I often have flight itineraries that involve a really long or short layovers. There are times when I would deliberately book longer layovers in cities that would be very expensive to fly to / visit on its own, or a city that I feel I could manage in one quick visit. Layover at the airport is boring – why be stuck with overpriced airport restaurants and spotty wifi when you can go into the city and spend a few hours checking out a few spots?
Few examples of this would be Dubai (I deliberately went with a long layover en route to and from Cape Town), New York (also en route to and from a big Euro-trip), and London, UK (en route to and from Cape Town in 2016).
Since I’ve done these itineraries quite often, and explore cities in less than 24 hours (or one-day layovers) I thought I would start a series on Layover City Guide to help you plan your day and what better city to start than New York?
Read More: Postcard From | New York 2016 Photo Diary.
Layover / In Transit Tips
Factor in the travel time to and from the airport
Leave enough time to go through security/re-boarding or re-check in if needed; that should give you an estimate of how much time you have in the city. Aim for at least 9+ hours layover (which should give you at least 5 hours in the city and enough less travel time).
Where to store your luggage
Confirm ahead of time if your bags are going straight to the destination. For cabin luggage, there are often “Left Luggage” / locker options at the airport for a small fee. The airport website will usually have this information.
Do you need visa?
All the layover excursions I’ve taken, I’ve never needed a visa. I travel with a Canadian passport but before you exit the airport, it’s always a good idea to check / ask.
Public vs. private transportation option
If you’re travelling solo and have enough time, public transit will always be the cheapest, albeit slower. For a family/larger group on a short amount of time, private transportation or ridesharing options will probably make the most sense if you can split the cost across more people.
Consider buying city cards
In some cities, there are all-inclusive city cards that cover public transportation, entries to museums/popular destinations, and discounts at participating venues / restaurants. This could be a more economical option for travelers or group travels.
Check if your airline / airport has free layover tours / perks
Some popular airlines like Turkish Airlines, Icelandair, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways offer layover perks (i.e. free tours) at their hub city if you have a long enough layover. Some airports offer these in partnership with the local tourism board, or airlines, and could be another great way of not having to plan your own itinerary.
Please note that 24 hours is definitely not enough to explore the city in its fullest – I’ve tried to narrow down which areas I felt are worthwhile visiting and others which I find to be more secondary / less important. Each person will have their opinion on where the true “New York” experience is and I hope you will be respectful of that!
Note that for this particular guide, I have focused primarily on area around Manhattan as it is an area I am most familiar with. I hope this is helpful to you!
How to go to Manhattan from the Airport
If arriving in JFK Airport
If arriving at Laguardia Airport
Take a shared airport shuttle to Manhattan for a flat rate (Taxi: $40, UberX: $30-40, Shared Airport Shuttle: $15/person). Travel time is anywhere from 20-45 minutes.
More expensive, but convenient and available around the clock. There’s a standard rate that you can check at the booth!
Simply reverse the direction to head back to the airport.
The Morning Itinerary
Arriving in Manhattan bright and early, take advantage of the quiet streets before tourists descend upon them to get on with their day.
Start out by taking the train to W 4 St station in Greenwich Village, home to hundreds of amazing brunch locations including Bluelane Cafe, Dudley’s, Cafe Cluny, and Jack’s Wife Freda. Brunch is a culture of its own here in New York, and New Yorkers take it very seriously. Sure, brunch is typically limited to the weekend, but the weekday is an opportunity to experience the brunch culture without the crowd.
Read More: What to Eat in New York
After enjoying a much-needed breakfast/brunch, take some time to walk around, and admire Greenwich Village; a lovely, Bohemian and artist haven village that’s bounded by equally famous neighborhoods including SoHo, NoHo, East Village and Chelsea. The artist village has retained its bohemian ambiance and vibrant culture of true New York without the hordes of tourists that normally descend upon them.
My favourite spot in town remains to be the Washington Square Park, and I love walking on Bleecker Street with its many shops and stores which are well-decorate and has maintained a unique architecture.
Another favourite location of mine, a short walk away from the Village is SoHo, known for its cast-iron buildings and being home to a variety of upscale boutiques and international chains. Aside from the shopping to be done on SoHo, I love walking around the many streets and looking at the beautiful buildings with their cast-iron architectural elements which is unlike others I’ve seen in New York.
If you prefer to have some structure to your day, consider free walking tours which are offered by many companies such as New Europe Tours which last a few hours and allow you to meet other travellers as well.
Noon & Lunch
Enjoy a well-deserve break after a lot of walking and picture-taking with a quick visit to either Chinatown or Little Italy (or both!) Both neighborhoods are home to what I think are the most universally-loved foods on the planet so you can’t go wrong! For a budget-friendly option so that you can feel like you’re eating fit for a queen, try Vanessa’s Dumplings which offers favourites (4 dumplings for $1.25) and where you can get a very filling delicious meal for less than $5.
Read More: What to Eat in New York Part 2
Now that you’ve seen some of the quaint, less touristy neighbourhoods, now it’s time to check out what I call “Classic New York”
The Afternoon Itinerary
Given the limited time, I would highly recommend choosing one of the two options here: A quick visit to Central Park for some iconic movie locations (i.e. Home Alone, Gossip Girl) in uptown Manhattan, or a visit downtown (which will be more crowded and touristy) to wrap up your visit. Both are equally worthwhile and choosing one depends very much on your preference.
Central Park is one of my favourite places to frequent in the city when I have more time. The High Line is another great place to walk around where you can have a different perspective of the city.
Just a short walk away from Columbus Circle (which is worthwhile popping into if you want to have a quick Sephora browse!) it’s a relaxing place to people-watch, have a picnic, or walk as far as you possibly can and count how many iconic/memorable scenes have been shot here. I think it is worthwhile to spend a good hour here if you want on doing something else afterwards.
If you need a quick break or want to relax before heading back to the airport, the The Shops at Columbus Circle is home to Bouchon Boulangerie and a Whole Foods Market.
When I come to Downtown Manhattan, I always like to take a moment and visit the 9/11 Memorial because I think the impact of the 9/11 attacks are very much a part of our lives today. There are many other walkable destinations from the memorial shold you decide to stay in the area, including Wall Street building, the “Charging Bull” in Battery Park, and TriBeCa which is home to a number of lovely cafes and restaurants for a quick snack before you head back to the airport.
I think at this point, you’ve probably covered a great deal of Manhattan in a day! This itinerary is simply the tip of the iceberg, and trust me, you’ll come back wanting more! Now it’s time to make your way back to the airport (JFK or Laguardia) using one of the above methods!
Where to Next
Read more: United States
Any first-time solo travellers will find they can really cut their teeth with a trip to New York.