How to Do NYC in Two Days

May 18, 2016

Tips for making the most of a two day trip to New York City!

We are nuts about New York City! We've been there countless times and both love it so much we got married there.

I get so many emails about our recommendations on places to stay and things to do, so I thought I'd put it all one spot for you. 

One of our favorite things to do is take friends with us and to show them our favorite spots in the city. 

We go for two nights, two days (it spans three days but the total time there is about 48 hours). We aren't typical "plan" people -- when it's just us we just go and explore. But this is a great list to see as much as possible!

You won't see even a tiny percentage of this vast city in 48 hours, but this is a list of the must do's for us. They are a mix of shopping, tourist spots and our favorite places to eat.

Getting from the airport to the city

The easiest way is to take a cab. It will be anywhere from $50 and up depending on traffic. My husband knows the city so well he started using the bus and subway to get in and we did that last time -- it was less than $3 for each of us so it's a GREAT option. 

If traffic is bad it will take the same amount of time either way.

We usually fly in to LaGuardia and there's a bus stop at the airport that takes you to a subway station. I would research this before you go or there are people at the airport who can tell you exactly what you need to do. It's not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be! 

If you have more than carry ons or small children I don't recommend this option -- you'll be hauling your bags and strollers up and down stairs and through the train stations. A cab would be your best bet.

Places to stay in NYC

I know, I know...true New Yorkers will say to never stay in Times Square, but for a sight seeing trip it's a fantastic location. 

Of course you'll see the lights and experience Times Square, but it's also within walking distance to the Fashion District, 5th Avenue shopping, Central Park, Macys, Grand Central...SO much! 

Plus there are numerous subway stations right there if you want to travel further. (Your feet will hurt!)

We've stayed all over but have some favorites! These vary in price but we enjoyed all of them -- three of the four are in Times Square:
  • Marriott Marquis - this is our favorite hotel because it's right in the middle of Times Square and just a really cool spot. Rooms are spacious and the elevators are fun. ;) There's a restaurant at the top that turns (very slowly) that offers incredible views of the city.
  • Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Station -- direct access to the subway system and of course the stunning station which is a must see. There are tons of stores and restaurants within the station and if you want to get to Times Square there's a quick shuttle that goes back and forth all day. (Or you can walk!)
  • Hampton Inn Manhattan -- great hotel near Times Square but a little more of a walk
  • Hilton Garden Inn -- another great location but rooms are very small. (You shouldn't spend much time in your room anyway!)
We've stayed other places but they are either further away from subway stations or were just not hotels I would recommend. These are all centrally located for those who want to travel all over the city.

This itinerary is a rough outline of what we do when we take "new" friends on this trip. We aren't sticklers about it but it's nice to have something planned if you want to see as much of the city as possible.

NYC Itinerary, DAY ONE

We take an early flight and can usually get into the city around noon. Grab a bite to eat and then take the subway downtown.

9/11 Memorial and Museum -- the outdoor memorial is open to the public but you need to buy a ticket for the museum. I cannot recommend this beautiful museum enough. It will leave you weary but I believe everyone should walk through it at least once. 

Buy your tickets ahead of time and you can skip the line and walk right in:
9/11 Museum in NYC

9/11 Museum

One of the most important spots in the museum is near the end but you can easily miss it. It's a huge section with video, artifacts and photos where they don't allow you to take pictures. Leave yourself time to walk through that area.

The One World Trade Center Observatory is fantastic as well, with stunning views of nearly the whole island. 

Fun fact: One World is exactly 1776 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. 

Union Square/SoHo area -- take a train to this area for countless shops and restaurants to choose from. Just walking through these sections of the city is a treat.

Our favorite restaurant in this area is Rosa Mexicano in Union Square. There are a few around the city but we love stopping here between shops. 

The table side guacamole, chihuahua cheese and pomegranate margaritas are all fantastic!:
Best margaritas in NYC

Shopping, of course! -- it's amazing around that area, there are too many great spots to list and the small boutiques are endless. Union Square and Soho and are very close to each other, so you can easily walk to everything. 

A couple of my favorite home decor spots are Fishs Eddy (tons of fun kitchen items and quirky stuff) and ABC Carpet and Home

ABC has floors of gorgeous decor -- most of it well out of our price range but it's fun to look at and there are plenty of items that are affordable.
Shopping in NYC, Fishs Eddy
(Fishs Eddy)

We take the train back to Times Square and have dinner if needed, shop or walk around and then stop for cheesecake. 

Our favorite cheesecake place was Roxy's on Times Square but it closed years ago. We love Juniors for that and the food and drinks are great too.

NYC Itinerary, DAY TWO

Breakfast at Europa Cafe on Times Square -- great food and quick!

Train or walk to Macys/Herald Square -- the walk isn't bad at all and you can walk through the fashion district on the way. Mood Fabrics is on 37th street for Project Runway fans! 

Macy's is a must see -- it is the "largest store in the world" (actually the second largest but who cares). It is fantastic! If you can go during the holidays you MUST. The decor is unbelievable. 

Just be prepared because the crowds are much bigger at that time of year.
Macy's at Herald Square

Empire State Building/Grand Central Station -- do both if you have time! I prefer the city view from Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center because you have a straight shot of the park and you can see the Empire State Building. 

But Empire is iconic and higher. (If you have the money it's worth it to pay for the VIP and skip the lines!)
View of NYC from Empire State Building

Take train to Little Italy -- this is the place to eat! Our favorite restaurant is Da Nico (ask to sit outside in their quaint back patio if it's nice). After you're done you can walk and shop the little spots here and in China Town. 

This is definitely a touristy place to shop but it's fun especially for kids. If you have time after Ferrara Cafe around the corner is a must -- amazing desserts and drinks and just a classic NYC kind of spot.

We usually try to head back for a quick rest and then head out to eat, a show and to walk around. If you can, walk to Rockefeller Center and eat near there (we had steak at Del Frisco's last time and it was so good).

Walk back to Times Square to see a show -- the options are endless. 

We've seen probably 25 musicals over all of our trips, many multiple times. Some of the best we've seen are Wicked, Lion King, Fun Home, The Book of Mormon, Frozen, Aladdin, and Matilda.

 Our favorites are Wicked and Aladdin, they are both AMAZING. Wicked may be a bit too much for younger kids but it really is a must see. Aladdin is probably my second favorite Broadway show ever, it is SO entertaining.

Oh, if you go during the holidays the Rockette show is an absolute MUST. Don't question, just go! It is the best of the best!

NYC Itinerary, DAY THREE

As I mentioned, this is a two day trip in hours...the third day is shorter because of the flight home.

Breakfast at Brooklyn Diner -- this is right near Central Park and the food is fabulous. Try the Tony Bennett French Toast. You will thank me. You may see a famous face -- friends who were just there walked in as Jerry Seinfeld was walking out.

Walk or ride through the park -- I recommend taking your time and walking through Central Park but there are also horse or bike carriages that make for a more relaxing trip. They come with guides who will point out famous spots like Strawberry Fields and the bridge from Home Alone and Elf. :)

My favorites in the park are Bethesda Terrace and Fountain and The Mall:
Best spots in Central Park

Bethesda fountain Central Park

Walk through the tunnel and see the tile work and be sure to look up at the ceilings. It is one of my favorite spots in the city:
Bethesda Tunnel Central Park

The tile throughout the city astounds me. My favorite place to look for it is in the subways. They are dirty and grimy but then there's these gorgeous tile mosaics that are truly works of art.

Through the tunnel is The Mall where the trees reach over and create the most beautiful canopy.
The Mall Central Park

Eat at the park -- grab a famous NYC hot dog and pretzel or eat at the Boathouse or Tavern on the Green. The latter is another one that screams so NYC to me. We walked right by Liza Minnelli while eating there once!

