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NYC Must Sees and Family Adventures On a Budget

Updated: Feb 4

All you need to know about exploring the iconic city like you live there

Visiting NYC: Free Adventures & Must See's in the City

Christmas in New York is huge, see here for that itinerary. 🌲🌲🌲

I have specialized this for the non-Christmastime traveler.

This itinerary is a 3-day guide to making the most of your time and hitting all the best spots! Feel free to linger longer if you have more days or modify for less time as needed. These are our favorite spots, and the main things you'll want to experience for you and your family's great memories! Have a question? Feel free to ask, I am happy to help you enjoy every minute of your adventure. As a family we move quickly, this is our personal itinerary. I will include our favorite spots for the toddlers and little ones down at the bottom, cause traveling with children can add an extra element of wonder!

Good morning! Before you get started eat something delicious - you will need lots of energy!

NY is a playground for foodies, and there are options for every preference under the sun!

Day 1: Museums, Mid/Lower Central Park & 5th Ave Walk:

Today's Stops:

*Museum to start your day (Natural History or Met)

*Central Park - Belvedere Castle/ Bethsaida Terrace

*Columbus Circle

*W. 9th Street - Walk along the border of Central Park, wander inside, explore

*Walk down 5th Avenue stopping wherever you like but especially at Rockefeller Center, Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and the NY Public Library.

*Bryant Park

*Grand Central


Start early! And Pick a museum! I recommend beginning this day at either the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum. Both are amazing and could easily be a full day. Hit either museum in the morning, and then proceed with this walk beginning around 12 noon. Kids will LOVE the dinosaurs at the Natural History. The Met is known for many things, including the Egyptian collection rivaled by everywhere except Egypt itself. Either museum makes it easy to spend a little time around Central Park, and there are two spots close by each other you can't miss. Belvedere Castle is the second highest point inside of the park and offers sweeping panoramic views. Renovated in 2019, add this spot to your agenda, located - Mid-Park at 79th Next up Bethsaida Terrace is a wonderful spot to walk, and explore. The mosaic tile and fountain make great photo ops and once you've been there you will notice so many references made to this area. Mid-Park at 72nd Street you will admire the ingenuity and engineering of such a beautiful spot.

Let's work our way down by Columbus Circle for the rest of our adventure. This route is full of pit stops you can go inside and check things out as you pass by - or keep walking! Columbus Circle is the intersection of Eighth Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South (West 59th Street), and Central Park West, at the southwest corner of Central Park.

*Another Museum option for Day 1 is the Cloisters, in Fort Triton Park – the renaissance museum in a castle overlooking the Hudson. It's a little out of the way but you could start the farthest away and work your route back in to the main hub - Although not as central, this is a real place that will make you feel like you have left NY for another era. While the MET is quantity and quality - the Cloisters is quality - much less time taking... More on that later...

The Cloisters, Medieval Museum in a Castle

The Met Cloisters 10-5

99 Margaret Corbin Drive

NY NY 10040

Phone: 212-923-3700

If you go here don't miss the unicorn tapestries.

The MET, Egypt Me and the Sphinx twinning!

The MET Fifth Avenue 10 - 5:30

1000 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10028

Phone: 212-535-7710

If you go here – DO NOT miss the Egyptian section or the roof top view.

Museum of Natural History, NYC

American Museum of Natural History

10- 5:30

Central Park West at 79th Street New York, NY 10024-5192 Phone: 212-769-5100

If you go here – Do not miss the dinosaurs 4th floor.

**See Day 3 for more on prices and discounts for museums!

Once you've had some art, and a few stops in Central Park, you are ready to venture into the 5th Avenue fun. From Columbus Circle the walk across the southern boarder of Central Park is a scenic one. There is a playground and rock climbing right there if you have kids. There are street venders and food carts if you feel like grabbing anything. I've been known to pick up some tee-shirts or sweatshirts here paying less than other places.

Extra day or Really Love Museums? You could attend one museum in the morning, spend time in Central Park, and finish the day at the other museum. *We've done this. Sometimes all you need is art.

After some museum culture to begin your day.... Walk down 5th Avenue!

Any time of year this is a walk that throws you into NYC life and if you are a shopper may be even more impressive.

*Begin your walk headed East along 60th Street, the border of Central Park, at Columbus Circle

*Walk from West to East along the bottom of Central Park to 5th Ave

*Eat hot dogs/ good street food (also good and cheap souvenirs in this area)

*Wander into Central Park and see some really awesome sites/ landscapes

*Amazing pictures from here

*Do a little pit stop for Rock Climbing in Central Park

*Start walking down 5th Ave – admire windows, and take your time window shopping

5th Avenue – Walking down fifth avenue and 60 St. (Central Park) going South, stop at the following: Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The New York Public Library and end up in Bryant Park.

Even if you can't afford to shop at Cartier or Prada, you must stroll down NY's famous shopping row. Have your own little breakfast at Tiffany's or peek into shops along the way. There are also more affordable options like H&M and Sephora. Apple and Rolex are super impressive.

*Walk over to The Plaza, act like you’re staying there, just stride into the Grand Lobby. Get a good look at the Palm Court Restaurant, and all the shops inside; then stroll out like you’re going somewhere, as the dressed-up bellmen opens the big doors for you. OK...then you’re back on 5th Avenue, and Trump Tower is just across the street, with Tiffany's beside it. First, go into Tiffany's and oooh and aaah at the Tiffany Diamond. Then hit the Trump Tower, it's still an icon (Mr. Trump is famous now of course, for having been President. Like him or not you can get a feel for the territory!) Wander all around the atrium, go up the escalator, and enjoy the views.

Next stops are Bergdorf Goodman and Sax. Farther down 5th Ave is St. Pat's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center to explore. That little stretch of 5th is a GREAT thing to do with kids who are old enough to appreciate it, and it's free. It’s also hard not to be impressed no matter how old or young you are, along with the city hustle and bustle are like no other place in the world. FAO Schwartz is now located right behind the Rockefeller Square, if you want to go in and play, or if you have children who need to see the grand toy store. This place can be crowded and expect a line if you want to see the floor piano from Big.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral - stop for art and prayer

Address: 460 Madison Avenue, New York City, NY 10022

Phone Number: +1 212-753-2261

Go inside, see beautiful architecture. The artwork and magnificence is inspiring!

St. Pat’s is right across Rockefeller Center and next door to Saks Fifth Ave. dept. store.

Go inside and feel transported to a peaceful place!

Rockefeller Plaza:

Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111

Walk around the square plaza - Top of the Rock if you want to take the elevator up and pay for the view (if not there are other suggestions coming for enjoying the view) or the Lego Store is a fun pit stop for the kids! This place is still monumental even when it isn't Christmas time!

KEEP walking down 5th Ave until you reach the….

NY Public Library

476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

New York, NY, 10018

(917) 275-6975

Regular Hours:

SUN - 1 PM–5 PM

MON - 10 AM–6 PM




*When it opened, the NYPL was the largest marble building in the country, and home to over a million books – you will know it by the two large marble lions on either side of the steps.

Go up to the 4th floor for some REAL architectural beauty.

4th floor ceiling art

Bryant Park – STOP to take in the majesty of the Chrysler Building rising up over the Public Library (bonus: watch at dusk as the tower begins to glow). Bryant Park is a 9.603-acre privately managed public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. Just behind the Public Library. You can spend time here enjoying the park's beauty, which transforms during the seasons. In Winter, the Winter Wonderland is not to be missed. In Summer, there are movies in the park and other events. There are gardens and performers, and some of the most appreciated public rest rooms around! If you have small kids - do not miss the carousel!

From there….

Walk over to….

Central Park, at Christmas Time

Grand Central Terminal

Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

(212) 340-2583

Grand Central is a commuter hub at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and.... Great place for eating – if you want fast and cheap try the food court, or stop at the Oyster Bar if that better meets your needs. There is a whispering gallery outside of the Oyster Bar if you are into that sort of thing. Look up! The Zodiac ceiling, the Clock Tower - you may feel like you’ve been there before because these are featured in so many movies and advertisements.

From there, catch a train up to Broadway/ Times square if you don’t want to walk…. It would not be cool to say you went to NY and didn’t ride the subway. There are usually some street musicians down there playing, and maybe a hustler offering to give you a ticket for some cash…. Keep your eyes open and look like you know where you are going! (Make your plans before you enter the terminal)

Broadway – Cool strip to walk and people see, if this is not your thing skip and walk through Times Square. DO NOT GO TO Central Park in Dark. Stay in busier areas.

If you want to see a show, and don't care what you see (and don't mind waiting in line), snag discounted, day-of tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square. It opens each afternoon and offers tickets that haven't yet sold at 20-50% off. The TKTS app will tell you what's available each day. Arrive at the booth early, as the lines will get long. Head off of Times Square for better pre- and post-show food and drink. Restaurant Row (46th St. between Broadway and 9th Ave) has a lot of great options, as does Hell's Kitchen. You will experience shorter lines at the TKTS booths at South Street Seaport or the Brooklyn location.

Question: Can I really see a Broadway show in regular clothes? Yes, that's what people are doing now a days! If you prefer to freshen up first, go for it! If time is crunched, don't worry about it! (In Danny Devito's voice)

ALL of that was one well planned day – the 5th Avenue adventure!

If you followed this plan your route looks like this:

Day 1 Map

Day 1 was a lot of walking and exploring! NYC is best seen on the ground, and experienced on foot so I have tried to create zones for those who have limited time but want to see as much as possible while they are here.

Day 2:

Lower Manhattan Day!

The Spirit of NY down in the financial district is unique! This day is not as spread out as the first, there is a lot of action clumped into the Lower Manhattan area. Walking will be the fastest way to navigate the busy streets. Just take a taxi, Uber or train to the Statue of Liberty to begin.

Today’s stops:

*Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island/ Battery Park

*National Museum of the Native American

*The Bull

*The freedom tower and WTC memorial

*Liberty Park

*Trinity Church

*South Street Sea Port

Statue of Liberty –

If you know you are coming and want to see this attraction, book your tickets in advance.

Tickets are $25.50/ person for a reserve or pedestal ticket, $28.50 for crown access, and sell out 6 weeks in advance typically. So check your options as soon as you know your travel dates.

Late afternoon tours, after 2PM and 3PM, will not have enough time to stop at Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Regardless of if you have tickets or are going up into the statue or not, the ferry ride and Ellis Island are worth the trip. The views of the skyline, historical presence and monumental significance are awe inspiring. Dress for the weather, plan for some lines and a security check to enter.

This takes longer than expected but please enjoy the whole process. Be patient with the crowds. Liberty Island is a great spot for a picnic lunch, the views are amazing. When my kids were little, I'd grab some subs/ sandwiches before I caught the ferry over and plan a picnic lunch in the grass or on some benches. As places go, this is one of my favorite places to just BE.

Coming back out into Battery Park don't rush through all the cool stuff. The playscape here for kids, and seaglass carousel are state of the art! You've got your venders and street performers; you can linger and enjoy the scenery.

Once you are ready to see the rest of your day:

National Museum of the Native American

Address: One Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004