Do you have just a day in New York and no idea about what to see and do to make the most of the city?
Let me be honest: one day in New York is simply not enough. Come to think of it, a lifetime is not enough to see all that the city has to offer. Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA are all places that deserve a day on their own! But if a day is all you have, you may as well get a proper introduction to the city – a first taste that will lure you into coming back for more.
Since I have lived in New York for a few months years ago, and have been there many times, I thought I’d help you and put together an itinerary that is easy to follow and which goes to some of the top attractions in town. I also include some hacks that will help you save time and a few bucks here and there.
How To Use This Itinerary For A Day In New York
For the purpose of this itinerary, I will assume that you have 24 hours in the city, and at least 12 consecutive hours on the same day and during the day.
Here’s how to make the best use of this itinerary:
HEAD OUT AT THE CRACK OF DOWN – Or just about. If you are spending the night before your visit in town, this is a must!
HAVE LUNCH ON THE GO – Unless you are flying out the same evening, you can sit down for a proper meal at dinner.
GET TICKETS IN ADVANCE – Some attractions in this itinerary have a line, and the best way to avoid that (and save time) is getting tickets ahead of time. I will tell you any time this is necessary.
KEEP YOUR TIMINGS.
GOOD TO KNOW: This itinerary for a day in New York goes to attractions that are all more or less in the same area, so you’ll be able to walk from one to the other and minimize the time spent commuting. Just use public transport to get to the starting point, and back to your hotel at night (or to the airport).
A Day In New York Itinerary Map
Click here to open up the map to get a better idea of the itinerary you will be following. You’ll be able to see the how far one place is from the other. Feel free to readjust the map to your needs and remove landmarks and attractions you are not interested in.
A Day In New York: 11 Incredible Places To Visit
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Thought to be the very symbol of the United States and one of the most important landmarks in town (albeit being located in New Jersey territory), the Statue of Liberty it thought to be one of the unmissable places to visit in New York. The views of both the statue and lower Manhattan from the ferry that takes you there are stunning.
Ferries to the Statue of Liberty depart from Battery Park. Make sure to be there in advance as there usually is a line to get on board.
Once at the Statue of Liberty, you can go to the Pedestal, where you will find a museum taking you through the history of the statue, and the crown. If you are on a tour, this will usually continue to Ellis Island.
You will need to book your visit to the Statue of Liberty ahead of time. The best option is this Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island early access tour.
TIP: Try to catch the very first ferry to the Statue of Liberty, which departs at 8:30 am. You will be back by 12:30 with enough time to see the other attractions.
GOOD TO KNOW: Tours of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island can take up to 4 hours. You may skip that and opt for a quicker ferry ride around the area which lasts just one hour – but you won’t be able to disembark. You can book that here.
LUNCH BREAK: As soon as you get off from the ferry you can stop at Battery Park, where you will find several eateries, delis and bakeries; or head to Eataly, inside the Oculus.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Built in memory of the many who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Memorial is home of the twin reflecting pools meant to be the footprints of the Twin Towers. You’ll also see a man made waterfall which is the largest in North America; and the bronze plaques with the names of those who died in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks. The Museum will guide you through the history and facts of 9/11 and how the crisis was managed.
Make sure to book your visit in advance. This 9/11 Memorial, Ground Zero and optional museum entry is the most budget friendly option but it doesn’t include the museum.
GOOD TO KNOW: Factor in about 2 hours for your visit, whether you opt for a guided tour or an independent visit of the Museum.
Check out my post “How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.”
World Trade Center Observatory
Even if you only have a day in New York, you should make it a point to catch the views of the city. For the purpose of this itinerary, it makes sense to go up the World Trade Center Observatory, from where you can even see the Statue of Liberty. With its 541 meters (almost 1775 feet!), at the moment this qualifies as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It’s located in the same place where the World Trade Center used to be.
TIP: If you visit all the places recommended in this itinerary, you should arrive at the World Trade Center at around 3:30 pm. Factor in about one hour for your visit.
If you’d rather see the view from the iconic Empire State Building, skip the Observatory.
The Oculus, World Trade Center Transportation hub and a cool mall with a state of the art architecture, is a super cool place you may want to pop in quickly on your way to Wall Street.
On your way to Brooklyn Bridge (more about it below) you can stop by Wall Street to admire the statue of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl, and take a look at the exterior of NYC Stock Exchange. This is one of the most iconic streets in the world.
Also located in the Financial District and not far from Wall Street, the Gothic Revival Trinity Church is an Episcopalian Parish that looks strikingly at odds with its surroundings. Alexander Hamilton is buried in the cemetery annexed to the church.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
If you have a day in New York going to Brooklyn may be a bit ambitious – but I promise you it’s worth it. Many will suggest you go straight to DUMBO (the Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass) but there are places I prefer, so I’d rather include those.
Completed in 1883, back when it was the first ever suspension bridge, Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East river and is one of the most iconic places to visit in New York. The views of the bridge as well as from from the bridge are stunning.
