2 Days in New York City isn’t time to see everything, but it’s enough time for a great experience and some of the city highlights. There’s a lot to do in New York City. It’s an overwhelming trip to plan, but fortunately, you’ve found the perfect itinerary! This itinerary is great for your first visit to New York City if you’re looking to do lots of sight seeing.
It’s my opinion, after visiting twice, that most itineraries you find online are actually too ambitious. Moving around New York City can be really time consuming (there are so many parades and events that you really never know what’s going to be happening when) so your best bet is stay in one zone. This itinerary is divided in to Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan, but you can flip it around. I’ve based it on how long I spent in each place, and how long it took to get from place to another. It’s all based on proximity and the top attractions worth seeing. It’s also full to the brim with maps to help you get around, and get an idea of where everything if.
Whatever else you need for your visit – hotels, more food recommendations, getting around, and what to expect – can be found in my New York City Travel Guide.
2 Days in New York City
Recommendations for 2 Days in New York City
This itinerary fits nicely with the Big Bus Tour Premium Ticket. It includes 2 days of Hop-On Hop-Off, a night bus tour and a boat tour, and area tours like Brooklyn and Harlem. This is a great way to get around and see more sights. If you have a preferred tour provider, you could also go with City Sightseeing for the bus tour. The price is about the same, and the same offer is available. P.S. I don’t have any relationship with these providers, but I do earn commission if you book using my link (which is very much appreciated).
The other pass that is beneficial on 2 days in New York City is the CityPASS 3 Attractions. This pass costs $84 USD, and gives you access to 3 attractions out of a list of 10. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock, and 9/11 Memorial are all options on this pass, and they’re all in this itinerary. Without the pass, they add up to $87 USD. It’s not big savings – but you skip the lines. The sightseeing cruise is also on this itinerary as an option, and comes with both the Big Bus Tour Premium Ticket and is an option on the CityPASS 3 Attractions. I have evaluated other passes offered in New York, and combining these is the cheapest option for this 2 days in New York itinerary.
The other option for getting around is the metro. I’ll include metro stops throughout the itinerary. If you want to get from point A to point B lightning fast, the metro is for you. Make sure you pick up a metro card, and put at least 6 trips worth of funds on it. Let’s say 8, in case of shenanigans.
Note: One of the reasons that I love Big Bus Tour is that they post service modifications on the website. If they’ve modified their route one day during a parade or event, I recommend either swapping your days around entirely or at least modifying to avoid that part of the day. It’s no fault of theirs, but parades and events tie up traffic really intensely and since you only have 2 days in New York City extra time on this bus is something you want to avoid.
Day One – Midtown Manhattan
Start your 2 Days in New York City with a transition from nature to the big city. Day One includes Central Park and Midtown Manhattan. I love Central Park – it’s enormous, so don’t get caught up trying to see the entire thing. Pick a few spots that you want to see and go for a walk. My suggestion is to take the metro to 72 Street Station, and enter the park from there walking across towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Start your walk at Strawberry Fields, a dedication to John Lennon. Continue to Cherry Hill Fountain, which the Friends fountain is based on (the show was filmed on a set). Next is Bethesda Terrace, where you will see the iconic stairs and archway, and have a beautiful view of the Lake. Depending on the season, you might see people rowing! Carry on to the Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland Statues at the Conservatory Water. This is where the famous Central Park boats are. Continue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This route is a 24 minute walk time. On the map, it’s A-F and I.
If you have time, make you way through the Ramble to Belvedere Castle (G), a gem conceal in Central Park. Finally, the Obelisk (H) is a great landmark for the Metropolitan Museum, which is where you end up. This route is another 15 minutes, 40 minutes total walking time. Plan on another 30 minutes for stops and photography.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There aren’t many museums that make my itineraries, because so often I feel that they’re something you can see elsewhere or see online. The Metropolitan Museums of Art is one of the rare exceptions. I love this museum, and their collection is very impressive. The museum itself is also really beautiful. It’s not possible to see it all in one visit, especially because you have a lot of other sightseeing for 2 days in New York City. General admission is $25 USD, or included on the CityPASS 3 Attractions
Spend 1 hour to 90 minutes here, and go through a couple of galleries. There are some very Coll artefacts in the Egyptian galleries, a great collection of original European work by famous artists, and stunning sculpture galleries. If you’re not an art lover, admire the building from outside before continuing on your way. Travel tip: there is an un-posted rule about backpacks in the Met. Carry backpacks by your side on front of your body. This rule is not posted anywhere, but it’s enforced by all guards. Get ahead of it, and don’t wear a backpack on your back.
