Best Things to Do on a Short Visit to New York City

Bow Bridge and The Lake, Central Park
A view of The Lake, Central Park

The average length of stay in New York City (NYC) is 2-3 nights for domestic tourists and 7 nights for international tourists. Given that there is so much to do in NYC and most people have very limited time, it is important to prioritise what you want to see and do.

I lived in New York for 5 months back in 2013 and I visit there frequently since so I have experienced a fair bit of what the city has to offer. Here are my recommendations of what to do if you are in New York for less than a week.

1. Central Park is both the heart and lungs of the city and is definitely a highlight. It is very large and so I would try and visit it on two separate occasions if you can. A great way to get an overview of the park is to rent bikes and cycle around it. You are not allowed to cycle on the pedestrian pathways so you will need to get off frequently to walk your bikes to many of the park’s lakes and attractions. One option would be to bike on one visit and do a walking exploration on another. If you like bush walking I recommend taking time out to explore the wooded area (called the Rambles) just north of The Lake on the west side of the park, and the Northern Woods at the north end. My favourite areas of Central Park are: The view across The Lake towards the San Remo towers, the Bethesda Terrace; The Pond; The Conservatory Water, and the Conservatory Gardens (near the north-east end of the park. I have grown to love the views across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Resevoir too. Climbing Belvedere Castle gives great views of Turtle Pond (with real live turtles) and the Great Lawn too.

The Pond
The Pond, south-eastern end of Central Park

2. You are in New York so it is almost compulsory to see a Broadway show. We saw Pippen, The Book of Mormon and Matilda. Matilda and Pippen are great family entertainment. The Book of Mormon is definitely adult-only but hilarious and my favourite.

3. If you are in NYC for only a few days I do think going on a tour of Manhattan to get your bearings is a good idea. You can then decide what areas you want to go back and take a closer look at. The generic bus tours don’t look very appealing to me (everyday I saw people being herded on and off them) but there are plenty of different tours to choose from if you look online. Friends of ours (see link above) did their own walking tour of (almost) the length of Broadway, but that might be taking things a bit far! Going for a boat cruise around Manhattan is another great way to see the city and I can recommend that, especially the ones that feature the city’s amazing architecture.

4. Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and get fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River. I recommend going to the Brooklyn Bridge Park one evening as the views of the Manhattan skyline are even more spectacular at night when the skyscrapers are lit up.

Manhattan skyline at night from Brooklyn Bridge Park

5. I love the architecture of New York’s historic high rises and other old buildings. Other than the obvious Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, my favourites are: the Woolworth Building, the Flatiron Building, Grand Central Station, Carnegie Hall, and the Carlyle and Plaza Hotels. A modern skyscraper with an unique and abstract architecture is 8 Spruce St, which is best viewed from directly below.

Woolworth Building

6. Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) and of the American Museum of Natural History. If you have extra and/or rainy days, or you’re an arts’ buff, go to the Frick, Guggenheim and/or the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). The Met and the Frick are my favorites. Check out my post on the times and days of the week you can visit these art galleries for free or a donation.

7. Visit the Statue of Liberty. You can go on a boat tour to the statue or, if you want to save money and don’t mind seeing it from a reasonable distance, you can take a free return trip on the Staten Island Ferry. It takes about an hour all up to do this. If you are interested in immigrant history like myself, I would recommend the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

8. If Jazz music is your thing you will want to visit the iconic Village Vanguard in the West Village. For an authentic world music experience there is the Shrine Bar/Restaurant/Club in Harlem which has live music every night. We love stand up comedy and have had a few great night’s entertainment at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Best to check their website and make a reservation as it is very popular.

8 Spruce St, lower Manhattan.


  1. //

    The last time I went to NYC I was actually business and even though I was 5 minutes from Central Park I wasn’t able to make it there. I did visit the Empire State Building and took the Staten Island Ferry. There is just so much to do in the city that never sleeps.

  2. //

    Great list! I’ve never had much time in NYC so the Met is still something I need to do!

  3. //

    New York is my favorite city, can’t wait to get back there.

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