Once you walk across, take it right and you will be going through Brooklyn Bridge Park to reach Brooklyn Heights, the first suburb of New York City. This is a pleasant area to walk around, with beautiful Victorian style buildings and churches. Head to Brooklyn Heights Promenade for the best views of Lower Manhattan, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
BONUS #1: The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic places in New York, and offers breathtaking views of the city. You could decide to skip the World Trade Center Observatory and go up this skyscraper instead.
The building was completed in 1931 and back then it was the tallest in the world.
You need around 90 minutes to visit the Empire State Building, and you must get tickets in advance. You can consider this Empire State Building Observatory tickets, or, as a great alternative, this Empire State Building day and night entry.
BONUS #2: Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station was built in 1913 and it is way more than just a transportation hub! The building is stunning, and you will find restaurants, the fabulous Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, shops and more. It’s a short walk from Fifth Avenue and the Empire State Building, and on the way you can spot the Chrysler Building too – one of the most beautiful Art-Deco buildings in Manhattan.
BONUS #3: Times Square
Times Square is another incredibly iconic landmark. It’s a crossroad, a major junction with traffic, theaters and what not. It’s located in Downtown Manhattan – close to Grand Central Terminal and Madison Square Garden and easy to reach from the Empire State Building.
Going strong? Go to a Broadway Show!
Seeing a Broadway Show may well be the best way to end a day in New York, and if you are a fan of musicals, comedy and shows in general, there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it.
You have plenty of shows to pick from – just make sure to check what’s playing before your trip, and if there’s something that grabs your attention, book it ahead of time. Otherwise, if you are fine just watching whatever, you may just show up at the ticket counter last minute and find amazing deals. Among the best shows there are Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, the Rocky Horror Picture Show (by far the most fun show I’ve seen in New York!), and The Lion King.
Practical Tips To Spend A Day In New York
Using A New York Pass
A 24 hours New York Pass may be a good idea to enjoy discounts (you can save up to 41% in total) and skip the lines at many of the attractions mentioned in this post. It’s actually super convenient because you can usually pick how many attractions you want to include, and it even comes with transportation. The New York Pass usually come with transportation. You can get yours here or here.
GOOD TO KNOW: You will need to book each attraction separately once you receive your pass.
Guided tour of New York in a day
If you’d rather have a completely hassle-free day, you can join an incredible private guided tour of New York. It’s not cheap, but it’s completely worth every penny. Check it out here.
Where to stay
If you have a full day in town, you will need a place to stay. The good news is that NY has no shortage of accommodation options. I recommend staying in Manhattan as that’s where most places mentions in this post are located. Here are a few good places to stay:
- The Ludlow Hotel – a great midrange option.
- The Broome – nice modern rooms at reasonable prices.
- HI NYC Hostel – the best option for backpackers.
The map below allows you to compare hotels and Airbnbs in New York. You can click to enlarge it and find a place within your budget range and in your favorite location.
How to get to New York
New York has 3 airports (well Newark is in New Jersey, really). JFK as it is the best connected to the city. Use Skyscanner to find good flight deals.
Getting from JFK to Manhattan
There are various ways of getting from JFK to Manhattan – as outlined below.
TAXI – Quick, easy and no advanced booking required. It costs $52 (flat fee) and you will have to pay the tolls and a $4.50 surcharge during peak hours (between 4:00 and 8:00 pm on weekdays). It’s perfect if you are traveling with friends.
UBER – Same overall costs as taxis, but you need the app (and internet) to book it.
SHUTTLE – Prices start at $20 USD and it can be booked online beforehand. You can book yours here.
AIRTRAIN – For only $8 it takes you all the way to Manhattan. There are 3 different lines.
How to move around
This itinerary is best enjoyed on foot, but if you feel you are too far to walk back to your place (or to the starting point) and want to use public transport, opt for the subway. It’s open 24/7 and reaches all corners of the city. Tickets cost $3 USD – unless you have a Metro Card, in which case it’s $2.75 per ride.
Other useful things to know
If you need to store your bags while in town, head over to LuggageHero to find the most suitable storage places. There are some at Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and Times Square. Make sure to book in advance.
Beware of the following scams you may experience:
- The Staten Island ferry scam – the ferry is free, so walk away from anyone trying to sell you tickets.
- Costume cartoon characters in Times Square – don’t take photos of them (or with them) or they will chase you for money.
- Taxi scams – easy to fall for them as you may not know your way around. Just trust your instinct.
Mind pickpockets on the subway!
Other useful tips:
- There’s no point in getting a local SIM card, so make sure your data plans will cover you in New York and download offline maps just in case it doesn’t.
- Travel insurance is a must for all trips. Get yours here, and check out this post.
- Care for a guidebook? I recommend this one.
Further readings about the United States
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Here are some useful posts:
- 35 Incredible Things To Do In New York City
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty
- A Great Itinerary For A Week In New York
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- A Great Itinerary For 3 Days In San Francisco
- The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)
- 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California
- 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami
- Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone (With Kids!)
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver