5 days in New York are just about the perfect amount of time to see the most iconic landmarks in the city at an easy, pleasant pace. Yet, with so much to do you will need to follow an itinerary to optimize your time. Since I have lived in the city and been there multiple times, I thought I’d help you by putting together an itinerary that will help you see the best of New York in 5 days. I’ll also share a few hacks so that you can skip the lines and – occasionally – save a bit of money.
A Few Things To Consider About This Itinerary
5 days in New York may seem like a lot of time – but as soon as you lay foot in the city, you will realize it’s massive. This itinerary will certainly help to see a lot, but there are a few things you need to consider.
ADVANCED BOOKINGS ARE A MUST – Places such as the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, the World Trade Center Observatory and the Empire State Building all require that you book a ticket or a tour in advance.
HEAD OUT EARLY EVERY DAY – So that you have more time to explore.
HAVE LUNCH ON THE GO – You can sit down for a nice dinner at the end of the day.
VISITS DURATION ARE ESTIMATES – And they really depend on you.
A Fantastic Itinerary For 5 Days In New York
Day one – The Financial District
Map of day 1
Click here to download the map of your itinerary for the first day. You can easily rearrange it, but beware that I put the attractions in the most logical order.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Made up of twin reflecting pools meant to represent the footprints of the Twin Towers, and of a man made waterfall that is the largest of its kind in North America, 9/11 Memorial is a must-see. You will also be able to see inscriptions of the names of those who died in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks. The Museum will walk you through the events of 9/11 and the days that followed.
You should book your visit to 9/11 Memorial and Museum ahead of time. You can consider this this 9/11 Memorial, Ground Zero and optional museum entry. Factor in about 2 hours for your visit of the Museum.
Check out my post “How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.”
World Trade Center Observatory
For incredible views of New York that span all the way to the Statue of Liberty head up the World Trade Center Observatory. With is 541 meters (1775 feet) this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was built where the World Trade Center was located before 9/11.
Built to serve the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, this futuristic shopping mall is a fun place to see, and the best place to stop for lunch.
Close to the World Trade Center, Wall Street is one of the most famous streets in the world – the kind of place you have certainly seen many times on TV. Things to spot there are the statues of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl, and the exterior of NYC Stock Exchange.
Another place to visit in the area is Trinity Church, an Episcopalian Parish in Gothic style that sits among skyscrapers. The cemetery next to it is Alexander Hamilton’s burial place.
Staten Island Ferry
Connecting Manhattan to Staten Island, the ferry is free, so a nice thing to do without blowing your budget, and the views from it are impressive. The ride there and back lasts about one hour.
Day two – Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Lower Manhattan
Map of day 2
Click here to download the map for your second day in New York itinerary.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
With 5 days in New York, you really have to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The symbol of the United States, the statue – which is actually located in New Jersey territory, was donation from France (in the 19th century), and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ferries to the Statue of Liberty leave from Battery Park. The first departure is at 8:30 am and I recommend opting for that – just make sure to arrive a bit early as there often is a line to get on board.
The tour starts with a ferry ride, from where you get to see the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan. Once you get to the site, you can go to the Pedestal to visit the museum. If you want to visit the crown you need specific tickets. The tour then continues to Ellis Island.
You need to book the tour in advance. The best options is this Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island early access tour – is lasts around 4 hours and includes a visit of the Pedestal and the museum, but not the crown – for which you need a separate ticket. If you’d rather go on a private tour that literally visits everything, click here.
For something quicker and a bit more budget friendly, consider this 60-minute cruise around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – but keep in mind you won’t get off at the statue.
Once you return to mainland, you can have lunch in Battery Park before you continue exploring.
Chinatown is one of the most fun neighborhoods to explore in New York. You will find lots of Asian style restaurants, nice shops and attractions. You are bound to enjoy the Chinese signs, and you can even shop for any sort of Asian goodies.
Across Canal Street from Chinatown you will find Little Italy. It’s packed with charm and there are lots of restaurants serving American-Italian food.
You may even want to do a food tour of Little Italy and Chinatown. Take a look at this food tour of Manhattan that lasts a whopping 3 hours here. Otherwise, opt for this guided food tour of Little Italy – check it out here.
Day three – Museums, Central Park and Midtown Manhattan
Map of day 3
Here you can find the map for your third day in New York. I point to the MET as your starting point, but in case you want to visit a different museum (I am suggesting 3 you can pick from), you can just move the starting point to that.
OPTION 1: Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) the most famous museum in town, and of the best art galleries in the world, with a collection that includes pieces from ancient Egypt and more contemporary art.
The museum is massive, so to make the most of it and navigate it a bit more easily, grab a map at the entrance and head straight to the collections you are interested in.
OPTION 2: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
With an exhibit that includes iconic works of modern art with pieces by Vincent van Gogh, Warhol, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali and Pollock, this is one of the best museums in town.
MOMA is open daily from 10.30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is $25. You can buy tickets here.
OPTION 3: The Guggenheim
One of the funkiest museums in New York, it’s worth visiting just to admire the building, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and first opened in 1959. Exhibits change regularly so check what’s on before you go.
This massive park is one of the most famous places to visit in New York, and it’s free! You will find plenty of interesting sights – such as Strawberry Fields, aka John Lennon’s memorial; Bethesda fountain and terrace; Belvedere Castle; the Lake and Gapstow Bridge. Walk around or – if you want to move a bit faster – rent a bike. You can book it here. And by all means, don’t ride the horse pulled carriages. Read why here.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
New York’s cathedral is located on Fifth Avenue, near the south corner of Central Park. It is a Gothic style church, first inaugurated in 1878. Pop in for a quick look.
Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock
Close to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this Art Deco complex was commissioned by oil magnate Rockefeller and is world-famous for its ice-rink and Christmas tree. The Top of the Rock, a 1930s Art Deco skyscraper, offers splendid views over Manhattan.
Grand Central Terminal
This is one of the main transport hubs in town and chances are you will go through during your 5 days in New York. It actually is a stunning building dating back to 1913, where you will find shops, restaurants, a famous oyster bar and more.
The heart of Manhattan! Times Square is chaotic, shiny and a fun place to visit, so make sure to visit.
Day Four – The Empire State Building and the Village
Map of day 4
Here is a map for today’s itinerary. You will mostly be walking but it will be pleasant.
Head out nice and early for a walk in Bryant Park. Less touristy than Central Park, it’s a nice place to sit for a while. Decades ago it was a drug dealing and prostitution hub but it’s been cleaned since. During the summer, movies are shown every Monday evening.
New York Public Library
Not far from Bryant Park, on Fifth Avenue, New York Public Library is a beautiful building with nice facade and an impressive collection of books in just about any subject. Guided tours are offered Monday to Saturday at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Empire State Building
Completed in 1931, at the time this was the tallest building in the world. While it’s long lost its primacy, the views from its observation deck remain impressive and if you have 5 days in New York you totally have to include it in your itinerary.
Book your visit of the Empire State Building Observatory in advance here and factor in about 90 minutes for your visit. Keep in mind you will have to line for the elevator.
This building in the shape of an iron is located on Fifth Avenue, at the end of Madison Square. It was completed in 1902 and measures 87 meters (285 feet). It’s one of the most unique buildings in New York.
The High Line is free to access and will take you from Chelsea Market (a great spot for lunch, by the way) all the way to Greenwich. This former railway viaduct was abandoned in the 1980s, but it opened again in 2009 after being remodeled by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf.
You will surely know this neighborhood from the TV series Sex And The City – Carrie Bradshaw apartment is located there. It’s a lovely area to walk around. If you care for a guided tour, consider this one or this one.
Washington Square Park
Washington Square is close to Greenwich Village and the best place to finish your day of exploration. Stop by to admire the Marble Arch and to observe the many artists and local families – it’s a favorite hangout spot.
OPTION 1: Broadway
For a fun night out during your 5 days in New York, go see a musical in Broadway. There are 41 theaters (some with century-old signs), so you have plenty of choice. It’s not cheap but if you look carefully and aren’t picky about what you see, you may be able to find a good deal.
OPTION 2: Metropolitan Opera House
For a more sophisticated experience, and if you like opera or ballet, opt for the Metropolitan Opera House. It is located in Lincoln Center. The massive modernist buildings is quite a sight!
Day 5 – Brooklyn
Map of day 5
Here is the map for your last day in town. Bushwick is actually quite far off so if street art is not your thing skip it.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Bridge connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East River. It was completed in 1883, and it’s the first suspension bridge ever been built.
