Planning a weekend or short trip to New York City? Wondering what you could possibly do with so little time? There’s a lot to see and do in this amazing city, and every street block brings a whole new adventure. In this post, we’ll discuss what to do in New York City in 48 hours so that you can make the most of your time.
New York City is made up of five boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Each area offers its own unique experiences. This travel guide will focus on activities and restaurants in Manhattan.
Shop (and eat!) your way through Times Square, take a stroll through Central Park, pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial, and see the city from the top of the Empire State Building. Your heart (and belly!) will be full by the time you head home!
How to Get to New York City
For the longest time, getting to New York City meant a road trip. Josh grew up in Richmond, Virginia and I grew up in Montreal, putting us at almost the exact same distance from NYC (six hour drive for him and seven hours for me — if you observe the speed limit). Then, we moved west, which now means air travel to get there and figuring out ground transportation for while we’re there. Chances are, you’ll be in the same boat.
New York City Airports
There are three main airports people use to get to New York City. Each of them has their own pros and cons, and you’ll have to decide what’s best for you. We’ve never been to Newark, so our tips are limited. We’ve shared what we do know below!
Here’s a quick overview of the airports around New York City:
- John F. Kennedy International (JFK): Here, you’ll have the most flight options, both domestic and international. It connects to the subway via the AirTrain, and is probably the most accessible by public transportation. It’s also CRAZY BUSY and massive. Running through our terminal with two strollers is not my favorite memory, but we got the flights we needed and that’s what matters most.
- LaGuardia (LGA): This is the closest airport to Manhattan, so if that’s your destination, we recommend this one. It’s being renovated, and some areas already look pretty amazing. It’s calmer (and a little smaller) than JFK, but it doesn’t connect to the subway (the closest stop is a mile away so you’d have to walk, bus, or call a taxi/Uber).
- Newark Airport (EWR): This airport is in New Jersey, but if you’re headed to Manhattan, it’s basically the same distance as JFK. For people not familiar with the area, it can be hard to get to and from Newark because it’s in a different state and the whole deal is pretty confusing. If it’s your only option, you can make it work, but getting to NYC might cost you more and/or take longer.
Transportation in New York City
There is no shortage of ways to get around New York City. You’ll find a robust subway system, city buses, taxis, and more. My germaphobia did not want to get on a NYC subway and we were very short on time so we tried Uber for the very first time. It’s hard to believe we hadn’t used it before, considering how much we travel!
Our experience with Uber was fantastic. It took about 25 minutes to get from LaGuardia to our hotel in Manhattan, and that’s including traffic. For the most part, we walked wherever we wanted to go, but when we needed to get someplace quick, we relied on Uber and I’ve got no regrets!
Get a CityPass
You can spend 48 hours in New York City and be fully entertained just walking the streets. If you want to do more, though, we recommend getting the New York CityPASS. It includes discounted admission tickets to NYC attractions and comes as either a booklet or a mobile voucher. Based on your needs, you’ll have to choose from one of two different options.
New York CityPass
The standard CityPass for NYC ($132 for adults, $108 for kids) offers a savings of 44% and includes six of the city’s most popular attractions. This option can be mailed to you as a booklet or emailed as a voucher, and you’ll have admission to the following:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
New York C3
Don’t need to see all six attractions? You can still hit three iconic landmarks at a 30% savings ($84 for adults, $64 for kids) with the New York C3 pass. This option is offered as a mobile-only voucher and includes admission to three of the following:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises
We partnered with CityPASS and they provided us with the C3 passes. Josh was very anxious about whether we’d have problems using it at the attractions. He was very relieved (as was I!) when the employees at the Empire State Building knew what it was and how to use it.
In the end, the CityPass worked perfectly, and saved us a lot of time and money. We didn’t have to research which landmarks to see, we just checked out the list they provided and enjoyed ourselves. It was great!
Empire State Building
On our most recent trip, we landed at LaGuardia, checked into our hotel, and headed straight to the Empire State Building. It was just after midnight, so we practically had the place to ourselves. Surprised that it was opened so late? Turns out that the best times to visit the Empire State Building are between 8-10am or after 10pm. It was so much fun to check out the exhibitions as we made our way up to the elevator without having to fight crowds.
We highly recommend taking some absolutely cheesy pictures at the King Kong display. The giant ape’s hands are positioned to provide the perfect photo op, and his face moves from window to window. Take a few shots because they will all be different!
Both of us ride a lot of roller coasters and visit many theme parks, so we didn’t expect to experience such a fear of heights. All of a sudden, out on the Empire State Building’s open-air, 86th floor observatory, we completely freaked out. It was a foggy, misty night which added to the eeriness that night, but Josh kept looking around. Eventually, we both got a real thrill out of it, but it took a few minutes to adjust.
If you live with anxiety or vertigo, this might be a bit of a challenge. We’re so glad we went because it was very cool and absolutely worth the jitters, but we were also happy when our feet were back on the ground!
During our 48 hours in New York City, I actually took an hour for myself at a local spa (more on this below!). While I was there, Josh took the opportunity to go for a run through Central Park. I’ll admit that I really wish I’d been able to see the park more, but I’ll be sure to spend more time there on our next visit.
Josh absolutely loved the landscaping and the views. Along with the running paths and the Central Park Zoo, there are so many attractions, tours, and events taking place in Central Park year round. When Josh realized that he’d run too far to make it back by the time my appointment ended, he actually rented a bike and pedaled his way to the spa. In fact, if your budget and time allow, we recommend renting a bike — it’s a great way to see New York City!
Can you really think of anything more iconic than a trip to Times Square? You really cannot beat the variety of shopping and dining options, which is why we spent a lot of time here. We hit several Starbucks, grabbed the best bite-sized cupcakes at Baked by Melissa, and spent way too much money buying BTS merchandise at the Line Friends store.
Of course, we fully indulged our inner tourists and just walked around completely awestruck by everything. We even ran into Gaten Matarazzo, one of the stars of Stranger Things — you just never know what (or who!) you’re going to see on the streets of New York. We also made time for more cheesy pictures, too!
If you’ve only got 48 hours in New York City, you may not have time to see anything on Broadway. Trust me, I stood and stared at the Hamilton marquee for a few minutes, wishing I could see a show, but we had too many other obligations. If this is the goal of your trip, though, we suggest staying as close to the area as possible. You won’t need to spend money on transportation when all the sights, food, and theaters you’ll need are within walking distance.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Spanning across the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn is the very recognizable, extremely popular Brooklyn Bridge. The hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge has connected the boroughs since opening on May 24, 1883 and has a really cool history.
One of our favorite friends lives in Manhattan. When she ran the New York Marathon, it was so exciting to see her crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, while Josh was running around the city, he had to make his own pilgrimage to the spot.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The morning of September 11, I was snuggled up with my oldest son, who was just a toddler at the time. We were snoozing that morning after a long night, when my phone rang. With my mom and grandmother both on the line, I sat up abruptly, knowing it had to be bad.
They urged me to turn on the news, and at that point, only the north tower was on fire. As we struggled to understand what we were seeing, we watched horrified as the second plane hit the south tower. It was a moment, and phone call, I’ll never forget.
We’ve been to New York City since it happened, but only as a pitstop. This was the first time we had time to make our way to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. We stood at the reflection pools, which feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. We read many of the names of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that day. It was a somber moment, but we are very glad we went.
The CityPASS includes admission, but we weren’t able to go to the museum because the lines were very, very long and I had an appointment. Next time, for sure. If this is high on your list of things to do in New York City, definitely get there as early as possible.
One of the brand new attractions you should see during your trip to New York City is The Vessel. Located in Hudson Yards, the structure features an extraordinary network of spiral staircase and offers spectacular views of the city. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, there are nearly 2,500 individual steps, 80 landings, and 154 interconnecting flights of stairs.
For free same-day tickets, visit The Vessel onsite or grab some from the interactive kiosks in the shops and restaurants at 20 Hudson Yards or on the Public Square and Gardens. The free tickets are offered on a first come, first served basis and are good for a one-time entrance to the attraction. Planning ahead? You can also reserve a limited quantity of tickets in advance online at no charge.
Where to Eat in NYC
When you’ve only got 48 hours, you’ll need to eat on the run. There are so many places we would have loved to enjoy a meal, but we just didn’t have the time on our last trip. New York is among the cities with the most restaurants per capita in the world, so this list is really just based on our personal preferences and experiences.
When I was a kid, my family always made time for a hot dog from a New York City food cart. Today, as an adult with OCD, I’ll have to admit that it didn’t happen. We did, however, see many food trucks that people without germaphobia would really enjoy.
The range of offerings is really impressive now, too. Yes, you can still find things like hot dogs and pretzels from street vendors, but you’ll also find barbecue, rice bowls, halal, dessert waffles, and so much more. Times Square and the financial district of Manhattan are truly amazing options for foodies who love good food trucks!
People seem to absolutely love Eataly. The Italian marketplace is made up of food and beverage counters, a retail store, bakery, cooking school, and restaurants. We went to the location at the World Trade Center and it was absolutely beautiful.
