Day One: Uptown and Midtown
Don’t get us wrong: We love the subway. But it’s tough to get the lay of the land when you’re constantly underground. On your first day, see the town by bus and foot instead.
9 a.m.: Catch a bus and watch the town whiz by. To get your bearings, start at 47th Street and Eighth Avenue and hop on a Gray Line double-decker bus—the best way to see a lot of the city in a little bit of time. You can choose from fifteen routes, but we recommend the Uptown Loop ($44 per adult), which takes you north to Harlem, with stops at Central Park, Lincoln Center, the Upper West Side’s Dakota Apartments, and Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile.
11:30 a.m.: Bask in the lights of Broadway. The bus tour will end where it began; from there, walk east a block to Broadway and enter Times Square. Enjoy the screaming billboards, the honking cabs, and the naked cowboy, and have lunch at the anti–Olive Garden, Bond 45, a delicious, home-style Italian restaurant designed by Tony-award winner John Lee Beatty.
1:30 p.m.: Take a ride on a classic escalator. Stroll down Broadway to 34th Street, home to the world’s largest department store, Macy's Herald Square. The block-long, Art Deco landmark comes complete with the original wooden escalators from 1902—the first to be used in an American store. Ride it up to the balcony-level visitor's desk to get a Tourist Discount card, good for 10 percent off.
2:30 p.m.: See the city from on high. Head east on 34th Street to the Empire State Building. Because of the long lines, your journey to the top can stretch as long as two hours. (Which might be as long as it would take on the stairs.) To save time, purchase printable tickets online in advance (Esbnyc.com).
5 p.m.: Hit the stacks. Stroll back up Fifth Avenue, past the main branch of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, unmissable thanks to the pink-marble lions out front. Bryant Park, home to HBO’s great summertime film series, is right behind it. Browse through books and magazines at the outdoor Reading Room, then sip cocktails on the patio (or heated tent in winter) at the Bryant Park Grill. Your thirst quenched, continue on to Rockefeller Center, making a left on 49th Street. The sprawling complex includes the GE Building (a.k.a. 30 Rock, home to NBC) and, in the winter, the iconic Christmas tree and ice rink.
7 p.m.: Get spritzed at Saks. Across the street, gaze at Saks Fifth Avenue’s famously elaborate window displays before entering the legendary ten-floor department store, full of eager perfume spritzers and in-store boutiques of designers like Chanel, Escada, and Louis Vuitton.
8 p.m.: End the day at a New York classic. Get drinks and dinner at Grand Central Terminal’s Campbell Apartment—a twenties railroad tycoon’s office turned retro-chic bar. Then pick from one of 30 different types of oysters at the landmark Oyster Bar & Restaurant.