New York City is one of those places that you can never get enough of whether you spend a day or a lifetime exploring. I recently had the chance to spend a cool and relatively quiet spring day in NYC and here is what we did.
If you have only one day in New York and want to experience some culture and explore what New York has to offer, see this itinerary. You will visit Freedom Tower, the 9/11 Memorial, and Oculus and walk past some of the most famous buildings in New York City, spend some time in the iconic Battery Park and finish at Times Square or Hudson Yards.
How to See New York City in a Day
I don’t recommend going into places like the Empire State Building, or the newest observation deck, EDGE, all of them have long lines and you will need 2 to 3 hours even if you have pre-purchased tickets.
Instead, spend time reflecting at the 9/11 Memorial, visit the Oculus, and walk to Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. You can decide to spend the rest of the day visiting a museum or exploring outdoor spaces in New York City!
These are just some of the NYC must-see attractions and Manhattan Highlights, you will need at least a weekend or 4 to 5 days to do justice to New York City!
9/11 Memorial World Trade Center
Whether you were watching the TV, hearing about it on the radio, or receiving the news from someone else, you probably remember exactly where you were on September 11th, 2001. Visiting the memorial at One World Trade Center brings you back to that moment while allowing you to reflect.
The centerpiece of the memorial plaza is the two pools sitting in the footprint of both the North and South Towers. Continuous running water flows from around the perimeter, on all four sides, cascading down about 30 feet and creating the largest man-made waterfalls in America.
Walking around the footprints of the Twin Towers and the stunning reflecting pools filling them, you will see the names of the victims of the 2001 and 1993 terror attacks etched around the perimeter. The memorial is free and open to the public daily (the related museum requires ticketed entrance).
In the middle of the pool is another drop, where the water flows down an additional 30 feet. No matter where you stand, it’s impossible to see the bottom. You never know exactly where the water ends up. This is designed so that it reflects the feelings of emptiness when you lose someone you love. The empty space symbolizes both the loss of life and the physical void left by the destruction of the Twin Towers.
Around the pools, engraved in the parapets, are the names of the 2,977 victims of September 11, as well as the six victims of the 1993 bombing of the North Tower. As you walk around the pools, you might see white roses placed in certain names. The rose signifies that today is that person’s birthday. Each one is placed there by staff members during the morning before the memorial opens.
The sound of running water drowns out the nearby traffic and city sounds, giving you a sense of calm.
While the memorial and plaza are built to reflect on and remember 9/11, the Freedom Tower (or One World Trade Center) is meant to invoke the idea that our country and New York City cannot be defeated.
Nicknamed “Freedom” after one of America’s founding ideals and great promises, the tower stands a total of 1,776 feet tall. This number was chosen specifically to celebrate the birth year of the United States of America. The top of the building also houses the One World Observatory, with a breathtaking view of Lower Manhattan.
When you visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, you will see a large white building with steel, wing-shaped tips reaching toward the sky. That’s the Oculus, a transportation hub and shopping mall built alongside the One World Trade Center.
The building is one of many that were included in the city’s plan to rebuild the World Trade Center after September 11. After the devastating September 11th attacks, plans were put in place to rebuild and reimagine the World Trade Center. These plans included the idea for a transportation hub that would bring business and people back to the area — the Oculus.
By 2004, construction had begun, and 12 years later, the Oculus opened to the public. The project has both a commercial and artistic focus, it has come to represent the city’s strength and a beacon for resilience.
The entire World Trade Center, all seven buildings, were completely destroyed, along with the PATH train station that served millions of commuters traveling to Lower Manhattan. When rebuilding plans were discussed, one of the first major issues to tackle was building a new station. City planners decided that the new station would be a combination transportation hub and shopping center, a place that attracted residents and tourists alike.
The Oculus was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. He intended it to resemble a dove leaving a child’s hands. You can see it in the tall, crossed steel columns that make up the exterior. Together, the series of columns form a pair of 350-foot wings.
The name Oculus comes from the strip of windows, or skylights, along the spine of the roof. Oculus is the Latin word for “eye,” which, in architecture, refers to a round or eye-like opening with a view of the sky. Take a look up through the windows, and you’ll see Freedom Tower. It’s an inspiring sight!
Even if you don’t plan on using any of the transportation available at the hub, visiting the Oculus is unforgettable. There are over 350,000 square feet of retail and dining space. Oculus is considered one of the world’s most expensive train stations.
XO WORLD created by Daniel Anderson sits just outside One World Trade Center at West Plaza (for 18 months). features a 12-foot “Jack” from the game of Jacks with an “X” representing “love” in universal sign language and “O” representing the world.
Another sculpture by the same artist, “XO PLAY” is on display inside the Oculus through late October, it depicts children playing a game of jacks, symbolizing childhood innocence and harmony with the world.
See The Little Chapel that stood
St. Paul’s Chapel, constructed in 1766, is the oldest church building in Manhattan. Located less than 100 yards from the World Trade Center site, this church became known as “The Little Chapel That Stood” after it survived the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Stop for a quick peek. When we walked by, the cherry blossoms were blooming and there was a service going on in the chapel.
Fearless Girl Statue at The New York Stock Exchange
After a solemn visit to the Freedom Tower, we walked over to see the Fearless Girl, a bronze that stands on Broad Street across from the New York Stock Exchange Building in the Financial District. From there it is a short walk to Battery Park.
Visit Battery Park & Liberty Island
Battery Park has some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty. You also get to see great views of Manhattan from here and you can take the Staten Island Ferry from Battery Park (provided you have time and can give up on a few other things on your one NYC itinerary).
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are only accessible by ferry (different from the Staten Island Ferry). While you don’t need a ticket to enter the Statue of Liberty Museum or Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, tickets are required to board ferries to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Buy them here. If you decide to visit, plan for spending 2 to 4 hours.
Don’t miss the monuments around Battery Park – A couple of important ones are the Coast Guard Memorial, American Merchant Mariners Memorial, New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, The Battery Cannon, and The Immigrants (a sculpture that depicts figures of various ethnic groups and eras, including an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, and a worker).
You can get on the Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Terminal for one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty as well as Lower Manhattan. It is completely free and something any first-time visitor to NYC should experience. After taking the ferry one way, head back towards Manhattan or take the ferry back. Save this for a clear day.
But since we have just a day in Manhattan, we will skip the ferry and walk over to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Walk Brooklyn Bridge
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic things to do in New York City. In order to get those classic New York photos, you don’t need to walk fully across the Brooklyn Bridge, only about halfway.
Other things to do in New York City
As we head out of lower Manhattan, we have a few choices, you can spend some time exploring art and culture, do some shopping on 5th Avenue or spend time outdoors in Central Park or Bryant Park. Take a uber or taxi to save some time. We decided to spend time in Midtown Manhattan on this trip.
Get cultured at one of the many NYC Art Museums
For me, a trip to NYC is not complete without a visit to a couple of modern art institutions. From the MET to MOMA to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a modernist building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that houses some of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art right in New York City, there are so many to choose from.
See a list of all our favorite museums and galleries in NYC
Visit Grand Central Terminal
Whether you take the subway or not, stop at the Grand Central Station for a few minutes to experience the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Grand Central Terminal is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New York. This train station was constructed in 1871. But it had gone through several changes over time like the stunning ceiling in the Main Concourse which had to be replaced due to an accumulation of smoke over the years.
Empire State Building
If you want to see as much of NYC as possible, you will want to get to some of the tallest buildings in the city. From the top here, you’ll be able to take in sweeping views of New York City
See NYC’s landmarks from the 86th-floor observatory, or upgrade the tickets and Skip-the-Line all the way up to the very top, for the 102nd top deck. Either way, you’ll be able to enjoy views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Top Of The Rock
Nestled at the height of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Top of the Rock’s three levels of indoor and outdoor observation decks deliver spectacular, unobstructed views of the city skyline. Don’t miss the Joie Chandelier, 14,000 crystals masterpiece created by Swarovski exclusively for Top of the Rock that soars 3 stories above the Grand Atrium Lobby.
