch on your arrival day is a prime example; you’ll want to drop your bags with the bellman and scarf down some food close to your hotel. Consider using my Restaurants – NYC list to help you choose based on location; it has a handy map to help you find something great nearby.
The 4-day New York itinerary spreadsheet
Here it is — your colour-coded 4-day New York itinerary. It’ll ensure you see some of the city’s top attractions without feeling like that’s all you’ve done.
If you’d prefer to work with the spreadsheet yourself to make changes and customize your NYC itinerary, I’ve created a copy of it here that you can cut and paste into Excel or Google Sheets to play around with.
Make sure you also have rainy-day plans in your back pocket since a lot of my 4-day New York itinerary is spent outdoors. This other handy post will help you plan things to do in New York City in the rain.
4-day New York itinerary: where to stay in New York City
Keep in mind that I created this itinerary primarily for adults. If you have toddlers or little kids, please do not put them through this. In fact, wait until you don’t have to contend with nap times to really enjoy your trip to New York City. Even better, leave them at home with a trusted caregiver and go by yourselves or with a pack of friends; you deserve it!
For those with bigger kids, tweens and teens, you’ll want to use my “Things to do in NYC with Teens” post to create your NYC itinerary. We took ours for a whole week this past summer, so that post is a massive resource.
Affordable places to stay in New York City
I’ve used Iberostar 70 Park Avenue as the hotel example in my 4-day New York itinerary spreadsheet because it’s middle of the road in terms of price and it’s in an excellent location. However, if it’s not available during your dates or you prefer a more value-driven or luxury property, here are some other options to consider:
STAYPINEAPPLE NEW YORK (337 W 36TH ST.) | 3-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: affordable and great value; complimentary bicycles; great location close to transit; one of the only boutique hotels in NYC with king-sized beds (plus exceptional bedding)
- Cons: highly automated with limited staff — guests will need to be comfortable with digital check-ins; West 36th St between 8th and 9th Avenues can get sketchy at night and isn’t the nicest to walk down; rooms are quite small with limited storage space
HYATT PLACE NEW YORK CITY / TIMES SQUARE (350 W 39TH ST.) | 3.5-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: buffet breakfast is included; rooms are spacious; good location within five-minute walk of major transit hub
- Cons: breakfast line gets very, very long and there’s not enough seating; West 39th St is not well lit and made me a bit nervous walking back to the hotel alone late at night
IBEROSTAR 70 PARK AVENUE (1 UN PLAZA) | 4-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: fabulous location within easy walking distance to many attractions and great shopping; one of the most affordable 4-star hotels in NYC
- Cons: beds and pillows are fine but not noteworthy; the closest subway stop is 7-minute walk away at Grand Central Terminal; rooms don’t have the best soundproofing
MILLENNIUM HILTON NEW YORK ONE UN PLAZA (70 PARK AVE.) | 4-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: great upgrades to massive suites are known to happen; spacious rooms that are nicely appointed; five-star service
- Cons: location is a bit out of the way and downhill from pretty much everything, except the United Nations; huge hotel without a ton of character in common spaces
Prefer a 5-star hotel for your 4-day New York itinerary?
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or you’ve saved up and want to splurge — or you unapologetically only stay in luxury hotels — you won’t have trouble splashing out in New York City. I’ve only stayed at two true five-star properties there to date, but there are dozens more:
THE BEEKMAN, A THOMPSON HOTEL (123 NASSAU ST.) | 5-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: has old-world charm and character; incredible lobby and atrium; excellent bar onsite that doesn’t feel like a “hotel lobby bar”
- Cons: old, slow elevators; pillows aren’t five-star; rooms are quite dark
THE LANGHAM, NEW YORK, FIFTH AVENUE (400 5TH AVE.) | 5-STAR | WEBSITE
- Pros: ultra-modern luxury from the moment you walk through the front doors to the elevators, hallways and rooms; incredible service; some rooms have views of the Empire State Building
- Cons: not as close to a subway stop as you might want from a very pricy hotel
4-day New York itinerary: great New York City restaurants
It may not be quite as exciting as eating your way through Italy, but the tastes of New York City await and eating is an important way to experience the city’s culture as a whole and its many multicultural flavours. Just be sure that if there are places you have on your must-eat-here list that you check well ahead of time to find out if reservations are required.
