New York City in three days. Sound crazy? Well, it is.

The most populous city in the United States, as well as one of the world’s epicenters of culture, fashion, and finance, it’s tough to tackle the Big Apple in just three days.

But, I promise it can be done!

If you’ve never visited NYC, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the more expensive, touristy sites. However, if you’ve been to the city before, take some time to explore the world’s best food, art, and history without breaking the bank.

Here is my guide to make the most out of 3 days in New York City on a budget.

Transportation

If you want to do New York City on the cheap, take serious advantage of your public transit options. Avoid taking cabs, even to and from the airport, and make a minor investment in an Unlimited Ride MetroCard.

For $31, you can take as many subway and bus rides as you want; at $3 a pop, you’ll make up the cost of the pass in just 10 rides. With 468 subway stations, as well as over 300 bus routes, you can easily navigate the five boroughs using only public transportation.

Unlimited Ride MetroCards can be purchased at LaGuardia Airport and a variety of MetroCard vending machines, as well as at any subway station in the city.

Lodging

Hotels in New York City are notoriously pricey. Opt for an Airbnb for cheaper, more unique lodging options. With thousands of listings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, you can typically find a room for 2 starting at around $60 per night. Hostels also have a presence in NYC, which are worth looking into if you really want to stick to a budget.

Don’t focus too much on what area of Manhattan you’ll be staying in; with such an extensive subway system, it’s relatively easy to get around, even if you stay over in Brooklyn. Check out the West Village and Chelsea for trendy but accessible hotels and Airbnb listings. Try to avoid staying near Times Square or Central Park, where prices are likely to be high.

Itinerary

Day 1

Start your first day in NYC in Little Italy at Happy Bones, a tiny coffee outpost that was formerly an alleyway. At less than 450 square feet, this modern, minimalist space is the perfect blank canvas to get inspired for a day of exploring.

happy bones new york city

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Next, take a short walk over to Russ & Daughters Cafe, named one of the 10 best restaurants in NYC by the New York Times. This classy pharmacy-counter take on a traditional New York deli serves up some of the highest quality smoked salmon in the city. It’s the perfect spot for a leisurely mid-morning brunch; choose from a selection of bagels, house- made cream cheese, and delicate salmon, amongst other traditional delicacies.

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Hop on the subway or take a 30 minute walk to reach the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most recognizable and architecturally stunning landmarks in the US.

Stroll across the bridge for great views of the structure itself, panoramic vistas of Manhattan, and Brooklyn on the other side of the Hudson River.

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Keep walking and fully cross the bridge over to Brooklyn, where you’ll hit the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge State Park. Find the perfect photo op at Fulton Ferry Landing, with can’t miss views of Manhattan and the entire bridge.

fulton ferry landing

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Continue your tour of Brooklyn with a quick ride on the East River Ferry ($6 one-way) to reach Williamsburg, the hipster heart of this borough.

Indulge your inner foodie at Smorgasburg, an outdoor food market held every Saturday and Sunday from April to November. Named by famed chef Mario Batali as “the single greatest thing I’ve ever seen gastronomically in New York City,” Smorgasburg features over 100 food vendors peddling everything from pho to po-boys.

Check out my favorite vendor, Big Mozz, serving up fresh mozzarella dishes like the caprese slider and mint lemonade below.

Photo by Kate Glicksberg at freewilliamsburg.com

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Need a drink after all that eating? No visit to Brooklyn is complete without a visit to a rooftop bar, where you can find some of the best views this side of the Hudson. Solid daytime options within walking distance of Smorgasburg include Northern Territory and Berry Park, a hip spot known for their weekend brunch and soccer watch parties.

new york city williamsburg berry park

A short subway ride away is the Saturday edition of the Brooklyn Flea Market. Each Saturday from 10-5, the 40,000 square foot courtyard of Bishop Laughlin Memorial High School is transformed into a market touted as “part vintage bazaar, part hipster hang, part old-fashioned town square, and part food bonanza.”

The market features a treasure trove of vintage clothes, books, furniture, and artwork. Check out dAN’s Parents House for a wacky collection of nostalgic toys and games from your childhood; you’d be hard-pressed to find such a mix of knick-knacks anywhere else.

new york city brooklyn flea market

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Note: Both Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea are in different locations on Saturdays and Sundays, so check their websites for the most up-to-date information.

For more views, and an up-close-and-personal look at the Statue of Liberty, hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a fun and free ride around the Hudson. The ferry, which goes back and forth between Battery Park (the southernmost tip of Manhattan) and Staten Island, is 100% free to ride, and is a great alternative to actually visiting Ellis Island.

Take in swoon-worthy views of Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and nearby New Jersey from one of multiple decks on this 25 minute ferry ride.

Note: While you’re able to ride the ferry round-trip free of charge, you’re required to disembark before getting back on to take your return trip.

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For a celebrated New York dining experience, head to Eataly in the Flatiron District. A massive indoor marketplace, Eataly encompasses seven sit-down restaurants, gelato and coffee outposts, and a variety of vendors selling fresh meats, pastas, and sweets.

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eataly interior

The space can get overly hectic around dinnertime; grab a caprese sandwich from the I Panini counter and walk across the street for a casual, crowd-free picnic in Madison Square Park.

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Day 2

Today is all about quintessential Midtown Manhattan.

Start your day at Grand Central Terminal, New York’s most celebrated subway station. Grand Central is more than just a train stop- with a beautiful hand painted zodiac ceiling, almost 70 shops, and 35 restaurants, this landmark warrants some serious attention.

new york city grand central station

Have a drink at The Campbell Apartment, a refurbished 20’s era saloon and cocktail bar popularized in the Gossip Girl tv series (fair warning- I’ll be mentioning Gossip Girl locations heavily throughout the rest of the post #guiltypleasure).

