How To Hit All The NYC Hotspots In One Weekend

When people ask me what I like to do, somewhere in my reply is, travel. I love hopping on a plane and seeing other parts of the country or the world. Since becoming a mom and having financial responsibility over more than just myself, my big travel ambitions have taken a back seat. That’s why when affordable travel opportunities come up, I snag them! Most recently, my husband had a work trip scheduled for Newark, NJ. We hadn’t gotten away together, just the two of us, in far too long. With his job covering his airfare, we decided to put our airline miles to work to snag a free flight for me too! I flew out at the end of his work trip, and we decided to spend a weekend together in NYC. I visited the city once at 19, stayed with a Brooklyn native and experienced it all from the eyes of a local. I loved the experience and never really thought about going back. Since my husband had never been, I decided I wanted to experience it with him too. It did not disappoint. 

Deciding Where To Stay

The first thing I did when deciding where to stay was research the areas to avoid. I am a very vigilant person whether at home or when traveling. Safety is paramount for me and when I visit a place that is not familiar, I like to know what parts of town to avoid. Surprisingly, pretty much most areas in Manhattan were considered “safe.” I’d personally avoid the area north of central park, and only enjoy the park during the day. Of course, you have to be cautious of pickpockets, but that’s true in many places. So long as you are in populated areas, and don’t wander dark alleys or parks at night, you should be just fine in New York City. 

After figuring out our budget and ease of travel, we decided to stay at the Hyatt Grand Central Station. The staff was welcoming, the rooms were spacious enough for NYC but most importantly they were clean. They had a market downstairs for snacks, meals, medicines, etc. I opted to eat my meals and grab my drinks outside of the hotel to try and find some authentic NYC eats. We were right next to the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station. An easy walk to many popular NYC tourist destinations and easy subway transport to the south side of Manhattan.

Day 1

Despite a long travel day full of delays, and a late-night hotel check in the night before, we started our city adventure at 9am. Here is what was on the itinerary for Day 1.

  1. Central Park 
  2. Met Museum
  3. Plaza Hotel
  4. 5th Avenue Shopping
  5. St Patrick’s Cathedral
  6. Rockefeller Plaza and Overlook
  7. Time Square
  8. Grand Central Station

First on our agenda was Central Park. The park is so much larger than you expect it to be. When you first enter the park, you are bombarded by folks offering a pedi-cab tour or bicycle rental. While that is a great option, we wanted to take our time and just navigate it ourselves. There are many meandering pathways and no shortage of people, even first thing in the morning. We decided to make a big meandering loop, navigating the east side of the park first. We made our way to the entrance of the Central Park Zoo. While we didn’t go in, we enjoyed the landscaping, and peek-a-boo views inside the zoo. While I’m sure we would have enjoyed it, we are pretty spoiled having regular access to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. We decided to skip it and experience other adventures. If we had brought the kids with us, we absolutely would have made a point to visit for the day. 

We worked our way up to Bethesda Terrace where many films including home alone 2, elf, and enchanted filmed some scenes. It’s a spectacular view and we loved watching the boats go by. If it hadn’t been 90+ degrees at 10am, we would have snagged one for ourselves. From there, we walked past the famous Boat House and entered the gorgeous, shaded pathway of the Ramble. We followed the path to Belvedere Castle which had highly sought after air conditioning and pretty impressive views of the Great Lawn and the city. After a nice little respite there, we went to see the famous steps of the Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts one of the most exclusive charity events each year. The dramatic steps honestly didn’t look as massive once I was there in person. It was a cool place to stop on our journey through Central Park. 

Just past the Met is the Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy Reservoir. We walked along the south side of the massive body of water, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the shade along the walking path. After a couple twists and turns, we found ourselves going to Summit Rock. Which you can skip if you want. We walked through the Shakespeare Garden where a sprinkler showered us with a cooling mist, much to our joy. Did I mention how hot it was? As we worked our way south, we went across the bow bridge to Cherry Hill, alleged home to the Friends Fountain, which by the way is not actually the fountain from the show “Friends.” But is a pretty fountain either way. We worked our way to Columbus Circle where we concluded our 4-hour walking tour of Central Park, and we didn’t even see the entire thing! 

