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New York City, The Big Apple is not only on most people’s bucket list, but it is an incredible city to visit with plenty of things to do. You can find in NYC anything that you heart desires. There is something for everyone. If you only have 24 hours in NYC, here is a one day itinerary for New York City with the best things to do written by me, a native New Yorker. I also included a map with directions at the end of this post.
Oh dear, you only have 24 hours in NYC? Or a quick layover for 12 hours in NYC? Even if this is all of the time you have, you will definitely need to return, especially if this is your first time visiting New York City. There are plenty of things to do in the big apple, regardless of the season you decide to visit. Creating a one day itinerary for you is not an easy task for me since, as a New Yorker, I could easily tell you how to spend 5 days, 7 days, 14 days or even a month. I know your time is super limited, so let’s get started with the best way you can spend 12 or 24 hours in my dear NYC!
As in the life of any New Yorker, NYC is usually in a rush and busy, so this itinerary will also be jam packed with great things to do. But, it’s organized so that you can pick and choose what you can or cannot do. At the very least, you will return home with tons of amazing photos and experiences (of course, to inspire your return). Note: This list will be focusing on Manhattan since it is hard to explore all that the 5 boroughs of NYC have to offer in 24 hours. For now, adjust your seat belt, pull out your MetroCard and prepare yourself to go, go, go!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Getting around NYC
- 2 Good Morning New York!
- 3 Central Park NYC
- 4 Do Museums interest you?
- 5 5th Avenue
- 6 Rockefeller Center
- 7 St. Patricks Cathedral
- 8 Top of the Rock
- 9 Radio City Music Hall
- 10 Times Square
- 11 Ready to nosh? It is foodie time!
- 12 Are you still around Times Square? You finished lunch but you still have room for dessert?
- 13 Need a pick me up? Coffee break time?! Something to go wash down your cheesecake?
- 14 Bryant Park
- 15 NYC Public Library
- 16 Grand Central Station
- 17 The Vessel NYC
- 18 Macys Herald Square
- 19 Empire State Building
- 20 Happy Hour at 230 5th avenue Rooftop
- 21 If you are a lover of shopping:
- 22 Maybe you really wanted to see the Statue of Liberty?
- 23 Do you love to admire views? Love to walk?
- 24 Like Nightlife?
Getting around NYC
As you probably know, New York City has many forms of transportation with the quickest being the subway. I recommend that you purchase a MetroCard and start out with at least $10. You can also use the MetroCard on the buses too. Free maps are available but even better are phone apps that include a map, schedules and tracking information.
Pro Tip: You should download an app on your mobile phone called New York City Subway Map which contains offline maps and online planners. This app comes in handy to have the subway map offline without using data. I always have it on my phone. If you are online, download the following app NYC Subway: Offline Map + Train Times for New York (by Thryv, Inc) to get connected to real-time subway feeds (so that you know when it’s coming).
NYC Buses are wonderful too, especially for admiring the city as you travel (and it’s the only way to really get “across town” on major Streets across the City), from East to West and back again (Canal Street, 14th street, 23rd Street, 34th Street, 42nd Street, 57th Street, etc…). And for real-time schedules, go to bustime.mta.info type in your bus # (ex. buses in Manhattan start with an “M”) to see in real-time where the bus is and get an estimate of when it will reach your stop. Don’t waste time waiting for transportation!
Lastly, the NYC Official Visitors Center has a great site with lots of helpful information: Nycgo.com
If you don’t like public transportation, NYC has many ride sharing apps like Uber, Lyft, Juno or Via. You can easily download them to your phone.
You might also like: This hotel in New York City was built for women traveling solo
Good Morning New York!
Nobody can come to NYC without eating a lot. I mean, NYC has the world’s best eateries, where you can find anything your heart desires. But with only one day, I recommend that you start your morning with a traditional, fresh bagel from somewhere like H&H Midtown Bagels. The bagel options are countless, but I would suggest trying a traditional New Yorker Bagel choice: Lox and cream cheese. Regardless of your taste, try something new! I am sure that you will love our fresh bagels.
Coffee or tea, anyone?
If you are a coffee aficionado, then you are definitely visiting the right city! There are amazing cafes with lots of types of coffee and even tea, if that’s your preference. I can make a few recommendations, but I think that if you just walk around your neighborhood, you will find what you are looking for.
Central Park NYC
If you are staying in Midtown, which is pretty much a great place to stay if you are in New York for such a short time, since you are close to so many attractions, you can start your day by strolling around Central Park, and find a spot to enjoy your bagel and coffee.
Keep in mind that you could spend a whole day exploring Central Park and still not see it all. My recommendation is that you pick some targeted areas, based on your interest, for your visit. Popular places or key locations to consider are: The Great Lawn (with beautiful views where lots of concerts have taken place), Strawberry Fields (the John Lennon memorial), Bethesda Terrace/Fountain (where lots of movies and TV shows have filmed), etc… Here you will find lots of great info to help you make a selection can be found here.
Do Museums interest you?
If you prefer the Museum of Natural History or The Historical Society/Children’s Museum, then you’ll want to be on the West Side of Central Park.
However, if you are interested in art, I recommend that you get out of the park on the Upper East Side to visit the MET (Metropolitan Art Museum), which is the biggest art museum on American soil. While you cannot truly see the entire MET due to its size, you can always pick one of the latest exhibitions or one of the permanent ones.
Luckily, many museums surround Central Park, so you can take your pick. But, if you prefer to leave the museum for the next time, you can alternatively go to the next location listed here from Central Park.
On the midtown east exit of Central Park is Fifth Avenue. Many people enjoy just strolling around 5th Avenue while doing some window-shopping (especially if they are on a budget). But if you do have the cash to splurge, you can do some serious damage shopping at any of the following stores that you will pass along the way: Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Henri Bendel, Armani, Valentino, just to name a few. NOTE: There are many buses that travel along 5 Avenue if you want to take a break from walking but still sightsee.
If you are walking along 5th Avenue, you should definitely stop and see the legendary Rockefeller Center, even more special during Christmas time with the Rockefeller Holiday Tree lit up, but it’s simply iconic and a must see, all year round.
St. Patricks Cathedral
While at Rockefeller Center, quickly take some pictures and enjoy the architecture of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral (across 5th Avenue on the opposite side of the street), another iconic building in New York. If you decide to enter, walk to the back of the Cathedral to admire The Lady Chapel, which is one of my favorite places to sit for a moment of peace.
Looking for a place with a view?
You will find that NYC looks just as amazing from above, and we know it too! That’s why there are so many rooftop bars. The closet one is just a few steps away.
Recommended: The best views of NYC for free!
Top of the Rock
Depending on your budget or interest, you can go up to see the amazing views from Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Plaza. You can see the views of Central Park, downtown Manhattan and even the Empire State building. Know that I do make a make a more budget friendly suggestion a little later for happy hour at another rooftop bar with similarly amazing views.
Radio City Music Hall
After Top of the Rock, Radio City Hall is another iconic place for a selfie. You will probably not have time for a show this time around, but at least have a quick look from the outside.
Tip: Grab a traditional pretzel from one of the street car vendors nearby (with or without mustard). It is a great snack, until you are ready for lunch.
After Radio City, you can easily walk towards Times Square. If you’ve never been to New York before, even though this place is so touristic and busy, and most New Yorkers like myself don’t really want to step foot there, you should just experience it for yourself. There is something magical about seeing Times Square for the first time. All the huge displays, the buildings surrounding you (it’s even more special when it’s lit up at night, so you may want to come back later too). The M&Ms Store is there (I love chocolate, and for the smell alone it’s worth a walk through), along with many other touristic shops to visit and things that you can do.
Ready to nosh? It is foodie time!
If you are hungry by now, why not try pizza (very typical lunch option for New Yorkers). There is a very good Italian restaurant with great pizza near Times Square, which is quite affordable: Don Giovanni (on 44th Street, closer to 9th Avenue). Otherwise, here are 9 other local recommendations for the best pizza in Manhattan, which you can try. Just remember that most eateries around Times Square are expensive due to the location.
Are you still around Times Square? You finished lunch but you still have room for dessert?
Do not leave New York City without trying a slice of cheesecake from my favorite spot, Junior’s Cheesecake. The cheesecake is just simply to die for, regardless of the flavor you select. My favorite one is the strawberry cheesecake.
Note: You do not have to sit in the regular restaurant area. On the left of it, there is a bakery area where you can take the cheesecake to go, in case you want to save it for later or enjoy it outdoors. They also have a small outdoor seating available in front, in case you cannot resist and decide not to wait. You’re welcome!
Need a pick me up? Coffee break time?! Something to go wash down your cheesecake?
You can try St Kilda coffee, located in Times Square at 328 W 44th street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). They have great coffee and it’s a relatively quiet place for Times Square. They also have fresh croissants and other items, but most likely by now you will be full.
From Times Square, you can easily walk towards Bryant Park (42nd Street and 6th Avenue). You can walk around it, take some pictures and from there continue walking towards Fifth Avenue. If you are visiting during winter, then there are so many other things to see and do at Bryant Park. By the way, that beautiful building you’ll see on the park is the back of the 42nd Street Public Library.
NYC Public Library
A must see while in New York, especially for those who love libraries and architecture, is this Public Library. The building itself is stunning to behold.You should definitely recognize the Lions guarding the entrance. It’s also worth taking a look at the Upstairs reading room. Usually, there are various exhibits inside the library as well, so you never know what you’ll find inside!
Grand Central Station
From the NYC Public Library, you can walk towards Grand Central Station, which is only a few blocks away. You do not need too much time to visit this site (although there are shops, eateries and a small transit museum). At the very least, just walk in to see the main grand concourse, usually busy with commuters. Take some pictures and appreciate the majesty of this building. Tip: Do not forget to look up to see the stunning 1913 celestial ceiling above the main concourse. There’s nothing like it!
From Grand Central Station, you can jump on the 7 train and head towards the 34th Street Hudson Yards. It is one of the newest stations in Manhattan (obvious by the cleanliness of it).
