How to Spend One Day in New York City

New York City is one of the top destinations to travel to in the United States. From its hit Broadway shows to the city’s epic bagels and interesting history, you’ll truly have an epic time no matter how long you choose to visit. While much longer is recommended for a trip here, one day in New York City can easily be done if you plan everything out right.

The key to having a successful one day in NYC is to get ample sleep (despite traveling to the city that never sleeps) and be ready to have a whirlwind of a day. Even though the city is enormous, you can easily cover everything on this one day in New York City itinerary by relying on public transportation and walking when necessary.

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Useful Info for Visiting New York City

How to get to New York City

Since New York City is one of the biggest hubs in the entire world, you have tons of options to choose from when it comes to how to get to New York City. You can arrive by plane, train, bus, or even with your own car if you’re coming from one of the nearby cities.

The easiest way to get to New York City is to take plane. You can find 3 major airports nearby: the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and the La Guardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, and the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. Each airport is very well connected to Manhattan by subways, trains and buses and you can also take a taxi as well.

If you’re planning to arrive from another US city or Canada, you can take a train as well. NYC has two main rail stations in Midtown Manhattan: the Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. Another option is to arrive by bus. There are many great affordable bus lines that offer routes to NYC, such as MegabusGreyhound, or BoltBus.

Panoramic view of the NYC skyline

Best time to visit New York City

If you’re looking for the absolute best time to spend one day in New York City, try to aim for the shoulder seasons, spring and fall. You can see the city buzzing with excitement for the warmer months as all of the flowers start to bloom in the spring. Meanwhile, if you visit in the fall, you can witness some of the most beautiful and unforgettable fall foliage in the world.

Winter is definitely one of the most magical season in NYC. Since New York is one of the best Christmas destinations in the USA, visiting the Big Apple during the holidays is a great idea. However, you need to keep in mind that it’s also the most expensive time to visit and usually the city gets very crowded, not to mention the freezing cold.

Although summer in New York City sounds tempting, it’s actually not the best time to visit the city. It can get scorching in NYC in the summer and sometimes even heat waves can occur with temperatures around 95-100°F (35-38°C). It’s also important to know that New Yorkers love air-conditioning and the difference in temperatures between indoors and outdoors is shocking, especially if you are a foreigner and you’re not used to it.

Washington Square Park, NYC

How to get around New York City

Although New York City is massive, it’s very easy to get around thanks to the tons of different bus and subway lines. And if want to see the best of New York in one day, you’re going to need them!

The New York subway is actually the largest subway system in the world, with over 470 stations. You can buy a SingleRide ticket for only 3 USD at a vending machine, which makes public transportation the most budget friendly options for getting around on your one day in NYC.

I know it’s tempting to use taxis when you only have limited time to spend in NYC but I would still recommend avoiding taking taxis as much as you can. Most taxis charge you by the distance driven in addition to the amount of time that you’re in the vehicle, and with NYC traffic, that can seriously add up. The average pricing model is 2.50 USD as an initial fee, plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile traveled. There’s also a 50 cents fee for each minute that you’re stuck in traffic.

Streets of New York City

Where to stay in New York City

NYC consist of 5 different boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island) and hundreds of different neighborhoods. Generally speaking, Manhattan is one of the best boroughs to stay in NYC, especially if you have only one day in NYC and you want to stay close to the main attractions.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the neighborhoods in NYC, be sure to check out my guide about the best areas to stay in New York City that includes 10 amazing neighborhoods with lots of useful tips and information about each areas.

Below you can find few of the best hotels to stay for your 4 days in New York City, depending on your budget. Do you prefer booking Airbnbs rather than hotels on your travels? Then check out my article about the best airbnbs in New York City!

1 Hotel Central Park
Photo credit: 1 Hotel Central Park via Booking.com

LUXURY – 1 Hotel Central Park

Offering a restaurant and a fitness centre, 1 Hotel Central Park is located right next to Central Park. Each room will provide you with air conditioning, a seating area and a private bathroom. The on-site restaurant, Jams, features an open kitchen and it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Hyatt Place New York, Midtown-South
Photo credit: Hyatt Place New York, Midtown-South via Booking.com

MID-RANGE – Hyatt Place New York/Midtown-South

Just 5 minutes’ walk from the Empire State Building, this Manhattan hotel offers free Wi-Fi and modern rooms equipped with a flat-screen TV. The 34th Street—Herald Square underground station is 4 minutes’ walk away.

MOXY NYC Times Square
Photo credit: MOXY NYC Times Square via Booking.com

BUDGET – MOXY NYC Times Square

Just 5 minutes’ walk from the Empire State Building, this Manhattan hotel offers free Wi-Fi and modern rooms equipped with a flat-screen TV. The 34th Street—Herald Square underground station is 4 minutes’ walk away.

Overview of Your New York City in a Day Itinerary

The best way to see New York in one day is to think of your itinerary in chunks of time. So, morning, afternoon, and evening, for example. The morning will be spent in central New York City, where you’ll grab a delicious breakfast and visit Central Park, among other attractions.

Then, you’ll move on to explore Brooklyn, one of the most popular neighborhoods to explore that you won’t want to miss out on, even if you have only a day in NYC. Finally, you’ll end by going on a cruise or attending a Broadway show, it’s your choice!

Below you can see a breakdown that’s a bit more detailed for visiting New York City in a day.

Breakdown of your one day in New York City

MORNING: Breakfast at Tal Bagels, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, Exploring in Midtown Manhattan, Top of the Rock

AFTERNOON: DUMBO, Pebble Beach, Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Exploring the Financial District

EVENING: Sunset Cruise or Broadway show, Times Square

Map for your New York City in a day itinerary

Below you can find a customized map which includes all the locations you’re going to visit on this New York City itinerary. I marked each time of the day with different colors – I used blue for the morning, green for the afternoon and red for the evening, so you can easily see which places you’re going to visit during your one day in New York City.

If you open up this post on your phone and you click on the bracket in the upper right corner of the map, it will open up in your Google Maps app so you can always have it with you. Super convenient, right?

Morning of Your One Day in New York City

Have a breakfast at Tal Bagels

Visit time: 8am – 8.30am

There’s no better way to start exploring NYC in a day than by grabbing breakfast! You’re going to need to fuel up for the long day that you have ahead. Try to start your day bright and early, preferably around 8am to be able to see as much as you can with having only 24 hours in NYC.

New York City is most well known for its bagels, so if you can, try to find a bagel place either nearby where you’re staying or head downtown and check out Tal Bagels on Lexington Ave. This is a great place to grab some breakfast and you can either choose to sit down or you can take your bagel in hand (and your coffee in the other), and start exploring right away!

There are also other bagel shops in the area, like Pick a Bagel, Bagel Bob’s Bagels & More, and the Bagel Mill. Keep in mind that bagel shops are extremely popular in New York City, even among locals, so you may have to wait in a bit of a line to grab breakfast. Show up early to avoid this!

Bagels with bacon and cheese

Check out the stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Visit time: 8.30am – 8.45am

After grabbing breakfast, make your way to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as MET. This is one of the most famous museums in the world! It’s located on 53rd street, only a short 7-minute walk from Tal Bagels.

The museum is filled with modern art, and you could easily spend hours here exploring it all. However, with just 24 hours in New York City, I recommend just taking the time to walk by and see the iconic stairs. If you’re a fan of Gossip Girl, then you may recognize these as the stairs that Blair often sat on with her friends throughout a lot of the episodes while she went to Constance.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stroll around Central Park

Visit time: 8.45am – 10am

Right next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Central Park. This is one of the absolute must-visit attractions with 24 hours in NYC that you won’t want to miss. This park is truly iconic and is one of the biggest parks in the whole city. It was built in the 19th century and has been a staple in the city ever since.

While walking through Central Park, make sure to stop by a few essential landmarks. Start by heading to Bethesda Terrace, which is absolutely breathtaking. It’s only a 12-minute walk from the MET and it overlooks the lake and the Loeb Boathouse.

Next, head to Bow Bridge which is a beautiful cast iron bridge crossing over the lake. The bridge was built in 1862 and it’s been considered as the crown jewel of Central Park ever since then. Fun fact: it’s actually the second oldest cast-iron bridge in America!

Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC

From there, be sure to check out Strawberry Fields which is a living memorial to John Lennon, the legendary leader of the world-famous Beatles. It was named after one of his favorite songs Strawberry Fields Forever and the memorial features a mosaic bearing the word Imagine.

Although you can easily spend a few hours strolling around Central Park, unfortunately with only one day in New York City, you have to be mindful of your time. After visiting Strawberry Fields, it’s time to make your way towards the exit on 59th Street that you can reach with a 15-minute walk.

Central Park in New York City

Explore Midtown Manhattan

Visit time: 10am – 11am

From 59th street, make your way to Midtown Manhattan. This area is home to quite a few important landmarks that you won’t want to miss during your one day in NYC.

