If You Only Have 24 Hours in New York City (Basic Itinerary)

I spent one whole year living in New York – and so strolling through the streets of the City That Never Sleeps became quite a routine. But when I had a friend visiting, I realized that all the things I’ve seen and done in that year had to be compressed into only three days. I took on the challenge. But what about people who don’t have even these three days? What if you have only a long layover on your travels? So I decided to try to compress a mixture of both my favourite spots and touristy must-see attractions into only one day! And here’s the outcome.

Let’s say your plane lands at 5am and your next flight leaves at 5am the next day.

I recommend getting as much sleep as possible on the plane otherwise this itinerary is gonna ruin your health as it doesn’t include any time for a nap.

First, take a taxi or, if you want to save, catch NYC Airporter and let them drop you off at Grand Central – that will be our first stop! Depending on traffic and how long it takes you to get out from the airport, you should get there at around half past six.

Grand Central

On Grand Central, if it’s not a weekend day – and even if it is – you’ll witness the business of this city firsthand as you’ll be walking amongst all the businessmen hurrying to get to work. Grand Central is the beating heart of Metro North – a train system which brings people from as far as Poughkeepsie in the North or the tip of Long Island. It also connects to several underground lines – but here they say “subway”. You should see the expressions in New Yorkers’ faces when I asked for an “underground” the first time…

Even though I like my quiet and am quite introverted, I love Grand Central. I can hide in the middle of the crowd, sipping on a cup of coffee and watch people flowing by, some of them in hurry, some of them chatting with their friends,… it’s a place where all different people from different parts of the city come together. For some reason, this place is very close to my heart even though many people don’t consider it anything else than a place they have to pass to get somewhere else.

I recommend getting a breakfast here; you can get pretty much anything from croissants to fried tofu, vegan cauliflower “pizza” (yummy!) to greek bread. Coffee or orange juice, water or tea – it’s completely up to you. Grand Central has something for everyone.

But I must appeal on you – don’t get too caught up in the magic of this place, we have a long day before us!

Brooklyn Bridge

Get on a subway – line 7 (purple), go two stops and get off on Times Square 42nd Street, change lines and get on line C (blue) which takes you through nine stops all the way to High Street – Brooklyn Bridge Station.

From there you make a short walk to the North and you’ll be on Brooklyn Bridge! Walk over East River and enjoy the view of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Statue Of Liberty! You’ll meet a lot of street artists here, drawing or painting different view of NYC – or your face – depending on where you stop.

Battery Park, Statue Of Liberty, And Ellis Island

From Brooklyn Bridge, you can decide if you want to walk or take another subway to get to Battery Park. Subway is actually not much faster but it can save your sore legs (if they are sore already).

If you have time, you can walk around Battery Park and stop in Staten Island Ferry building for a bathroom break – toilets there are a level nicer than in other places you might encounter. Go to the first floor and on the left, next to departures, is your desired destination.

Next up, Statue Of Liberty! The cruise requires an upfront reservation (https://www.statuecruises.com/statue-liberty-and-ellis-island-tickets?bid=standard#/ choose “reserve ticket”). You should be able to get on the 10am one, but make your own decision on how long you think the breakfast and Brooklyn Bridge will take you and you can book the 11am one (the subway + walking to Battery Park makes around 50 minutes together).

I think I don’t have to talk much about the Statue, you probably know what it is – and it’s hard to get lost there as it is just a tiny island. I don’t recommend attempting to get up in her head, trust me, it’s not worth it. You’ll waste a scary amount of time in the line and the view… Well, you’ll get a better one today, it’s not really worth it.

From the statue, get on another ferry to the Ellis Island. You’ll have access to the whole museum, too. It’s really interesting to see the building and learn about the immigration process. I won’t write an essay about it here – it’s completely up to you how much you decide to learn from your visit – but I think it’s an important part of what NYC is today. The city wouldn’t be the same without its history the way it was.

The Bull and Wall Street

The Charging Bull is quite iconic statue appearing in a lots of movies. I had to see it because, yes, it appeared in one of my favourite movies. But you’ll probably bump into a crowd of tourists waiting to take a picture with it – that’s the only reason why this is not on the list of my totally favourite places in New York. Whatever time of day I walked there, tourists were always there, ready with their selfie sticks and phones. You probably won’t get a nice picture from there, but you’ll walk around anyway so why not to take a look?

If you have time, I recommend strolling around Beaver Street, Stone Street etc. Once I found a street full of Irish Pubs – it felt like if I was back in Ireland altogether! I wish I remembered what the street was called. If you find this gem, please, let me know! It was one of my favourite little hidden gems in NYC!

If interested, you can walk through Wall Street. After all, it used to be quite a big deal! You can still catch glimpses of its past glory. I liked to go there, in the Public Atrium (60 Wall Street), there used to be a group of yoyo-ist (I don’t know how they are really called) meeting there every Sunday. I would just buy a coffee in Starbuck there and watch them performing and practicing what other people might pay for somewhere else.

World Trade Center

Walk to the Memorial of what used to be World Trade Center. It’s truly beautifully done. Peaceful place, in contrary to what happened there, which was an exact opposite of peaceful. The atmosphere is a little bit unsettling, yet beautiful in an odd way. This place makes you remember that there’s violence in this world but at the same time makes you believe in humanity in a way that I can’t describe.

If everything goes according to plan, it should be around 1.45pm now. Get some lunch if you haven’t done so already and get ready to go back under the ground.

Museum of Natural History (if you are more into art, go to The Metropolitan Museum Of Art instead)

Go inside that white building that looks like a huge chest part of a skeleton of a dinosaur and you’ll get to World Trade Center subway station. Don’t be alarmed if you meet armed policemen or army members, they’re almost always present there. If I remember right, you can walk underground to Chambers Street station (if not, just take a look and appreciate the architecture and then walk there above ground). There you get on line C (blue) and go all the way, eleven stops, to 81 Street – Museum of Natural History station. From there, walk cca 5 minutes to get to the museum.

It should be around 2.30pm by now and so you have three hours to explore this amazing place.

You’re inside one of my personal favourites. I could spend every weekend in here – and I’m being a hundred percent honest when saying so! But you have only three hours, if you’re doing well with this hectic schedule (or maybe if you skipped something). So make the best out of it! The museum closes at 5.45 (but check their website if traveling over holidays or so – https://www.amnh.org/).

Central Park

After they kick you out from the museum, walk through Central Park to the South. There are several spots worth visiting, choose your favourites.

The Lake
Belvedere Castle
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (you’d be walking a bit back)
Strawberry Fields and the “Imagine” sign (because Lennon!)
William Tecumseh Sherman Monument
The Ramble
Bow Bridge
Bethesda Fountain
Balto Statue
Gapstow Bridge
Central Park ZOO (walk around and through the first gate where you don’t need to pay for entering, there’s a bathroom!)

If visiting in Winter, there’s a Holiday Market on Columbus Circle.

5th Avenue

Next, make your way through 5th Ave, probably one of the most famous streets in the whole world. You’ll be admiring St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center if you take a short turn into one of the side streets.

Bryant Park (dinner, finally!)

Walk all the way to Bryant Park, depending on which season you’re visiting in, you’ll see many different faces of it! My favourite season to visit is Winter. Get some hot wine if you’re lucky and the German man I’d always buy it from is still there.

Bryant Park is another one of “my places” – not really loved by tourists but surely enjoyable. Hopefully you’ll find it the same way!

It should be now around 9pm. Only two minutes walk from here, there’s Panerea Bread – my favourite place to eat around here. You can watch people walking on the street, yellow taxis passing by,… while enjoying the food, cheaper than probably any restaurant around here. Yes, I am a cheap person but that is what allows me to travel, so… I’m not ashamed of that. Take time to relax your legs or write in your journal,… if you have enough time, you can go back to Grand Central to see how the mood of the place is different (and it is). The place closes at 10pm.

Now, it’s up to your choice:

Times Square or Empire State Building.

Depending on time, you can choose to go to Times Square first and to the Empire State building later, or do it the other way around. Your goal is to be on Times Square at midnight. I’m going to write in the order of how I’ve done it.

Times Square

After you made yourself properly ready and ate a lot of food to have the energy to battle all the people, go to the one place where you won’t find any New Yorkers. They avoid this place like the devil the cross (or something like that) and I don’t blame them – the first time I came here, I swore I would never ever come back. It took me over whole six months to gather enough courage to come back here!

If you are into that kind of stuff, you can walk around all the gift shops with all the stuff you don’t really need (*wink wink). Other than that, again, depending on the occasion, you’ll be able to watch some street artists – here it’s mostly dancers – and get some strong awfully tasting coffe in McDonald’s – you probably won’t even mind the horrible taste as your tired organism is probably already resigning from monitoring any not so important function.

It’s getting close to midnight. Find yourself an elevated spot and wait for the midnight moment.

Midnight moment is an “event” when most of the screens on Times Square show a piece of art instead of never ending advertisements. It surely can be really beautiful but you need to be lucky to have at least a bit drawing piece of art (I wasn’t lucky). Even so, it’s a nice spin-off to your visit to Times Square. And what more, at midnight, you might be actually able to walk there without constant physical contact with the masses of bodies

Now, I don’t want to make you feel excited because I myself was too eager to see the midnight moment and when it happened, it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not one of my favourite things in the city but I think you might enjoy it (and it surely adds to the romanticity of your later travel stories to be told).

Empire State Building

All right, so you’ve walked over the Brooklyn bridge, sailed to Statue Of Liberty, explored Museum of Natural History and seen Midnight moment, but something is still missing. I know, let’s climb the Empire State Building!

What is great about this landmark is the fact that it’s opened till 2am! So, after walking through the city the whole day and taking a short walk from Times Square to this skyscraper, you can see the whole city from above!

You don’t need to pay the extra money to get to the Top Deck, it’s not worth it. But what you see from the 86th floor is spectacular! Even if you’re tired, I promise, you won’t regret going the extra mile (quite literally, haha.

I’ve seen the city from above twice; once during the day and once at night. And I can tell you; it’s much better at night! With all the lights, you can see the life flowing through the streets, veins in a living being the city is. You see as far as Brooklyn and Bronx, Downtown and Chinatown, even Statue Of Liberty! Do you see how huge the city is? And you’ve managed to explore it in only one day! High five!

Appreciate the city, stay until they kick you out. It’s worth it. I have just one recommendation: BRING SOME REALLY WARM CLOTHES WITH YOU. Yes, in all-Caps. Even if you come in summer and are dying from heat the whole day, it gets hella cold up here. When I was showing the city to my friend in June, believe it or not – we got SNOW up here. Nobody from down below believed it, but you should see the faces of all the people up on the deck. I’m a bit surprised it didn’t cause a mass panic. There’s no way the snow made it all the way down because in the streets, when walking swiftly, I didn’t even need a jacket and up here it was really, really cold. Well, snow, duh…

Wrap it up and…

All right, so you got kicked out. if there are no cabs in front of the Empire State Building, just walk a bit back to the more busy part of 5th Ave and wave a cab, get on and go back to the airport! It’s now 3am and you have two nice hours to get back, pick up your baggage from the storage and fall asleep as soon as you sit down in your seat because this was a super-exhausting day and a bit crazy thing to do, right?

Hope you enjoyed it and that you won’t hate me for this hell I’ve prepared for you! I love you just for surviving it.

Have a safe flight and I’ll see you soon!

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