We made our way to the nearest Starbucks from some refreshing beverages and ice-cold a/c. Once our energy was restored, it was time to knock out the rest of our list. We walked back towards 5th Avenue and went inside the Plaza Hotel. It was the first time I felt wildly underdressed, but man that place is pretty inside and out! We walked across the street to the super cool Apple store. I don’t even have an iPhone, but that store is worth a quick stop. In fact, every store around NYC seems to have epic displays, well worth the visit. 

A few blocks down 5th Avenue is the stunning facade of St Patrick’s Cathedral. It is open to the public and offers a quiet reverie from the chaos outside its doors. The architecture, stained glass, organ, everywhere you look is just breathtakingly beautiful. Entry is free but donations are accepted. I highly recommend you stop inside. 

From there, we found our way to Rockefeller Plaza, found roller skaters instead of ice skaters and made the decision to head up to the Top Of The Rock to check out the views. On my last trip to NYC, I went up the Empire State Building, also a phenomenal option for city views. The Top Of The Rock offered incredible views of Central Park, the Chrysler Building, Empire State, Freedom Tower, and the surrounding cities. You really can appreciate the vastness of New York City and beyond. It makes you both amazed and a bit overwhelmed. There are two levels to take advantage of the spectacular vistas. 

Our final tourist stop of the day was Times Square. It was as crowded and chaotic as I remembered. While it is a very cool spot, it is not one I wanted to spend any lengthy amount of time. It is definitely a place I held a little tighter to my purse simply because of the volume of people packed in a relatively tight space. There are several cool stores to check out and found some tasty Italian food. We didn’t have reservations but thankfully we found a spot at the bar. Carmine’s has locations in a couple big cities around the states. Their food portions are absolutely massive so plan to share!

We had contemplated checking out a Broadway show but decided before our trip that we would do that another time. Last time I was there, I saw Phantom and it was phenomenal. If you have the time and energy, I do recommend catching a show. We made our way back to our hotel and decided to walk through Grand Central Station. It is very elaborate and definitely worth a peek inside.

Day 2

While we had less on the agenda today, we anticipated these activities taking most of the daylight hours. Here is what we had planned for Day 2.

  1. 9/11 Memorial and Museum
  2. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  3. Charging Bull
  4. Trinity Church
  5. Wall Street
  6. Pier 17/ Brooklyn Bridge

We planned to take the subway to the memorial that morning but midway through the ride, it switched to express. We were only halfway there so for the interest of time; we hailed a cab to take us the rest of the way there. 14 years ago, when I last visited, the site was a giant hole in the ground surrounded by fencing. It was a shocking reminder of the events only a few years before. I hadn’t seen the site since then.  I knew the 9/11 Memorial was going to be emotional in its own right. Sadly, the night before I had learned some devastating news about the loss of an extended family member’s little child. With many tears let out the night before, my mood was already quite somber. We walked into the memorial and went upstairs to view a special video, only shown at the memorial. 

We made our way down underground where we saw remnants of the footings of the towers. We saw the staircase survivors ran down to the relative safety of the street below. We viewed mangled metal where the planes entered the towers that dreadful day. What remained of Fire Engine 3 whose entire crew died as heroes in the collapse. We saw the faces of the thousands who died as we listened to family members say the name of their loved ones. It was not an easy experience, but it is a place I believe every person should visit. It reminds you that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. That you simply need to be kind to others because you have no idea the trials they are walking through. As we exited the memorial, we visited the memorial pools as we ended the somber experience with much more gratitude for the heroes in our community. We had spent about 3 hours here and quite honestly could have spent longer. We had reservations for the statue ferry, so we made our way there. Not before snagging some tasty pizza at Siena Pizza. They had a bakery next door and since I felt like eating my emotions, I grabbed some cheesecake. It was yummy and did help lift my spirits a bit. 

