2 Day New York City Itinerary: How to Spend 2 Days in NYC

Spending 2 days in New York City and looking for the best itinerary? I will share with you the best route to see the major attractions (and eat the most iconic food) in this ultimate 2 day New York City itinerary. I will also share with you travel tips to make your NYC trip the most pleasant and amazing one.

As a New York City local, I tend to take things for granted (I mean it’s so easy to just casually spend the morning in Central Park then stroll down Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue after brunch). But recently my parents who are from out of town came to visit me, so I had to put together a super efficient itinerary to show them around.

I used to pack all my itineraries to get the most out of a city. But traveling with older people is different, so I decided to put together an eventful, but not a 6am to 12am type of intense itinerary. So in this 2 day New York City itinerary, I will share with you what you can REALISTICALLY see in 48 hours (and still get adequate sleep and 3 meals a day).

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View from the Edge Observation deck in New York City

Is 2 Days Enough For New York City?

This is probably the first question you have in mind when you think about spending 2 days (or a weekend) in NYC.

To be honest I don’t think 2 days is enough to see all of NYC. If you want to see all the major attractions and have some time to explore, you ideally want 4 days in New York City or even one week in NYC instead.

2 days in New York City does give you a nice introduction to the city, and I can show you how to see some of the most famous places in the city. I will also show you what other things you can do, so you can come back and explore more in the future.

How to Get to New York City

There are 3 airports in the New York City area and 2 major train stations, therefore it is super convenient to get to NYC.

The 3 airports in New York City area include:

  • JFK: The largest international airport in New York. Located in Queens, it is easy to take the E train or the Long Island Railroad to get into Manhattan from JFK.
  • LGA: LaGuardia Airport is the other airport in New York City. It has mostly domestic flights but also has some international flights. Located in East Elmhurst in Queens, LaGuardia can be accessed by public bus as there is no subway or train from LGA.
  • EWR: Newark International Airport is located in New Jersey and it is the hub of United Airlines. You can easily take an express bus from/to Times Square and there are also trains (NJ Transit) that goes to Penn Station.

If you are planning to take the train, then there are 2 major train stations in Manhattan: Penn Station and Grand Central. Both are convenient to get around, especially if you are planning to stay at Times Square or midtown in general.

How to Get Around New York City

The best way to get around NYC is to utilize public transportation, such as the subway or bus. To take the subway or bus, I would suggest just simply using a contactless credit or debit card on the OMNI reader. If you only want to pay cash, you will need to buy a MetroCard from the ticketing machine (or from an OMNI machine to get an OMNI card).

I mostly use CityMapper to get subway/ bus directions as it is superior to Google Maps. It costs $2.90 per trip regardless of distance and you do not need to tap out. If you use the same credit/debit card, you can get all the rides for free after you take 12 rides within 7 consecutive days. You can use the same credit/ debit card for everyone in your party, but only the first swipe counts towards the 12 rides.

Another option is to take Uber/ Lyft or a taxi to get around, and I can totally understand if taking the subway intimidates you. They are more expensive than the subway and sometimes take longer due to traffic.

Whatever you do, just don’t rent a car! It is horrific to drive in New York City and even more horrific trying to find parking. Your rental car will just end up sitting in an expensive garage during your 2 days in the city.

If you are curious, be sure to read my detailed blog posts on how to take the subway and drive in New York City.

New York City Itinerary in 2 Days

This is the exact itinerary we did when my parents came to visit. Since they haven’t been in New York City for a decade, we pretty much covered all the major touristy spots as if it was their first time. We pretty much did the following:

  • Day 1: Uptown and Midtown
  • Day 2: Brooklyn Bridge, Downtown, Chelsea, Hudson Yards

This itinerary assumes you have two full days in the city, so you can maximize your day. If you have 3 days in New York (like if you land around noon or afternoon on the same day), this itinerary will work for you too.