There you go! This hits some of our favorites and some of the most iconic spots in the city. If it's your first time there this would be so helpful! This doesn't even touch what you can do though. 

There are countless shops and museums and places to see. If you have more time I'd go to another museum, walk along 5th Avenue and see the shops and St. Patrick's Cathedral (stunning) or do the ferry boat out to the Statue of Liberty.

A few things to consider during your NYC trip planning:

  • Times Square is BUSY. It's not as bad during the day but at night there are a ton of people. Night is the best time to see it though! And there is a ton of shopping in that area, especially for kids. Unfortunately the Toys R Us closed down, it was a must see and we will miss it. 
  • We use the Open Table app to schedule our meals, so many of the restaurants use this and it's so helpful! 
  • The subway is the best way to travel through the city. Don't be afraid! Ask security and staff what to do and where to go. They are always incredibly helpful. The metro card machines will stop taking your bank card after so many uses (super frustrating), so be sure to fill it plenty the first time (it's good for months). Have an extra bank card with you to use or if you are with friends, trade off buying your passes. 
  • There are numerous free subway apps that are incredibly helpful! My favorite to use is the NYC Subway MTA Map app. 
  • Finally, DO NOT try to look super cute. Comfortable shoes and clothes are a must because you walk and walk and walk. It is the best way to see the city! Carry a small umbrella with you if the forecast calls for rain.
If you have any other questions or want more ideas on places to eat please let me know! I'd be happy to answer them here. I hope you find this helpful! :)

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  1. I always wish I had more time in NYC! This is a great quick guide for weekend trips! Thanks for sharing!


  2. We used to live in Manhattan and this brought back so many memories for me. It's a great list. Thank you!!

  3. There is no place in the world like New York! I love seeing the places you have visited! I live in NJ only about an hour away and we still haven't visited the 9/11 Memorial. We love going into see Broadway shows though and just saw Kinky Boots with friends last month. I really want to see Hamilton but like you said, you can't get tickets to that one. Glad you enjoyed your recent trip!

  4. I am taking my daughter to see the Lion King this summer. We will taking a train into Grand Central Terminal, how do we get to Broadway easily?

  5. Take the Times Square shuttle, it will take you right near where the theater is. :)

  6. We went last summer and liked the Hampton Times Square North that you mentioned. It wasn't planned that way specifically, but we ended up at the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July. We would love to go back!

  7. The American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art are must sees. My husband and I live upstate we will often spend an entire day at each museum!

  8. The American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art are must sees. My husband and I live upstate we will often spend an entire day at each museum!

  9. So many great tips, Sarah! Your post makes me really miss NYC.

  10. Your post is timely for me! I am taking my daughters (16 & 25) in June and we have a ridiculous list of things to do in 5 days! Are you aware of any iPhone apps that detail your bus or subway routes to tourist destinations? We're staying in Times Square and taking in many of the top 10 tourist destinations, so I'm trying to determine the best mode of transport for each spot ahead of time...
    Thanks for any help you can give me!

    1. Yes there are tons! I've used the NYC Subway MTA Map app and liked it but there are quite a few to pick from. The subway goes all over the city so it will be your best bet for most locations (and is the cheapest).

  11. Love this post so much! Really makes me miss New York.

    xo, Skylar

  12. Great post! I will be back there next week for a quick work trip. I do have a couple of hours to spare the first day and would love to walk around Central Park (never been!) This is probably a dumb question but I know the park is huge, so if I take a taxi there from my hotel (Times Square area) is there a specific entrance/location I should request to be dropped off? I just don't have a clue and am traveling alone...

    1. If there are specific places you want to see in the park (zoo, Strawberry Fields, etc.) then you need to look at a map and find the closest street entrance. But if you just want to wander, the closest entrance to your hotel is 59th Street and Central Park West.

