How to Organize Your Time in New York City

How to Organize Your Time in New York City

Planning a trip to New York City can be overwhelming!  It’s America’s largest city and there are so many things to see and do.  With just a few days, or even several days, you won’t be able to see everything this city has to offer.  From world class museums, famous sights, shows to see, and epic views to take in, you have to take your pick of what makes it onto your itinerary.  In this guide, we share ideas on how to organize your time in New York City.

Day 1

OPTION 1

  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • Lunch – Industry Kitchen
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Tenement Museum

OPTION 2 * rec with very young children or those looking for a quicker option

  • Staten Island Ferry to see Statue of Liberty
  • Sea Glass Carousel
  • Lunch – Industry Kitchen
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Tenement Museum

The red icons mark the sites from Day One Itinerary

Your first stop today will be lower Manhattan to see the Statue of Liberty.  How you choose to do so will depend on how much time you have.  We have done both – taking the ferry to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty up close and continuing on to Ellis Island.  Our kids were 5, 7, and 10 when we did this and they loved it.  On our most recent trip to NYC, we took the Staten Island Ferry, a commuter ferry, which just so happens to cruise past the Statue of Liberty.  While, it’s quick and free, in my opinion, unless you are short on time, go with option one.  

To get to Liberty Island & Ellis Island there is only one way to do so, Statue Cruises.  You have a few options for add ons to general admission such as visiting the base of the Statue of Liberty or a guided tour of Ellis Island.  Be sure to check out the website to find the tour that is right for you.  We just purchased general admission and felt that was perfect.  We had great views of the Statue of Liberty while exploring Liberty Island and then went on to tour Ellis Island at our leisure.  

The view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry

If you opted for option 2, you will be back to Manhattan a lot quicker.  If with younger kids, consider the three minute walk to the Sea Glass Carousel.  It’s a beautifully lit indoor carousel which is a nice break from history and sightseeing for kids.

The colorful Sea Glass Carousel

For lunch, we recommend Industry Kitchen.  It has lovely views of the harbor and delicious food.  

You have the option to walk or take transportation to your next stop, The Tenement Museum.  It is about 1.5 miles away but a beautiful walk along the river for the majority of the walk.  You will also come across awesome views of the Brooklyn Bridge!  Walking is definitely worth it here.

The walk is well worth it to get great views from below of the Brooklyn Bridge

The Tenement Museum, located on the lower east side, recounts stories of previous tenants who were immigrants.  There are a variety of tours available, all captivating, even for our teens!  On our tour, we visited the once lived in tenements, listened to recorded talks from those who had lived there, and learned a lot from our guide. 

The Tenement Museum

This is a fantastic add on to a day spent on Ellis Island.  Not only will you see what entry was like for the millions of American immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, but get to see where they headed once they gained entry into America.   

Day 2

  • NBC Studios/Top of the Rock
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Central Park
  • Dinner – Ellen’s Stardust Diner
  • Broadway Show

The purple icons mark the sites from Day Two Itinerary

Your day starts at NBC Studios!  This is a fun tour.  On the day we toured, we got to see Jimmy Fallon’s Studio as well as where Saturday Night Live is filmed.  Our tour ended with a fun group activity, getting a try at filming our own show.  Our teens especially had a great time.

NOTE:  As of September 2022, the NBC Studio Tours are still paused.  Check out the website for up-to-date tour information.

You’re already here, so might as well head up to the top of the Rockefeller Center, aptly named Top of the Rock, for some incredible views.  You’ll want to purchase these tickets ahead of time.  The NBC Studio Tour takes about 65 minutes so I would book your Top of the Rock ticket for no sooner than 25 minutes after the tour is to end.  For example, your NBC Studios tour at is 10:00 am, schedule Top of the Rock for 11:30 am at the earliest.  Add more time if you want to browse the gift shop or have more time in between.  

Great views from the Top of the Rock

Next, head to view the location of the ice rink.  In the winter, this space will be an ice rink, although in the warmer months it’s an outdoor cafe.  There are shops located in Rockefeller Plaza as well, so it’s a great time to get a little shopping in. 

We would have recommend lunch at Rock Center Cafe.  It was a lovely restaurant with tasty food and convenient when visiting Rockefeller Plaza.  However, as of the writing of this guide, it is permanently closed.  There are a lot of restaurants nearby, including Amazon Go, an option to literally just grab and go!  Check out this website for dining at Rockefeller Plaza.  If you opt for Amazon Go, consider taking it to your next stop, Central Park, for a picnic!

