You’ve got a layover at JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark airport and have one precious day to spend in NYC—what should you do, see, and eat? Try as you might, you can’t cram everything into your itinerary, so you’re going to have to make the most of every New York minute. Here’s one way you can spend 24 hours in New York City.
You’ve just got to start your day in the Big Apple with a real New York bagel. As they say, it’s the water that makes the bagels here the best bagels on earth.
Head to Modern Bread and Bagel on the Upper West Side, at 472 Columbus Avenue, for a selection of daily breads. Bagels range from plain to everything to the superseed. Order to-go from the bakery menu (don’t forget the coffee!).
Bagel in hand, stroll south along Columbus Avenue and then east on 81st Street. Take the 79th Street Transverse across Central Park—this route gives you views of Belvedere Castle. Once you exit the park, head left up Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This famous museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and the first Monday in May. While it would take days to fully explore the Met—which houses more than 2 million works—you can focus your attention on the most famous pieces. These include the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing, and the Dance Class by Degas and Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies by Monet, which are both in the Modern and Contemporary Art Wing.
When you’ve seen enough art, head south along Fifth Avenue by foot, by taxi, or by bus (via lines M1, M2, M3, or M4) to Rockefeller Center. Even if it’s not the winter holiday season, Rockefeller Plaza features plenty of shopping. You can take a tour of NBC Studios or Rockefeller Center and check out Radio City Music Hall. Be sure to head up to the Top of the Rock observation platform for a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city from three viewing platforms 70 stories above the street.
For lunch, grab a slice at any one of the classic New York pizzerias—with slices as big as the plate they serve them on! Or stop at the food carts that line nearly every corner for the classic NY hotdog with sauerkraut and mustard, a soft pretzel, or even falafel. Head across Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a respite from the hustle and bustle outside. All are welcome to attend weekday mass with music at 12:00, 12:30, and 1:00. No matter your religion, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the cathedral with music echoing through its chambers.
Walk a half mile south along Fifth Avenue to the main branch of the New York Public Library, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Take photos with the iconic marble lion statues, known as “Patience” (the left/south lion) and “Fortitude” (the right/north lion). A free, docent-led tour takes place at 2 p.m. every day of the week, and is the best way to see the library when you’re on a tight schedule. Take 15-30 minutes after the tour to go around the back of the library to Bryant Park. Grab a drink and a chair and people watch: You may be there during Fashion Week fashion shows, free morning yoga sessions, or sporadically held concerts. Get a snack at the vendors (crepes, ice cream, chocolate, and more) on the northwest corner of the park, or go for a ride on the carousel on the southwest corner.
A short walk east along West 42nd Street will get you to Grand Central Terminal, a historic landmark. Don’t miss the Information Booth Clock, the grandeur of the Main Concourse, or the Whispering Gallery. For an unforgettable taste of vintage New York, try to get a seat in the recently reopened Campbell Bar with its century-old leaded glass window, soaring ceiling, and classic cocktails.
From Grand Central Station, hop the green 4, 5, or 6 line south toward Brooklyn, and exit at the Canal Street Station. That will bring you into Chinatown, where you can find the best soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai at 9 Pell Street. Also try the scallion pancakes, and any number of other authentic foods. Expect a line, but the wait is worth it. Be sure to bring cash, as Joe’s doesn’t take credit cards. If you’re still hungry after dinner here, you can stroll north to Little Italy, where you can’t go wrong stopping almost anywhere for cannoli, gelato, cheesecake, and more.
Wrap Up Your 24 Hours in NYC
When your belly is bursting and you absolutely can’t eat any more, find your way back to Canal Street Station and get on the yellow R or W line south. Get off at the Whitehall Street South Ferry stop and walk over to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. Take the Staten Island Ferry to wrap up your amazing day in New York City. The ferry runs all day and night, leaving every 30 minutes from the terminal in the evening. The 25-minute ride is free, and offers amazing views of the Statue of Liberty and the lower tip of Manhattan at night. Ride it to Staten Island, and then take a return ferry back again. It’s the perfect ending to a day you’ll remember forever.