New York City is the stuff of dreams, by turns mesmerising, inspiring and fascinating in equal turns. There’s so much to see in the city that never sleeps, a little bit of planning before you travel to New York will help you maximise your time there. If you’re going on holiday to New York, this travel itinerary will give you a taste of the best things to do in NYC that you can fit into 7 days.
Things to do in NYC | Day 1: Midtown Manhattan
Once you’ve checked in, put on your walking shoes and head out in the Big Apple. The best way to tackle all the sights of New York City is to divide your 7 days in New York into sections. Alternatively, if you prefer to get the lay of the land before you embark exploring off on your own, a New York tour is a great way to orient yourself and get a feel for what to do in New York.
On your first day in New York, head to the heart of Midtown Manhattan, where you’ll find the gracious arches of Grand Central Terminal. Plenty of movie scenes have been shot in the grand concourse, with its beautiful sky of hand painted stars, but for something a little off the beaten track, head down into Whispering Gallery, located in front of the Oyster Bar & Restaurant. You’ll need a friend (or an accommodating stranger) for this – stand at opposite diagonal arches and whisper to each other – you’ll hear each other’s’ voices telegraphed from across the way. While you’re here, drop by the Oyster Bar for a quick lunch of a couple of oysters on ice and a beer (or two). A New York institution in its own right, the restaurant has been serving punters since 1913 and with its marble arches, red and white checkered table cloths and vintage décor, feels like a throwback to another age. The seafood is fresh and sourced daily – reservations are recommended for dinner.
There are roasted chestnut sellers, hotdog vendors, touts selling tickets, makeshift stalls hawking bags and watches and jewellery, tourists crowding the streets and lights, movement, noise everywhere. The city ensnares me in her claws, tosses me in a maelstrom of bright sounds and flashing sirens and the smell and breath of other people jostling shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalks.
From here, walk to the cacophony of Times Square, passing by the NY Public Library on the way. The lions guarding the entrance are the symbol of the Library, and were named Patience and Fortitude by a 1930s New York mayor. Bryant Park is located around the corner, where at any given time you’ll find office workers having lunch, an outdoor city event, the occasional movie scene being shot and concession stands and cafes. You’ll also spot the towering presence of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler from Midtown, both symbols of the city. Wandering around and exploring Manhattan’s streets is one of the best things to do in NYC – you can really get a feeling for how big and sprawling the Big Apple really is from ground level.
At Times Square, the best thing to do is to grab a drink and a seat in the middle of the action. Watch out for the Naked Cowboy (or Cowgirl), try to spot the visitors taking selfies, soak in the bright flashing lights and neon signs. There is a Tkts booth here where, if you’re lucky, you can buy Broadway or off-Broadway tickets for a discounted price. Some of New York’s longest running and most popular musicals include Wicked, Hamilton, The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera, but availability varies and there’s always something new for the season. Buy a ticket for tonight, and head out to Broadway for a classic New York City experience.
Where to stay in New York
There are plenty of accommodation options in New York City and your experience of the city can be influenced by where you decide to set up shop. With just 7 days in New York, staying in Manhattan will be your best option so that you maximise the time you have in New York. The area around Times Square is perpetually popular with tourists – surrounded by plenty of hotels, subway lines, restaurants and shops, it’s a good place to base yourself for 7 days in New York City, but real New Yorkers avoid Times Square like the plague.
Instead, look for AirBnB rooms or boutique hotels like the Ace Hotel, a cool boutique hotel just south of Times Square. Only 10 minutes walk from Madison Square Garden and close to subway stops, restaurants and New York attractions, the rooms here are spacious (for New York!) and decked out in vintage inspired décor. Other design friendly budget hotels in New York are Pod 39 and Pod 51, sister hotels in East Midtown. Bright, white, and welcoming rooms come equipped with LCD televisions, MP3 docking stations and ensuites. There’s a also a concierge, café and rooftop garden on site, perfect for soaking up the New York skyline with a sundowner. If you’re after a more traditional hotel, try the Leon Hotel, which was refurbished and rebranded in 2015. Close to the Lower East Side and Nolita, the hotel is perfectly placed for bars and restaurants in the area.
Things to do in NYC | Day 2: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
On your second day, start the day with brunch, a New York Institution, especially on weekends. Recommendations include Agave in the West Village for bottomless margaritas, Russ and Daughters Café in the LES for all things smoked salmon or Jack’s Wife Freda in Soho for a Mediterranean spin.
After you’ve fuelled up, make your way down to Wall Street, to check out the city’s financial hub. The statue of the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl are nearby, as is the New York Stock Exchange and are worth a stop. From here, it’s an easy walk down to Battery Park, where you’ll find the ferries departing for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours. This will take up most of your early morning and afternoon, so get there early and book your tickets in advance. Alternatively, if you just want a closer look at the Lady you can DIY a Statue of Liberty tour and hop onto the Staten Island ferry, which will pass Liberty Island. You won’t be able to get off for a close up, but there are good views from the ferry.
To round out your day, stop by the 9/11 memorial, with its two huge reflecting pools and the underground museum onsite. Tickets should be bought in advance if possible – the last time I was there the queue was huge!
