Picture this: a new person comes through the door – we exchange names, share a brief apartment explainer and then… Then comes the big question: What should we see in NYC?
My husband and I are hosts on Airbnb – we meet new travelers every week. We love answering this question. After discussing this topic with people from all over the world, I think we finally perfected our tourist recommendation list for an ideal weekend in NYC. I’m here to share it with you!
FRIDAY NIGHT – Start with a party!
Get to town on Friday and explore NYC’s nightlife! You have to start off with a rooftop view. Real bird’s eye view of the city will get you pumped up for your visit! I already shared my favorite rooftops – make sure you check out that post!
SATURDAY – Financial District and Midtown!
Don’t sleep in today, because there’s so.much.to.see. You’ll see the most iconic parts of New York.
Stop 1: Brooklyn Bridge Park
Start with Brooklyn-side views of Manhattan. Jump on the A/C subway (blue line) heading downtown and get off on High St. Head west to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The view of the Financial District from the park is astonishing – NYC in its full glory. If you have time, you can walk along the river to DUMBO neighborhood and take the most iconic picture of the Manhattan bridge:
Stop 2: Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Take the stairs to get up on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s hard to find them, so try using this address: 157-139 Cadman Plaza E Brooklyn, NY 1120. The earlier you get there, the better your pictures will be. As the day goes on, the bridge fills up with tourists, and it’s impossible to take a good photo. Pro tip: be careful not to walk on the bike lane! New Yorkers hate tourists who do that (myself included ;))
Stop 3: City Hall
The bridge is going to drop you off right next to the NYC City Hall. The mayor’s office is located in this building. You may spot happy couples around the corner from here – this is where you get a marriage license!
Fun fact: The City Hall is the oldest continuously operating city hall building in the United States. The architects of the building, John McComb, and a freed slave Joseph-François Mangin, are a true testament to New York City’s multiculturalism.
Stop 4: St. Paul’s Chapel, World Trade, The Oculus and 9/11 Memorial
Head down Broadway until you see a church on your right – St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church. Turn right, you’ll see the Oculus – a modern train station with an incredible architecture and a tribute to 9/11
Fun fact: The Oculus roof opens its wings every 9/11 in observance of the terrorist attacks.
The 9/11 memorial lies right beyond the Oculus. It consists of two pools in place of the Twin Towers. They are the largest manmade waterfalls in the United States. The names of every person who died in the terrorist attacks of February 26, 1993 & September 11, 2001 are etched into the bronze parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools. The white roses you see scattered around the memorial are placed at victim’s name on their birthday.
If you have time, I highly recommend visiting the 9/11 memorial museum (free entry on Tuesdays!).
By this time, you’ve walked 3+ miles and deserve a snack. I recommend Brookfield Place. It’s an upscale mall with a great food court, lots of room to sit, and a soothing view of the Hudson River.
If you want to shop for clothes/gifts, Brookfield Place is not a cheap place. Head back to Century 21 instead. You’ll get an incredible deal on high-end designer clothes.
Stop 5: Wall Street, NYSE, Federal Hall. Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl
Walk down Broadway to Wall Street. If you’re expecting a glorious street with modern skyscrapers, you’re in for a surprise. Wall street is narrow, short and very old. But, since you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth a quick walk to see the Federal Hall, and New York Stock Exchange, which are both located on Wall Street.
Fun fact: New York City served as our nation’s capital for five years from 1785 to 1790. George Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States from the balcony of the Federal Hall, located right in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Continue down Broadway to see the Charging Bull, the iconic symbol of Wall Street.
Pro tip: there’s always a line to get a photo with the head of the bull, but rarely to get a photo with its rear end. I think it’s a funnier one anyway 😉
The Fearless Girl facing off with the Charging Bull is a new addition to the monument. The girl is a protest against the lack of gender diversity in the finance world and a plea for equal pay in the workplace.
And with that, you’ve seen the most insta-worthy parts of the Financial District. Of course, if you have more time, make sure to check out South Street Seaport, Battery Park and Trinity Church.
Stop 6: Grand Central
Hop on subway line no. 4/5 (green) located right behind the Charging Bull (Bowling Green stop). Take the train uptown to Grand Central 42nd street. This is one of Manhattanites favorite places in NYC. It’s just a train station, but it’s historical and quite magical.