You’ve had a hectic (and maybe long) travel morning, so the first thing you’ll want to do is fuel up for your first day in NYC. Since in my sample spreadsheet you’re staying at the Iberostar 70 Park Avenue, I suggest dropping your bags and walking to Urbanspace Vanderbilt for lunch. It’s only nine minutes on foot and it’ll help you stretch your legs after all manner of planes, trains and/or automobile rides. This is a quintessential NYC food hall and, after you’ve narrowed down where you want to eat, service is usually very fast so you can get food in your belly pretty quickly.
Dinner is at Tacombi because it’s one of my all-time favourite New York City restaurants and I’ll be sad if you don’t make it to one of the locations. The 23 W 33rd St. location is only an 11-minute walk from the Iberostar, so after you’ve checked in and freshened up, it’ll be easy to get to.
If you still have some energy to burn after dinner, 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar is only another nine-minute walk from Tacombi and it’s a great way to spend an evening if the weather is nice.
I’m suggesting a quick breakfast on DAY 2 so that you can get to the Empire State Building when the rope drops to avoid the long line that will inevitably form soon thereafter. And besides, a New York-style bagel needs to happen during your 4-day New York itinerary. Hit up Bagel Express, Liberty Bagels Midtown or Best Bagel & Coffee — all of which are within an easy five- or 10-minute walk from the hotel.
Lunch on DAY 2 is flexible. For example, if you’re really hungry after leaving the Empire State Building and want some place close by, EATALY’s Flatiron location is only a 10-minute walk. However, if you plan to go to Greenwich Village, eat at North Fork; while down near The Bowery and SoHo, there’s Clinton St. Baking Company, Ed’s Lobster Bar, Jack’s Wife Freda, Katz’s Deli and so much more. But if you plan to check out the World Trade Center and Oculus, there’s a big Shake Shack at nearby Fulton Center, which is always quick and easy.
If you’re sticking with the itinerary outline and seeing a show on the evening of DAY 2, then your pre-theatre dinner options could include: Urban HAWKER, Capizzi or Victor’s Cafe — plus a couple of other backups that I listed in the itinerary — which are all easily accessible from the theatre district.
I really want you to have a great NYC brunch experience, but if you’re like me, you want a nice coffee before really starting the day, so I’m sending you to Black Fox Coffee‘s 45 E 45th St. location, which is just nine minutes on foot from the Iberostar. (You can read about the crazy espresso-based cold drink with tonic water, pictured above, that I tried in my Restaurants – NYC post.) With coffee-in-hand, on a nice day you can walk to Central Park to pick up your mode of transportation for the day.
And that’ll take you to brunch on DAY 3 at Jacob’s Pickles on New York City’s Upper West Side. If you’d rather stay closer to the south end of Central Park, you could sub this out with Sarabeth’s. Both are solid brunch choices and feel very New York-y.
I’ve added in a pretzel snack on DAY 3 in case you get hungry between brunch and dinner — and they’re everywhere around Central Park, so you shouldn’t have to look too hard.
Dinner on your last night should be something extra-special, and COTE Korean Steakhouse will tick a few important boxes: first off, it’s delicious; it showcases fusion cuisine at its best, tying the classic American steakhouse to traditional Korean barbecue that’s cooked at your table; it’s fancy without being snobby or so over-the-top that the average visitor will feel out of place; and, my favourite part, it’s a Michelin-star restaurant that you can experience without spending more than $100 per person.
One last great breakfast on DAY 4 will keep your foodie experiences from NYC memorable and top-of-mind as you leave for home later in the day. We love In Common NYC and it’s over in Hudson Yards, which is where I have you spending your last few hours in The Big Apple.
If you have time to stay in the Hudson Yards area for lunch or a late snack before heading back to the hotel to pick up your bags, Mercado Little Spain will give you a taste of Chef José Andrés’ Spanish tapas-style food in a NYC food hall-style space.
Don’t forget to use my Restaurants – NYC list for deeper descriptions of everything included in this 4-day New York itinerary plus many, many more options — all of which are plotted on a map so you can see what’s around you in real time.
