Last updated on May 30, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in New York

Unique 3 days New York itinerary – 3 options including also free walks

You can take in so much of the city, with 3 days in the Big Apple.

However, I strongly recommend putting together your 3 days New York itinerary in advance, or else you might miss out on lots of attractions and local gems.

Here below are 3 detailed daily plans that will work so well for couples, families, and art&culture lovers.

The guide also includes a few self-guided walks through four of the city’s most significant neighborhoods, along with free maps that are so easy to follow.

Let’s begin

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3 days New York itinerary – In a nutshell

New York is the most populated city in the United States that extends to over 300 square miles (or almost 800 km2).

You would need weeks to visit all and for this reason I suggest focusing your attention on the central borough of Manhattan with possibly a day trip to Brooklyn.

The great thing is that there are 27 different subway lines that connect 472 stations in the four major boroughs. So easy to get around.

New York itinerary in 3 days
New York itinerary in 3 days
  • 3 days New York itinerary for couples: Start your romantic breakaway from Lower Manhattan, the Greenwich Village and a high viewpoint to admire this city at its best. On day 2 and 3 explore Brooklyn and a few iconic spots, like the Statue of Liberty . Read below a detailed daily plan for 3 days in New York for couples, with maps and places to see and visit.
  • 3 days New York itinerary for families: Begin your family vacation from Midtown, the heart of Manhattan, and more precisely Times Square. Then head to Madison Square Garden for a great insider tour. Include to your list also the Central Park, home to the zoo and a couple of amazing playgrounds, the unique Museum of Natural History and a ferry trip. Read more below for the best family itinerary with morning and afternoon programs
  • For art & culture: The city offers a wide variety of museums, galleries, and street art areas where you could spend a month exploring them all. Check out the suggested 3 day itinerary below filled with some of the world’s most beautiful collections and exhibitions.

Scroll down to the bottom for the maps of the 5 boroughs of New York and the areas and neighborhoods of Manhattan.

I have also created, and shared, a map with all the things to do and places to visit in New York

Things to do and places to visit in New York
Things to do and places to visit in New York – Check the shared Google Map for all the attractions
 

3 days New York itinerary for couples

Day 1 Viewpoint & Lower Manhattan

Begin your romantic break on a high. 

And this is not just an expression, I really mean it.

Have a view of New York from a high point, the best way to really understand the dimension of this never ending beautiful city.

You have 3 options:

  • a helicopter tour: the most dramatic and romantic way. The flight can last from 15 to 30 minutes, based on the route of your choice. This is going to be one of the most memorable experiences you can have in New York
  • the Edge Observation Deck: among the highest viewing platforms in the world. This is one of the best vantage points in New York. There is a transparent floor on the observation platform that adds to the thrill factor
  • the Empire State Building: one of the most iconic art déco buildings in New York and possibly the world. Go up to the 102nd floor for the marvellous view.

Helicopter Tour    Empire State Building     Edge Observation Deck

Spend the remaining part of the day in Lower Manhattan but do not aim to visit all. Way too big to even thinking of doing in a week!

Focus instead on a small area.

Visit the bordering SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown with this organised tour leaded by a local guide.

In 2 hours, you will get such a superb view of these three historical neighborhoods, including a few interesting and funny facts .

Alternatively, take a stroll through one of the bohemian culture epicenters, Greenwich Village.

Even though the Village is today fully gentrified, it still maintains the same romantic and charming style.

You can check out this free self-guided walk with a map that comes with 12 stops, a few iconic places and a few hidden gems .

There is also the option of joining an organised Greenwich Village Walking Tour that starts at Waverly Place and visits famous sites such as the Alan Poe House and the Washington Square Hotel.

Plan a late cocktail at Marie’s Crisis, an iconic bar with live piano music and cocktails.

Greenwich Village walking tour
Greenwich Village walking tour

Day 2 Statue of Liberty & World Trade Center

Start the morning by visiting probably the most iconic statue in the world, the Statue of Liberty.

Lady Liberty is a global icon and a visit to the Statue of Liberty will remind you why.

A gift to America by France, it is so much more than an architectural wonder.

Visit the museum at the base of the statue and learn more about its history.

If you feel energetic enough, start the climb to the top of the tower and experience breathtaking views of the city. 

If you feel hungry, have a meal at the Statue of Liberty Crown Cafe.

Combine the trip to the Statue of Liberty with a visit to Ellis Island with this organised tour.

Ellis Island was the immigration gateway between 1892 and 1924, where over 12 million immigrants were processed.

