Updated: Jun 26
All you need to know about exploring the iconic city like you live there
Visiting NYC: Free Adventures & Must See's in the City
My previous Blog/ Itinerary for NYC focused on a Christmas adventure, although many of these ideas are the same, 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 in any order will give you and your family 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.
Good morning! Before you get started eat something delicious - you will need lots of energy!
Day 1: Museums, Lower Central Park and and 5th Avenue Walk:
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. This route is full of pit stops you can go inside and check things out as you pass by - or keep walking!
Another Museum option 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, or as huge of an art selection, 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
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
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
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!
After emerging from your morning of art in your chosen place:
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
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
*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 from 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 accessible 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 Tiffiany's beside it. First, go into Tiffany's and oooh and aaah at the Tiffany Diamond. Then hit the Trump Tower, under the scrutiny of lots of guards. (Mr. Trump is famous now of course, for being 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.
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 art work 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!
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 https://www.nypl.org
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
New York, NY, 10018
SUN - 1 PM–5 PM
MON - 10 AM–6 PM
TUES, WED -10 AM–8 PM
THURS - SAT 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.
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.
Walk over to….
Grand Central Terminal
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
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 will feel like you’ve been there before because these are featured in so many places. 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:
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.
*Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island/ Battery Park
*National Museum of the Native American
*The freedom tower and WTC memorial
*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 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.
National Museum of the Native American
10 AM–5 PM daily, Thursdays to 8 PM - except December 25
Admission is FREE!
There are tons of exhibits and history under one roof, with some cool hands on activities under one roof! Great place to spend a few hours.
Walk up Wall Street to the Bull
Ok so it’s just a sculpture right? Well not exactly, it’s a pretty famous little landmark that signifies fighting through the hard times. After a black Monday market crash in 1987, a Sicilian sculptor dropped it off there illegally in 1989 to thank America for the opportunities it afforded him. Since, its been photographed countless times, from both the front, and the back! Pick your angle.
Walk over to the Freedom Tower – WTC memorials
It is the tallest building in the US, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 7th largest in the world. Definitely worth a stop! But seriously, the draw here is the WTC memorial. Two large square imprints of the ground zero towers engraved with the names of all who were lost on that horrible day. The water falls and names could not be more thought provoking of the magnitude and reverence we feel. An excellent place to pause and reflect. Also a great place for a history lesson. We have never gone into the museum, for personal reasons however we have talked in great detail about 911 and how it impacted many we know and love.
The Oculus in NYC is a newly opened artistic landmark within walking distance of the World Trade Center. The transit hub, serving the PATH, cost four billion dollars, making it the most expensive train stop in the world. With its modern design, it immediately became an attraction! The entrance can be accessed through 4 World Trade Center from Liberty Street. Nearest metro train (subway) stations are Cortland St., Fulton St. and Chambers Street. Come and eat, shop or commute! (Window shopping is also appropriate)
Surrounding the WTC and freedom tower is Liberty Park, home to The Sphere, the iconic sculpture salvaged from the World Trade Center site. Another statue, America's Response Monument, can also be found close by. You are already there, so the stroll is convenient.
Walk to Trinity Church
Trinity Church Wall Street 120 Broadway New York, NY 10271 212.602.0800
*Right now (2019) the church is closed for some renovations, but still an awesome pit stop.
Visit the place First President George Washington worshiped during the brief period that NYC was the capitol of the United Stated. Many graves mark the ground on both sides of the famous little church, and serves as the final resting place for Alexander Hamilton, his wife, and son. More recently, it served as a refuge to many on September 11th, 2001 and suffered no damage on that day in spite being so close to the tragic destruction. You many remember this church from the movie National Treasure.
Walk/ Uber or train to South Street Sea Port for dinner/ ice cream
This is where you’ll find a great view of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, and if you are looking for cheap tickets for a Broadway show the place to stop! Not usually busy - TKTS South Street Seaport, near the Fulton street metro stops - (199 Water street, in the back) you can see what tickets are available for shows same day or next day matinee for a 40 – 50% discount. *This is the best choice
Cobblestone streets line upscale galleries, bars, cafes, and shops. If you come at 12:00 noon you can do tai chi with the Chinese, under the highway! Historical ships and a museum are also here to wander and explore. While this area is under construction since Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage, it is still a great stop and enjoy the moment kind of place with lots of choices for eating!
If this fills your day, or you head off to Broadway, you can easily stop here. This is a perfect place to enjoy NY, however if it’s still early or you are not going to Broadway, try walking the Brooklyn Bridge (weather permitting). See details for this on Day 3....
If you followed this plan you're route looks like this....
Day 3 Central Park to Brooklyn Bridge -
There are a few more things you have not yet done in NYC, and you have to get up and get out to enjoy the day! Today may vary based on what you did Day 1 and 2, but this is going to be a fun adventure! A little more spread out and you will use public transportation for sure.
Central Park – (Midpark at 72nd st.) the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace and Belvedere Castle are close enough together to be worth a stop. Wander/ explore NYC for fun!
Central Park Zoo –
830 5th Ave, New York City, NY 10065-7001
A small 6.5 acre Zoo in the middle of Central park, this is a great place to spend a few hours.
The main zoo area has 4 “zones”: Tropics (indoor multi-level rainforest); Temperate (up the hill to see red pandas, snow leopards, bears, etc.); Polar (indoor penguin exhibit); Central Garden (sea lions). The Tisch Children’s Zoo exhibit is out the gate and down the path from the Main Zoo section. Don’t miss a visit to the 4-D Theater too! A typical zoo visit is approximately 1.5-2 hours.