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 will be sharing links to maps that you can follow to easily move around. I’ll also share a few hacks so that you can skip the lines and – occasionally – save a bit of money.
Continue ready for useful tips based on my experience!
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In New York City.
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 and there is a lot to see and do. This itinerary will certainly help you 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. Don’t worry, I will share tips on how to get tickets.
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. There are plenty of place in New York where you can have a quick bite. Food is never amiss in the Big Apple!
VISITS DURATION ARE ESTIMATES – And they really depend on you. Personally, I spend a long time in museums as I find them so interesting, but some people visit them in a breeze.
Now, without further ado, let’s look at your perfect 5 days in New York itinerary.
A Fantastic Itinerary For 5 Days In New York
Day 1 – 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
I had to start this 5 days in New York itinerary with one of the most meaningful places to visit it in the city to me. I was in New York on 9/11 and I will never forget that day. It took me a lot of courage to actually visit the Memorial.
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.
At this unique attraction, 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. It honestly is a rather touching experience, so if you are in New York just for fun purposes this one may not be for you.
You should book your visit to 9/11 Memorial and Museum ahead of time. You can consider this 9/11 Memorial, Ground Zero and optional museum entry. Factor in about 2 hours for your visit of the Museum.
If you’d rather join a guided tour, I recommend this Take Walks tour – it’s one of the most thorough and a top reviewed one.
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 (1,775 feet) this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and hence the best panoramic spot in the city. It was built where the World Trade Center was located before 9/11.
Once up you can enjoy a drink, a snack or even a full meal – all while taking in the stunning views of the city.
You need to book your visit in advance. Make sure to buy your World Trade Center Observatory tickets ahead of your visit. Factor in about an hour and a half for your visit.
Where the Oculus once is, there was a shopping mall that was sadly destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. Designed by archi-star Calatrava and first opened in March 2016, the Oculus serves as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, with 11 subway lines passing through, and the Hudson Ferry Terminal nearby and as such being the most chaotic hub in the Financial District.
It is a futuristic shopping mall and a fun place to see, and the best place to stop for lunch – unless you have already eaten at the World Trade Center Observatory.
Close to the World Trade Center, Wall Street is the home of the largest US brokerages and one of the most famous streets in the world – the kind of place you have certainly seen many times on TV news, movies and series. 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 when you have 5 days in New York. First of all, it won’t break the bank, and secondly the views from it are impressive – depending on the time of year you are visiting, you will be seeing sunset over Manhattan, or catch the city beautifully illuminated at night. You can also see the Statue of Liberty from the ferry!
The ride there and back lasts about one hour. Keep in mind that once you get to Staten Island you will be asked to disembark and you will have to get back on the ferry.
Day 2 – 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 the earliest departure – just make sure to arrive a bit early as there often is a line to get on board.
From the ferry, you will 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 trip then continues to Ellis Island, where you can learn more about the history of the many migrants that went on to become an integral part of life in the city and in the United States.
You can get tickets for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty on the official website.
For an easier booking experience, I normally recommend getting tickets in advance to visit the Statue of Liberty on third party booking sites. These include the ferry from Battery Park. Factor in a total of 4 hours for visiting both sites – that includes the ferry ride.
I also recommend booking any guided visit well in advance. The best option 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.
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.
Make sure to read my detailed guide A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty for more information of what you can see and do once on the site.
Chinatown was first founded starting from Mott Street around 1870, when Chinese immigrants in the US fled to this part of the country to avoid persecution and discrimination. This is one of the most fun neighborhoods to explore in New York.
You will find lots of Asian style restaurants, nice shops and attractions. The area is packed with history and Chinese immigrant culture. 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. Not nearly as big as Chinatown (it has shrank significantly with time), Little Italy was founded by Italian immigrants – this is literally the first place where people coming from Italy would settle once in the US.
Little Italy is packed with charm and there are lots of restaurants (the best are around Mulberry Street) serving American-Italian food. I find the need to stress the food here is not like in Italy – it has evolved from the Italian tradition to create unique dishes which are still delicious.
Both neighborhoods are easy to explore independently, and you will be there in time for dinner.
For a more fun experience you may want to join a guided tour, but this normally take place in the morning or early afternoon, so they are not suitable for the purpose of this itinerary. If you want to check out some tours anyways, I recommend this food tour of Manhattan that lasts a whopping 3 hours. Otherwise, you can opt for this guided food tour of Little Italy that has excellent reviews.
Day 3 – 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) is one of the best museums in New York, and of the best art galleries in the world – and it also sets the record for being the largest art museum in the Americas. First opening its doors in 1870, it has a collection that spans for over 5000 years of history and includes pieces from ancient Egypt and more contemporary art.
The museum is massive and you can easily spend a day there, but if you have just 5 days in New York this is not feasible. I have been many times, even on subsequent days, when I lived in New York – each time picking a different exhibit to visit.
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.
The MET is open every day but Wednesday. You are better off getting MET tickets in advance. Re-admissions are allowed so you can leave and come back on the same day to continue exploring.
OPTION 2: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
MoMA first opened in 1929 and it was immediately obvious it would become one of the best contemporary art galleries in the world.