Walk or bike across the bridge for great views, then go through Brooklyn Bridge Park to reach Brooklyn Heights, the first suburb of New York City where you can spot beautiful Victorian style buildings and historic churches. The highlight is Brooklyn Heights Promenade, from where you can see Lower Manhattan.
DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is one of the coolest areas of Brooklyn, and a fun place for photos. Once you are done, head to Westville Dumbo for a salad or a sandwhich.
Lovers of street art: Bushwick really is for you. You will find murals, art galleries and much more.
Opened in 1903 to connect Brooklyn to Manhattan, you will recognize it immediately as it is all pink. The views of the city and of Brooklyn Bridge as you walk across are stunning.
BONUS: The Bronx Gospel
If you happen to be in New York on a Sunday, you may want to try to add a trip to the Bronx to your 5 days in New York itinerary – at the cost of having to sacrifice something else, most likely.
Known for the Yankee Stadium and Bronx Zoo, in the 20th the Bronx was a badly disadvantage borough, sadly known for its criminal gangs. The hard work of the administration turned it into a much better place and it is a nice area to visit and to walk around.
The most popular thing to do in the Bronx on a Sunday is attending mass to see a Gospel choir. I won’t deny it is touristy, but it’s fun.
You are better off reserving your tickets if you intend to see the choir. This tour here also goes to the rest of the Bronx, including Apollo Theater and Columbia University.
Practical Tips To Make The Most Of New York In 5 Days
Get A New York Pass
The New York Pass may be a convenient way to save on attractions during your 5 days in New York, for which you’d also be getting skip the line access. Most of them also come with a Metro Card, which is convenient to move around town.
Where to stay in New York
New York is an expensive city, so be prepared to pay more than you’d wish for your room. Having said so, you’ll have ample choice when it comes to accommodation. I have selected a few places to stay that may be good:
- SUNNY CHELSEA OASIS – A lovely VRBO perfect for up to 3 guests.
- PARK TERRACE HOTEL ON BRYANT PARK – Modern rooms in a perfect location.
The map below allows you to compare hotels and VRBOs in New York. You can click to enlarge it and find a place within your budget range and in your favorite location.
How to get to New York
New York has 3 airports that connect it to the rest of the United States and the world. For cheap flight deals, check out Skyscanner.
The best airport to fly to is JFK as it’s the best connected to the city. Here’s an overlook on how to get to town from the airport:
AIRTRAIN – The cheapest option with tickets starting at $8 USD. There are 3 different lines.
SHUTTLE – Prices start at around $20 and they can be booked in advance here.
TAXI AND UBER – The flat fee to Manhattan is $52 to which you need add a $4.50 surcharge during peak hours (4:00 pm to 8:00 pm on weekdays) and the tolls. Uber has similar prices but you must use the app to book it.
How to move around New York
On most days, this itinerary is best followed on foot – but you will need to travel to the starting point, and back to your room in the evening.
New York has a wide network of buses, metro lines and taxis. The most convenient way to move around is by metro (known as subway), which runs 24/7. Tickets cost $3, but if you have a Metro Card you’ll pay $2.75 per ride. The New York CityPass I mentioned above includes a Metro Card.
Other useful tips
Finally, you will find these tips help you when visiting the city:
GET A DATA PLAN – Verify your phone plan allows you to use data while in New York, so that you can use apps such as Google Maps (you can download maps to use offline, just in case).
GET A GUIDEBOOK – Yes, a proper paper-one! You may find it really useful. I recommend this one.
MIND THE SCAMS – The most common ones are in tourist-crowded areas, such as Battery Park, where people may try to sell you tickets for the Staten Island Ferry (which is free) or Times Square, where the cartoon-character costume guys will demand a tip for any photo with or of them (without warning you in advance). Watch out for taxi scams and for pickpockets too.
LUGGAGE STORAGE – If you need to check out but still have a few hours in town, you can leave your stuff in storage. LuggageHero has storage rooms in Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and Times Square. Book in advance.
Further readings about the United States
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 35 Incredible Things To Do In New York City
- The Best Museums In NYC
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty
- A Great Itinerary For A Week In New York
- A Wonderful Itinerary For A Day In New York
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- A Great Itinerary For 3 Days In San Francisco
- The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)
- 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California
- 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami
- Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone (With Kids!)
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver