24 HOURS IN NYC: Insanity or Epic Adventure?

Alina's photos 122Can you see all of Manhattan in 24 hours?

What if you’ve never even been to the USA before, and those 24 hours are your introduction to the country? You’d have to be insane to try, right? Well, it just so happens that several of my friends are currently on their way to the Big Apple and 24 hours is all they will have to get to know one of the greatest cities on the planet. Naturally, they turned to this proud former New Yorker to help them experience maximum Manhattan in minimum amount of time.v NYC 3 Times Square 42nd street-horz

Below are my recommendations for what to see, do and eat – and how to do it best – if you only have 24 hours in New York. I did my best to keep it down to the 10 New York City Musts, skewed a bit toward personal favorites — and I’m sorry, but if you want to get all of them done in a day you might have to eat on the go ;-).

The list is arranged north to south (or in NYC parlance, uptown to downtown), but can be checked off in either direction. Choose your own adventure and get your comfy shoes on — lots of walking ahead!


1. Uptown Museums and The Museum MileP1020385

New York has some of the best art museums in the world – The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art), The MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Frick, the Whitney, the Guggenheim…And if you are an art lover and nothing else matters if you can spend hours looking at your favorite Picasso, then by all means plant yourself at any of the aforementioned institutions or wander between them along the stretch of 5th Avenue called The Museum Mile, on the east side of Central Park.

But if you’ve been to the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Prado or have a chance to visit other premiere art collections in your own country or on a more extended trip, then skip the art galleries and go for something a bit different: American Museum of Natural History. It has the most incredible life-size dioramas of animals in the wild, from elephants to grizzly bears, a vast collection of human origins artifacts, a full-size skeleton of a T-Rex and a LIFE-SIZE REPLICA OF A BLUE WHALE that is nothing short of breathtaking. AMNH is one of my two most favorite museums in the world and one without equals. Go there (79th Street and Central Park West).AMNH 1PRO TIP: At the Met and the AMNH the suggested ticket price is just that – a suggestion. Obviously it’s great to support these amazing institutions, but it is totally ok to pay $2 instead of the listed $20-something when you get to the ticket counter.

2. Upscale Retail on Madison and 5th AvenuesMadison Avenue 1

Even if shopping isn’t your thing, it’s still fun to gawk at the unparalleled array of the world’s top fashion and jewelry brands that line the stretch of Madison Avenue from 79th Street down to 59th, and then keep going down 5th Avenue another 10 or so blocks. Cafes and chocolatiers fill up the spaces in-between the boutiques. Even if you aren’t peering into the windows, this part of NYC (called the Upper East Side) has some of the city’s most beautiful architecture, and quiet side streets that lead toward the Central Park or Park Avenue are home to stunning townhouses and fancy little restaurants.Madison Avenue 2

PRO TIP: If you only hit up one posh retailer, make it the Bergdorf Goodman on the corner of 58th street and 5th Avenue. It has all the luxury brands in the most elegant, least mall-like setting, and the most beautiful window displays in the city (click here, trust me, you want to). And right next to it is the glorious Plaza Hotel, which is a New York landmark in its own right (Hello, Eloise!).

3. Central ParkCentral Park 1

Manhattan’s main park is beautiful, enormous and world-famous, and you can easily spend a whole day there strolling, biking, boating and eating hot dogs (with mustard and sauerkraut, the New York way). You can even pop into the compact Central Park Zoo and watch the sea lions entertain the visitors practically inches from your face. But assuming you are pressed for time, I recommend limiting yourself to the south-east corner of the Park, for the classic NYC views you’ll recognize from hundreds of movies and TV shows.Central Park 2

PRO TIP: The scenic Gapstow Bridge is found along 62th Street — now you can make your own postcard! PRO TIP: Don’t do the carriage ride – the views aren’t the best, it’s time-consuming and pricey, and there have been reports of the horses being grossly mistreated.