With an exhibit that includes iconic works of modern art with pieces by Vincent van Gogh, Warhol, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali and Pollock, it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular places to visit in the city. The focus is certainly contemporary art, but you will also find exhibits on architecture, pop culture and more.
The first time I went there, I actually visited with a former contemporary art journalist and it was an enlightening experience.
MOMA is open daily but has longer hours on Saturdays. I recommend to buy MOMA tickets in advance.
OPTION 3: The Guggenheim
One of the funkiest museums in New York, it’s worth visiting the Guggenheim Museum 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 to make sure it’s interesting to you. I once visited when a fashion exhibit was on and I certainly enjoyed it.
This massive park first opened to the public in 1858 with the idea of offering New Yorkers a place where they could feel away from the city, without having to travel far. And I must say it certainly served (and continues serving) this purpose, to the point that it quickly became a favorite of locals as well as tourists.
Central Park is free to visit. 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.
One of the best things to do there is to actually run, so if that’s something you like doing plan to pack your running shoes and join the flocks of New Yorkers for their daily dose of exercise.
Otherwise, simply walk around or – if you want to move a bit faster – rent a bike. You can actually book your bike in advance here. And by all means, don’t ride the horse pulled carriages. Read why in my post about responsible travel.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
New York’s cathedral is located on Fifth Avenue, near the south corner of Central Park. It was first inaugurated in 1878 and it’s the largest Roman Catholic church in Neo-Gothic style in the United States. Before this church was built, there was another St. Patrick’s church in town was located on Mulberry St – but it was too small for the public it regularly received.
Pop in for a quick look. The church is actually quite special inside: there are three naves, painted glasses, white marble statues, O. Partridge statue that resembles Michelangelo’s Pietà (but it’s about three times as big) and art pieces from all over the world.
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.
The observation deck is spread across 3 floors and has both indoor and outdoor spaces where you can relax and take in the views.
Grand Central Terminal
My first few months in New York I worked at the United Nations Headquarters and passed by Grand Central Terminal on a daily basis. This is one of the main transport hubs in New York, but don’t think of it just as a train station!
It actually is a stunning building dating back to 1913, where you will find shops, restaurants, a famous oyster bar and more. Chances are you will go through during your 5 days in New York, so plan to actually explore it rather than just go through.
Times Square is really the heart of Manhattan! The square became important at the beginning of the 20th century, when it became clear that Broadway and the surrounding streets were the established center of entertainment in the city.
Today, the square is quite chaotic but also shiny and very much a representation of New York City. There are mostly tourists around, and some scams occur here too (more about that at the end of this post) yet, it’s a must see if you have 5 days in New York.
Day 4 – 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 in Midtown Manhattan. To give you a better idea, you will find it very close to Times Square. It’s a nice, green oasis of peace right between the skyscrapers and the chaos of New York. 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 so if you are visiting in peak season make sure to plan a night stroll here too. Locals love it (they call it Manhattan’s Town Square), and you will too!
New York Public Library
Are you out of books to read during your 5 days in New York? Worry not! Avid readers will love New York Public Library. Yes, even tourists can get a free New York Library card!
Not far from Bryant Park, on Fifth Avenue, New York Public Library is located in the beautiful Stephen A. Schwarzman Building building. It has a 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 the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. Since then, it’s been featured in countless movies (including King Kong), TV shows and TV series. While this skyscraper has 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.
A word of warning, though: this is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Last time I visited with my sister, we had to stand in line for quite some time before being able to get on the elevator, and advanced bookings are absolutely a must.
I recommend booking your visit of the Empire State Building Observatory in advance and factor in about 90 minutes for your visit. Keep in mind you will have to line for the elevator.
You probably guessed that the Flatiron Building owes its name to its shape: it really looks like an iron.
This actually is one of the first buildings ever built using a steel skeleton 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. You will pass by it on your way to the High Line, so make sure to take some minutes to admire it. Inside, it’s mostly office spaces.
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.
Locals and tourists alike flock there to enjoy the green space, the architecture, the art and the views it offers. It will take you about 30 minutes to walk the full length.
This tour of the High Line and Chelsea Market lasts 2 hours and comes highly recommended.
This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city, and if you have 5 days in New York you can’t miss it! You will surely know it from the TV series Sex And The City – in the series, the famous Carrie Bradshaw apartment is located there. But many many more movies and TV series show bits and pieces of it. It’s a lovely area to walk around, and you can really do so independently.
Alternatively, you could consider this Greenwich Village tour that lasts 2 hours and has excellent reviews.
Washington Square Park
Washington Square is close to Greenwich Village and the best place to finish your day of exploration. Stop by to admire Stanford White’s Marble Arch that dates back to 1892 and that was erected to celebrate George Washington. The arch also features two statues of George Washington – one in time of peace and one in time of war.
This popular square also celebrates the large Italian community in the city with a statue of Italian unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, which was commissioned by Carlo Barsotti and completed in 1888 by Giovanni Turini. Finally, there’s also the bronze statue of Alexander Lyman Holley, one of the most famous engineers of the 19th century.
