Seeing New York in 2 days can definitely be a bit of a challenge and you can only scratch the surface with that amount of time. This is a city that deserves a lot of time and even if you live there for months, like I have, you won’t get to see it all.
If 2 days is all you have, I will do my best to make sure you make the most of the city. With my carefully researched itinerary – which minimizes the amount of time you spend moving from place to place – you’ll get to see the most famous landmarks. You’ll have to keep your timing – eat lunch on the go, drink a cup of coffee to keep you going, and finally sit down for a meal at dinner.
This post is packed with tips and hacks that will help you skip the lines, save a few bucks here and there, and – most importantly, see New York in 2 days.
For more options, you should also read my post The Best Things To Do In New York City.
The Best Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
A Few Useful Tips
The assumption for this itinerary is that you have at least 2 full days in New York, and that you’ll be sleeping there 3 nights. This itinerary is packed, but if you follow my tips it is totally doable:
HAVE AN EARLY START – Head out no later than 8:00 am every day.
HAVE LUNCH ON THE GO – Sit down for a meal just for dinner. There are plenty of spots where you can have lunch on the go along this itinerary.
GET SKIP-THE-LINE-TICKETS – You really must book entries to all the tourist attractions in advance. If you don’t do this, you may end up stuck in the line at the ticket counter or, in the worst case scenario, you will get to the attraction and find out that it is sold out. I will let you know any time I recommend making advanced reservations.
VISIT ATTRACTIONS CLOSE TO EACH OTHER – This will help you minimize the use of public transportation and maximize your time.
FOLLOW THE SUGGESTED ROUTE – For both days, I will tell you the starting point and link to a Google map. You can use public transportation to get to your starting point and to get back to your hotel at night.
You will visit the most important landmarks in New York and a couple of more that will make your experience even more memorable.
This itinerary will keep you out and about for a good 12 hours each day. If you feel it’s too much, cut on a couple of attractions – ie, skip the Statue of Liberty and opt for the express ferry ride around it; or don’t go up the World Trade Center Observatory.
Finally, continue reading to discover what to see and do in New York in 2 days.
Click here to open up the map for your first day. You’ll be able to see the walking distance from place to place, and can rearrange the order in which you visit the attractions.
To take away the edge of having to plan your day, I recommend this Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island & 9/11 Tour with Priority One World Observatory Tickets tour by Take Walks – it goes to most of the attractions you are meant to visit on your first day and you are guaranteed a hassle free time.
Recommended lunch spots
BATTERY PARK – You will find several eateries, delis and bakeries to grab a quick bite before you continue exploring. The easiest thing to do is eating lunch right after you get off the ferry from the Statue of Liberty.
EATALY – Located south of the Oculus, you will find plenty of Italian style quick bites.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Even if you have just 2 days in New York, the Statue of Liberty is a must-see. One of the most popular city landmarks (though actually located in New Jersey’s territory), it’s considered the symbol of the United States. The statue was donated by France in the 19th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
I recommend booking your tickets in advance and planning for the earliest available option so as to have more time for the rest of the attractions.
Get to Battery Park to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty: be there well in advance as there may be a bit of a line to get on the boat, and make it a point to catch the first ferry which departs at 8:30 am.
The views from the ferry are splendid. Once you get there, you can go to the Pedestal, where there is an interesting museum about the history of the statue, and even the crown. Most guided tour options also include a visit of Ellis Island, which is a nice way of learning more about the history of immigration to the United States.
Here are my recommendations:
Statue of Liberty pedestal express and Ellis island – one of the shortest tours, it lasts 3 hours so it’s perfect if you want just a short experience.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island early access tour – one of the best options for early tours, it lasts a total of 4 hours and you can get an optional audio-guide.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour from Battery Park – this is a proper no-frill option which is perfect for travelers on a limited budget.
Tours of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island last between 3 and 4 hours. If you feel that’s too much, opt for this 60-minutes cruise without disembarking.
For a more detailed guide, head over to my post A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
There is no doubt that with 2 days in New York you must visit the 9/11 Memorial. To me, it’s a special place to remember a bit of my life – I was in New York at the time of the attacks, as I was working for the United Nations. But really it’s an event we should all remember.
Made up of twin reflecting pools meant to be the footprints of the Twin Towers, the Memorial is one of the city’s most important landmarks. You will get to see a man made waterfall – the largest in North America; and the bronze plaques with the names of those who died in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks.
The exhibit of the Museum is very comprehensive in its recollection of the history of the attacks. It’s quite a touching experience, but a must do nonetheless.
You can opt for either a guided tour or a simple skip the line ticket for the museum. Either way, factor in about 2 hours to explore and make sure to book your tickets or tours in advance.
You may want to consider this guided tour for 9/11 Memorial and Museum: it lasts up to 2.5 hours depending on the option you pick and it’s quite budget friendly.
Check out my post How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.
World Trade Center Observatory
If you follow this New York in 2 days itinerary, you will likely make it to the World Trade Center at around 3:30 pm. Plan to spend around one hour there before continuing your exploration.
With its 541 meters, this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, standing proud where the World Trade Center once stood, and one of the best places for views of the city – you can see all the way to the Statue of Liberty.