4. Best Views of the City from Top of the RockTop of the Rock (2)

Instead of spending hours in line to go to the top of the Empire State Building, go to Rockefeller Center at the 50th Street and 5th Avenue for the view that will INCLUDE the Empire State Building (and Central Park, and Statue of Liberty, and all the bridges…). IMPORTANT: reserve your timed ticket in advance, and be on time. The ticket costs about $30; this is one of the two items on my NYC Must List where I will tell you to spend money.

PRO TIP: At Christmastime Rock Center has a beautifully lit-up Christmas Tree and ice skating rink. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is also nearby. And try to not eat in this area, unless it’s a high-end steak-house, a place you’ve researched in advance, or a Chipotle Mexican Grill.

5. Times Square and BroadwayTimes Square

If you’re in the city for 24 hours, I doubt you’re going to a Broadway show. And yes, every local stays away from Times Square, because it is absolutely INSANE. But you know what else it is? Iconic. And best observed at night, with all the lights. The marquees for all the plays and musicals are really beautiful too.Times Square 42nd street 2

PRO TIP: Don’t eat around here, period – food will be sub-par quality at jacked-up-for-tourists prices. One exception is The View rotating lounge on the 40-something floor of the Marriott Marquis. Yes the drinks are overpriced, but the buffet is decent and the view – which changes by the minute – is spectacular, especially at sunset. PRO TIP: This is where a lot of Hop-On, Hop-Off buses start their tours. If you aren’t a walker and want to get a good look at the city in just a couple of hours, I HIGHLY recommend these engaging and entertaining tours, which will take you past most of the city’s landmarks and help you figure out which area of the city really calls to you so that you could spend a bit more time there.

6. Wander The VillagesVillage 3

Village 2This is the area where you really want to take your time walking around and taking in the city’s lively fabric. East, Greenwich and West villages take up the slice of the island between 14th Street and Houston street, and each one is a little different. East Village is punky and funky, bursting with New York University students and good cheap eats. Greenwich Village is posh but lively, with the Washington Square Park (with an Arc de Triomphe that appears in “Friends”) at its heart. West Village is quiet and pretty, with iconic NYC brownstones, including one that posed at Carrie Bradshaw’s building on Sex and the City.Village 4

PRO TIP: Take a taxi south from Times Square/Midtown, and ask the driver to go by the Empire State Building and then Flatiron Building. This way you will see these NYC landmarks without wasting time hiking 30 blocks south. Taxis in NYC are totally affordable, especially if you are traveling in a group. And the New York subway, though highly efficient, is not something one must experience… let’s just leave it at that.

PRO TIP: Don’t waste time standing in line at the Magnolia Bakery. The cupcakes aren’t anything special. Seriously, we even have them in Moscow now. Instead check out the crazy flavors at CRUMBS at several locations (how about Grasshopper Classic: rich chocolate cake filled with chocolate fudge and topped with mint flavored cream cheese frosting with chocolate cake crumbs, edged in mini chocolate chips with a vanilla buttercream rosette?).

7. Shop in SoHo along BroadwayIMG_1014

The stretch of Broadway from 8th Street to Canal Street is lined with “Main Street” shops such as HUUUUGE H&M, TopShop and Uniqlo, as well as cheaper no-name boutiques selling a million kinds of trend-wear. This area is a good shopping alternative to the crazy-crowded 34th Street between 7th and 5th Avenues, though there’s no substitute to the 8-story Macy’s that takes up the entire midtown block.

PRO TIP: Examine the garment’s quality carefully before making a purchase at one of these small boutiques. Unlike big chains they usually have a no refund or no return policy.

8. Eat in Little Italy and ChinatownNYC Pizza

Pizza, cannoli, dim sum, General Tso’s chicken — sample all the flavors of Italian-American and Chinese-American cooking just north and south of the Canal Street. China Town Little Italy 1

China Town Little Italy 4PRO TIP: Check out Chinese groceries with weird foods and buy cheap souvenirs at the stands along the Canal Street. My go-to’s are pashminas and t-shirts.

9. South Street Seaport and New York Water TaxiNew York Water Taxi 2

Probably my faaaaaavorite touristy thing to do in New York is to take a New York Water Taxi boat tour around the southern end of Manhattan (I think I’ve done it at least 10 times). What you get: breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn and Brooklyn Bridge, and lower & midtown Manhattan panoramas, all with engaging historic narration by a local guide who is more of a DJ. What you avoid: multi-hour lines, insane crowds and security checks of the official Statue of Liberty boat tours. Totally worth it for about $30, and you could get a package deal with the city sightseeing bus tours. And either before or after the boat ride check out the historic South Street Seaport neighborhood around the pier. Here you will find some of the oldest building in the city, alongside many shops, exhibits and restaurants.New York Water Taxi 1

PRO TIP: On a nice-weather weekend, get to the pier with 30 minutes to spare. Then ask someone to hold your place in line while you grab a couple of draft beers to go from the nearby snack stand (yes, you can bring them aboard). Check the schedule in advance — the last boat usually leaves at 4 pm.

10. Financial District and Ground Zero MemorialFinancial District 2

This is where New York City began! Where the streets are still crooked and narrow, and where the charging bull stands guarding Wall Street, the gold of the Federal Reserve (stolen in “Die Hard 3”) and the New York Stock Exchange. Financial District 1

On the other side of Broadway is the 9-11 memorial, located where the World Trade Center towers used to stand. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, redefined New York and to an extent all of America. From what I’ve heard, the recently-opened memorial is both extremely moving and a sight to behold. And you can easily spend several hours in the adjacent museum (tickets need to be pre-purchased for a specific time).

PRO TIP: After the emotionally heavy experience, take a deep breath at the North Cove Marina and Hudson River Promenade, with great views of the river and Jersey City, especially at sunset.Financial District 3

MAP:New York Map


Of course there are so many more awesome things to see and do in NYC: the HighLine Park (built on elevated railroad tracks), historic Harlem, the Bronx Zoo, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Heights Promenade with spectacular views of Manhattan, Coney Island amusement park and beach, the artistic Williamsburg, the bustling Jackson Heights, which is the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse county in the United States — Queens. And that’s still just scratching the surface. But that’s why you’ve got to come back to New York, right?nyc

What you should eat if this is your first time in America and you are spending it in NYC:

toasted bagel with lox (smoked salmon), cream cheese, tomatoes, and onions for breakfast; a slice of cheese pizza from a non-chain restaurant; General Tso’s chicken with white rice from a Chinese hole-in-the-wall with a decent sanitation grade; Chipotle Mexican Grill – make sure to add corn salsa, guacamole and sour cream to your order; lobster mac&cheese in East Village; sashimi appetizer at a non-fancy sushi joint; CRUMBS’ ridiculous cupcakes; dumplings in ChinaTown; classic New York cheesecake. Chase it with a pint of draft Blue Moon beer or a dry vodka martini, dirty or with a twist, preferably somewhere with a great view.NYC View 2Agree? Disagree? Want to add to the list? Weigh in in the comments!

(Disclaimer: pictures all but one are my own, from the last decade, shot on shitty cameras, put through shittier editing, saved in lowest resolution possible after being taken with no discernible photography skills whatsoever. Apologies. The super awesome mural in the end is by my best friend Jenna, more great pix at the source.)


27 thoughts on “24 HOURS IN NYC: Insanity or Epic Adventure?

  1. I’m exhausted just reading – never mind DOING! – all of this! I count myself lucky to have been shown around NYC by a local friend, though it’s been more than a decade…

    This General Tso chicken thing… always cracks me up when Americans try to find this EXCLUSIVELY AMERICAN dish in China or Chinatowns around the world 😉

    • But that’s exactly why I said “Chinese-American!” – it is SUCH a comfort food, and you really won’t find it anywhere else (ditto chicken parm). I have to say, I HAVE done this itinerary a few times with visiting friends, but usually over a weekend, not a day. And I lived on the Upper East Side, near the Met, so it was a very easy logical progression.

  2. Ahhh, New York. The only city you can have as your boyfriend. I do love it so, so much there, and I would do all these things, with several more activities thrown in (assuming you have a few more hours). The High Line on the West Side is a fun walk, and I’d definitely recommend a NY hotdog as a must-try food (though definitely would NOT recommend General Tso’s – ick). I don’t know if it’s considered a NYC-must, but an American-must is BBQ – Mighty Quinn’s on 2nd Ave is the best I’ve found in Manhattan.

    • I am SHOCKED that you’d eat CP hot dogs. Figured I was about to get a lecture on mystery meat and all that 😉 I’ve never taken to HighLine… sure, it’s a cool enough project, but it has too strong eau de hipster for me.

      • ….I JUST CAME BACK FROM HONG KONG. I’m the last person to lecture about mystery meat!!! The High Line is SO hipster, but you can look over at the West Side and see murals like the one you borrowed 🙂

          • I like that it can be as relaxing or powerwalking as you want. I very much like the whole thing.

            OH, and how did I forget?! If there was more time, I’d say to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is something I haven’t done in maybe 20 years (ouch).

  3. Great job, Anna, and I say this as a born-and-bred New Yorker now living just an hour away. (Although it’s hard to see how you think one could do all that in just one day.) It makes me want to be a tourist again!

    • Thank you, this means so much!
      And I think my plan implies getting out at like, 8 am, and taking all the meals on the go :)…. and walking REALLY fast!

  4. Let’s see, hike out to The Cloisters up in Nth Manhattan for some medieval art and a different view of NY, or catching the latest immersive theatre piece at The Mckittrick hotel, absinthe and Macbeth what’s not to like. On a sunday the Frick collection is free and the curation of the collection is superb.

    • I LOOOOOVE the Cloisters (the views over the Hudson in the fall are superb!), and the Frick is one of my favorite museums ever! I saw the recently-found and restored Velazques there a few years ago.

  5. OMG! I just want to do everything. I’m just so sorry that your friends ONLY have 24 hours. I would re-schedule and try to fit in a minimum of 72 hours. Better at least a week LOL! I’m not surprised that your mates came to you for tips and advice. Your tips are really, really good especially in connection to time-saving. I like the idea of the New York Water Taxi boat tour and where to eat.
    Yes, please!

    • Oh yeah, it’s a very intense plan. Luckily my friends got to wander around some parts at night, and also did the bus tour, essentially cutting some corders.

      The NY Water Taxi is a MUST MUST MUST. While I was looking for photos for this post I realized that I’d done it at least twice a year while I was in NYC!

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  7. I agree with almost all of it, and the suggestions are marvelous. I could spend 24 hours in the Met alone so it would be hard to coast through. Garment district is fantastic, as is HighLine Park. Central Park is probably my favorite place in NYC. Only thing I will dispute is Chipolte but that’s because I am a California and we are Mexican food snobs.

    • I’ve had to justify Chipotle inclusion to other Americans, but for a foreigner from a place like Russia it’s a really good and safe way to sample Mexican food. Otherwise you really have to seek out Mexican places (unlike Chinese, sushi or pizza) in NYC, which is hard to do in 24 hrs. Obviously if one were on a gastronomic tour of the City, I’d have something a bit more proper lined up!

  8. Wish I had seen you list before I visited last summer. Times Square was total mayhem. So many people, I wanted to leave right away. Walking along 5th Ave and people-watching outside the Rock was fun. Oh and yes, Broadway and MoMA are touristy but essential NYC experiences! Exploring the Villages sounds really interesting, too bad I didn’t have the time. There’s just so many things I could have done there!
    P.S. Should I be guilty I liked Chipotle? I actually loved it!

    • Oh man! Well, there’s always next time – NYC needs to be enjoyed over and over and over, there’s just so much to discover!
      And you know, I get a lot of flack for recommending Chipotle, but it;s totally good, right?

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