USA & Canada | Destination Guides

24 hours in New York: what to see and do in the Big Apple

New York, New York. It’s the city so nice, they named it twice. In the cultural capital of the US, you’re surrounded by some of the world’s most famous landmarks: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building.

It’s impossible to experience everything the city has to offer in several months, never mind 24 hours. But if you plan your time well, it’s possible to get a juicy bite of the Big Apple in just one day. Be inspired by our itinerary, designed to help you make the most of every minute of 24 hours in New York. It takes you from uptown’s world-class museums to jazz bars where you’ll strike up a conversation with locals via the bright lights of Broadway. And not forgetting a breath of fresh air in Central Park too. This is the very best of New York City.

empire state building during the daytime

Morning

For a taste of the city, start your day with a freshly baked bagel with a schmear cream of cheese and lox. We love ours from the family-run deli and restaurant Barney Greengrass, which has drawn Gothamites to the Upper West Side for its smoked sturgeon since 1908. It’s the perfect fuel for exploring Central Park – if you stride out, you can be strolling around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir within 10 minutes. 

Stretching across 843 acres, Manhattan’s playground is the most popular urban park in the US and the most filmed location in the world. Best of all, it’s filled with attractions to please every one of the 42 million people that visit each year. Highlights include the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace and Strawberry Fields, a memorial dedicated to John Lennon, who lived and died nearby. For a quick tour, we recommend renting a Citi Bike from one of 20 stations around the park, and if you’re visiting in winter, book ahead to ice skate on Wollman’s Rink.

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people in central park during autumn

Some of New York’s best museums hug around the edge of Central Park. The American Museum of Natural History sits famously on the west, with the New-York Historical Society – the city’s oldest museum and a glimpse into the city’s past – next door. To the east, lovers of culture are spoiled for choice along the Museum Mile. Discover contemporary art in The Guggenheim, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, or travel through 5,000 years of history by way of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses more than two million works, including Roman sculptures and Renaissance masterpieces. 

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Afternoon

Step out of the Met and onto Fifth Avenue for a little window shopping as you head south to Midtown. You’ll pass luxury stores such as Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as St Patrick’s Cathedral, a neo-gothic church dating from 1879.

Did you really experience New York if you didn’t get a bird’s-eye view of its iconic skyline? We recommend ascending 70 storeys to the Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock. From up here, views stretch beyond Central Park and the Empire State Building to New York’s five boroughs and nearby New Jersey. Not got a head for heights? Not to worry, the art-deco Radio City Music Hall is just around the corner. Its Stage Door Tour takes visitors behind the scenes of the ‘Showpiece of the Nation’, into its majestic auditorium and brings you face-to-face with one of its famous dancing Rockettes. 

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Radio City Music Hall at the Rockefeller Center

If you haven’t already caved in to one of the many hot dog carts that line Manhattan’s pavements, take a 10-minute walk south to Grand Central Station – book lovers will no doubt want to stop at the New York Public Library along the way. Its Rose Main Reading Room is spectacular. In the station, tilt your head skywards to admire the glorious constellations painted on the ceiling of the main hall before heading downstairs to Grand Central Oyster Bar for a shellfish platter or the famous oyster pan roast. Don’t miss the whispering gallery on your way out.

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Evening

From here, it’s a short walk to Times Square, the so-called ‘crossroads of the world’ and the beating heart of this dynamic city. This is where a photojournalist famously captured a sailor and a nurse embracing on VJ Day in 1945. Today it’s busy with visitors gawping at brightly lit billboards and a gateway to the theatre district along Broadway. Catch a musical in one of the 41 theatres – The Phantom of the Opera has been running here since 1988 – or step off the beaten track in one of the smaller, more avant-garde Off Broadway theatres.

times square new york

Of course, the hustle and bustle of Times Square isn’t for everyone. For something a bit different, hop in a yellow cab and head east to the up-and-coming Hudson Yards. There are lots of things to see, eat, drink and do around here, but in the interests of ticking off those bucket-list New York experiences, we recommend climbing the Vessel (an extraordinary interactive artwork) before strolling south along the High Line

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Built on the tracks of a disused railway line, this incredible urban park is lined with wildflower gardens, public art and benches for soaking up views of pink sunsets across the Hudson River. Work up an appetite as you walk, because in about 20 minutes you’ll reach the red-bricked Meatpacking District, home to Chelsea Market, a former warehouse with more than 35 food vendors, serving everything from Maine lobster to hot sugared doughnuts.

Still have energy? Discover why New York is the city that never sleeps among the legendary bars, clubs and cabaret of the West Village. Smalls, Blue Note and the Village Vanguard are great spots for jazz fans to enjoy live music.

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the statue of liberty

Want to visit New York City? Take a bite of the Big Apple with our unforgettable New York Explorer trip.

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