New York City has seemingly endless things to do for visitors, whether you are looking for cultural activities, interested in architecture, or just here to soak it all in, there’s really something for every taste. Though be warned this is a trip you cannot wing. Knowing where to go takes careful pre-trip planning, and the best way to approach the city is to dedicate each day to a different area. Creating a New York itinerary for 4 days is an ideal length of time that will give you a solid introduction to this city that always surprises no matter how many times you come back.
Transportation From JFK To Manhattan
If you’re flying into New York City, you’ll mostly likely be landing in JFK, the city’s international airport located in Queens and about 15 miles from Manhattan. The cheapest option is hopping on the 24-hour AirTrain that connects all terminals to subway stations. From the subway you can ride to anywhere in the city, or other boroughs. You will need a MetroCard to ride the AirTrain to the subway station, and you can also use this pass for the subway as well. Kiosks to buy a MetroCard are located right before the AirTrain exits at Howard Beach and Jamaica Station (the subways that go into the city).
If you want a quicker (yet still inexpensive option), take the AirTrain combined with the Long Island Railroad. You can catch this line at Jamaica Station.
Other transportation options into NYC include share vans like SuperShuttle, ride share cars like Uber and Lyft, yellow taxi cabs, and private car services if you want to get fancy.
When to visit New York City
Located in the Northeastern corner of the U.S., NYC has four distinct seasons. Winters are pretty brutal and are best to be avoided. Summers are when the city comes alive, but are also when tourists descend on the city along with the humidity. The ideal times to go are during mid-fall in October when the fall folliage is at its peak and Central Park is ablaze with color, and during springtime (mid-April-May) when the city is coming to life again with its blossoming trees.
Getting Around New York City
The beauty of NYC is that you can get anywhere easily by public transportation, whether it’s by subway, ferry, or bus. For your New York itinerary for 4 days, there’s no need to rent a car-it will only cause you unnecessary grief dealing with parking and navigating the streets, trust me.
A note about public transportation: the subway can take you anywhere from downtown to uptown, and crosstown buses can take you anywhere you need to go across town going from west to east. New York is built on an easily understandable grid where the Avenues run from north to south, starting at 1st on the west and ending at 12th on the east. The streets run west to east and go from the 1st in the southern part of the city to 220th in the north.
Where To Stay In New York City
I’m a big fan of this hotel for its central location near 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center in Midtown East. The rooms are characteristically NYC-sized (read tiny), but the value is hard to beat and the rooms are spotless. Amenities include a rooftop terrace and a restaurant/bar.
SpringHill Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Times Square South
This midtown hotel is in an excellent central location with Times Square, Broadway, and the Empire State Building all within a 10-minute walk of the property. There is a bar/lounge on-site, and a complementary breakfast buffet is included in your stay.
Located in the East Village, this luxury hotel is an excellent central spot to splurge on. Walking distance to 5th Avenue and NYU University, this is a great location to stay if you want to be in a less touristy part of town. The hotel decor is modern, eccentric, and best of all each room boasts a city view.
A Complete New York Itinerary For 4 Days
Day 1: Lower Manhattan and Tribeca
Start your day out early at New York Harbor where the Statue of Liberty, one of the most iconic symbols of the city (and the country) stands. Take the ferry to the base of the statue on Ellis Island, and learn about the history of those who came through this port of entry by visiting the informative Immigration Museum that’s located in the beautifully renovated immigration hall. If you prefer to just go for the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty views from afar, hop on the Staten Island Ferry, which is one of the most scenic free rides the city has to offer and ends up at Staten Island’s St. George neighborhood (though you can always just ride it round-trip back to downtown Manhattan).
Back on land, head to Battery Park City, the waterfront pathway that stretches along the Hudson River, and offers another vantage point of the Statue of Liberty and the water.
Spend the early afternoon touring Wall Street and the Financial District, where you can catch a glimpse of the New York Stock Exchange building from the sidewalk (closed to the public), the Federal Reserve Bank, and the iconic Charging Bull bronze statue that is located on theBowling Green.
