12 Hours in New York City
By Udodi Okoh
So you have decided to spend a day or two exploring the Big Apple, or maybe your transnational flight left you with the dreaded extended layover or 12 hours in New York City. Rather, you have a friend who recently or not so recently moved to New York City and has graciously allowed you to stay at their place rather than secure one of New York’s many expensive accommodation options. Perhaps it is actually you who has recently moved to New York City and as any New Yorker can attest: you receive a myriad of visitors once you move to the big city. As a native New Yorker, I’ve done my fair share of NYC tours and have given multiple recommendations on how to cheaply see the city. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, ‘What To Do in New York City’ will invariably cross your mind, and I’m here to share a solid 12-hour How to See New York itinerary that will allow you to explore iconic parts of New York City: the bright lights of Times Square, the quaintness of Brooklyn donned with tree-lined sidewalks, the best experience and snap a photo of the New York City skyline. You will need a solid 12-hour block of time, comfortable walking shoes, a $10 value metrocard, $20 cash and your camera. Ready? Let’s go.
Start your day at West 42nd Street and Broadway Avenue, Times Square. The iconic and albeit densely tourist populated landmark is always a must see for first timers in New York City. Bright neon lights, cabs racing by attempting to meet their daily ridership quota, street hawkers, it is the classic idea of New York. Experience the madness at least once. Walk up and down the streets close to Times Square center. Barter with souvenir sellers if you see a piece of New York City memorabilia you want to take home with you, allow yourself to be tempted by the smell of the street vendors cooking up falafels, shwarma or the ever famous street hot dog. Partake, if you must.
After you’ve had your fair share of the bright lights and business of Times Square, take either the 2 or 3 train from 42nd Street, Times Square downtown towards Brooklyn to the Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center stop. This train will take you directly to the newly built Barclays Center in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.
After you leave the Barclays Center, walk west along Pacific Street towards Pacific Street and Bond Street. Admire the quintessential neighborhood feel of Brooklyn, the mom and pop shops, the multiethnic makeup of its constituents, the religious consciences of Brooklynites. At Bond Street, head north to Livingston Avenue, right in the heart of downtown Brooklyn and stop for a bite to eat at 99 Cent Pizza. Deciding where to have a slice of New York style pizza in New York City can seem like a daunting task, but most do not come to New York to decide where to have pizza, they simply come to have New York pizza. This no frills, truly $0.99 a slice of thin, crispy crust, cheesy pizza is a New York as it gets. Quickly grab a chair (table if you’re lucky) and order a slice or two of fresh, yeasty, saucy, crusty pizza. Don’t have more than two slices; dessert is next.
Juniors cheesecake is iconic Brooklyn and a must-have for first time visitors to the city. As with all restaurants which have received high esteem, the quality and likeability of their baked goods will always be up for debate, but it is as with anything, it is worth trying, at least once. Junior’s cheesecakes come in a variety of flavors for all types of tastes. At $6.75 per slice the cheesecakes is pricier then you would expect, but we are in New York City after all.
Once you’ve polished of your share of cheesecake and pizza, it is time to walk off much of the New York eatery and your most recent caloric intake. Walk north on Flatbush Avenue, turn left onto Tillary Street, and then turn right onto the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade where you will enter to the bridge that connects Manhattan with Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge ascends over the East River and remains one of New York City’s most famous routes that allow you to traverse multiple boroughs for free. By starting in Brooklyn then walking over the bridge to Manhattan, you will be walking directly toward the famous Manhattan skyline the entire way. Take as much time as you need to stop along the way, take photographs of the massive steel cables framing the imposing granite towers, people watch, frown upon traffic, and simply enjoy being in New York City.
After you’ve made it to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, try not to get too distracted by the smell of roasted peanuts wafting through the air on the corner of a busy intersection. