Ultimate Guide to 4 Epic Days in NYC

Empire State Building (left), Annie in SUMMIT (middle), Taxi (right)

NYC is an epic city to visit. I’m a native New Yorker who grew up here and there are still things that I haven’t experienced yet. While 4 days is not enough to see all that NYC has to offer, it is enough to soak in the energy of this iconic city and its most famous landmarks. 

Here is a breakdown of the top things to do in NYC in 4 days along with first-hand advice for your trip.

Table of Contents

Which Airport to Arrive (JFK, LaGuardia, Newark)

You can arrive from three airports: JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark. JFK and LaGuardia are both located in Queens and Newark is located in New Jersey state. 

Among the three options, JFK International Airport holds the most international connections. JFK is approximately 15 miles from Manhattan. 

LaGuardia Airport, though smaller and carrying mostly domestic flights, is the closest to Midtown Manhattan, only 8 miles away. 

Newark Liberty International Airport, located in New Jersey, is not actually in NYC so you’d have to pay tolls to cross states. It involves crossing the Hudson River via the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel, and both usually require tolls. I recommend avoiding flights to Newark if you can. 

Getting to Manhattan from NYC Airports

The most convenient way to get from any of the three airports to Manhattan is to take a ride sharing app like Uber or Lyft. Yellow taxi service is available outside the airport terminals. Public transportation is also available if you’re traveling on a budget.

Public Transportation From Airports to Manhattan

  • JFK Airport: Take the AirTrain from JFK. It connects the airport to NYC subway lines. You’ll be able to transfer to the E line at Jamaica station or the A line at Howard Beach station. 
  • LaGuardia Airport: Take the M60 Select Bus Service to Manhattan. This bus route connects to various subway lines, providing access to different parts of the city.
  • Newark Liberty Airport: Take the Newark AirTrain to Newark Liberty International Airport Station, then transfer to NJ Transit or Amtrak trains for direct access to the New York Penn Station. 

Please note that Manhattan is huge so your total transportation time will depend on where in Manhattan you’re staying. All of the public transportation options will require you to transfer to a local subway line to get to your exact neighborhood. If you get lost, don’t forget you have Google Maps! 

57th Street Subway Station in NYC

Best Months to Visit NYC

One of the coolest things about living in NYC is the four seasons and the different atmospheres that they bring. 

I enjoy the outdoors, warm weather, and sunny days, and that’s what my advice will be based on. If you enjoy bundling up in the cold, maybe winter is perfect for you! Here is my breakdown of the four seasons in NYC.

NYC in Summer

Summer is when most tourists visit NYC as kids are out of school. But summer is an uncomfortable time to visit. It’s hot, humid, and the subway station feels like an oven. You’re more likely to be sweating and craving for air-conditioning instead of enthusiastic to explore the city.

NYC in Spring

My favorite season in NYC is spring during April and May. This is when the weather is warm and the sun is out until 7-8pm, but it’s not too hot and humid. The weather is perfect for exploring NYC in a comfortable and relaxing manner. It’s also a great time to experience NYC in color as cherry blossoms and trees start to bloom.

Cherry Blossoms in NYC

NYC in Autumn

If you prefer not to visit in spring due to allergies, autumn is also a good time. Weather starts to cool down at the beginning of September and it’s less touristy than summer.

In mid-October, the leaves turn yellow and red, and it gets a little chilly, giving NYC a cozy atmosphere. The sun is still out until 6pm before daylight savings happens on the first Sunday in November.

NYC in Winter

While NYC has a magical holiday ambience in December, it’s only worth visiting if you have the money to splurge and prefer to spend a lot of time indoors.  

December is peak tourist season due to holiday decorations, shopping, Christmas tree lighting, and the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. This makes accommodation, dining, and entertainment pricier. 

While December is a magical winter month to visit, the other winter months (January and February) are probably the worst time of year to visit. It’s cold and snowy, there isn't any holiday magic, and the trees are bare. 

How to Budget for 4 Days in NYC

NYC is not a cheap city. I live in NYC and still find it expensive. There is no other way to say this other than: prepare to spend a lot. Even NYC on a budget is not budget-friendly. Nevertheless, there are fun things to do in NYC that won’t break your bank. 

A trip to NYC will start at approximately $150-$200 per day on the low end, excluding flights and souvenirs. Accommodation can be cheaper if you travel with a small group to split the cost. 

