There are few cities–perhaps none–that are as celebrated and romanticized as New York City, so much so that the City is now full of clichés and tourist traps. But it’s got plenty of genuinely impressive attractions to keep you entertained as well. From museums to historical sites to bars to clubs to parks to restaurants, the list of things to do and see is near endless. Not to mention the neighborhoods. Some of the most fun you can have is walking to streets of this unique city and looking at the brownstones and walk-ups. If you don’t plan ahead properly, you could well spend a large portion of your trip merely trying to decide where to go and what to do. Do you see all the main tourist attractions so you can say you’ve been there and done that? Or do you try to figure out the more esoteric and “cooler” attractions?
You could stay in New York for over a month and still not see all the city has to offer. But some people don’t have a month. They don’t even have a week. It’s possible that your first trip to the Big Apple will last no more than a day. Perhaps you’re merely stopping over between two other locations or perhaps that’s just all the time you have to spend. Either way, we at The Travel got you covered. Here are 20 things you should do, see, and eat if you find yourself in New York City for only a day or so.
20 Long Island City Market
If you’re flying to New York, you’re probably flying into Queens. This New York borough is home to both of the city’s airports (JFK and LaGuardia), although some flights land in nearby Newark’s Liberty Airport. Regardless of how you find yourself in New York, you shouldn’t overlook Queens.
Yes, the lion’s share of famous sites are in Manhattan and to a lesser extent Brooklyn, but all of the five boroughs have something to offer, and Queens is no different.
If you land in New York around 10 AM and are a bit peckish, head over to the Long Island City Market. This Queen’s market offers great lunch and weekend brunch options. It’s right by the East River in Long Island City, the most city-like and increasingly popular area of Queens. The LIC Market also has an extensive natural wine and beer list, so it’s a great spot for happy hour or supper as well.
19 Gantry Plaza State Park
Less than a 20-minute walk from the LIC Market is Gantry Plaza State Park. Gantry Plaza offers perhaps the most underrated view of New York City’s skyline. Looking at Manhattan from the east, you can admire all the skyscrapers from the relative peacefulness and serenity of a park. The 12-acre park doesn’t offer the degree of lush green space other NYC parks have, but it does have an interesting history. Much of the park sits on land reclaimed from long-since-closed dockyards and factories. As such, Gantry Plaza State Park represents one of NYC’s prime examples of the city that has repeatedly and deftly reused and reinterpreted land and structures that are relics of its more industrial past. To wit, perhaps the most famous feature of the park, beyond its view of the skyline, is the 80-plus-year-old metal Pepsi sign that used to sit atop the bottling plant that was present in the area.
18 Sweet Chick
If you didn’t eat at the LIC Market, you can take a 10-minute cab ride south from Long Island City to the hot Williamsburg chicken and waffle joint called Sweet Chick. The massively popular restaurant–co-owned by legendary Queens rapper Nas–is popular with tourists and locals alike. It has been hyped up by outlets such as The New York Times, The Gothamist, Grub Street, CBC New York, and The Wire and Boardwalk Empire actor extraordinaire, Michael K. Williams.
If you don’t feel like the classic chicken and waffles, you could get mac & cheese, chicken dumpling soup, or grilled octopus, among other options.
They also serve vegetarian fried chicken. And Sweet Chick also specializes in serving intricate and innovative cocktails. Sweet Chick also has locations in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Prospect Heights, and plans for a Queens location as well, in case you don’t find yourself in Williamsburg/Greenpoint area.
17 Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium is among the most famous and historic sites in all of New York. Even if you don’t care at all about baseball, you have to admit that Yankee Stadium is a special edifice. And yes, of course, this is the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees having moved out of their old home in 2009. The new “Cathedral of Baseball” sits just to the north of the Original Yankee Stadium which is now the lovely Heritage Park, so go check that out too while you’re in the area. The new Yankee Stadium is full of nods to the old ground as well, incorporating replicas of some design elements of the Original Yankee Stadium.
With a construction cost of 2.3 billion USD, Yankee Stadium holds the title of the most expensive stadium ever built.
If you’re not there on game day, you can still take a tour of the stadium. And if baseball isn’t your sport but soccer is, you can watch the Major League Soccer team, New York City FC, who plays its home games there.
16 The City College Of New York
This one’s a bit of a sleeper. But not everything in New York has to be expensive. New York is a unique city in many respects, including its architecture, so just walking around certain neighborhoods can be an interesting and rewarding experience. Academically, New York is probably best known for New York University and Columbia University. But the campus of the City College of New York is every bit their equal in terms of beauty and architecture.
Established in 1847, the “Harvard of the Proletariat” is located in Hamilton Heights. Its 35-acre Gothic Collegiate campus is home to several buildings which have been awarded historical landmark status. CCNY is also right beside the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the home where Alexander Hamilton once lived.
15 Columbia University/Morningside Heights
Seeing as how we’re already in the area, why not stroll for 15 minutes, walking south through the lovely Morningside Heights neighborhood to Columbia University? Apart from Columbia, Morningside Heights is home to several academic and educational buildings as well as several churches—Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Riverside Church, the Church of Notre Dame, and Corpus Christi Church. On top of that, Grant’s Tomb is in the neighborhood, which also has a strong connection to the world of comedy. Famed comedian George Carlin grew up there and Tom’s Restaurant, whose exterior was used to represent Monk’s Cafe in Seinfeld, also resides in the neighborhood.
As for Columbia University, it was established in 1754 and contains the oldest college in the State of New York.
Butler Library, the Teachers College, and the Union Theological Seminary are impressive buildings that are worthy of at least a quick photo.
14 Belvedere Castle
Yes, of course, Central Park. You have to go to Central Park. But Central Park is massive—843 acres (3.41 km2), to be exact. If you only have about a day in New York, you can’t expect to see all of it. (Also, you best hope for good weather.) While you can’t really go wrong no matter where you go in the Park,
Belvedere Castle is probably the number one site to see within it.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux–the same men who designed Central Park in its entirety–designed Belvedere Castle and it was built in 1869. The “folly” (essentially, fake castle) combines elements of both Gothic and Romanesque design. It has an observation deck as well as exhibit rooms. And since 1919, it has housed the Central Park weather station. The castle is nearby Turtle Pond and Shakespeare Garden.
13 Museum Of Modern Art
New York is awash with museums, and most of them are great. From the truly massive American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to smaller historical museums such as the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical Society Museum, if you like museums, you will not be left wanting. And then, there are niche museums such as Louis Armstrong House, El Museuo del Barrio, and the tantalizing Museum of Sex. Not to mention the Guggenheim or the Brooklyn Museum.
But unless you have a special interest in one of the museums, if you’re only in New York for a day and want to visit at least one museum, choose the Museum of Modern Art. The others are either too big or too niche, but MoMa is famous and, while big itself, is not so massive as to take up your whole day. And if you’re pressed for time, you can just go in and see the heavy hitters—Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Matisse’s The Dance, Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy, and of course, Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans.
12 The High Line
As mentioned above, Gantry Plaza State Park is a great example of how New York has managed to reclaim unused elements of its industrial past. However, no such reclamation project is more famous or lauded as the High Line is. The High Line Park is 1.45 miles long (2.33 km) and sits atop a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan. The elevated rail line had become decreasingly used over the decades and by 1980, was effectively abandoned. Parts of the rail had been demolished, but rather than demolish all of it, the landscape architecture firm of James Corner Field Operations redesigned it as a “living system.” Now, it is a lovely elevated boardwalk lined with indigenous vegetation.
The High Line has been a huge success and has inspired similar projects in cities across the globe. The park has revitalized the area and has increased real estate values in the areas that border it which, of course, has led to problems with gentrification. By 2014, the High Line was receiving about five million visitors every year.
11 Rocky’s Brick Oven Pizza / Juliana’s Pizza
Not far from the High Line you’ll find Rocky’s Brick Oven Pizza. Now, barring some sort of dietary restrictions, you should definitely have a slice of pizza during your visit to New York. Rocky’s doesn’t exactly offer the classic greasy New York pizza, though. As its name suggests,
Rocky’s pizza pies are cooked in a brick oven, giving them a crisp satisfying crust. They have a variety of pizzas from which to choose and a pleasant unassuming setting.
If, however, you want a slice of that classic greasy plus-sized pizza, you have no shortage of options. But if you don’t pass by Rocky’s, you can always visit Juliana’s Pizza in Brooklyn. This DUMBO pizzeria is highly rated and uses a coal-fired oven to treat their customers to a delicious pizza pie. They’re open late at night too. So if you’ve had a few beverages, you can grab a slice on the way home.
10 Greenwich Village
The High Line’s southern terminus is in the West Village, which is effectively part of the famed Greenwich Village. “The Village,” as it is commonly known to locals, is one of New York’s most legendary neighborhoods. It is home to countless boutique shops, bars, as well as New York University. The Village has long been a home to artists and bohemians. It was the epicenter for the Beat Generation and the 1960’s counterculture movement (at least on the East Coast). However, gentrification and ever-rising rent and property prices have, by now, priced many of these types out of the area.
The Village is also hugely important in the history of LGBT people and their rights. The Village is home to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that was the location for the 1969 Stonewall Riots which sparked the LGBT civil rights movement that continues to this day.
9 The Comedy Cellar/The Village Vanguard
Greenwich Village is also home to a litany of bars, clubs, and venues. Two of its most famous hunts are the Comedy Cellar and the Village Vanguard. Depending on what type of entertainment you prefer, you should definitely try to visit at least one of these clubs. If you like comedy, then appropriately, you should visit the Comedy Cellar. It opened in 1982 and has seen a laundry list of famous comedians perform on its stage.
If you prefer jazz music, you can visit the legendary Village Vanguard. Arguably the most famous jazz club in New York–possibly even the world–the Village Vanguard is steeped in history. Famous musicians such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, and Bill Evans have all recorded albums here.
8 One World Trade Center
The most somber item on this list is One World Trade Center. One World Trade Center, also known as “The Freedom Tower,” is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex. It was not long after the September 11th Attacks in 2001 that New Yorkers began to think of how to rebuild this part of their city that had been cruelly destroyed. A testament to New Yorkers’ resilience and irrepressible American ingenuity, One World Trade Center has risen from the ashes (almost literally) and now stands above all other buildings in New York. Indeed,
One World Trade Center is the tallest building in all of the United States (and the entire Western Hemisphere).
Go up to the observation deck to get the highest possible view of New York City (without being in an aircraft) and then take the short walk to the site of the original World Trade Center buildings and visit the 9/11 memorial.
7 Staten Island Ferry
On a hot New York day, there are few activities you can do that are as refreshing as taking the Staten Island Ferry. You get to feel the breeze coming off the water and relax a little bit. You also get nice views of Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty which, if you’re only in New York for a day, you probably can’t spend the time to actually visit Liberty Island. But from the ferry, you can still get a great pic of Lady Liberty for the ‘gram.
It takes about 25 minutes to travel the 5.2 miles (8.4 km) to traverse the Upper New York Bay. The ferry operates 24 hours a day, and by taking, it you’ll go a long way to being able to say you’ve been to all five boroughs. Once you arrive in Staten Island, you can, you know, go back to Manhattan.
6 Dirt Candy
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you need not worry. New York City has a plethora of restaurants and eateries from which you can choose. Perhaps chief among them is Dirt Candy. Located on the Lower East Side, Dirt Candy is a seriously popular vegetarian restaurant. And they do things a little bit differently there.
There is no à la carte option for dinner. You have a choice between a five or a nine-to-ten-course meal.
Prices include tips because the owners are committed to paying their employees a living wage. As a result, Dirt Candy isn’t cheap, but it’s not terribly expensive either. You needn’t be a hedge fund manager to afford eating here or anything. Just try to make your reservation before you get to New York; it fills up fast. And don’t forget to order a cocktail or two while you’re there.
5 Roosevelt Island Tramway
Sure, you could spend $20 to go up the Empire State Building or to the Top of the Rock. You’ll get a beautiful view. Or you could spend $3 and get an equally beautiful view because $3 is all it costs to ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway (each way). Sure, the tramway doesn’t have anywhere near the same elevation (250 ft/76 meters at its apex) but it’s still a beautiful view.
The tram crosses the East River and connects the Upper East Side of Manhattan with Roosevelt Island. The tram moves at about 16 mph (26 km/h) and travels 3,100 feet (940 m) in 3 minutes. If the weather is nice, Roosevelt Island is a wonderful spot for a picnic, walk, or even a bike ride. The tram opened in 1976 and, apart from a four-year hiatus from 2006-2010, has moved over 26 million passengers over the river.
4 Prospect Park
After they designed Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux hopped on the Q Train (not really) and designed Prospect Park, which is every bit the equal of its more famous counterpart. Opened in 1867, this 526-acre (13 km2) park has an impressive man-made watercourse and lots of pastoral nooks and crannies in which you find some respite from the massive metropolis that is the Big Apple. If it’s summer, you can rent a paddle boat and take it out on one of the lakes or just sit down, have a picnic, and watch a softball game. If it’s winter, try some ice skating or cross-country skiing.
Much like Central Park, Prospect Park is very large, so don’t try to see it all.
That would not be an effective use of your one day in New York City. So, just nip in for a quick picnic or some exercise and then get back out there!
3 Brooklyn Brewery
Having opened in 1988, Brooklyn Brewery was well ahead of the craft beer boom that we’ve seen over the past couple of years, but it has naturally become massively popular. They produce more than 217,000 barrels of beer every year. They brew lager, ales, IPAs, and a wheat beer, so you have plenty of choice. The north Williamsburg spot has lots to offer. You can go for a tour of the brewery and sample some of their offerings.
The Brooklyn Brewery really does typify much of what has made Brooklyn and, more specifically Williamsburg, cool in recent years. So, you don’t want to miss out. Sometimes, the Brewery hosts events and welcomes food trucks so you can grab a bite along with your pint. Other events include lawn parties, beach parties, and pints and poses yoga.
2 Brooklyn Bowl
Next to Brooklyn Brewery is Brooklyn Bowl. No, literally, it is right next door. As such, you’ll, of course, find Brooklyn Brewery beer served there. You will also find, as the name suggests, bowling. But, Brooklyn is far more than a bowling alley. They play great music, serve great beer, and great food as well. Perhaps their fried chicken is among their best offerings, if you haven’t filled up on it at Sweet Chick previously. They also have vegetarian servings.
But Brooklyn Bowl is more than all that too. It is also a music venue.
What show they have depends on the day. They sometimes have live rock bands, live brass bands, or maybe a DJ spinning some groovy tunes. They also have special family day events if you’re traveling with little ones. Whether you want a bite to eat and an afternoon game of bowling or a late night party with great music, Brooklyn Bowl has got you covered.
1 The Dead Rabbit/Montero Bar And Grill
What better way to finish off your day in New York than with a nice little night cap? But where to go? Well, that depends on what you like. There are no shortage of bars in New York so picking out just one or two to suggest is a fool’s errand, but I’ll do it anyway. If you’re looking for an exquisite expertly-made cocktail, check out The Dead Rabbit near Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan. Some of their inventively-made (and inventively-named) cocktails include the Ace of Spades, the Magic Bullet, and Law and Order.
It has received a number of awards and accolades, including “World’s best Bar” by World’s 50 Best Bars. High praise.
But not everybody goes in for fancy cocktails. If your tastes are more plebeian, don’t worry, just check out Montero Bar and Grill. Located in Brooklyn Heights (a beautiful neighborhood in its own right), Montero’s is a nautical-themed beer near Pier 6. It has stood the test of time, but the way property developers are throwing around money, you might want to try go soon because it might not last much longer.