What’s that saying, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? That’s how I feel about visiting New York City in one day.
Whether you’re driving through, have a lengthy layover or can only get one day off from work – New York City is always a good idea. So long as you understand you won’t see everything you’ll be fine.
And if it’s your first time visiting NYC this is the perfect post for you. In it I’ll outline all the can’t miss attractions and landmarks you can (feasibly) hit during one day in NYC.
We have a lot of ground to cover though, so let’s cut the small talk. Why don’t we chat about the best things to do with only one day in NYC.
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Tips for spending one day in NYC
Take advantage of the subway: If it’s your first time in NYC riding the subway can be intimidating. Don’t sweat it, just use Google or Apple maps and set it to public transportation. The app will tell you what subway station to enter, what line to ride and when to get off. Also, tap to pay makes it a breeze to pay to get in!
Bring a portable charger: If you’re only spending one day in NYC I assume you won’t have a hotel room. Therefore make sure your phone has plenty of juice, and bring a portable charger. You’ll be snapping photos and using your phone’s GPS draining its battery, and you don’t want to be left stranded!
Comfortable shoes are a must: New York City is best explored on foot because the city’s amazing skyscrapers are half the fun. As such, you’ll probably spend a lot of time walking from Point A to Point B. Whenever friends visit us in NYC we keep track of steps and typically average 10 miles a day! All this to say, bring good walking shoes.
One Day NYC Itinerary
One Day in NYC, Morning: Central Park
Could I have started anywhere else? New York City’s crown jewel, Central Park, is the gift that keeps on giving. As someone who only lives two blocks from the park I’m the first to sing its graces.
I’m also the first to admit you can spend years exploring the park’s 842 acres, but if you’re only spending one day in NYC a quick introduction will have to suffice.
My suggestion is to start your voyage early at the entrance near the American Museum of Natural History. Pick up a bagel from nearby Zuckers or Modern Bread & Bagel and work your way towards the Oak Bridge.
From there wander through the outskirts of the Ramble, a dense wooded area that is famous for its bird-watching. Walk under the famous Ramble Stone Arch are you walk the edge of the Lake towards the Bow Bridge.
Take your time snapping photos on the bridge before continuing straight to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, which you might recognize as a popular filming location from plenty of movies.
Walk down the elm-tree lined promenade, known as The Mall towards Wollman Rink (and if it’s in season enjoy one of the best ice-skating rinks in NYC).
From here you’ll notice the opulent Plaza Hotel peeking between the trees, which is where you will exit the park. Head towards the southeast corner of the park near Fifth Ave to continue making the most of your one day in NYC.
This route will take you past six of the best things to see in Central Park without overwhelming trying to fit it all in during your one day in NYC. It’s about a mile and a half and takes about 30 minutes.
With that said I’d allocate at least two hours in the park since you’re going to want to stop for pictures, maybe visit a vendor or take detours.
Want to dive deeper into Central Park? Here’s a helpful post that highlights the 15 most iconic things to do in Central Park (with far too many photos because I couldn’t help myself).
One Day in NYC, Afternoon: Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue is as embedded in the lore of New York City as the Statue of Liberty or Times Square, which is why you can’t afford to miss it during your one day in NYC.
Although the avenue runs for more than 100 blocks through Manhattan, we’ll be focused on the most-star studded section of Fifth Ave. After exiting Central Park head south and prepare for a runway of grandeur.
Below I’ll list a few of the top attractions you’ll come across while strolling the famous thoroughfare, in the order you’ll meet them.
The Plaza Hotel
Originally opened in 1907, The Plaza Hotel is the poster-child of luxury and prestige. Today it serves as both a hotel and condos, but as you can imagine, the price tag is steep.
Over the years it’s housed countless celebrities and even presidents. The hotel has also been featured in movies (most famously Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) and even has a Broadway play named after it (The Plaza Suite) so it’s a worthy addition to this one day NYC itinerary.
If you’d like to tour the interior (and budget isn’t a concern), make reservations for afternoon tea at the Plaza. Otherwise just use it as the starting point of your trip down Fifth Avenue.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
As we continue walking south on Fifth Avenue we’ll run into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s hard to miss, St. Patrick’s is undeniably the most beautiful church in New York City!
The Neo-Gothic style cathedral has been stopping people in their tracks since its completion in 1879. This impressive church took 21 years to build because construction was halted during the Civil War.
With a seating capacity of 2,000+, this is one of the largest cathedrals in NYC. Touring the interior is a no-brainer and completely free, so swing by if the doors are open during your one day in NYC.