Head right to Radio City Music Hall, which should be about a 15-minute walk by foot. This is one of the most famous music halls in the city and is most well-known for being host to the Rockettes, who put on a show every holiday season. It opened in the early 20th century and has been an iconic establishment ever since.

Next, make another short 5-minute walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a breathtaking 19th-century cathedral that is reminiscent of many churches in Europe, which you may recognize. It won’t take too long to go inside and explore.

Another must-visit along the way is Rockefeller Center, which is only two minutes away. This area is most well known for being host to the large Christmas tree that the city gets every year. If you’re lucky enough to follow this one day in NYC itinerary during the holidays, then you’ll be able to see it. If not, this is still a great area to explore.

Rockefeller Center in New York City

Take in the views from the Top of the Rock

Visit time: 11am – 12pm

End the morning of your one day in New York City itinerary by making your way to the Top of the Rock, which is right next door to Rockefeller Center. From the Top of the Rock, you can truly get one of the most rewarding views of the entire city, including the Central Park and the Empire State Building!

The building itself has 70 floors and three different observation decks. It opened back in the 1930s but wasn’t known as the Top of the Rock until 2005. Remember to download the Top of the Rock app during your visit here, which gives you an in-depth look into your surroundings.

In normal times Top of the Rock opens at 8am, however, currently it can only be visited from 11am. Since this is one of the most popular attractions in NYC, make sure to purchase your tickets well in advance and try to be there for opening time. In case the opening hours will revert back to normal, you will need to flip around this itinerary a little bit!

View from Top of the Rock with Empire State Building in the middle

Alternative: Empire State Building

Now, since you have only one day in NYC, unfortunately you won’t have the time to check out the view from the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building as well (unless you skip another part of this itinerary, which I don’t recommend).

Personally I think the Top of the Rock offers a way better view than the Empire State Building so that’s why I recommend to include this one in your one day in NYC itinerary. However, if you’re dying to go up to the Empire State Building, feel free to choose that instead of the Top of the Rock!

The Empire State Building currently runs on a limited opening time between 12pm-12am, which means you will have to linger around a bit more in Midtown Manhattan and spend less time in Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan (the next stops on your itinerary). You can reach the Empire State Building in 15 minutes from the Rockefeller Center on foot.

Afternoon of Your One Day in New York City

Stroll around DUMBO

Visit time: 12pm – 1.30pm

After taking in the views from the Top of the Rock (or the Empire State Building), it’s time to venture a little bit out of Manhattan and explore another borough: Brookyln! To get there, hop on the New York City Metro and take the F line to York Street, which will take around 25 minutes.

From there, take a short walk to DUMBO, which is an excellent area to explore in New York City that you don’t want to miss. In case you’re not familiar with the area, DUMBO is actually an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This neighborhood is very trendy and offers lots of sightseeing to do!

A really great place to visit with a day in NYC in the DUMBO area is Pebble Beach. There are quite a few areas to sit down and take in the views so if you want to include a bit of relaxing time, this is the place to do. While you’re at it, make sure to drop by Jane’s Carousel as well!

You will have around 1 hour to explore the DUMBO area or even more if you don’t want to walk all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge (which is the next stop on this one day in NYC itinerary). If you’re feeling hungry, you can make this your lunch stop as well!

A great place to have lunch is Westville, which offers tasty American food. If you want to stay on the budget side, you can pop into Front Street Pizza instead, which is literally right next to Westville and offers the most delicious pizza slices.

Dumbo, Brooklyn

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Visit time: 1.30pm – 3pm

Next, take a short walk to the Brooklyn Bridge, which is one of the most iconic bridges in the whole city. The bridge was constructed back in 1883 and crosses the East River. While on the bridge, you can look one way and get a great view of Manhattan and then look the other way to get a fantastic Brooklyn view!

Girl standing on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC

The next stop on your NYC itinerary will be the 9/11 Memorial so from the Brooklyn Bridge, you basically have two options. If you don’t mind walking, you can walk all the way across the bridge and then continue walking until you get to the memorial.

This is a fantastic way to take in the sights and see more of NYC in a day. It would take approximately 45 minutes to get to the 9/11 Memorial from the DUMBO area on foot (photo breaks are not included).

If you don’t want to walk all across the Brooklyn bridge, you can turn back at any point and walk back the High Street – Brooklyn Bridge metro station, from where you can take the A or C line to Fulton Street. From Fulton Street, it takes around 7 minutes to get to the 9/11 Memorial by foot.

