Classic New York: a weekend guide

By Danielle Contray

Title photography by Martin Child/Getty Images

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With an iconic skyline, a bounty of museums and galleries and a thriving food scene, New York is arguably the world’s most exciting city. While it’s impossible to see all it has to offer in one weekend, this 48-hour itinerary for first-time visitors packs in the best of the classic sights. Bonus: you don’t even have to take a full day off work.


Evening - Make your escape

With frequent flights to New York from London departing every day, the British Airways schedule means you can be flexible. Catch the 19:00 flight from London Heathrow to JFK. You'll land just after 22:00, meaning you can be in the city centre around an hour later – in time for a nightcap, or a good night’s sleep – it’s up to you.

The panoramic views from Top of the Rock mean you’ll see both Central Park and the Empire State Building

As it’s your first time in the city, base yourself in Midtown Manhattan for easy access to the iconic sights. The InterContinental New York Barclay is synonymous with old-fashioned luxury – classic features from its 1920s legacy include art deco furniture, geometric furnishings and a glamorous parlour serving vintage tipples.

  • The Met is one of the world’s largest art museums. © Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Get arty

    The Met contains houses over two million works of art spanning five millennia from around the world. For something more contemporary, head over to sister gallery Met Breuer – the former home of the Whitney Museum. It’s just a short stroll down Madison Avenue.

    Tickets to the Met
  • Enjoy an idyllic stroll or bike ride through Central Park © NYC&Co
  • New York: the city that never sleeps © Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

    For more views to thrill

    Locals will tell you that the view from the top of the Rockefeller Center is better than the Empire State Building – and they might be right. For a top travel hack tip, book tickets in advance to beat the queues.

    Book tickets now


07:30 - Beat the jet lag

You’ll probably be up early, so start the day with a hearty breakfast. Norma’s, located in the Parker New York on W 56th Street opens at 07:30, with a menu of decadent twists on classic dishes, including eggs benedict with truffle porcini sauce and cheesecake-stuffed French toast.

09:00 - Culture vulture

Wander north through Central Park to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art – the city’s most extensive institution. Doors open at 10:00 and there’s usually a line stretching down the block, so it’s best to arrive a little early. Once inside, most of the crowds will go directly to the first-floor Egyptian galleries. Instead, head straight upstairs, where you can traverse the maze of paintings and artefacts in relative peace.

14:00 - NYC 360

Now that you’ve seen the park from the ground, it’s time to see it from above. If you don’t fancy queueing for the Empire State Building you can get a better view from Top of the Rock , which has observation decks (both indoor and outdoor) on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors of one of Rockefeller Center’s art deco buildings. The panoramic views mean that you’ll see both Central Park and the Empire State Building.

  • Times Square is the most-visited attraction in the world. © Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

    Did you know…?

    Previously named Longacre Square, the area was renamed in 1904 after the New York Times moved its headquarters to the Times Building, now called One Times Square.

    Book flights to New York

15:30 - Show time

Broadway is always booming, and if you are set on seeing a certain show, you’ll need to secure tickets before your trip. If you are flexible, now is the time to head to the TKTS booth in Times Square to see what same-day tickets are on offer. Gawk at the surrounding scene, then head back to your hotel to freshen up for the night ahead.

18:00 - Pre-theatre eats

You’ll need to make your dinner reservations in advance as well – the hours before curtains-up are the most popular. Joe Allen is the most iconic of the Theater District restaurants, and for good reason. The cosy space on the ground floor of a townhouse attracts Broadway stars of today and yesteryear. The solidly American menu includes dishes such as crab cakes, Caesar salad, and New York strip steak.

22:00 - Nightcap

End the evening with a drink at the Lambs Club, found in the Theater District’s Chatwal Hotel. Slide into one of the red leather stools at the bar (which is located right off the art deco lobby), and order the eponymous cocktail: a combination of gin, dry vermouth, elderflower liqueur, and muddled cucumber.

  • The Plaza opened in 1907 © The Plaza

    Lounge in luxury

    The Plaza – a Fairmont Managed Hotel promises a luxurious stay in New York.

    Book The Plaza
  • Juliana’s – voted the US’s number one pizza place by TripAdvisor © Biz Jones Photography

    The slice is right

    Never use a knife and fork to eat an NY slice (it’s frowned upon by locals). Simply fold the slice in half lengthways – which not only doubles the amount of pizza you consume in one bite, but it avoids any mess, trapping the gooey cheese, rich sauce and tasty toppings.

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  • One World Trade Center © DelensMode/Getty Images

    Tour Ground Zero

    The National 9/11 Memorial is a striking and extremely moving monument at the foot of the highest building in the western hemisphere – One World Trade Center. A guide with a personal connection to the 9/11 events will take you on a 90-minute tour Ground Zero and the Memorial.

    Book tickets now


Noon - Anyway you slice it

After a jam-packed Saturday, treat yourself to a Sunday lie-in – but be sure to be up in time to take the A train to High Street in Brooklyn to sample Juliana’s coal-fired pizzas – locals will tell you they are superior to the adjacent (and much hyped) Grimaldi’s. It opens at 11:30 on Sunday, and you can expect a crowd gathering for the Margherita pies and white pizza topped with sausage and broccoli rabe. The pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is just a few blocks away, so you can cross the iconic span, taking in the Manhattan skyline (while also burning off that pizza).

14:00 - Past and present

As you leave the bridge on the Manhattan side, you’ll be at the southern end of the island. The sights of Wall Street, including the Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull, are just a few blocks away. It’s quiet on Sunday, since the exchange is closed, but you’ll be able to see the historic buildings mixed with newer landmarks. Head west and you’ll happen upon a striking building: The Oculus is an amazing, $4 billion train station, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Next door is the One World Trade Center, where you can take a tour of the reflective 9/11 Memorial Plaza.

16:00 - Homeward bound

You probably won’t be ready to say goodbye to New York, but for now, it’s time to head back to the airport for your flight home. Catch the 19:25 from JFK, which touches down in Heathrow at 07:20 – and after a relaxing flight, you’ll be ready to breeze into that Monday morning meeting.