Hungry? There are halal carts outside the Met where you can get a cheap, quick meal. I love chicken gyros! If you want to sit down, move on to Rockefeller Centre for a great restaurant selection.
On the Uptown Route of the Big Bus Tour: catch the bus at the 5th Ave & E 83rd St and relax for an hour. The route will take you past more of Central Park, Carnegie Hall and through Times Square. It takes about an hour to reach your next stop. Hop off at W 42nd St & Broadway (Bryant Park) or 42nd St between Bowery Savings Bank Building and TD Bank (Grand Central Station). Walk 12 minutes to Rockefeller Centre.
On the metro: catch the metro at 86 Street Station (10 minute walk). Take the 6 (Green) direction Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall 7 stops to 51 Street Station, then walk 10 minutes to Rockefeller Centre. Total travel time is 25 minutes.
The Big Bus Route does drop you off at Grand Central Station, but I suggest going to Rockefeller Centre first if you want to visit Top of The Rock. It’s possible that you will need to take tickets for a time slot later in the day, so if this is the case you can then go back to Grand Central Station in between. When I visited (around 2 PM on a Sunday), we were able to go up right away but I’m told that’s not always the case.
Rockefeller Centre is a commercial and shopping hub of New York City, and home to the infamous skating rink. Pop in to some of the stores – they include everything from top of the line fashion to a Lego store where you can customize your own figurines. This is also a great area for dining so if you want a sit down meal, now is the time.
Top of the Rock is one of the observation decks in Manhattan. It offers a great view of the New York City skyline, including a fantastic view of the Empire State Building. On the other side, look out over Central Park. The buildings around Top of the Rock keep getting higher so the Central Park view is a bit obstructed, but it remains the best way to see the city skyline with the Empire State Building! Adult tickets cost $36 USD.
Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station might just be the most iconic train station in the world, but it’s more than a train station. It’s evolved to be a hub for shopping and dining, too. There are 60 shops and 35 places to eat in Grand Central Station! Check out the Grand Central Station website for a map and directory of all the shops and restaurants. Of course, you’ll recognize it from many movie appearances too such as in Men in Black, Superman, the TV show Gossip Girl, and even an animated version in Madagascar. The list goes on.
History lovers, pick up an audio tour of Grand Central Station for $12 USD to learn the history of the building and interesting insights. It’s self-guided, so can take as little or as long as you want to enjoy the tour (usually 30 – 60 minutes) depending on how much time you want to spend at Grand Central Station.
New York Public Library
Just down the street from Grand Central Station you will find the New York Public Library. Note that it closes at 5:45PM most days, whereas Grand Central Station is open until 2 AM (though shops hold their own hours). Depending on how much time you spent at Rockefeller Centre, you may want to visit the library before Grand Central Station.
The New York Public Library was build in 1913, and has a been a literacy hub ever since. Walk past the lion statues out front, inside to see the Beaux-Arts lobby. Next, make your way up to Reading Room. Ghostbusters fan? Then you will recognize this room! What about Winnie the Pooh? He and his friends Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger are part of the New York Public Library collection and can be found in the children’s section.
If you want a tour of the building, visit before Grand Central station for the 2 PM Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Tour. The tour runs Monday to Saturdays at 11AM and 2PM, for $15 USD per person. Tours are limited to 25 people and are first come first serve. I didn’t know this on my visit, so I just explored the library solo and loved seeing the architecture and famous rooms.
Times Square is an 8 minute walk. Have dinner in the Grand Central Station area, go back to your hotel for a quick break, or carry on to Times Square to get the night started.
There’s no where in the world quite like Time’s Square. If you took the bus tour this morning then you already went through here once. It’s time to go back and experience Time’s Square on the ground. Get a slice of New York Pizza at one of these locations nearby, and find yourself a spot on the Time’s Square bleachers before your night-time plans.
There are massive stores in Time’s Square that you can step in to, ranging from familiar clothing stores to speciality stores. There’s usually some form of busking or live entertainment going on here, too.
New York City by Night
I have two suggestions for your first night! Can’t do both in one night, but you can do one each night if you have time. Go on the “Discover New York City by Night” tour departing from 7th Ave & W 48th St, outside M&M’s World Stop. This tour is included in the Big Bus Tour Premium Ticket. This tour departs every 20 minutes from 7PM to 9PM and last 2 hours.
