Headed to the Big Apple and overwhelmed by all the options? Read on for a detailed guide on how to spend the perfect weekend in New York!
New York is a city of superlatives. It’s the largest in the United States, and the 8 million-plus New Yorkers are fond of calling it the greatest city in the world.
To be fair, they definitely have a case to make. There’s no denying that New York City is one of the most vibrant, diverse, and exciting cities on the planet.
New York is home to so many iconic American images that it’s impossible to see it all on a short trip.
The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, Broadway, Wall Street, the Empire State Building — the list goes on and on. With just a weekend in New York, you’ll have to pick and choose.
I’ve been to New York several times throughout my life. From seeing the sights as a kid to ringing in the New Year with my wife and our favorite band, I’ve had some good times in the city.
As I’m a big fan of improvisation, I’ll leave you lots of wiggle room with this New York itinerary by giving you plenty of options to choose from.
Let’s get down to business and see what you can get up to with 2 days in New York!
Table of Contents
Day 1 in New York
I hope you got some good sleep the night before and I hope you’ve got comfortable walking shoes. It’s going to be a jam-packed weekend in New York.
Day one will be a whirlwind tour of the Big Apple that gives you the opportunity to check many of the most famous landmarks off your list. I’ll also provide some interesting detours and make sure to include time to wander and linger when you feel like it.
Before we get going, you should probably look into the New York City Explorer Pass. They have several options, all of which save you time and money. Both of these are precious resources on a short New York weekend trip.
I should also note that this itinerary will focus on Manhattan. With only 2 days in the city, there simply isn’t enough time to venture to the other boroughs. You’ll just have to come back.
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I can’t think of a better way to start a New York weekend trip than with a delicious bagel. There must be something in the water, because bagels just taste better here.
Every New Yorker has their favorite bagel spot, but whatever you do, just skip the chains and make sure it’s a local deli for a more authentic experience.
Since we’re going to start the itinerary off in Lower Manhattan, here are two local options for grabbing a bagel and coffee – Leo’s Bagels and Milk & Honey. With a full belly and a nice caffeine buzz, you’re ready to start exploring the city.
Lower Manhattan is where it all began for New York, and in a way for the country. This is where the first Congress gathered to draft the Bill of Rights. It’s also where George Washington took the oath of office to become the nation’s first president.
Upon seeing all the skyscrapers, it may be hard to believe that this city began as a simple trading post. This corner of New York City is thought of as the financial center of the world. It’s home to the New York Stock Exchange, the epicenter of capitalism.
With just a weekend in NYC, you’ll want to make the most of your time. That’s why I recommend jumping on a walking tour for your first morning. It ensures you’ll waste less time getting lost and will learn more about the city.
There are a million and one options for walking tours of Lower Manhattan. Free Tours by Foot has quite a few, including their 3-hour Downtown Manhattan Tour. It covers a lot of ground, including SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown.
As with other free tours, these are donation-based. Be sure to show your guide some love if you enjoyed the tour, which I’m sure you will! They also have some awesome audio tours that you can use if you prefer a DIY approach.
Whether you do a walking tour or not, it’s worth it to check out Battery Park. From here you can catch a glimpse of one of the most iconic American images — the Statue of Liberty.
For many, heading to the Lady Liberty is a must-do. If that’s you, you’ll want to sign up for this tour.
For those like me who prefer to avoid long lines and entrance tickets, you can just hop on the Staten Island ferry. It’s totally free and provides some great views of both the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline.
Just be aware that choosing either of those options will take up your entire morning. Time is not on your side with only 2 days in New York!
There’s still a lot of ground to cover, so I recommend opting for a quick lunch. That means it’s time to grab a slice of classic New York style pizza (which is completely different from the Chicago deep dish).
It’s not hard to find a pizza joint in Manhattan, but the last thing you want to do is have a disappointing slice in NYC. You can’t go wrong with Joe’s Pizza, which has been referred to as the “quintessential slice.”
From there, it’s just a quick walk to the next stop — the One World Trade Center. This 1,776-foot tall building is the tallest in the country, built after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001. This is where you’ll find the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
Where the Twin Towers once stood, there are now two reflecting pools. Surrounding them are plaques with all of the names of those who passed away in both the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade center.
While the memorial is free to visit, you’ll need a ticket for the museum. Click here to pick one up that allows you to skip the line. If you’d rather just purchase your entrance ticket, click here to do so.
If it’s a nice sunny day in the city, your next stop should be Rockefeller Park. It’s a great place to sit and reflect on the somber experience of visiting the 9/11 memorial. You can also soak in the views of the Hudson River and enjoy some quality people-watching.
After a busy day of exploring the Big Apple, it’s nice to rest your tired feet and make a game plan for the evening.
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How you spend your first evening in NYC depends on what you’re into. Some may want to make a reservation at one of the city’s world-class restaurants, while others will be content eating a street vendor hot dog!
You can literally find cuisine from all corners of the globe here. New York really is a foodie’s dream come true.