NYC skyline view from Brooklyn Bridge

Pay your respect at the 9/11 Memorial

Visit time: 3pm – 3.30pm

The 9/11 Memorial is one attraction you can’t miss out on when visiting New York City in a day. It was officially opened in 2011 and serves as a memorial to all of the lives that were lost during the September 11 attack in 2001.

Tourists are welcome to come and explore the memorial for free, so there’s no need to book tickets or buy any. However, if you want to enter the museum, you need to purchase tickets for that.

With a quite heavy and heartbreaking subject, there is a lot to take in inside the museum. Visitors usually spend around 2 hours in the museum which is sadly not an option for you if you want to complete this one day in New York City itinerary. But if you really want to go inside, feel free to flip around the itinerary a bit to have more time here!

9/11 Memorial in New York City

Explore the Financial District

Visit time: 3.30pm – 6pm

After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, you will have around 2.5 hours until your evening activities start. You can either use this time to go inside the 9/11 Museum as I mentioned before or explore the Financial District instead. For what it’s worth, I strongly recommend doing the latter!

The Financial District is one of the most bustling and well-known areas in New York City, mostly because it’s home to Wall Street, which is where you should start your journey. Attractions you need to drop by include the Trinity Church, the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall.

From Wall Street, head to the Charging Bull, a statue near Wall Street that is pretty famous. Fun fact: according to a superstition, rubbing the balls of the bronze bull statue will give you good luck, that’s why the balls are so shiny!

Lastly, head over to Battery Park, often just referred to as The Battery by locals. This park is a lot smaller than Central Park but is still just as historic. Unfortunately you won’t have the time to visit the Statue of Liberty today but luckily you will get an awesome view over the statue from Battery Park!

Battery Park in New York City

Evening of Your One Day in New York City

Go on a sunset cruise or watch a Broadway show

Visit time: 6pm – 9.30pm

For the evening of your one day in New York City you can choose between two equally amazing options: going on a sunset cruise or watching a Broadway show!

Option A: Broadway show

New York City is world-famous for its amazing Broadway shows so it’s definitely a great idea to include a show in your itinerary, even if you have only 24 hours in NYC! Keep in mind that tickets usually sell out fast so it’s worth to book your tickets well in advance.

There are tons of great plays to choose from, so you will definitely have a hard time deciding which one to attend! Prices for shows can also vary greatly, you can usually see The Phantom of the Opera for around 30 USD, while Hamilton and Wicked (my personal favorite) can be closer to 150 USD or higher.

Unfortunately Broadway shows are currently suspended until September 2021 so if you’re planning to visit New York before that, you will have to go with option B.

Theatres on Broadway in NYC

Option B: Sunset cruise

If you can’t attend a Broadway so for whatever reason (or you’re not interested in it), you can choose to go on a sunset cruise instead which is also an incredible experience!

Similar to the Broadway shows, there are tons of different cruises to choose from. The tour I personally attended and can recommend from the bottom of my heart is the New York Harbor Lights Night Cruise. This is a 2-hour cruise around Lower Manhattan where you can sail past the best attractions in NYC such as the Statue of Liberty, the One World Trade Center or the Empire State Building.

The tour starts at 7pm which means you will be able to see the sunset from the boat and you can also experience NYC all lit up at night. The starting point of the cruise is Pier 83 on West 42nd Street and although the boat only leaves at 7pm, you want to be there minimum 30-45 minutes earlier to secure a great spot on the boat.

Take in Time Square

Visit time: 9.30pm – 10pm

End your 24 hours in NYC by heading to Times Square. While you could’ve visited here earlier in the day, it truly comes alive at night. This huge plaza is covered in billboards and moving pictures almost everywhere you look.

Explore the area a bit and then head for dinner. There are quite a few places to eat in Times Square, but Carmine’s Italian Restaurant is easily the most popular. They serve up some incredibly delicious Italian food!

Other options include Havana Central Times Square for Cuban cuisine or Times Square Diner & Grill for American cuisine. Of course you can find many other restaurants in the area so feel free to explore on your own if you want to!

Times Square in New York City

Final Thoughts

Now you know all of the best attractions to see with just one day in New York City! While it may seem like a lot, it can be done if you don’t let yourself get carried away at certain attractions. If you have more time, consider spending 4 days in New York City instead!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Do you know any other great attractions in the city that I should include on this one day in New York City itinerary? Tell me about it in the comments!

xoxo, Kriszti


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