Fun Fact: The small central clock you see in the middle of the station is worth millions of dollars.
Stop 7: New York Library and Bryant Park
Head west on 42nd street until you hit the library on 5th ave. Check it out inside! You can take a seat with your laptop and feel like a real New York scholar.
Behind the library lies my favorite park, the Bryant Park. In the winter, the park is transformed into an ice village with a skating rink and hot chocolate stands.
Stop 8: Empire State Building
From here, you can take 5th avenue down to 34th street to see the Empire State Building. It’s common for tourists to go up to the Empire State observatory, but keep in mind that the lines are super long, it’s expensive (starting at $42) and in my opinion, it’s not the best view. The rooftop bars offer a much better view for free (including a view of the Empire State!). Alternatively, there’s also a viewpoint at the Top of The Rock (see no. 10).
Stop 9: Times Square
‘Nuf said, enjoy! Spin around here with your camera in hand! There are bleachers right under the column of screens – Father Duffy Square– take a rest there and maybe even record a great timelapse. Look at the building straight in front of you at the end of the square and find the famous New Year’s Eve crystal ball right at the top! (it looks small, doesn’t it?!)
Fun fact: This isn’t a NYC fun fact, but it’s one of my favorite fun facts, so I have to share it with you. The Times Square ball drop has inspired similar “drops” across the country. For example, in Boise, Idaho (known for its delicious potatoes), a giant potato is dropped from the sky.
Stop 10: Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Rockefeller Center is quite magical in the winter. Here, you’ll find the well-known Christmas tree and the ice skating rink you’ve probably seen on TV. If you’d like to get some new photos of NYC from above, I recommend going to the Top of The Rock – it’s cheaper than the Empire State observation point, and you will actually see the Empire State Building in your photos.
Fun fact: One of the oldest (though largely unproven) theories about New York City pizza is that the city’s tap water used in the dough is responsible for its superior taste.
If your budget allows, I would recommend rounding out the day with a Broadway Show. Use Today Tix, a centralized website to get discounts on last-minute theater tickets. Other good discount sites are: Broadwaybox.com, Playbill.com or Theatermania.com.
SUNDAY – Central Park and Statue of Liberty!
Today is a beautiful day for a quintessential New York park and museum visit. As far as museums go, I suggest visiting Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. If it’s cold or rainy, there’s also the MoMa, the Met (basically free – donation based), 9/11 museum (free on Tuesday), the Natural History museum and The Guggenheim. All of the museums are incredible and worth seeing.
Start your day with New Yorker’s favorite breakfast – a bagel with cream cheese (here’s one great spot!). If the weather permits, take the bagels ‘to go’ and have a little picnic in Central Park!
Step 1: Bike through the Central Park.
Join a herd of fit New Yorkers for a Sunday wellness session on your bike. You may even spot (a sweaty) celebrity! There are many places you can rent a bicycle right at the entry to Central Park in Columbus Circle. If you want a good deal, search for a groupon in advance (here’s a good deal).
Step 2: Listen to Gospel in Harlem
If this is your first time in the United States, you should consider visiting a Baptist Church, even if you’re not religious. It’s an incredible cultural experience. I recommend visiting the First Corinthian Baptist Church – located a few minutes from the northern side of Central Park. Here’s the mass schedule.
Step 3: Lady Liberty and Ellis Island
Make sure to get advanced tickets to see the Statue of Liberty (New York departure). You’ll board a boat right in the Battery Park (Financial District). You can get there on the 4 or 5 subway (Bowling Green stop – same as yesterday!).
There are two stops on the boat – the first one is the statue. You can walk around the Lady Liberty, take photos, and even (if your ticket allows) climb the stairs inside to reach the top of her crown.
The second stop is Ellis Island – the place where millions of immigrants entered the United States and my favorite museum in New York City.
That’s it! You’ve seen the most popular spots in New York. Of course, this list only scratches the surface of all that New York has to offer. We haven’t even visited my favorite neighborhoods in New York yet – Lower East Side (fantastic restaurants and nightlife), and Tribeca. And you haven’t seen my favorite parks! The High Line, Union Square, Washington Square (I often go there to listen to free a piano concert!) or my favorite building in New York City – the Flatiron Building. So, stay for longer and indulge in the real gems of the Big Apple! (or better yet, move here! :-))