The perfect New York weekend: highlights of the Big Apple

Apr 14, 22
The perfect New York weekend: highlights of the Big Apple

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Two days in New York may just scratch the surface of this remarkable city, but it's an enthralling experience nonetheless. It's an important balance between seeing as much as you can, while also taking the time to enjoy the experiences on offer. To save you time, we've created the perfect weekend itinerary for your next trip to the Big Apple.

A stone bridge arches over a calm, narrow lake in Central Park; boats paddle to its left and all the trees are changing colours, with leaves green, yellow, orange and red
Exploring Central Park, whether by foot or by boat, is a quintessential New York experience © Gagliardi Photography / Shutterstock

Saturday morning

Upper West Side & Central Park

Spend Saturday morning wandering through the many wonders of Central Park, one of the world’s most renowned green spaces. Once inside the park, it's hard not to be impressed by the castle-like walls of skyscrapers that surround it. The rising towers of glass, steel and stone hem in this verdant space of some 843 acres, which is comprised of rolling meadows, manicured gardens, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and boulder-studded outcrops. Connecting it all are numerous elm-lined walkways that encourage exploration. Start your meander at Columbus Circle before moving northeast towards the Bethesda Fountain, Conservatory Water and Strawberry Fields on the park's western side. If you're traveling with children, be sure to visit the dinosaur skeletons within the confines of the American Museum of Natural History. Another idea is to take to Central Park's waters by renting a rowboat from the Loeb Boathouse.

When hunger calls head into Zabar’s for picnic supplies – wander its aisles and fill your basket with everything from meats, cheeses and olives to smoked fish, caviar and baked goods. Do yourself a favour and bag a fresh-out-of-the-oven knish, a pillowy Eastern European–style potato dumpling that is wrapped in dough.

A view down the main hall of Grand Central Terminal; three large windows at the far end tower above the blurred masses of people moving to and fro; high above it all is a deep green ceiling painted with golden stars
The main hall of Grand Central Terminal is sight to behold, particularly its star-filled ceiling © Gary Latham / Lonely Planet

Saturday afternoon

Midtown

There's no better time to delve into the architectural wonders of New York. Start with one of its most famous (and most mis-named): Grand Central Terminal. You may know it as its more common (albeit wrong) moniker of Grand Central Station – the interior is one of the city’s true beaux-arts beauties. Its floors are adorned with colorful marble from Tennessee, while its ticket counters are draped in stone from Italy. Atop it all in the main concourse is a vaulted ceiling that depicts the constellations, which was designed by French painter Paul César Helleu.

The left of the picture is dominated by a brick building lurking behind a tree that is shedding its leaves; in the right of the image the Chrysler Building rises dramatically into a blue sky, with its spire reaching up to the heavens
An East Side view of the Chrysler Building in New York City © Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock

Next up is the Chrysler Building, a 77-floor art deco architectural masterpiece. It's sharply angled corners are guarded by stylised eagles of chromium nickel and the entire structure is topped by a beautiful seven-tiered spire that is designed to mimic the rising sun. From here move on to the New York Public Library, another of the city's beaux-arts treasures (and one of its best free attractions). Once ranked as the largest marble structure ever built in America, it will still steal your breath away – check out the recently restored Rose Main Reading Room, with its magnificent coffered ceiling. Now the Rockefeller Center, a National Landmark in 1987, is calling. Round off the afternoon with a visit to the city’s museum darling: MoMA.

Crowds of people mingle on the pavents with towering back-lit billboards of pink, red, blue, purple and orange climbing the sides of the skyscrapers and shedding light over the entire scene
Times Square lighting up New York City, one massive billboard at a time © Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock

Saturday evening

Midtown

Start your evening by savoring shellfish at Grand Central's Oyster Bar & Restaurant before moving on to cocktails at The Campbell, another top spot found within the station's grand confines. If jazz is up your street, take in an enthralling gig or two at Birdland. Or if you prefer theater, why not watch something up and coming at Playwrights Horizon. When the performances have finished, the lights needn't go out: spill out into the showbiz–like atmosphere of Times Square for a brilliant 360 degree assault on your retinas. Now venture back to the Rockefeller Center to visit the 70th-floor Top of the Rock viewing platform. From there you can bid the city goodnight with a vista that makes the Empire State Building blush with envy.

Steps lead up to the white stone facade of large columns and ornate carvings of the Met; in the foreground is a fountain spurting streams of water across a large pool; a visit to the Met is part of a perfect New York weekend
Behind the fountain and fantastic facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art lies one of the world's most important historical collections of art and artifacts © Anton Havelaar / Shutterstock

Sunday morning

Upper East Side

Begin explorations at the expansive and ever-intriguing Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its vast collection of art and antiquities contains more than two million individual objects: sculptures, textiles, paintings and artifacts from around the globe – including an entire ancient Egyptian temple. The sheer sense of history is as overwhelming as well as the masterful craftsmanship as you walk through the Roman and Egyptian collections. Next visit some of the works produced by the greatest of European masters, before stepping up to the rooftop for an unforgettable vista over Central Park. If you have an insatiable appetite for art, try the nearby Neue Galerie for a feast of famous works by Austrian and German masters hosted in a historic mansion.

For lunch, step into the classic American diner that is EJ's Luncheonette for some good-old comfort food.

Numerous of tables and patrons sit beneath rows of golden fairy lights hanging from trees within Madidson Square Park
Customers dining at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park © Elena Pominova / Shutterstock

Sunday afternoon

SoHo & Chinatown

Start your afternoon by strolling down into SoHo where the masses engage in some big-brand shopping along Prince and Spring Streets. Next, meander over to Mulberry Street in Chinatown – while only a few blocks away, it feels a world away from the consumerism gripping the aforementioned boulevards. Spend a little time in the Museum of Chinese in America, before wandering the pavements for a snack. Will it be pork buns or durian ice cream? Now set your sights on Madison Square Park. The northern boundary of Manhattan prior to the Civil War (after which the island's population boomed), the park now provides a peaceful step away from the relentless pace of the city, and hosts a popular playground for kids, an area for people to run their dogs and the ever-popular Shake Shack burger joint. Art is often on center stage here, with thought-provoking installations, live-music gigs and literary discussions taking place during the summer months. It's also a great place to admire the Flatiron Building, with its iconic narrow triangular footprint that resembles the prow of a massive ship.

Shot from ground level, this image looks straight onto the narrowest edge of the triangular-shaped Flat Iron Building; cabs and pedestrians fill the street and pavement, respectively
The Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue rising into the late afternoon sky during © Chortip Boonyanetr / Shutterstock

Sunday evening

Union Square, Flatiron & Gramercy

Dine on fabulous farm-to-table food at Craft before lowering the tone at Peoples Improv Theater's lipstick-red bar with a pint and a night of improv. Finish up with Italian wine at Eataly's gorgeous rooftop bar, Birreria.

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