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10 Steps to One Perfect Day in NYC (Filled with Architecture and Views)

Find out how to spend one day in New York. Discover NYC with this 1 day itinerary featuring architecture and views.

I love visiting New York City. I'm grateful that I get to visit periodically for work. 

One of the things that I enjoy the most about traveling for work is finding a way to sneak in some fun time during the business trip.

Whether you are visiting NYC for business or for pleasure, I'll endeavor to construct the perfect one day in New York itinerary for you to enjoy. 

I hope this post inspires you to make the most of a short trip to the city that never sleeps: whether you are spending 24 hours in New York or longer.

New York City Skyline:  Lower Manhattan and Freedom Tower

Getting to New York City

Depending on your starting point, you have a few options to get to New York City. 

New York by Train

If you live on the U.S. East coast between Boston and Washington, D.C., Amtrak is a great option. 

On my most recent trip to New York, I rode first class on the Amtrak Acela service from Washington, D.C. The ride takes about 3 hours from station to station and you'll arrive in the newly refurbished and light-filled Amtrak terminal at New York Penn Station.

Why did I choose the first class carriage? I wanted to ensure a bit of social distance. The one by two seat configuration ensures that you'll have no seat mate when traveling alone. 

How much was an Amtrak Acela first class ticket? My ticket cost $349 USD one way from Washington to New York on a Sunday morning. 

What does Acela First Class get you? To start, you get fancy Fiji bottled water, wine and premium nuts to snack on. I enjoyed the Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend with the meal included in my ticket price; a fragrant chicken curry.

Admittedly, the ride is a bit bumpy so make sure to keep a good grip on your wine as you appreciate the lovely views from the train between Baltimore and Philadephia.

Beware: several of the stations between Washington and New York have the same name, so make sure you're at the right stop between getting off the train. 

That's not confusing at all! Baltimore Penn Station, Newark Penn Station, and New York Penn Station are all on the same journey.

New York Penn Station Amtrak Terminal

New York by Air

If you are starting your trip further away in the United States or internationally, flying to New York is the way to go. There are three main airports to choose from: JFK, La Guardia, and Newark Liberty International Airport. 

I am partial to Newark which is a hub for United Airlines. You can also take New Jersey transit from Newark Airport into Manhattan if you'd prefer not to splurge on an Uber or Lyft ($25 - $80 USD depending on where in NYC you are going).

New York by Car

Technically, you can get to New York City by car. However, if you are staying in Manhattan, I recommend not driving. Your stress levels will rise thanks to the traffic and you'll pay a fortune for parking. 

If you really want to drive, you could consider the Park and Ride option from one of the NJ Transit stations. 

Where to Stay in New York City

I like staying in Chelsea when I visit New York City. Chelsea feels less touristy, has a good mix of residential and commercial streets, and good subway access. 

Chelsea is also walking distance to my office which is a plus when traveling for work. 

On my most recent trip, I stayed at Motto by Hilton New York City Chelsea. I booked the base level room at the Motto. You'll pay between $275 - $500 USD per night depending on whether you are staying during the week or on the weekend and what season it is.

Facade of Motto by Hilton Chelsea in NYC

I have Diamond Status with Hilton and was rewarded with an upgrade to a room on the 40th floor with a view over Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan.

If you love architecture and photography like I do, make sure you either book or arrange an upgrade to a room with a view on a high floor.

One Perfect Day in New York at a Glance

Let's explore how to construct the perfect day out in New York City. These 10 steps are all you'll need to create a fun NYC itinerary if you love architecture and views.
  1. Watch the Sunrise Over Lower Manhattan
  2. Try One of the Amazing Coffee Places in Chelsea
  3. Eat a Proper NYC Bagel for Breakfast
  4. Head to Madison Square Park
  5. Walk Uptown via Fifth Avenue
  6. Walk Back Down Park Ave
  7. Grab a Slice Near Grand Central Terminal
  8. Enjoy an Evening Cocktail
  9. Splurge on a Gourmet Meal in the West Village
  10. Watch the Sunset over Lower Manhattan
One Perfect Day in New York in Detail

Now let's look at each step to create your perfect day in New York in more depth.

1. Watch the Sunrise Over Lower Manhattan

Start your day in New York early by watching the sun rise from your hotel room. 

I wasn't facing the perfect direction for a sunrise in NYC, but it was still extremely cool to get a time lapse of the changing lights of the city. Prop your phone up against the window and voila!

Depending on the day, your sunrise time lapse may turn out to be more about clouds dancing. It was still pretty cool, I have to say. 

I was glad to be up early to set this up. Sunrise was 5:35 am in July when I lasted visited New York City. Jetlag for the win!

Clouds over Lower Manhattan at sunrise during a perfect one day in NYC

2. Try One of the Amazing Coffee Places in Chelsea

Now that you've gotten up early to see the sunrise, the next step to experiencing a perfect day in New York is procuring coffee. You have a few options near The Motto.

Nothing beats an iced coffee on a warm summer day in New York! 

Try out Variety Coffee Roasters or Seven Grams near the hotel. Alternatively, fuel your day with a cold brew at the Coffee Project on 7th Ave to energize you for the walk ahead.

Coffee Project was expensive but solid ($5.99 with tax for my cold brew). Try East One BKLN for a summer cold brew that is better value for money with extra friendly staff.

If you have a sweet tooth, head to St. Kilda's for a cold brew. I couldn't resist ordering a vegan peanut butter cookie with my coffee.

3. Eat a Proper NYC Bagel for Breakfast

The next ingredient in a perfect day in New York is a proper NYC bagel. Zucker's Bagels & Smoked Fish (formerly Murray's) on 8th Avenue between 23rd and 22nd St is the place to go. 

Salt bagel from Zucker's and Seven Grams cold brew in New York City

I am partial to a salt bagel with butter schmear. An alternative strategy is to ask for whatever bagel is hot and fresh out of the oven.

4. Head to Madison Square Park

Now it's time to begin our architecture walk. Step 4 of the perfect day out in New York is a visit to Madison Square Park. 

I love the skyscrapers peeking out among the trees in Madison Square Park including the iconic Flatiron Building. 

There was jazz music to accompany my walk and lovely reflections in the fountain when I visited late on a Sunday morning.

View of the Flatiron Building in NYC from Madison Square Park

5. Walk Uptown via Fifth Avenue

For this one day NYC itinerary, I decided to walk uptown since I'd be going in the other direction all week for work. Walk up Fifth Avenue and discover amazing Art Deco architecture (mixed with other styles) and golden afternoon light.

I encountered a number of beautiful Art Deco entrances on my NYC photowalk. If you like this type of NY architecture, Fifth Avenue approaching Central Park is a good place to look.

30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City

Walking up 5th Avenue also ensures that you pass stunning 30 Rockefeller Plaza. (Hello 30 Rock!) 

I binge-watched The Gilded Age on my flight to the U.S. The principal characters live on 5th Ave and 61st St. so I decided to walk over and see what it looks like today. 

Original Statue of Liberty on 61st Street in New YorkNY Slice of Pizza from Paul's Pizza near Grand Central Station

The intersection is not as elegant today as depicted in the show. I did find the original Statue of Liberty in front of a building on the block so it wasn't a total loss at least.

6. Walk Back Down Park Ave

Return to Chelsea on Park Avenue for more Art Deco overload! 

Always make sure to look up when you are in NYC. If you have a zoom lens on your phone or camera, even better. 
Close up of an Art Deco skyscraper on Park Avenue in NYC

Some of the accents at the very top of the towers along Park Avenue are absolutely breathtaking.

Park Avenue will also take you past Grand Central Terminal, an architectural marvel in its own right. 

7. Grab a Slice Near Grand Central Terminal

By now you are likely getting hungry. Grab a NY slice for a late lunch. 

Uncle Paul's Pizza on Vanderbilt between 47th and 46th street near Grand Central Terminal does a respectable slice. Paul's Pizza has it all: a perfect, foldable crust and just the right mix of cheese and sauce. Yum!

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for more inspiration of things to do in and around New York City? Why not take a workcation in New York and check out coffee shops along the High Line or spend the day in Brooklyn. If you like photography, I recommend exploring the colors of New York City on a vivid photowalk. If you are feeling ambitious, you could plan a weekend in the Adirondacks with these things to do in Saratoga Springs or discover things to do around Poughkeepsie in the Hudson River Valley.

8. Enjoy an Evening Cocktail

15,000 steps later, we're back at The Motto. No perfect day in New York is complete without a cocktail. 

My Diamond Status with Hilton Honors entitled me to an $18 USD food and drink credit each day of my stay. Given steep New York prices, this was just enough for a single cocktail each evening. 

There are a variety of cocktails to try at the Hotel Motto bar. 

The Giallo cocktail is made with gunpowder gin, limoncello, creme de cacao, green chartreuse, and lime juice. Very refreshing after a long walk.

Giallo cocktail at the Motto by Hilton Chelsea

The Speziato cocktail is a good one if you like spice. This concoction contains Espolon Blanco, Ancho Reyes chile pepper, house made ginger syrup, passionfruit, lemon juice and bitters. Elegant and spicy!

Looking for something a bit simpler? Try the Litchi cocktail (made with vodka and lychee). This one is a nice nightcap.

If you defer your cocktail until after dinner, consider trying the barrel-aged Manhattan as a digestif.

After exploring the cocktail menu at the Motto all week, I went back to the Giallo. This cocktail was definitely my favorite. It was tart and refreshing with a surprising chocolate residue at the bottom of the glass when you're done.

9. Splurge on a Gourmet Meal in the West Village

Head to the West Village in the evening for a New York doors photowalk and a fancy dinner. 

I met a colleague at Hudson Clearwater. Reserve a table in the outdoor oasis in the back garden.

If your tolerance for alcohol is high enough, consider starting your meal with a cocktail. I sampled a Calacas cocktail which was made with jalapeno tequila, beet, lime and agave with a chili-salt rim. 

Calacas cocktail at Hudson Clearwater in NYC

The beet is a bit unexpected and gives the drink a savorier flavor. The Calacas was like a Bloody Mary, but for dinner.

I decided to go with small plates for dinner. Start with the vegan pea soup with coconut cream and smoked pepitas followed by scallops with huckleberry sauce and crunchy popped amaranth. 

Vegan pea soup at Hudson Clearwater in New York CityScallops with Huckleberry Sauce at Hudson Clearwater in NYCVegan key lime pie at Hudson Clearwater in NYC

Both dishes were from the starters menu. Such amazing flavors and textures! I finished the meal with a slice of vegan key lime pie which proved to be a little creamier than the usual variety. 

I simply couldn't resist ordering a dessert with a graham cracker crust. Graham crackers aren't really a thing in Ireland.

If you are visiting New York in the summer, take a walk through some of the small, leafy streets in the West Village. My regular readers know that I simply love photographing doors (especially the doors of Dublin). 

You'll find some charming doors on Morton St. in the West Village. Twist and turn down different streets as they catch your fancy. Keep an eye out for summery colors and darling accents like unique knockers. 

Brown wood door with a white painted fanlight in the West Village of New York CityLight brown wood door with a fire hydrant in front in the West Village in New YorkWhite door with a wreath in the West Village of New York City

I discovered one door that was perfect from the iron railing to the purple flowers. You'll really get to experience a different type of New York architecture in the West Village. 

The buildings are more human-scale brownstone instead of soaring skyscrapers. I also felt a bit of a colonial vibe.

If you visit New York during a time of year when the sun sets early, swap the order of operations and go on your West Village photowalk before dinner. 

10. Watch the Sunset over Lower Manhattan

Conclude your perfect day out in New York back at your hotel for a sweeping sunset. 

Sunset over Lower Manhattan and the Hudson River

The sun sets late enough in the summer where you should be able to get back to the hotel after dinner. At other times of year, consider moving up this item on the itinerary to before dinner.

Now that's a view! Once again, I was grateful for my upgrade to the 40th floor thanks to my Hilton Honors Diamond status.

The sunset calls for another time lapse as a capstone to one perfect day in NYC.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 10 Steps to One Perfect Day in NYC (Filled with Architecture and Views)
10 Steps to One Perfect Day in NYC (Filled with Architecture and Views)
Find out how to spend one day in New York. Discover NYC with this 1 day itinerary featuring architecture and views.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog