It’s pretty tough deciding what to do if you only have one day in New York City. As a native New Yorker, I’m always a bit unsure what to say when people tell me that they only have 24 hours in New York, but there’s nothing wrong with maximizing your time in New York, especially if you only have a layover in New York.
What’s included in this one day guide to Manhattan
- What you need to know about only having twenty four hours in New York City and layovers at New York City’s airports
- Where to stay in New York City
- Your complete self-guided one day itinerary to Manhattan
- Lower East Side
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Staten Island Ferry
- Empire State Building (from the street)
- New York Public Library
- Grand Central Station
- Central Park
- The Met Steps
- Times Square
What you need to know about only having one day in New York City and layovers at New York City’s airports
New York City is huge. I typically recommend spending five days in New York City at minimum, so if you only have one day in New York City, you’re limited by what you can do.
Even with longer itineraries, I notice that a lot of people overpack their itineraries, but if you don’t have much time in New York, I vote to do as much as possible and you can relax in the days afterwards. The following itinerary for New York focuses on Midtown Manhattan and it’s where I usually take my friends if they don’t have so much time.
At the bottom, I discuss how feasible it is having one day in New York City depending on which airport that you fly into. Simply, if you have only twelve hours from Newark, do not bother as you might miss your flight.
I feel that this itinerary is most feasible if you have at least 18 hours and need to make it back for a flight at JFK or LaGuardia. The great thing about New York City is that it never fully sleeps, so New York City public transit runs late and you can at least walk around, even if you arrive late at night.
About this self-guided walking tour of Manhattan
This self-guided walking tour of Manhattan in one day has three parts exploring different parts of Manhattan. The total distance is 13km or 8 miles. You can cut out some of the walking by taking the subway or bus in between Chinatown and Battery Park. I include a map as well as directions at the bottom.
You’ll need a Metrocard and a comfortable pair of shoes as you can do portions of this itinerary on foot, but it’s often easier to hop onto the train. Be comfortable. Click for my complete guide to what to pack for New York City.
Where to stay in New York City
If you only have one day in New York and need to get to the airport, I’d recommend staying in Midtown Manhattan. There’s a good connection from Penn Station to JFK airport.
Your complete self-guided one day itinerary to Manhattan
Start off with breakfast/brunch
I recommend getting a solid breakfast by your hotel wherever it is. In an ideal world, you’re staying in lower Manhattan, but if you only have a day in New York, I get that you might be coming from elsewhere. This itinerary starts–and ends in the Lower East Side, ….because there’s actually reasonable places to eat in this area and Midtown isn’t that fun.
If you have a day in New York, I want you to experience some of the culture rich neighborhoods that New York has to offer, so the itinerary involves walking past some most famous buildings in New York City. I don’t recommend going in if you don’t have time unless you buy tickets ahead as even the Empire State Building has long lines.
Brunch in lower East Side
There are so many great brunch places in Manhattan and the earlier you get there, the better as breakfast in New York is talked about for a good reason. Assuming you’re in the Lower East Side (LES), I like Russ and Daughters for their bagels and lox and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a bagel elsewhere on your way.
For something truly different, I recommend stopping by Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery for something that you can only find in New York City. Not sure what a knish is? You’ll find out. It’s good to remember that we’re walking a lot today and that I don’t have that many breaks as there’s a lot to fit in here. (Subway stop: 2nd Avenue on F.)
My own great-grandparents lived in this area almost a century ago, so it’s especially real for me. I find it strange that people obsess over Chinatown and Little Italy, but I love both areas.
New York isn’t pristine like many cities and I always like showing people along Orchard St. to get a feeling of the grimy, real New York (rather than the pristine, beautiful Instagram version). Walk past the Tenement Museum, which tells the story of immigrants.
Chinatown & Little Italy
Although most people go crazy over Chinatown and Little Italy, I tend to roll my eyes here as the good stuff is in Queens (Flushing) and the Bronx (Arthur Avenue for Italian food). My friend grew up in Chinatown and she swears that you can still get good dim sum, however I tend to go for Vietnamese when I’m here. It’s just fun to walk down Canal Street.
You don’t need to follow my lead, but I really love the divey fill of Sau Voi where you order the best banh mi sandwich that i’ve had in Chinatown in the back of a Vietnamese CD/DVD shop although I also like Thái Sơn. If you’re not hungry, stop off for a bubble tea.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic things to do in New York City. In order to get the classic New York photos, you don’t need to walk fully across the Brooklyn Bridge, only about halfway.
If you choose to walk across, consider taking the subway once you reach Downtown Brooklyn, one of my favorite parts of New York. The A or the C subway departs from High Street Brooklyn Bridge Station although it’s less walking to transfer towards Battery Park.
Battery Park has amazing views of the Statue of Liberty. I always enjoy bringing visitors here although one of the best things that you can do for great views of Manhattan is take the Staten Island Ferry from Battery Park.
Staten Island Ferry
Get on the Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Terminal for one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty as well as Lower Manhattan. Best of all, it’s completely free to come here. After taking the ferry one way, head back towards Manhattan.
You can take the R, W, and 1 trains up towards 34th Street (Penn Station).
Street views of Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building
We’ll just walk by the Empire State Building from a distance as well as see the Chrysler building, which is my favorite part of the New York City skyline.
Although people are always discussing the Empire State Building as the most iconic building in New York, the Chrysler Building is an Art Deco building that was once called the ugliest building in America. I have to disagree, so be sure to admire both from the street.
If you’re visiting New York City in winter, I particularly like to stop to watch the skaters glide around the ice skating ring Bryant Park with a hot chocolate in hand. In spring, New York Fashion Week is held here.
New York Public Library Main Branch
I’m a sucker for nostalgia (and books). Be sure to step into the main reading room of the New York Public Library’s main branch to admire the stunning reading room. At minimum, say hi to the lions out front named Patience and Fortitude. They were named to encourage New Yorkers through the Great Depression.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New York. This train station was constructed in 1871, however it’s gone through a series of changes over time. Notably, the stunning ceiling in the Main Concourse had to be replaced due to an accumulation of smoke over the years. Before you get on the subway, stop for a moment (out of the way!) to enjoy the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Take the 6 subway up towards 68th Street. There’s much more to Central Park, but we’re cutting it short.
Can you visit New York City for any amount of time without visiting Central Park? One of my favorite things to do in New York is to take a stroll around Central Park. I’m just hitting the highlights here as Central Park in itself could take a day. Central Park was created in 1857 by renown architect Frederick Olmstead and it is still considered one of his masterpieces.
Can you imagine sheep grazing here? Sheep Meadow is a great place to laze out and/or to hang out with your friends. I recommend just taking in the views of the skyline and just taking a moment to pause.
The Boathouse & Bethesda Terrace
One of my favorite places to visit in Central Park is the Boat House and the Bethesda Terrace. For film lovers, you’ll instantly recognize these two spots from many movies filmed in New York. I love watching the toy boats
The fountain near the Bethesda Terrace dates back to the 1850s. I’ve often come here just to sit and take in the views.
Be sure to walk along the lake as the best view in my opinion is close to Bow Bridge where Manhattan’s skyline reflects back at you.
Since your’e in the area, admire Belvedere Castle, which dates back to the building of Central Park. This folly built in 1869 is at one of the highest points in Central Park with a tower providing nice views of Central Park. You don’t need to go in, but it always looks lovely in the distance.
Steps of the Met
You don’t have time for the Met, however the steps of the Met are the perfect photo op for the Gossip Girl lovers prior to heading back.
Take the M1 bus down 5th Avenue and 47th Street. It’s one of my favorite bus journeys as you pass by Central Park and all the glitzy stores along 5th Avenue.
Times Square by night
After a busy day walking around, head to Times Square as there’s nothing like seeing Times Square light up at night. There’s a few good places although you’ll also find a lot of tourist traps here. I sometimes find Times Square overwhelming as it’s such a mass of people, especially on New Year’s Eve, however I understand that it’s a must-see, especially at night.
The Halal Guys
If you’re interested in New York’s most famous street food, get off the M1 at 53rd instead and eat with the rest of New York to get a platter, which includes veggies. Be sure to get the famous white sauce–and also consider some hot sauce if you can take it.
Be warned that lines can be long directly around dinner, but if you’re taking your time (and snacking a bit earlier), you can avoid the worst of the lines.
Shake Shack is a informal burger restaurant that started as a food cart. Their burgers and fries are delicious. The prices are affordable and the potions are fantastic. They even have a mushroom burger for vegetarians.
After you’re done having dinner, consider stopping by Salvation Taco, the rooftop of Pod39, which has a terrace with incredible views over New York and tasty tacos. A lot of people end up paying for admission to see the views of the Empire State Building, however for the same cost, you could have a cocktail with a stunning view.
Map of this itinerary for one day in New York
Let me know what you think of this itinerary for one day in New York!
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