We’re so fortunate living in Central PA, because we truly are central to so many fun day trip locations! We can visit Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh, D.C., the Poconos, NYC and more… all within only about 1-3 hours! I could probably write 10 different posts on how to spend a day in New York City, because we’ve done it so frequently, but today I’m going to share with you our most basic outline of a day. Because sometimes the most basic ones can be the most enjoyable!
I recently took a bus trip to NYC with some of the other girls in my family. We were going to celebrate my niece’s 14th birthday, so much of the agenda was set by her, but I promise that it’s a day that everyone will enjoy!
This is the big question
stress when traveling into the city and one that really should be thought of ahead of time.
- You absolutely could just drive yourself in, but it’s my least favorite option! Aside from the fact that I just am not comfortable driving in that traffic, it’s not cheap either. You’ll pay on average, about $40 to park your car for the day. It’s another $15 just to get through the Holland Tunnel to enter the city plus any other tolls you may have depending on which route you come in on. The cost of gas isn’t cheap either, friends.
- Your other option is to take a ferry into the city! There are many different stops, but we drive to Weehawkin, NJ to catch the ferry. You can park your car there, they have nice restrooms and an information center, the ferry is always on time and it’s an exciting way for your kids to start their day! The cost varies based on age, but it is less than $10 per person and could be free if your kid is younger than 5. It drops you off in Manhattan where a shuttle then takes you to various stops including one right in Times Square if that’s where you’re heading. They pick you up at a designated time to shuttle you back where you ride the ferry back to your car. It’s incredibly convenient and affordable.
- We have also taken Amtrak to Penn Station. There are ways to find reduced tickets, but we average about $85 per person for a roundtrip ticket. It’s not cheap, but it’s relaxing and a stress-free way to start your day. Once you arrive at Penn Station, it’s easy to find your way around on foot.
- We have also taken local bus trips. In fact, that’s what we did for our most recent trip! Ours was $35/person. Again, easy and stress-free and not a bad cost considering how much you pay for tolls and parking if you drive yourself!
We chose to stay in the Times Square vicinity for our day in NYC. It makes it easier in times of schedules and transportation, and there is plenty to do in that area so you won’t get bored!
- My niece wanted to see a Broadway play, so we bought our tickets ahead of time to see Aladdin. The Genie was fantastic and we really were laughing out loud at parts! If you haven’t purchased tickets ahead of time, you can always stand in line at the TKTS booth right in Times Square. You’ll find heavily-discounted tickets for sale for shows on that day! Be a little spontaneous and try a new show you never would have thought you’d enjoy! It might become your new favorite!
- Check out some of the stores in Times Square as well! They really are more than just stores with interactive exhibits and lots of photo opps!
- Sometimes, just the streets performers in Times Square are enough to keep you entertained. I’m not big on the Naked Cowboy or some of the copycat versions there are walking around. But it’s easy enough to avoid that. There are characters to get your picture with (for a “donation”), and always something to see. More my style, though, are some of the pop-up shops you’ll find. We stumbled onto a pop-up art exhibit that stretched for about 2 blocks and was amazing! Interactive exhibits, products for sale at VERY affordable prices and some of the artists were there to talk to. It was such a neat little discovery that we all loved.
- You’re also likely to stumble on a street fair if you go during the warmer months. Ours stretched for about 5 city blocks and was filled with food vendors, artists, dancers and more! Fun to just wander through.
You will not go hungry in NYC! I know it’s temping to pop into one of the chains you’ll see everywhere (hello, Hard Rock Cafe, Olive Garden and more!). They’re familiar and familiar is comforting. But please try at least one of the local joints! There are SO many treasures to be had and you won’t find a treasure in an over-priced burger or bowl of pasta that you could have gotten 10 minutes from your home. You just won’t. Check out some spots ahead of time (I love looking on TripAdvisor and am very rarely let down by what the people vote as their favorite), and ask friends. People are very opinionated when it comes to food and you’ll get some great options.
- We decided on lunch at The Shackburger. Great burgers, thick shakes and the fries were perfectly salty. Nothing hugely impressive, but a nice meal at a very reasonable price. It opened at 11:00 and we got there around 11:10. By the time we ordered, we literally found the last available table to sit at. We were still waiting for our food and the line was out the door with a bouncer keeping people outside because it was too full. Honestly, this was all within about 15-20 minutes of it opening for the day. Don’t come right at a mealtime and don’t go at all if you don’t want to eat with a huge crowd.
- We also stopped at The Schmackary for some fresh cookies and my only regret was not buying more to take home! They were huge, delicious and fresh! Some of ours were warm from the oven and the chocolate was still melting. I’ll take a cookie any day over a cupcake, and these were perfection. I highly recommend swinging by the Schmackary for the Bacon Maple or Double Chocolate.
- Our biggest food find of the day was a little taco joint that we almost didn’t stop in. Otto’s Taco’s on 9th Street is right in the middle of Restaurant Row, so it almost gets hidden a bit by some of its neighbors with larger storefronts. It’s so worth finding, though! Every part of this visit was enjoyable. The atmosphere and decor was very clean and rustic industrial (I’m a fan of any restaurant that puts purse hooks under their bar!). The staff was SO friendly! Two young men were working and they were full of smiles and very patiently walked us through the menu. The price point would have been cheap here in my small town, but it is insanely cheap by NYC standards. The carnita taco was only $3 and it had so much meat and was SO filling! I also got the shrimp taco (but I inhaled that too fast for a pic). I adored it, but it was pretty spicy so be warned if you aren’t a fan of spicy foods. It was an excellent flavor and just packed with shrimp. They also have a seasonal veggie taco, and they day we were there it was brussels sprouts. Seriously. Where’s the heart emoji when I need it?! I only found this out after I had ordered mine, but I had a bite of my sisters and I literally moaned out loud. Everything about this little shop was just amazing and I highly recommend it!
Now obviously you aren’t packing for an overnight, but there are a few specific things I recommend packing in your purse if you’re trying to figure out how to spend a day in NYC. Check out some of our favorites by clicking on the highlighted words. These are affiliate links to products we use often!
- This is not like other towns where you can stop for a meal and plug your phone in to charge. Honestly, you probably will not find a way to charge it all day, but your battery will die because you’ll be taking pictures of EVERYTHING. So pack a portable charger, and just a friendly hint… actually charge it before you leave. Ask me how I know that one. 😉
- I also take some hand sanitizer. I’m not a germaphobe, but you’ll need it. Especially if you’re just stopping at a street vendor for food and there’s no way to wash your hands. You’ll need it. Or even if you’re at a restaurant with a bathroom and you still need to touch the door knob to get out. You’ll need it.
- Comfortable shoes. I know it should go without saying, but I’m always surprised at the shoes I see people walking around in. I very rarely wear sneakers, so when I know I’m going to be walking most of the day, I usually wear a supportive pair of slip-on shoes.
- Another thing that I pretty much keep in my purse no matter where I’m going, is a set of foldable shopping bags. They fold up nice and tiny, but are incredibly sturdy to hold anything you buy while you’re sightseeing. Trust me, those classic “I Love NYC” bags are not the highest quality things out there, and I’ve had more than one break on me after lugging my purchases around for hours. These shopping bags are the perfect answer and at only about 40 cents a piece, they’re just handy to always keep around!
What’s your favorite thing to do in NYC? We’ve also spent very enjoyable visits in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn without even stepping foot in Times Square! Probably a better fit for someone who isn’t so big on crowds.