The Vessel NYC
Many visitors are excited to see the recently unveiled public structure and landmark that was built as part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project in Manhattan, The Vessel (or should I say what locals really call it, “the beehive or honeycomb” building). Actually, the most interesting name that I’ve heard, that was even quoted in a recent article from The New Yorker, is “A shawarma-shaped stairway to nowhere”. Oh well, regardless of what other people think, if this is something that you would like to see, add it to your list. You can walk up and see the views from it too. There are also shops and restaurants inside of it although, again like on 5th avenue, they’re on the expensive side.
If you decided to visit the Vessel, from there, you can simply walk (if you are not too tired by now) or head back on the subway and take the train one stop to Times Square and then switch to the 1, 2 or 3 train lines for just one stop to 34th Street and 7th Avenue, and you will arrive right by Macy’s department store. Note: If you do not want to go through all of that, walk to 34th Street to take the crosstown M34 bus and get off at 7th Avenue or just simply take a ride sharing app (Uber/Lyft, Via) and head towards Macys Herald Square to see the largest department store in the world. If you are not interested, just skip it and head straight from The Vessel to the Empire State Building by continuing on the M34 bus and getting off at 5th Avenue.
Macys Herald Square
Macy’s is one of the largest department stores in the world and a super iconic location. Here you can shop until you drop or just simply take a picture outside. If you are visiting during the Spring, take a look at the Macys Flower Show; it is always stunning.
Note: Near Macy’s, there’s Madison Square Garden and one of the largest U.S. Post Offices in NYC (beautiful architecture, with lots of steps leading up to the doors) just in case it’s of any interest to you.
Empire State Building
What can I say? The Empire State Building is an iconic building to see while in New York but the ugly truth is that it’s quite expensive to go up, and usually quite busy with long lines (TIP: You can buy the skip the line pass to save some time). Plus, you cannot see the Empire State Building from its viewing platform since you are standing on it. But, as a New Yorker, I would agree that it is something that you should do at least once in your lifetime. If you prefer to spend less money, or you just truly want to have a picture of The Empire State Building or admire it from afar, you will love my next suggestion.
Happy Hour at 230 5th avenue Rooftop
230 5th avenue is one of my favorite rooftop bars in NYC. I usually love going during happy hour since they pride themselves on having one of the longest happy hours in Manhattan, starting at 2:00pm and lasting until 7:00pm. I love to go during happy hour since they have great deals for food (more like appetizers) and drinks. Here you can also enjoy the view of the Empire State Building. You can take fantastic pictures with the Empire State Building as your backdrop…it’s just an amazing selfie! Consider staying until sunset, or returning later in the evening, to see the Empire State Building completely lit up. I totally recommend this place (it’s one of my secret local finds).
Still not tired? Oh, good. Here are a few other options:
If you are a lover of shopping:
can simply take the train and go to Soho to shop. There you will find
great local boutiques, art galleries and great eateries. You can always
combine this with seeing/shopping in Chinatown and/or having dinner
there (consider Hop Kee at 21 Mott Street), or in Little Italy (like La
Nonna at 134 Mulberry Street).
Maybe you really wanted to see the Statue of Liberty?
You can consider taking a theme cruise or an evening cruise to go there.
If you want to also visit Ellis Island, then you would need to go to the Statue of Liberty earlier.
Or you can also take the free Staten Island Ferry (back and forth) to see it from afar.
Do you love to admire views? Love to walk?
If you answered yes, then head to Chelsea and walk along The High Line.
The High Line
The High Line is an elevated park located at the old NYC central railway track. A great walking trail to relax, check out the views, peak at the luxury buildings nearby and just enjoy NYC. Just be mindful that The High Line is only open from 7am – 7pm.
While there, you can always go to the Chelsea Market and have dinner in one of Chelsea’s restaurants.
You may want to head back to your hotel, freshen up to prepare for the Boom Boom Room in the Standard Hotel. If you prefer a more classic luxe bar environment, The Top of the Standard is also great (and located at the same hotel). The views from there are just “wow,” even from the bathroom stalls.
If you like a more party kind of atmosphere, you can always check out one of the many nightclubs or bars around the Meatpacking District. So many choices, so little time!
Hope that this helps you to better plan your 24 hours in NYC. As you can imagine, a set itinerary for 24 hours in NYC is very difficult to create, since there are so many things to do and most of which depend on your interests. This is why, on this 1 day itinerary, I covered only the highlights of Manhattan and then gave you some choices so that you can make your own selections. For truly seeing and appreciating all that New York City has to offer, you need more time. I usually suggest a minimum of 3 days, optimally at least 5 days, to explore the other boroughs. To include additional areas in New York State, 1-2 weeks is preferable.
While 24 hours is barely enough time to scratch the surface of NYC, I hope that this 1 day itinerary helped you to create an amazing day for yourself in New York City. We hope to see you back in the Big Apple very soon!
Of course, if you have any questions about this itinerary, or New York City in general, feel free to comment below.
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