No other city in the world has been featured on the screen as frequently as New York City. Because of its iconic status, almost everyone has an image of their ideal trip to New York City. But once you set foot in Manhattan, reality hits you.
It can be even more intimidating if you have just a few days to see the sites and savor the cuisine. While I’m not sure anyone would describe a weekend in New York City as relaxing, there are ways to make it feel less chaotic.
The objective of this itinerary is to allow you to experience New York and not just run around all weekend taking pics to prove you’ve been there.
One thing to know about getting around the city: the subway keeps a different a schedule on the weekend due to maintenance and construction. If you’re not comfortable with the subway cabs are a good option. New York is also very walkable. You’ll find you’ve gone 20 blocks without even realizing it, but you’ll feel it the next day if you weren’t wearing comfortable shoes.
Midtown Manhattan is a terrific place to stay in New York City. You’re not too far north or south, and you’re within walking distance of Central Park and Times Square.
If you’re open to hotel suggestions, check out 1 Hotel Central Park. It’s committed both to your comfort and to the environment, which you’ll be able to tell before you even walk in the door. (A portion of the exterior is covered with ivy.) 1 Hotel Central Park incorporates many natural motifs throughout – wooden room keys, reclaimed chalkboards instead of notepads, and hangers made from recycled materials. In the hotel lobby, a farm stand sells seasonal fruits and vegetables from regional farms. This hotel is moderately priced, by New York standards.
On the other hand, if ‘pricey’ is in your budget, New York City has a lot to offer as well: Baccarat Hotel, Park Hyatt, The Ritz Carlton Central Park, The Plaza, and The Peninsula, just to name a few.
Once you’ve checked in, start your Big Apple weekend at the iconic Empire State Building or Top of the Rock. Both offer panoramic views of the city.
At the Empire State Building, a saxophonist plays on the Main Deck/86th floor Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight between Labor Day and Memorial Day. In the summer, it’s between 10 p.m.-1 a.m. You can buy your tickets online, or onsite on the second floor. The last elevator to the top of the Empire State Building leaves at 1:15 a.m. One tip: don’t pay the extra money to go up to the 102nd floor.
Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is another option for great city views. There are three viewing promenades, the highest being on the 70th floor. Top of the Rock has timed ticketing and it’s only open until 11 p.m. The wait time usually isn’t as long as the Empire State Building and there’s more room to move around, but you’ll need to make sure you can make your scheduled time. The trips to the top of both cost about the same, and each offers VIP access for an extra $30 per ticket. Top of the Rock also offers the option to pay an extra $15 to come back within 24 hours of your first visit, so you can take in the view at a different time of day. And don’t worry: there’s a bar at the top.
You can linger on top of the city that never sleeps before making your way to bed.
Before you leave the hotel, ask the concierge for the best bagel and coffee place nearby.
Grab some nourishment and head to Big Bus New York. Bus tours are the perfect way to see the most landmarks efficiently. You can jump off at any time if you want to get a closer look. It’s a nice option, especially if this is your first time in the city.
You need to go to the Big Bus New York welcome center at 712 7th Avenue to get your ticket or receipt, or you can pre-purchase your ticket online. Consider purchasing the Premium Ticket. It includes the 9/11 Memorial Museum and One World Observatory, and gives you two days on the bus. If you want to visit the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, choose the Deluxe Ticket with the 9/11 Memorial Museum and One World Observatory. Either option is excellent value.
Start your tour with the blue route. If you just ride the bus, it will take 2 ½ hours, but this route takes you to some of the best museums in the world. You can hop off the bus and spend time at the Guggenheim, The American Museum of Natural History, or The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The ‘Strawberry Fields’ stop is also on this route. The bus will drop you near The Dakota, which is the building where Lennon and Yoko Ono lived with their young son when Lennon was killed in the archway. ‘Strawberry Fields’ is across the street in Central Park. It’s a living memorial to Lennon, named after one of his favorite songs. Yoko helped design it.
Grab lunch at The Loeb Boathouse restaurant. It’s located in Central Park and you can walk there from several stops on the Big Bus Tour, including Strawberry Fields, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Frick Museum. (Consider taking a cab if you’re at the American Museum of Natural History or The Met.)
The restaurant does take reservations, but it also has an Express Café. After lunch, you can rent a boat and enjoy the 150-year-old tradition of a leisurely paddle around the lake next door. If paddling isn’t your thing, you can also rent a gondola. When you’re through, make your way back to one of the stops above and finish the bus tour.
If you want to skip the Boathouse in favor of the museums, grab lunch from a street cart. You’ll see them throughout the city and nothing is more New York than grabbing something to nosh on while walking the streets!
