Trying to pack in the must-see sights of New York City in just 24 hours is a seriously difficult task – there’s just so much to do. However, if you plan your time strategically, you can pack in some of the necessities and get a good flavour of the city in just one day. It also helps if you have some local advice, and that’s where our NYC tour guides come in handy! Here are their recommendations for what to do with 24 hours in NYC.
Early Morning (7.30am – 9am)
Find a subway station and get a Metrocard. Up to four people can share it, and you get a bonus if you put over $10 on it. Each ride is $2.25.
Grab breakfast at Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway in the Theater District. Ellen’s is the home of the singing waiters and waitresses, and they really do sing! Broadway hopefuls from across America arrive in town with their dreams of Broadway stardom and they get discovered at Ellen’s.
Morning (9am – 11am)
Head over to the Rockefeller Center, because it’s time to get up on the Top of the Rock observation deck.
At the Top of the Rock, 70 storeys up, you get the best view of Central Park and the Empire State Building. Take a look around and survey the five boroughs of New York City and nearby New Jersey. You will experience this view from many perspectives, and on a clear day you can see for over 30 miles (around 50 km). If you love NBC, consider a tour of the studios, and if Art Deco is your thing, take a tour of Radio City Music Hall and walk among the lobbies – these are both close by.
Next, walk up Fifth Avenue and window shop, just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Be sure to check out St Patrick’s Cathedral and St Thomas Episcopal Church, just around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art, where you can see Dali’s melting clocks, Picasso’s grotesque Demoiselles d’Avignon, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Around 57th Street is where things get really glamorous. Marvel at the displays at Harry Winston, Tiffany, and Bergdorf Goodman, which used to be the Vanderbilt sisters’ mansion. Nearby is the Trump Tower, where you can go inside and check out the mall, find the secret restroom, or get ‘fired’! Continue along and you can visit Eloise at the Plaza, feel like a kid in FAO Swartz, and geek out at the 24-hour Apple store.
Midday (11am – 2pm)
The trees of nearby Central Park are beckoning! There are several unique ways to get there, either with a pedicab which costs at least three dollars a minute, or take a stroll and visit the zoo, the carousel, Sheep’s Meadow, and Bethesda Fountain. Head over to the Boat House, which you might recognise from Where Harry Met Sally. You can also rent a rowboat for $10 an hour on the lake, or rent bikes for $12 per hour.
If you stick to the east side of Central Park, you will pass the Conservatory Waters, where you can rent a giant toy boat, then pass by the Alice in Wonderland statue on your way to Museum Mile’s art museums. If you go up the west side of Central Park, head to the Bow Bridge (from Spiderman), and Strawberry Fields, then to Belvedere Castle, near the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Historical Society, which is a great American History museum in its own right.
Afternoon (2pm – 6pm)
Visit the Washington Square Arch, the heart and soul of Greenwich Village, near 5th Avenue and 8th Street, then stroll down MacDougal Street, savour NYC’s first cappuccino at Café Reggio, and enjoy a falafel at Mamoun’s. Wander through the Italian South Village along Bleecker, and Greenwich Village’s side streets on the way to 7th Avenue’s Christopher Street / Sheridan Square subway stop. Some of the world’s most legendary bars, clubs, and cabarets are in Greenwich Village, and they are still great decades after opening.
Next, hop on the #1 train all the way down to South Ferry, where you’ll understand the meaning of ‘city of hurried and sparkling waters’! The Staten Island Ferry offers a free 1-hour round trip view of the harbour, the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.
Back on dry land, pay a visit to the heart of the colonial era’s downtown, including the roaring Bull and Wall Street. A favourite route of ours includes Stone St and Mill Lane, which date back to the 17th Century Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam days.
Evening (6pm – 9pm)
Pay a visit to the new World Trade Center. With or without advance 9/11 Memorial reservations, a visit is a must, even if you have visited before. The vast and complex site changes daily, and it is becoming increasingly more beautiful, a place of renewal, and a far cry from Ground Zero. The Tribute Center has a museum and tours by people connected to the WTC on 9/11/01. If these are booked up, the commercial tours of the World Trade Center are a good alternative.
When it’s time for dinner, head to Front St in the historic and surprising Seaport District. Get there by going east on Fulton St. After dinner, walk the iconic and ineffable Brooklyn Bridge, taking in the unforgettable views of icons like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
Night (9pm – late)
Once in Brooklyn, enjoy ice cream on the Fulton Ferry Landing and enjoy the view. Then head to the district of Dumbo, a post-industrial, post-art loft neighbourhood, and a unique prelude to Brooklyn. You can get to Dumbo by going under the bridges and following the signs.
Once you’ve taken in everything Brooklyn has to offer, head back into central Manhattan and up to Times Square. Take the F Train to the A, C, or E train to 42nd Street Station, and see the Great White Way at the Crossroads of the World as you are walking up to 49th St. Part of the spectacle of Times Square is simply being there and taking in the lights.
Speaking of taking in the lights – now is the time to take the lights in from above at the Empire State Building observatories. Take the Q, N, or R subway to 34th St Herald Square and walk one block to 5th Ave. Don’t worry if it’s late – you can get into the Empire State Building until 1am. Take in the city lights, and plan your next adventure in New York!