Central Park is about a half mile walk from Rockefeller Center.  You can go on a horse & carriage ride, rent bikes, or just wander.  Central Park has a zoo, many playgrounds, and provides a great respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Little Ava tumbling in Central Park

For dinner, head to the loud and fun Ellen’s Stardust Diner!  This is great to do on an evening you’ll see a Broadway show.  You’ll have singing waitstaff, a lively atmosphere, and good food.  Don’t be discouraged if you see a line going down the sidewalk as there is almost always a line.  The line moves quickly, though, and the line is also a good sign:  it’s a popular place!

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

If you have your heart set on a particular Broadway show, definitely get your tickets ahead of time.  However, you can try your hand at the TKTS booth, located in Times Square the morning of.  You’ll get tickets at a discount and might end up seeing something you wouldn’t have initially picked but end up loving it!

Day 3

  • The Vessel
  • The Highline
  • Chelsea Market – picnic lunch
  • Starbucks Reserve & Roastery
  • 911 Memorial & Museum, Ground Zero, The Oculus

The orange icons mark the sites from Day Three itinerary

The first stop of the day is The Vessel, a beehive looking structure located near Hudson Yards.  Take your photos and explore from below or purchase tickets to go within the structure.  From here, walk south on The Highline, an old elevated rail that is now a public garden and walkway.  It’s a lovely reuse of space.

The Vessel

You’ll come across Chelsea Market, an eclectic collection of eateries and shops.  The Oreo Cookie was even invented here!  Grab a bite to eat and find a place to sit inside or take your assembled meal outdoors for a picnic back up on the Highline.

Chelsea Market

If you’re like me, you need an afternoon pick-me-up.  Look no further than across the street from Chelsea Market to Starbucks Reserve & Roastery!  This is not your typical Starbucks, in fact the Reserve & Roastery doesn’t serve anything you’d find in a regular Starbucks.  Rather it’s an elevated experience in terms of food, drink, service, and atmosphere.  Being a coffee lover and Starbucks fan, I loved this place!

Starbuck’s Reserve & Roastery

To move to lower Manhattan’s Financial District, you may want to consider transportation, be it an Uber, taxi, or the subway.  If it’s a nice day and you have a lot of energy, settle in for the 2+ mile walk to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  Here you’ll take in the space that is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  The memorial is a lovely homage, peaceful, and beautiful.

Braden taking in the September 11 Memorial

You can also visit the museum, although you can skip it if with small children as the material may be too heavy for them.  Nearby is the Oculus, a transportation hub and venue that hosts lots of shops.  It was created by a renowned architect to resemble a dove, a great symbol of peace.  

Day 4

  • Your pick of a museum
  • Times Square
  • Grand Central
  • Summit One Vanderbilt
  • Broadway Lounge

The yellow icons mark the sites from Day Four Itinerary

To start your day, pick from any of the world class museums in New York City.  You have The Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and many more to choose from.  You can spend a good portion of the day at one museum or a few hours at two different ones, whatever appeals to you.

In the evening, you’ll head to Grand Central Station.  I would plan to be here a good 45 minutes before your scheduled time at Summit One Vanderbilt.  Take in the art deco interior and browse the shops.  It’s a beautiful space!

Now for the most epic views of NYC – from the top of Summit One Vanderbilt.  You can enter One Vanderbilt right from Grand Central Station.  You’ll be transported up 91 stories via a very fast elevator.  These are your views!

Views from Summit One Vanderbilt

Seeing sunset here was epic.  I highly recommend booking your time slot 1 – 1.5 hours before sunset on the day of your visit.  You’ll get to see the city transform from day to golden hour to pink skies and finally night. 

Walk to Times Square and be ready to embrace the chaos.  It’s loud, crowded, bright, and overstimulating.  Be sure to dodge those creepy costumed characters!  And find your way into the Marriott Marquis Hotel’s Broadway Lounge.  It’s a fabulous place for a meal or even just drinks.  If you make a reservation, be sure to request a window seat as you’ll have epic views of Times Square.  I much prefer to watch from above than be in the mix down below!

Views from the Broadway Lounge at the Marriott Marquis Times Square

With this guide, organizing your time in NYC will hopefully feel less daunting.  There is so much to see and do in this city that this barely scratches the surface.  However, it hits many of the hot spots and you’ll no doubt have a fabulous time!

Read More!

We have a great article, Twenty One New York City Favorites With Kids & Teens, where we go in depth on our list of favorite things to see and do in New York City.

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time my husband is grain/gluten-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we seem to encompass a large amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

Eating in New York City with dietary restrictions is relatively easy.  There are just endless restaurants and ones we have sought out have been wonderful to accommodate.  There are also some specialty shops, such as Erin McKenna’s Bakery and A La Mode for ice cream.  

Here are some restaurants that we have eaten at in recent times that have been great with our food allergies, click the name for a link to the restaurant’s website:

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

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