Perfect One Day in NYC (LOCAL Travel Tips + Map)

How to Spend One Day in NYC Itinerary

I see this question all the time; how should I spend one day in NYC? Whether you have a long layover, you’re doing an East Coast USA road trip, or you find yourself in Manhattan for one day, I have you covered.

I’ve lived in Manhattan for several years, and then on Long Island and Staten Island for many more years. Therefore, I have explored the city extensively. 

So, when people ask me if I only had one day in NYC, what would I do? I tell them about these iconic NY spots that you will discover below. To be honest, one day in NYC is really not enough. I always suggest at least 4 days in New York. But, sometimes extra time is not always an option, so below is how I think you should spend one day in New York City!

Related: First time in NYC? Read these NYC travel tips!

One Day in NYC

Disclaimer: This post has affiliate links. I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Disclosure.

Helpful Tips for One Day in NYC

Before jumping right into this NYC itinerary, I want to give you some tips. In this guide, we will mainly be utilizing public transportation via the subway and walking. Make sure you have Google Maps and or City Mapper, which are both great for helping you navigate the streets of New York.

Also, here is the MTA Subway Map

Related: How to Navigate the NYC Subway

Think of this as your very own self-walking guide with some trains in between. 

This itinerary is jam-packed, so make sure to have your comfortable walking shoes on! If you can’t get through all of it, don’t worry. You will likely be back in the City that Never Sleeps soon enough.

I will also leave some additional options that are along the way. This will be dependent on how you are doing on time. Oh, and these NYC attractions are near one another to optimize time. So, you will start from Brooklyn, head to Lower Manhattan, stop in Midtown, and then work your way to Upper Manhattan.

I’m also including a free map so you can get an idea of the ground you will be covering throughout your journey exploring one day in NYC. I am a visual person myself. 

Technically, you could also do this NYC itinerary in reverse, but I think the best way to go is starting from Brooklyn.

One day in NYC map
Screenshot of Google Maps of Your One Day in NYC

Start off at the Brooklyn Bridge

To start your one day in NYC off, I would recommend heading to the Brooklyn Bridge. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most iconic places in New York. You have two options, which are, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan side, or taking the subway. The subway will be the quickest since the bridge is a little over a mile.

For the subway, catch the A or C train to High Street, and then walk towards the Brooklyn Bridge. You could also catch the F train and get off at York Street. Once you arrive in Dumbo, make a stop at one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC, Waters Street, and Washington Street, for the Manhattan Bridge Overpass view. 

You may also want to walk near Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 (I love this area), and then make your way over to the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. You don’t have to walk too far down the bridge to see some epic views of the NYC Skyline, either! 

Getting on the Bridge can be tricky; I know from experience, lol. Enter from Tillary Street and Boerum Place or at the staircase located at the underpass on Washington Street/Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street.

NYC Instagrammable places Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Pier 1
New York City Travel Tips - Make sure to take advantage of free things to do in the City such as crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is free to do!
Famous Manhattan Bridge photo location in Dumbo, Brooklyn
Famous photo Location of the Manhattan bridge in Dumbo, Brooklyn

Visit the Oculus and 9/11 Memorial

Next, head to the Financial District. Depending on how far you walked across the bridge will determine if you should just finish walking the bridge or turn back for the subway. Additionally, you can take the Wall St. Ferry.

If you go the subway route, you can take the A or C train back to the Fulton St. stop and walk to the Oculus and 9/11 Memorial.

While the 9/11 museum is highly rated, with just one day in NYC, I think you should opt for just seeing the Memorial World Trade Center Tower Pools. This is where the Twin Towers stood.

If you opt for the Ferry, you can walk by Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, before heading to the 9/11 Memorial.

If you are feeling hungry at this point, you can grab a small bite at Eataly NYC Downtown, which is located right here as well. Or, you can grab a slice of pizza at the FAMOUS Joe’s Pizza on Fulton Street (menu).

See more of the best pizza in NYC here!

Joe’s Pizza Address: 124 Fulton St, New York, NY 10038

After, we will be hopping back on the subway again. Go with the Blue line for the A, C, or E train.

Generally, I love to recommend heading down to Battery Park and catching a free ride on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty closer. Or to even take a trip to Ellis Island, but with only one day in New York, there are better things to do. Plus, you can kind of see the Statue of Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

Now, if you have already been to the Brooklyn Bridge or the 9/11 Memorial, you can opt to do something like the Ferry instead.

The Oculus in the World Trade Center Park
The Oculus NYC

Stop on Canal Street or Spring Street (Optional) 

I love the Soho neighborhood so much. With its cobblestone streets, it just gives off a different unique vibe. I worked in this area for 2 years, so it holds a special place in my heart. So if you have enough time, you can consider a short stop to walk around. 

You will get off at Spring Street. Walk towards Bloomingdales and Nespresso. Soho is known as an artsy area and shopping spot. You will see a lot of designer stores, but the vibe is very different from Madison Avenue or 5th Avenue.

Or, you can stop off at Canal Street, which is famous for having knockoff designer handbags. This is always pretty popular among tourists to experience in NYC. 

If you decide to skip all this completely, then you will take the subway until you reach W 4th Washington Square stop and transfer trains to the B, D, F, or M, and take that train to Bryant Park.  

Nespresso Address for Soho: 92 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

Shop in Soho while in NYC
Walking down the cobblestone streets in Soho

Take a Break in Bryant Park

Welcome to Bryant Park! This is a little oasis in busy NYC. You will also be situated right by the New York Public Library. Walk around the park, take a seat at one of the benches, wander through the Rose Reading Room, or, if you’re famished, sit down for a bite at the Bryant Park Grill. 

Visiting NYC in Fall? Byrant Park may have started their winter village, where they have ice skating and food vendors.

Address: 25 W 40th St, New York, NY 10018

NYC Public Library is free to visit and a must-see
NY Public Library

Experience Grand Central and Summit One Vanderbilt

Up until now, we have explored free things to do in NYC, but this is the first time I will suggest doing a paid attraction. From Bryant Park, you will walk to Grand Central Terminal.

On the walk, you will see a view of the Empire State Building (look back) and the Chrysler Building, but there is a much better, paid view that I think is really worth the money.

The Summit One Vanderbilt Observation Deck opened in 2021, and offers some of the best views of Manhattan. It is the closest view I have ever seen of the Empire State Building. 

The experience is all floor-to-ceiling glass and a roof terrace. As you make your way through, you will find mirrored rooms that make you feel like you’re in the Matrix.

The only caveat is you have to book this in advance with a time slot. If not, the line is so long, or you may not be able to even get in. It really is worth it, though! The basic ticket is fine here.

Either before or after experiencing Summit One, make sure to go into Grand Central Station to see the famous clock and ceiling. 

Summit One Vanderbilt with Empire State Building
Grand Central Terminal NYC
Grand Central Terminal Station

Pass By Rockefeller Center

After, take a stroll up Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center. By walking, you will get to see all the luxury of 5th Ave. until you make your way to Rockefeller Center.

If you are not visiting during the holidays in NYC, there is not too much to see here. I do recommend a quick view of the famous Radio City Music Hall sign.

The Top of the Rock is also here, another famous observation deck. However, doing two observation decks with just one day in NYC will be pretty tough. You could consider doing this one for sunset, which is spectacular. However, you would probably need to buy a ticket ahead of time, which can be hard to judge.

Additionally, there is a very cute and instagrammable cafe called Maman that has French pastries and coffee.

Visit Radio City in NYC on Christmas day
Radio City Music Hall during the Holidays

Explore Central Park

From Rockefeller Center, you can continue up 5th Avenue until you reach Central Park, or if your feet are tired, grab the subway (E train on 5th Ave, or the F train on 6th Ave.) to Central Park. 

Central Park is a bucket list place to visit in NYC. I believe it is a must with one day in NYC, even if you have already been. This is because Central Park is huge. 843 acres, to be exact, so you won’t be able to see it all. 

Therefore, I recommend heading towards Gapstow Bridge. Cross the bridge and head towards Wollman Rink. The field will open up with really nice views. 

My other favorite area in Central Park is by the Loeb Boathouse, but you will probably need to take a cab to get here. In this area, you will find Bow Bridge, The Mall walkway, Bethesda Fountain, and Bethesda Terrace. 

Central Park in NYC is a great free things to do

A Choice of Museums

If that wasn’t enough for one day in New York, let’s take a peek inside one of NYC’s famous museums. To save time, it might be worth hailing a cab or calling an Uber. Your fabulous choices of museums around this area are:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) 
  • American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
  • The Museum of Modern Art (The MoMA)

There are other wonderful museums in New York, but if this is your first time in Manhattan, these would be my go-to. I tend to favor art museums more, and they are great.  

Cafes in the area include Serendipity 3 and Remi Flower & Coffee. If it happens to start raining in New York City or it’s really cold, museums are a great way to still enjoy the city.

Visit NYC Museums including the American Museum of History
Inside the American Museum of Natural History

Times Square, Roosevelt Tram, Broadway Show, or Dinner

For our last activity during your 1 day in NYC, I have to give you some options. There is just so much to do in NYC; it is hard to choose. 

Walk Through Times Square

If this is your first time visiting, I recommend ending your one day in NYC with a walk through Times Square. It is all types of chaotic, but it is also an iconic place that can’t be missed. With all the billboards lit up, street performers doing their thing, the M&M store… it is really cool. 

To be honest, we New Yorkers usually avoid it. However, if I were showing someone New York for the first time, I would 100 percent bring them here. It is considered one of the best things to do in NYC and receives the most tourists out of any attraction. 

NYC Fun fact: Grand Central 2nd highest visited place in New York.

Take in the (cheap & great) Views from the Roosevelt Island Tram

If you have already been to NYC, you have likely been to Times Square. Maybe you are looking for something a little different or unique. Consider hopping on the Roosevelt Island Tram for a great view of NYC. The Tram runs every 7 – 15 minutes and is located on 59th and 2nd ave. You just need your Metrocard. The ride is $2.25 each way. 

Watch a Broadway Show

If you are done exploring all the other NYC attractions before 7 PM – 8 PM, you can catch a Broadway Show. Then you can really say you have done the most iconic things in New York City! There is always something great playing, whether you choose on Broadway or off-Broadway. 

The plays run late, so you may want to spend the night in the city since it is such a long day. If so, here are some fantastic places to stay in NYC!

Have a Great NYC Dinner

New York is known for having incredible food. They are especially known for having world-class steak houses and wonderful Italian food. So, after everything you did in this one day New York itinerary, it might be nice to sit back and relax with a good meal. 

Keep in mind you will need to make a reservation to any of these restaurants ahead of time. 

  • Keens Steakhouse – Menu
  • The Old Homestead Steakhouse – Menu
  • Gallaghers Steakhouse – Menu
  • Carbone – Menu
  • The Palm – Menu

If none of these tickle your fancy, you can check out this list of fun things to do in NYC at night.

Times Square NYC at night

One Day in NYC Itinerary Wrap-up

This concludes how I think you should spend one epic day in NYC! If you haven’t noticed, I have linked tons of other NYC guides throughout this article. Feel free to click around to get more inspiration on exploring the Big Apple, or check out my New York travel guide that will list all my New York articles. 

Do you have any questions about this One Day in NYC itinerary, or feel like I missed something? Let me know in the comments below. 

Did you find this 1 Day in New York City guide helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

one day nyc
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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good. Learn more here:

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