With just 24 hours in New York, you won’t be able to get through all the city has to offer, but don’t let that hold you back. You can take a satisfying bite of the Big Apple in just one day with some careful planning.
Morning: Museums, Views, and Central Park
Pedestrians walk beneath the Glade Arch in Central Park. Photo Credit: Amanda Voisard
Kick off your day at a museum—the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Metropolitan Museum of Art, and American Museum of Natural History are top-notch. Join an early-access guided tour to speed through collection highlights without crowds.
Whichever museum you choose, you won’t be far from Central Park, where you can rent a bike for an introduction to the city’s green space. From there, head to the 70th-floor Top of the Rock Observation Deck, where you’ll find views of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Brooklyn Bridge. To see these and more landmarks up close, board a hop-on hop-off bus and ride by essential sights.
The world's premier modern art gallery, MoMA provides visitors with a master class in modernist and contemporary art. The collection numbers more than 150,000 works of art, along with a sizable film and photography collection. Familiar standouts include Monet's water lilies and works by van Gogh, Rousseau, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Pollock, Andrew Wyeth, and Frida Kahlo.
Exhibitions are held from time to time, along with performance art and exhibits of architecture, prints, and illustrated books. The building was recently renovated to vastly expand the museum's exhibition space.
Located on Central Park West at 79th, the mission of the American Museum of Natural History is “to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe through a wide-ranging program of scientific research, education, and exhibition.”
The museum is expansive, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring it. Founded in 1869, the institution features space shows, an IMAX theater and permanent exhibitions on animals, space, dinosaurs, Theodore Roosevelt, human origins, global cultures and the environment. Check out the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians to learn about the anatomy and behavior of these creatures, or the Hall of Primitive Mammals, which traces the evolution of lower branches of mammals like the armadillo and sloth. Additionally, the Hayden Big Bang Theater will make you feel like you’re experiencing the event in real time.
The Met is one of the world's most prestigious cultural hubs, up there with the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Vatican for sheer pulling power.
Around five million visitors a year flock here to drink in the rarefied air, rest their legs in the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, admire the Tiffany glass, and view Old Masters.
If time allows, you'll also find Roman statues, musical instruments, modern artworks and Egyptian artifacts. The Met is a fine place to immerse yourself in American art. A highlight is the series of period rooms, and paintings by Whistler and Sargent.
Take a tour of the highlights, dine on the Great Hall Balcony or have a drink in the rooftop martini bar.
Central Park, a huge rectangular slice of oxygenating greenness, is New York City's lungs and soul. Taking up a mammoth 843 acres (341 hectares) in Uptown Manhattan, Central Park is laced with walkways, jogging paths, and woodlands.
Not just a place for relaxation, Central Park is also home to a zoo, skating rink, theater, reservoir, boating lake, fountains, bridle paths, and a carousel. If you’re feeling peckish after all that activity, drop into the Loeb Boathouse for a buffet brunch or dinner.
Popular photo stops in Central Park include the Alice in Wonderland and Balto the Malamute statues, the Belvedere Castle atop Vista Rock and the John Lennon memorial gardens at Strawberry Fields, opposite Lennon’s former home in the Dakota apartment building.
Outdoor terraces provide protected viewing on the 67th and 69th floors, while the top 70th floor has unobstructed, open-air, 360-degree views. You can stay for as long as you like at Top of the Rock to watch the changing panorama of New York City unfold. While the views are similar to those from the Empire State Building, lines are shorter and the experience is less crowded at Top of the Rock. Plus, you get to snap an unbelievable photo of the Empire State!
Afternoon: Lower Manhattan
National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York's Financial District. Photo Credit: Lee Hoagland
Head to Greenwich Village, the birthplace of the Beat movement and the area where legendary musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan cut their teeth. On MacDougal Street is a bevy of dive bars, restaurants, and comedy clubs to be explored—take a walking tour to learn neighborhood history and avoid getting lost. (The neighborhood streets don’t follow the grid system.) Further south among the glossy highrises of Manhattan’s Financial District is the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Book a Ground Zero memorial tour for an insightful experience and upgrade to visit the 9/11 Museum.
A live jazz performance at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. Photo Credit: Lee Hoagland
Come evening, it’s time to enjoy a night out New York-style. With only one day, you don’t have time for even one bad drink. Instead, if you’re over 21, join a New York City bar crawl tour—perhaps one focusing on speakeasy-style cocktail joints in the East Village or one that visits New York’s rooftop lounges showcasing the city’s skyline. If you prefer the theater or have younger travelers in tow, opt for a Broadway performance instead. Disney’s screen-to-stage musicals are a hit with kids, and there’s never a shortage of shows playing Broadway.
Mandy Hegarty is a writer who specializes in food and travel. Currently based in Dublin, Ireland, she’s previously lived in New York, London, and Montreal. She has written for the likes of Time Out New York, Air Canada, and Singapore Airlines.
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