How to see the best of New York in a day

Welcome to a new series about the “micro-trip” – journeys that involve parachuting into a destination for a very extreme itinerary.

We’re tactical travellers these days (2017 research from the Office for National Statistics showed that Brits are shunning longer trips for short breaks and quickie holidays) and thanks to a whole host of new flights from well-connected airports, flying into a city for just a day is absolutely possible.

Or perhaps you’re stopping over, or just visiting as part of a longer itinerary. The micro-trip is designed to distil the very best of a destination into just a day or two. We’re not suggesting you’ll see it all – rather, we’ve selected the most essential bits if you’re short on time.

The first destination for the micro-trip: New York. Not only is the city “having a moment” this year (for starters, there’s the opening of Hudson Yards, America’s biggest-ever real estate development; plus big-ticket World Pride in June), but it’s handily just a quick-ish flight from London.

In just 10 hours on the ground in NYC we managed to snoop around a world-class art gallery, check in for a lazy lunch, wander through swaggering Times Square and the cobbled shopping streets of Soho, before racing over Brooklyn Bridge for cocktails on a rooftop overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Which is all totally possible to do from dawn to dusk.

Here’s how to do New York in a day.

04.30: It begins…

We meet at Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal. Low-cost long-haul carrier Norwegian runs a London-New York schedule that leaves the tarmac at 6.05am, landing in New York shortly before 9am. (The return leg leaves JFK at 10.30pm – meaning a long day ahead with quite a lot of coffee.)

The bonus is that we have absolutely no luggage to check in (no change of clothes or even a toothbrush) so it’s a swift journey through departures to the gate.

06.05: Take-off

We’re installed in Norwegian’s premium cabin, which means proper reclining seats, (budget) duvets and a decent amount of leg room. Oh, and coffee. For the flight out, we’re on one of the flights equipped with free WiFi, which to my surprise is fast: allowing for Instagram selfies, Whatsapp messages and (unfortunately) my work emails…

…which I would be responding to if I weren’t fast asleep. We’ve got to sleep to prepare for our day in New York, baby!

08.56: Arrival in New York

Touch down at Terminal 1, JFK. Brain feels like a bag of spanners.

09.45: AirTrain into town

Immigration at JFK is fast (despite some confusion over the fact we’re not staying over) and we’re soon zipping along the AirTrain tracks to Jamaica in the borough of Queens, where we switch for a direct E train to Manhattan. It whips underneath the heart of Queens and drops us in Midtown, half a block from our first stop: the Museum of Modern Art.

But first: more coffee.

11.15: Visit MoMA

MoMA is still the big boy of modern art in New York, and this October, it’s getting even bigger: opening 40,000 square feet of extra gallery space. The expansion has been designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the same architects behind the Highline.

Today we’ve just got enough time to bounce around the permanent collections on floors two, four and five and take in the gorgeous sculpture garden from the sixth-floor cafe terrace. If you’re short on time, head straight to the fifth floor where you’ll find Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Mondrian’s Trafalgar Square, one of Monet’s Water Lillies and an under-appreciated The Dream by Henri Rousseau. Also keep your eye out for Warhol’s Gold Marilyn…

13.00: Lunch at 21 Club

Lunch at the 21 Club, where the ceiling heaves with New York memorabilia (Maya Yagoda)

One block from MoMA on 52nd Street, the 21 Club is one of those ultra New Yorky places that everybody should visit for a power lunch at least once (and indeed, New York’s movers and shakers have: most Presidents have dined here, and Trump’s father Fred even had a standing table).

The first rule of dining at 21 Club is to look up. The ceiling of the dim-lit dining room heaves with miniature toys donated to the restaurant by its fans: there’s a mini Southwest jumbo, trucks, footballs and all kinds of sports memorabilia. In fact, the whole place drips: either with history, Midtown power players, or plates of signature caesar salad and slabs of New York cheesecake dressing almost every pink-and-white tableclothed table.

14.15: Walk towards Times Square (and Central Park if you have time)

The good thing about lunching at 21 Club is that it’s fast, which allows enough time to scoot up seven blocks to Central Park. Get some of the green urbanness of the world’s most impressive city park: tick.

Now turn back 13 blocks down 7th Avenue until you hit Times Square. Stand right in the centre and soak up the overwhelmingness of this most overwhelming of cities… OK, and we’re off!

15.00: Soho shopping

A handful of subway stops south on the B, D, F or M lines bring you to Broadway Lafayette Street station, spitting you out on Houston Street.

Further south is the start of New York’s SoHo (South of Houston Street), home to New York’s best shopping. On Broadway there’s beauty megamall Sephora; on Prince Street preppy all-American brand Everlane; plus indie bookstore McNally Jackson, which handily has a cute cafe for a coffee pitstop.

16.30: Walk across Brooklyn Bridge

With any luck, you’ll catch a solid-gold sunset streaking across Manhattan and Brooklyn if you walk over the world’s most Instagrammed suspension bridge towards 5pm. This 1,800m-long bridge crosses the East River from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn’s Dumbo – to the left is Alphabet City, to the right is the new South Street Seaport District, and straight on is what feels like the most surreal moment of this crazy day.

The daytime view from 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge)

A day in New York wouldn’t be complete without a blockbuster view of the Manhattan skyscrapers, which is always best done from Brooklyn. Hotel 1 Brooklyn Bridge, a boutique popular with the borough’s scenesters, has a wraparound 11th floor rooftop with cinematically good views across to Lower Manhattan.

Too cold? The Brooklyn Heights Social Club on the floor beneath remains open in winter and serves an interesting selection of spirit-led cocktails to pair with that eye-popping view.

18.00: Dinner at Osprey

Migrate to ground level to find restaurant Osprey, a concept based around cosy American comfort food. Which is exactly what we need right now.

We order artful small plates of beef tartare, a baby bath-sized bowl of “ancient grains” and snacky bacon-wrapped dates that are deliciously tasty, filling a hole before we head back to JFK. And on that note…

19.30: We’re done here

…the airport is about an hour away in an Uber.

22.30: Leave for London

It’s just shy of seven hours back to London onboard Norwegian’s Dreamliner. I’m so whacked that I barely remember take-off, choosing instead to recline my seat right back and shove my eye mask on.

10.00 the next morning: Land in London

We’re back at Gatwick.

I’ve got memories of pink-streaked skies above Brooklyn; feeling the warmth of New York’s street steam; and views out over MoMA’s sculpture garden. Plus the intangible dizziness of New York. All that in just a day.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Premium fares start from £399.90 one-way to New York JFK. norwegian.com/uk

Visiting there

For more information on booking a trip to New York, visit nycgo.com.

 

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