2 Day New York Itinerary: Perfect weekend in NYC
Excited about a city break in the US? Here is an awesome 2 day New York itinerary sample to get you started!
First time visitors often find planning a short trip to New York City a daunting task. Towering skyscrapers, yellow taxis, and Times Square with its glitzy lights, this is easily one of the favourite cities to visit in the United States and one which surprises even the locals every time they return.
Exploring the ‘Big Apple’ in a crazy crammed two days may sound overwhelming at first, as divergent interests can send a visitor to different directions in the city. This is the sole reason why this New York itinerary has been painstakingly crafted, keeping the tons of excitement in mind, especially for those who are hard-pressed for time.
2 Day New York Itinerary: Perfect weekend in NYC
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New York City has something for all tastes, so it is advisable to check each attraction you plan to visit beforehand for dates and opening hours to avoid any disappointment later. But before all this you must know when to visit.
Summer is best if you have kids as schools are closed. If you don’t like the cold, avoid the December to March months. If the season is not important, avoid summer, as the crowds will be dense.
My recommendation is to travel in late September when the crowds are thin and the weather is perfect. If you want to travel when the crowds are very thin, then January to February is best, providing you can stand the chill.
Since you will be staying in Manhattan, your arrival airport should be Newark, despite the time you will lose with high traffic on the way. If you are using public transport, the MTA bus is your only choice.
You can avoid this by taking the NJ Transit to Penn station from where there are multiple connections every hour.
A word about getting around in this huge city. While public transportation is easily the cheapest and most convenient, understanding the system is confusing for first timers. It is better to download the MyTransit NYC app to figure out the subways, as they are color-coded and buses by route number, to make it easy for you to use them.
Accommodation comes at a price in New York, and since you are there for just two days you cannot stay away from Manhattan to get a cheap hotel. Assuming this is your first visit to New York, it is but natural you would want to see the maximum attractions.
Midtown has some of NYC’s best tourist attractions like Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Broadway and Museums among others, but I for one find it very touristy. Some of the good places to stay here are:
- JAZZ HOSTEL( Budget)
An all time favorite, the Jazz Hostel on Columbus Circle has a nice environment and a kitchen for cooking food and free WiFi.
- YOTEL( Mid – range)
This is a modern hotel with all the amenities such as large rooms and an outdoor terrace to grab a bite and enjoy the views
- W HOTEL (Luxury)
Located on Times Square, where all the major attractions are, W Hotel has free WiFi and a W MixBar in every room.
Important packing tips
Clothes and toiletries form the foundation of any things to pack on a trip to New York. In my opinion, the best way to see the most the city has to offer is by walking around the five boroughs. So bring along these items:
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Light jacket
- Layered clothes as per the season.
- Reusable water bottle
- Valid ID
- Printed hotel reservations
- Printed activity tickets
- Pepper spray
- A rolling suitcase
- Travel insurance for New York
DAY ONE – MORNING
Start early on your first morning to explore everything associated with authentic city style by a walk through Central Park, the heart and soul of Lower Manhattan. The park features so many attractions, you can easily pass a day here and even then miss out on some of them.
Since we are short of time, concentrate on the southern half of the park where some of the unmissable spots like Belvedere Castle, Alice in Wonderland sculpture and The Pond are located.
You would be hungry after your morning stroll, so stop by at the legendary bake shop, Sarabeth’s, for some delicious french toast or a savory lobster roll.
Once you are belly happy, make your way down to Fifth Avenue, one of the most upscale and best shopping venues in the city. Apart from viewing catchy window displays at high-end stores of Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co, you will come across buildings like the New York Public Library and the iconic Empire State Building.
DAY ONE – AFTERNOON
The sun would now be high above your head, so head indoors to the original Shake Shack outlet in Madison Square Park for their famous limited edition menu which even today attracts foodies from all over to this location.
There are three highly recommended museums in the area and it is strongly advised to spend time in all of them.They are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum which is a part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Time may be short but you just cannot miss out on enjoying the best views of the landmarks of New York from the observation deck at Rockefeller Center.
From the Top of the Rock you can admire the World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty among others.
DAY ONE – EVENING
Witnessing a performance on Broadway has to be high on any visitor’s list, but before that it is time to delve into some innovative Japanese dishes at Nobu Fifty Seven. This is a world famous restaurant and I must say you will have a memorable experience like I did.
There are as many as 41 theatres which play both Broadway and off-broadway shows like The Lion King, Hamilton among many other timeless classics. Prices are steep and the shows are very popular so be prepared to book in advance. On your way back to the hotel, try and drop down at Times Square and you will instantly realise why New York is dubbed as the “City That Never Sleeps”
DAY TWO – MORNING
Start your day very early and head straight to the Grand Central Station on 42nd and Park Avenue. You can have breakfast at the hundreds of bakeries and at the same time admire the vast terminal and it’s spectacular architecture.
Seeing New York City’s most iconic lady, the Statue of Liberty is a must see on any York City itinerary. However, instead of hopping on the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island I suggest admiring the statue from Battery Park.
On certain days the ferry ride can take nearly four hours, something you cannot afford on such a short visit.So at Battery Park you can get great views from Pier 11, at the Battery Park Esplanade point.There are a number of bars and restaurants to explore here as well.
Head to Lower Manhattan to take a snap with the Charging Bull, one of the most famous statues in the city and a symbol of good luck. After touching the bull you can take pictures of the Fearless Girl, another popular statue situated nearby.
A novel attraction in Lower Manhattan is The Oculus building, a spectacular structure housing over 100 retail stores. If shopping is on the agenda, Oculus is a better option than Fifth Avenue as it is less crowded.
