Visiting New York City for the first time is so freaking exciting. Planning a trip to a big city can also be a bit overwhelming. New York is literally packed with amazing things to do that without a doubt it takes more than one visit to see all there is. In fact, I don’t know if it’s even possible to see everything on offer in New York City, ever! The information out there about New York is also so conflicting even when you do just have a 4 day New York itinerary to plan!
The Big Apple is a place that people either love or hate. So, if you ask me I could move to New York tomorrow. Ask someone else and they’ll tell you that two days is enough and the whole city is overrated. The first time I went to New York we spent four days in the city and it was a perfect amount of time. I hope that this 4 day New York itinerary will help you out whilst planning your trip. I’ve covered everything you’ll need to know from transport, hotels, attractions, broadway to food and how much spending money you might need!
Why is a 4 Day New York Itinerary Ideal for First-Timers?
Firstly, New York is expensive. No matter how many corners you aim to cut and how well you stick to your budget there is no getting away from the fact that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Don’t get me wrong it is possible to visit New York City on a budget which I’ll talk about throughout this 4-day itinerary. In my opinion, you can see a lot of this enchanting city in four days and it’s not going to break the bank. But of course, if you decided to spend two weeks in the city it’s probably going to cost a fortune. It all depends on your budget. But if like me you’re not a millionaire just an average working-middle class person then 4 days is perfect.
New York is famous for being called the city that never sleeps right? And it’s totally true. New York literally never shuts down. You can go shopping and sightseeing at 4 am if you really want too. That’s not for me because I’m a complete hag if I don’t get my sleep but it does you can stay out late safely amongst all the other tourists. What I’m saying with this is that you’re not restricted to daylight hours and you can so much into a day in New York.
Even though attractions and landmarks are spread out all over New York some of them actually don’t take up that much time. For example, you may decide to visit the top of the Empire State Building. Well, you probably won’t spend hours up there. You’ll most likely get to the top take in the surreal views, pinch yourself a few times, take some amazingly Instagrammable photographs and come back down after an hour or so. A lot of the main sights to see can fit into a 4 day New York itinerary easily.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit New York for 4 Days?
The best time of year to visit New York I dare you to gather people who have visited at different times of the year and let the battle of the seasons and holidays begin! Americans love any kind of holiday and the states do holidays well. Everything to us Brits is a little over the top and I for one love it. Halloween, Christmas and Thanks Giving are huge in America but they also love summer too! I personally can’t really comment on visiting New York at any other time than summer because it’s the only time I’ve visited. What I can say is that July is a pretty special time to visit New York and possibly one of the cheapest.
Again, it depends completely on your budget to when will be the best time of year to visit the big apple for you. Christmas will be expensive and summer will be cheaper. Thanksgiving may be quieter for tourism because a lot of locals will be with their families and some attractions and shops possibly shut. As well as the cost there’s also the crazy New York weather. New York gets definitive seasons each year. If you hate the cold then winter probably isn’t the best time fo year to visit. It can get as cold at – 15 degrees celsius in winter with heavy snowfall. Summer in New York is hot but not humid so it is manageable.
It all depends on personal preference. I wrote a post all about visiting New York in July which you can take a look at here if you want.
Things to Know About New York City Before You Go
- Tipping is essential (tipping guide at the end of this post)
- New York is so much bigger than you think
- It’s set out in a grid
- Knowing your compass will beneficial when walking
- Google Maps or any other directional app will be essential
- You will end up needing to get on the subway at some point
- You will need a full day if you want to explore all of Central Park
- Pizza slices will be your cheapest food option
- You will get lost A LOT
Where to Stay in New York City
So I actually wrote a whole other post about accommodation in New York which you can find here, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But the location is so important. I would try and stay as central as possible on your budget. We stayed near Grand Central Station and the location was perfect. It meant we were already in amongst the action without having to ride the subway first. Yes, staying further away will save you money but you’ll also pay for the subway so swings and roundabouts!
Flying into New York
The best airport to fly into New York is JFK. It’s the most central with the best links in and out of the city. The airport isn’t located far from Manhattan and I’ll go into the best and most affordable ways to get into the city below. Flight times to New York from the UK are quite reasonable at around 7.5 hours. I don’t even think that’s considered at long haul anymore and after flying from the UK to Australia and New Zealand I think I agree. That said it will depend on where in the world you’re flying to New York from. I think we paid around 400 GBP each for return flights from Manchester in the UK to JFK for four full days and five nights in New York.
Bare in mind whilst reading this post that we flew from the UK so a 4 day New York itinerary was perfect for us we didn’t experience much jet-lag on the way there. If you are travelling from further away you might need longer to account for travel time and jet-lag.
Getting into New York from JFK Airport
There are various transport options when you land into the airport to get into Manhattan. Again, it will depend on your budget. The options include taxi, private car, shuttle bus or the subway. The cheapest option my far would be the catch the subway but I prefer to convince over being stuck on the Subway with a suitcase trying to find my accommodation. We actually took a shuttle-bus into Manhattan which was priced really well and I highly recommend it! I’ll go into each option for getting into Manhattan from JFK below:
There is a New York taxi service that operates from JFK to the surrounding areas in New York. The flat rate for these taxies. Is $52 to the first passenger’s destination. That means that you can car-share with others but that price is only to the first drop-off. The price will then increase further stops. This price doesn’t include tips or surcharges which occur during certain times of the day.
The airport shuttle buses are probably the best option for value for money at just $17 it’s a bargain without the stress of the subway as soon as you land. We booked online beforehand with Go Link but you can just obtain a ticket on arrival. The shuttle bus took just over one hour to Grand Central Station.
Of course, there is the option to catch the subway but it will take just as long as requires a few train changes along the way. Catch the AirTrain to the Jamaica Station and transfer to the LIRR train towards Penn Station for one-stop then transfer to the subway line 7. You want the purple line towards Manhattan to 42nd Street for Grand Central (just an example) of course it will depend on where you are staying in Manhattan.
Attractions Covered in This 4 Day Itinerary
- Grand Central Terminal
- Bryant Park
- New York Public Library
- The Rockefeller Centre
- Times Square
- 5th Avenue
- Central Park
- The High-Line
- Brooklyn Bridge
- The Statue of Liberty
- 9/11 Museum
- St. Patricks Cathedral
New York 4 Day Itinerary for First-Timers – Day One
Without any further ado, let’s get straight into this 4 day New York itinerary.
Day One – A Morning Exploring Grand Central and Around
The first day in New York is definitely the most exciting. I was jumping up and down like a child on Christmas Day (I’m still like that on Christmas Day) ready to see all those famous sights which are where we’ll start. To be honest this 4-day itinerary is quite sight-seeing heavy after all who doesn’t want to see the likes of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building on their first visit to New York? I’ve included a map of all the sights below which I’ll do for each day as it might make planning your trip to New York easier!
I find that the easiest way to travel to big cities is by location. For example, see things that are near each other at the same time. It saves time and often money so you’re not going backwards and forwards to a certain place especially if it involves catching the subway.
Breakfast at Scotty’s Diner
This authentic New York diner certainly cooks up the best pancakes in town. We were recommended this place by a friend and I’m so glad we were! Don’t judge the outside when you find the place, it’s old-style New York but once you step inside you’ll realise you’re surrounded with the locals. It was that good we actually dined here for breakfast twice during our five mornings in New York. It’s also pretty affordable we paid around $12-20 for a huge stack of pancakes and one day I had the eggs benny. The portions are HUGE but they are everywhere in New York so prepared to eat mountains during your trip!
Explore Grand Central Station
After breakfast, it’s onto Grand Central Station which is actually called Grand Central Station. The transport hub of New York and probably one of the poshest and cleanest train stations I’ve ever seen. But Grand Station is certainly more than just a station. You’ll find shops lining the station and a whole dining concourse which you have to visit at some point. It has every cuisine you’ve ever wanted to try in there! As you walk onto the main concourse you’ll be speechless I know I was. I felt like I’d stepped directly into a movie!
Enjoy all the beauty of the station by wandering around and taking some photographs. It’s obviously free to enter but you can take an audio tour if you wish. Find out some more information about the Grand Central Terminal audio tours here.
Bryant Park via New York Public Library
After leaving Grand Central take the exit onto 42nd street east and turn right to walk up to Bryant Park via the New York Public Library. You can also catch the subway which takes four minutes but the walk is only about 10 so might as well get those steps in! In fact, I fully wish I had my Fitbit in New York because we walked miles and miles every day.
You’ll see the grand architecture of the New York Public library as you walk up the street it’s relatively hard to miss! Admission into the library is free and they also conduct walking tours as well. Make sure you visit their official website before planning your trip. We just enjoyed the outside of the building but I imagine it’s beautiful inside too. I definitely want to go inside on my next visit to New York which I hope isn’t too far away!
As you leave the Library to keep walking on 42nd street until you reach the beautiful Bryant Park.
This is the first park we enjoyed in New York. We ventured out of the hotel after dropping off our bags and the sun had just started to set. Both mum and I (we went on a girls trip!) were so overwhelmed at the fact we were actually in New York we just looked around in awe at the place. The skyscrapers tower overhead and you can see the Empire State Building in the distance. It’s so impressive. Bryant Park is quite small but it’s so gorgeous. There’s a decking area at one end where you can sit and enjoy a beer or a cocktail at The Porch. Alcoholic drinks in New York cost anything from $15 upwards, especially in Manhattan.
Don’t Forget the Legal Drinking Age in the USA is 21!
When the night falls the decking is lit up with fairy lights and is super cute if you time to visit on an evening. There’s also a games area where you can play board games and a carousel for children too. For a more upmarket restaurant dine at the Bryant Park Grill. But on every corner, you’ll find juice bars and small cafes as well. In the summer there is often exercise and yoga classes held on the lawn at Bryant Park as well as theatre and music throughout the year.
Day One in New York City – Afternoon
After exploring Grand Central Terminal and Bryant Park for the morning it’s time to spend the afternoon in Times Square just a 4 minutes walk from Bryant Park.
Times Square is an experience in itself. I’ve never seen a square so busy with so many people all the time! We walked through Times Square a couple of times because it’s so central and no matter if it’s 1 pm or 4 am it will always be busy! I think Times Square is spectacular. It’s the place to shop until you drop that’s for sure. If you enjoy H&M and Sephora then you’re in for a treat. Take some photographs and marvel in all Times Square has to offer. They’ll be street food on sale, people dressed up, there is something happening everywhere you turn.
Eating in Times Square – We ate at The Counter where you can customise your own burgers and they were so so good! It wasn’t the cheapest meal in the world and cost us around $25 each but it was worth it. This was one of the only meals we ate that wasn’t street food so it was a real treat!
Sunset at Bar 65 instead of Top of the Rock or the Empire State!
Unlike so many who visit we decided not to visit the top of the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock. Why? Well, we decided to enjoy a cocktail at the same time as getting those panoramic views of New York City! Bar 65 is in the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Centre and has the highest outdoor terrace where you can eat and drink in the city!
Instead of paying the $40 to go up the Empire State or Rockefeller Centre just book a table at Bar 65 for free and enjoy the views from inside and outside whilst having a drink and maybe something to eat! You have to pay extra to sit outside but you walk outside and enjoy the views for nothing and there’s no time limit on how long you can spend up there. It’s a great way to visit a bar in New York that you otherwise probably wouldn’t and I found it to be of much better value than paying for a ticket up the other buildings with 100 other tourists.
Though Bar 65 is an upmarket New York restaurant we didn’t feel out of place and everyone was really nice. We popped our nice dresses on and enjoyed an evening of luxury. We even splashed out and shared a cheese board (cheapest item on the menu) and it was divine. Even if we did get a slice of pizza on the way home!
After a day of walking and exploring, head back to the hotel and get an early night. We were never out that late.
Day Two of the 4 Day Itinerary to New York – Rockefeller Centre, 5th Avenue and Central Park
Even though we didn’t go to the top of the Rockefeller Centre of our 4 day New York itinerary we did explore the building. It’s pretty impressive and there’s so much to do like visiting NBC studios if you’re into television or just explore around the building. We wandered inside and outside. Although we visited in June I was still keen to see where the ice rink goes along with the big Christmas tree!! The square where they put the ice rink is actually quite small and in the summer months, it’s transformed into a bar where they do delicious food and cocktails!
Okay, we definitely did more looking than shopping on 5th Avenue but we enjoyed seeing all those designers shops like Tiffanys that you see in the movies! We even went for a tour inside Tiffanys because why not right? There are over five floors and everything from the moment you step inside sparkles!
Whilst journeying down 5th Avenue visit St Patricks cathedral. The architecture of this building is truly inspirations both inside and out. You can visit the cathedral every day for free. It’s a crucial part of New York history and very impressive indeed. As you approach the cathedral you’ll see the start of Central Park in the distance!
Afternoon – Central Park
I’ve purposefully not put too much else on this day because you almost need a full day to explore Central Park. It’s seriously huge! We got lost several times inside the park so I highly recommend buying one of the central park maps that are sold throughout the park. There are so many things to enjoy in Central Park but some of the highlights are:
- Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET)
- Strawberry Fields
- Alice in Wonderland Statue
- Bow Bridge
- Row on the Lake
- Enjoy a Picnic on the Great Lawn
- Cherry Hill
- Turtle Lake
- Visit the Loab Boathouse
- Central Park Zoo
Honestly, the list could go on and on. I found the best way to enjoy Central Park is to wonder with some sense of direction. I loved how the city towers over the park everywhere you look, it’s really incredible. Of course, the most incredible view of Central Park itself is from above from Bar 65 or any other viewpoint! If you don’t fancy walking around Central Park you can also cycle or ride in a horse-drawn cart!
Day Three – 4 Day New York Itinerary
On day three of this 4 day New York itinerary visit the 9/11 museum, walk Brooklyn Bridge and the High Line as well as exploring some of the suburbs in Lower Manhattan.
Visit the 9/11 Museum
The devastating events of 11th of November 2001 took a piece of everyone’s heart all over the world. The devastation lasts to this day and so many lives and families will never be the same again. Though that dreaded morning was nothing but a tragedy the 9/11 museum is worth a visit. I do think you should visit in the morning so you can fill the afternoon with something more joyous. Especially if you’re visiting the museum as its extremely heart-wrenching.
The foundations of the Twin Towers create a memorial site for everyone affected during this terrible time. The memorial is free to visit but there’s also a museum that you get tickets for too which is what we did. The museum goes into every detail about that moment and the weeks and months that followed. A definitive moment that will live in New York’s history forever and an experience that will show you just how precious life is. I really recommend visiting the museum. Tickets cost $26 for an adult.
After visiting the museum catch the subway to Brooklyn ready to walk the Brooklyn Bridge back towards Manhattan. I would’ve loved to explore Brooklyn for longer but we just didn’t have time.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Time: 1 hour
Advisories: wear comfortable shoes and take water
The subway takes you across the water to Brooklyn where you can walk back to Manhattan from there. I really recommend walking from Brooklyn towards Manhattan so that you can admire the Manhattan skyline in the distance. It really won’t have the same ‘wow’ appeal going in the other direction. The bridge is extremely impressive. It took a long 14 years to build the bridge you can walk on today. Construction started back in 1869 and finished in 83! The great thing about this bridge, other than the views, is the fact that cars and pedestrians are separated. Pedestrians walk up top and cars go underneath making it safer to walk especially for those with children!
The walk across the bridge is fairly easily at just 1.6 km in distance taking under an hour depending on how fast you walk. Make sure you have a comfortable pair of shore – A must for New York in general! And a bottle of water especially in the summer months. When you’re on the bridge there is no shelter or water sold so be prepared!
4 Day New York Itinerary – Day Three Afternoon
Once you finish walking the Brooklyn Bridge hop on the subway at Brooklyn Bridge City Hall Station and take the red line 2 to Greenwich Village.
Explore Greenwich Village
Stroll around Greenwich Village where you can find the building of the Friends apartment. No, the building didn’t tower over Central Park at all! After exploring Greenwich Village walk back through Washington Square Gardens. I recommend actually walking from Washing Square Gardens, through to Union Square and onto Madison Gardens for a burger at Shake Shack!
Shake Shack is somewhat of an upmarket McDonalds but so delicious. Kind of reminded me of an In-N-Out burger too! Madison Gardens is gorgeous too and strung together by fairy lights on and evening.
Walk the High-Line
The High-Line is an old New York railway which has recently been converted into an elevated park. It’s pretty unique and gives views from all different angles of the city as you follow it around. The High-Line runs for 2.33 kilometres so if you plan on walking it all be sure to save plenty of time. As you walk the high-line you can get on and off in different suburbs of the city. There’s also Chelsea Market which is great to have a nosey around.
Day Four – 4 Day New York City Itinerary
Day Four, The Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, Serendipity and Broadway!
