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How to Spend 2 Days in New York City (An Expert Weekend Guide)

Radio City Hall in NYC at night, how to spend 2 days in NYC

This guide on how to spend two days in New York City was written by Yana Beltran, co-founder of New York Simply (an official NYC partner of Apple Maps). Glad to have you here!

New York City is the largest city in the country, and exploring it over a weekend feels like an impossible task. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, right? For many folks 2 days in NYC isn’t ideal, but it’s the only way they can squeeze the City that Never Sleeps into a jam-packed schedule.

If you fall into this category, I get it. I hear you. But man, I’m in love with this city and I’m determined to share it with everyone within earshot. So I took it upon myself to draft an itinerary for 2 days in New York City. Let’s dive right in.

Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The 10 Best Neighborhoods for First Timers +3 to Avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.

Who is this New York City 2 Day Itinerary Ideal For?

This entire list is created for visitors that plan to spend 48 hours in NYC, taking it a step further, we’ve tailored it for first time visitors especially. Now that doesn’t mean this post won’t be helpful if this is a return trip!

The list is peppered with recommendations that may be new-to-you while visiting NYC for 2 days. What’s more, the guide is quite flexible. You can easily swap attractions you’ve seen before with new experiences. Our 2 day NYC itinerary is meant to seamlessly take you through the city without unnecessary fuss, let’s dive in!

Is Two Days in NYC Enough Time?

Honestly, no. But we’ll take what we can get. In my opinion, two days in New York City is enough time for a quick first impression (consider it speed dating). As long as you go into the trip knowing you won’t see everything the city has to offer, you’ll enjoy your time.

I’ll highlight iconic restaurants, important historic buildings and the best things to do (year-round) for those wondering about what to do with 2 days in New York City. Give yourself some grace and enjoy the time you have in the Big Apple. We’ll be here when you come back (with more recommendations and tips, to boot).

Woman walking in Soho with NYC Tote

Itinerary for 2 Days in NYC

Day 1 Itinerary

Your first day in the Big Apple is meant to be special and I want to give you a great introduction to the city I love so much. We have a lot of ground to cover since you’ll only have two days in NYC, so we’ll do a lot of walking. Just remember, any aches your feet might have are temporary, but the memory of New York will last a lifetime. With that said let’s hit the ground running!

Top sights for day one:

  • Central Park
  • Fifth Avenue
  • Observation Deck
  • The West Village
  • Times Square

Cherry blossoms in Central Park, Bethesda Fountain

Start Your Morning in Central Park

Start your morning in the Big Apple by strolling through the most visited park in country, Central Park. I can confirm that there’s nothing more iconic (or beloved) in New York City than Central Park. Let me take it a step further — if you could only visit one place during your two days in New York City, this would be it.

But take note, the park is massive. Spanning 843 acres, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the park yet leave wanting more. I suggest focusing on the top spots in the park so that you’re not rushing around aimlessly.

These are my suggestions:

  • Bethesda Terrace & Fountain: Beautiful spot frequented by performers and crowds of tourists
  • The Mall: An iconic elm-lined promenade that bustles with vendors
  • Wollman Rink (Seasonal): Arguably the most famous ice-skating rink in NYC, usually up from October through March. During the off-season the rink hosts various other attractions.

Want to dive deeper into Central Park? Here’s a helpful post that highlights the 15 most iconic things to do in Central Park (with far too many photos because I couldn’t help myself).

Grand Army Plaza near 5th Avenue shopping street NYC

Stroll Down Fifth Avenue

After enjoying your morning in Central Park try to pop out in the southeastern corner near Fifth Avenue. From here we will take the avenue deeper into the heart of Midtown Manhattan. This stretch of the Big Apple’s famous thoroughfare is jam-packed with some of the most iconic buildings in New York City. You’ll get to enjoy some (optional) shopping, jaw-dropping architecture and grab some lunch.

Here’s the most iconic buildings along Fifth Avenue that warrant a pit-stop while you’re in the area.

Grand Army Plaza & Plaza Hotel in NYC

The Plaza Hotel

Originally opened in 1907, The Plaza Hotel is the poster-child of luxury and prestige. Today it serves as both a hotel and condos, but as you can imagine, the price tag is steep. Over the years it housed countless celebrities and presidents. The hotel has also been featured in movies (most famously Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) and even has a Broadway play named after it (The Plaza Suite).

If you’d like to tour the interior (and budget isn’t a concern), make reservations for afternoon tea at the Plaza. If you do you’ll get to experience one of the most elaborate dining halls during your 2 days in NYC.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

As we continue walking south on Fifth Avenue we’ll run into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s hard to miss, St. Patrick’s is undeniably the most beautiful church in New York City! The Neo-Gothic style cathedral has been stopping people in their tracks since its completion in 1879. This impressive church took 21 years to build because construction was halted during the Civil War.

Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink and Christmas Tree

The Rockefeller Center

A brainchild of one of the wealthiest men in the country, John D. Rockefeller, 30 Rockefeller Plaza was constructed during the worst years of the Great Depression and employed more than 40,000 people. In fact, it was the only major commercial building in New York City to be constructed at that time.

The (nearly) 100 year old building has become one of the hottest tourist destinations and you can’t afford to miss it during your 2 days in NYC. The Rockefeller Plaza is the open area in front of the Rockefeller Center and is never void of visitors snapping photos or partaking in the seasonal events. In the summer there is a roller skating rink and in the winter the plaza is home to one of the most famous Christmas trees in NYC.

Local’s Tip: Public restrooms are not the easiest to come by in the Big Apple, so take advantage of the (clean) ones at the Rockefeller Center before continuing on with your 2 day NYC itinerary.

Views of NYC from Top of the Rock Observation Deck in New York City

Take in the Epic Views from an Observation deck

New York City is world-renowned for its skyline and visiting an observation deck is one of the best ways to take it all in. In a perfect world you’d visit for sunset, but since you’re spending two days in New York City we’re a bit limited on time.

I suggest squeezing an observation deck in at this point for the mesmerizing views of Manhattan. You’re within walking distances of two of the five observation decks in NYC, you’ll just have to choose which to ascend.

Let me give you the quick rundown:

  • Top of the Rock (pictured above): The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is on the 70th floor of Rockefeller Plaza (approximately 850 ft in the air). This vantage point offers stunning panoramic views of Manhattan, it’s the best observation deck in NYC (in my opinion).
  • Summit One Vanderbilt: New York City’s newest observation deck, nearly every surface is made of either glass or a mirror (even the floor). Suspending 1,100 feet above ground, this is the best observation deck in NYC for families with kids and teens.

Tips for Visiting New York City, Grand Central Terminal

After you decide which observation deck to visit, you can continue walking down Fifth Avenue. The buildings listed below are clustered around Fifth Avenue and 42nd St.

Grand Central Terminal

Stepping into Grand Central Terminal feels like stepping into a European train station. The Beaux Arts design transports visitors into a detailed main hall that boasts a celestial ceiling and a famous four-faced clock. Today the Grand Central Terminal is one of the most iconic buildings in New York City and sees an average of 750,000 daily visitors. In fact – it’s the second most popular attraction in NYC (behind Times Square).

Chances are high that your 2 days in NYC might warrant a visit via subway, but if that’s not the case, this gem is definitely worth a detour. There’s a food court on the lower concourse so this a great spot to grab a coffee or quick bite. It is very busy though, so I would suggest grabbing something quick!

New York Public Library

When it opened to the public in 1911, the New York Public Library was officially the largest marble building ever built in the country. No small task, considering it took 16 years to construct this monolithic structure, but the wait was worth it — more than 50,000 people showed up on opening day.

I encourage you to swing by during your 2 days in NYC, even if you just stop by the lobby (the architecture really is worth it). Entrance is free, but remember, it is a library so be mindful of your noise level!

Bryant Park NYC

Visit Bryant Park

Bryant Park is perfectly tucked into the shadow of towering office buildings that make up the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Located right behind the breathtaking New York Public Library, I’ve never seen the park empty. Clocking in at 9.6-acres, this isn’t the largest park in New York City by any stretch of the imagination, but it often feels the most lively. The park is as charming as a painting so be sure to add it to your 2 day NYC itinerary.

Local’s tip: Bryant Park has some of the best public bathrooms in NYC and the line moves quickly. Remember, public bathrooms (especially clean ones) aren’t easy to come by in NYC.

West Village in autumn outfit ideas

Day 1 (Afternoon): Wander the West Village

Right across the street from Bryant Park (Sixth Avenue) is the subway station that will take you to the West Village. This is a neighborhood you can’t afford to leave off your 2 day NYC itinerary because it encapsulates the every day charm that makes the city so great.

