New York City may be known as the “city that never sleeps” but before planning a long night out, don’t ignore the countless daytime activities that make NYC such a vibrant place to be at any hour. From neighborhoods packed with unique shops and legitimate nature in the middle of Manhattan to streets packed with snacks and street food, spending a day in New York City offers non-stop adventure and stimuli.
Enjoy a New York City day stay from sunrise to sunset with these outdoor and indoor activities across Manhattan and beyond.
Walk down the High Line
As long as the sun’s out (and even if it’s not), New Yorkers are strolling down this renovated railway turned park. Bikes are banned, so it’s just foot traffic on this elevated park which offers iconic views across the Hudson and down New York’s streets. Performers, food vendors and public art are all sprinkled throughout the path, as are seating areas to read, picnic and mingle with fellow High Line admirers.
Hop through Chelsea’s art galleries
Museum admission may be steep, but the art galleries in Chelsea (on the lower west portion of Manhattan) are all free to enter and browse. Plus, if you can swing it — all or most of the art is for sale. Expect to see contemporary works in all mediums as well as collectibles by big-name artists, both alive and from the estates of historic creators. Prominent galleries in this neighborhood include the Gagosian Gallery, David Zwirner and the Petzel Gallery, but just wandering between 10th and 11th Avenue between 28th and 20th streets will allow you to walk past some smaller treasures.
Go swimming at the beach
New York City may not be known for its beaches, but the city is lush with free public beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Accessible by subway (the D, F, N and Q trains all stop here), Coney Island may be New York’s most famous beach — all you need is a towel and a swimsuit (both sold on the boardwalk) to take advantage of the Atlantic Ocean, though a walk down the boardwalk, a stop for a hot dog and cheese fries at Nathan’s and maybe a ride on the legendary roller coaster, The Cyclone, is also a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon just beyond NYC.
Bask in Central Park
Less than 1.5-square-miles, Central Park is easily New York’s most famous green space, and packed with diversions to take up an entire day. You can walk or jog the loop around the Jackie ONassis Reservoir, picnic in Sheep’s Meadow, sit on a bench in Strawberry Fields until a street musician eventually shows up to start singing Beatles music, admire the Bethesda Terrace, climb up Belvedere Castle, hike through The Ramble or take in the beauty of the Conservatory Garden. Google Maps should help guide you through the park, though should you get lost, pay attention to the street lamps, each of which have a simple code to let you know which cross streets and side of the city you’re closest to.
The sleek and stylish 6 Columbus positions you perfectly to spend the day exploring NYC’s Central Park to the fullest.
Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
If you’re not coming from Brooklyn, take the train down to Brooklyn Bridge Park to walk across the historic bridge back towards the city — this allows for the most iconic and picturesque skyline views. If you can time your walk to sunrise, pedestrian traffic will be light, and the sun rising over the city will make for some of the best pictures. Sunset is also gorgeous, though the pedestrian pathways will be much thicker with commuters.
Treat yourself to a critically acclaimed lunch
Though lunch may typically be your more casual, quick meal of the day, consider flipping the script. Those trendy New York City restaurants you couldn’t get a dinner reservation at? Try lunch! Call to see if the restaurant you have in mind takes walk-ins or reservations and get ready to spend a few hours with some serious food. Many acclaimed tasting menu restaurants, like Del Posto, offer abbreviated lunch menus, which are not only more reasonable portions of food, but more affordable — think $59 versus $169 and up a few hours later.
Shop at Eataly (and day drink on the roof)
At over 50,000-square-feet, Eataly is New York’s largest Italian grocery store. Beyond the produce and specialty products, Eataly also houses a swarm of restaurants, a classroom for wine and food courses and a rooftop bar that changes themes with the seasons — in colder months, expect a covered and heated Alps-style chateau, complete with warm cocktails and melty cheeses; in summer, the top comes off and the open-air roof embraces Italian beachside vibes, with spritzes, fried seafood and other seasonal delights to be enjoyed twelve floors high, in the sunshine.
Shop (or window shop) on Fifth Avenue
Traditional retail may be dying, but you may not know it by shopping on Fifth Avenue, where iconic shops like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Company host a steady stream of shoppers throughout the day. Browse the luxury boutiques and department stores or just take in the extravagant window displays on one of the world’s most famous shopping streets.
Thrift shop in the East Village
Some may lament the ongoing gentrification of the once-subversive East Village, but the pocket of streets on the east side below 14th Street and above Houston are still full of tiny independent shops, ranging from more upscale boutiques to legitimate vintage, thrift and consignment stores. Hunt for used treasures at East Village Thrift Shop, Cure Thrift Shop, AuH2O, No Relation and dozens more small stores, all ranging in price, between Broadway and Avenue D.
Take an exercise class
New Yorkers love their boutique fitness studios and attending an exercise class (book at least day in advance) midday may be one of the best ways to feel like a legitimate New Yorker. Check out FlyWheel, SoulCycle, PureBarre, Shadowbox or a cluster of additional fitness studios that cater to New York’s in-shape trend seekers.
Guide yourself on a tasting tour of Manhattan’s Chinatown
One of Manhattan’s few immigrant neighborhoods to still maintain its character, Chinatown is lush with sit-down restaurants, street food stalls, supermarkets vending a variety of imported snacks and prepared foods as well as a new-ish cluster of Chinese dessert shops, like EggLoo, which serves egg waffles with giant orbs of ice cream. Let the sights and smells guide your own food tour, but for some hometown highlights, be sure to hit up Lam Zhou for dumplings, Shu Jiao Fu Zhou for peanut noodles, Spicy Village for Spicy Big Tray Chicken and Joe’s Shanghai for xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Those willing to stray further off the beaten path can also head up to the Chinatowns in Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
The best river cruise in New York City is free! This commuter ferry travels between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island every thirty minutes, allowing passengers an unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. The trip takes 25 minutes each way, so you can easily return from Staten Island without a wait — plus, the bar on board the ferry sells coffee and beer, should you need a pick-me-up for the return trip.
Visit a Medieval Castle
At the top of Manhattan lies The Cloisters, an extension of The Met that’s part medieval fort (obviously built much later than the Middle Ages, but in the same style) and part art collection. Free tours guide visitors through the tapestries, religious artifacts and paintings that line the galleries, but visitors can also wander at their leisure, enjoying the gardens and views of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge.
Head to the top of a skyscraper
Sure, some movie sold you on meeting on the deck of the Empire State Building at midnight, but getting a bird’s eye view of the city is so much better when you can actually see everything. Consider scaling (i.e. riding the elevator up to) the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center or One World Trade Center for unique views of the city and beyond. To skip the line at Top of the Rock consider grabbing a drink or meal at Bar Sixty Five, the more casual establishment attached to the Rainbow Room which offers sixty-fifth-floor views from floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace, no ticket required.
Explore Red Hook, Brooklyn
All the way at the edge of Brooklyn is Red Hook, a quaint neighborhood that feels more like a New England fishing village than a part of New York City. Accessible by public transit or by water taxi, these neighborhood has rows of boutiques, independent shops, its own winery — The Red Hook Winery — and far too many restaurants to hit up in just one visit. Hometown Bar-B-Q, which often boasts a line out the door, is famous for its saucy brisket and ribs, Brooklyn Crab is a three-story seafood shack doling out raw bivalves and full crab dinners and The Good Fork is beloved in the neighborhood for its fusion cuisine and quirky brunch atmosphere.
Go to a movie museum
You could go to the movies in any city, but New York is home to a unique museum dedicated to the cinematic arts, The Museum of the Moving Image. Exhibits detail the history of movies and culture and screenings of new films as well as older artistic films occur regularly. The museum’s permanent collection includes over 130,000 artifacts essential to moviemaking through the decades, ranging from backstage photographs to props, memorabilia and much more.
Regardless of the season or weather, there’s no wrong way to spend a day in New York City as long as you’re getting out and exploring. NYC day use hotel rooms serve as the perfect jump-off point to spend a day in New York City or simply as a way to get some shuteye after a jam-packed afternoon exploring.
Keep checking the HotelsByDay blog for more day stay guides and travel tips!
Featured image by Barron Roth via Unsplash