The final day of this 4 day New York Itinerary is going to be just as spectacular as the last three! I’ve been saving some of the best things to do in New York until last, like seeing a Broadway show because it’s always nice to go out with a bang on the last night of vacation!
The Statue of Liberty
Like so many other things on this 4 day New York itinerary seeing the Statue of Liberty can be completely free! There are tours where you can get off on the island and even go into the statue but for us just seeing her was enough and you can do so for free on the Staten Island Ferry!
If you’re coming from uptown then take the subway to Whitehall and follow the signs for the Staten Island Ferry Terminal (there are loads). The Staten Island Ferry is completely free and is the ferry that a lot of New Yorkers use to commute to and from the city. I recommend getting the ferry around 10 or 11 am so that you’re after the rush hour folk in the morning!
On the way to Staten Island, you want to sit on the right side of the boat and on the left on the way back to get brilliant views of the Statue of Liberty. Honestly, the boat goes so close and you get great views. Using the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to save a little bit of money and still get to see The Statue of Liberty.
After returning to Manhattan Battery Park sits on the waterfront and is lovely to stroll around before heading back uptown for an amazing lunch at Serendipity – you can’t go to New York for four days and not visit Serendipity!
Lunch at Serendipity 3
Serendipity 3 has been a unique dining experience since the 1950s. The likes of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly found some of their inspiration in this very venue. It’s famous for its frozen hot chocolate and boutique store. After trying the frozen hot chocolate I can say it’s 100% worth the visit. We had the chocolates and an amazing lunch here. We got nachos and potato skins which were both wonderful!
Plan in advance when you’re going to go to Serendipity 3 because they don’t take bookings. You basically turn up and your name goes to the bottom of the list and they give you an estimated time for when your table will be ready. Just arrive back at Serendipity within plenty of time so you don’t miss the table. It’s not a great system but I guess when you have that many customers it doesn’t matter that much to them, unfortunately. This was easily one of my favourite places to eat in New York City.
4 Day New York Itinerary – An Evening on Broadway
It wouldn’t be a trip to New York without catching a Broadway show! I know that they are expensive but they are honestly worth it! We saw the Lion King because there was no way I was going to see anything else and it was phenomenal. If you don’t mind what you see then you can get cheaper tickets from the TKTS booth in Times Square. Each day they sell broadway tickets for half price but you won’t know which shows they are selling until the day.
Find out more information on their website here!
The Best Places for Cheap (ish) Eats
$$$ A little more dollar
- Scotty’s Diner – for breakfast $$
- Grand Central Concourse – any food genre you like! $
- Magnolia Bakery – cakes and banana pudding! $
- 2 Bro’s Pizza $
- Shake Shack – Burgers $$
- Time-Out Market – Everything $
- S’mac – The best Mac and Cheese in New York $$
- Serendipity $$$
These are just a few of the places we ate in New York and all were delicious!
Getting Around New York – Transport/Walking Advice
So what’s the best way to get around New York? Honestly, it’s easy to walk around a lot of New York. But sometimes you will need to get the subway. Taxies are of course all over the place but the traffic in New York is wild and with only a 4-day itinerary you don’t want to be sat in traffic! We only got one taxi during our time in the big apple and we probably shouldn’t have because it would’ve taken us just as long to walk after the traffic!
Catching the Subway in New York
The subway can feel like a complete sudoku puzzle if you’re not used to the system. Which by the way, I am not. The subway was pretty overwhelming during my first trip to New York but once you start to understand it, it’s not that hard! But if you do want to learn a little more about catching the subway in New York then this basic guide is all you need!
How Much Spending Do You Need in New York City?
Finally, before wrapping up this 4 day New York itinerary let’s talk budget. How much spending money do you actually need for New York City! Well, not as much as you may think. If you paid close attention to this guide then you’ll have realised that there are so many Free Things to Do in New York City! I mean look at Central Park and the Statue of Liberty you can see both completely for free! So in terms of spending money we probably budgeted around $100 per day I mean it is New York and we had money left over which was wonderful and spent in Sephora! My biggest advice is to prepare and be sensible, New York can be expensive but you can also cut costs everywhere like having a pizza slice for dinner!
Sharing is Caring
I hope you enjoyed this 4 day New York itinerary and I hope that New York is everything that you ever dreamed of. I know it was for me and I can’t wait to return. If you did enjoy it I would appreciate it so much if you could share it with your friends!
Wishing you happy and healthy travels,