Best Neighborhoods to Stay in NYC For First Time Visitors

Visiting New York City is an exhilarating experience, but choosing where to stay can be overwhelming. With its diverse neighborhoods, deciding on the perfect area to base yourself in is crucial to making the most of your trip. 

Most of the attractions in NYC are in Manhattan but there are a few downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods that can offer a slightly more laid back experience away from Manhattan’s tall skyscrapers and busy streets. 

Here are the list of the top neighborhoods I would stay in if visiting NYC:

Midtown Manhattan 

Midtown Manhattan is the heart of the action. It includes Times Square, Broadway Theaters, Empire State Building, and Rockefeller. 

Getting to and from places will be easier if you stay in Midtown as it has major subway stations including Times Square and Herald Square. These stations have access to almost all of the subway lines.

On the flip side, Midtown Manhattan is more touristy and populated compared to other neighborhoods. Many people who visit NYC are not accustomed to the loud noise at night. If you like quieter places, I don’t recommend staying in Midtown.  

Midtown Manhattan

Lower Manhattan 

Lower Manhattan neighborhoods of Manhattan include Financial District, Little Italy, and Chinatown. These neighborhoods offer a blend of culture and modernity. 

The streets in the Financial District are small and curvy as it was one of the earliest NYC neighborhoods built. Chinatown and Little Italy offer a glimpse into the vibrant culture, food, and immigrant lifestyle. 

Lower Manhattan also includes Battery Park. Not only does the park provide stunning oceanfront views, it is also a ferry hub, allowing you to visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Governor Island with short ferry rides. 

If you’re visiting during warming months, the ferry rides are a fun and economical way to experience NYC’s waterways.

Chinatown (left), Financial District (middle), Little Italy (right)

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village is a great neighborhood to stay in if you're looking to get away from the touristy crowds. It has charming streets and boutique shops.

This neighborhood has the iconic Friend’s apartment on Grove St. And it’s also close to Washington Square Park, where college students enjoy their time outdoors.

West Village

Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO

Brooklyn Bridge Park and Dumbo are in Downtown Brooklyn, located at the waterfront with a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in NYC as its got the perfect blend of open space, modern architecture, iconic Manhattan skyline views, and good food. 

Although it’s located in Brooklyn, I personally think the view is better than anything you’ll get in Manhattan while not feeling suffocated on every street. Plus, you can access Manhattan easily by simply walking over the Brooklyn Bridge!
 Manhattan skyline view from Brooklyn Bridge Park at sunset

Best Ways To Get Around in NYC


The most common way to navigate NYC is to take the subway. We have one of the most extensive public transportation networks in the world. I don’t drive and almost never take car services in NYC as the subway is generally sufficient. 

Rides are inexpensive at just $2.90 per person (as of April 2024) and it’ll take you anywhere you need to go in NYC. You can even use Apple Pay to avoid buying a Metrocard. Simply tap and go.

Google Maps can show you the exact lines to take and the stations to get on and off. The advantage of the subway over cars is that the subway is not vulnerable to road traffic. 

Occasionally, select subway lines will be under construction (usually on weekends or late night hours). Employees at the front booth are helpful if you need help with directions.

NYC Subway


If you’re looking for the quintessential NYC experience, hailing and riding a taxi cab could be fun. Iconic yellow taxis are a ubiquitous sight on the city's streets. Operated by licensed drivers, these taxis can be hailed on the street or found at designated taxi stands throughout the five boroughs. 

Be aware that taxi meters calculate the fare using a combination of time and distance. This can lead to higher fares if you get stuck in NYC traffic, which happens quite often.
 NYC taxi

Ride-Sharing Apps

Unlike taxis, ride-sharing apps like Uber charge a fixed price regardless of any potential delays. I personally prefer to take an Uber instead of a taxi. They’re also safer as you can track the ride and share the link with someone else. 


Although NYC is big, the main attractions are walkable if you segment your day's properly to focus on one area instead of traveling across town. Walking in NYC is one of my favorite things to do, especially as a photographer, as there’s so much action and energy. Every block can be something new and unexpected. 

My itinerary will help you make the most of your 4 days in NYC by grouping bordering neighborhoods together so you don’t spend too much time transporting.

Day 1: Midtown Manhattan

  • SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
  • Grand Central
  • Vessel
  • The Edge
  • Times Square

For your first day, starting with Midtown Manhattan is a good introduction to iconic views and modern buildings that NYC has to offer. 

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Begin your day at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, the city's newest observatory atop the One Vanderbilt skyscraper. Early morning is the best time to visit to avoid crowds and experience it with softer lighting for photos. 