Day 1 in New York City: Uptown and Midtown

Breakfast: At Hotel or Deli/Bagel Shop

Start your day in New York City bright and early and fill your tummy up before you start exploring. On this itinerary, you don’t need to start your first day super early, so you have plenty of time to grab some breakfast. If you are staying at a hotel with free breakfast, take advantage of that to save some money. However, as a local, I have to say that if you do that, you would be missing out on a lot of good local food.

If you are more adventurous, you can try the following for breakfast (like a local):

  • Grab an everything bagel from places like Ess-A-Bagel, Liberty Bagel, Absolute Bagel, Pop Up Bagel, Murray’s Bagel, etc
  • Get a breakfast sandwich from a street cart (any) street cart, or you can always go to Daily Provisions

Stop 1. The MET or American Museum of Natural History (2 – 3 hours)

The first stop after you get food is to go to one of the most popular museums in New York City. There are so many world-class museums in the city, with only 2 days here, you really need to just pick one museum to visit.

In general I would recommend visiting either the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET) or Natural History museum. They are both located on the side of Central Park, one on the east side and one on the west side.

If you like history and art, I would recommend you go to the MET on the east side of Central Park. It is known as the most famous museum in NYC. Inside the MET you will see different exhibits from all over the world and my favorite is the Egyptian Art exhibit where you can actually see an Egyptian temple. There is also a rooftop bar at the MET that many tourists don’t know about. If it’s a nice day, be sure to go up to the rooftop bar and check out the view.

If you like fossils and nature, or you are visiting with kids, then I would recommend you visit the American Museum of Natural History on the west side of Central Park. To me the American Museum of Natural History is the most interesting and fun museum in the city. It has one of the best dinosaur fossil collections in the world and the new wing that opened in 2023 has a lot of cool exhibits like Invisible World.

If you can’t tell already, we went to the American Museum of Natural History and my parents thoroughly enjoyed it.

Regardless of which museum you are going to, you should always buy tickets online (we made the mistake of not booking tickets ahead of time and wasted 30 minutes in line to purchase tickets). If you are visiting the American Museum of Natural History, the admission is included with a Go City New York Pass and New York CityPASS. Aim to arrive at the museum 15-20 minutes before it opens to avoid waiting.

Stop 2. Walk through Central Park (1-2 Hours)

After you visit either museum, the next stop is to walk through Central Park, the most famous urban park in the world. Central Park really is my favorite place in New York City. It really is quite amazing to have such a big park in the middle of Manhattan, especially if you know how expensive land is in Manhattan.

Some of my favorite spots in Central Park include:

  • Belvedere Castle: can you believe there is an actual castle in Central Park?
  • The Obelisk: if you are visiting the MET on the east side in April as it is one of the best magnolia spots in NYC
  • Cherry Hill: another famous beautiful cherry blossom spots in Central Park in early April
  • Bow Bridge: a very picturesque bridge near Cherry Hill where everyone takes their photos at
  • Bethesda Fountain & Terrace: beautiful fountain area where everyone takes their engagement photos at
  • The Mall: beautiful walk lined with trees and benches, especially nice during fall foliage season
  • Wollman Rink: the famous outdoor rink at Central Park; it turns into pickleball field and/or roller skating during other seasons

If you are visiting with kids, Central Park also has a zoo, a carousel (pretty pricey) and a ton of different playgrounds. You can also row a boat at the lake in Central Park.

Stop 3. Lunch

You will have a late lunch on the first day since I assume you ate breakfast before the museums and central park. If you are really hungry, there are always food carts selling pretzels in Central Park. There are also restaurants inside the park like Tavern on the Green.

If you are not picky about having to go to a nice sit down restaurant, then there are plenty of options for lunch near Central Park. You can go to The Shops at Columbus Circle as there is food there, places like Pret A Manger (for a quick bite), Tang Pavilion for Chinese, Marea for amazing Italian food. Do a Google map search and you will see all the restaurants nearby.

Stop 4. Madison Avenue & Fifth Avenue

If you happen to be on the east side of Central Park, I would highly recommend that you check out Madison Avenue first (between 72nd street and 59th street) and then walk south down Fifth Avenue.