The cathedral was recently renovated to the tune of $177 million, so you can bet it’s a sight for sore eyes. Plus, it offers a great reprieve from the bustle of the city.
The Rockefeller Center
Donning the name of its founder, John D. Rockefeller, the center is made up of 19 buildings.
The most famous is 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home to Radio City Music Hall, the site of various late-night TV shows (like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), and more.
The (nearly) 100 year old building has become one of the hottest tourist destinations and you can’t afford to miss it during your one day in NYC.
The Rockefeller Plaza is the open area in front of the building that is never void of visitors snapping photos or partaking in the seasonal events. In the summer there is a roller skating rink and in the winter the plaza is home to one of the most famous Christmas trees in NYC.
Bonus: Top of the Rock
A city famous for its skyscrapers, New York City is home to five observation decks. One of (and in my opinion the best) is Top of the Rock. It’s 70 stories up the Rockefeller Center, and you’re already here so…
I’d normally suggest visiting an observation deck around sunset, but with only one day in NYC your options are limited. If you’re interested book tickets ahead of time online to make sure you get a spot.
Also worth noting: Public restrooms are not the easiest to come by in the Big Apple. Take advantage of the (clean) ones at the Rockefeller Center before continuing with your one day NYC itinerary.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is as functional as it is iconic. It serves 750,000 commuters every single day! Not to mention there’s a constant flow of tourists eager to see it with their own eyes.
The terminal is one of the most iconic buildings in New York City and the second most popular destination in NYC (behind Times Square). You can’t afford to miss its famous celestial ceiling or valuable four-sided clock during your one day in NYC.
There’s a food court on the lower concourse so this a great spot to grab a coffee or quick bite. It is very busy though (and honestly dirty) so I suggest grabbing your quick-bite to go!
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is arguably the fanciest public building in NYC. Designed in a Beaux-Arts style, this building stands in stark contrast to the glass and iron it’s surrounded by.
When it opened to the public in 1911 the New York Public Library was the largest marble building in the country. No small task, considering it took 16 years to construct this monolithic structure.
I encourage you to step inside during your one day in NYC, even if you just stop by the lobby. Entrance is free, but remember, it is a library so be mindful of your noise level!
Bryant Park is perfectly tucked into the shadow of towering office buildings that make up the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Located right behind the breathtaking New York Public Library, I’ve never seen the park empty!
Clocking in at 9.6-acres, this isn’t the largest park in New York City by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, it often feels the most full. The park is as charming as a painting so be sure to add it to your one day NYC itinerary.
Word to the wise: Bryant Park has some of the best public bathrooms in NYC. There is an employee manning the door and the lines move quickly. Remember, public bathrooms (especially clean ones) aren’t easy to come by in NYC so take advantage of these!
One Day in NYC, Evening: Financial District
Full of towering buildings that make canyon-like streets, the Financial District is what many folks think of when someone says New York City.
It’s also full of can’t miss tourist attractions. Even better they’re all within close proximity to one another and most are free. Just make sure your phone has plenty of juice since the shutter button will be put to work.
Skipping the Financial District during your one day in NYC would be an injustice to your trip. Below I’ll mention a few places to add to your one day NYC itinerary.
9/11 Memorial and Museum + the Oculus
The 9/11 Museum does the vital job of making sure we don’t forget the magnitude of September 11th, 2001. The tragedy is hard to swallow, but the museum is well worth the price of admission.
But even if you decide to skip the museum, the 9/11 Memorial is a place you should make the effort to visit. Two cascading pools stand in place of the Twin Towers, representing a void that will never be filled.
Around the perimeter of the pools is a barrier with the names of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that day. Even though you only have one day in NYC I would still suggest taking the time to pay your respects.
While you’re at the memorial it’ll be hard to ignore the One World Trade Center. It’s the tallest building in the country, standing at 1,776 feet (inspired by the year America declared independence).
Bonus: Part of the new World Trade Center complex of buildings, the Oculus is a mall right behind the 9/11 Memorial. You won’t miss it, the design looks futuristic and prehistoric all at the same time. You can step inside for a light shopping spree, but don’t lose track of time since you only have one day in NYC.
Trinity Church, Wall Street + the Fearless Girl
Any Hamilton fans in attendance? If so, the name Trinity Church might ring a bell. The church was founded more than 320 years ago, and is the final resting place of founding father Alexander Hamilton among others.
You can take the time to walk through its cemetery and on occasion the church is open to the public, free of charge. If anything else the old church is a beautiful reprieve from the modernity that surrounds it.
From Trinity Church take a short walk to Wall Street which lies directly in front of it.
The intersection of Wall and Nassau Streets is a hub, you’ll be at the foot of the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall and the statue of the Fearless Girl.
It’s one of the best places to visit for any history buffs, since Federal Hall is where George Washington was sworn as the first president of the United States. Entry is free and well worth the stop, and there are tours offered by the National Park Service (advanced-booking required).
The New York Stock Exchange is the financial center of our country and the statue of the Fearless Girl sends a message to big companies to hire women. After you snap some photos continue with this one day NYC itinerary.
Charging Bull and Bowling Green
One of the most popular attractions in the Financial District is the Charging Bull. The 7,000 pound bronze statue always has a line of folks waiting to take a picture. With only one day in NYC it’s up to you if you’d want to wait.
Created by Italian sculptor Arturo Di Modica, the statue was unlawfully dropped off in front of the New York Stock Exchange on December 14th, 1989. The New York City Police Department removed the bull, but later reinstalled it in it’s current location (at Bowling Green) on December 20th, 1989.
And speaking of Bowling Green, here’s a (brief) history lesson of the park that might incentivize you to visit.
After George Washington read the Declaration of Independence in NYC on July 9th, 1776 patriots rushed the park to topple the Statue of King George III. The park’s fence had finials (the decorative top of a fence post) depicting a crown, which the Sons of Liberty sawed off.
To this day you can still run your fingers over the sawed off posts. The little bit of history makes Bowling Green a place you won’t want to miss during their one day in NYC.
The Battery for views of the Statue of Liberty
With only one day in NYC I’m not sure a trip to Ellis Island will be worth it for everyone. With that said, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sneak a peek at Lady Liberty.
Before leaving the Financial District head towards The Battery, a park on the most-southern tip of Manhattan.
From this vantage point you’ll have a direct view of the Statue of Liberty standing triumphantly in the middle of New York Harbor. I’ll admit she’s not super close, but it’s the best you’ll do without getting on a boat.
Depending on the time of day you can park yourself on a bench and enjoy the views before continuing.
If you do decide you want to see the Statue of Liberty there are two ways I recommend you do it. The first is by booking tickets to visit Ellis Island and taking a tour.
The second is to take the free ferry to Staten Island which passes directly in front of Miss Liberty. It takes about half an hour each way but you’ll have to sprint (knees to chest) when the ferry drops you off in Staten Island to get back in line for the return trip, otherwise you’ll have to wait for the next ferry.
One Day in NYC, Night: Times Square
Alas, your one day in NYC has come to an end. You might be thinking I forgot about New York City’s most famous attraction, but I could never do that.
But I want to be honest with you: Times Square is overwhelming and very touristy. Most of the folks I take here end up telling me they expected something different (ha!).
I think the majority of people visiting New York City for the first time have a vague idea of Times Square based on what they’ve seen in movies but the reality is often less …. romantic.
But at the end of the day Times Square is iconic! It has to be on your one day NYC itinerary.
Times Square swells with tourists all hours of the day, but especially at night. You’ll find yourself sympathizing with sardines in no time flat. Also, brace yourself for whiffs of marijuana, it comes with the territory. Take your time soaking in the massive screens and don’t forget to snap a few photos!
It’s the most memorable place to end your one day in NYC. The bright lights will send you off like electronic fireworks. But if you’re interested in staying a while we have an article of the best things to do in Times Square to help.
Local’s Tip: The folks dressed up in character costumes can be rather aggressive. They try to pull people in for photos and then demand payment. Avoid getting caught up in the schemed by diverting eye contact.
How to spend one day in NYC (Post Summary)
Here’s a quick and digestable summary of this one day NYC itinerary.
- One Day in NYC, Morning: Central Park
- Oak Bridge
- Ramble Stone Arch
- Bow Bridge
- Bethesda Terrace and Founatin
- The Mall
- Wollman Rink
- One Day in NYC, Afternoon: Fifth Avenue
- The Plaza Hotel
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- The Rockefeller Center
- Bonus: Top of the Rock
- Grand Central Terminal
- New York Public Library
- Bryant Park
- One Day in NYC, Evening: Financial District
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum + the Oculus
- Trinity Church, Wall Street + the Fearless Girl
- Charging Bull and Bowling Green
- The Battery for views of the Statue of Liberty
- One Day in NYC, Night: Times Square
One day NYC Itinerary (Helpful Map)
And there you have it, my one day NYC itinerary. I hope you find it useful in planning your trip to the Big Apple.
Until next time, cheers!