NYC truly is a city like none other. With so many neighborhoods, attractions, countless places to eat, and infinite tourist destinations, 3 days in NYC can seem like it’s not enough time. And you’re right, it isn’t but for those same reasons, you can experience SO much in a very short amount of time.
Even though it’s one of the most expensive destinations you’ll visit, it’s absolutely possible to fully experience this city on a modest budget. I’m here to tell you what to splurge on and what to skip if you have a few days to spend in The Big Apple.
DO: Travel alone if you can
If you only have 3 days in NYC, traveling alone is the way to go to maximize your experience. New York is expensive and there is A LOT to do. I mean, it’s truly mind boggling. Mismatched budgets and differing travel styles/interests can really put a damper on your experience in this city. I’ve always had a better time there when I’ve gone alone because I can do things at my pace and my budget and not have to worry if my friends don’t want to or have the money for the things I want to do or vise versa!
It’s a city you can truly enjoy alone too because you’ll never actually feel alone. Despite the stereotypes you may have heard, New Yorkers are just as friendly as any other people in the world. Just don’t be a wrench in the machine and you’re golden.
DO: Stay in Brooklyn
You’ll get more bang for your buck and probably have a better view.
I loved Brooklyn, I can’t say that enough. I vibe with Brooklyn and would recommend staying in Williamsburg or Bushwick if you can. Williamsburg is definitely more hipster and Bushwick still has some spunk to it. Both locations are a quick ride to Manhattan as well.
DON’T: Stay in hostels
If you’re on a budget and can’t afford a New York hotel, skip the hostels and instead, reserve an AirBNB. You’ll get a better value for your money and have a more comfortable visit. If you look enough in advance, the price difference probably won’t be that drastic between a hostel & AirBNB. I’ve found them for as low as $45/nt!
My favorite AirBNB I’ve ever stayed in (Yes, out of ALL of them) was this one below. The host is quick to respond, has a beautiful, clean home with up-to-date furnishings and a great eye for decor. She knows the city well and is very helpful.
Click here to check out Paulina’s listings in Brooklyn. She puts in lots of effort to make a beautiful, welcoming home and BONUS! She has 2 adorable cats.
DO: Forget the diet & eat lots of pizza!
From literally anywhere. If you’re like me and would marry pizza if you could, New York is the place for you. Stay away from me with that deep dish crap! Thin crust and greasy is New York’s specialty and it’s my favorite.
You only have 3 days in NYC so it’s not like it’s going to totally throw your eating off kilter. Treat yourself for these few days and enjoy the carb-loaded, cheesy, greasy goodness!
Avoid the touristy looking places and hop in to the hole in the wall pizza joints. That’s where you’ll find the goodness. I even managed to find a great slice right by Times Square. Unfortunately I was so lost (and hungry!) by the time I went in, I forgot to get the name of the place.
Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn is delicious and I would absolutely recommend it.
DO: Drink at the local watering holes
I’m always amazed what happens when you just let go and allow yourself to truly experience a place and go in with an open heart and excited mind.
One of my weekend trips to New York was 4th of July weekend. The day I arrived in Brooklyn was so hot outside–It was truly unbelievable how hot it was. After lugging my suitcase up and down 2 separate subway stations and then up the 4 flights of stairs to my AirBNB, I was wiped! And ready for a cocktail.
Still excited to dive in to the city, I asked my hostess for tips on how to maximize my 3 days in NYC and her favorite place to grab a drink. One happened to be right across the street–A Texas-themed bar called Skinny Dennis.
I popped my headphones back in to continue listening to my favorite podcast and walked across the street. As I was putting my ID back in to my wallet, I gasped.
I mean, literally, audibly gasped. Because who should be directly in front of me at this small bar but the podcast host I was listening to–Ben Kissel.
I gushed my fandom to him and his girlfriend and wished them a happy 4th and Ben was kind enough to offer a picture with me.
If you watch Broad City, definitely check this place out as well since it made a cameo in the ‘Friendiversary‘ episode. I didn’t know this until later that night when I was watching Broad City in bed and recognized the window from earlier — No joke!
DO: Visit the Museum of Sex.
Whether you have a few hours or 3 days in NYC, this is something you absolutely should not miss!
Personally, I’m not a huge museum-goer myself. Especially since I have the Smithsonians in my back yard and they are all FREE, I don’t usually go in to museums when traveling unless it’s something unique like this.
This museum is worth every penny. (General admission is $20.50, with a la carte add-ons). It’s curated very well and organized nicely which is something you do start to notice once you’ve visited the Smithsonians which are impeccably designed.
10/10 would recommend checking out this gem. It’s unlike any other museum you’ve been to.
DO: Splurge on Top of the Rock
Spectacular is a word that might come close to describing the awe you’ll experience at the top of Rockefeller center. Sure, it’s pricey to some but it’s a place I would dedicate a portion of your budget too no matter how small it is.
I would recommend a sunset, evening or nighttime reservation. It will be crowded, yes, especially on a nice day. But just wait patiently and I promise you’ll get your photo op. If you’re traveling solo, I would recommend bringing a tripod or a selfie stick so you’re not stuck getting only an up-close selfie like I did.
Explore all the different view points, take in the magnificence of the city and head down for some dinner. If you’re sick of pizza, I’d recommend Oaxaca Taqueria. I know NYC isn’t known for its Mexican food but you’ll have to trust me on this one, it’s crazy delicious.
DON’T: Bother with The Highline
I know this is an unpopular opinion but I’ve now done the Highline twice both in cold and warm weather and I honestly don’t get what the big deal is. Yeah, it’s cute and unique in its setting but so are plenty of other parks.
If it’s on your list, don’t let me discourage you. All my friends love the Highline and do it every time they go to New York but it’s personally not my favorite and if you’re short on time, there’s a million other things I’d rather do in the city.
DO: Shop (’til you drop?)
Make sure to leave room in your suitcase because the thrifting in New York is OUT OF THIS WORLD. Even if you have a small budget, just $50 aside for shopping is enough for 1 or 2 great pieces if you get lucky like I did when I snagged an Opening Ceremony top for $19 (Originally $145) and a Lizzie Fortunato necklace for $7 (Originally $290) from Housing Works.
The flea markets and Beacon’s closet in Greenpoint, Brooklyn were my absolute favorite spots and I would recommend carving a few hours out of your itinerary for each location if discount shopping is something you’d like to do. Here’s a few of my other favorite spots…
Brooklyn: Verameat, Catbird, Bird, Fox & Fawn, Norbu Bijoux (AMAZING jewelry store), Beacon’s closet, Brooklyn Flea, Artists & Fleas
Just walk up and down Bedford Ave and you’ll have no problem finding amazing shopping to suit any desire.
Soho: Bulletin, Artists & Fleas
Bulletin is one of my favorite stores I discovered in NY. It’s a funky feminist shop touting badass home decor and in-your-face graphic tees like this, all at reasonable prices and they proudly donate 10% of all proceeds to Planned Parenthood NYC!
Hell’s Kitchen: Annex Markets
Upper West Side: Grand Bazaar
DO: Get weird at The Bizarre
I usually only spend 3 days in NYC for holiday weekends, but every time I go now, I make sure to spend an evening at The Bizarre in Bushwick. When I visited last, I spent my last evening at a burlesque drag show here that included beginners and pro’s alike. It’s one of the best nights I’ve had in my entire life. This particular show was free and only accepting donations (100% of those proceeds went to Planned Parenthood) but there is a calendar covering all their events and I would encourage you to go to any one of them. They specialize in Absinthe cocktails and I guarantee you’ll make friends at this awesome joint.
Click here to view The Bizarre’s website and check out their events calendar.
DON’T: Visit Times Square during the day
Okay, if you haven’t seen it before, go ahead–Just to say you have. But if large crowds trigger your anxiety, like they do mine, just get in and get out as quick as possible. Honestly, just avoid Midtown in general if you’re looking for an authentic New York experience.
DO: Visit Times Square at night
It’s truly bizarre that Times Square is basically EMPTY at night but the lights are always on. You wouldn’t expect that this iconic destination would ever really be empty but if you’re out after last call or even around midnight, you’re likely to have the place all to yourself and it is breathtaking.
DON’T: Pay to see the Statue of Liberty
Seriously. Maybe someday when you have more time but for now, go ahead and skip the paid tour. It’s pricey and you can easily see it for free!
DO: Take the Staten Island Ferry
This is the best free way to see the State of Liberty and to get great views of the city like this…
True, you won’t get an close up of Lady Liberty but I promise it will be worth the wait and on a hot day, it’s great to sit outside on the ferry as the breeze goes by.
To see the statue, sit on the right side of the ferry when boarding from Manhattan and on the left side when leaving Staten Island.
MUST: Pig out at Smorgasburg
Dubbed “The Woodstock of Eating” by the New York Times, this is a foodie’s paradise.
100 local vendors gather in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to promote their best and favorite dishes. Come with an empty stomach because you’ll want to hit as many places as possible.
I had the best poutine and dumplings OF MY LIFE and I’m so sad I stumbled on it after already having eaten brunch! I can’t wait to go back this Summer and nom even more.
Smorgasburg only happens during the warm weather months so it runs April – October.
Do: Go Mural Hunting
New York is a city that oozes art and culture from every crack and crevice. Every corner you turn, every time you lift your eye, you’re met with a art or architecture or something else utterly unique.
Take advantage of the utterly Instagram’able city and make sure to bring the camera (plus a friend to snap the pics) to make all your friends back home jealous!
Do: Get Lost in SoHo & LES
These neighborhoods are absolutely full of beautiful murals to take pictures of and other amazing Instagram spots like L’apartmente Sezane and the famous ever-changing Yumi Kim store mural.
Aside from all that, these neighborhoods are full of some of New York’s best shopping, food and beautiful architecture.
You really don’t need an agenda or schedule here. Just find one place you want to start and let your feet and the wind guide you. These 2 neighborhoods border each other as well as NoLita—another trendy neighborhood full of famous Instagram spots such as Pietro Nolita. So don your comfortable walking shoes and set aside a day to explore here!
Maybe: The Color Factory
The Color Factory can be a real hit or miss. I would strongly recommend reading my full review before deciding whether or not to splurge on a ticket to the ultra Instafamous destination. Long story short: You MUST go when it’s low capacity and there aren’t children or your chances at getting a half decent photo are zip. Also, make sure you’re savvy at taking picture in ultra harsh overhead or dark lighting. Tickets to this attraction are $20.50 but you do get a few goodies and souvenirs included in that price which I appreciated.
In Conclusion: 3 Days in NYC can be just as magical as 7, 14 or 100.
New York City is a magical city and it’s hard to understand that magic until you actually visit. With there being so much to do, it’s easy to plan a trip for as long as you like–Whether it be 3 days or 2 weeks, you’ll never be bored.
I hope these do’s and don’ts are helpful to you and yours and that you’re able to fall in love with this city like I have. If you have any hidden gems you’d like to see me cover, comment and I’ll add them to my next trip!