There are eight Eataly locations in North America. Two are in New York City (in Flatiron and Downtown), and the remaining are in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Dallas. Wish you could buy something you enjoyed but can’t get to a store? Order it online!
Go! Go! Curry
One of the things we love most about Japan is the food. There are so many cheap places to find a good plate of chicken katsu and Go! Go! Curry is one of them. It was unbelievably exciting to see one on the map when I was exploring the area around the World Trade Center. We walked there as fast as we could!
The shop itself is really tiny and you’ll be sharing a high top table with many other people, but I didn’t care. Without having to hop on a flight to Tokyo, I was able to enjoy a delicious plate of katsu, rice, curry, and gyoza! They even sell my favorite bottled green tea! The wait was pretty long, so avoid peak times if you’re in a rush!
Okay, we’ll be totally honest here. We didn’t eat at this particular Shake Shack location near Times Square. We did, however, scarf down burgers and fries from the counter at LaGuardia, so we think it totally counts. I’m not thrilled about eating airport food, but our order was super hot and fresh.
While we’ve seen Shake Shack stores all over the place (even in Osaka!), there’s something special about eating it in NYC. Why? Because this fast food chain originates from a hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park! After fans lined up every day over three summers, it was clear they were onto something. How’s that for a rags to riches story?
As you can imagine, there’s a real shortage of good Indian restaurants in Idaho. When we found out that there was a quick service spot near Times Square, we jumped on the opportunity. Indikitch has five locations across New York City (Columbus Circle, Rockefeller, Flatiron, Times Square, and Herald Square) and it’s easy to see why it’s popular.
The menu isn’t super extensive, but it’s perfect for a quick bite. We chose the Live Fire Feast, which costs just $11.99 (per person) and allows you to select your main dish, sauce, and sides. We both got the Chicken Tikka as our protein — mine was covered in Korma sauce and he got the Tikka Masala. For sides, Josh got a double order of basmati rice with naan, while I also got rice and naan, but added classic dal and cucumber. Of course, we also noshed on some vegetable samosas for good measure.
If you’re wondering how a quick service Indian restaurant works, it reminded us both of Chipotle but fresher. Our meat was cooked up on the spot, and the naan was fresh out of the oven. We would be there every week if we lived nearby!
Hyatt House New York/Chelsea
There are many places to stay in New York City. If you’ve done a search, though, you’ll know that many are tiny, expensive, or in areas that may feel a little unsafe. The Hyatt House New York/Chelsea graciously hosted us and we had a really great experience. It was right in the middle of the action, and our room had a spectacular view of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.
Inside the Hyatt House New York/Chelsea, you’ll find the H Bar, which offers a great Sip + Snack menu with items such as Korean Street Tacos and an All-American Burger. Just across the street, though, you’ll find a McDonald’s with a Starbucks and drug stores (I always stock up on goodies to save money!) close by.
We stayed in a great one-bedroom suite, with a sectional sofa and full kitchen. We even had a washer and dryer in our room, which was so incredibly convenient. It almost felt like our own little apartment in the heart of New York City. We even ordered in some Chinese food (we wish they delivered to Boise)!
Hyatt also has a relationship with Exhale Spa, which boasts locations all around the world (learn more about how you can earn World of Hyatt rewards points with your spa treatments) with five in the New York City area. Remember when I mentioned Josh’s run through Central Park? While he was working up a sweat, I was enjoying acupuncture and massage. The spa also offers a number of fitness classes and other spa therapies.
New York City with Travel Anxiety
Let’s get real here. There are a LOT of things that could trigger travel anxiety in New York. It’s a huge city which can present a unique set of risks ranging from elevated crime rates to higher travel expenses. This can be really stressful for a lot of people. I’ll be totally honest and say that seeing piles of garbage on the streets every night was hard for someone with germaphobia and OCD.
Josh had a hard time with being more nervous walking the streets at night with people regularly approaching us for money or to sell us drugs (yes, that really happened, but it turned into a really funny moment because the guy was surprisingly friendly).
Should you avoid New York City if you’ve got travel anxiety? That’s up to you to decide. We’d say that it would probably be a bit overwhelming as a first trip (especially if you’re traveling solo), so maybe wait until you’re ready to take on a big city. There were plenty of moments when we each had to stop and catch our breath (on top of the Empire State Building, for example), but that’s okay.
Our best advice for a trip to New York City? Respect your boundaries, learn some deep breathing techniques, and go with the flow. At the very least, it will be a learning experience. Happy travels!