See the best of the city with this 1-day in NYC itinerary
So, you’re going to New York City but you only have one day to spend there? No problem. While I would recommend spending at least four days in NYC, you can get a taste of the Big Apple (see what I did there?) even if you only have one day in New York City. Just follow this one day in New York itinerary to see all the top sites in New York city in one day. It’s perfect for those visiting New York City for the first time.
Please note that some of these sites may be closed or operating on adjusted schedules because of COVID-19 concerns. Make sure you double check before your trip to prevent disappointment.
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Where to stay in New York City
Here are my recommendations for where to stay in New York City:
Interactive map—One day in New York City itinerary
One day in New York itinerary
9/11 Memorial | Closest subway stops: WTC–Cortland St (1) and Cortland Street (R, W)
Start your day in Lower Manhattan.
In my opinion, the 9/11 Memorial is absolutely a must-do for your one-day NYC itinerary and one of my favorite free things to do in New York City.
The terrorist attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the city (and the United States) forever. It’s one of the most moving and beautiful memorials that I have ever had the privilege of seeing.
The 9/11 Memorial typically is open to the public all day every day.
Optional: The 9/11 Memorial Museum is at the same location. Though I haven’t had the privilege of seeing it, I’ve heard great things. There is a charge for admission to the museum. Admission is free on Tuesdays from 5 p.m., but there are a limited number of tickets. They are distributed on a first come basis starting at 4 p.m.
Statue of Liberty
Ferry from Manhattan departs from Battery Park | Subway stops: South Ferry Station (1), Whitehall Street (R), Bowling Green (4, 5)
The Statue of Liberty is absolutely my favorite of all the places to see in New York City and worthy of including in your one-day New York City itinerary. Buy your tickets ahead of time online, especially if you want to climb up to the crown. When available, those tickets can sell out weeks or even months in advance.
Even if you don’t want to go up into the pedestal or the crown of the Statue of Liberty, you can purchase a “Reserve” ticket to enjoy the cruise over to Liberty Island (with great views of both Lady Liberty and lower Manhattan), visit the new museum and walk around the monument exterior. I would still recommend purchasing this ticket online in advance, as these can also sell out especially during peak tourist times.
Although it’s included in your ticket, to save time I’d recommend skipping a visit to Ellis Island.
More things to do on a day trip to New York City
If you want to spend more time with the Statue of Liberty and visit Ellis Island, you might like this option that includes a guided pre-ferry tour of Battery Park.
Or pay a visit to the top of One World Observatory with this skip-the-line ticket.
If you’re staying the night in New York, consider this sunset cruise in New York Harbor.
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By the time you finish your visit to the Statue of Liberty, you’ll likely be ready for a bite to eat. The Crown Café offers a wide variety of burgers, salads and sandwiches. Their menu includes vegetarian options as well as several items that can be made gluten-free upon request.
Battery Park (where you’ll disembark from your cruise to Liberty Island) is a great picnic spot. You can grab a cheap lunch from a food truck or assemble a picnic from a nearby market. If a restaurant is more what you’re looking for, wander into the Financial District where you’ll find a variety of popular eateries for all budgets.
Empire State Building
20 West 34 Street | Subway stop: 34 St–Herald Square (B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, W), 33 St (M)
There are those who say that everyone needs to pay a visit to the Empire State Building on their trip to New York City. I will admit right now that in all my NYC trips, I’ve only ever admired this iconic structure from the ground.
I do not like heights, nor do I generally pay money to stand atop them. But you who are not afraid of heights can go as high as the 102nd floor. The main observation deck is on the 86th floor.
As I’m writing this my palms are literally starting to sweat thinking about going up there. I’m not joking. Yuck.
As an alternative, save the Empire State Building for after dinner, or even enjoy dinner at the State Grill and Bar.
Subway stop: Times Square–42 Street (N, Q, R, S, W, 1, 2, 3, 7)
You’ve seen it in movies and TV shows. Of all the places to visit in New York City, it’s hard to think of anything else that’s more New York than Times Square. Soak it in, take a few photos, wander through so you can say you’ve been there (it’s great at night also). Maybe even buy a cheap souvenir T-shirt or stop in at M&M’s World.
Times Square is just a 15-minute walk from the Empire State Building.
Between 49th and 51st Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues | Subway stop: 47-50 Streets Rockefeller Center (B, D, F, M), 49 Street (N, R, W)
A 10-minute walk from Times Square will take you to Rockefeller Center, a New York City landmark that includes 30 Rockefeller Plaza (NBC Studios), Radio City Music Hall and more. In addition to some great shopping and dining, you can take a guided tour of Rockefeller Center, go to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, skate at the Rink, and more.
If you’re feeling snackish, I recommend stopping at Magnolia Bakery for something yummy.
From North 110th Street to Central Park South (59th Street), and from Central Park West (8th Avenue) to 5th Ave | Subway stops: There are several subway stops around the perimeter of the park including 5th Ave/59 Street (N, R, W), 59 Street/Columbus Circle (A, B, C, D, 1), Central Park North (2, 3), and 6 stops on the west side of the park.
Central Park is so quintessentially New York, you absolutely need to make time in your itinerary to see it even if only spending one day in New York. Now, keep in mind that this park is huge. I mean it. Central Park covers 1.3 square miles (840 acres) of Manhattan. You could easily spend an entire day just exploring this place.
To start I’d suggest looking at a map of the park and choosing a few things there you want to see such as the Central Park Zoo, the Alice in Wonderland Statue, Belvedere Castle or the Conservatory Water (where you can rent a model boat to sail on the pond).
The southeast corner of Central Park is just a 15-minute walk from Rockefeller Center. If you want to walk all the way to the Conservatory Water and the Alice in Wonderland Statue, expect a walk of closer to 30 minutes. Or jump in a cab to save time.
Featured activities in New York City
If you’d rather, you might want to visit the very popular Edge Observation deck. For ultimate convenience purchase these skip-the-line tickets in advance.
Family travelers might enjoy visiting the American Museum of Natural History.
How to get around New York City
I say this so often, but I will continue to say it over and over: use your feet and the subway. I’m serious about the subway. You’ll get where you want to go cheaper than Uber or taxis and of course much faster than walking especially when traveling from one area of Manhattan to another.
You can find subway maps on the MTA website.
Taxis are a fine option for getting around New York City especially if you are in a real time crunch or are going someplace that just doesn’t have an easy subway route or a nearby stop.
Final thoughts on one day in New York
There are so many amazing things to do in NYC of course you can’t possible see as much as you would like in one day, BUT you can see the best of the best if you have 24 hours in the Big Apple.
From historical monuments to stunning views from the best observatories in the world, you almost can’t go wrong with how your spend your day here.
What would you put on your 1-day NYC itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!
Tours and activities mentioned in this article
More articles about New York
- The essential overnight packing list
- Free things to do in NYC
- Must-do things in New York for first-timers
- Scenic drives in New York state