We had only two days to see the New York City highlights, an impossible task, but we rose to the challenge. Maybe our planning was off, but we were trying to sneak in a visit between two US events that couldn’t be changed.
New York City is the largest major city by both population and population density in the United States. Made up of a diverse population, an eclectic workforce, and filled with visitors, even the task of defining the New York City highlights becomes a challenge.
We went for the classics. With only a weekend, we opted for what are probably the best-known sites, the ones you want to be sure to include. Then we set out to find tips and tricks to make visiting each of them easier.
Although we are best known for getting off the beaten path, there are times when we just want to see the classics.
Dividing our schedule into two days and one night, we made the most of it. Below is our 2 day New York City itinerary.
Our New York City 2 day itinerary
Day 1: Manhattan and Staten Island
- Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial
- Statue of Liberty
- Stock Exchange building
- Empire State Building
- Times Square at night
Day 2: Manhattan
- American Museum of Natural History
- Central Park
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Or take a tour of the highlights of New York City
We did it all on our own, but if you prefer a tour, check out this top-rated one-day option from Viator, and spend the second day visiting the rest of the places below on your own. The tour hits 22 sights, but most of them are drive-bys.
It includes visits to Central Park, Strawberry Fields (John Lennon Memorial), Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue, Gansevoort Liberty Market lunch stop, 9/11 Memorial, and the Staten Island Ferry. Reserve your New York in one-day guided sightseeing tour here.
New York City highlights: Day 1
On the first day of our 2 day NYC itinerary, our highlights included:
- 9/11 Memorial Pools, Museum, and One World Trade Center
- Statue of Liberty and city skyline
- NYC Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and the surrounding area
- Empire State Building
9/11 Memorial Pools, Museum, and One World Trade Center
Remembering the events of September 11 2001, is a solemn experience but well commemorated by the city. The three main things to see are:
- Memorial Pools: At the memorial pools at Ground Zero, you will see the names of the nearly 3,000 victims. Visiting the memorial is free of charge. It’s an emotional and powerful display. (on the New York CityPASS® ticket)
- Museum: Here you can see artifacts from the events of 9/11, and hear recordings from people who were there on the day. (on the New York CityPASS® ticket)
- One World Trade Center: Originally called the Freedom Tower, construction was nearly finished when we visited. Standing at 1776 feet (including the spire), it is now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Fabulous views of the city are seen from the 102nd floor.
Advanced bookings for the museum and the tower can save you time and guarantee your entry, especially in the busy seasons. Plus, they made building our 2 day New York City itinerary easier. Here are a few options.
- Take a five-hour tour that includes a 90-minute guided tour of the memorial, skip-the-line access to the museum, and entrance to the tower’s observation deck. There is an option for timed access to both the museum and the tower. Reserve your 5 hour tour here.
- Get your Memorial Museum skip-the-line entry here.
- Reserve your observation tower skip-the-line entry here.
Statue of Liberty and city skyline
Possibly the most iconic image in New York City, there are several ways to see the Statue of Liberty. We opted to sail by the front rather than joining the crowds going up to her crown. With more time, I am sure we would have chosen differently.
However, if you’re with us on this one, hop on the Staten Island ferry. This is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to see the Statue of Liberty. The best part – It’s free!
We could have done some exploration in Staten Island, but instead, we immediately took a free return ferry back to Manhattan.
How to see the Statue of Liberty:
- Ride the Staten Island ferry for free and pass in front of the Statue of Liberty, but do not visit the island.
- Take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on your New York CityPASS® ticket and enjoy access to both the Statue of Liberty Museum and Ellis Island Immigration Museums.
- Enjoy a 60-minute guided cruise around the Statue of Liberty that sails under the Brooklyn Bridge and over to Ellis Island. This will bring you closer than the Staten Island ferry.
- Get fast-track access which puts you in the VIP lines.
NYC Stock Exchange and surrounding area
Our two day New York City itinerary included a self-guided walking tour of Manhattan. It took us north to our first stop, Wall Street. We were a bit flustered by the crowds and narrow streets but enjoyed the photography challenge.
The photos are:
- Wall Street
- Trinity Church (We listened to the melodic chiming of bells. The old church stood out among the modern buildings like a star singing for us all.)
- Statue of George Washington from the spot in which he took his oath as the first president of the United States.
- The NYC Stock Exchange building
- The famous Wall Street bull.
Empire State Building
While it may not be the city’s tallest building any longer, it still boasts the highest 360-degree open-air vantage point, and to many is one of the highlights of New York City. Located on the 86th floor, from here you will enjoy impressive panoramic views across six states.
One of the world’s most recognized buildings, it held the title of the world’s tallest building from 1931 to 1970 (today it’s the 43rd tallest in the world, while the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest). Of course, many still think of it as the building King Kong climbed. It’s also been featured in Sleepless in Seattle, Elf, and Independence Day, just to name a few movies.
Once inside, see the interactive museum on the second floor, the art deco lobby (Fifth Avenue), the Otis elevators, and art exhibits on the 80th floor.
New York City highlights: Evening into night
It was our first night, and we had chosen to spend our evening in Times Square, creating another of our highlights of New York City. It’s a bit overwhelming but truly wonderful. One of the best choices we made was to stay at the Crowne Plaza overlooking the excitement, so getting there was easy. Book your stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel here.
Had we been visiting New York for a long-term stay, we would have checked out some cheaper options that are right outside of the city, like The Condor Hotel in Brooklyn.
We headed out into the crowd. The beauty of New York City quickly faded into a blur of lights, colors, crowds, smells, and really loud noises. It never stopped.
They call it the city that never sleeps for a reason, but it never quiets down either. Sirens blare, music blasts and vendors shout for our attention which is overwhelmed by a sea of advertisements on huge, ever-changing LED billboards . . . Everywhere you turn your head.
There was no escaping the chaos. We headed to dinner, a few blocks off the main tourist area, but the noise didn’t seem to subside. We ate at Carnegie Deli (closed in 2016)
Highlights New York City: Day 2
We focused the second day of our 2 day New York City itinerary on:
- American Museum of Natural History
- Central Park
- Street vendor classics
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
American Museum of Natural History
This museum is the magical spot where they filmed the movie Night at the Museum, and we wanted to be sure not to miss a few of our favorite movie ‘characters’.
It turns out that while the movie utilizes the museum’s exterior, they built sets to emulate the interior. However, our sheet gave us the information we needed.
Taking the long way through the park, we enjoyed a peaceful atmosphere, in contrast to the noise of Times Square last night. Central Park is wonderful in the summertime. Bridges, a lake, trees, and street performers.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Next stop is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), one of the world’s largest museums. Here, Jeff met up with an old friend.
While the collections span 5,000 years, we seemed to focus our time on the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. You can pick from one of these MET tours.
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What are your New York City highlights?
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