Madison Avenue between 59th and 72nd (basically in the upper east side) is lined with designer shops, such as Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Max Mara, Laduree (yummy macarons), Oscar de la Renta, etc.

Fifth Avenue is the most famous street, known for shopping and luxury hotels. My mom and I loved walking down Fifth Avenue while we checked out Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, LV, Cartier, Prada, and Chanel (half a block away from Fifth Avenue). There are also a lot of chain stores on Fifth Avenue, like Zara, Abercrombie, etc.

There are also many famous buildings on Fifth Avenue, such as the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trump Tower, and Rockefeller Center. Depending on when you visit New York City, there are occasional car-free days on Fifth Avenue where you can freely walk on the street or even ride a bicycle.

Stop 5. Go to an Observation Deck in Manhattan

There are 5 observation decks in New York City, with 3 in midtown. If you are curious on which observation deck you should go during your 2 days in New York City, I can give you some tips, since I’ve been to all 5.

  • Top of the Rock (tickets here): located at the Rockefeller Center, gives you the best view of Central Park, Empire State Building, and the rest of Manhattan. Now it has the “beam” attraction (cost extra), that allows you to recreate an iconic photo of people sitting on a construction beam high above Manhattan. Personally I think Top of the Rock is great for views, but there’s not that much else to do.
  • Summit One Vanderbilt (tickets there): located right next to Grand Central, Summit One is the newest and the most high tech observation deck in New York City. It features multiple levels with different experiences. If you’ve seen photos of an infinity mirror room and rooms with silver balloons, then that is the one. In my opinion, Summit One is the most kid-friendly observation deck but it can get super chaotic on the weekends (like when we went).

    You can read more about the experience on my Complete Summit One Vanderbilt Guide.
  • Empire State Building (tickets there): located at Herald Square 34th Street (south of Times Square), the Empire State Building is the most iconic building in New York City. The observation deck is also the OG observation deck in NYC. Since it is old, it’s not as fancy as Summit One, but it has been renovated in recent years, so there are some interactive photo ops on the different levels of the observatory.

    You can read more about the experience on my Guide to the Empire State Building Observation Deck.

Personally I took my parents to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt because it is the most interactive and it has an amazing view of the city. But I know a lot of tourists go to Empire State Building because it’s iconic. My thinking is that if you are on the Empire State Building, you can’t see it!

Top of the Rock and Empire State Building tickets are included with a Go City New York Pass and New York CityPASS.

Stop 6. Times Square at Night

If you follow this itinerary so far, then by the time you finish the observation deck (and walking), it will probably be at least 5pm. You will spend the evening at Times Square, even though as a local I really don’t like Times Square. Times Square is between 42nd and 49th street on 7th Avenue.

Times Square is just like what you’ve seen on TV, it’s busy, it’s bright, with thousands of LED screens everywhere. (Fun fact: you can pay for a 15 second “ad” on one of the screens at Times Square for yourself, that would be such a cool memory).

But anyways, Times Square is tourist central, it has a lot of chain restaurants and stores, such as Hard Rock Cafe, Disney Store, Sephora, etc.

Dinner: Hell’s Kitchen

Listen to me and do not eat at Times Square! Food there is not good and super overpriced. No locals would ever eat at Times Square. Do yourself a favor, walk two blocks west and go get dinner in Hell’s Kitchen.

There are so many good restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, and my favorites include Pure Thai Cookhouse (Thai), Omakase by Korami (sushi), All’Antico Vinaio (sandwiches), Kashkaval Garden (Mediterranean), Totto Ramen, etc.

But if you really want to be touristy and insist on eating near Times Square, some of the tourists’ favorites include Carmine’s, Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Gallaghers Steakhouse. I’ve never been to those restaurants and probably never will (especially Ellen’s Stardust Diner and Gallaghers) but they are mentioned everywhere on travel forums and Facebook Groups

Stop 7. Watch a Broadway Show

How can one go to New York City without watching a Broadway Show? Well actually if you are from London, you can probably skip this and go to a Comedy Cellar instead (I lived in London before and watched all the shows there so Broadway doesn’t impress me since it is more expensive).

But for everyone else, watching a Broadway Show is a unique experience not to be missed in NYC. You can go to the TKTS counter in the middle of Times Square (on 47th Street) to score discount tickets. Or you can always try to get tickets online ahead of time if you are worried about a show being sold out.

Stop 8. Stop by a Rooftop Bar

We didn’t do this with my parents but if you still have energy after watching a Broadway Show, then stop by a rooftop bar! There is no shortage of rooftop bars and bars are open till 4 or 5am in NYC (although some rooftop bars may close at 2am).

You can find a lot of rooftop bars around Times Square, such as Elise Rooftop, Refinery Rooftop, Top of the Strand, cloudM, Bar 54, etc. Back when I was living in Manhattan, I really loved visiting the Press Lounge (very west, closer to Hell’s Kitchen than Times Square). So if you are not watching a Broadway Show, you can probably go to Press Lounge after dinner in Hell’s Kitchen.

And with that, there goes the first day of your 2 days in New York City!

Day 2 in New York City: Brooklyn, Downtown, Chelsea, and Hudson Yards

After an eventful first day in Manhattan, on the second day we start early-ish in the morning in Brooklyn, to see and walk the famous Brooklyn Bridge.

Stop 1. Brooklyn Bridge Park & Manhattan Bridge Photo Spot

You may wonder why we decided to go to Brooklyn Bridge first instead of going last, and the reason is because the view from Brooklyn towards Manhattan is much nicer, and also there was a viral cafe in DUMBO that I wanted to try.

We got to Brooklyn Bridge around 9:30am, but you can certainly get there earlier, especially if you want to do more on your last day in New York City.

The first stop at Brooklyn Bridge (in DUMBO) is this viral coffee shop called % Arabica. It is one of the most popular coffee shops in DUMBO because they have pretty good coffee and you get a really good view of Brooklyn Bridge. Besides % Arabica, there are a ton of good coffee shops near Brooklyn Bridge, like Butler and Dawn’s Till Dusk.

After getting coffee and some pastries, I would suggest that you walk around Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has a nice view of both the bridge and the downtown Manhattan skyline. You will also find the famous Jane’s Carousel there, as well as Time Out Market.

Another cool area to check out is west of the bridge. If you continue walking down the area near the water, eventually you can see the Statue of Liberty, albeit pretty far away and small. There are also playgrounds in that area if you are traveling with kids.

While you are in DUMBO, be sure to check out the Instagram famous photo spot of Manhattan Bridge. The spot is called “DUMBO – Manhattan Bridge View” on Google Maps. Be warned that there are always a ton of people taking the same photo and cars trying to drive through.

Dumbo iconic shot of Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn for Instagram spots in NYC

Stop 2. Walking Across Brooklyn Bridge

When you are done with the Brooklyn Bridge area, the next step is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We found the stairs to go up Brooklyn Bridge literally by searching for “Stairs to the Brooklyn Bridge” on Google Maps. From the Manhattan Bridge photo spot, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the stairs.

I mentioned earlier if you are walking towards Manhattan on Brooklyn Bridge, the view is a lot nicer since you have the downtown Manhattan skyline right in front of you the entire time.

The entire walk took us about 45 minutes, with some stops for photos. It actually took longer than I thought considering it’s only slightly over 1 mile one way to walk the bridge. I thought it would only take us 30 minutes tops but I was wrong.

Brooklyn Bridge with view of downtown Manhattan

The bridge was very crowded by the time we got there (considering it was a Saturday around 11am I wasn’t all too surprised). I had gone to Brooklyn Bridge once before around 7:30am back when I lived in downtown Manhattan and it was completely empty!

However despite the crowds, it’s still nice to walk across, get some exercises in, and take some photos.