The West Village is arguably the most charming neighborhood in New York City. In fact, exploring it is often the highlight of my most people’s trips to NYC. Between the cobblestone streets, old brick townhouses, ivy covered buildings and the most endearing corner cafes and restaurants, you can’t help but feel like on a movie set!

Here’s a quick roundup of the best things to do in the West Village during your 2 days in NYC, but in case you want more information, I suggest reading: 15 Charming Things to Do in the West Village.

Relax at Washington Square Park

Located in the heart of the mesmerizing Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park is one of the most beautiful parks in New York City. It’s also one of the most recognizable, so you can’t leave it off your 2 day NYC itinerary. The park is instantly recognized by the monolithic grand marble arch, which was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.

Best Restaurant Greenwich Village
The Little Owl, also known as “Central Perk” in the TV show Friends

Visit Iconic TV Show Locations

Two of the most famous shows based in New York City are Friends and Sex and the City. And here’s a little fun fact you can share with your friends while strolling the West Village, both shows were set in the neighborhood!

The apartment where Rachel, Monica, Chandler and Joey lived is at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets, above a little restaurant named the Little Owl (in the show it’s called Central Perk). Although the show was filmed on a set in California, the outside of the building was used to establish the scene for the sitcom.

And for fans of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, her apartment is at 64 Perry Street. It’s located in one of the prettiest streets in the West Village and the stunning brownstones in this area will have you day dreaming of owning a home in NYC in no time. Both locations are hard to miss, there’s usually a crowd out front!

Best Restaurants Greenwich Village

Day 1 (Evening) Dinner in the West Village

After a day of heavy walking you might be thinking, “hey, I’ve worked up an appetite” and if that’s the case there are few better neighborhoods to be at in NYC than the West Village.

The West Village is home to some of the best restaurants you’ll ever dine at, so be prepared to feast like royalty! You’ll have to decide what type of food your after (in a perfect world you have reservations already made), but luckily there’s options from all over the world in the neighborhood.

Here I’ll give you three of my favorite restaurants in the West Village, but read our article on the subject for more suggestions.

  • Emily: A pizza restaurant that is home to one of the best burgers in NYC (don’t knock it till you try it!).
  • Don Angie: If you manage to score reservations at Don Angie you better invite me because they’re extremely difficult to get. An Italian restaurant, I’m convinced the lasagna single-handedly earned them their Michelin Star.
  • Petite Boucherie: A charming Parisian cafe serving drinks and fare in the most romantic of settings.

best bars New York City Dante

Enjoy Cocktails at Some of the Best Bars in the World

Whether you explore the Greenwich Village or not, one of the best things to include on your 2 day NYC itinerary is swinging by for drinks from the best bars in the world. I don’t say that as matter of hyperbole, it’s a fact! Here’s a quick roundup of my favorite bars in the area, but if you want to complete list, read: best bars in the Greenwich Village

Dante: Dating back to 1915, Dante was named the best bar in the world in 2019 and appeared on the list again this year (2022). They have two locations in the Village, one on MacDougal that focuses on negronis and one on Hudson St (at the corner with Perry St) that focuses on martinis.

Katana Kitten: Appearing in the top 10 of the 50 best bars in North America, Katana Kitten is a Japanese-American bar you’ll want to visit during your 2 days in NYC. Katana Kitten’s director of deliciousness Masahiro Urushido has also been named New York’s top bartender.

Mace: Mace has graced the list of World’s Best Bars for four years in a row. An astonishing feat, considering this popular Manhattan bar was only opened in 2015. Furthermore, Mace won the Best Cocktail Menu Award in 2022, meaning it’s cocktails are not only tasty, but unique and innovative.

Mace is my favorite bar in New York City, and if you can only visit one during your 2 days in NYC, this is the one I recommend. Also – all three of these bars take reservations, I suggest making them to avoid waiting!

watching a broadway show in Times Square

Day 1 (Night) See the Bright Lights at Times Square

I want to be honest with you: Times Square is overwhelming and very touristy. Most of the folks I take here end up telling me they expected something different (ha!). I think the majority of people visiting New York City for the first time have a vague idea of Times Square based on what they’ve seen in movies but the reality is often less …. romantic.

But at the end of the day Times Square is iconic and has to be on your 2 day NYC itinerary. Times Square swells with tourists all hours of the day, but especially at night. You’ll find yourself sympathizing with sardines in no time flat. Also, brace yourself for whiffs of marijuana, it comes with the territory. Take your time soaking in the massive screens and don’t forget to snap a few photos!