4-day New York itinerary: fun things to do in NYC
You’ll see in the spreadsheet that I’ve really tried to help you think through an efficient flow to each of your four days in New York City, with foodie and activity pairings that don’t have you zipping from one end of Manhattan to the other. I’ve also created this 4-day New York itinerary to ensure you don’t miss some of the city’s biggest cultural icons while also not spreading yourself so thin that you don’t have time to just wander, people watch and make your own discoveries, too.
Here’s where this itinerary will take you:
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) — one of my favourite art galleries in the world
- A rooftop bar for cocktails (if you’d rather try a rooftop pool in New York City, there’s a post for that!)
- The Empire State Building — a must if this is your first time in NYC or you’ve never gone all the way up
- Shopping — wherever you fancy, from SoHo and Nolita to Fifth Avenue or even down to funky Greenwich Village
- Broadway (or Off-Broadway) — because even if you think you don’t like theatre, you can’t say you’ve really tried unless you’ve seen a Broadway music or play
- Times Square — but after dark, when the evening street performers are out and the night sky is neon-lit
- Central Park — renting an e-scooter or e-bike so you can get around the entire park in a single day, including the American Museum of Natural History or The Met if you’d rather not stay outside all day or if the weather isn’t co-operating (remember if it starts to drizzle, there are loads of things to do in New York City in the rain). Rentals are everywhere as you approach Central Park from the south, and we had a great experience this summer with Fancy Apple
- Hudson Yards — where you can live on the Edge, shop, eat, see The Vessel, go into the THE SHED and then walk The High Line before it’s time to pack up and say goodbye to NYC
I know it’s hard to believe you can fit all of this into a 4-day New York itinerary, but I promise this is very doable!
4-day New York itinerary: 5 New York secret tips
OK, maybe these aren’t so secret, but going armed with some NYC hacks will help you save time and money — and those are two great ingredients in any holiday:
1. Upgrade your flight times.
Depending on where you’re flying in from, this may cost you an extra $100 or more, but it’ll be worth it because the least-expensive flights will get you in late on DAY 1 and have you leave early on DAY 4, leaving you with just two full days in New York City. Instead, book the earliest flight you can on DAY 1 and the latest flight home on DAY 4, and you just landed yourself at least one to 1.5 days’ worth of more time to explore without adding another night in a hotel.
2. Use your credit card for the subway.
When you’re staying less than a week, it hardly makes sense to purchase an unlimited NYC Metro Pass. Instead, you can use your credit card at the turnstyles without needing any additional subway or public transit passes, plus you can use it as many times in a row as you need to if you’re paying for others in your party. This is so much handier than it used to be in NYC!
If you decide to get an OMNY card, once you pay for 12 rides using the same device or card in a week, all additional rides within the week are free (provided you’re using only OMNY). Also note that if you have a reloadable Metro Card, you can pass your card back to others and it can be swiped as many times as you need, provided there are enough funds loaded. (Fares and more here.)
3. Try the NYC ferry.
When the weather is nice and the ferries are running, there isn’t a more scenic public transit option in all of New York City. The NYC ferry is certainly not as robust as the subway and bus lines, and it is marginally more expensive, but — hot damn! — it’s hard to beat getting from A to B on the water with the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines on either side of you.
4. Buy a CityPASS.
Or a C3 pass if it’s a shorter stay like this 4-day New York itinerary. Both passes offer significant savings by packaging a bunch of attractions together into one flat fee, and three of the big activities I included in this itinerary — the MoMA, Empire State Building and the Edge — are perfect for the C3 pass savings.
5. Get discounted Broadway tickets at TKTS.
There are two in-person TKTS booths in New York City, but if you’re comfortable using an app, you can also get these same-day Broadway ticket discounts using the TKTS app. I’ve also included a number of other ways to score last-minute “rush” Broadway tickets in my “Things to do in NYC with Teens” post, including other apps and digital lotteries, so be sure to check that out if you want to save on Broadway tickets.
That’s it! You’re ready to take on New York City — and it’s gonna be a blast. I know you’ll love it, and if you use my itinerary or ideas from any of my many NYC-based blog posts, please tell me about it in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: my 4-day New York itinerary isn’t sponsored in any way, though it may contain past partnerships. All opinions, suggestions and scheduling are my own.