    2. Yes I would go to the entrance at 59th -- that way you can see Columbus Circle as well. If you are feeling adventurous the subway will take you from Times Square right to the station at CS. :)

  13. Some great tips here! I will definitely be thinking these tips the next time I am in NYC.


  14. Going to NYC this Summer and I'll definitely use your travel tips. Thanks!

  15. The one thing I must add is to purchase the Ground Zero Memorial Tour and Museum pass together. Take a 50 minute guided tour as you walk the memorial site and come away with a deeper understanding of how the memorial came to be, wonderful and interesting facts about the 2 waterfall memorials told with sensitivity but informative. We had seen the memorial before the museum opened and I am so glad we did this short walking tour before going into the 911 Museum itself. It was the highlight of my 3 day trip and I love being in the city.

    1. Good to know! They've done a beautiful job with it!

  16. I'm from NYC and now live in the midwest. Some of my favorites are walking tours (there is a lower east side food/walking tour which takes you past Katz's deli, an awesome dumpling shop, a place selling all kids of pickles, a bakery-- while the guide tells you about the different immigrant communities who settled the area at different times). I always like to walk across the brooklyn bridge (or just go halfway-- if you start on the Brooklyn side you can walk partway out, then return to play at the brooklyn bridge park (great playground and beautiful view across to Manhattan-- there's also a carousel and you're pretty close to Grimaldi's pizza (so good!)). I have 5 kids and it works well for us to plan various stops at playgrounds. One time we did a central park walk where we found a variety of statues (you can visit the central park website for a map of where all the monuments and statues are in the park and info about them) like Balto, the Alice in Wonderland statue by the boat pond, the Mother goose statue and then walked past Bethesda fountain (we took our senior class picture there in high school! Love that place) and then to Belvedere Castle (climbing it you have great views around the park and to the city beyond it). By making it like a scavenger hunt for the next thing, we got our kids to walk about 20 blocks and then ended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where my kids love to visit Arms & Armor and the Egyptian wing with the sarcophagus and Temple of Dendor. If lines are long upstairs, the ground floor entrances to the Met tend to have much shorter lines (you don't go up the big steps at the front-- there are entrances off to the side. The entrance fee is suggested, so you can actually pay as little as you want. In high school our art teacher used to tell us to go over and pay a quarter (and yes, they still let us in). Now we pay more than that, without paying over $100 that the suggested admission would add up to for our family. I know people love to visit the Statue of Liberty, but actually climbing it (inside, going up lots of stairs slowly behind other people) is really boring. If your kids are old enough to appreciate it, I recommend Ellis Island (you take the same ferry, can get off at Liberty Island and take some pictures outside the statue, and then continue on to Ellis Island. The museum is so moving to me! If you don't want to pay for that, or are really tired and just want to rest/have a good place for a picnic, I recommend the Staten Island Ferry. It is free and leaves from lower manhattan pretty close to where the Statue of Liberty ferry is. You can ride it across to staten island for great views of the Statue of Liberty, then just stay on and ride it back for great views of the Manhattan skyline.
    Other great places are the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (amazing church building in upper Manhattan, it also has art exhibits periodically), then you can take a bus across the top of central park and down 5th avenue and check out the City Museum of NY and the Conservatory Gardens in the central park, which are a beautiful quiet place.
    I recommend picking up a paper subway map (available at subway stations) to plan out your trips, though you can also visit the MTA website beforehand to plot some of it out. It's such a great city, can you tell I love it?!

  17. I have been wanting to go to New York for quite a while now, so this post will come in very handy, hopefully very soon.

    Thank you for sharing


  18. This is so timely! I am headed to NYC for the first time in June! Will definitely use your recommendations! Thank you!

  19. Download the "KickMap NYC lite" app to your phone for an awesome subway map. It's free and I've been able to find my way all over the boroughs. No struggling with a paper map in wind or rain!


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