We recently had a wonderful opportunity to spend two days together with (most of) our family in New York City. This 2 Days in New York City itinerary reflects our actual trip. The main difference is that we actually arrived mid-morning on Sunday, and left mid-morning on Tuesday.
Our teenage daughters had never been to NYC, and my husband and I hadn’t been there for about twenty years. So this was an exciting part of our summer travels that started in New England and ended in The Big Apple! There are so many things to do in New York City, and we wanted to show them a broad range of sights and activities.
I’ll note that Broadway was still closed at the time of our visit, so this 2-day itinerary for New York City does not include any shows. However, I’ll note within how you could easily adjust your to include a Broadway show of your choice!
I am never one to skip a meal, and I can heartily recommend Andrews as a great local diner with delicious coffee and breakfast. We chose Andrews Coffee Shop on 7th Avenue, because of the proximity to our hotel, which was on 36th street. It was recommended by the porter, whom we had befriended upon arrival. I was glad to see that my Americano didn’t take long to arrive, because I was dragging and needed he caffeine!
Our daughters both ordered Nutella pancakes, which were delicious. Being in New York, I of course went for the classic bagel and cream cheese option, which did not disappoint. My husband doesn’t eat breakfast, so he sat patiently and watched us devour our meals.
Then, because we wanted to give the girls the true city experience, we took the subway from there up to Central Park.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I feel like, when you visit the city for the first time, it’s important to go to one of the museums. We gave the girls their choice between the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History. They chose The Met. At the time we were there, you had to purchased timed-entry tickets, which I didn’t realized ahead of time. So we had approximately a 30-minute wait before we could go inside. We used that time to shop a couple of vendors along 5th Avenue, and to sit by the fountains and people watch.
Inside the museum, you’ll find several floors of permanent collections, as well as a few traveling exhibits. In my opinion, the must-see attractions are:
- The Egypt wing and its Tomb of Perneb
- The American wing, in particular, Washington Crossing the Delaware
- The Medieval Armor Galleries, complete with a suit of armor actually worn by Henry VIII
- The European Paintings Collection, with pieces from Klimt, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, and many more
There are also areas for African art, Asian art, Islamic art, Greek and Roman art, modern and contemporary art, and musical instruments.
Rather than taking time for a long lunch on a short itinerary, consider grabbing a hot dog or other delicious bite from a street vendor. That will give you more time at the museum and Rockefeller Center, which is next. Another option would be a quick sandwich at one of the cafes inside the Met.
Click here for tickets for guided tours and skip-the-line tickets.
Top of the Rock
After you finish at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can take a cab or have about a 30 minute walk down to Rockefeller Center. If you’re able, I suggest the walk, because you’ll get to see a lot of New York City. As you walk down past Central Park, you can choose to see certain areas inside it, like Alice in Wonderland, the Delacorte Clock, Gapstow Bridge, and the Pulitzer Fountain. You’ll also pass Central Park Zoo, which you probably don’t have time for in this itinerary. But if you’d prefer to see that rather than Top of the Rock, that would work nicely too.
Once you get past Central Park, you’ll be in one of the main shopping sections of Fifth Avenue. What a great chance to window shop! Look for Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, BVLGARI, Gucci, Coach, and Salvatore Ferragamo. Also take a gawk and Trump Tower…and do with that what you will based on your own political inclinations 😉 If you have kids with you, they may appreciate a stop at The Lego Store!
At 50th street, turn right and head west for half of a block, and you’ll be at Rockefeller Center. But don’t go inside until you snap a picture of Radio City Music hall at the end of the block!
The main attraction here is going to the top of the building to see the skyline of New York City. After all, you may only be in New York City for 2 days with this itinerary, but you have to see the city from a bird’s eye view!
Now, some people prefer seeing the skyline from the Empire State Building, and that’s a great option too. I like Top of the Rock, because you can actually see the Empire State Building (you know, because you’re not standing on it? LOL) The views are incredible any time of day, but just before and after sunset is really nice.
This is another attraction where you will do best to order your timed-entry tickets in advance. If you don’t want to stand in line and if your budget allows, get the VIP passes and avoid the longer lines. It will get you to the top faster. Once you’re at the top, it doesn’t give you any added benefits. But since 2 days isn’t much time, we felt like this was worth the extra cost, so that we didn’t spend our precious time waiting in line.
At the top, there are two different levels where you can see the city. On the 70th floor, you can see the skyline from both inside and out. Don’t feel worried if you’re scared of heights, however. The outdoor area has glass walls to prevent falling or jumping, and you can clearly see through them. If you want photographs, don’t fret; there are gaps in between the panes, perfect for positioning your camera.
You can also go up one more floor, which is smaller in square footage than the lower floor, but offers additional unencumbered views. There are no glass planes here, but if you were to fall, you’d only make it back down one flight to the deck of the 70th floor.
Make sure to look north and see Central Park; to look west over the river to New Jersey, and of course, look south to see the Empire State Building as well as One World Trade Center (aka Freedom Tower) in the distance. The Chrysler Building can also be seen to the southwest. Unfortunately, its view is partially blocked by another building.
After all this sightseeing and just a quick bite for lunch, you’re sure to be hungry. Head to either 45th street or 49th street for Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery. (The last sight of the day will be Times Square, so the 45th street location is closest to that. But neither is far.)
Junior’s has a bit of something for everyone, from the classic New York pastrami sandwich, to soups and salads, to full entrees like chicken parmesan or fish & chips. There’s really no way to go wrong at this famous NYC deli, so pick what looks good to you! But, make sure you save room for dessert, because Junior’s is known for its delicious cheesecake. Wondering what other food NYC is known for?