View from SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Inside and Rooftop

Grand Central Terminal

Afterwards, explore the historic Grand Central Terminal merely 2 minutes walk away.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

Vessel and The Edge

Visit the Vessel at Hudson Yards to see its intricate geometric patterns. It is one of the coolest modern structures in NYC.
  • Note: The Vessel is closed during winter months but you’ll still be able to see it from the outside. 

If you’re up for another amazing rooftop, The Edge at Hudson Yards is a magical place to see the sunset and city lights at night.

The Edge in Hudson Yards, NYC
The Edge in Hudson Yards, NYC

Times Square

Experience the excitement of Times Square in the evening, which is the best time to visit as the bright billboards illuminate the dark sky and bustling crowds. This is when Times Square is most alive. 

To avoid getting scammed, don’t take photos with mascots urging you for a picture as they will charge you. Also, keep your belongings secure. I’ve never been pickpocketed in Times Square but this location is an easy target due to large crowds and tourists. 

Day 2: Lower Manhattan

  • Battery Park
  • Wall Street
  • Oculus
  • World Trade Center
  • Brookfield Place

Battery Park

Starting your day with fresh air at Battery Park, where you can stroll along the waterfront, rent a bike with Citi Bike, and admire views of the Statue of Liberty. To get a Citi Bike, simply download the app for instructions on how to unlock a bike.

Wall Street/Financial District 

Visit Wall Street and its iconic landmarks like the New York Stock Exchange and the Bull. 
  • Historical Insight: Financial District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in NYC, indicated by black street signs while most streets have green signs. It was the original settlement of New Amsterdam, founded by the Dutch in the early 17th century.

A popular street to visit in the Financial District is Stone Street, a cobblestone-paved pedestrian street with a European influence. It's known for its historic charm, lined with restored 19th-century buildings that house various restaurants, bars, and pubs.


After Battery Park, go inside the Oculus. It is a transportation hub and mall designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. It has a unique, futuristic design with white ribs and vast, light-filled atrium. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants for you to enjoy lunch. 

The Oculus Photography Print

World Trade Center

Visit the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial next to the Oculus to pay respects. The memorial consists of two stunning man-made pools in place of where the Twin Towers were. 

Brookfield Place

Check out Brookfield Place as it offers a sophisticated blend of shopping, dining, and cultural experiences along the Hudson River waterfront. It provides a luxurious escape from the bustling streets of Lower Manhattan.

The waterfront behind Brookfield Place

Day 3: Downtown Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan

  • Dumbo
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Chinatown
  • Little Italy
  • PUBLIC Hotel


Start your day at Dumbo, a charming neighborhood in Brooklyn with the best enjoying view of the Manhattan skyline. The best time to visit Dumbo is during sunrise and early morning to avoid the crowds. This is one of my favorite spots to capture a sunrise. 

In my 20+ years of experience living in NYC, this waterfront has the best view of the iconic Manhattan skyline that you see in pictures. I could spend hours here and sometimes come for photoshoots. 

At the waterfront, you’ll find Jane's Carousel. It is a beautifully restored vintage carousel that is fun to ride for all ages. 

I also recommend visiting the Empire Stores building, where you’ll find lots of food, art galleries, shops, and Time Out Market on its rooftop.

Dumbo in Brooklyn

Best Spots for Lunch in Dumbo

  • Juliana's Pizza: Renowned for its classic New York-style pizzas, offering a variety of toppings and delicious thin crusts.
  • Grimaldi's Pizzeria: Another beloved pizza joint famous for its coal-fired brick oven pizzas, creating a unique flavor and texture.
  • Time Out Market inside the Empire Stores building: A bustling food hall featuring a curated selection of some of the best eateries in New York City, offering a diverse range of cuisines.

Brooklyn Bridge

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC is a must for first-time visitors, offering stunning views of the city skyline and a glimpse into its rich history. The entrance to the pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn side is located near Cadman Plaza and Prospect Street. It’s a small stairway in the middle of a street under a bridge. 

Please note that the bridge can get windy as it’s surrounded by water. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll be in Manhattan in the Financial District. It takes approximately 30 minutes to cross the bridge, but feel free to enjoy your time and stop for photos!


After you cross the bridge, I recommend walking to Chinatown, which is only 15 minutes away. Chinatown offers a vibrant cultural experience, filled with colorful storefronts, and authentic cuisine.