You will be able to enter the immigration center, so well preserved that you will feel that it was recently used.

You will be back in Manhattan by 3pm.

Take the Subway two stops north to WTC Cortlandt to visit

Close your second day in New York with a sunset cruise in the bay aboard a schooner.

The Statue of Liberty with New York City in the background
The Statue of Liberty with New York City in the background

Day 3 Brooklyn

New York is not only Manhattan. In fact, it is based on 5 boroughs, of which Manhattan is actually the smallest.

Day 3 is fully dedicated to Brooklyn.

Start your walk from the stone and steel 1883 Brooklyn Bridge, and take a love lock with you.

Keep going through the streets of downtown Brooklyn for a few interesting attractions.

Then you can either decide to take the subway to Coney Island, a popular destination, especially in summer, or the new street art neighbour of Bushwick.

I wrote a detailed self-guided walk through Brooklyn with a handy free map.

I have listed some of the interesting attractions of the borough, including a few little gems as:

The neighborhood of Bushwick has also a few amazing restaurants, bars and clubs where you can easily spend the entire night having lots of fun.

Alternatively, stay in Manhattan and have a walk in Central Park (check out my free self-guided walk) or rent an e-bike to have an easy ride around.

Brooklyn self-guided walk

Brooklyn walking tour
Brooklyn walking tour

Accommodations and experiences for couples:

Check more photos below of a 3 day New York Itinerary.

3 days New York itinerary for families

Day 1 Midtown Manhattan

Time Square, in the heart of New York, is the perfect place to start your family vacation.

Explore the area, take some photos that you can treasure for years to come.

To see a 360-degree view of New York City, walk for 3-4 blocks north-east to the Top of The Rock observation deck, which is next to the Rockefeller Center.

There is also the iconic ice skating rink (skates are available for rent) if you’re visiting during the winter.

For some cheap and quick Mexican food, head to Dos Toros Taqueria.

In the afternoon, head to the Madison Square Garden, the self-proclaimed world’s most famous arena

Join the organised tour to discover the behind-the-scenes of this unique venue, including access to interactive exhibitions.

Every artist’s dream is to have a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden, and now you get a chance to see why it is so iconic. 

There were initially 3 gardens built as far back as 1871. The current MSG was constructed in 1968 and can hold over 20,000 people.

It stands out because of its circular design and its unique round ceiling.

You get a chance to see the theatre underneath the garden’s main level and also marvel at how large the venue is.

You must take some selfies in the place where probably one of your favourite artists gave a memorable show!

Book your tickets in advance for a quicker access to the arena. Highly recommended on the weekends.

Madison Square Garden Tickets

View from the Top of the Rock observation deck
View from the Top of the Rock observation deck

Day 2 Central Park & Museum of Natural History

As one of the most well-known parks in the world, Central Park is ideal for the morning of the second day in New York.

Any family trip, especially with young children, must include a visit to this park.

In its 843 acres, Central Park provides gorgeous views, amazing lakes, lovely walks, and the best playgrounds in the city.

Focus your visit on the southern part of the park, starting your walk from the Hallett Nature Sanctuary and the Gapstow Bridge.

Then spend a couple of hours at the fabulous Central Park Zoo.

Finally, make it to the Bethesda Terrace and the Adventure Playground, so popular with kids of any age, especially in summer, thanks to its water features. Getting wet is a must, of course.

I wrote a full self-guided walk that goes through the above Central Park places and many others (with free map) that you may want to check out.

Central Park is great for everything, except restaurant, bar and cafe options.

That’s why I suggest walking one block in the West Side to have lunch at Patsy’s Pizzeria, a winner for kids thanks to its great selection of pies and pizza.

Once lunch is over, walk north 3 blocks, or just 5 minutes, and you will be in front of the American Museum of Natural History, made super famous by Ben Stiller in the Night at the Museum saga (watch the movie before visiting New York, such a great fun)

This museum is organised with many interactive exhibitions to engage the kids in every visited room, either for science or cultural exhibitions.

Visit the butterfly conservatory and walk among the over 500 species found here. Perfect for the kids to learn more about these beautiful creatures.

You can also check out the green vegetation and tropical flowers. 

If you feel like taking a walk on the wild side, check out the Sharks exhibition. It has life-sized shark models of up to 33 feet.

There are also fossils on display to give you an idea of how long they have been on earth, longer than dinosaurs!

Want to learn about the universe?

Visit the Hayden Planetarium, where you can see the most advanced planetarium projector.

You can view shows like ‘Beyond Earth’, a documentary narrated by famed actress Lupita Nyong’o.

