The Big Apple, Gotham, the Empire City. NYC is a city so packed full of action and culture it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re a first time visitor, we look at the essential sites for 48 hours in New York City.
The most populated city in the USA and one of the culturally most important places in the world, New York is a city anyone should visit at least once. 48 hours in New York is barely enough to make a scratch in this city, so you’ll need to plan well and get your walking shoes on!
Full of rich history, fascinating landmarks and captivating sights to see, this city is always flooded with tourists who are eager to experience at least a portion of everything that New York City has to offer.
This guide is designed for first time visitors to NYC who want to get the most out of their visit. Although New York City is huge, with the cheaper accommodation normally found outside of Manhattan, the transport is efficient and relatively cheap. And, if you’re looking for some of the cheapest things to do in NYC, stay tuned.
Before we get to the guide, we’ll take a look at some of the things you’ll need to bear in mind when you book your 48 hours in New York.
Where to stay in NYC?
As mentioned New York City is big. Many of the main attractions are in Manhattan, the main peninsular that features the Empire State Building, 5th Avenue and Central Park.
Staying in Manhattan is the ideal for most visitors in New York for a long weekend, or short stay, but it is definitely the expensive option. Having said that, you will find dorm rooms and hostels in downtown Manhattan available from around $30, with private rooms also available from around $50-60.
If you want a nice hotel, your best bet is to shop around in areas like Williamsburg and Bushwick (Brookyln), the Lower East Side of Manhattan and around Central Park. A decent hotel will normally be upwards of $100 a night.
Trivago offer searches which include hostels, Airbnbs and affordable hotels, so take a look on our handy widget below.
New Yorkers avoid traveling by car (many of them don’t even own one), and paying for a cab is usually very expensive. So, for many people, the subways are an integral part of life in NYC.
Unfortunately, the subway system in NYC has the reputation of a slightly dangerous place. In reality, though, the situation’s not that bad or different than in most other cities in the USA. So, there’s nothing stopping you from checking out the subway and getting a glimpse into how a New Yorker feels.
The MetroCard is the best way to pay for your transportation around New York City. Each journey is $2,75 (2019 prices). You’ll pay $1 for the card and then add the amount of credit you need.
Each person in your party will need their own MetroCard. Children do travel free, but they need to be under 44 inches tall. So, if you’ve got tall kids you’ll need a card for them too!
Oh and, yes, the MetroCard is valid on buses too. You get a free transfer from subway to bus, so don’t be afraid to hop on.
If you’re in New York city for 48 hours, we recommend putting at least 6 journeys worth of credit on your MetroCard. $16.50 (plus $1) should cover you for most of your sightseeing needs and you can easily top up at any metro station.
There is also a great cycle hire scheme, CitiBike, who have many docks across the city.
Also, we strongly recommend downloading City Mapper on your phone. This allows you to plan your route around the city and shows you the best transport options nearby.
Choosing just a few locations is very hard, as there are so many appealing places to visit in NYC. Let us, however, start with Times Square. Named after the famous newspaper The New York Times, whose headquarters have been in Times Square since 1904, this famous town square is referred to by some people as the “heart of the world”. This is not surprising, as Times Square is one of the busiest areas in the world. In fact, about 330,000 people walk through this square every day!
Describing how it feels to pass through this square (especially at night) is quite tricky. Restaurants, shops, tourist attractions – all kinds of establishments are trying to draw the tourists’ attention, as the intense flashy lights are bathing the passers-by in their warm neon glow. Thousands of people are going about their business, all united in a uniform mass. Sounds and colors blend in to create a spectacular mood. It’s very hard to be bored in Times Square, and it is also hard to not be impressed or overwhelmed. If you’re spending 48 hours in New York City you’re sure to pass through here at least once…
If you’ve seen New York City in the movies, and you’re looking to find that cinematic city, Central Park is the place you should visit. Located at the heart of Manhattan, Central Park offers a great getaway from the urban bustle and hassle of a busy city. Of course, this is not the only beautiful park in NYC, but it is by far the most famous and impressive one. At 843 acres, there is plenty to explore and it makes a great spot to enjoy a snack and catch your breath under a tree.
If you’re exploring New York City on a budget, Central Park is one of the best free things you can do in the city. Walking, people watching or riding with a CitiBike around the many trails.
People selling food and the musicians who are playing throughout the park will easily remind you of the movies (not surprising, as this is one of the most filmed places in the history of cinematography). But, it’s not just the atmosphere that makes this park great. There are also many attractions, such as the Central Park Zoo and the Central Park Carousel, the Delacorte Theater, where throughout the summer you can watch the performances of plays written by Shakespeare, the Central Park Mall, as well as many sports facilities. Time flies quickly in Central Park…
The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
48 hours in New York certainly wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. This statue is not only a unique monument to freedom, but it is also an important part of American history. From 1892 to 1924, about 12 million immigrants passed by Ellis Island as they arrived at their new home. As the USA is, in a way, a nation of immigrants, more than 100 million Americans had their ancestors pass through Ellis Island before settling in New York City.
Originally a gift from the French government, the Statue of Liberty is still mostly intact and standing in its full glory. Designed to represent Liberta, the Roman goddess of liberty, this statue is still an inspiring symbol that’s reminding people from all over the world of the important lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten. And for those looking for some historical knowledge, there’s also the Ellis Island Immigration Museum that’s definitely worth checking out.
Tickets including the boat cruise and access to the crown of the Statue are $21.50, or $18.50 if you don’t want to go up into the crown. Warning, it’s pretty tight up there and you do have to walk several flights of winding steps.