We made our way to Battery Park and over to the ferry entrance. You go through security and then are put into the wide gated areas where you either push and shove or get pushed and shoved. They really could figure out a better system for getting us all on the boat. Thankfully, it’s a quick boat ride and then you are on the grounds of the Statue of Liberty. We were hot and sweaty, so our first act was to lay on the grass on her backside and stare up through the trees at the majestic patina of Lady Liberty. Once we had recovered momentarily from the heat, we made the walk to her front side. She is impressive. We didn’t get tickets for the crown tour; I still have yet to do that. But I have a feeling it’s worth it if you remember to book them in advance! There is a whole museum on site that we decided to skip as the day was getting on and we still had Ellis Island to visit. 

Ellis Island is very cool. All the rooms, the stories, the architecture. I tell you what, they just made things so much prettier back in the day! Modern architecture is fine, but there is nothing that compares to the intricate work of the past. They’re just built differently. We walked the grounds a bit and enjoyed the peacefulness we felt out there. We really enjoyed our time there. The boat ride back, however, was a nightmare. They needed another boat or 2 operating since the summer crowd at the end of the day was significant. We are all corralled into one large area and with the summer heat and the hour-long wait, fights were close to happening. It definitely altered the mood from the cool experience we had just had. Hopefully, the company will change their methods so that the cool experiences of the sites aren’t tainted by the crappy experience of getting there. 

Once back in Battery Park, we made a visit to the charging bull. My husband got a real kick out of the randomness of it. Sadly, Trinity Church was closed for restoration. I remember it from my last visit and was bummed I didn’t get to share it with Tyler. We still took some fun pictures though. Just down the street is the New York Stock Exchange. It was a Saturday, so it wasn’t open, but that also meant it wasn’t terribly crowded. After a few pictures we walked down some quintessential New York City streets as we wandered towards Pier 17 with beautiful vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge.

With all the walking we had done the past few days, we opted not to cross the bridge. Instead, we enjoyed the music at the pier and the surprise of a summer rainstorm. We made our way back to the subway to journey back to Grand Central Station and the comfy space awaiting us at our hotel. 

Day 3

This is the day we were heading home, but we still had several hours to kill before then. The itinerary for the day was simple. 

  1. UN Building/Grounds
  2. New York Public Library
  3. Empire State Building
  4. Macy’s
  5. Penn Station to Newark Airport

Our muscles were spent but our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we still had plenty of time to kill before heading to Newark. We walked over a few blocks to the United Nations Building. I was so sad, the flags of the nations that usually flank the exterior weren’t up. I didn’t know they only have them up during operational hours during the week. It also meant no visits. I was bummed. If I go again, I will make sure to put this stop during a weekday. We still walked along the fence and into a quiet part of Manhattan. We stopped into Cafe Fresco and snagged a tasty bagel and drink. We made our way back to the hotel, past the Chrysler building, to grab our bags. Since the rest of our day would take us near Penn Station, we decided to just bring our bags along for the ride. 

As we mosied toward our end destination, we made a stop at the steps of the New York Public Library. I wish we had come to this on a weekday so we could peek inside! The exterior was as gorgeous as you would expect. A few blocks away, we stepped inside the Empire State Building. Since we had already done Top of The Rock, we decided not to go up. As we continued our jaunt, We found a cool Harry Potter pop up and meandered through Macys. When you get to the top floors of this massive department store, you are greeted with the original hardwoods, tile, and wood escalators. It was seriously cool. For my husband, whose job intwines with conveyance regularly, he was far more giddy about these wooden escalators than you would expect! We took a break from lugging our heavy bags and did some people watching just outside of Macys. It was finally time to make our way to Penn Station and the airport. 

We had a fun experience in NYC. My brothers had recently gone and told us it was a disgusting mess. They had stayed in Times Square for a work conference and did not expand beyond that part of town. If that had been the only part I’d seen too, I probably would have come to the same conclusion. I am glad we went anyway and were able to see the other parts of the city. I saw several families and at times wished I had brought my kids too. Before visiting, the idea of a big city with kids sounded terrible. I think it can be done, just be cautious, as you would travel anywhere with them. With or without kids, I think NYC is worth a visit.