Local’s Tip: The folks dressed up in character costumes can be rather aggressive. They try to pull people in for photos and then demand payment, avoid getting caught up in the schemed by diverting eye contact.

Jane's Carousel and Brooklyn Bridge seen from DUMBO, views from the Time Out Market, NYC 2 Day Itinerary

New York City Itinerary for 2 Days: Day 2

Okay, I know you did a ton of walking yesterday but I hope you’re not out of steam yet. Since you only have 2 days in NYC we have to keep the energy high and make the most of your last day!

Top sights for day two:

  • Brunch in SoHo
  • Explore the Financial District
  • Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Stroll DUMBO

NYC Itinerary, Day 2: Morning in SoHo

We don’t have a lot of time but I still consider SoHo a must-see neighborhood during your 2 day trip to NYC. The neighborhood is full of old, repurposed factories and warehouses that give the neighborhood an industrial feel. SoHo is also a playground for the rich and famous, home to some of the best shopping in NYC and has more than its fair share of mouthwatering restaurants. That’s why we’re swinging by for breakfast or brunch!

Christmas decorations at Balthazar, Christmas restaurants in New York City
Balthazar during Christmas

Brunch in SoHo

If you’re visiting New York City for two days, time is of the essence, so you’ll want to get an early start to the morning. One of the perks of waking up early is getting to avoid long lines at popular places. To kick off our second day on this 2 days in NYC itinerary, I suggest starting the morning with breakfast (or brunch) in SoHo.

Here are the best restaurants in SoHo for you to fuel up for the day:

  • Balthazar: One of the most iconic brunch restaurants in New York City, serving mouthwatering French-favorites for more than 25 years.
  • Jack’s Wife Freda: A blend between American and Mediterranean cuisine, Jack’s Wife Freda is a casual yet charming restaurant with friendly staff and tasty food.
  • Ruby’s Cafe: The most casual of these restaurants, Ruby’s Cafe is an Australian establishment that serves hearty food in an up-beat setting.

Stone Street in the Financial District, how to spend 2 days in New York CIty

After Brunch, Explore the Financial District

After breakfast (hopefully you’re not too stuffed) we carry on with your NYC 2 day itinerary by heading to the Financial District. The heartbeat of the financial world, this is where financial powerhouses shake hands daily.

The Financial District is also the southernmost neighborhood on Manhattan, which means it was the first to be settled by the Dutch (and then later the Americans). Full of interesting historic sites, you’ll find remnants of the old world all around the neighborhood, so you won’t want to miss it during your 2 day trip to NYC (especially if you’re a history buff!).

Here are some of the main attractions in the Financial District (in the order I recommend you see them):

Visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

The 9/11 museum is a profound tribute to the 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001 and is truly one of the best things to do during your 2 days in NYC. It’s well worth the visit, as long as you can emotionally brace yourself (it’s a heartbreaking but important experience. You’ll need to purchase a ticket, but the admission is worthwhile, this will probably be the most unforgettable experience while visiting New York City for 2 days.

Whether you go to the museum of not, make sure to take in the grandeur of the moving 9/11 Memorial (right next to the museum). The 9/11 Memorial consists of two reflecting pools that sit atop the footprint of the destroyed Twin Towers. You’ll see cascading waterfalls in both cavities — symbolizing of a void that can never be filled.

The New York Stock Exchange in the Financial District

Admire the New York Stock Exchange

New York City is synonymous with financial power and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) deserves most of the credit. One of the best things to do in the Financial District, the New York Stock Exchange stands as a symbol for capitalism. Visitors are no longer able to tour the interior of this famous NYC building (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks), but, honestly, even just seeing the building from the outside is worth a trip while spending 2 days in NYC.

Day 2, Afternoon: Explore Brooklyn

Brooklyn is enormous (if it was a city, it’d be the fourth largest in the country), and 2 days in New York City is not enough time to see it all. Luckily you don’t have to, right across the Brooklyn Bridge is DUMBO, one of its most charming neighborhoods to explore during a quick trip.

Brooklyn Bridge NYC, New York City 2 Day Itinerary

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the country. Construction began in 1869 and when it was completed in 1883, it was deemed the longest suspension bridge in the world. One of the most popular activities for first time visitors is to walk the length of the bridge.

The scenic one-mile walk usually takes 30 minutes and offers some of the best views of the city. Make sure you stop and take photos (an obnoxious amount if needed) because the experience is sure to be a highlight on your 2 days in New York City.