I mean, it would be crazy to go to New York City and not eat its most beloved dessert, right? It’s incredible. I prefer the plain cheesecake because you get more of a taste of the actually cheesecake than you do if it’s doused in strawberries or something else. Again, though, it’s really hard to make a wrong choice.
Now that you’ve satisfied your appetite and warded off any possibility of being hangry, head on over to Times Square. There is always something going on here. You’ll find plenty of buskers, or street performers, doing their thing. We enjoyed several musicians and an incredible acrobatic dance troupe on our recent visit!
Nighttime in Times Square is like nothing else. There are bright lights and advertisements everywhere. Even during COVID, when the city itself wasn’t as busy as normal, this place was packed with people. The ball that is dropped every New Year’s Eve is visible year round, so make sure to find it when you look south.
The best thing about TImes Square, in my opinion, is people-watching. It’s like nowhere else! If you want a photo, do what I did and follow the advice of NYCGo.com and take a photo from the top of the red TKTS stairs.
Head back to your lodgings for a well-deserved night of sleep. Even if you’re not used to sleeping with the sounds of the city outside, hopefully you’re so tired from this amazing day that you sleep soundly!
During the second day in the city, I recommend spending some time outdoors, on the High Line and in Central Park.
The High Line
The High Line is a park and walking path built where an elevated railway used to be. It is just under a mile and a half long, and stretches from Hudson Yards on its north end, to Chelsea on the south end. There are 11 entrances, and according to Wikipedia, five of those are accessible to people with disabilities. Obviously if you want to walk the entire High Line, like we did, you should consider starting at one end or another.
Along the way you’ll find art exhibits, vendors with all sorts of merchandise and food, and beautiful plants and flowers. You’ll have great views of the city and its skyscrapers to the east, and of Hudson River and New Jersey to the west. At the north end you’ll also want to view the Vessel, part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, or even visit it if it’s open.
Brunch at Tavern on the Green
After a long walk, you’re sure to be hungry, so it’s time for an amazing! meal at Tavern on the Green. This restaurant is located on the west side of Central Park, and you’ll want to catch a cab to get up there from the High Line. If you’re there on Saturday or Sunday, I highly recommend their amazing brunch! I haven’t been there for lunch, but I’m sure it’s just as good.
You may be familiar with Tavern on the Green, because it has been featured in a number of well-known movies. My husband wanted to go there after seeing it in Mr. Popper’s Penguins, an adorable movie starring Jim Carrey. Arthur and Beaches also showcased the restaurant; for a complete list, check their history page on their website! Give yourself time to enjoy the ambiance of the restaurant and the professionalism of the waitstaff. They have indoor and outdoor seating and both are wonderful.
Either before or after your meal, make sure to take in some of the sights of Central Park. There are so many things to see here, but Sheep Meadow and Strawberry Fields are really close. We had time to spare, so we walked further and took in the Shakespeare Garden, Bow Bridge, and Belvedere Castle as well.
Central Park is a great place to take pictures. If you want to photograph the city, there’s lots to see from within the park itself, and also looking across Sheep Meadow toward the skyscrapers. The park has lots of Instagrammable spots too, with the lake and Gapstow Bridge being two popular spots.
You’ll see lots of people taking horse and carriage rides. Please consider skipping this activity. Although it may look fun, these animals are often abused or overworked. For more information, please see this article from the New York Times.
If you still have time, the Central Park Zoo is also fun, especially if you have children. They have tons of animals, from penguins to snow leopards! While you won’t find Alex the Lion, you will find a large variety of animals to enjoy.
I really want to recommend a drive through the city, too. My husband is intrepid behind the wheel! We were also there while Broadway was still closed, so while the traffic was thick, it wasn’t as bad as it normally is. If you’re game, it’s a great way to just see a lot of the city at one time…well, at least it is for the passengers. If you’ve got cash to spare, you could do the same thing in a taxi and let the professionals do the driving!
Dinner (with three recommendations)
Dinner for your last night in the city should be memorable! There are three places I have eaten that are incredible, which I’ll recommend here.
The first of these is the Russian Tea Room. Now, I ate there in the year 2000, so I won’t say much about this because it has been so long. But the restaurant itself is an incredible sight. I don’t remember what I ate, but I remember the smooth and delicious vodka. (And perhaps that’s why I don’t remember dinner!) But I do know the food – whatever I had – was delicious. It was the interior of the restaurant itself that I most enjoyed.
This trip, we ate at The Liberty on 35th Street. I thought the food, drinks, and desserts were really well done. A lot of restaurants, The Liberty included, have added sidewalk seating during COVID times. We sat outside in a private little room that was kind of like a tent but not stuffy. Everything we ordered, including the pizza, was delicious. Additionally the waiter was very attentive, and the bill wasn’t that much, considering we were in New York City. So I can recommend this restaurant without hesitation.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more exotic, I suggest Han Bat, also on 35th Street. This is a Korean restaurant that’s extremely authentic, with a friendliness among the staff that I found really pleasant. Delicious soju (liquor) and incredible food really made it a special meal. Also the portions are really large, so bring your appetite or be prepared to take a doggy bag to go!
2 Days in New York City Itinerary
There you have it! If you want to visit New York City but only have two days, I think this is definitely the way to go! It gives you a little bit of everything – museums, the park, the lights, the skyscrapers, and some delicious food. Two days is hardly enough time to see that much of the city, but this itinerary gives you a wide variety of activities and photo opportunities.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Broadway was still closed because of COVID while we were there. You could easily modify this itinerary to include a show, however. If you’re there on a weekend or Wednesday when they have matinees, simply replace either Central Park or The Met with a show of your choice. To fit one in during the evening, you could forego Times Square (or make it a very short time there) or see a show in place of dinner on day 2.