At night, kick back and relax in one of New York’s hidden bars in the Lower East Side. My favourite is Angel’s Share, a cocktail bar hidden upstairs next to a ramen shop in the Lower East Side. If it’s busy, try Attaboy, a tiny space at 134 Eldridge Street run by the mixologists from Milk & Honey. There’s plenty of delicious cocktails to be had here – throw yourself at the mercy of the bartenders, there’s no menus here. Lastly, to round out your night, pay homage to the Prohibition era with drinks at the Back Room, a speakeasy style bar where the cocktails are served from teacups and beers are wrapped up in brown paper bags. The Back Room can be found down the stairs of the Lower East Side Toy company, through the back alley and up again the stairs to the entrance – the doorman is the giveaway that you’ve found it.
Things to do in NYC | Day 3: West Side Story
Today, head out to Manhattan’s west, starting with breakfast at Chelsea Market. Browse through the many stalls here offering artisanal deli goods and fresh produce. Either eat as you go or if the weather permits, pack a picnic and make your way to the High Line – there’s an entrance on 14th Street. New York’s first (and only) elevated park, the former railroad line is now an oasis of plants, birds and flowers.
In the afternoon, take your time and wander through the Meatpacking district, which is now filled with boutiques, studios and galleries. Once you’ve had your fill, jump on the subway and make your way to the Upper West Side, where the highlights include the Gothic church of St John the Divine, Columbus Circle, the Natural History Museum and if you’re a Beatles fan – Strawberry Fields and the Dakota, the apartment block where John Lennon lived.
If you’re interested in one of New York’s hottest (and most avant garde) theatre acts, book tickets for Sleep No More, an immersive, site-specific production created by Punchdrunk, a British theatre company. Primarily based on Macbeth, the experience will be like no theatre act you’ve seen before. The earlier time slots will give you the most time, so try to reserve those in advance.
Things to do in NYC | Day 4: Midtown day out
On your fourth day in New York City, blend in with the locals and have brunch at Sarabeth (reservations recommended) in Midtown, then put on your shopping shoes and make your way down 5th Avenue to pay homage to the temples of consumerism of Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Blendel, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Avenue, and all the shops in between along 5th Avenue.
There’s also great vintage or consignment shopping in New York – try INA’s, located downtown, Michael’s, on the Upper East Side, or Beacon’s Closet on 13th Street. Stock can vary considerably, and both INA and Beacon’s Closet have other locations in New York, so if you don’t find something you love in one place, try the others.
After all that shopping, put your feet up at the Russian Tea Room in Midtown. There’s been numerous renovations through the years but the venue still boasts faded glamour. You can pop in for a drink or go all out and plump for the afternoon tea menu, with sandwiches and blinis.
For night time entertainment, go to the Comedy Cellar. The acts here change depending on when you go and you should buy tickets ahead of time. After the show, head on out and party on at some of the surrounding bars, or head on back to your hotel to rest up for another New York day tomorrow.
Things to do in NYC | Day 5: Central Park & Museums
After all the activity of your first four days in New York it’s time to slow down a little. The best way to relax in the city that never sleeps? Do what New Yorkers do and head into Central Park, the green leafy lung in the middle of Manhattan. Cycle, run or simply stroll the many miles of trails in the Park. You could spend hours wandering here and exploring sights like Bethesda Fountain, the Boathouse and Bow Bridge. If you’re looking for a brunch or lunch spot you can’t go past Loeb Boathouse, with stunning views of the lake.
In the afternoon, head to your choice of world class museums around Central Park – the Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, or the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. For dinner, have a burger and milkshake at the iconic Shake Shack – there are 5 locations in Midtown, but if you end your explorations on Museum Mile on the Upper East Side, make your way to the Shake Shack on 86th Street – it’s much quieter than the one at Madison Square Park.
For a view of New York’s skyline, book tickets to the Top of the Rock on the Rockefeller Center. Visits are divided into time slots, so for the best views, choose the sunset hours so you can capture New York’s skyline as the sky turns colour and the lights turn on. The view here is better than from the top of the Empire State Building, as you actually get to see the Empire State Building in your pictures and it’s cheaper!
Things to do in NYC | Day 6: New York City excursions
New York City is more than just Manhattan, so on your second last day, grab a map and your subway pass and head to Brooklyn. Grab a quick breakfast then walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and explore Dumbo. There’s cafes, restaurants shops and galleries aplenty here, and after you’re done, catch the subway up to Williamsburg, where the hipsters congregate. If you have a little time leftover and it’s a weekend, check out the Brooklyn Flea Market and catch the East River ferry back across the water to Manhattan.
If Brooklyn doesn’t, excite, how about options further afield? You can take a trip out of the city and visit Woodbury in New Jersey for designer outlet shopping, or for those wanting to pack more in, take a train out to Boston for a day, or perhaps a day trip to Washington D.C. instead.
Things to do in NYC | Day 7: Last farewells
On your last day in NYC, revisit all your favourite sights, or take the time to go to the spots you may have missed, whether that’s an attraction, a must-eat restaurant, a hidden bar, or a cool shop. New York is filled with discoveries to be made, and it wouldn’t be a week in New York without checking a random recommendation that may become your favourite New York memory. I’ve left this last day a blank canvas for you to fill with any or all of your personal New York City things to do.
There is plenty of things to do in NYC and the best bars, restaurants and must-see attractions are always changing – tell me what have I missed? What are some of your favourite New York City things to do, see and eat?