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24 Hours in New York: Spend One Perfect Day in NYC

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New York City, the city that never sleeps, is a vibrant and bustling metropolis filled with endless possibilities. 

There’s so much to see and so much to do, but if time is short then you’ll need a good itinerary to make sure you don’t miss any of the essential sights or experiences. 

If you find yourself with just 24 hours to explore the Big Apple, don’t fret. It is possible to pack in a huge amount during such a short time, and you can see and do some of the most famous things this incredible city has to offer. 

To help you plan the perfect day in New York City, here’s an action-packed 24 hours in NYC itinerary to make the most of your short stay. 

From iconic landmarks to delicious eats and cultural hotspots, get ready for an unforgettable whirlwind tour of New York City in just 24 hours.

Start with a Sunrise Stroll in Central Park

Kickstart your day by experiencing the serenity of Central Park at sunrise. 

New York City is home to some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Get up nice and early and head to this world-famous park to soak up the tranquility before New York’s bustle gets going. 

central park in the morning

One of the best places to view the sunrise is at the Reservoir, which is a manmade body of water. It has a 1.58 mile track surrounding it so you can walk right round it, and view the reflection of the sunrise in the water.

Spend an hour or so exploring other must-see features in Central Park. For example, head south from the Reservoir to see iconic Central Park landmarks like Bethesda Terrace with the beautiful Bethesda Fountain, and Bow Bridge. 

Breathe in the fresh air and revel in the tranquility before the city springs to life. Don’t forget to grab a coffee and a breakfast pastry from one of the charming cafes nearby to energize yourself for the day ahead.

Plan to spend around 1-2 hours in the park before moving on.

Soak in the Iconic Views from the Top of the Rock

For the next stop on your 24 hours in New York itinerary, head to the east side of Central Park where you will find Fifth Avenue. This world-famous street houses shopping giants like Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co and Cartier. 

Head south down 5th Avenue from Central Park and you’ll eventually reach W 50th Street. Just down this street, towards 6th Ave, is the entrance to the Top of the Rock – the pinnacle of the Rockefeller Center. 

Take the elevator up to the observation deck on the 70th floor and enjoy the spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of this amazing city. You can see everything from the Empire State building to the Chrysler building, as well as the Hudson River stretching out before you. It’s truly worth the effort even if you only have 24 hours in New York. 

empire state building viewed from the top of the rock

The early morning hours provide a relatively quieter experience before the crowds really start to come in, allowing you to savor the sweeping vistas of the entire city and capture stunning photographs without the crowds.

Plan to spend about 1-2 hours here, including time for ticketing and waiting.

Indulge in a Classic New York Deli Lunch

No visit to New York is complete without indulging in a classic deli lunch experience. Head to one of the city’s renowned delis near the Rockefeller Center and sink your teeth into a mouthwatering pastrami or corned beef sandwich piled high with flavorful meats. 

Don’t forget to pair it with a side of crispy pickles and a classic New York soda. Vegetarians can grab a grilled cheese and there are also lots of vegan options at delis while you’re in NYC too. 

This quintessential New York dining experience will leave you fully satisfied and ready for the next adventure.

It’s wise to only allocate one hour for lunch out of your 24 hour New York itinerary so you can make the most of your day here

new york street with yellow cab

Explore the Iconic Sights of Times Square

For the next stop on your 24 hours in NYC it’s time to pay a visit to the spectacular Times Square. 

Be prepared as this area of NYC is always extremely busy, but it’s a must-see while you’re in the city. Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of this location in Midtown Manhattan, the heart of New York City, where you’ll find dazzling billboards, neon lights, and larger-than-life screens that adorn the square. 

times square new york

Snap some photos with the iconic Broadway marquees and soak in the bustling atmosphere. It’s also a good time to grab tickets for your Broadway show tonight if you haven’t already booked them. 

If you find yourself with enough time to linger, there’s so much to see and do in Times Square. For example, pop in to M&M’s World New York for some delicious candy, or have pictures taken with some of the many dressed up characters. 

Fancy a drink? One of the best rooftop bars in the city, St. Cloud, is here at the top of The Knickerbocker, a landmark hotel in Times Square. There’s no better way to view the giant billboards while enjoying a cocktail. 

Aim to spend about 1-2 hours exploring Times Square and its surrounding attractions.

Take a Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

You don’t need to just spend 24 hours in Manhattan while you’re in NYC. You can also cross over to Brooklyn by taking a leisurely stroll across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. 

The walking distance from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge is approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). As a rough estimate, it may take around 1 to 1.5 hours to walk from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge so factor this in if you’re going to be walking it. 

You can always jump in one of NYC’s famous yellow cabs but if you do decide to walk you get the added bonus of some extra experiences during your 24 hours in New York.  

Walking from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge offers an opportunity to explore several iconic sights and neighborhoods in New York City. Here are some notable sights you may encounter along the way:

Bryant Park: Located near Times Square, Bryant Park is a beautiful green space known for its beautifully landscaped gardens, seating areas, and a seasonal ice-skating rink.