Explore DUMBO

Once in Brooklyn, work your way toward DUMBO to enjoy this trendy spot full of photo-opportunities. And for those wondering, DUMBO stands for Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass. As you walk further along the waterfront you’ll see Jane’s Carousel and the Time Out Market. The top floor of the Time Out Market has a rooftop bar where you can enjoy drinks with stunning views of Manhattan (highly recommend).

You might enjoy reading: 20 Top-Notch Things to Do in DUMBO (Helpful Guide)

Juliana's pepperoni pizza DUMBO, Brooklyn best pizza in New York City

Enjoy a Pie at Juliana’s

Getting hungry? I thought so. You might have wondered and some point, “hey, I only got 2 days in NYC and you have yet to suggest grabbing a slice of pizza” but that’s because I saved the best for last.

Your last dinner in (this trip) in NYC will be at Julianna’s, a titan of the New York City pizza scene. Julianna’s history is interesting in and of itself. The founder, Patsy Grimaldi, also founded legendary Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. He sold that establishment and opened Julianna’s two decades later (ironically right next to Grimaldi’s!)

Since then, there’s a constant debate between who has the best pizza. In my opinion nothing beats the original, and I know Grimaldi’s has the original name but Juliana’s has the original pie. Most evenings, the line is out the door and around the block, but boy is it worth it. Unfortunately, Juliana’s doesn’t take reservations, so add your name to the list and explore a bit of the surrounding promenade.

Pizza synonymous with New York City, so if you need more suggestions read 15 EPIC Pizza Joints in New York City & 12 Best Brooklyn Pizza Joints

2 Day NYC Itinerary (Day 2 in the Evening)

I’ve probably worn your feet to the bone and for that I apologize, but I hope you enjoyed this 2 day NYC itinerary. We’ll end the night at the Time Out Market (remember, I mentioned it earlier?) at the rooftop bar enjoying some refreshing adult beverages.

Have Drinks at the Time Out Market

Whether the sun has set or not, there are few better ways to end a weekend in NYC than with drinks at the Time Out Market’s rooftop bar. It’s not a tall building when compared to the skyscrapers across the East River, but the location is hard to beat.

The Time Out Market is smack-dab in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and has near-hypnotizing views of Manhattan. When the weather is nice it’s tempting to walk out onto the open-air patio, but even when the weather isn’t great you can cozy up by a window and enjoy the views.

I’m going to let you in on one of my most treasured activities in New York City: riding the ferry. A part of New York’s vast public transportation system a ride costs the same as a subway ($4). Since this is the last day of your 2 days in NYC I wanted you to go out with a bang. After enjoying yourself in DUMBO, take the ferry from the station underneath the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan before heading back to your hotel.

It’s even better if you have a slight (responsible) buzz from drinks at the Time Out Market, and if you do it at night when the city is illuminated by the a jaw-dropping array of lights that make up the skyline. It’s the most magical way to end this New York City itinerary for 2 days.

Snowy walk in Central Park

Helpful Tips While Visiting NYC For 2 Days (Weekend Trip to NYC)

With only 2 days in New York City we want to make the best use of your time and money. Here are some helpful things to know for your two days in NYC.

Take advantage of the subway’s tap to pay program
  • OMNY (One Metro New York) is a tap-to-pay feature that keeps track of your subway rides. If you pay with the same card every time you ride the subway during your 2 days in NYC, after the 12th ride, you’ll ride for free. The offer expires every Sunday and starts over for the week.
  • New York City gets 63 million visitors per year! That’s a lot of people trying to eat at the same popular place and see the same popular thing. Prepare for long lines during your 2 days in NYC. Make reservations and book ahead whenever possible, and have a full charge on your phone to play games while you wait. 😉
Comfortable shoes are a must
  • New York City is best explored on foot because the city’s amazing skyscrapers are half the fun. As such, you’ll probably spend a lot of time walking during your 2 days in NYC. Whenever friends spend a weekend in NYC with us we keep track of steps and typically average 10 miles a day! All this to say, bring good walking shoes.

Further Reading: 20 HELPFUL Tips for Visiting New York City

More helpful guides for planning a weekend NYC itinerary:

Good to Know: We also have guides on 3 Days in New York City & 4 Days in New York City.

Well, that my friends, is how to spend a proper weekend in New York City! And then some. I hope you enjoyed this comprehensive guide to 2 days in New York City. Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

Enjoy the Big Apple.

Until next time!