DAY TWO – AFTERNOON
It is now time to grab something to eat so just south of Oculus lies Eataly, a food court offering gelato, sandwiches, coffee and some great wine. Another option in this area is Brookfield Place, a trendy mall which is home to an open food hall, Hudson Eats, where you enjoy a meal overlooking the waterfront.
Right outside the Oculus is the 9/11 memorial, a site which honors those who lost their life during the 9/11 attacks. A guided tour of the site and the attached museum will give a better insight of what transpired on that fateful day.
Once you are ready to return, opt for a walk instead of taking public transport. This is a great opportunity to walk over the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, an absolute must on any two day New York itinerary.
DAY TWO – EVENING
Even if you are not hungry, a visit to the Chelsea Market will revive your hunger pangs.This wonderful food market has scores of stalls selling food from different countries around the world.The bustling Los Tacos taqueria serves some of the most authentic and fresh tacos.The only downside here is that there is no seating.
For coffee lovers, look no further than the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, an expansive three floor area where you can enjoy coffee-infused drinks.
End your last night in New York with a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. This is one of the last remaining ferries which were used to transport people between Manhattan and the boroughs when there were no bridges. The 25 minute trip operates till late in the night and offers great views of Lower Manhattan including the Statue of Liberty. Moreover, this top night activity is absolutely free.
New York today is relatively crime-free, a far cry from the 70’s and 80’s when street crime was rife. That said, as with any major city in the world, petty crime is an issue.Taking simple precautions with your valuables and leaving phones out of sight will go a long way to minimize any untoward incident.
Though New York by means can be referred to as a budget destination, the good news is that you can take advantage of the various deals offered on the attraction passes to make your two day itinerary budget friendly.
Even otherwise, there are plenty of things to do that won’t break the bank, provided you know where to look. If you are backpacking New York, expect to spend $80 per day. For mid-range travelers, $180 will cover Airbnb, street food and a few cheap drinks. A luxury stay will cost about $400 per day, though this is the bottom limit.
Day trips from New York City
While New York City itself has endless allures for its residents and visitors, there are plenty of places in this northeast corridor, a car or train ride away, for a great one day escape:
- HUDSON VALLEY
A short jaunt on the Metro North lies the quaint destination of Bannerman Castle on the banks of the Hudson River. A rustic kayak ride takes you to this beautiful citadel. Folks running the show understand the place very well, so you may have to book in advance if you are in the area.
Full of charming buildings, restaurants, cafes and the 500 acre Storm King Art Center, Cornwall offers the perfect weekend getaway from New York. Situated just 50 miles from New York, Cornwall is also a mecca for photographers as the Storm Center provides wonderful views.
- FIRE ISLAND
This Atlantic Ocean Barrier island lies 60 miles from New York and can be easily reached by a two hour ride by train or car. This popular beach destination offers activities like parasailing and hiking to the Robert Moses State Park.
- PHILADELPHIA AND AMISH COUNTY
Visit the historic Pennsylvania Amish Country and Philadelphia on a one day excursion from New York. Visit the Liberty Bell, Constitution Hall, the famous Rocky Steps and much more before driving to Lancaster County to sample a piece of Amish culture.
- THE POCONOS
A two hour drive by car are the Piconos, the perfect place to spend a day or even two.The natural beauty of the Poconos Mountains offer visitors a respite from the hustle of NYC at the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area.
Other Travel tips
Within no time NYC can drain your wallet, if you are not careful. Here are some ways to save money to lower your costs:
- Take free tours: A free walking tour is the best way to get familiar with the city. By paying just a small tip to your guide, you get to see a lot of main attractions.
- Buy a Metrocard: Since you will be traveling a lot in trains to save time, fares can add up very quickly. Buying a MetroCard will save you loads of money.
- BYOB: A glass of wine can cost about $10, so opt for BYOB outlets where you can bring your own food and drinks. A great way to save loads of money.
- Visit museums for free: If you check beforehand, the best museums in New York offer free admission on certain days.Some top museums also have a pay what you wish donation policy on fixed days.
- Get the New York Pass: A two day pass costs $149 and allows you entry in over 80 attractions, including the hop-on-hop-off tour. You get to skip the long lines as well.
- Diversity: New York City has the largest population of Jews outside Israel, largest Chinese outside Asia and the largest number of Puerto Ricans than anywhere else in the world.
Alternate tour suggestions
There are many ways to discover New York City. If you want to move at your own pace and at the same time learn more about the city you can opt for:
- Self-guided Smartphone walking tour.
On this tour you use your phone to print a voucher which is valid for one year. Your audio guide will navigate you between destinations and relate all the interesting facts about the city’s landmarks like Central Park, Statue of Liberty etc.
- Museum of Ice Cream experience:
Enter the Museum of Ice Cream in a realm where everything is possible. Savor hundreds of ice cream flavors while giving joy to the whole family.
- Manhattan helicopter tour:
This twenty minutes tour will allow you to experience the best of New York City from the air on a sightseeing flight. A highly trained pilot will act as your guide as you focus on the attractions with a 180° view
- HOP ON HOP OFF TOUR
One of the best ways to have a comprehensive view of the landmarks of the city in a short time is by the Big Bus hopping tour. Sit back in comfort as you are shown all the attractions that you may not otherwise have an opportunity to visit. An informative guide will relate important facts and fascinating history from the top deck.
Were two days enough
While two days are certainly not enough to see the many highlights of New York, there are ways to make the most of the limited time you have. In my opinion, four to five days is the best to see all the main sights without having to rush too much.
We hope our perfect two days in New York itinerary fits your bill. It covers everything from tours, museums, cruises and a bird eye’s view to showcase the slice of the best the Gotham has to offer.
About the Guest Writer: Jo is the creator of the travel blog WanderwithJo. She is a globetrotter based in India. Follow her adventures on Instagram