NYC, a city forever in flux, is impossible to “see” in one visit. You just have to resign yourself to that fact, unless you move here (and maybe not even then), you’ll only barely scratch the surface! However, there are ways to make the most of the limited time we have. So, as I get ready to leave NYC after living here for 3.5 years, I want to give you my suggested four-day itinerary for your next visit here:
Day 1Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
Though the line for the ferry from Battery Park is long, if you get there early, you can avoid most of it. (Come late and you’ll have to wait a few hours.) The Statue of Liberty is spectacular to see up close (she’s as big as you imagine), but the real highlight of this combo is Ellis Island, where you can learn about the immigrant experience and get a sense of the people who helped build NYC (you’ll even find my family’s name inscribed on the wall!). There’s such a great sense of history there that you can’t help but to be impressed.
Tip: If the line’s too long and you don’t want to wait, take the free Staten Island ferry for photos of the statue and harbor.
Take a photo with the famous bull and then walk to Wall Street and see where all those bankers destroyed the economy. There’s heavy security in the area, but you can sit and watch people whiz in and out of buildings on their way to cause some other financial disaster.
Trinity Church is one of the oldest churches in America. The original building burned down in 1776, but the current church is still beautiful, with an ornate gothic style structure. The church is most famous for its colonial graveyard, where you’ll find many famous Americans, including Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.
World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial and Museum
The recently opened “Freedom Tower” gives you a panoramic view of the city, and there is also a lot of information about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On the elevator up, you can also see images of the historical development of NYC. At the bottom of the tower is a park commemorating the victims of the attacks along with an extensive museum. The museum houses moving exhibits about the significance of 9/11. For an additional fee (on top of the entrance fee), there are guided tours.
Right near City Hall (see the next entry), the Brooklyn Bridge offers an easy 25-minute walk into Brooklyn and the waterfront park on the other side. Stopping to take photos and meandering along the way will make the walk about 40 minutes. You get a lot of wonderful views of downtown as you make your way across (and especially from the park). I enjoy doing this walk at night, when downtown Manhattan is all lit up.
Empire State Building
After you finish up with lower Manhattan, jet up to this historic landmark in New York City. The 1930s art deco interior is beautiful, and the view from the top is breathtaking. You can get a real feel for how densely populated New York is as you stare out at the city. Get here early or during lunchtime to avoid the lines and tour groups.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is the city’s historic train station. It was going to be torn down in 1975 but was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy, who raised money for its preservation. There are free historical tours on Wednesdays. I love coming to the main concourse and looking up at the “stars” in the ceiling and people-watching as everyone races to and fro. All those people — where do they go? What do they do? Also, there’s an amazing eatery in the basement called the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. And for fancy (and expensive) cocktails, visit the Campbell Apartments and step back into the 1920s (dress code enforced). The space was once the office of John W. Campbell, a member of the New York Central Railroad’s board of directors and finance tycoon from the 1920s.
This area is always filled with hustle and bustle. Wander around Rockefeller Center to see where they film The Today Show, shop, snack, and take the elevator to the “Top of the Rock” for another bird’s-eye view of the city (which I personally think it better than the Empire State Building, since from the top of here you can get that building in your picture too!).
No matter when you go to Times Square, it will be packed with people (usually other tourists). There are pedestrian areas where you can sit and hang out. If you aren’t shopping or eating or seeing a show, there isn’t much to do in the area (and no New Yorker hangs out there), but it’s still a fabulous place to people-watch for a few minutes from the top of the red steps of the TKTS kiosk.
The perfect way to relax in the city and leave the crowds behind is to spend the day in Central Park. It’s free, there are lots of paths to walk (or run), bike lanes, lakes to row in, and a zoo. Since the park covers over 150 square blocks, it’s easy to spend hours wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions (line up early for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park). From the late spring to the early fall, there are free guided walks run by the parks service on Saturdays at 11am. I’m a big fan of laying out in Sheep’s Meadow on a hot, sunny day with a book, some food, and a bottle of wine.