New York is a city of opportunity. Immigrants seeking a new life, businesses growing from the ground up, tourists looking for the next perfect shot (of which there are a lot to be had here!) and everyone and anyone looking for that next hook – cultural shift – that will define the next decade. I think of New York City to be an enigma; there is nowhere else in the world like it. It’s a little bit of Europe, a little bit of the Asian hustle, a little bit of homegrown Americana and a little bit of something else entirely. What better way to get to know the city than to spend 4 days in New York getting lost, and stuffing your face with food from around the world?!
The beauty of being in New York City is whether you are here 5 months or for a 4 days, you won’t leave NYC without a very strong impression of the people, the buildings, the neighborhoods and the food.
4 Days in New York City Itinerary
Getting Around NYC
I can’t recommend any other mode of transportation over the subway.
Despite the recent issues the subway has been having, this metro system is the oldest and biggest on the planet. It will run 24/7 and can get you pretty much anywhere you need to be.
Being here 4 days will give you a good taste of the subway without driving you too crazy. Plus, when this system works it really is a thing of beauty.
There is no MetroCard pass available that is less than 7 days, so buy a regular card and top up as needed. Trust me, it’ll be a lot cheaper than an uber or a taxi and a lot faster because the traffic in New York: Does. Not. Play. Around.
If the subway is not your thing, you can take a bus.
Busses in New York are not entirely reliable modes of transportation for getting around. I say this for several reasons.
- Traffic (like mentioned above) can be a nightmare at any time of day.
- On the weekends there are festivals, parades and events happening around the city. This can disrupt service.
- Busses can often get delayed for a number of reasons and you could wind up waiting for a bus for a while.
Despite the drawbacks of the busses, they will offer a beautiful glimpse of the city as you pass by. They’ll also take some delightful routes that can be faster than the subway.
If you are arriving into LaGuardia Airport, your only public transportation choice will be a bus.
Taxis are very expensive. Getting a cab from JFK airport into downtown Manhattan will cost you a flat fair of $52 before tax, rush hour surcharges, and tip. Plus, the passenger is responsible for paying all tolls.
Sometimes, taking an Uber Pool or some other type of app service will be cheaper if you really have to take a cab.
If your feet and legs can move, you can walk almost anywhere in New York City. I think this is one of the best ways to get around. You can walk so easily and the street grid in NYC makes finding your way around as easy as it gets when visiting a major city.
Plus there are so many parks to check out and walk through!
Where to Stay in NYC
Hotels can be convenient, but extraordinarily expensive. I’d recommend finding a place on AirBnB (click here to get $35 off your first stay!) and staying with a local. You’ll probably find something that’s way more affordable than a hotel room and you can get to know a local who could give you a bunch of tips.
If you want to stay in a hotel, I recommend you find a place in one of the boroughs outside of Manhattan. Queens has a bunch of hotels in Long Island City which is really close to midtown Manhattan and a lot cheaper.
Best Neighborhoods to check out
If you are going to spend a 4 days in New York, you just won’t have enough time to see everything. That said, there is plenty of great stuff to go check out while you are here.
It is my firm belief that anyone coming here should do their best to get out of Manhattan for at least a little bit. Manhattan is awesome, but can feel really overwhelming and crowded.
So many people make the mistake of coming to NYC and only staying in midtown and lower Manhattan, then they go home and wonder how anyone can live in this city because of all the crowds. New York is so much more than crowds! I always try to go off the beaten track if I can, which I think is relatively easy if you know where to go.
Flushing New York
The great thing about Flushing is that is gets you away from the tourists that you can find in the Chinatown in lower Manhattan and it sits right next to the Flushing-Meadows Park which is a massive park to walk through.
Brooklyn Heights/ DUMBO
This is a lovely area of the city. You can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn and then wander around this area. There’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, historic DUMBO, and all sorts of beautiful old buildings. I think this is a great place to go to see a side of New York that is often overlooked!
Upper East Side
You want to see some of the most expensive real estate on the planet? Maybe run into a movie star? Or – at the very least – go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The Upper East Side is a great neighborhood to check out. Lots of boutique shops, expensive designers, and fur-clad women clutching their Pomeranians.
There’s also Museum Mile, which stretches along 5th Avenue down the East Side of Central Park. It’s a fabulous collection of museums, beautiful architecture and, the cherry on the sundae: Central Park!
A classic neighborhood chuck full of history and good food. The brownstones here are lovely and the promenades harken back to an era before fat cars, small stoops and a lack of space in the city. I love to wander along Lenox Ave because it’s so pretty!
Here is a Detailed 4 Day New York City Itinerary
Day 1 in New York City
For brunch – because everyone in New York City goes for brunch – start in Harlem. Red Rooster has some fantastic options to choose from. This is a Southern comfort eatery featuring fried chicken and mac and cheese, among other things.
After you’re stuffed full of caloric, buttery goodness, walk south toward Central Park. Harlem can be a bit rough around the edges, but being there in the middle of the day is safe. The houses are stunningly beautiful and the area is a real treat to see. I don’t think it’s like anywhere else in New York City.
If you’re up for it: I’d recommend walking through Central Park to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). This is a lovely walk! Starting at the Eastern corner of Central Park you’ll pass the Harlem Meer, and through some of the hills of the park. This is a historic corner of the park that few tourists get up to see.
If walking is not your style, you could always rent a bike and take the bike path down to the museum. There’s also the subway, you can hop onto the 6 train south and get off at 77th street to walk over to the Met.
The Met is an outstanding collection of art from around the world. I think this museum is world-class and anyone who comes to New York City for a 4-day itinerary should go. Tickets are $25 for anyone who is not a New York State resident and include a pass to the museum for 3 consecutive days, including a pass to The Cloisters in Upper Manhattan.
Day 2 in New York
It’s time to leave Manhattan and get out to see Queens. Going to the Gantry Plaza State Park is a good place to start. If you head out there over the weekend, you’ll hit a massive food and flea market held every weekend in the warmer months.
After you’ve filled up on goodness, take the train over to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I love this museum and personally think it’s one of the best museums in New York City. They’ll feature collections of props and set pieces from famous movies.
Once finished with the museum, go out to Flushing on the 7 train. Flushing can give you a smorgasbord of food to try. It’s chaotic, noisy, stinky, exotic vibe is a must visit for people on a 4-day itinerary to New York. This place is so weird! Plus, the food is soooo good (and cheap).
I recommend walking along Prince Street as there are a ton of places along there that are utterly delicious. (If you want good dumplings, try White Bear).
If you still have time, you should check out the Ganesh Hindu Temple. It’s an authentic Hindu Temple in Queens which is a really cool place to see and a nice break from the chaotic shuffle of people on Main street.
Day 3 in New York
To do this day correctly, you’ll need to be up before sunrise. I think the Brooklyn Bridge is enjoyed best at dawn – any other time and you’re going to hit a sea of tourists, bikers, and heat.
Walk across the bridge and into DUMBO. Take some more pictures of the beautiful Manhattan Bridge and walk along the cobbled streets. Brooklyn is a lovely area and the Brooklyn Bridge Park has gorgeous views of the city.
DUMBO has a couple of places to go for food. Superfine is a nice spot to grab a burger or brunch on Sunday. If you can hold out, take the train to Grand Army Plaza and find a restaurant on Vanderbilt Ave (there are about a thousand to choose from!).
Prospect Park is right around the corner at this point. This park was designed by the same guy who did Central Park, but has far fewer tourists coming here. It’s a gorgeous park to walk through and relax in.
You’re back in Manhattan today. This time it’s to see lower Manhattan. I think Lower Manhattan is so cool. Wall street is the oldest area of the city and there is a lot of history down here. Take the train to Wall street and take a walk along the street that used to be the wall between the New Amsterdam settlement in the 1600s and the rest of the wilds of Manhattan.
Go to Fraunces Tavern, one of the oldest buildings left in New York City and have a beer in a place George Washington used as a base while fighting the British in the American Revolution.
Walk along Battery Park and visit the 9/11 memorial – a very powerful place.
From the bottom of Manhattan you can take the Staten Island Ferry and see the skyline of the city from the boat as you make your way to Staten Island. The boat is free and you can also take great photos of the Statue of Liberty!
I wouldn’t recommend spending any time in Staten Island. You can just hop the next ferry back across the water to Manhattan.
If you are looking for a place to grab lunch, you can walk or take the train to 2nd Ave stop and walk around the historic Lower East Side. This is where the waves of immigrants at the turn of the century came when they arrived in New York. Alternatively, check out my list of top places to eat in NYC.
Visiting the Tenement museum would be a good idea if you have the time. They offer walking tours of the area for a small fee and the tours are incredible: so full of history.
A jam-packed 4 days in New York City itinerary is going to mean a lot of stuff packed into a small amount of time. I caution against pushing yourself too hard and using this itinerary as a guideline, rather than anything you must get done.
I love that this city has so much to do, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with going and doing whatever the hell you want. That said: I didn’t mention going to the Empire State Building because that place is PACKED with tourists. Also, visiting the Statue of Liberty is a massive amount of waiting in lines, paying too much for anything and coughing up a ton of money. If you only have 4 days in New York City, I wouldn’t recommend blowing one of them on this.
I hope you enjoy your time in NYC and use it as an opportunity to scope out places you can come back and visit another time!
This guest post has been written by Natalie Allen, a travel blogger who runs the site A Pair of Travel Pants. Be sure to follow her adventures around the world by checking her out on Facebook and Instagram.