Walk to nearby Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in the U.S., where influential Americans like Alexander Hamilton were laid to rest in the adjacent graveyard. Stop by for events like Pipes at One First Friday, which features young organists from around North America on the first Friday of the month at 1pm.
In the late afternoon, make your way to the 9/11 Tribute Museum, where you can learn about the heartbreaking stories of individuals who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks, told from the perspective of family and friends.
As the sun sets, make your way to the Brooklyn Bridge for unparalleled views of the water and the city of Brooklyn beyond.
Day 2: Midtown
Start your day out at Times Square, where you can take in all the bright lights and experience the spot where thousands of people witness the ball drop every NYE. Step away from all that neon, and walk over to Rockefeller Center, home of NBC TV shows like the The Today Show and The Tonight Show Staring Jimmy Fallon. If you’re in the area during the holidays, you’ll be treated to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and an iconic ice skating rink, though the crowds are guaranteed to be insane. Afterward, stop by neighboring St. Patrick’s Cathedral know for its Gothic architecture.
In the afternoon, make your way to Bryant Park (via the shopping mecca of Fifth Avenue), where the stunning New York Public Library is located. Afterward, head to Grand Central Station to watch passengers make their way pass the Main Concourse Information Booth Clock. Before you continue on to your last destination of the day, make sure to take a left from Grand Central and see the Chrysler Building, a 1930s Art Deco-style masterpiece. As the sun sets, make your way down Park Avenue South, and find yourself at the top of the Empire State Building, and see for yourself how truly massive the city is from above.
End your night with a Broadway show or an off-Broadway show (cheaper performances for smaller audiences). Check out the TKTS discount ticket booths located in Times Square, Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport for same day tickets.
Day 3: Upper East Side and Central Park
Begin your day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), one of the most visited museums in the city. With a collection of over 2 million items under its roof-it will definitely keep you occupied for a good part of your morning. Make sure not to miss the popular American Wing, as well as the roof garden that offers spectacular views of the city below and turns into a wine bar on balmy summer weekend evenings.
Take a breather in Central Park, and head to the Great Lawn, where there are often concerts during the summertime. For a quintessential New York moment, rent a rowboat from the Loeb Boathouse and take in postcard-perfect views of the city framed by the park.
Make your way back to Museum Mile in the Upper East Side, and spend your afternoon viewing modern art at the Guggenheim, which is easily recognizable for its spiral design created by Frank Lloyd Wright. Purchase tickets online ahead of time to avoid the sometimes massive lines to get in.
End your day with The Africa Center, which is Museum Mile’s latest addition and hosts informative exhibits, live performances, and discussions surrounding contemporary African culture.
Stay in the neighborhood for a performance at the Lincoln Center (get discounted tickets at the TKTS booth mentioned above).
Day 4: Brooklyn
For the last day of your New York itinerary for 4 days, escape across the East River to Brooklyn, one of NYC’s most populated boroughs. This is a perfect stop for your last day, where you can slow down and immerse yourself in the different neighborhoods. Head first to Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which is a scenic pathway where you can see Manatthan, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Make your way to the Brooklyn Historical Society to learn about the city’s past and check out their website for walking tours and current exhibits.
If you’re in Brooklyn on either Saturday or Sunday, make sure to check out the Smorgasburg, which is a huge food flea market in various indoor and outdoor locations depending on the season. Check out the locations, food vendors, and hours on the official Smorgasburg website.
Spend your afternoon at Coney Island, where you can eat a hot dog at Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and ride the Cyclone roller coast (maybe not in that order). For a quieter experience, go to Brighton Beach a mile away, where you can walk along the Brighton Boardwalk and then afterward Brighton Beach Avenue where you can find Eastern European shops and restaurants that will make the perfect dinnertime stop.
That’s it, NYC in 4 days. Whether you’re visiting New York City on it’s own, or adding it to a East Coast trip that includes nearby cities like Boston, there’s no wrong way to see the city. Just make sure to not to rush your way through and take in the city at your own pace.