Empire State Building: As you make your way south from Times Square, you can catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Flatiron Building: Continuing south, you’ll come across the Flatiron Building, a unique triangular-shaped building that is considered an architectural gem.

the flatiron building in new york

Union Square: This bustling square is a vibrant gathering place with a park, a large open plaza, and various street performers. It’s also home to the famous Union Square Greenmarket (open on certain days), where you can find fresh produce and local goods.

Greenwich Village: As you head southeast, you’ll enter the charming neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Known for its historic brownstones, tree-lined streets, and bohemian atmosphere, Greenwich Village offers a unique character and is home to Washington Square Park.

SoHo: Continuing further south, you’ll reach SoHo, a trendy neighborhood known for its cast-iron architecture, high-end boutiques, art galleries, and stylish cafes.

Chinatown: Just east of SoHo, you’ll find vibrant Chinatown, where you can immerse yourself in a lively atmosphere filled with Asian shops, restaurants, and cultural experiences.

Little Italy: Adjacent to Chinatown, you can explore the lively streets of Little Italy, known for its Italian restaurants, cafes, and annual festivals.

Lower East Side: As you continue east, you’ll enter the Lower East Side, a diverse neighborhood with a rich immigrant history, trendy bars, vintage shops, and various cultural attractions.

Finally, you’ll reach the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, offering spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River, and the bridge’s elegant architecture. Crossing the bridge will take you into the borough of Brooklyn, where you can explore its neighborhoods and attractions further.

brooklyn bridge

The walk across the Brooklyn Bridge takes around 30 minutes, and is well worth doing as you get such amazing views. 

Spend an hour or two in Brooklyn

Even if you only have 24 hours in New York and are flying in (if you are, speed up the process by checking out this Global Entry review), Brooklyn is a great place to visit. It has trendy neighborhoods like DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and Brooklyn Heights, exceptional views of the Manhattan skyline and great places to grab a bite to eat. 

With only an hour or two to spare in Brooklyn, here are some of the best things you can do with only a little time there:

Explore DUMBO: Once you reach the Brooklyn side of the bridge, explore the neighborhood of DUMBO. It’s a trendy area with cobblestone streets, art galleries, boutique shops, and scenic waterfront parks.

Visit Brooklyn Bridge Park: While in DUMBO, take a stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park. This beautiful waterfront park offers green spaces, playgrounds, recreational activities, and those incredible Manhattan skyline views.

Grab a bite to eat: Brooklyn is known for its vibrant food scene. If you’re hungry, grab a quick bite at one of the many eateries in DUMBO or explore nearby neighborhoods like Williamsburg or Park Slope for a wider range of dining options.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade: If time permits, head to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. It’s a scenic promenade along the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that offers stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty.

Brooklyn Museum or Botanic Garden: If you’re interested in art and culture, consider visiting the Brooklyn Museum or the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Note that these attractions require more time, so prioritize them if you have a bit more than just an hour or two in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is truly worth considering when spending 24 hours in NYC, especially if visiting the city for the first time. Manhattan is truly incredible but Brooklyn has a generally more laidback feel so it’s great to get this dual perspective of New York by spending time in both boroughs. 

new york city skyline

Head back to Lower Manhattan

You can take the relatively short walk back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge, but if you want to give your legs a rest jump in a cab. This is also going to save you a lot of time so you can fit in a little more during your whistle stop tour of this amazing city. 

Lower Manhattan has some must-see sights on any short trip to New York City, and here you have a lot of options when it comes to the best way to spend a short time here.

one world trade center building

If you only have an hour or two in Lower Manhattan, here are a few suggestions for making the most of your time:

Pay a visit to the 9/11 Memorial, located at the site of the former World Trade Center towers. Take a moment to reflect and remember the events of September 11, 2001. You can also catch a glimpse of One World Trade Center.

ground zero new york

Take a walk along Wall Street, the iconic financial district of New York City. Admire the architecture of the historic buildings, including the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall National Memorial, where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States. You’ll also see the famous Charging Bull statue.

Take a Ride on the Staten Island Ferry if you have some extra time and want to enjoy stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor. The ferry ride takes approximately 25 minutes each way and provides picturesque views of the harbor. The ferry departs from the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, located at 4 South Street, near Battery Park.

The neighborhood of SoHo (South of Houston Street) is worth a visit if you have an interest in fashion, design, and unique shopping experiences. Stroll along the cobblestone streets, browse the designer stores and independent boutiques, and soak up the artistic atmosphere of this vibrant neighborhood.

Explore Battery Park which is a waterfront park located at the southern tip of Manhattan. Take a leisurely stroll through the park, enjoy the views of the harbor, and catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from a distance. If time permits, you can also visit the historic Castle Clinton National Monument, which served as an immigration station in the 19th century.

Grab some dinner

Lower Manhattan offers a wide range of dining options to suit various tastes and preferences. If you have an hour for dinner, here are some popular options to consider:

No visit to New York City is complete without trying a slice of its famous pizza and there are so many inexpensive pizza joints dotted about. If you don’t fancy pizza, here are some more dining options near the Lower Manhattan area:

Chinatown: Explore the vibrant neighborhood of Chinatown, known for its authentic Chinese cuisine. There are numerous restaurants offering delicious dishes such as dumplings, dim sum, Peking duck, and more. Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Jing Fong are well-known establishments in the area.

