This post is a compilation of ideas on how to spend one day in New York City, including an itinerary for those new to the Big Apple and more granular sections on how to enjoy a day in just one or two neighborhoods. We also include a section on taking day-long guided sightseeing tours, including our 6-hour All-In-One Downtown Tour. We recommend using the NYC subway to transport you around the city and we also included a section on how to navigate the system and how to choose a MetroCard. Check out the video below for 10 free things to do.
This one-day itinerary takes you to many of the locations and attractions that make New York City the exciting place that it is. You will see historic buildings and parks that are stunningly beautiful. You’ll view the amazing New York skyline from different vantage points. You will visit sites that are over two centuries old and explore some of the city’s newest public spaces. We’ve built in time for lunch, a snack, and dinner. There is a section for night activities if you have enough energy to keep going! When you are all done, you will feel that you have truly seen New York City. An added bonus: This itinerary is practically free! You only need to spend about $10 for transportation and the cost of food. Don’t worry though, as we’ve got lots of ideas on how to eat well without spending a lot.
Travelling with kids? No problem!
This one-day itinerary is totally appropriate for kids and we think they will get quite a lot out of the day. If you would like to check out some alternatives, we have an itinerary specifically for families. Day one of our three-day kid’s itinerary is a bit similar to this one-day itinerary and includes a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, spending time in historic and fun Battery Park, and seeing Wall Street and revolutionary era artifacts and interactive exhibits at Federal Hall. The day is ended with a jaw-dropping visit to the One World Observatory, an experience your children will remember for a lifetime. See our post that includes a 3-day itinerary with kids to find out about the other two days of an itinerary built for kids. That post also includes dozens of ideas for things to do with kids in New York City.
Central Park – Enter at 59th Street and Central Park South
You’ve seen it in movies and pictures and now you can see for yourself that it is every bit as lovely as you expected.and make your way to The Pond and Gapstow Bridge for a great photo op. Wander a bit around the southwest area. Best to have a map with you if you want to explore more of the park, so here is our self-guided tour and a link to our GPS-enabled audio tour. We also offer pay-what-you-wish guided Central Park tours.
Backtrack and exit the park the same way you entered, at 59th Street and Central Park South. Walk south on 5th Avenue, the same direction as the cars are going).
Rockefeller Center 5th Avenue between 51st and 48th Streets
As you walk down 5th Avenue 51st Street, look out for famous shops, like Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. You’ll pass by Trump Tower on your way to Rockefeller Center. Explore this complex of 1920s buildings using our self-guided tour. See the famous Channel Gardens and the Lower Level Concourse where, in the Christmas Season, you can ice-skate and see the iconic Rockefeller Christmas Tree. You may also want to look into visiting the Top of the Rock, one of the three observation decks on NYC.
Walk south on 5th Avenue until 42nd Street. Cross 42nd Street and walk halfway down the block until you see the big beautiful building with two lion statues on either side of the grand set of stairs.
New York Public Library
On the corner of 42nd Street and 5th Avenue is the main branch of the New York Public Library built in 1913. Walk inside to see the grand Beaux-Arts lobby and the cavernous Reading Room, where a scene from the 1984 film Ghostbusters was filmed. Learn more about the daily tours and what to see inside this building.
From the library, walk back to 42nd Street and turn right onto 42nd Street. Walk two long blocks to Park Avenue. Enter the station (officially named Grand Central Terminal) through the doors at the intersection of 42nd Street and Park Avenue.
Grand Central Station
It’s actually a train terminal, the largest in the world, with 44 tracks of trains leading out of New York City. Several main subway lines pass through as well. Grand Central is a special spot in New York. Despite how chaotic it can be during rush hour, it is worth a trip. Even lifelong New Yorkers who pass through every day enjoy the beauty and design of this terminal, from the celestial ceiling to the chandeliers and the tiled archways and regal staircases, Grand Central is a beauty.
If you’d like to learn more about Grand Central’s history and its secrets, check out our self-guided tour or our GPS-enabled audio tour. Be sure to visit the Whispering Gallery on the lower level just outside of the Oyster Bar. Click here for a very short video demonstration of how to enjoy the Whispering Gallery.
Lunch in the Lower Level Dining Concourse
After visiting the Whispering Gallery, grab lunch from over 35 food stalls (Click here to see the listings and hours). There are tables to sit at as well as public restrooms. There is something for everyone, from pizza, burgers, sushi, sandwiches, soups and two classic New York desserts: Junior’s Cheesecake, the best cheesecake in NYC and Magnolia Bakery, where you can get the famous cupcakes that Carrie eats in an episode of Sex and the City. (Tip: SATC fans, take a look at our post Where did Carrie Bradshaw live?)