You’ll get a glimpse into the daily lifestyle of immigrants, which is different from the glamorous NYC that the media often portrays. As an Asian American who was raised by immigrant parents, I feel lucky to have grown up in a city with a large Asian community. It's an honor to share the unique culture with travelers.

And don’t miss out on the food! They are among the best and most authentic Asian food in the United States. Food in Chinatown is arguably the best for its value as it’s delicious and less expensive than other neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Chinatown in NYC
Chinatown in NYC

Asian Restaurants to Try:

  • Joe's Shanghai: Known for its delectable soup dumplings, this restaurant is a must-visit for authentic Shanghainese cuisine.
  • Totto Ramen: Renowned for its rich and savory ramen bowls, Totto Ramen offers a cozy ambiance perfect for warming up with a satisfying meal.
  • Ajisen Ramen: Popular and affordable Japanese ramen chain known for its flavorful broth. This is one of my favorite ramen spots in NYC. 

Chinatown Ice Cream Spots:

  • Chinatown Ice Cream Factory: Founded in 1978, this is an iconic and beloved ice cream spot known for its array of ice cream flavors.
  • I CE NY: Offers a modern twist on ice cream, specializing in made-to-order rolled ice cream creations with a variety of fresh toppings. It originated from Southeast Asia and became popular in NYC around 2015. 

Little Italy

Another one of the most cultural neighborhoods in Manhattan, Little Italy is a charming neighborhood known for its rich Italian heritage, offering a plethora of authentic Italian restaurants, cafes, and pastry shops. 

Little Italy is right next to Chinatown. You’ll see the two neighborhoods meet along Mulberry Street between Canal and Grand Street.

Little Italy in NYC
Little Italy Street in NYC

Bonus Tip: PUBLIC Hotel

As a bonus, I’m happy to share a cool spot to visit that not many travelers know about. Approximately 10-15 minutes walk from Little Italy/Chinatown is PUBLIC hotel. 
  • PUBLIC Hotel Address: 215 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

This hotel has sleek minimalist decor, cool mirrors, elegant furnishing, a bar, and fun activities such as a pool table and chess board. It’s free to enter and relax in the lobby. 

I recommend visiting for a little break and experience the luxury that NYC has to offer. Beware, the alcoholic drinks here are pricey if you decide to get some. 

Day 4: Upper West Side

  • Columbus Circle
  • Central Park
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Levain Bakery

Columbus Circle

Explore Central Park and the Upper West Side for your last day in NYC. Start your day at Columbus Circle, located at the bottom left corner of Central Park. It is a circular intersection filled with shops, restaurants, and street performances. 

Right next to the circle intersection is Deutsche Bank Center, a mall with high end brands and food. It’s also a good place to use the restroom before visiting Central Park.

Central Park 

Next, make your way to Central Park South, which is right next to Columbus circle. Central Park is a must visit in NYC, especially during the warmer months.
Central Park during spring is my favorite time to visit as cherry blossoms bloom.

Check out my article on the best things to do in Central Park during spring HERE.

NYC Central Park's Greenery and Cherry Blossoms

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park is huge so there's plenty to enjoy for the remainder of your day. But if you’re craving some indoor time or would like to visit a museum, the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side offers fascinating exhibits on dinosaurs, human evolution, and biodiversity. 

Levain Bakery

A 10 minute walk from the American Museum of Natural History is the original Levain Bakery. Their cookies will probably be one of the best you’ll ever have. They are famously known for their large cookies with warm centers. 
  • Levain Bakery Address: 167 W 74th St, New York, NY 10023


As a native New Yorker, these are my favorite parts that I believe will be a memorable experience for visitors. And I hope my practical tips will help you make the most out of your trip.

From the bustling streets of Midtown Manhattan to the charming cobblestone lanes of Dumbo, each day offers a unique opportunity to soak in the energy and atmosphere of the Big Apple. 

And don't forget to explore the cultural enclaves of Little Italy and Chinatown, where you can sample authentic cuisines and immerse yourself in the rich heritage.

So pack your bags, prepare your taste buds, and get ready to experience the timeless and boundless energy of New York City.

If you're looking to bring a piece of NYC to your home or office, check out my photography print collection below. 

The Edge in Hudson Yard, NYC

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Hi, I'm Annie

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I'm a travel photographer from NYC who discovered her love for photography in middle school. After I started my corporate job, I turned to photography as my escape. It was then that I decided photography wasn't just a hobby, and start Annie Ambience to inspire others to connect with the world.

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