A mini guide to New York City: A first-timers 4-day NYC itinerary

If you subscribe to my email updates you will have seen that in last week’s email I asked you guys to send me any travel questions you have. One of the first emails to come through was from Bethan Jackson (thanks Bethan!) and she said:

I want to go to New York for a long weekend. Can you recommend a way to find cheap flights and some cool things to do while we’re there?

I was absolutely more than happy to put together a mini guide to New York City because it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. New York stole my heart and I’m desperate to go back. So here’s a guide for Bethan and anyone else who wants to visit New York for a 4-day trip – which I highly recommend because it’s awesome!

A mini guide to New York

Booking your flights

If you’re a fellow Brit, New York might seem like a long way to go for a weekend trip but it’s easily do-able. There are so many flights to New York meaning they’re affordable and often at good times so you can minimize the amount of time you take off work.

You guys already know I love Skyscanner for finding cheap flights when you have flexible dates. When searching, make sure you select ‘Whole Month’ so you can see all the prices for every day.

I’d recommend looking for direct flights – for the price difference it’s not worth a stopover – and I’d also fly home overnight. This gives you a whole extra day in New York. The last time I did this I went straight into work after the flight so I got over the jetlag faster.

The statue of Liberty

Booking your hotel

Last time I was in New York I stayed at the Grand Hyatt in mid-town Manhattan. Location-wise it was perfect as it’s connected to Grand Central Terminal (it doesn’t get much more central than this). The room was simple, modern and fairly stylish but the whole experience was bland and I wouldn’t recommend forking out for this hotel.

Public transport in New York is so good so I really wouldn’t worry about your location too much.

Super cool optionDream Hotels

There’s one in midtown and one in downtown and a couple more locations coming soon.

Boutique on a budgetCitizenM

I’m a big fan of CitizenM hotels. They’re the kind of place you’ll want to stay when you’re transitioning between hostels and boutique hotels. Eg. You want to stay in boutique hotels but can’t quite afford it! (That’s me!)

Budget OptionThe Jane Hotel

This is a budget hotel with a hipster vibe and an interesting history as it once sheltered survivors from the Titanic. If you’re on a really tight budget you can opt for a private room but a shared bathroom.

Hostels – The Guardian have a great selection of hostels in New York that are definitely worth checking out.

Views from the Empire State Building

What to do each day

I’d split each day into an area of New York; Uptown, Midtown, Downtown and Brooklyn.

If it’s your first time in New York you’ll want to spend the majority of your time in and around Manhattan because this is where the main attractions are and all those famous sites you’ve seen in the movies.

Uptown Manhattan

Uptown Manhattan is where you’ll find Central Park and ‘Museum Mile’.

Spend your day in Uptown Manhattan alternating between museums and chilling out in the park. Consider hiring a bike while you’re in Central Park. It’s so huge and a big will help you see as much as possible.

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Guggenheim Museum (my favourite)
  • Cooper-Hewitt National Design
  • Whitney Museum of American Art
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Cloisters

A snowy park in New York

Midtown Manhattan

While you’re in midtown Manhattan you’ll see some of the city’s most famous landmarks

  • Grand Central Terminal
  • New York Public Library
  • Rockerfeller Center
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Empire State Building – Aim to go up at sunset
  • Times Square – Best after dark

Grand Central Terminal New York

Lower Manhattan

  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • Take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island
  • Wall Street
  • Walk along the High Line

Views to New York from Staten Island

Brooklyn

  • Walk across Brooklyn Bridge
  • Coney Island
  • Brooklyn Flea Market

SONY DSC

Tours to take

If you’re feeling like a lazy tourist or you want to see as much as possible, I’d recommend taking a tour. New York is such a huge city with so much to see and a tour or two will help you make the most of your trip.

Foodie Tour

You’ll probably have noticed I haven’t recommended one place to eat in New York and that’s because there’s so much choice I wouldn’t even know where to begin. That’s why I recommend a food tour. Foods of NY looks awesome but there are loads to choose from.

I’m always surprised by how much I love foodie tours. I always think I can recreate them myself just by visiting a few bars and cafes and restaurants but it’s never the same.

Movie Location Tour

One of my favourite things about New York was visiting all the familiar sights I’ve seen so many times in movies and TV shows. On Location Tours have lots of tours that take you to the film locations from your favourite films.

Novel Tours

If you’re more of a bookworm than a movie buff then consider taking a novel tour in New York. This tour takes you to some of the landmarks from books like The Goldfinch and The Catcher in the Rye.

Getting around New York

DO NOT take an open-top bus tour in New York. The traffic is so heavy that you’d be able to get off and walk faster than the bus can drive. Plus, it’s really expensive and pretty boring.

Use public transport. The metro is really good!

Do you have any more tips to add to the New York mini guide? 

