Student Experience Blog

How to see New York City in 72 Hours

I’ve been to two cities more populous than New York. Istanbul and Jakarta are both sprawling metropolises containing every imaginable segment of societal development, and Jakarta is even more densely populated than New York. What was striking to me about New York though is that it hit a boom when it was slated to be the modern center of civilization. The towering structures with Biblical and Greco-Roman depictions at street level, ornately carved, the quotes about societal progress, filled with gold leaf, indicate that those building in Manhattan during first third of the 20th century believed that their projects were at the forefront of progress itself. Reading about the landmarks around the peninsula, it appears that at one point the city was dedicated to breaking every record of human progress. Several buildings were the tallest of their time, several employed unique construction strategies, and several had the first technologies of their time. The Cooper Union Foundation was the first building to have an elevator in 1853. The World Trade Center Towers were the first to have self-elevating cranes. From 1880-1970, New York built 10 of the 12 tallest buildings in the world.

As such, the city is huge and there is an incredible amount to see. I took a short trip with my dad and only had two and a half days to see the city, but we were still able to see a respectable portion with two days full of fifteen miles of walking each. We have both done our fair share of traveling and so we came up with a plan to see the most in a weekend. Here is our guide to seeing the city in under 72 hours:

1st night (I arrived at 9:30 PM):

See times square lights and get dinner and maybe a beer (if you’re into that, you’re in luck because beer is an important part of NYC tourism). We went to Beer Authority NYC after wandering and seeing the most iconic part of the peninsula. Apparently there is a law stipulating that electronic advertisements cover 20% of the exterior of the buildings there. That fact is coming from a bus tour agent so take it with a grain of salt, but if this was a law it wouldn’t surprise me. Your tuition is being paid several times over in a single day in electricity bills in a square acre here, probably.

Day 2

We woke up early to get a 24 hour CityPASS. Most attractions cost around $20-50, and the passes cost about $110 a person for a day, so dedicating an entire day to seeing major tourist sites is a good way to spend your money wisely. Multi day passes are available as well. We bought the pass at around 8 in the morning. We started by walking from Times Square to 30 Rockefeller Place, and then rode to the top to get a beautiful view of the city in the morning. It makes sense to start the day out with this view, because it can help orient you to the city’s layout, which is an important part of not wasting time by wandering the wrong way.

After this, we rode the Metro down to south Manhattan (I have used about a dozen subways at this point and this was one of the more confusing to use, so looking at a few metro maps before your trip is a good idea) to see the sites at the bottom of the city. An important aspect of the NYC Metro is that there is a flat ride fee, so whether you are traveling two blocks or half of Manhattan you pay the same. We waited in line to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and then to Ellis Island. Waiting in line took around 45 minutes, so try to plan for a time, possibly on a week day to do this to avoid wasting valuable time in line. It was the longest line we encountered and it was a cold wait in early December. You can see both islands including rides in about 3 hours, which includes reading exhibits at Ellis Island. The CityPASS does not include a Statue of Liberty pedestal tour. Fun fact: the funding for the pedestal was raised by Joseph Pulitzer, who offered to publish names of those who donated to the cause, after Congress refused to pay for a place to put the gift from the French. Initially, Congress did not even want the statue built by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

 After this, we made our way to the National September 11 Memorial. This was worth spending around 2.5-3 hours seeing. The underground museum is full of amazing and thought provoking pieces. There is an extensive historical exhibit located under one of the previous building sites at the ground floor of the museum. It is not an apparent entrance, but make sure to see it because it is informative and powerful. Also, you will see pictures of an art piece called The Sphere near the two tours before the attack. That same statue is now located near where the ferry departs for Ellis Island.

 After this we grabbed a dinner near the memorial. There are lots of upscale restaurants down here, so it is challenging to find a cheap eat if you aren’t looking for street food. We settled on Blue Smoke, which is a barbeque restaurant with a large bourbons list and a great beer selection. A side note here is that on every restaurant in Manhattan near the front door there is a health inspection rating for cleanliness on the window. A, B, and C are the grades, A being safe, B being at your own risk, and C being only if you are desperate. You can roll the dice with food poisoning if you want, but if you only have two days this might not be a smart way to spend your time.

We then took the Metro north to Madame Tussauds, which is on Times Square and is included in the CityPASS. This was a bizarre attraction, but fun if you’ve had a few drinks. It is bizarre because the concept that is a bit confusing. It can be fun to take outrageous pictures with the wax sculptures there, but it was fairly dirty, probably because you buy candy every five feet. Also, the layout is a bit odd, with the mannequins scattered awkwardly and an entire floor and a half dedicated to the recent Ghostbusters movie, which was a total flop. If you have free entry and an hour to kill though, why not?

 We ended with a ride to the top of Empire State Building. It was a good idea to space the rides to scenic viewpoints out over the day, because we were able to get a day and night view of the city.

 Day 3:

We woke up early because while the pass only lasted for 24 hours for attractions, it includes a few morning hours for the hop on and off city big bus. We were able to snag a bus ride to get a scenic tour of lower Manhattan to uptown at the base of central park for free. You also can get on the buses with a receipt even if it has expired, because as long as you have a receipt they really don’t check the time it is supposed to be used. Be prepared to play dumb tourist if this doesn’t work for you and I apologize in advance.

 After this, we walked through Central Park for three hours. We made it from the south end up to the Central Park Observatory Garden. The Bethesda Terrace, Bow Bridge, and Belvedere Castle were the highlights for us. There is also a zoo and in the winter, a Trump ice skating rink.

We then road the metro down to meet up with a local friend (shout-out to Aimee Grace and my Belgian friends Jana and Dylan who tagged along) living in Brooklynn who showed us the Soho, Little Italy, and Nolita areas. Vanessa’s Dumpling shop serves 4 dumplings for an astonishing $1.25. This is a perfect area to grab a cheap bite to eat and walk to see the largest Chinese community neighborhood in the US. After walking we made a stop to the oldest tavern in New York, McSorley’s Ale house, where the two options are “light” and “dark” beer. Their happy hour was good even by non-east coast standards. We then went to the Burp Castle, which is styled to be like a Trappist Monk Brewery, with signs to be quiet and respectful.

For our evening entertainment we signed up for reservations at the Comedy Cellar, which is a tiny basement venue where famous comedians perform. There is a $14 cover, and for an hour and a half of entertainment and reasonably priced beer this is a good deal. You can also wait in line on the side to hopefully snag a seat if reservations don’t work out. This was a perfect way to spend our second evening, and if off-color humor doesn’t bother you (because you’re a fun person), this is the attraction for you.

Day 4:

The final morning, we walked the High Line in lower east Manhattan, which is an abandoned suspended railroad turned park. It is an excellent free attraction with unique views of the city. Art projects dot the rail and there are even free and clean restrooms (a big plus in a large city).

We topped off the day with an early lunch at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square park. I took the double smoke shack, and their concretes are excellent too. From this park you can see the iconic Flatiron Building.

That just about covers how you can see NYC in a short period of time. Bring good shoes and a Metro map.

David Losinski is a senior political economy major from Idaho Falls, Idaho.