A Manhattan walking itinerary

First posted April 25, 2014.

Tourist season is upon us. If you live in NYC, that means you’ll soon have friends and relatives coming in for the weekend and sleeping on your couch. Some of them have spent time in New York and just want to see you, but I guarantee you’ll have at least one visitor per year who hasn’t visited before – and if you don’t live in New York and are reading this, that visitor might be you.

You can always go back through back entries of this blog when looking for ideas (check out my “things to do” tag!). But in this post and a few others, I’ll outline some sample itineraries for a day with friends who want to explore the city. Because most of my visitors are twenty-somethings on a budget, most of my suggestions are free – though there are a lot of stores are on this itinerary, so remember to bring enough money for some small souvenirs! If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday evening, swing by the free hours at the Morgan Library & Museum. Grab some finger food at their café or have some sandwiches at the Pret around the corner before heading to bed early to rest up for a busy Saturday!

Note: This particular Manhattan walking itinerary involves (surprise!) a LOT of walking, so it’s best attempted on a nice day. Wear comfortable shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, pack lightly, and bring a water bottle.

Get an early start on Saturday with coffee and a bagel, then hop on the subway and head to the museum of your choice! Most open at 10 a.m. I’d suggest starting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (be sure to check out the roof garden! And I love the period rooms!) or the American Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, the giant meteorite, and the blue whale are all must-sees). Both are pay-what-you-wish, so don’t feel pressured into paying full-price. They’re also both conveniently located on Central Park.

After a few hours at the museum, you’ll likely be hungry! Museum cafeterias are often over-priced but convenient. If you’re looking for something more reasonable and quick, you should be able to find a deli or a pizza place nearby without too much trouble, especially if you walk a few blocks away. The Shake Shack near the Natural History Museum is delicious, but very crowded during peak hours.

Another option is to walk into Central Park and get a hot dog from a hot dog stand – a little risky sometimes, but they can be delicious! Whatever you do, wander into the park after lunch. There are maps scattered throughout, but if you walk more or less south from either museum you’ll have a nice ramble and you’ll eventually end up at the bottom of the park.

Aim for the southeast corner, where you can visit the famous toy store FAO Schwarz and indulge your inner child – and walk by the Plaza Hotel and indulge your inner Eloise. From there, wander south on Madison Ave and enjoy the window-shopping. When you reach 51st street, head west and south on 5th Ave so you can take a look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Walk a block and half south on 5th Ave and head west into Rockefeller Center, where you can peek at where the Today Show is filmed, or visit the NBC Experience and Top of the Rock (neither of which I’ve done). For a free (unless you buy anything!) experience, check out the NBC Store, Nintendo World, the LEGO Store, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art store.  Other nearby destinations: Radio City Musical Hall, Magnolia Bakery, and American Girl Place.

From Rockefeller Center, wander south five blocks to 42ndStreet, where you can check out the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, two of my favorite places (and two great bathrooms). If your feet aren’t too tired, wander a few blocks east to see the gorgeous constellation ceiling at Grand Central Terminal, or bravely trek a few blocks west to visit Times Square. If you’re in the mood, see how long the TKTS line is and get some theater tickets.

If you or your guests aren’t  theater-crazed, you’re probably getting hungry again. Hop a train down to SoHo to grab dinner at my favorite restaurant, Il Corallo. From there, hit up one of my favorite cupcake places in the neighborhood or take a walk or subway ride back up Broadway to Union Square and check out a few bookstores before taking your tired-but-happy self home to gear up for another day’s outing.

Anyone have suggestions for other stops along this route?


  1. Oh nice — I like how you get so many of the must-see places all in one. If your visitors aren’t too tired after all that walking and want to wander from SoHo to Union Square, I’d also suggest nipping by Washington Square Park. It’s great for pictures (or for a dip in the fountain!) and I think it shows just how weird and wonderful people in NYC are! Def one of my favorite spots.

    • Sarah

      May 18, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Yes yes to Washington Square Park, I love it so much! Such a perfect mix of locals and tourists.

      It’s definitely a busy day I’ve outlined, haha — I did most of it with friends a couple years ago (Natural History to FAO Schwarz down to all the 42nd Street places, to the Union Square bookstores). Our feet were tired and we were cold, because we did it I think in February, but I feel like people get such a better understanding of NYC if you walk everywhere.

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