Little Italy: Adjacent to Chinatown, Little Italy is another neighborhood famous for its Italian cuisine. Enjoy classic Italian dishes like pasta, pizza, and cannoli at renowned restaurants such as Lombardi’s Pizza and Carbone.

Battery Park City: Located near Battery Park and the waterfront, Battery Park City offers a range of dining options. You can find seafood restaurants like Gigino at Wagner Park or Italian cuisine at Harry’s Italian.

Stone Street: If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere with outdoor seating, head to Stone Street in the Financial District. This cobblestone street is lined with restaurants and bars, offering a variety of cuisines, including American, Mexican, and European. Some popular choices include Stone Street Tavern and The Growler Bites & Brews.

Eataly Downtown: Located near the World Trade Center, Eataly Downtown is a bustling Italian marketplace where you can indulge in a variety of Italian dishes. It offers different dining options, including pasta, pizza, gelato, and more, all under one roof.

Seaport District: The Seaport District, near the South Street Seaport, has a mix of casual and upscale dining establishments. You can find seafood restaurants, steakhouses, and other international cuisines in the area. Industry Kitchen and Pier 17 are notable options with waterfront views.

Food Trucks and Food Halls: Lower Manhattan is also known for its food trucks and food halls, providing a wide array of culinary choices in one place. For example, you can visit the World Financial Center Food Truck Lot or the Fulton Stall Market for a quick and diverse dining experience.

​How to end your day in New York

So you’ve already had a really full day packing in some of New York City’s most well-known sites, but you’ve got an evening in the Big Apple ahead of you too. 

With only one day in New York, there are so many great things you could choose to do at night while you’re there. Here are some of the best options to choose from to do at night if you only have 24 hours in NYC: 

Experience the artistic vibes of Chelsea

Chelsea is a New York neighborhood renowned for its art galleries and creative scene. Here you can walk the famous High Line, an elevated park built on an old railroad track, and admire the contemporary art installations along the way. 

Visit the Chelsea Market, a foodie’s paradise, and sample delectable bites from various vendors. You can sample cuisines from lots of different vendors, including seafood, baked goods, artisanal cheeses, gourmet chocolates. Don’t miss the famous lobster rolls from the Lobster Place or the tacos from Los Tacos No. 1.

There are also lots of unique shops and boutiques within Chelsea Market where you’ll find a mix of artisanal goods, kitchenware, gourmet food products, home decor, clothing, and much more. It’s a great place to browse and discover distinctive items, and you’ll also often find pop-up markets featuring local artists, designers, and artisans. 

Take a walk through the Chelsea Market Passage, a covered pedestrian walkway adorned with colorful murals and artwork. It connects Chelsea Market with the rest of the neighborhood and provides a vibrant and artistic atmosphere.

Take in a Broadway Show

A memorable moment during your 24-hour adventure in New York City could be doing one of its most famous activities, and that is catching a Broadway show. 

Many iconic and long-running shows have graced the stages of Broadway, such as The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, Wicked, Chicago, Les Misérables, and The Lion King. Other exceptional theater productions can be found outside of Broadway as well. Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters in New York City also showcase a diverse range of innovative, thought-provoking, and critically acclaimed shows, so Broadway offers a range of options to suit every taste. 

Broadway shows are popular and can sell out quickly, especially for hit productions and during peak tourist seasons, so if you are only spending 24 hours in NYC then it’s recommended to buy your tickets in advance. 

See the city lights 

You could also head to a location that offers breathtaking views of the city skyline at night. 

A favorite spot to view New York City at night is the Empire State Building Observatory. Located in the heart of Manhattan, this iconic skyscraper offers two observation decks—one on the 86th floor and another on the 102nd floor. From these vantage points, you can enjoy spectacular views of New York City’s lights and skyline.

new york city lights at night

For a different perspective, you can also consider taking a nighttime boat cruise along the Hudson River or the East River. These cruises offer a unique experience, allowing you to see the city lights from the water. A popular option comes from Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises who can take you on a two hour Harbor Lights cruise at night where you will get incredible views of Ellis Island, Liberty Island, the Chrysler Building and the Brooklyn Bridge lit up. 

Again it’s a really good idea to book tickets for a river cruise in New York in advance to avoid missing out. 

Lastly, you could also explore some rooftop bars in the city that provide great views of the city lights. Locations like 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar, The Press Lounge, and Le Bain offer impressive views of the skyline and are some of the favorite places of any New Yorker wanting to enjoy a night out in the city. 

In just 24 hours, you can experience the best of what New York City has to offer. From the tranquility of Central Park to the electric energy of Times Square, and the artistic vibes of Chelsea, this whirlwind tour allows you to soak in the essence of the Big Apple. 

Embrace the city’s iconic sights, indulge in its culinary delights, and immerse yourself in its vibrant culture. While 24 hours may seem short, this itinerary ensures that you make the most of your time in the city that never sleeps.

Enjoy your day in the Big Apple!

 

Melissa Jane Lee
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