A day in New York is definitely not enough to see everything that the city has to offer. You will be able to see some of the most popular attractions, and take in the vibrant atmosphere. The whole point is that if that is all you have, we need to make sure you can make the most of it.
I have lived in New York for a few months years ago and believe this is a city that deserves at least a week as a traveler. But the last time I was there, I actually only had a day in New York during a layover on my way back home – literally just 24 hours from the moment I got in to the moment I boarded my flight home. You can bet I did my best to see as much as possible and go home with incredible memories and photos.
How did I do it? I pushed along and followed a very well crafted itinerary. It’s the same one I am going to share here with you and it is meant to minimize the amount of time you spend moving from one place to another, as I am going to recommend attractions and landmarks that are more or less all in the same area.
In this post, I will share my fabulous itinerary for a day in New York. I will include some tips and tricks to skip the lines at tourist attractions.
Continue reading to discover how to make the most of New York in one day.
In a rush? Check out these two guided tours that are just about perfect for a day in New York:
- Statue of Liberty Tour, Ellis Island, & 9/11 Memorial Tour with 9/11 Museum Tickets – this tour sold by Take Walks (the same of Walks of Italy in case you are wondering) lasts 8 full hours and goes to the Statue of Liberty and the highlights of Lower Manhattan.
- Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island & 9/11 Tour with Priority One World Observatory Tickets– another fantastic Take Walks tour to visit the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial and the One World Center Observatory.
How To Use This Itinerary For A Day In New York
Before I go into the details of my itinerary for a day in New York, let me underline that you should book all the attractions you have to visit in advance either with guided tours or skip the line tickets. It honestly is the best way to save some precious time at the ticket counter – not to mention in some cases you may show up and discover that there are no available tickets.
I will make sure to point out any time you need to get a ticket in advance.
The starting point of this itinerary for a day in New York is that you have 24 hours there, best if 12 consecutive hours on the same day and during the day. You will need to head out at the crack of down (well, almost) to start exploring; have lunch on the go and sit down only for dinner.
You will have to keep your timing very carefully too.
The idea with this one day in New York itinerary is to visit attractions that are all more or less in the same area – though I will try to push you beyond the limits of Manhattan. It’s a trick to help you maximize your time and minimize the use of public transport, which can often be a bit of a hassle.
I will share a map that you can open and download so as to see how to get from one place to another. Use public transportation to get to your starting point and back to your hotel at night (or to the airport, if you have to leave already)
BE WARNED: This itinerary is packed. Feel free to drop attractions you may not be interested in.
Follow this itinerary and you will a day in New York that is absolutely memorable.
A Day In New York: 7 Incredible Places To Visit
Your day in New York will be packed – brace yourself. You will visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (hop on a ferry departing from Battery Park), 9/11 Memorial and the World Trade Center; you will continue onto Wall Street and then Brooklyn Bridge. From there you will reach Brooklyn Heights for stunning views of Manhattan.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you follow this itinerary all the way to Brooklyn Heights you will be out and about for 12 hours. If you want to push along, you can continue to the Empire State Building and then Times Square. You can opt for a ferry ride around the Statue of Liberty to keep costs a bit down and to save on time.
Map of your itinerary for a day in New York
Click here to open up this itinerary for a day in New York. 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.
Recommended lunch spots
Battery Park is just about the perfect lunch spot as you can eat there as soon as you get off the ferry after your Statue of Liberty tour. You will find several eateries, delis and bakeries
Eataly is a good option in case you can press along or opt not to visit the Statue of Liberty so you will be in the area earlier. It is located south of the Oculus, and as the name recalls it has a focus on Italian food.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Even if you have just a day in New York, visiting the Statue of Liberty is a must. Thought to be the very symbol of the United States and one of the most important landmarks in town, the views of both the statue and lower Manhattan from the ferry that takes you there are stunning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These are the best tours of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island:
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island early access tour – the best tour that also has an early access option;
- Early Access Statue of Liberty Tour with Statue Pedestal Access & Ellis Island Tour – an early morning tour during which you get incredible views;
- Statue of Liberty priority or flexible ticket – this is the most budget friendly option. You get an audioguide;
- 60-minute cruise around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – the quickest tour. You don’t disembark though;
- Statue of Liberty pedestal, Ellis Island and pre-ferry tour – it includes a tour of Battery park.