You will also surely spot the many artists and local families, since this is a popular meeting point and a place where children play. It’s a favorite hangout spot for people playing chess – like you may have seen in movies!
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.
If this is something you are keen on doing, my recommendation is to scout for tickets well in avance before your visit. Otherwise, if aren’t picky about what you see, you may be able to find a good deal even last minute and on the day.
OPTION 2: Metropolitan Opera House
For a more sophisticated experience, and if you like opera or ballet, opt for the Metropolitan Opera House. I actually used to live really close and went to a bunch of shows when I was there. Opera takes on a whole new level on its impressive stage.
You can check out the calendar on the official website. While there is no actual dress code to wear when attending a show at the Metropolitan Opera House, I recommend dressing a bit more formally.
The Metropolitan Opera House is located in Lincoln Center. The massive modernist buildings is quite a sight so pass by even if you don’t want to attend a show.
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 you should skip it. If you decide to do that, you will simply have more time in Brooklyn to enjoy a leisurely walk and eat a nice lunch. You could also consider going on a food tour in Little Italy and Chinatown.
I recommend this guided food tour of Little Italy that has excellent reviews. The tour starts at 12:00 pm, so if you have had an early start to your day you should have enough time to head to the starting point.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
With 5 days in New York, there is no way to skip Brooklyn Bridge and bit of Brooklyn. Last time I was in New York I actually made it a point to sleep in the area because it’s so unique and full of character.
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.
The bridge is 1,834 meters long (which is little over a mile) and can be accessed from Lower Manhattan: the pedestrian entrance is located across the street from the City Hall Park, on Centre Street.
From the bridge, you can enjoy impressive views of Manhattan. But for the best views of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, head to the nearby Brooklyn Heights Promenade, on the Brooklyn side, or to Pier 17 on the Manhattan side.
Walk or bike across the bridge for great views: lower Manhattan looks impressive from there.
Once you get off the bridge, make your way through Brooklyn Bridge Park to reach Brooklyn Heights, the first suburb of New York City. Here you can spot beautiful Victorian style buildings and historic churches. The highlight is Brooklyn Heights Promenade, from where you can see Lower Manhattan and even the Statue of Liberty.
DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is one of the coolest areas of Brooklyn, and a fun place for photos. While tourists think of DUMBO as just the overpass, this is in fact an area of Brooklyn that is unique in its own way. Think cobblestoned streets, views of Manhattan, gorgeously renovated buildings and so.
Once you are done snapping photos, head to Westville Dumbo for a salad or a sandwich.
If you wish to get a bit off the beaten path or see a part of New York that fewer tourists get to explore, head to Bushwick, on the northeastern side of Brooklyn. The area had a bad reputation all the way through the 1980s and for most of the 1990s – think dirty, isolated, and with a high crime rate.
Today, Bushwick is one of the best street art spots in the city, full of character and a safe place to explore. Lovers of street art will especially enjoy Bushwick with its murals, art galleries and much more.
Street art is fun to watch, but it really takes life when someone knowledgeable explains its history, its meaning, and shares information about the artist behind it. I recommend going on a guided tour to make the most of it. You can consider this graffiti and street art 2 hour walking tour or opt for this Bushwick street art walking tour.
I walked along this bridge for the first time to get to Manhattan from Brooklyn during my last trip to New York and thought I’d been missing out until then! Opened in 1903 to connect Brooklyn to Manhattan, Williamsburg Bridge is the second major bridge ever built across the East River. At the time it was designed for horse and carriages.
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. The area of Williamsburg is overall quite interesting to walk through.
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 Harlem Gospel tour also goes to the rest of the Bronx, including Apollo Theater and Columbia University.
How 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. This literally is an attraction pass that you get just once and that is quite convenient if you intend to visit a lot of attractions in the city. It also gives you a public transport card, which is convenient to move around town.
Make sure to get your New York Pass well before your trip. You have the option of picking between an all-inclusive pass and select its duration (5 days, since you have 5 days in New York), or a more basic pass that lets you pick the number of attractions you want to visit, but is a bit more limited. Either way, double check what’s included and what not, and don’t forget you need to make separate reservations for each attraction you want to visit.
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 – This lovely VRBO is perfect for up to 3 guests and ideal if you are visiting the city with your better half or with friends.
- PARK TERRACE HOTEL ON BRYANT PARK – Modern rooms in a perfectly central location, it’s ideal to explore the city.
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, I normally use Skyscanner but then book directly with the airline. 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 to get to downtown, it costs $8,25 USD. There are 3 different lines.
SHUTTLE – This is a bit more of an expensive option especially, though still fairly convenient. Shared transfers are cheaper but you may end up being delayed in getting to your accommodation. If you are traveling in a small group, you can book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here.
TAXI AND UBER – Trips from JFK to Manhattan work on the basis of a flat fee (at the moment, it is $70 USD. You’ll have to add a surcharge during peak hours (4:00 pm to 8:00 pm on weekdays), the airport fee, the tolls and a New York State Congestion Surcharge. 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 are very budget friendly (in the range of $3 USD), and even cheaper if you have the Metro Card. 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.
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.
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:
- What To Wear 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
- 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