Read more:

Life on the High Line, New York

Top 10 things to do in New York

Views from the Empire State Building

Visiting the Statue of Liberty

Here are some tours and tickets you can prebook through GetYourGuide…

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (30)
  1. Oh isn’t it just fabulous?! NYC is my favourite city in the world, I honestly don’t think I’d ever tire of it! This is a great little round up – I want to try and make it to Coney Island and see more of Greenwich Village, West Village & Brooklyen if I go back. If accommodation wasn’t so costly, I’d probably go every year so I’ll keep these more mid range hotels in mind for future trips!

  2. As an American in London, when people hear my accent, they always like to tell me where they’ve been in the US and NYC is always on their list. And I’m so embarrassed to say I never have! As soon as we move back, this will be one of the first trips we take! Fantastic itinerary, too, by the way!

    1. The US is so huge though! I have so many friends from the UK who have never been to London and I’m sure it’s the same in every country. We’ll travel half way across the world but not what’s on the doorstep!

  3. Great guide Monica!

    I have to say though, I disagree with one thing! For first time visitors I definitely recommend the open top bus tours – the tour guides are usually super funny and entertaining (they work for tips after all!). It shouldn’t be your main method of transport because the subway is wayyy quicker, but I think hopping on one for an afternoon and doing the loop is a great thing to do on a sunny day!

    It’s an easy way to see less-tourist parts of the city like Uptown, Harlem, Queens, the uptown loop we did a few years ago was great 🙂 xx

    1. It sounds like you had a great experience on the bus – it just goes to show that everything is different for everyone so thanks for sharing.
      When I was there it was cold and snowy so we were all packed inside. The guide wasn’t very good and our ear pieces didn’t work. I ended up getting off and walking.

  4. Great advice, splitting your visit up by parts of town. It’s such a big city it would be difficult (and exhausting!) trying to run from Uptown to Downtown to Brooklyn all in a single day or two. New York will always be one of my favorite cities too!

    1. That’s exactly what I did on my first day in New York. I was all over the place! The public transport is really good but splitting the city up into sections makes it so much easier.

  5. Your maths questions always make me realise how bad I am at math haha!! Anyway, I visited NYC back in 2013 and I am desperate to return. I’m planning on taking a trip with my little sister just for a few days so this is a really perfect guide! Amazing tips.
    thelifeofastudenttraveller.blogspot.co.uk

  6. I did almost all of the major sites in just one day. I’ve never been so exhausted! I’d love to go back and see it at a more leisurely pace and discover some of the less obvious attractions.

  7. Ah I love NYC so much!! I’m lucky enough to go there a few times a year for work and I always try to stay an extra day or two to do a little shopping and exploring. I’d also add the Chelsea Market (close to the high line) and wandering through the shops in Soho. There’s just so much to do that there always has to be a “next time” in New York!
    Jessica
    http://www.thebellevoyage.com

  8. Thank you so much for this! It’s exactly what I’ve needed as I’m currently trying to plan a 4-5 day trip to New York sometime soon! Can’t wait!

  9. Hey Monica!

    I’m off to New York again in just under 3 weeks *yaaaaay*. I just have a quick question in regards to budget as your travel style is very similar to mine (hence why I read the blog funnily enough), but what do you reckon I should budget money-wise for a 7 day trip? I’m on a pretty tight budget as I am moving house the week before (great timing), but wanted your recommendation how much spending money you would take for food, drink and souveniers (lord knows with the cupboard space in the new place I DON’T need any more clothes…). Attractions are paid for already; soccer match, train tickets to Philly for the day, dinner at The View and up the One World Observatory – so it’s mainly just adhoc things.

    It would be marvellous to have the ’24 hour Millionaire’ budget but alas not yet :p

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

    Ta,
    Hannah

    1. It would be great to visit New York with a millionaire’s budget. If only!

      Luckily, NYC is surprisingly do-able on a budget, especially when you’re visiting in the summer and have your attractions and accommodation covered already. Sounds like you’ve got a great itinerary! You could basically spend as little as you’d like because there are so many budget places to eat and there’s loads of free things to do. You could have a good time on around $50 a day.

  10. Can I ask as a first timer going to New York in October which district are Macy’s and Bloomingdales in and also the Broadway theatres

  11. hi i am going to NYC in 6 days from Glasgow, UK. This will be my first visit – your guide is great and gave me a bit more structure on how to spend my days wisely.

    Any other Tips for a 1st timer would be Amazing 🙂
    Thank you

  12. Great guide, I’m currently planning an itinerary for a trip next year (5 nights, 4 full days). Have changed the list so many times and still nowhere near finalised but I have 3 months left to plan…

  13. Super guide, thanks. Only 10 more days until we set off on the QM2 for 5 days in NY and Independence Day. Very excited. Love the way you’ve split the guide into areas and your warning about open-top buses.

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.