Give yourself time to get back to your hotel and freshen up for dinner and a Broadway show. There are several ways to get tickets. You can leave it until the day of, and possibly save up to 50%, by waiting at the TKTS Discount Booth in Times Square. While you may save money, there’s no guarantee a show you want to see will be available. The tickets go on sale most days at 3 p.m. and you should expect long lines.
Another option is Today Tix. These tickets are also discounted, and while not every show is available, there are a decent number of options. In some cases, you can purchase up to two months in advance. You’ll get to pick your section but not your seat, so pay attention to how you get your tickets. Some are picked up at the box office, others delivered electronically, but you may also need to meet a uniformed Today Tix employee outside the theatre a half hour before the show to get your tickets. (It sounds a bit weird, but it works.)
The third way is to go to the source; you can check out all the shows and ticket availabilities at the Broadway website. Here, you can buy tickets well in advance and choose exactly where your seats will be. You’ll also pay full price, but if your travel dates are flexible, you can plan your travel around the Broadway show you pick. You might be able to find some decent prices.
There are plenty of places to eat near the theatres. Because of the location, servers know their customers are trying to get to a show on time. A few places to consider: Orso is a cozy Italian restaurant where you’ll start your meal with fresh bread and delicious white bean dip. It isn’t touristy, and the food is good. If you want touristy, try Sardi’s. This is the restaurant where the walls are covered with caricatures of celebrities. It’s an institution which gained its fame because its hours accommodated the schedules of Broadway performers. It still does today. Carmine’s has the most extensive menu of the three and serves Italian food as well. While tourists know about it, locals like to eat here too. All three restaurants take reservations for before or after the show.
Brunch is my favorite meal of the day. If you agree, you won’t be disappointed by Balthazar in lower Manhattan. If you bought the two-day bus pass, you’ll be able to jump on the red route in the morning, enjoy the bus tour, and get off at the SOHO/Little Italy stop. You’ll be within a block of the restaurant. If not, take a cab or the subway.
Balthazar is a cozy, some might say crowded, French brasserie. Reservations are recommended. (I don’t want you to overschedule your trip, but if you can make a few key reservations for your weekend, it will save you some hassle.)
If you want to walk off some brunch before getting back on the bus, take a stroll through Little Italy. Just walk a few blocks to Mulberry Street and head south. You can even grab some gelato or cannoli along the way – if you still have room!
When you’re ready, jump back on the bus and get off at the Brooklyn Bridge or the Wall Street stop. One World Observatory and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum are just a few blocks from either stop. If you don’t buy your tickets to the sites as part of your bus tour, be sure to get them in advance.
One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The Observatory is located on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors, so be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before the time on your ticket. (The ride to the top may be the best part of this experience.)
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is extremely powerful and tastefully done. You’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time to walk around the plaza where the twin towers once stood. It’s an emotional experience seeing all the victims’ names.
If you’re up for a walk, make your way to, and across, the Brooklyn Bridge. It will take you 30 minutes to walk across the actual bridge, but you’ll be able to see the Statue of Liberty and will end up in one of the best spots to grab a picture of lower Manhattan either in Dumbo or Brooklyn Bridge Park. While you’re in Brooklyn, grab one of the best slices of pie east of the Hudson River at Grimaldi’s.
If you decided to buy the bus tour ticket that included the Statue of Liberty instead of the Empire State Building, plan to spend your afternoon there. Seeing the names of immigrants who came through Ellis Island and seeing Lady Liberty up close are both fantastic experiences.
No matter which adventure you choose, eventually make your way back to Manhattan and jump on the bus again. You’ll see a few more sites along the way as you head back to Midtown.
If you don’t have to catch a plane or train, and are spending one more night, head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.
I know New York City isn’t a cheap trip. But if you have room for one more splurge, book at dinner cruise with Bateaux New York.
The boat has a glass top and it’s a wonderful way to end your weekend. The cruise begins boarding at 6:15 p.m. and leaves from the Chelsea Piers at 7 p.m. You’ll cruise down the Hudson River, around Manhattan, then up the East River past the Brooklyn Bridge. On the return trip, you’ll cruise by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The cruise lasts three hours, and the food is good. It’s pricey, but you can choose to upgrade to a table by the window, add the open bar, or even a seafood tower appetizer. You can check out the rest of the menu on the Bateaux New York website.
Jackets are requested for men, with a collared shirt, and for ladies, dresses or dressy-casual attire is acceptable.
If you have a little fuel left in your tank after your cruise, stop by one of New York’s best rooftop bars. Take a cab to either 230 Fifth or The Press Lounge. Relax and enjoy the lights of the city that never sleeps, even though you might be ready to find your bed.