You need to book your One World Observatory ticket in advance.
If you are running on time, pop inside the Oculus. This incredible building inaugurated in March 2016 works as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub and is a major transportation join in Lower Manhattan.
It was built over the site of a mall that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks and much like its predecessor, it now also functions as a shopping mall – you can also grab a bite there. It’s worth going to observe the incredible architecture, the work of famous architect Calatrava.
Wall Street is really close to the World Trade Center and on the way to Brooklyn Bridge. This is one of the most famous streets in the world – I am sure you’ve seen it a million times in TV shows, movies and news.
Make sure not to miss the statue of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl. If you feel you have time, you can also spot the lovely Trinity Church. It’s quite special as it is built in Gothic style and located among the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan. There even is a small cemetery next to it, where Alexander Hamilton’ is buried.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
Completed in 1883 to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East river, Brooklyn Bridge is the first ever suspension bridge built. You can walk across it: the views of the bridge, as well as the views from the bridge are truly stunning.
The 1,834 meters long (which is little over a mile) bridge can be accessed from Lower Manhattan: you will find the pedestrian entrance across the street from the City Hall Park, on Centre Street.
Once you get off the bridge, head to Brooklyn Heights Promenade for the best views of Lower Manhattan.
Brooklyn Heights, on the other side of Manhattan from the bridge, is the first suburb of New York City. It is a gorgeous area, with beautiful old buildings, historic churches and – from the Brooklyn Promenade – a spectacular view of Lower Manhattan, which includes New York Harbor and even the Statue of Liberty.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll get there in time for sunset, or in the evening – in which case you’ll get a splendid view of all the illuminated buildings of Manhattan.
You really don’t need a tour to walk across Brooklyn Bridge, but it may be fun to do anyways! I recommend this 2-hour Brooklyn Bridge bike tour for a truly uniique experience.
Spending more than 2 days in New York? Make sure to consider the other things to do in Brooklyn.
Click here to see the map for the recommended New York itinerary for your second day. I am giving you 3 options as a starting point, so you can easily adjust the map based on which museum you decide to visit – they are all located close to Central Park. Feel free to ditch the attractions you are not interested in!
Recommended lunch spots
THE PLAZA FOOD HALL – Located outside the southern entrance of Central Park, you’ll find a variety of places where you can grab a quick meal.
SARABETHS CENTRAL PARK SOUTH – A more pricey option in case you’d rather sit down for a meal, it’s one of the best restaurants in the area.
OPTION 1: Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are so many museums in New York that it’s hard to pick which one to visit and if you have just 2 days in town you will have to narrow down your choices.
My favorite is by far the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), known to be one of the best art galleries in the world. The museum, which first opened in 1870, has an impressive collection that spans for over 5000 years with pieces that range from ancient Egypt to the modern era.
It is a huge museum – if you are into it, you may even spend a full day browsing the collection. When I lived in New York I’d visit on a regular basis, but you won’t have time to spend more than a few hours there unfortunately.
MET is open every day. It’s closed on Wednesday. Get your tickets online here.
OPTION 2: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The MoMA is an exceptional museum in New York. This gallery first opened in 1929 and became one of the most prominent contemporary art galleries in the world. It is home to some truly iconic works of modern art.
You can see paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Warhol, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali and Pollock. There also are exhibits on architecture and pop culture that are interesting to see.
MOMA is open every day, with longer hours on Saturdays. You can buy tickets to MoMa in advance to skip the lines here.
OPTION 3: The Guggenheim
If you are a design freak, opt for the Guggenheim. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and opened in 1959, the exhibits are ever changing so make sure to check what’s on when you are planning to visit by checking out the museum website.
The museum is open every day but Tuesday. You can get your ticket here.
Check out my post The Best Museums In NYC.
You will honestly be impressed by how an urban park can make you feel so distant from the buzz of the city. In fact, this is the exact purpose for which Central Park was opened in 1858: to give city dwellers a countryside feeling and a break from the chaos of the city.
Central Park is huge (315 hectares) and – great news – it is free to visit. The best landmarks in Central Park are: Strawberry Fields, aka John Lennon’s memorial; Bethesda fountain and terrace; Belvedere Castle; the Lake and Gapstow Bridge.
Fitness enthusiasts should take the opportunity to go for a run in Central Park – it will be a nice addition to your New York in 2 days itinerary and will give you the possibility to mix among the locals.
If you want, you can explore the park by bike. You can book your bike rental here.
Do not ride a horse pulled carriage in Central Park, or anywhere in New York. These animals are often exploited. Read more about responsible tourism on my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is perfectly located on Fifth Avenue, near the south corner of Central Park, so you can quickly pop in for a visit. This Neo Gothic style church was first inaugurated in 1878 to give a larger place of worship to the Roman Catholic Irish community that had until then met in a church by the same name on Mulberry Street.
Inside, the church is astonishing. Peek in to take a look at the painted glass and at O. Partridge statue made to look like a much larger version of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Not far from St. Patrick’s Cathedral you’ll find Rockefeller Center, a series of buildings in Art Deco style that were commissioned by the oil magnate Rockefeller family. The center is famous for the Christmas tree – so make sure not to skip it if you are visiting around Christmas season.
