One Day in New York City: 10 Amazing Ideas

Have only one day in New York City? Wondering how much you can do and see in one day in NYC? Here are some ideas of what you can do in the city with just a day in the Big Apple.

One Day in New York City isn’t enough because the possibilities of the things to do in this amazing bustling city are endless. Sometimes we only have one day at a destination and must make the most of it.

As New Yorkers born and raised, we’ve done a lot, but not everything NYC offers. When we visit NYC from Los Angeles, where we live now, we are usually there for a few days at a time, sucked into family responsibilities that we never get the chance to enjoy the city as tourists.

Hubby this year has been bi-coastal, but his days playing a tourist in the city have been far few in between. Sometimes he gets that one day in New York City to fit something in.

We keep chatting about returning to New York City together on what we call “a super squirrel mission.” A secret mission where we fly to NYC for a long weekend or so without anyone knowing so we can take in the sites and do a few things on the top of our NYC bucket list.

That said, we were recently in New York City for one day before our Norwegian Joy cruise to Bermuda. While it was only one day in New York City, it was fabulous and reminded me of what we have always loved about Manhattan.

We flew in on a red-eye to JFK to arrive bright and early for our day in NY. And while it didn’t go as planned due to family stuff that morning, we still managed to do quite a few things and get reacquainted with the city we once called home.

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So if you’re cruising from New York City and arriving one or two days earlier from embarkation day, or maybe you’re on a business trip and have one day to play, here are some ideas of how to spend one day in New York City.

This article will give you ten ideas of what to do in the city on your one day in NYC. Mix and match these activities to create your perfect day in the city that never sleeps. So put on your walking shoes and get ready to explore one of the most amazing cities in the world!

And, since we were cruising from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, we stayed nearby at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Manhattan Central Park. The location was ideal for our needs but also surprisingly within walking distance from major sites like Central Park, Time Square, Columbus Circle, The Museum of Modern Art, and Rockefeller Center, without having to be in the center of crowded areas or tourist traps.

One Day in New York City

How to spend one day in New York City?

With just one day in New York City, the best thing to do is walk around and explore as much as your feet can handle. See some of the top sites, grab a slice of NYC pizza, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of one of the most exciting cities in the world. Keep it simple and enjoyable.

You can also choose one or two ideas below to plan how to spend one day in NYC. Some may seem touristy, but you’re here for a day, meaning you can plan the day as touristy or non-touristy as you want. It’s your one day in New York City!

1. Eat a Quintessential New York-Style Breakfast Sandwich

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BEC-SPK breakfast sandwich

One of the things we miss the most about New York is some of the local foods, including their breakfast sandwich: a BEC-SPK. Bacon, eggs, and American cheese with salt, pepper, and ketchup are served on a kaiser roll.

No, we don’t have real kaiser rolls here in LA. And when you do find something called a “kaiser roll” it’s not the kaiser roll we expect here. Most egg sandwiches here are served on brioche.

So if you want to fit in with the locals, enter a deli or a bodega and ask for Bacon, Egg, and Cheese with salt, pepper, and ketchup, if you like. This is the first thing we do upon our morning arrival in New York.

Instead, you can opt for a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast at a local bagel shop. The New York City bagels are some of the best, and they aren’t shy with the smear.

2. Do It Yourself Walking Tour

time square at night
Times Square, New York

Once you had your NY-style breakfast sandwich, start your one day in New York City with a do-it-yourself walking tour. You could book a walking tour if you feel more comfortable that way, but you don’t really have to. Put on your walking shoes, take a deep breath of that “fresh” New York City air, and start exploring.

As you walk the crowded streets, soak up the concrete jungle vibe. You’ll get a sense of the hustle and bustle that makes New York unique. You’ll see everything from towering skyscrapers and busy streets to quiet parks and hidden alleyways within minutes. You’ll also have the chance to people-watch and soak up the city’s vibrant energy. 

It’s easy to see why new york is known as the city that never sleeps. There’s always something to see or do, day or night. Whether walking through Times Square or strolling down Fifth Avenue, one thing is certain: New York will never cease to amaze you. 