TIP: Book your Statue of Liberty tickets and tours well in advance to make sure you can take the first tour.
If you decide to visit just one place, I honestly think this should be it. Let alone the fact that it is a visually appealing, interesting place, I think you owe it to the many who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
You will get to see the twin reflecting pools meant to be the footprints of the Twin Towers; 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.
GOOD TO KNOW: Factor in about 2 hours for your visit, whether you opt for a guided tour or an independent visit.
These are some good guided tour and skip the line options for 9/11 Memorial and Museum:
- 9/11 Memorial Tour & Priority Entrance 9/11 Museum Tickets – despite the name, it is a guided tour;
- 9/11 Memorial Tour with Priority Entrance Observatory Tickets – the most inclusive option;
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum skip the line entry – the best option for budget travelers;
- 9/11 Memorial, Ground Zero and optional museum entry – another budget friendly option but it doesn’t include the museum.
If you want to worry about nothing at all when you have just a day in New York, you have the option to pick among two excellent tours run by Take Walks (the same folks of Walks of Italy). They include a guided tour of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, 9/11 Memorial, One World Observatory and the Oculus. In other words, almost all the attractions mentioned in this itinerary:
- Statue of Liberty Tour, Ellis Island, & 9/11 Memorial Tour with 9/11 Museum Tickets
- Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island & 9/11 Tour with Priority One World Observatory Tickets
World Trade Center Observatory
You will get incredible views of the city even if you only have a day in New York. Among the best views, there are those from the World Trade Center Observatory – you can even see the Statue of Liberty from there. With its 541 meters, 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 follow this itinerary in its entirety, you should arrive at the World Trade Center at around 3:30 pm. Factor in about one hour for your visit.
These are some good skip the line options and guided tours of the World Trade Center:
- One World Observatory and World Trade Center tour – this is an excellent option if you want an in depth visit. Keep in mind it lasts 2 hours;
- One World Observatory skip all lines – a more budget friendly option for a self-guided tour;
- One World Observatory all inclusive flex package – a very inclusive guided tour during which you also get a couple drinks.
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 during your itinerary to see New York in a day, you can stop by Wall Street to admire statue of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl. This is one of the most well known streets in the world – often appearing on TV shows, movies and news.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
Granted, if you have a day in New York going to Brooklyn may be a bit ambitious. This is why I am offering two options below in the bonus section) to see places that are actually on Manhattan. If, on the other hand, you are still full of energy and willing to press on, go to the bridge.
Brooklyn bridge was completed in 1883, when it was the first ever suspension bridge. It connects Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East river. The views of the bridge and from the bridge are stunning.
Once you cross the bridge, you can walk around Brooklyn Heights, the first suburb of New York City, and a pleasant area to walk around with beautiful Victorian style buildings and churches, and go all the way to Brooklyn Heights Promenade from where you can enjoy marvelous views of Lower Manhattan, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
Do you still have energy? Then you may want to add these two to your itinerary for a day in New York! Do you want to skip Brooklyn altogether? Head directly to the Empire State Building.
Empire State Building
Completed in 1931, when it was tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building offers breathtaking views of the city. I thought of including it in this itinerary as it remains open till very late, so it’s an easy addition.
GOOD TO KNOW: It will take you around 90 minutes to visit. Keep in mind there are usually lines to get to the observatory so make sure to book your tickets in advance.
These are the best tours and skip the line tickets for the Empire State Building:
- Empire State Building Observatory tickets – an excellent skip the line self guided tour;
- Empire State Building day and night entry – in case you want to visit twice on the same day.
- Empire State Building sunrise experience – if you care to visit at sunrise you can walk this itinerary in reverse.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The observation deck opens every day from 8:00 am to 2:00 am.
Times Square is another incredibly iconic landmark where you will be able to see the shiny signs. 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.
Practical Tips To Spend A Day In New York
Using A New York Pass
If you are planning just a day in New York, you may want to get the New York Pass to enjoy discounts (you can save up to 41% in total) and skip the line access to a number of attractions – you can usually pick how many attractions you want to include in the pass, or for how long you want it for. The New York Pass usually come with transportation. You can get yours here or here.
The New York CityPass gives you access to many attractions mentioned in this itinerary for a day in New York, including the Empire State Building; the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
GOOD TO KNOW: You will need to book each attraction separately once you receive your pass.
Where to stay in New York
Chances are that even if you are spending just a day in New York you will need a place to stay. There is no shortage of good accommodation options in town – though expect it to be rather expensive. I recommend staying in Manhattan for easy access to all attractions. I am a fan of lower Manhattan as I find the atmosphere lovely and it is pleasant to walk around.
These are the best places to stay in Manhattan:
- French Quarters has nice though small rooms. It’s close to many attractions. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel 50 Bowery is in Chinatown, and has truly nice rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- CitizenM New York Times Square has comfortable rooms in a contemporary style and in a fantastic locations.Top floor rooms are more expensive, but nicer. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
When to visit New York
You can visit new York year round though keep in mind that it can get incredibly cold in the winter and suffocatingly hot in the summer. Opt for late spring or early fall for beautiful, long sunny days.
How to get to New York
New York is connected to the rest of the world through its 3 airports. Make sure to fly via JFK as it is the best connected to the city. Skyscanner is the site I recommend for flight deals. Occasionally, Air France has great offers for flights from Europe.
Getting from JFK to Manhattan
You have several options to get from JFK to Manhattan.
Taxis are the quickest option and don’t have to be booked in advance. They have a flat rate of $52 to which you must add the tolls and a $4.50 surcharge during peak hours (between 4:00 and 8:00 pm on weekdays). Honestly it makes sense if there is a few of you and you can share the costs.
UBER costs more or less the same as taxis – so unless you have internet and can use the app, get a taxi instead.
Shuttles are start at around $20 and can be booked online beforehand. You can book yours here.
The AirTrain takes you to Manhattan for less than $8. There are 3 different lines.
How to move around New York
The best way to move around New York – other than walking – is the subway. It’s open 24/7 and reaches all corners of the city.
A subway ticket costs $3 USD. Keep in mind that the New York City Pass includes a Metro Card. If you are not getting one, just get a Metro Card as soon as you arrive. Rides will cost you $2.75 USD instead of $3 and it’s easier to use a card instead of having to buy tickets every time.
There are also lots of buses, and the yellow cabs and Uber.
Luggage storage in New York
LuggageHero has lots of luggage storage places around town, usually next to stations such as Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and Times Square. Make sure to book in advance.
Other useful tips
Get a guide book
Chances are that if you only have a day in New York you will hardly have the need for a guide book. But if you are a fan of them anyways (I personally love them) and think it may add to the info in this post, definitely go for it.
Here are a few good ones:
Get a data plan for your smartphone
If you are traveling around the US, you probably already have a local SIM card. If not, call your phone company to see what is the best option for your time in town. If you have a day in New York you may want to be able to use at least data for Google Maps, Uber and other useful apps. Most phone networks will have some decent deal.
Mind the scams
I won’t go on about all the scams you can encounter in New York. For the purpose of this itinerary, you should mind the following:
- The Staten Island ferry – it’s free, you don’t need to pay any ticket but someone may approach you trying to sell you one.
- Costume cartoon characters in Times Square – if you take a photo of them, they will demand 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!
Get a good travel insurance
Even if you have just a day in New York, make sure to get a good travel insurance. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
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
- 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
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