Fun fact: there used to be a lot of street vendors selling souvenirs on the already crowded bridge, but in 2024 the city cracked down on them so there are no more vendors on the bridge (yay). But you will still find a ton of them off the bridge both in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Stop 3. Financial District

After you walk across Brooklyn Bridge, you will be getting off near city hall, which is only about a 5-10 minute walk from 911 Memorial & Museum and 10-15 minutes from Wall Street.

I would suggest visiting the Financial District in the following order:

  • Pay your respect at the 911 Memorial pools
  • Check out the beautiful Oculus, the best transit center in New York City
  • Grab food at Eataly inside the Oculus or go to O’Hara’s Restaurant and Pub
  • Check out Trinity Church
  • Walk to Wall Street to see the New York Stock Exchange from the outside
  • Continue walking down Broadway to see the Charging Bull
  • Continue south to SeaGlass Carousel (if you have kids)
  • Stop at Staten Island Ferry terminal

The reason I didn’t mention the 911 Memorial Museum is that that museum takes at least 2-3 hours. With only 2 days in New York City, if you go there you won’t be able to do too much else on this itinerary. Of course if you really want to visit, it’s a very good museum to visit. But if you just want to see major attractions, then I would suggest skipping it and coming back when you have more time here.

Financial-District-Manhattan | New York City itinerary

Similarly there is another observation deck in the Financial District, called One World Observation deck on top of the One World Trade Center. I honestly don’t think it’s worth going up given you are limited on time and you already had gone up to an observatory the day before. But if you are interested in One World Observation deck you can read my comprehensive review on it.

Stop 4. See the Statue of Liberty (For Free)

Statue of Liberty view from Staten Island Ferry

You can technically see the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park near the water. The view is obviously small since it’s not right next door, but if you just want to see it, then that’s the way to go.

If you want to get slightly closer, but don’t want to actually go on a tour (or pay a lot of money), then the next best option is to take the free Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island. Along the way the ferry will pass by the Statue of Liberty and you can see it a bit closer. After you get to Staten Island, just take the ferry back and you can see it again!

Again, with 2 days in New York City, I don’t think you will have enough time to actually go to Liberty Island to visit the Statue of Liberty. Note that there are also a lot of people trying to sell you tickets and tours to see the Statue of Liberty outside of the Staten Island Ferry terminal. I usually just ignore them and keep walking.

Stop 5. Chelsea Market

After you visit downtown, it’s time to move uptown again. This time you will be taking the E train from World Trade Center (the last stop) to 14st/ 8 Av station then walk a couple of blocks to Chelsea Market.

Chelsea Market is a famous food market in Manhattan. It’s located right under the Google office and it is a favorite for both tourists and locals. Inside Chelsea Market you will find a ton of food stalls and some stores.

Chelsea Market was literally the first place I visited when I first moved to New York City in 2015, and I still go once or twice a year now.

So depending on the time, I would recommend that you either grab dinner or a light snack at Chelsea Market. Since there are a ton of food options in Chelsea Market, I will tell you what the best things are to eat based on my experience:

  • Los Tacos No.1: This is THE best taco in New York City. Trust me, people are usually skeptical when I tell them it’s the best tacos in NYC, but after they try it, they all agree Los Tacos No.1 is pretty amazing. Chelsea Market location was the original location but now there are a few other locations, one near Times Square and another one near the World Trade Center. I have tried all their meat tacos and the pork one is by far the best!
  • Very Fresh Noodles: Ever since Xi’An Famous Foods got popular, a ton of spicy noodle shops popped up all over New York City. Very Fresh Noodles has a ton of Chinese style noodles, most are spicy though. I like the La Mei Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup as well as their Pork Dan Dan Mian (noodle).
  • Lobster Place: This seafood market has been around Chelsea Market for years and it is legit amazing. Yes, prices may be more expensive than seafood restaurants but they are really fresh. I loved getting the raw oysters and whole lobster there.
  • Ayada: I finally got a chance to try this Thai spot recently. They have all the typical Thai dishes and their most popular dishes are their noodle plates. If you are craving some Pad See Ew or Thai curry then this is the spot to go.

There are so many other food stalls in Chelsea Market that I haven’t tried (since I almost always go for Los Tacos No.1), but if you see long lines then food is probably pretty good there.

Stop 6. The High Line

NYC-Chelsea-Highline

The High Line is one of the most relaxing and unique attractions in New York City. Converted from an old rail line in 2009, the High Line is a nice walk on the west side of Manhattan. It connects Chelsea (on Gansevoort St) to Hudson Yards (34th St).

There are several stair entrances and a few elevators on the High Line, as the High Line is elevated above street level. The walk goes through art installations, luxury apartment buildings, beautiful plants and flowers and you get an opportunity to see the streets of Manhattan from high above.

You don’t need to walk the entire High Line to enjoy it, even walking a few blocks will give you a good feel on what it’s like. I had been to the High Line a couple of times years ago before it was finished. The most recent time I visited (a week before this post was written), there were new art installations and it now connects to Hudson Yards.

Since the High Line entrance is only a couple of blocks away from Chelsea Market, it is the perfect way to walk off all the food you just consumed! By the time I walked from Chelsea Market to Hudson Yards, I was ready to eat more food.

Stop 7. Hudson Yards + the Edge

If you are like me and like shiny new things, then you would like Hudson Yards. I love going to Hudson Yards since the mall there is super nice and there are more and more restaurants opening up.

When Hudson Yards first opened, people swarmed to the Vessel (the beehive shaped structure) for photos. Unfortunately you can no longer visit the Vessel due to the high number of suicides but there are rumors that it will re-open soon after they install the metal mesh (to catch people I guess). However it’s still nice to take photos in front of the Vessel (and on the ground level).

If you are visiting Hudson Yards around Christmas, then you are in for a treat. Hudson Yards is beautiful during the month of December when over 2 million LED lights lit up the entire shopping center (and outside).

The Edge is the second newest observation deck in New York City and it is at Hudson Yards. I personally love going to the Edge because of the unique photo opportunities (tickets are also included with a Go City New York Pass). In fact with Go City, you can go to Hudson Yards 1 hour before it opens to get the amazing photos without any people in it. (This also means you can do this 2nd day itinerary in reverse order).

Hudson Yards is also great for shopping, as all the designer brands like Cartier, LV, Van Cleef are located inside the mall. I just recently picked up a Van Cleef bracelet from Hudson Yards (instead of Fifth Avenue) since it’s way less crowded.

But anyway, if you didn’t eat at Chelsea Market, you can totally go to the Spanish themed food court Mercardo Little Spain downstairs, go to one of the restaurants inside the mall. You can also eat at the Peak, the restaurant above the Edge, so you can visit the Edge without paying admission.

Stop 8 (Optional). Harbor Light Sightseeing Cruise

What’s a better way to end your 2 days in New York City than a sightseeing cruise? If you have time, you can take the evening cruise (at 7pm) from Pier 83 to see the Manhattan skyline from the Hudson River.

If you are impressed by the Manhattan skyline during the day, then you would be even more impressed at night, when the sun sets and the lights are on.

The cruise takes you from Hudson River down to Statue of Liberty then to Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge before turning back to Pier 83. The total time takes about 2 hours.

This will conclude your awesome 2 day New York City trip!

Where to Stay For 2 Nights

The best place to stay for 2 nights in New York City is probably Midtown. Midtown includes Times Square, Bryant Park, Herald Square, and the 5th Avenue area. While Midtown is not the cheapest place to stay, it is very convenient for such a short trip.

I suggest Midtown because there are so many subway lines that stop both at Times Square, Bryant Park and Herald Square and there are people around ALL the time.

The hotels with the best reviews in Midtown include Pod Times SquareRiu PlazaRadio City Apartments.

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2 Day New York City Itinerary
Perfect 2 Day New York City itinerary


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