There you will also find the Top of the Rock, a 1930s skyscraper. You can go up for impressive views of Midtown and Downtown, but keep in mind that entrance is timed and you need to get tickets in advance. Once up, the observation deck spreads across three floors, and is both indoors and outdoors.
You’ll likely only have time to go up one skyscraper. I recommend the Empire State Building.
Grand Central Terminal
You may pass through Grand Central when visiting New York, as this is a major transportation terminal. Either way, make it a point to go and to actually explore it a bit. The station was built in 1913 and it is a gorgeous building, with shops, restaurants and more.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building was completed in 1931 and at the time it was the tallest building in the world. It is the place to go for breathtaking views of the city. Go at sunset, and you will be impressed. Go at night, and you’ll get the chills. You can even go at sunrise if you have the budget to splurge.
I recommend getting tickets in advance for the Empire State Building, as it is one of the most popular attractions in New York City. You can opt to get Empire State Building Observatory tickets, which is the most basic option.
Otherwise you could consider this Empire State Building day and night entry which gives you the chance of actually going up twice in a day and experience the views in a different light, or this Empire State Building sunrise experience to see the city as the sun rises.
Want more views? Make sure to read my post Where To Get The Best Views In New York.
Times Square is one of the most iconic landmarks in New York – the kind of place that, much like the Statue of Liberty or Wall Street, you always see in movies, TV shows and news. The square actually became famous as a popular nightlife spot at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Broadway and off Broadway theaters all around it.
It’s in the heart of Downtown Manhattan – close to Grand Central Terminal and Madison Square Garden, so you really can’t skip it. Your New New York itinerary ends there, so you’ll see it at night, when all the lights are shining.
Using A 48 Hours New York Pass
You may want to consider a New York Pass to enjoy discounts (you can save up to 41% in total) and skip the line to a lot of attractions.
The New York CityPass includes entrance to many of the attractions mentioned in this itinerary, including the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum; the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. City passes usually come with transportation.
You can get your New York pass here. You will have to make separate reservations for each attraction you intend to visit with your city pass.
Practical Tips To Make The Most Of New York In 2 Days
Where to stay
There are many excellent places to stay in New York. If you only have 2 days in New York you are better off staying in Manhattan – that’s where you will mostly be exploring anyways.
However, Manhattan is actually huge! If you go near Madison Square Garden or Lincoln Center, you will be right at the center of the action, but it’ll be chaotic. You can opt for the southern bits for a quieter atmosphere where you can easily walk around.
These are the best places to stay in Manhattan:
- French Quarters has nice, cozy room – though a bit small. It’s conveniently located at walking distance from a lot of attractions.
- Hotel 50 Bowery is a nice boutique hotel located in Chinatown, with nice, larger rooms.
- CitizenM New York Times Square has comfortable, well organized rooms in contemporary style and in an excellent location. Top floor rooms are better but more expensive.
How to get to New York
New York is very well connected to the rest of the world through its airports. I recommend flying to JFK as it’s the best connected to the city. Skyscanner is the best site to look for flight deals.
Getting from JFK to Manhattan
There are several ways to get from JFK airport to Manhattan. You can use the bus, taxis, uber and even the AirTrain and subway.
TAXI – Taxis from JFK are the easiest way to get to Manhattan. You don’t have to worry about the price as they have a flat rate to which you just need to add the tolls, a surcharge during peak hours (between 4:00 and 8:00 pm on weekdays) and the New York State Congestion Surcharge.
UBER – It costs more or less the same as taxis – if you don’t have internet to use the app, or don’t have the app on your phone, just get a taxi as it is much easier.
SHUTTLES – A much cheaper yet comfortable option to get to Manhattan. They start at around $20 and can be booked online beforehand. You can book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here.
AIRTRAIN – Costing just $8,25, the air train takes you to Manhattan for a fraction of the price of private transportation. Beware that the AirTrain has 3 different lines.
How to move around New York
This itinerary was drafted to minimize the use of public transportation. You will need to use it to get to your starting point each day, and back to your hotel in the evening.
You can easily move around New York by subway, which works 24/7 – but service is a bit limited at night. In any case New York is served by an incredible web of buses, and there are yellow cabs and Uber.
Luggage storage in New York
If you need to drop your bags somewhere, you may want to check LuggageHero to see what the most convenient location for you is. Among the storage locations you will find Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and Times Square.
Other useful tips
Get a data plan for your smartphone
It may be a good idea to verify whether your smartphone will be working in New York and that you have enough data to allow you to navigate the internet if necessary – at least Google Maps. In doubt, you can still download the maps to use them offline.
Mind the scams
As all proper tourist destinations, New York is not immune to scams. Watch out for costume characters posing for photos in Times Square – they will demand a tip as soon as you take a photo with them. And remember the Staten Island ferry is free! Also beware of the typical taxi scams and of pickpockets, especially when riding the subway.
Get a good travel insurance
Whether you visit New York in 2 days or in 2 months, make sure to get a good travel insurance. Get yours here.
Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:
- What To Wear In New York
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- 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