While you will see a lot of the same things on the New York City by Night Tour that you will see on your Lower Manhattan Day, it’s a different and a lot of fun seeing the city at night. The tour follows a different route that the regular Hop-On Hop-Off routes and includes crossing the bridge to Brooklyn. You will see Chinatown lit up at night, and the Manhattan skyline sparking from across the water. I really enjoyed this tour – and we got lucky and were in Brooklyn while there were fireworks over Manhattan!
Broadway is a quintessential New York City experience. The performances on Broadway are of the highest caliber in the world, so pick any show that fits your budget and your interests and go and in enjoy. One of the nice things about Broadway theatres is that they are very small, too, so even the “far back” seats are much, much closer to the stage than most major performance venues.
I’ve seen Aladdin, the Cursed Child, and Chicago on Broadway. These shows were all exceptional, and were all very different experiences! Book online in advance or try your luck at TKTS in Time’s Square for last minute tickets. This option is no longer as cheap as it once was, probably because hundreds of people now use this service, but you can get good deals. Have a few shows in mind if you do this, so that you are ready if your first choice isn’t available. The lines are very long, but move quickly.
Complete Map of Day One Route
Day Two – Lower Manhattan
The Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. The views from the bridge are wonderful, and the bridge is beautiful in it’s own right. What I love most is that it is largely attributed to a woman – Emily Warren Roebling took over the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband died. There are plaques acknowledging her contribution on the bridge.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge takes 60 minutes. Most people walk one direction, and then take the bus or metro back over the bridge. If you’re doing it this way, I suggest starting on the Brooklyn side. This means you are actually going to start your morning in DUMBO. If you want pictures, trust me – this is the way to do it. Brooklyn and DUMBO in particular are overflowing by noon, at least on a Saturday.
On the Downtown Route of Big Bus Tour: if you have the Premium Big Bus Tour pass, then you have bus tours for 2 days. Start your day back in Times Square, and catch the bus bright and early. On the way to the Brooklyn Bridge, you will pass the Empire State Building, the Flat Iron Building, Union Square, Chinatown, and more. Get off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop and walk or metro across and walk back.
Explore Brooklyn Tour on the Big Bus Tour: If you stay on until the Statue of Liberty / Battery Park stop, then you can transfer to the Explore Brooklyn Tour. This 90 minute tour departs every 60 minutes, on the hour, so be sure to line up your arrival time if you want to experience Brooklyn this way. You will have the option to get on in Brooklyn, stay an hour, then hop back on across.
On the metro: take the metro to High Street – Brooklyn Bridge Station (blue line) or York Street Subway Station (red line) to arrive in Brooklyn, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan after exploring DUMBO.
Brooklyn and DUMBO
Enjoy some time exploring Brooklyn, in particular the area referred to as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). This area has some great independent coffee shops for you to start the day with a morning pick me-up. Walk along the waterfront of Brooklyn for some awesome photo opps of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan skyline, and find landmarks like Jane’s Carousel. What order you explore Brooklyn and walk over the bridge in is up to you. Either way – exploring Brooklyn and the Brooklyn bridge will take the morning. There are some very renowned pizza places in Brooklyn like Juliana’s, but I found that by 12 the area was too crowded and lines too long.
Map of Brooklyn Sights and Coffee Shops
Once you’re back in Manhattan, make your way to Wall Street for lunch and to explore the area. Wall Street is a financial hub, but there’s a lot more to do it than that. The founding of the U.S.A.’s first bank and inauguration of the first President took place here.
Stone Street is a bustling area of the Financial District with charming, restored brick buildings. It’s New York City’s oldest paved streets, and also the best place to go if you’re looking for a quality sit-down meal. There are also lots of great street vendors in the area if you prefer to keep moving. They’re more along Water Street, so go here first.
Take a walk to visit the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall, and the Charging Bull Statue. If you’re taking the cruise (up next), I would plan on exploring this area for a bit, eating, and catching the 2:30 PM cruise. Or, go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum for the afternoon and take the cruise at 3:45PM.
Map of Wall Street Sights
The 9/11 Memorial the the Memorial Museum are a tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, in 2001. The Memorial itself is beautiful. Where the Twin Towers used to stand, now fountains descend in to the ground. Plaques surrounding the fountains are engraved with the names of all the victims. It’s a beautiful memorial, and it is worth seeing.
If you’re inclined, there is also the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I found this Museum more interesting than I had expected (not to be crass). It gives you insights and information about the events that you just don’t know otherwise. There is an incredible collection of artefacts in the museum, things you wouldn’t have guessed still existed like the only window not to break when the towers fell, or a crushed fire truck. Yes, it is sad. If you want to make sure you’re ending your tour on a high note, go and see the statue of Liberty after visiting here. It’s a little bit more walking, but I think it’s a more refreshing end. Tickets are $26 per adult. If you opt to go with the CityPASS 3 Attractions, look for the CityPASS by-pass line and enter faster.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum also has good hour – last entry is at 6PM Sunday to Thursday, and 7PM on Friday and Saturday.
Statue of Liberty
There are a few different ways to get a great few of the Statue of Liberty. The only option that I don’t recommend with 2 days in New York City is actually going to the Statue of Liberty. There is a cruise that takes you right to the Statue, where you can walk around the base, go up to the top, and explore the Liberty Museum. This is really fun, but boarding and unbarring the ferry takes a long time. On a tight itinerary, I don’t recommend it. Instead, you will be going past the Statue of Liberty from the water. Here’s how:
- On the Premium Big Bus Tour you already have an Express Statue of Liberty Tour departing from Pier 16. The tour can also be purchased separately. View time tables for departures here. The tour lasts one hour. and onboard you will have free Wifi, washrooms, a café – all the amenities of a comfortable boat tour. If you want to be absolutely sure of how long your tour will take, choose this option. Tickets are $31 USD per adult purchased on their own (vs. $65 USD for the entire Premium Big Bus Tour)
- The Staten Island Ferry is the other option, which you’ve no doubt heard of. It’s a popular way to see the Statue of Liberty because it’s free. The Whitehall Terminal (Manhattan) is located at 4 South Street, Manhattan. The St. George Terminal (Staten Island) is located at 1 Bay Street, Staten Island. The ride across is 25 minutes, one way. If there are cues on the other side waiting to get back to Manhattan, you may not be able to return on the same ferry you came on. It’s possible that you may need to wait for the next one, so factor another 30 minutes in to your possible trip time.
Washington Square Park
Still have some energy? Good – it’s time for dessert in Washington Square Park. This iconic New York City Park is beautiful and a lot of fun. When I visited there was a dachshund meet up happening. Yes, I was swarmed by cute dogs. Yes, I was totally okay with it. There were also buskers, and other meet ups happening.
There are some fantastic little dessert places walking distance from Washington Square Park. Get a treat, then spend some time enjoying the park.
- Dō, Cookie Dough Confections: this place is only a couple blocks from Washington Square Park, and they’ve perfected an edible cookie dough recipe. Get a couple scoops and cover it with toppings.
- Baked by Melissa: delicious mini-cupcakes. They’re super fancy, and there are even amazing vegan options available. Honestly, you would never know they were vegan.
- Chloe: dairy-free frozen desserts in kinds of fruit flavours. Perfect if you need to cool off after a day of exploring.
Metro: from Retro Street Station take the N (yellow) in the Astoria direction to 8 Street Station.
If you’ve had enough walking for the day and you got the Big Bus Tour, then you can also hop back on at Statue of Liberty / Battery Park and enjoy a scenic drive back towards Times Square. There aren’t many stops on route in this section.
The High Line
The other option (I don’t expect you will have time for both Washington Square Park and this) is the High Line. Take the metro 14th Street Station. Stop by Chelsea Market for a bite to eat, and then make your way up to the High Line. I’ve marked the High Line on the map below, but it’t not included in the route.
The High Line is a non-profit, elevated park constructed on an old railway track. The walkway is bordered by beautiful gardens, and offers great street views of New York City. There are also original art pieces up there, and murals. It’s a really nice way to end 2 days in New York City, and very different from other places. The High Line is really peaceful.
It takes about an hour to walk from one end to the other, and you will be exiting the High Line near Penn Station. The High Line has it’s own app equipped with a map, and there must be some kind of connection up there because despite my data being off for travel, my location updated in the High Line app only. Super useful, not sure how it works!
Complete Map for Day 2
Drinks in New York City
One last night on the town? If you didn’t have the chance to catch a Broadway show or do the New York by Night Tour and you want to, conclude Day 2 with one of these options. Or, chat over cocktails. Here are some crowd-sourced, favourite drink options. However – you can’t really go wrong. It’s New York!
Refinery Rooftop: light food, a roof top, and great drinks in Midtown.
Jimmy at the James: 18th story cocktail lounge in Soho.
While We Were Young: very trendy, with chic interior and awesome cocktails in the West Village, near Chelsea.