What I will do is agree with Johnny T and what he says in a hilarious video giving tips for tourists. If you can find a place in your hometown, don’t go there in New York! Skip the bland chain restaurants, try something new, and make sure it’s local.
This video is a must-watch for any first-time visitors to NYC, by the way.
New York is known as the “City That Never Sleeps,” so you’ve got countless options for nightlife. I’m assuming you’ll be a bit exhausted after that epic day and actually really want to get some sleep.
You can sleep when you’re dead, though. No rest for the weary on a weekend in New York! Summon that 3rd wind and power through for at least a few more hours.
The world really is your oyster on a weekend in New York. You can go salsa dancing, drink in a hidden speakeasy, hit a comedy club, see an underground punk band — the list goes on and on.
My best advice for your first night in New York is to do something you love. For me, that’s seeing live music, and there’s plenty of it in NYC! Check the calendar on Jambase to see who’s playing when you’re in town.
Looking For Weekends Away in Other Major US Cities?
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Day 2 in New York
It’s time for another busy day — a New York itinerary in 2 days is possible, but it’s busy!
“Morning” means different things to different people, especially on a New York weekend trip. The go-getters among us can grab a leisurely breakfast while the hungover folks struggle to get out of bed.
I personally don’t think I’ve stepped outside before noon on any trip to NYC in my adult life. My strategy is usually to find the nearest local cafe for a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat.
If you’re into the whole brunch thing, there’s no shortage of places where it’s perfectly acceptable to dine with sunglasses on while nursing a Bloody Mary.
However you choose to get your day going, eventually make your way over to Central Park. It’s pretty hard to miss — it’s that massive green space on the map smack dab in the middle of the city.
There’s so much going on in and around the park that you could easily spend your entire day there. If you want to go that route, I fully support your decision.
Central Park really is huge, so you might want some wheels to help you get around. You can rent a bike for two hours for just $7.50 and explore at your own leisure. There’s also a great 2-hour bike tour of the park with a local guide if you want to get more out of your visit.
Spending the entire morning out in the park is great when it’s a nice day. It’s not so nice when it’s raining or freezing cold. If mother nature isn’t on your side, never fear. There are plenty of ways to spend a morning indoors.
New York is home to some absolutely incredible museums, several of which are located right by Central Park. There’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which features one of the greatest art collections on the planet. Click here to book your ticket and skip the line.
One of the best things about spending a couple of days in New York is just wandering around the city’s many unique neighborhoods.
Check out the architecture, do some window shopping, pop into a local bar for a drink, and just see where the wind takes you.
Hop on the subway or hop in a cab and make your way to the Chelsea Market. This is the perfect place to grab a snack or a cup of coffee before continuing on your way. For the shoppers among us, you may decide to linger a bit to peruse the offerings.
Chelsea is also home to the scenic High Line, an elevated park built on a former railroad line. It was saved from the wrecking ball by determined residents and is now a fascinating place to experience nature, art, and design in the city.
There’s nothing wrong with exploring Chelsea on your own, but you’ll get a lot more out of it with a local guide. Check out this awesome experience that tours both the market and the High Line — including food!
At the end of a busy weekend in New York, a sunset cruise is a great option for a casual evening. This excellent champagne sunset tour departs from the Chelsea Piers.
For those who prefer to stay on land, the Frying Pan is the perfect spot for dinner and drinks with a view.
Once again, I’m going to recommend you do whatever is going to make you happy. It may be cliche, but there really is something for everyone in NYC!
If you’re a sports fan, catching a game should be on your weekend in New York itinerary. The city is home to several teams in all professional sports as well as many minor league teams.
Both the Knicks (NBA) and Rangers (NHL) play in Madison Square Garden, which is known as the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Catching a game or a concert there is a must-do experience in NYC.
If you’re more into the performing arts, I recommend catching a show on Broadway. There are so many different shows every night of the week so it shouldn’t be hard to find something. Tickets can be tough to get and expensive, though.
Check out the funny website Broadway for Broke People to find information on deals. We used their tips to score standing room tickets to Book of Mormon for only $30 and had an absolute blast. I’ve never laughed so hard in my entire life!
It’s a bit too touristy and kitschy for me personally, but I know a lot of people have Times Square on their list. Go ahead and join the throngs of people under the neon glow of constant billboards and take a selfie with Spiderman.
Perhaps the perfect way to wind down a weekend in New York is by taking in the sunset views from above. In a city full of skyscrapers, you’ve got plenty of options!
At the Rockefeller Center, you can head to the Top of the Rock for what just might be the best view in the city. On my visit there was even a band and a pop-up bar up there! Click here to book your tickets.
Insider’s Tips for a Weekend Trip to New York
You’re set to enjoy a fantastic 2 days in New York with that epic itinerary. You’ll have an even better time if you follow these tips:
Bring comfortable shoes – You’ll be doing a whole lot of walking, so it’s important to be comfortable.
Don’t rent a car – It can be confusing figuring out the NYC subway, but it’s worth it for the savings in time and money. With only a weekend in New York, you don’t want to be stuck in a traffic jam in a cab with the meter going up and up.