The Empire State Building & Rockefeller Plaza
If you’re exploring New York City for the first time, you shouldn’t miss out on seeing it from above. And what better place for that than the Empire State Building! For a long time, this was the tallest building in NYC (and we shouldn’t remind you that there are a lot of tall buildings there). Its significance as a symbol of the Big Apple (New York is nicknamed the Empire State), its glorious art deco architecture, and its open deck offering an amazing view all make the Empire State Building well-worth a visit (and then some).
The only drawback is that the Empire State Building should also be seen from up high, and you can’t do that if you’re viewing the city from its deck. So, a good alternative is the observation deck found on top of the Rockefeller Plaza, another breathtaking skyscraper in NYC. Whichever of these two buildings you choose, be prepared to be amazed. The view is marvelous and overwhelming, equally beautiful (but in a different way) at night and during the sunrise.
Entry is $38 for adults, or $32 for children, which includes access to the main viewing platform and the museum.
The World Trade Center Memorial & Museum
The tragic events of September 11th 2001 are etched in the memory of anyone witnessed them, both in New York City itself and on TV around the world. And although the Twin Towers are gone, today there is a touching monument to the horrendous attacks in the footprints of the destroyed buildings.
A visit to the memorial is an essential New York experience, allowing you to take in the scale of the buildings and the horror that unfolded here. Entry to the memorial park is free, but if you want to know more, the museum is definitely worth exploring. Entry to the 9/11 museum is $26 for adults, but there are free entry days on Tuesdays from 4pm. Make sure to get your ticket before you arrive on the website as the free entry is very popular.
Chinatown, Little Italy & SoHo
When you think of New York City you probably imagine those red fronted buildings with burly Italian guys talking and gesticulating, like something out of the Godfather.
Today, it’s a little less Italian, although you still find plenty of great pizza and pasta around here. Head to Mulberry Street and Grand Street to start exploring Little Italy.
The border between Chinatown and Little Italy is also quite vague, so if you’re trying to choose between dim sum or pasta, you’re in the right place. Although, technically, Chinatown is south of Canal Street, there is a lot of overspill with Chinese shops and restaurants all over this part of South Manhattan.
Relax in Colombus Park for some Tai Chi spotting. A walk around these areas is like a glimpse at the past of New York, although these days it is very touristed. However, there is no entry fee, making this one of the best free things to do in New York. However, you’ll find lots of food and souvenir places to tempt you to spend!
Find your hotel in New York with our handy widget…
Museums & Culture
As a global centre of art, fashion, music and design, New York is probably one of the world’s best places to get your art fix.
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is an absolute must for art fans, with some of the world’s best known paintings and sculptures housed here. From New York favourites like Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack and Roy Lichtenstein to surrealists like Max Ernst and Rene Magritte. Tickets are $25, or $14 if you’re a student.
Other favourites include:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (classical art)
- The Museum of the Moving Image (history of cinema and NYC in the movies)
- The American Museum of Natural History (Dinosaurs, animals and geology etc)
- The Museum of the City of New York (all about New York)
Expect to pay around $20-25 for most museum entry, although most have a free day every week. Some museums also have a ‘pay what you wish’ policy, which offers an interesting option for those looking to save money sightseeing in NYC.
How does pay what you wish entry work? Simple. Go to the cash desk and tell them how much you would like to pay. They may try and talk you into paying the full amount, or you might get some rude treatment. Shrug it off and pay what you can afford!
Where to eat in New York City (on a budget)?
In all honesty, we don’t need to tell you where to eat in New York City on a budget, just follow your nose. But, if you’re spending 48 hours in New York and you want to know where the best spots are, try these on for size.
- Katz’s Delicatessen – Pastrami and corned beef sandwhiches on bread, for a genuine no frills taste of NYC. This one is a must! (205 East Houston Street)
- Joe’s Pizza – A Greenwich Village institution since 1975. (7 Carmine Street)
- Gray’s Papaya – Hot dogs are everywhere in NYC, but this is the real deal. Want the best? Head to the Upper West Side… You can get a dog and drink for $3.50! That’s gotta be worth the trip. (2090 Broadway)
- Barney Greengrass – Want an authentic New York breakfast? Look no further than the Upper East side and this institution since 1908. Bring cash as they don’t take cars.
- Sullivan Street Bakery – Keep it simple. An egg and bacon bap is one of lifes great pleasures. Head to Sullivan Street for the perfect hangover cure… (236, 9th Ave)
- Margon – Times Square is crazy and it can be hard to know where to eat. Cut the crap and seek out this Cuban gem. Get a Cuban sandwhich and a coffee. (136, W 46th Street)
Best burger in NYC? That’s a challenge, but you’re never far from great burger in this city. Try Bar Sardine in West Village (183, W 10th Street), Black Burger in SoHo (386 Canal Street) or keep an eye out for Lucky’s Famous Burgers (several local chains).
Ready to fly away for a weekend in NYC?
48 hours in New York is barely enough to see this epic city and we’ve just covered the essentials in this guide. Some other things to see, if you have the time:
- Universal Hip Hop Museum – Not due to open until 2023, but fans of hip hop should add this onto their to do list…
- The High Line – converted subway tracks are now a walkway and garden. Running along the west of Manhattan, it’s well worth a visit if you’re looking for best free things to do in New York.
- Staten Island Ferry – Want a free harbour tour? The Staten Island ferry is a free service, but on the downside, you’ll end up in Staten Island.
- Brooklyn Bridge – Wander across this marvel of modern engineering, and an icon of the city. Access is free and the views are exceptional.
- Go Kayaking in Brooklyn – Kayaking in the Brooklyn Bridge park? This is defintely a great free option in NYC.
If you have any tips or suggestions about how to make the most of 48 hours in New York City, feel free to share them below.
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