When you are ready to move on to the next activity, it’s time to take the subway. TIP: If you do NOT yet have a subway card, you will have to buy one before going through the turnstile. For help deciding which card to get and also some tips on how to navigate the subway, read our section on this post below.
You will be taking the DOWNTOWN 4/5/6 subway line. The line is represented by green circles. There are a few different ways from inside Grand Central to get to the subway platform. They all involve going downstairs or escalators one level. Just look for signs like the one in the picture to get to the subway entrance.
Your destination is the Brooklyn Bridge- City Hall station. You can take either the 4, 5 or 6 trains as long as they say DOWNTOWN. At the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall Station, there will be several different exits. No matter which exit you use, you will be able to see the pedestrian entrance to the bridge.
Taking a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is absolute must-do on a trip to New York City. For a more in-depth experience, be sure to download our GPS-enabled audio tour. This is an unforgettable walk with sweeping views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the harbor. You can use our Visitor’s Guide to Walking the Brooklyn Bridge to help find the entrance to the walkway as well as how to find your way to DUMBO, an artsy, waterfront neighborhood with traces of the American Revolution. There is also incredible ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. You can find out where with our Things to do in DUMBO post.
After spending some time in DUMBO, it’s time to head back to Manhattan. Walk to the East River Ferry landing at Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park (Stop 17 0n this map) to take the ferry to Wall Street.
Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan
Buy your ticket from DUMBO to Wall Street and have your camera ready to go to get fantastic, unobstructed photos of the Manhattan skyline and the harbor. The ride costs $2.75 but the view is priceless. For information read our post about the East River Ferry. The ride is approximately 4 minutes. Be sure to check the schedule to plan your afternoon.
Disembark from the ferry and leave the dock. You will be at the intersection of Gouverneur Lane and South Street. Cross South Street and turn right, walk one block up South Street until you come to Wall Street. Make a left and begin walking along Wall Street. At this point, you can take a look at our self-guided tour map.
Our self-guided tour of Wall Street will take you to 13 of the most important sites along Wall Street with background information on each locale. These are three buildings not to miss:
Walk south on Broadway for approximately 5 minutes.
This 7,000-pound bronze sculpture is one of the most photographed sculptures in New York City. It was created by the Italian sculptor Arturo Di Modica in 1989, who gifted it to New York City as a symbol of encouragement for a strong stock market year, known as a “Bull Market”. Click here to read the fascinating history of the Charging Bull. (Photo 1 below)
Keep walking south on Broadway and ahead of you, you will see a huge and beautiful white ornate building.
National Museum of the American Indian – Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (1907)
This stunning Beaux-Arts building was built as New York City’s customs house where importers declared their goods. It is now home to the National Museum of the American Indian museum. The four monumental sculptures on the building’s front side symbolize international commerce with each of the four female figures representing a continent: Asia, America, Europe, and Africa. Learn more by reading our post on the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. (Photo 2 below)
Continue south on Whitehall Street until you reach the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
During the boat ride, you get a good view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. The ride there and back is about 50 minutes and doesn’t require a ticket and it’s free. The ferry runs frequently on during the week and slightly less often on weekends. Read our post on how to take the ferry. (Photo 4 below)
From the ferry terminal, walk back up Whitehall St. until you reach Broadway (back by the Charging Bull). Walk north on Broadway against the traffic. At Rector St. (about 2 long blocks past the Charging Bull) turn left. Walk on Rector St. two blocks to Greenwich St. and make a right turn. You will be walking north, against the traffic. Continue on Greenwich St. for about 4 minutes and you will arrive at the massive 09/11 Memorial Plaza.
National September 11th Memorial and Museum
Plan your visit to the Memorial with our detailed guide Visiting the 911 Memorial and Museum. The centerpiece of the Memorial is the Reflecting Pools, two massive cascading fountains set in the exact location that the twin towers stood. Inscribed around the bronze edges of the pools are the names of those who died on 9/11. For details on the other sites within the Memorial, we have a short, self-guided tour and a GPS audio tour. (Picture 4 below)
Since you will be downtown already, check out the Food Hall at the Westfield World Trade Center. The Westfield is the relatively new and spectacular new mall in the World Trade Center. Not only are there tons of food options like Eataly, Shakeshack, and Wasabi Sushi, there are also fast food options and upscale restaurants. Even if you don’t have a huge appetite, visit the Center and its main hall, the Oculus, an all white, architecturally stunning space is definitely worth a look and you will want your camera with you! Westfield is open on Monday – Friday 10 am – 9 pm and Sunday 11 am – 7 pm.