You can also visit the in-house theatre where you would be lucky to find screenings of films like ‘Sea Lions: Life By a Whisker’.

There is always something new to learn all year round, making this a worthy part of your tour.

On the weekends and school holidays, buy your tickets in advance because it gets quite often sold out.

Central Park Self Guided    American Museum of Natural History Tickets

Central Park Walking Tour
Central Park Walking Tour

Day 3 ARTECHOUSE & ferry trip

When I travel with my kid, I always try to expose him to the art world. 

I do, however, avoid the classic museums, which are great for grown-ups, but they rarely engage enough the children (as a kid I found them so boring).

That is why I highly suggest visiting ARTECHOUSE (skip-the-queue tickets here) in the Chelsea neighborhood (one block from the 14St/8Av Subway Station).

The ARTECHOUSE is home to art, technology, and science. It has been taking in hundreds of thousands of guests since 2015.

Who says art must be boring and flat?

The ARTECHOUSE pushes the limits of art and technology.

It never disappoints with its unique exhibitions like the Machine Hallucination. This is a projection that depicts the ever-changing landscape of New York City and was the brainchild of Turkish media artist Refik Anadol.

You will be blown away by the projected artwork all over the walls and even floors.

Immerse yourself into this futuristic art space, your kids will love it too!

In the afternoon, head to Pier 83 in Midtown to grab the ferry for a 2.5-hour cruise around Manhattan where you will experience striking and unique views of the city skyline commented by a local guide.

Alternatively, visit the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island with an organised Tour. This tour starts only in the morning, leave the ARTECHOUSE for the afternoon.

Accommodations and experiences for families:

Check more photos below of a 3 day New York Itinerary.

Ferry Cruise to see New York City from the Hudson River.
Ferry Cruise to see New York City from the Hudson River.

Three days in New York for art & culture

Day 1 Guggenheim & Society of Illustrators

Start your art and cultural trip to New York in the morning with a visit to the Guggenheim Museum.

This is where you will see one of the most outstanding, unparalleled and diverse collections of modern and contemporary art in the world.

The Guggenheim has a unique UNESCO listed architectural design that stands out in the heart of New York City. 

Built-in 1959, visitors come as families or couples to marvel at the building’s design aside from the exhibits in the building.

A unique exhibition you should check out is Vasily Kandinsky: Around The Circle.

You can experience his artwork along a spiral ramp which includes woodcuts, watercolours and paintings. The paintings are arranged in reverse chronological order.

Other exhibits you can visit include Gillian Wearing’s Wearing Masks exhibition.

This is a combination of sculptures and paintings that provoke visitors to think about our society.

At the museum’s rotunda, you get to experience films with different subjects, in the art, history and culture sphere

To save time, skip the ticket line by buying your Guggenheim tickets in advance.

You can spend the entire day in the Guggenheim Museum. 

Alternatively, have a late lunch & coffee outside the museum (Dig Cafe is a nice, cool, clean and affordable place just a few blocks away).

Then, take the subway 3 stops south to Lexington/59st to visit the boutique Society of Illustrators Museum.

The organisation was founded in 1901 and it is one of the oldest not-for-profit organisations dedicated to art.

The museum was opened in 1981 and offers live drawing sessions and contemporary art exhibitions. It even has an eatery.

There are over 2,500 permanent exhibitions that both kids and adults can appreciate.

Visit the MoCCA gallery which was opened in 2015 and is dedicated to cartoon and comic art.

What makes this a great place is that there is a chance for new and upcoming artists to be judged and awarded in competitions.

There are also seasonal exhibitions like Eric Godal: A Cartoonist’s Fight for Human Rights and the Illustrator’s 64 series.

Many events are also held at the museum, such as the Virtual Saturday Stories, which is perfect for kids.

Finish your visit with a drink on the top floor bar & bistro, a great way to cool down and finish your first arty day.

Skip the tickets line at Guggenheim

Long exposure on the Guggenheim Museum of modern art in New York
Long exposure on the Guggenheim Museum of modern art in New York

Day 2 Harlem & Park Avenue Armory

Visit Harlem, north of Manhattan, for a special experience. Spend the morning or even the entire day there.

This is a unique area of New York, rich in culture and history, not on the beaten path, which makes it even more interesting.

Harlem offers so much. You can

  • experience one of the unique gospel services in New York
  • enjoy a great shopping area with a touch of African American culture along West 125th Street
  • explore the National Jazz Museum
  • visit and play on one of the best street basketball courts in the world
  • attend a live jazz performance

Experience Harlem on this free walking tour, complete with a handy map.

Take a break for lunch along the way while you get to know the neighborhood.

If you missed the gospel service at the church (usually in the morning), plan your lunch at Ginny’s Supper Club, where you may also enjoy a gospel performance.

If you still have some spare time in the afternoon, take the subway to Lexington/63st on the East Side to visit Park Avenue Armory.

Take a tour inside this grandiose building with monumental rooms and outstanding wood ceilings.

Park Avenue Armory is also famous for its events, where you could possibly spend the remaining part of the day/night (check the program on the website)

Harlem Walking Tour
Harlem Walking Tour Self Guided

Day 3 MoMA & Midtown

As you probably already know, New York has many museums and galleries that you could visit.

The Museum of Modern Art, also known as MoMA, stands out above all. Dedicate the 3rd morning in New York to this worldwide famous institution.

There are over 200,000 exhibitions at the museum, which gives you so much to see and do while there.

The museum is a time machine with its exhibits split according to eras.

Go up to the 5th floor to view exhibits from the 1880s to 1940s.

The 4th floor is dedicated to art and exhibits from the 1940s to 1970s.

The second floor is an homage to the 1970s up to the present day.

A must-see exhibit is ‘Search Engine’, a collaboration between the internet and artwork.

Public Images is yet another eccentric exhibit, where artists take control of the cameras and television to talk to the media.

At MoMA there are also films, workshops and other artist exhibits all year round.

There is something for the whole family to enjoy while at the museum.

If you plan to visit the MoMA during the weekend, I highly suggest buying the tickets in advance to save time on the long queues.

After lunch, visit the Empire State Building, one of New York’s most beautiful art déco buildings, which features a striking observation deck on the 108th floor and a gallery on the 86th (skip-the-line tickets here).

The Empire State Building, also known as ESB, has been around for over 90 years!

This was the first building in the world constructed with over 100 floors.

It took over 1 year to build and was finally open to the public in 1930.

Its design is one of the reasons why people visit this iconic building. It is also a staple in many classic movies, so you should be excited to check it out.

Millions of visitors annually go there to visit the observatory for the outstanding view of the Big Apple.

The ESB elevators, ceilings and halls have some intricate designs that will dazzle you.

By night, the 200-foot spire at the top of the building is lit up with amazing colours and it crowns your ESB tour perfectly.

Still some spare time? Follow the 5th Avenue direction south for a few blocks and you will arrive at the spectacular 1902 triangular Flatiron Building, designed by the architect Daniel Burnham.

This was the tallest skyscraper in New York till 1902. Today, it is world famous for its unusual shape and its Neo Renaissance style.

Do you have still an hour or two spare?

Have a visit to the boutique Poster House, a small museum dedicated to the history of graphic design in political and advertising posters.

MoMA Tickets    Skip-the-line tickets at Empire State Building

Accommodations and experiences:

Check more photos below of a 3 day New York Itinerary.

Cityscape view of Manhattan from Empire State Building
Cityscape view of Manhattan from Empire State Building

Handy maps for 3 days in New York

Here below a map of the 5 boroughs followed by a map of Manhattan.

Best areas to stay in New York City
Best areas to stay in New York City – Check and download my Google map of New York Attractions.
Where to stay in Manhattan
Areas of Manhattan – Check and download my Google map of New York Attractions
Things to do and places to visit in New York
Things to do and places to visit in New York – Check the shared Google Map for all the attractions

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More photos of the 3 days New York Itinerary

Inside the Guggenheim Museum
Inside the Guggenheim Museum
Walking in the Flatiron neighborhood in Midtown
Walking in the Flatiron neighborhood in Midtown
The Flatiron Building on a snowy day
The Flatiron Building on a snowy day
Cityscape of Manhattan with Flatiron Building at Night
Cityscape of Manhattan with Flatiron Building at Night
Cityscape view of Manhattan from Empire State Building
Cityscape view of Manhattan from Empire State Building
Binoculars on top of Empire State Building at Night in Manhattan
Binoculars on top of Empire State Building at Night in Manhattan
The Empire State Building at sunset
The Empire State Building at sunset
Times Square at night
Times Square at night
Time Square on a snowy day
Times Square on a snowy day
New York City Public Library
New York City Public Library
Inside the Public Library of New York
Inside the Public Library of New York
Christmas time at the Rockfeller Center
Christmas time at the Rockefeller Center
View from the Top of the Rock observation deck
View from the Top of the Rock observation deck
New York City Skyline at Night
New York City Skyline at Night
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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