Whether it’s a long layover or a quick trip – there are about a million things to do in New York City, from Central Park to the Empire State Building, to getting a slice. Here’s what to do, see and taste with just one day in New York (and even where to get the best bagel!).
Everything in this guide can be done on your own, but if you prefer to book in advance or book a guide, links are provided and New York is so diverse, you can do tours with special interests (like a Sex in the City tour, this Harlem gospel tour, street art tour or see the city from above with a helicopter tour).
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in the embedded Google Map below!
One day in New York City
When you think of New York City, you automatically think of bright lights, yellow taxi cabs and sky-high buildings. You may also be dreaming of warm bagels or delicious street stand eats. You’ll get to see and eat all of those things and more with this guide! These recommendations will give you the basics for what to see and do.
The city is such a diverse and happening place that has so much to offer, but since this is a one-day itinerary, we’ll focus primarily on Manhattan. A day in New York City is enough to get a taste of “The Big Apple” and this guide will make you want to return over and over again for more!
If you’re interested in visiting New York City for a longer period of time, check out this 3-day weekend itinerary. Or if you’re focused just in Brooklyn, check out this guide of awesome things to do in Brooklyn.
Getting into New York City
The New York City metropolitan area has 3 main airports, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LaGuardia), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Personally, I prefer to fly into JFK because it’s easier to get into and out of Manhattan, especially if you’re only there for a day.
As with most big cities, there are many ways to get into the city from JFK. The priciest, but also easiest way would be taking a yellow taxi cab or Uber/Lyft. The mid-tier priced option is to take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and transfer to the subway (MTA) once you get to Penn Station to get to your hotel or lodgings. Finally, the cheapest option is to take the MTA, but it typically takes a bit longer.
First time using Uber? Sign up with this link for a discount on your first ride.
For more information on getting into and around Manhattan, check out How to Survive Public Transit in NYC.
What to do in New York City in a day
To maximize your time in NYC, we’re going to explore 4 popular sights! These spots are Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), Times Square, and Empire State Building.
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in the embedded Google Maps below!
Visiting Central Park in New York
Having been featured in many movies, Central Park is one of the most famous parks in the world. It is a large park and covers a total of 843 acres between Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Harlem, and Midtown Manhattan. It can take awhile to walk through the park but due to lack of time, I would recommend starting in the southwest corner of the park by Midtown Manhattan, walking through The Lawn, and making your way to the southeast corner where The Pond and Gapstow Bridge are before heading down The Mall pathway towards Bethesda Terrace and Fountain by The Lake. Continue walking north towards Belvedere Castle and the Great Lawn. After exploring the park, you can walk on over to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) which happens to be located within Central Park.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)
The Met is the largest museum in the United States and is world-renowned for its permanent collection of over 2 million works of art. The collection is made up of art from classical antiquity (Greek and Roman) and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from European masters, American and modern art as well as works from throughout the world including Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Middle East.
There is even an actual ancient Egyptian temple in The Met! The Temple of Dendur was dismantled in 1963 to prevent it from being destroyed in the construction of a dam in Egypt and was transported and reconstructed inside The Great Hall of the museum. Aside from the temple, the museum also has a complete model of a Ming Dynasty-style garden court based upon a courtyard inside the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou, China.
The Met has so many cool works of art you’ve definitely got to see and experience it for yourself! Best of all, the museum’s general admission pricing is a “Pay As You Wish” model so you can even go in for free if that’s what you wish! Note that the museum is non-profit and is funded by charity, donations, and ticket sales.
Times Square New York
You might also want to visit Times Square, home to one of the most famous New Year’s celebrations in the world. Though there may not be a countdown or a ball drop happening when you’re visiting NYC, it’s still one of the most popular sights in the city. Like Alicia Keys in “Empire State of Mind,” you can sit on the red steps and become inspired by all the bright lights and hustle and bustle in the area.
The Empire State Building
Saving the best for last (also because it’s open the latest), which is the Empire State Building and take in the nighttime lights. Keep in mind this isn’t the cheapest place to visit in the city, but it’s one of the most beautiful – inside and out. The American landmark was built in 1931 in the Art Deco style and when you head inside, you’ll notice the stylistic touches and attention to detail throughout the building. There are lines and decorations inside that mimic the lines on the exterior. Typically lines are shorter late at night so chances are good that you’ll be able to walk right, though there are no guarantees during peak season!
What to taste in New York City in a day
New York City is home to one of the best food scenes in the world, there is so much diversity in people and cuisines, you’ll be able to find something that suits your taste buds. So I’m sharing with you some of my favorite spots!
A classic NYC bagel
For starters, begin your day with Best Bagel & Coffee. While their coffee isn’t the best (go to Cafe Grumpy a few blocks away for that instead), their bagels are amazing. Get the typical New York order and grab a toasted bagel with lox (smoked salmon) and schmear (cream cheese).
One of the best lunch spots is Chelsea Market, namely because there’s something for everyone! It’s a food hall that spans an entire city block. Here you’ll be able to find a wide variety of cuisines from French crepes to Italian pastas, fresh seafood and Chinese noodles. My favorite stall is The Lobster Place, they have amazing lobster rolls and you can even order an entire lobster!
You can do a Chelsea Market and Highline Tour if you want the inside scoop.
Street meat in NYC
Halal Guys is my favorite recommendation for a hearty dinner streetside. Get a taste of yummy combination of gyros meat and chicken over a bed of rice, pita bread, and lettuce topped with their signature red and white sauce. For vegetarians, they also offer falafel. The portions are super large and you’ll likely need to share if you get the platter. Pro tip, if you’re not a big spice fan go light on the red sauce, or don’t get it at all, that sauce is SPICY!
Where to stay in New York City
Since most of the spots I recommended are located in Midtown and Uptown Manhattan, I’d recommend staying in Midtown for easy access to transportation to the airport as well as to the sights you’re going to be visiting!
If you’re a mid-tier hotel type of person, I’d recommend Hilton New York Fashion District for a comfortable stay. They even have rooms where you can see the Empire State Building!
Budget accommodation in New York City
For a more budget-friendly option, Pod 39 Hotel is a great one. Note that they are called the “pod” hotel because the rooms tend to be smaller than the NYC norm. However, the rooms are extremely modern and they offer a variety of rooms. There are rooms with more hostel-style lodgings (i.e. bunk beds) if you’re visiting with friends, but you can also book a larger room with a queen-sized bed. They also have a rooftop bar with a view of the Empire State Building so you can grab a few drinks to end the night.
Other options to stay in New York:
- Airbnb: New York has a ton of Airbnb options, though a controversial history, even getting you in downtown lofts, or photo tours. Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Booking: There are literally thousands of options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
New York City day tours
If you prefer to do any of the above with guides, or book in advance, here are some great options.
- Viator offers New York tours starting at $10 self-guided scavenger hunts, and also have a range from short options, museum tickets to full day tours.
- GetYourGuide lets you book anything in New York from food tours to boat tours, up to full day guided tours.
- Save 40% or more on New York’s 6 best attractions with CityPASS.
- If you want to spend your time in New York in Greenwich Village, these are the best places to go.
Day tours from New York
New York is so well-connected that you can get to awesome locations nearby for day trips outside of the city.
- Niagra Falls is among the most famous waterfalls in the world; you can visit it as a day trip by air from New York, or if you’re up for the long ride, you can do a bus trip to Niagra Falls from New York.
- Washington DC is a quick 3-hour train ride or 4-hour drive from the city; this all-day Washington DC tour takes you to and back from DC from New York.
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