If your night ends here, you can hop on one of the many subway lines nearby. Many subway lines are found at the Fulton Street Station, including the 2/3/4/5/A/C/J/Z.
See a Broadway show
No reason you can’t fit a show into a whirlwind one-day itinerary. If your budget allows, you can buy tickets in advance and head straight to your show. If your budget isn’t as flexible, there are a number of ways you can save on tickets for shows. Our post on getting Discount Broadway Tickets can help you find lower price tickets.
Staten Island Ferry ride
Instead of taking this amazing free ride during the day, you can have a fabulous experience at night as well, and you won’t feel as rushed during the day. See above for a description of the ferry.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge at night
Though it’s included in the daytime activities above, a nighttime stroll is also a great way to enjoy the bridge. If you walk the bridge at night, your daytime pace will be slowed down and you have more time to explore a bit more on your own.
We offer a night tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and 9/11 Memorial several evenings each week as well a GPS-enabled audio tour of the bridge. You could also walk the Bridge yourself. Either way, it’s a lovely evening activity.
Take a pay-what-you-like night tour
For more ideas about how to spend your night after your one-day itinerary, see our post Top 10 Things to Do in New York City at Night
If you would rather have a real New Yorker show you around, or you would like to meet other fellow travelers, then consider an all-day tour. We have several to choose from including our 6-Hour Downtown Manhattan Tour (see details below). In reality, you could put together any of a number of our shorter neighborhood tours (see our tour calendar) as well as our GPS-audio tours. We also have just over 30 self-guided tours. Below the description of our tour, is a daily calendar of other all day tours offered by other companies.
Of course, there are many bus tour companies that can guide you around for the day, and we rate and compare them all.
All-in-One Downtown Tour
Our tour utilizes your feet and the New York City Subway to transport you from the Financial District (the birthplace of New York) through Wall St and the World Trade Center and then on to Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, Chelsea Market and the Highline Park. There will be ample opportunities for memorable pictures. You’ll also get the chance to savor NY’s best pizza, cannoli, and other treats. You may even have the time to learn how to play NY handball, bargain with a shopkeeper in Chinatown, observe a game of street chess in Greenwich Village, or people watch and window shop in SoHo. Along the way, you’ll master the subway and learn about New York’s Finest!
The All-in-One (AIO) Tour covers about 75% of the material covered in several of our separate walking tours, including Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Little Italy Chinatown, Greenwich Village and the High Line.
Sites we cover on the New York City One Day Tour:
*Guests will need to purchase an MTA Metro Card worth at least $8.25, though a card worth $12.50 would cover subway rides to and from the tour. Be sure to read our post on which MetroCard to buy as well as tips for navigating the subway system.
Where: Tour meets at the George Washington Statue at Federal Hall on the corner of Broad St. and Wall St. (map). Look for your guides with the Free Tour by Foot logo. Tour ends at the Highline Park in Chelsea.
Duration: Approximately 6 hours. There will be a break for lunch and a short refreshment break in the afternoon.
When: @10am Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. View our full Calendar for the most up to date availability.
Cost: This tour is free to take, and you get to decide what, if anything, the tour was worth when it’s done. A name-your-own-price tour is a tour for anyone’s budget.
New York is known for its diverse neighborhoods. Just wandering around one or two neighborhoods could easily fill up one day. For a more authentic New York experience choose a few neighborhoods to visit. Use our self-guided tours and GPS-enabled audio tours that include maps, suggestions for things to do, itineraries, where to eat, and how to have fun just like the locals do. The list below is only HALF of the neighborhoods we cover! See our full list of NYC neighborhood overviews.
The subway system is a very efficient way to get around the city. But it is a bit daunting to use if you are not familiar with it. Be prepared for your first ride by reading our post with everything you need to know about riding the subway. Although you will only need two subway rides on the above one-day itinerary, it’s good to plan in advance which New York City Subway MetroCard to buy because stations are crowded and deciding which card is best on the spot can be a bit hectic.
If you have a smartphone, you can download a free app which will make your day in NYC much more smooth. Read our post on which NYC subway app is best.
TIP: Anytime you are riding the subway be on the look-out for great musicians, buskers, and performers. Our post about Where to find New York City Street Performers and Subway Music will lead you right to them!
Written by Courtney Shapiro