Grand Central is also chock-full of hidden secrets- check out this guide to uncover the history of this fascinating building.

Exit Grand Central via 45th Street and walk two blocks over to 5th Avenue, one of the ritziest streets for shopping and dining in the world. Window-shop at famous institutions like the original flagship locations of Saks 5th Avenue and Tiffany’s.

Stroll up and down 5th to catch famous sites like Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, both of which are free to visit. In the winter, Rockefeller Center transforms into a popular ice skating rink; in the summer, visit the outdoor cafe for great people-watching and an expensive bite to eat.

rockefeller center new york city

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For lunch, check out one of NYC’s best kept secrets- Burger Joint, a hidden burger bar tucked behind a curtain at swanky hotel Le Parker Meridien.

This greasy spoon is a wild juxtaposition to the hotel it occupies; with a simple, no-frills menu and entrance through a small, dark walkway near check-in, Burger Joint is a fun departure from the glamour of 5th Avenue and the start of the swanky Upper East Side.

burger joint new york city

burger joint new york city
The neon sign marking the entrance to Burger Joint

Next, spend some time exploring Central Park, one of the world’s most famous parks. At almost 850 acres, Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States, as well as a popular filming location for a variety of movies and tv shows, from Sex & The City to Elf.

The park encompasses a variety of sites; start at the bottom of the park just 3 blocks from Burger Joint and see landmarks like the Central Park Zoo and famed NYC restaurant Tavern on the Green. Stop by Sheep Meadow, Central Park’s main lawn, perfect for lounging, summer sunbathing, and taking in sweeping skyline views.

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Walk toward The Lake to Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, a spot that’s been featured in a variety of movies and tv shows, including the series finale of Gossip Girl. The terrace often hosts musicians and performers, and is a good stopping point to take in some music and escape from the summer heat.

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Continue your walk through Central Park to Conservatory Water, a small, scenic pond known for model-boat sailing, before exiting back onto a stretch of 5th Avenue known as Museum Mile. This thoroughfare, which is actually 3 blocks longer than a mile, encompasses 10 museums, including the world-renowned Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

central park new york city

If you’re an art buff, spend a few hours strolling through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, better known as simply The Met. The largest art museum in the US (at over 2 million square feet), and one of the most visited in the world, the Met houses stunning collections of art, artifacts, costumes, architecture, and more.

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Until September 7th, check out the stunning China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit, with over 140 beautifully displayed haute couture gowns framed by Chinese art and cinema.

The Met collection also includes famous works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso, in addition to The Costume Institute, which hosts the glamorous annual Met Gala fundraiser and ball.

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Don’t forget to take a trip to the incredible Roof Garden, which provides my personal favorite views of Manhattan. Each summer, the roof hosts a single-artist exhibition adjacent to the garden’s popular bar and cafe.

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For a mid-afternoon snack, venture back downtown to Veselka, a 24-hour Ukranian diner in the heart of the East Village. Situated in an area known for Eastern European cuisine, Veselka serves up traditional delicacies on the cheap, including their tasty pierogis. The restaurant was regularly featured on Gossip Girl as a favorite of Dan and Vanessa’s.

veselka new york city

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Before you start your evening, walk through NYU’s campus to Washington Square Park, a hotspot known for street performers and excellent people-watching. A large fountain and the 77 foot high Washington Square Arch dominate the park’s landscape.

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For some nighttime fun, check out one of two locations (Midtown and Chelsea) of the Gansevoort Hotel. The Gansevoort Park Avenue features a rooftop pool, tri-level bar, and The Drift, a sundeck with beach-inspired bites, cocktails, and life-sized games.

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Day 3

On your final day in New York City, spend some time at the incredible National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Located just outside Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, the museum is a stunning tribute to the victims of 9/11 and the heroic contributions of public servants.

While the museum is very sad, and could potentially be difficult for some to visit, it includes some amazing pieces of history and original parts of the Twin Towers on display. Expect to spend about 1.5-2 hours in the museum; for expedited entry on busy weekend days, purchase tickets online to avoid long lines.

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If you don’t want to actually visit the museum, walk around the outdoor memorial and see the new Freedom Tower without paying an admission fee.

freedom tower new york city

After touring the museum, head up to Chelsea Market for lunch. This urban food court spans an entire city block, and attracts over 6 million visitors each year. With a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, Chelsea Market is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

chelsea market new york city

chelsea market new york city

The market also houses retail shops with handmade clothes, jewelry, and artwork; my personal favorite was Artists & Fleas, with over 30 different individual vendors selling their wares.

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Be warned: even on weekdays, the market gets pretty congested; sneak off to one of the food stands in the rear of the market to avoid the crowds. Bar Suzette serves up unreal handcrafted crepes; the huevos rancheros will change your life!

Finish up your trip to NYC with a visit to The High Line, an amazing urban park running through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea on the West side of Manhattan.

The park, which is just under 1.5 miles, sits on an elevated stretch of disused railroad line. That’s right- the High Line is literally high above New York!

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the high line new york city

The High Line features a walking path surrounded by gardens and various overlooks; visitors are literally walking amongst buildings, providing a unique urban environment and great photo ops. The path is also peppered with street art, including a popular Albert Einstein mural near the start of the High Line.

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Check out the High Line’s calendar of events; free tours are provided twice a week, in addition to different programming, like stargazing, tai chi, and meditation classes.

Have any other must-see activities for a weekend trip to New York City? Let me know in the comments below!

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