Empire State Building or Top of the Rock? MoMA or the Met? Ellis Island or Central Park? Uptown? Downtown? And what about Brooklyn? Part of what makes New York so exciting is also what makes it so overwhelming. Streamline your visit with the city’s best-kept secret, the New York Pass, a golden ticket that secures admission to more than 70 attractions, all without standing in line.
Suddenly, the question is not which attractions to see, but where to begin.
With so many options, you need a solid plan to pack it all in. Our 3-day New York Pass itinerary is organized into manageable sections, with a focus on Manhattan’s landmark attractions. So if you have three days—and deep reserves of energy—save yourself some guesswork and follow our lead. Addresses for all of the spots featured in bold can be found in the New York Pass guide book that comes with purchase, and which also includes hours of operation, directions and detailed maps.
Day 1: Midtown Blitz
Start in Midtown, the city’s beating heart and home to its most iconic attractions. The neighborhood serves as an introduction to New York’s energetic pace.
Your Hit List: Get an early start at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. The 360-degree panorama from this 70th floor outdoor space provides context for the shape and magnitude of Manhattan, including amazing views of Central Park. From there, you’re only an elevator ride away from the NBC Studio Tour, a behind-the-scenes look at popular NBC shows like Saturday Night Live and the Today Show. Departing every 15 minutes, the tour also comes with the possibility of bumping into a famous NBC personality at work. After you’ve said hello to Brian Williams, be sure to take in Rockefeller Plaza outside.
By mid-morning, the commuter crowds have died down and it’s a good time to head to Grand Central Terminal. Pick up your free audio guide for an edifying tour of the historic building and its secrets. Gaze up at the main terminal ceiling, a constellation of stars. Nearby on Fifth Avenue is the New York Public Library, flanked by lion statues Patience and Fortitude at the front door. Inside, take a minute to survey the majestic Reading Room, an incubator of literary greatness for generations. Directly behind the library is Bryant Park, a fully-restored oasis with a European courtyard feel and a grand lawn ideal for people watching– or a quick nap in warmer seasons. In winter, it’s a great spot to ice skate.
From there, travel up Sixth Avenue to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which houses one of the world’s premiere permanent collections of contemporary masters, from Van Gogh to Jackson Pollock. If you’ve still got fuel left at the end of the day, try a nightcap with another iconic view, this time of city lights. The Empire State Building’s 86th floor observation deck is one of the best places to watch the skyline twinkle to life as the sun goes down. And it’s even better set to live music, performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm to 1am.
Swap in a Guilty Pleasure: Everyone says you have to visit MoMA (and they’re right), but if you like your culture spiked with a little entertainment, try Madame Tussauds wax museum in Times Square, which is included in the pass.
Don’t Forget to Eat: Stop into Grand Central Oyster Bar, a temple to retro goodness tucked away unassumingly in the terminal’s basement. Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy a variety of East Coast and West Coast oysters along with the best popcorn shrimp in town. Or try MoMA’s contribution to the culinary arts, The Modern, which offers creative fine dining with views of the museum’s sculpture garden.
Day 2: By Sea, Land and Aircraft Carrier
Take in two important museums uptown, traverse Central Park and finish up the day with a sunset cruise on the Hudson River.
Your Hit List: Strap on your best walking shoes, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. The day begins early at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably the greatest cultural institution in the world. You could easily spend three whole days in these hallowed halls and not see all the treasures, so pick a section or two that appeals, and don’t try to do it all. Next, make your way west across the museum’s back yard, Central Park, on a guided bike tour (seasonal, included with your New York Pass). Or peddle around on your own and explore the park’s vast riches, like John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields, the historic 1871 carousel or Bethesda Fountain, a familiar setting in many films.
Emerge on the other side of the park at the American Museum of Natural History, a monolith of scientific wonder, with rare dinosaur skeletons and a full-size blue whale suspended from the ceiling (not to mention the world-class planetarium). Take a breath, then hop a cab over to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum on the Hudson River. Located on Pier 86, this floating monument to U.S. military and aviation history showcases a range of aircraft, from helicopters to fighter jets to spy planes.
Time to rest your weary feet on the Circle Line Harbor Lights Cruise, a two-hour sunset boat tour that starts a Pier 86, meanders down the Hudson around the tip of Manhattan, then passes under the Brooklyn Bridge and up the East River.
Pick up the Pace: The Circle Line is a placid way to descend the Hudson River, but visitors with museum-fatigued kids might want a ride with a little more pep. The Beast is a warm-weather speedboat that delivers the same views as the Circle Line with a lot more adrenaline.
Eat Something: The uptown outpost of Shake Shack (366 Columbus Ave) is a block from the Museum of Natural History and a good choice for a quick, satisfying pit stop. Built to resemble a roadside burger stand, the Shack is a popular local hangout that serves delicious burgers, fries and, of course, shakes. In Central Park, the Loeb Boathouse (East 72nd St.) offers a casual outdoor deck or a more formal indoor dining room for meals overlooking the scenic boat pond.
Day 3: Conquer Downtown
Lower Manhattan was the first area of the city to be settled, and you can feel the history in the narrow streets, colonial-era churches and graveyards. The tip of the island is also your gateway to must-sees like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Your Hit List: Because the Statue of Liberty is borderline obligatory for first-time visitors, it’s one of New York’s busiest attractions. Thanks to your New York Pass, you can zip right through the line. To get to the Lady, take the round-trip ferry from Battery Park. First stop is Liberty Island, where you can climb all the way to the top of the 305-foot statue, then it’s back on the boat to Ellis Island, now an immigration museum where visitors can look up ancestors to learn about how and when they arrived in the United States. Ellis and Liberty islands also offer magnificent views of Lower Manhattan.
Back on the mainland, take a walk through Battery Park before heading to the 9/11 Tribute Center, a project designed as a place of remembrance for those killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. The 9/11 Tribute Center is one of the newest and most moving monuments in Manhattan, offering both audio and walking tours of the site and memorial. Cap your day of American history with a visit to the Fraunces Tavern Museum, a former pub where visitors can step back in time to 1783 at the spot where George Washington celebrated the end of the Revolutionary War.
Get Ambitious: If you’ve still got your legs and yearn for more history, try a Wall Street Walks tour. You’ll hit all the sites of significance throughout Lower Manhattan, including Trinity Church (and its graveyard), Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, Stone Street and much more. A lesser-known option in the neighborhood is the Skyscraper Museum, where visitors can learn about the architecture of the city’s constantly changing skyline.
Where to Eat: Perhaps the most renowned and storied restaurant in the neighborhood, Delmonico’s is the birthplace of classic dishes like Lobster Newberg and Baked Alaska. For a more affordable option, camp out at an outdoor table along the pub-lined pedestrian thoroughfare on Stone Street.
Have More Time? Extend to a Full Week
You can do a lot in three days, but if you’ve got a week, the 7-day New York Pass allows you to experience a more complete roster of attractions, neighborhoods and boroughs. Check out our 7-day itinerary here.