Grab a MetroCard – Pick up a MetroCard right away and load it up. That way you won’t have to wait in line every time. A single ride costs $2.75 and you pay $1 for the card.
Make a list of your “must-sees” – Too many people come to NYC thinking they can do it all in a weekend. Spoiler alert – you can’t. Having a list of your Top 5 attractions is much more doable over a weekend.
Take breaks – It can be tempting to overdo it with just 2 days in New York. Accept the fact that you’re not going to see it all and give yourself a break here and there, even if it’s just 5 minutes on a park bench.
Skip the chains – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t come to New York just to go to Starbucks and Applebees. Find the local places instead.
Look for the deals – Money has a tendency to vanish into thin air in New York. Thankfully you can find great deals, from sightseeing tickets and tours to Broadway shows to Happy Hours.
Getting Around New York
New York City in a weekend is doable. Luckily, as the biggest city in the country, there are lots of options for getting to New York.
If traveling by air, you can look into flights for any one of the three major NYC airports — JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.
LaGuardia is the smallest and the closest to Manhattan. In the interest of saving time, this is your best bet. There’s no rail service to the city, but there are a few different buses you can take.
A fun way to get around New York is with a private charter bus, either a full-sized bus or minibus depending on your group size.
Lots of people come to the Big Apple for a wedding party, a family reunion, a work event, or just a group of friends getting together for a weekend in New York!
If you’re one of those people, check out National Charter Bus for a free quote. With private transport, you won’t need to worry about finding parking, dealing with confusing transportation systems, or having too many drinks at night!
The public bus is the cheapest but also the slowest and you’ll need a MetroCard or coins. Since you don’t have a lot of time, I wouldn’t recommend this option.
The NYC Airporter bus will get you from either LaGuardia or JFK to places like Grand Central or Times Square. Buses leave often and cost $15 one-way.
There’s also the Go Airlink Shuttle, which serves all three airports and also has door-to-door service. Click here to check out all their options.
If you fly into JFK, your best bet is to catch the AirTrain to the city. It takes you to nearby rail and metro stations where you’ll need to transfer. This costs $7.75 for the AirTrain and then the usual $2.75 for the subway. Click here for more details.
Of course, taxis are readily available at all three NYC airports. You can expect to pay $60-70 or even more from JFK or Newark, and closer to $30 from LaGuardia.
Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are also a good option if you don’t feel like navigating public transport. These have their own pickup areas that can be confusing to find if it’s your first time, so ask around.
Getting to New York By Train/Bus
New York is also a major hub for trains. They arrive at Penn Station, which is directly under Madison Square Garden. Amtrak has 14 different routes that travel to NYC so you’ve got lots of options.
Finally, there are countless companies running buses to New York. I’ve taken both the Greyhound and the Megabus in and out of NYC and prefer the latter, especially when booking early as they have some great deals.
Where to Stay For a Weekend in New York
One of the toughest things about planning a trip to New York is deciding where to stay. It’s a massive city comprised of five different boroughs.
For just a weekend in New York, you’ll definitely want to stay in Manhattan. Where you decide to stay there depends on a lot of factors, namely your budget and interests.
If you want to be near Central Park and the museums, for example, you can look for a place in the Upper East or Upper West Side.
Those who prefer a more central location near landmarks like Times Square can look to Midtown. Want a more hip vibe? Check out SoHo or the Lower East Side.
The great news about NYC is that no matter where you stay, you can get anywhere in the city on the subway. This itinerary moves around Manhattan quite a bit anyway, so it really doesn’t matter all that much where your accommodation is.
It can be tough finding accommodation in Manhattan that doesn’t break the bank, that’s for sure. This definitely isn’t the cheapest place for a weekend getaway!
Have a look at our post about how to find free accommodation and have a look at these hotel options to suit all budgets:
Of course, you can always search for accommodation in New York on Airbnb, which has some great, affordable shared and private accommodation options.
One thing to consider when booking a place to stay for your weekend in New York is this — how long will you really be spending in your room? If you follow the itinerary above, not very much!
In my humble opinion, less money spent on a hotel just means more money for things like nice meals, rooftop cocktails, and show tickets.
Enjoy Your Weekend Trip to New York
Hopefully you’re even more excited for your weekend in New York after getting through this guide. I’ve presented you with lots of options to ensure you can make the most of a short trip there and get a taste of what the city has to offer.
There’s no doubt that New York can be an intimidating place to visit.
There’s so much to see and do here, there are a million different subway lines to figure out, and people are always in a hurry. After all, one of the unofficial slogans of NYC is “I’m walkin’ here!”
That being said, braving the crowds and the chaos is well worth it. Even with just 2 days in New York, you can get a taste of what the most famous city in the world has to offer.
Of course, there’s no way to do it all in just a couple of days. You could spend a lifetime exploring NYC and still not see it all. It’s a city that definitely warrants many return visits.
It may not be the easiest or cheapest place to travel, but it’s a good one. There’s a certain energy about New York City that’s hard to describe. You’re just going to have to experience it for yourself.
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