Assuming that you’re staying close to Midtown Manhattan, you can also take the subway to get across the city to the 9/11 Memorial, Chinatown, Little Italy, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, and more.

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Enjoying the view from the New York City skyscrapers from our Norwegian cruise.

You can start planning your walking tour on Google Maps before arriving in NY. Populate the things to do in New York City that interest you on a map, beginning with your hotel. See what’s near the hotel and start saving spots from there. I do this to coordinate logistics for work, but also on some of my travel trips, like big cities similar to New York.

Example: Online on your phone or desktop, open Google Maps, and search for a specific site or location. When the location populates, look for the save button (bookmark symbol) and click on it. You can then add it and create a new list (if you don’t already have one), which you can name New York City.

Repeat this with all the other places in New York City you’d like to see. You can even add notes to each one.

Here are some of the top sites to see while walking in New York City:

  • Times Square
  • Rockefeller Center
  • St. Patricks Cathedral
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • Grand Central Station
  • Central Park
  • Hudson Yards
  • The New York Public Library (try to see the Rose Reading Room on the 3rd floor)
  • Carnegie Hall
  • Washington Square Park
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • The Financial District
  • 9/11 Memorial Pools

We’ve compiled a handy list of popular NYC sites on Google Maps to get you started: click here.

Tour Option Ideas
Private New York City Midtown Landmarks Walking Tour [book here]
SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown Walking Tour in New York City [book here]

3. 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Another spot you can visit one day in New York City is the 911 Memorial and Museum. This is one of the most emotional places you will ever visit. The museum does a fantastic job of explaining what happened that fateful day and how the world has changed since then.

The memorial is a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives. We highly recommend visiting this place, even if it is one of the more somber activities on our list.

Hubby visited the memorial during a short visit to NYC once, where he spent half the day. Do the guided tour if you have the time.

One Day in Los Angeles, CA

There are so many things to do in Los Angeles that it can be tough to know where to start. This one-day in Los Angeles itinerary will help you maximize your time in Southern California’s biggest city. From tourist traps to local spots, these are the best places to visit in Los Angeles daily.

4. Plan to See a Broadway Show

broadway new york city lights

If you’re a fan of live theater, then one of the best things you can do in New York City is to see a Broadway show. There are so many great ones to choose from.

Try to get tickets in advance if possible, but sometimes you can find last-minute tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square. The line can be long, but it’s worth it if you can snag some tickets to one of the hottest shows on Broadway.

If you want to see a Broadway show but don’t have time to plan, you can also try one of the many off-Broadway shows. These are usually cheaper and easier to get into at the last minute.

Planning to visit multiple sites and attractions? Consider a Go City New York Pass and save money.

5. Visit the Top of the Empire State Building

empire state building new york city

No trip to New York City is complete without a visit to the Empire State Building. This towering landmark has stood tall over the city for nearly a century, and it remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

You can visit a few places in NYC for fantastic city views, like from The Top of the Rock, but the Empire State Building is the classic NYC stop.

The Observation Deck on the 86th floor and the 102nd-floor top deck offer incredible views in every direction, and on a clear day, you can even see the neighboring states. Whether admiring the skyline from above or taking in the city sights from street level, the Empire State Building is an iconic NYC landmark.

This is a great activity on your one day in New York City if you have never done it before. Ticket reservations are required, so purchase your tickets in advance.

6. Eat Pizza

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New York City is known for its pizza just as much as Italy is. Of course, it’s not the same as Italy either. So, one of the things you have to do when you’re in the city is to eat some New York Style Pizza.

What makes New York Style Pizza so special? It’s the thin crust. The mozzarella cheese. The size of a slice – it’s as big or bigger as your face.

The way it’s cooked directly on and in a brick oven. Some people even say the NYC water makes the dough just right, which is why it’s difficult to replicate elsewhere. Whatever the secret ingredient is, one thing is for sure… it’s delicious!

New York Pizza is one thing we miss about NYC that we always have to have when we’re back in our hometown. We always tell everyone they must have pizza in New York during their visit.

You can find great pizza all around the city. You might even see $1 slice pizza shops, which is okay, but it’s not the New York Pizza we are discussing. Visit John’s of Bleecker Street, Prince Street Pizza, and if you want to make it to Brooklyn, Di Fara Pizza won’t disappoint.

Also, try a Sicilian slice if you have room for it.

7. See the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

statue of liberty

With just one day in NYC, you can easily spend it all in Manhattan and not even scratch the surface. But if you want to get out of Manhattan, take a short ferry ride to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The Statue of Liberty is one of America’s most iconic symbols. And Ellis Island is where millions of immigrants first set foot on American soil. This is a must-see for anyone interested in American history.

The tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are inexpensive. You can easily make the trip in the morning or the afternoon. So if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, be sure to add the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to your New York itinerary.

Reserve tickets in advance. Tickets include the ferry service. You can either buy general admission or purchase tickets that allow you to walk up to the pedestal of Lady Liberty.

8. Stroll Through Central Park

No one-day itinerary in New York City would be complete without a walk through Central Park. This world-famous park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, and it’s easy to see why.

The park spans over 800 acres and has numerous attractions, including the Central Park Zoo, the Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Castle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Strawberry Fields.

You could spend an entire day here exploring the park and visiting all the attractions. You can choose one or two things you’d like to do. Or stroll through the park and enjoy all the sights and sounds. Grab a street hot dog from one of the many infamous NYC hot dog carts or ice cream, find a bench, and enjoy.

So many memories have been made in Central Park. One of my favorite things in Central Park was ice skating at Wollman Rink in the winter, which I always preferred over Rockefeller Center.

Tour Option Ideas
Guided Bike Tour of Central Park New York City [book here]

New York Central Park Secrets – Walking Tour [book here]

9. Visit the Museums

guggenheim museum new york
Guggenheim Museum

If you’re lucky enough to spend one day in New York City, you’ll want to make the most of your time. And one great way to do that is to visit one of the city’s many world-renowned museums. 

The Museum of Modern Art, the Natural History Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum are all must-sees for anyone interested in art, history, or science. And for something lighter, the Ice Cream Museum is a fun option.

These are just a handful of the many museums you’ll find in NYC. No matter your interests, you will find a museum that will pique your curiosity.

10. Do a New York City Food Tour or Eat Your Way Through the City

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One of my childhood summer NYC favorites is the coquito ice cream. If you see a vendor pushing a small ice cream cart, don’t be afraid to stop them. They usually carry a few flavors, but coconut is my favorite.

New York City is one of the world’s most vibrant and diverse cities. No one-day itinerary in New York City would be complete without trying some of the city’s iconic food because when it comes to food, the city does not disappoint.

You can find everything from street food to fine dining. And no matter your budget, you will find something that fits your taste and wallet.

So if you’re looking for a unique way to spend one day in New York City, consider booking a food tour. This is a great way to try some of the city’s most iconic dishes and taste what the city has to offer. As a foodie, it’s one of our favorite ways to spend a day in any city worldwide.

Or, if you’re not interested in a tour, eat your way through the city.

Dumplings in Chinatown. Cannoli in Little Italy. Shwarma or shish kebabs from a local street food stand. A street hot dog from New York’s famous hot dog carts. Roasted nuts in the wintertime. A pretzel! Bagels!

Tour Option Ideas:
New York City Food Cart Walking Tour [book here]

Cannoli Crawl New York City Walking and Food Tour [book here]
New York City Bagel Tour [book here]
Ultimate Chinatown Walking Food Tour in New York City [book here]

Planning a day in New York City shouldn’t be complicated. Pick one or two things you’ve always wanted to do or see and focus on that. Sometimes these one-day jaunts are meant for walks, good eats, and maybe one attraction. And that’s fine! One day is still enough time to get a taste of the city.

New York City is one of the most exciting cities in the world, so make sure you make the most of your time. And have fun!

How do you plan to spend your one day in New York City? Comment below!

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Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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