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.
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!
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).PRO 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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.Agree? 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.)