Manhattan skyline - early morning view from the Empire State Building

How to Visit Manhattan In One Day

Maybe it wasn’t the best way to get to the city of Manhattan, NY, taking a red-eye into Newark. I was hoping to catch at least a few hours of sleep, if not me, at least my daughter, but this time it didn’t happen.

An Eventful Flight

When we were about to doze off, a loud bang startled us and we looked into the isle to see an older lady on the floor right by our seat. She fell. Not being by the isle, when I heard someone falling, I thought it was a kid. That would have been ok, kids are resilient, they trip, fall, then get right back up. But this lady wasn’t getting up. Two of the flight attendants came right away, but they couldn’t help. The lady was still lying on the floor. Slightly panicking, the flight attendants called for a medical doctor who might be on the plane. Within minutes, a medic arrived, who had no way of getting close to his would be patient, since the flight attendants were both kneeling by her.

Finally, they got the lady to sit; they got her on oxygen and helped her stand up. All this was happening right by our seat. My kids always tell me I worry too much, about everyone, not just them. Now, I was worrying about this lady I didn’t even know, but fortunately she turned out to be ok.

But by then it was too late to get any sleep. Besides, we were sitting in the back of the plane, and that’s where they took her to figure out what happened. I tried to get at least my daughter to close her eyes for a short time, but no luck with any sleep at all.

We landed at 5:30 am and took the train into Manhattan.

Getting to the City of Manhattan from Newark Airport

It was still dark outside when we got off the plane and getting to Manhattan at this hour proved to be easier than ever. This blog post aboutTraveling between Manhattan and Newark Airporthelped me understand the easiest and fastest way to get there, so we didn’t have to waste any time being lost (my usual mode when I arrive somewhere).

At that early hour we opted for the New Jersey transit train. It surprised me to see it almost full, around 6 am., though it was far from the rush-hour crowd. I should have remembered this city never sleeps. Even at this early hour, we had to walk through a whole cart to find seats; a lot of them were full, with commuters from New Jersey to Manhattan.

Early morning in Manhattan
As we got out of Penn Station this was our first view of the city. Madison Square Garden

We took the commuter train to the end, to Penn station, where I had flashbacks to my earlier travels into the city from New Jersey. I used to take a bus most of the time, but occasionally I took the train – a different one, but it ended at the same station.

Sunrise in New York City

As the sun was rising, we were walking from Penn Station towards the Empire State Building. The lit-up buildings, and almost-empty streets were a nice combination for an early morning stroll.

Sunrise in Manhattan
The sun was rising as we were making our way towards the Empire State Building.

The only downside was the cold, but without the wind, we didn’t feel it yet. Besides, walking in the cold is not too bad, especially in a place you enjoy.

We ended up at the Empire State Building and found out it would open at 8 am. Since it was already almost 7, we thought it was the perfect time for breakfast. We found a nice coffee open this early; I think these places are open 24 hours a day in the city of Manhattan. By now I desperately needed my morning coffee, and we had to warm up and try to wake up. We still had a full day in the city, after a sleepless night, so this breakfast, and coffee was more important than on any other day.

If you haven’t had a New York bagel, you’re missing out on something great. I had to have one besides my espresso. The combination worked, for all three of us, and we were ready for the Empire State Building a few minutes before eight.

Morning Visit to the Empire State Building

Even before the building opened for visitors, we stood on line for tickets and the entrance. It wasn’t bad, at least we were inside, and not freezing in the streets. Living in the desert you forget what cold feels like. But on an early October morning in Manhattan you feel it and remember why you left. Ok, it wasn’t just the cold; but it was a part of the reason, for sure.

Once we got past the first security check, theEmpire State Buildingdidn’t seem too crowded. We took the elevator up to the viewpoint on the 86th floor and watched the city skyline from inside, through the window.

Soon we walked outside to the Observation Deck. As we walked around the building, we enjoyed spectacular views of the city in every direction. But the wind was also spectacular, turning our cheeks and ears cherry red. Added to this, it got very crowded, quick. I guess every visitor to the city needs to see it from above at least once. I get it; we were doing the same.

Manhattan skyline in early morning
Early morning view of the city of Manhattan skyline from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building

Fighting the cold, wind and crowds, we walked all the way around, twice in fact, though we went inside to warm up between the walks on the deck.

Manhattan in early morning light from the Empire State Building
Another view, of the tip of the island this time, with the 9/11 Memorial Tower.

We watched Central Park, the Hudson and the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and the rest of the cityscape, including the 9/11 Memorial. Looking in every direction from this height, we plotted our next move.

Since we visited the city for our daughter, we let her choose our destinations. We only helped her figure out what was close enough to walk to as opposed to a subway ride.

We decided on walking towards Central Park. It was slightly closer than the other side where we were planning to do our Hamilton tour.

Time Square on a Thursday Morning

As we walked towards Times Square, we passed landmarks my daughter recognized. This trip was for her; I’ve been in NYC plenty of times, my husband even worked there at some point (before he met me). But our youngest daughter has only been there once, and she was too young to remember the sites.

Times Square, Manhattan, NYC
We walked through Times Square

She must have been reading and learning about the city though because she seemed to know more about it than I did.

In Times Square she wanted to retrace her steps to the M&M store, and once we stood in front, we entered. Partially to get away from the cold. The store did not impress my child, and she didn’t ask for anything. We walked out of there without one piece of chocolate. The chocolaty smell was overwhelming, slightly sickening, and since we are both the non-chocoholics in the family, we failed to appreciate it.

But her disappointment had nothing to do with chocolate. The store didn’t look as grand as she remembered. We must have been there during some huge promotion in the past because we both seemed to remember the same kid-friendly exhibits and toys around the store.

So after we talked it over, I told her we probably remembered the Disney store. Next, we walked through that one, too. Though more spectacular, and filled with Disney toys, this one didn’t impress her either. She felt like she was growing up, not caring about anything she would’ve enjoyed as a younger child.

But it was nice to be inside, away from the cold. We were still freezing, and would be the whole day, though we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying our time in the city.

A Walk through Central Park

No visit to Manhattan would be complete without a walk through Central Park. When we finally reached Central Park and noticed that it was the first place we saw trees in the city. The Park was beautiful this time of the year.

Central Park. Manhattan, NYC

We finally saw nature in the city, in Central ParkThe nice thing is, you can walk all the way to the Met through it. So that’s what we did. While strolling through the park, we enjoyed the vivid green of the grass and trees. We watched children playing in the park, people walking their dogs or just strolling through like us.

After walking what seemed hours (though enjoying the walk), we finally stood in front of the famous museum.

Before you ask, no I was not forcing my child to go see the museum. She was the one who asked, still at home, to go there. Other than the Hamilton sites, she wanted to see the major art museums in the city. Which one, I asked her. She wanted to see both, the Met and the MoMA, but I told her we would only have time for one. I knew she might have remembered the Museum of Modern Art, and that’s what I thought she would choose. But she wanted to see the Met. So, the Met it was.

At the gate, we joined busloads of school kids. “Why can’t we have field trips like this?” my eight-grader asked, jealous of the kids her own age, visiting with their friends, during school hours. I guess we would have to live in Manhattan for that.

The Met - Manhattan, NYC
We made it to the Met

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though crowded, we didn’t have to stand in line, since I noticed that they had automated ticket booths. I didn’t understand why no one was using them (I still don’t), but we did, and entering the exhibits was a breeze.

We started our visit with the Ancient Greek area and were in awe of how many statues were on display. Rooms after rooms were filled with statues of gods and goddesses that my daughter told stories about. She loves ancient mythology, mainly the Greek, but her taste and knowledge extends to the Roman, Egyptian, Norse and Oriental, too.

Which made this museum a great place for her. I knew we couldn’t possibly go through the whole museum in half a day, so we choose our exhibits accordingly. Since the Greek seemed to be so important for her, we spent most of our time there.

The Greek Exhibit in the Met
Our favorite room in the Greek wing of the Met. photo by Karen

The Roman exhibit was interesting, too, but we didn’t linger much there. They had very similar pieces to the Greek ones, and they didn’t seem as interesting for us at the time. We walked through the Medieval European exhibit also without stopping long. Instead, we spent a lot of time in the Oriental exhibits.

We ended our tour with the Egyptian wing where I was listening again to stories of ancient gods and goddesses represented there. Though she was so tired, she was falling over, once we made it to the Egyptian wing, my daughter became animated once again. I didn’t need a guide; I had my personal young expert. She would have done great on a field trip to that museum.

The Egyptian Exhibit in the Met
In the Egyptian Exhibit. We waited a long time to get this shot – to catch this doorway without people coming in and out – and when it was clear, we had to be quick.Tthis is the only one with no people in it; photo taken by my daughter, Karen.

Tired, hungry and thirsty, we left the museum after spending about four hours enjoying its exhibits. And we didn’t see everything. We agreed that we would need to return.

Riding the Subway in Manhattan

After the museum, we could not walk anymore. Besides, we were far from our next destination, so we went underground to ride the famous/infamous New York City subway.

Did you know it was the first subway in any city, anywhere in the world? Though it deserves to be famous, it shows its age. And it is hard to navigate. They base the whole Subway system in New York City on the assumption that everyone knows exactly where each train stops, and what station is closest to their destination.

While this is a valid assumption for locals, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Subway system in Vienna, where even if you don’t speak the language (which we didn’t), as soon as you get on a subway, you’ll understand the city and where you are going. Maps on the walls, clear signs and explanations, clean trains… no, not in Manhattan. We had to count the stops and still ended up getting off at the wrong one.

When we changed to another train, it got us exactly where we meant to go: we climbed out from underground in front of the Trinity Church where the graves of Hamilton and Eliza stand. So this is where we started our Hamilton tour.

Self-Guided Hamilton Tour

Though I was tempted to book a Hamilton tour I read about inthis post, I knew we could not keep to a schedule. Besides, we already knew what we wanted to see. First, we stopped at the Trinity Church. On a Thursday, it wasn’t open, but we saw it from the outside, besides, we were there to see Hamilton’s and Eliza’s gravesites.

Our full trip included a visit to the Schuyler-Hamilton house in Morristown, where they courted each other, and their gravesites in Manhattan, closing the circle.

Alexander and Eliza Hamilton graves, Trinity Church, Manhattan
The gravesites of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton

From there, we walked over to the Fraunces Tavern. At least to the site where it is now. We already ate lunch at a smaller healthy-fast-food place (at least it claimed to be healthy), so we politely declined the invitation to sit in the restaurant, but my daughter asked if we could visit the museum. She knew they had one. Sure, go right ahead upstairs, the greeter told us.

Fraunces Tavern, Manhattan
It was easy to find Fraunces Tavern

The Museum in Fraunces Tavern

“Just imagine, we are walking on the same steps Hamilton and Washington and all the Revolutionaries walked on,” said my daughter as we were going up the steps.

Later on, during the guided tour we found out that the Tavern is not even the original. The city tore the original down, but later on, they rebuilt it in a more convenient location. So much for walking in the footsteps of the historical figures.

Still, this slight disappointment didn’t take from the experience, since they set up everything like in the old days, and all the furniture and artifacts were original.

Fraunces Tavern Museum - Historical Room
The room where only the elite would dine; the place where General Washington bid farewell to his officers

I was admiring one of the handwritten documents signed by George Washington. “He had beautiful handwriting,” I said. “No, he didn’t write that, Hamilton did”, corrected my history-buff daughter. “He was Washington’s secretary, he wrote up all the documents, Washington just signed them.” Well, it makes sense, I’ve done the same myself for someone else before. So Hamilton had the beautiful handwriting. Compared to it, the other handwritten documents looked like scribbles. Suddenly, I liked Hamilton a little more.

Saying Goodbye to Manhattan

Our tour of the city over, at least for the time being, we made our way back to the Newark airport, retracing our steps, using the train and light rail. We rented a car for the rest of the trip, and drove over to Morristown, where we finally had a good night sleep, in a real bed. The next day, we continued our Revolutionary War history tour, and aleaf-peek side-tripto enjoy the autumn colors in the New Jersey woods.

We did a lot in one day as sleep-deprived as we were. We fit iconic Manhattan cityscape, historical places, subway rides, nature, and a world-renowned Art Museum in one short day. Though Manhattan is much more than this, I feel like we got a feel for the famous city through some of its most representative sites.

One Day in Manhattan

Scroll to Top