Here’s everything I’d recommend you do in 4 days in New York. You’ve got a busy few days ahead of you!
There’s not enough time in the world to explore every corner of this magical city, but we can give it a good go. Just as a warning – you’re going to need to schedule in some sleep when you get home from your 4 days in New York!
While you’re actually in New York though, you need to use your time wisely and do your best to squeeze in the iconic things to see in New York, as well as the lesser known locations. Helping you do just that is this rough guide for how to get through all the must sees and feel like you’ve sampled a significant slice of NYC in 4 days.
I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been to New York City – lucky I know. I spent a summer working in New York state and on days off we’d go into the city. Then the next year I worked at summer camp in nearby Connecticut and did the same.
My favourite photo of me in NYC!
There was also that time I went with my best friend when school finished, and with my very recently ex boyfriend (that was FUN…) and just before Christmas one year. Also, I had to go for training for my job once, not the blogger thing – once upon a time I was a content and social media manager for a travel brand.
Safe to say, I know what to do for your New York itinerary for 4 days!
How to Do New York in 4 Days
Here’s the absolute cream of the crop and what I think you should do if you have 4 days in New York.
Day 1 in New York City: bagels, Times Square & up high
There’s no bagel like a New York bagel and given you’re in for a long day of exploring on your first of 4 days in New York. I recommend lining that belly with the classic salmon and lox combo. Of course, if you’re more of a poppyseed with salted beef or a cinnamon raisin with cream cheese kind of person then places like Best Bagel & Coffee and Ess-a-bagel will still have you covered.
Once you’re fuelled, get to know the city a little better with a walking tour by Free Tours by Foot. They offer a few different ones covering the likes of Soho, Chinatown, Harlem and Brooklyn so it just depends on where you’re staying and which neighbourhood you fancy learning more about.
Lunch time in NYC
Apologies for all the carbs but come lunchtime, especially if you’re in midtown, avoid the overpriced tourist traps and grab a deli sandwich from one of the many bodegas. Not only a cheaper option, these sandwiches are a NYC delicacy and are often so big you can stash half away for a mid afternoon snack. Plus, you can eat it while you people watch in a park like Madison Square Park (not to be confused with the home of the Knicks, Madison Square Gardens).
You can check out some of these great book stores in New York for a bit of quiet time too.
From there, head to the place every tourist dreams of before arriving in the Big Apple: Times Square. But be warned, it’s crazy. With so many people and a lot of traffic, my tip is to get in, get your picture on the red steps and get out.
Or, find a spot to sit and just enjoy the craziness – with 4 days in New York City you have a little time to chill.
After this, head east to the Rockefeller Center and Radio City. You can marvel at these legendary buildings from the outside but then head inside for Top of the Rock. Of course, for skyscraper views there are a few different options to choose from but going up to the top of the Rockfeller means you get both the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building in your pics. Plus on your way up you get a good whack of history and information making it better value for your $38.
Top tip for your 4 days in NYC
If you can time a visit for sunset you’ll be able to get both daytime and nighttime views of the city below.
End the day with dinner at the Lower East Side’s Beauty & Essex. From the outside it looks like a pawn brokers but once inside you’re in a swanky joint full of antiques and artefacts as well as a killer menu. Afterwards, LES is the ideal place to grab a drink in a quirky setting somewhere like The Ten Bells, Nitecap or 169 Bar.
Airbnbs in New York
Book an Airbnb in New York instead of a hotel and you could stay in a real New Yorkers home! Take a look at all the Airbnb possibilities here…
Day 2 in NYC: Central Park, Fifth Avenue & Grand Central
No matter the time of year, there’s no better way to start a morning than with a walk through Central Park. Wander past the zoo, stop by the Imagine mosaic, or even rent a boat at the Loeb Boathouse.
If you can find your way out of the labyrinth of greenery (easier said than done), head to nearby Serendipity III. Made even more famous by the movie of the same name, this Upper East Side cafe is also known for having the most expensive dessert in the world, the Golden Opulence Sundae, at $1,000. The rest of the menu is way more affordable and the frozen hot chocolates are the best.
If you haven’t blown the budget on overpriced ice cream, take a trip down Fifth Avenue where you’ll find everything from Gucci to Hollister. Stop when you get to the New York Public Library and head inside what has to be one of the most beautiful buildings there ever was. You can take a free tour or wander through the rooms yourself, just don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, which is surprisingly good.
Right behind the library there’s also Bryant Park, which is perfect for people watching. You can grab lunch from one of the nearby fast food joints (hello Chipotle) and pull up a chair to watch one of the free events or performances often happening here.
Lunch time in NYC
From one beauty to another, Grand Central Terminal is just a few streets away and has to be the most impressive train station in the world. If you’re still peckish you can pick something up in the Grand Central Market or else explore the shops, but the real treasure is the ceiling and its stars.
Round out the day with a Broadway show.
Top tip for your 4 days in NYC
If you’re wanting to watch the money, purchase tickets on TodayTix.com or by entering one of the lotteries.
Once you’ve been blown away by the likes of Hamilton, Mamma Mia or the Jersey Boys, keep the theatrical theme going with dinner at nearby Ellen’s Stardust Diner. With 4 days in NYC, you can try a few.
Here, Broadway wannabes serve your food with a side of showbiz sparkle performing musical numbers while you eat. Afterwards, walk back through Times Square to see it in all its nighttime glory.
Day 3 in NYC: brunch, Chelsea Market & the Highline
New Yorkers love to brunch and one of the many places to join the weekend ritual is at Citizens of Chelsea where they serve all the staple acais bowls, egg dishes and breakfast burgers.
Next up is Chelsea Market. Forget your traditional fruit and veg situation and instead imagine boutique shops, classy eateries and craft stands. At the back you’ve got the Artists & Fleas with its endless jewellery, on the lower floor you’ve got Chelsea Local and back at the entrance you’ll find Anthropologie. If you’re still wandering come lunchtime, grab some food from the likes of Gorsha, Los Mariscos or Hot Bread Kitchen.
When you finally come up for air, it’ll be in the cobbled-street Meatpacking District, aka NYC’s hippest neighbourhood. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk around because it wouldn’t be unusual to see a celeb or even a movie set around this part of town.
Then head onto the Highline, and what I think is one of the most underrated attractions there is. Once an abandoned railway, it’s now a beautiful public garden filled with art installations, fab architecture and amazing views of the Hudson River. Plus a few celebs are rumoured to live along here. You can jump off at a few different points but if you don’t mind the walk follow it along to the new Hudson Yard shopping centre and quirky Vessel sculpture.
Late afternoon, when it’s a little quieter, is then the perfect time to head uptown to one of the city’s museums. Depending on what you’re in the mood for you could opt for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum or Guggenheim.
Top tip for your 4 days in NYC
Many of New York’s museums and galleries offer free entry on certain days. Check out their websites for more info.
For dinner, go all in in Little Italy. Places like Aunt Jake’s, Da Nico and Il Cortile are some of the best places to continue the carb-loading.
Day 4 in NYC: West Village, Magnolia Bakery & Hell’s Kitchen
Wake up in the West Village and get a dose of pop culture by visiting a few familiar buildings. The outside of 64 Perry Street was used to depict Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment in Sex and the City. (Top tip: they have a chain across the steps stopping you from taking a photo so budge a few doors down instead).
Then walk 5 minutes to the corner of Grove and Bedford for the outside of the Friends building. (Top tip: don’t sign your name on the side of the building, the restaurant owner doesn’t like it). You can then get your morning sweet treat at the original Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street.
There are still a few sightseeing heavy hitters we haven’t ticked off so I’d then head downtown and jump aboard the free Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. On the other side, you can choose to explore Staten Island or else jump back on the ferry for free and see her ladyship a second time.
Once back on dry land, walk from the ferry terminal along the river until you reach the Brooklyn Bridge. You can walk across or hail a taxi but the best way is to rent a bike from the likes of Bike and Roll and Blazing Saddles and cycle across it. The pedestrians can get in your way and at times it may feel a little hairy but the 20 minute ride across one of the most iconic bridges is really an amazing experience.
Lunch in NYC
Over in Brooklyn, refuel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. You’ll notice the queue for Grimaldi’s famous pizza and while you could be tempted to join, resist and go next door to Juliana’s Pizza. Owned by the same folks who founded Grimaldi’s, it’s lesser known but the same quality without the queue.
If you’ve explored the park a little and taken some great pics of the bridge and city across the water, cycle back over and return your bikes. Then walking distance away you’ll find the Freedom Tower. If you get lost, just keep walking toward the biggest building in NYC. You can go up it or simply view from the outside and pay your respects at the 9/11 memorial. There’s also the museum nearby that takes a few hours to explore.
Round out the day, well the week, of amazing food in Hell’s Kitchen where there’s hundreds of restaurants to choose from. El Centro is good for Mexican, Danji nails Korean and Wondee Siam has some of the best Thai food in the city. With just 4 days in NYC, can you feel that waistline expanding?
Or else you could choose to have a bit of everything at the Gotham West Market with all of its indoor food stands. Wash it all down with a series of shots at Barcelona Bar where a tipple comes complete with a quick theatrical performance depending on the themed shot. Think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Top Gun.
Another day in NYC? Williamsburg
Williamsburg is the ‘cool’ bit of New York, just outside Manhattan. Last time I went to NYC we divided the week in half and spent the second half in trendy Williamsburg, with the hipsters.
If you’re familiar with London, Williamsburg is kind of like Shoreditch, but so much better. For starts, it’s actually cool, not just pretentious people trying to be. It’s also a lot quieter and more relaxed, and you didn’t have to queue for hours to get in anywhere.
Most of the action centres around Metropolitan Avenue and Bedford Avenue. You’ll find cool cafes, boutique shops, interesting markets and some great people watching opportunities. Also, some great record shops too.
Take a stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s only a mile or so and you’ll get incredible views over Brooklyn and Manhattan. There’s a specific lane for walkers so it’s safe too.
Walk down to the waterfront to get your photo taken against the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.
More time in NYC? Check out the Bronx Zoo – one of the world’s largest zoos!
Me and New York City
I was a bright eyed, village girl the first time I visited New York City. At 18 I’d worked all summer to fund the trip with my high school best friend Kirsty before we were due to go our separate ways to university in just a few weeks.
I’ve been back a few times since, but the overwhelming excitable feeling of my first time in the Big Apple is still vivid in my memory. I was keen on musical theatre back then and we went to see Rent and the Lion King on Broadway. I don’t know whether it was down to the surroundings or the show, but both remain my favourite shows to date.
Taking in Madison Square Gardens, exploring Macy’s and shopping in Bloomingdale’s and the like; it felt like I’d jumped into my favourite TV shows, films and books. Everything was as big, loud and as exciting as I’d hoped and expected.
We’d both opened up student accounts with overdrafts before we left ready for university. We spent every last penny. Shops like Hot Topic, Yellow Rat Bastard, Forever 21 and Victoria’s Secret welcomed it all. I was convinced we’d see stars on every corner, but we happily made do with Madame Tussauds on Broadway taking snaps with ‘Brad Pitt’, ‘Jennifer Aniston’ and ‘Tom Cruise’.
We had a week, rather than 4 days in New York, and we managed to fit in all the main sites – the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park – but I knew I’d never be ready to leave when the last day came.
Back in New York for summer camp
It was 2004, I was 20 and in New York City for my first year at summer camp. I arrived in the Big Apple by myself late at night and joined the group headed to Columbia University – my home for the night. I couldn’t sleep with all the excitement, but at that time I was too scared to go out and explore alone.
The jet lag meant I was up at 5am so I braved the venture out onto Amsterdam Avenue. I daren’t go far, but I remember just being over excited by the simple things: the hospital over the road, the street signs, the subway entrances. I got back to the University and stole five minutes to relax on the grass to take it all in. Me, at Columbia University in New York City, about to start a 3-month job as a camp counselor upstate.
Excited didn’t cover it.
New York in 2005
In 2005 I was back for another camp, this time in Connecticut, but still only an hour or so from the city. Again I had my induction at Columbia University and again I felt that rush at being within the university walls, imagining myself as a student there studying Liberal Arts, Greek mythology, or something ridiculous sounding.
During camp I spent two days off there – on one my friend got pierced and I got drunk. That about covers it.
On the other day off there were four of us who all went on the Sex and the City tour – still a must for any fan. We saw where Samantha’s ‘sexy’ priest lived, we drank Cosmopolitans in Aiden and Steve’s bar and we went to the sex shop where Carrie bought her first vibrator. We even ate cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery and sat on Carrie’s step in Greenwich Village.
I’d been a counselor at camp with Jason Zimbler, aka Ferguson off Clarissa Explains it All. The same four of us ended up staying at his incredible house in Brooklyn for a few days after camp. Another great memory of my love for New York City.
New York for a day
In 2014 I got a job at Flight Centre, and was back in New York for 24 hours for training. It felt incredible to back in a city I loved, for work.
After negotiating the crazy traffic from the airport the city welcomed me back with all its familiar scents and crazy sidewalks. The luminous billboards that annoy me in London seem so brilliantly characteristic of NYC I just wanted to stop and look up to take it all in, but there was work to do.
I worked all day and tried to sleep at night, but listening to ‘the city that never sleeps’ go about its evening business and decided that with 9 hours left in New York City I couldn’t just nod off. I pulled on some warm clothes and walked from 33 up to 42 Street to just set eyes on Times Square. I’m sure the locals feel about it the same way as I do about Piccadilly Circus – for the tourists – but I was a tourist and dutifully I took the pictures.
I stood there looking at the shut Toys r Us and remembered stocking up on sweets to take back to the kids at camp in 2004, the Roxy brought back memories of me and Chloe tipsily wandering by the sign while the Broadway show signs reminded me of Kirsty and I fresh faced and in awe, vowing to return with her on Broadway.
It wasn’t long before I had to admit defeat on my tiredness and turn back. I crawled into bed and this time fell asleep in an instant. I love New York City, nowhere in the world is more exciting, and I think in my 7-year break I’d managed to forget that.
And, then I went back to New York for Christmas, as was my dream a few years later. But you can read more about that adventure on the link there!
New York itinerary for 4 days
Follow this itinerary for 4 days in New York, and they could just be the best four days you’ve ever had!
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