Though there’s serious competition for where to find the best NYC views, you can enjoy the cityscape from the tallest outdoor observation platform in the entire Western Hemisphere with a visit to the Edge Observation Deck.
OR try the newest SUMMIT One Vanderbilt which blends elements of art and technology, taking the concept of an “observation deck” to entirely new heights. From the top 3 floors of SUMMIT (the tallest commercial skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan), you can see close-ups views of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building.
Explore Central Park
One of my favorite things to do in New York is to go for a stroll around Central Park. Central Park was created in 1857 by renowned architect Frederick Olmstead and it is still considered one of his masterpieces.
I love Central Park any time of the year, (see our fall in New York). Just hit the highlights here as Central Park in itself could take a day. Stop at Bow Bridge and a quick look at Belvedere Castle. Rest your legs a bit before dinner. You can’t visit New York City for any amount of time without visiting Central Park!
See St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s is an active Catholic church not too far away. Full of art and history, it is one of America’s favorite churches. You can do an hour-long, self-guided audio-visual tour that takes you through their 60,000 pieces of stained glass, The Rose Window, The sculpted bronze doors, The altar of Elizabeth Ann Seton, The Kennedys, Michelangelo, Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Pieta, The Pulpit, and more. Don’t miss Atlas Statue at the Rockefeller Center not too far from the Cathedral.
Hudson Yards, High Line & the Vessel
Perched in Hudson Yards, the Vessel is one of New York’s huge and interactive art projects that’s pretty iconic. It is made of over 150 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs, almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. The vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city, the river, and beyond.
Nearby you will find the EDGE (mentioned above), Equinox Hotel, a huge shopping mall, and High Line.
High Line is a plant-lined elevated parkway converted from a long-abandoned freight line above the west side of Manhattan. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the 1.5-mile parkway stands 30 feet over street level. The trail runs north through Chelsea for a mile and a half, through the densest part of the gallery district, and concludes at Hudson Yards, wrapping around the Hudson Yards neighborhood.
We opted to eat dinner at the Spanish Diner at Mercado Little Spain. We enjoyed some sangria, marinated olives, tapas and other Spanish favorites
See the bustling Time Square
After a busy day walking around, head to Times Square if you have some energy left. Called the belly of New York, Times Square is lively and lit up at night. Enjoy a Boardway show or stay the night at a hotel here.
If you have time while visiting Brooklyn, stop at DUMBO for a cute photo and explore the cute shops and restaurants in the area. New York has many neighborhoods, and this waterfront area has earned quite the fan base, partially due to its catchy name DUMBO stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass 🙂
DUMBO is considered to be one of New York City’s premier arts districts, you will find many art galleries and performance spaces, including the Klompching Gallery and St. Ann’s Warehouse.
NYC [Indian] Restaurants on my wishlist
By no means a complete list but these are a few New York Restaurants that are on my wishlist other that the ever-so-popular Carbone and Balthazar.
- Junoon, [“Passion” in Hindi] is an Elegant and modern take on Indian cuisine by Restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj. It is the recipient of a Michelin Star the year it opened and has earned the same coveted award for many years. High on my NYC Restaurants wishlist!!!
- Sona – mixed reviews on this NYC Desi restaurant owned by Priyanka Chopra.
- Semma – Modern & Elevated South Indian Restaurant in West Village
- Dhamaka describes itself as “unapologetic Indian” and is known for its explosive and dynamic flavors.
- GupShup which means ‘chitchat’ serves Indian cuisine reinterpreted for present day. This Manhattan Indian Restaurant has great cocktails and a wonderful Bombay Brunch Menu!
Map of New York Attractions you can see in a Day
I hope this post gave you some ideas if you have a short layover of 24 hours, you can still get a glimpse, see some highlights and visit a few important attractions of New York City in a day.
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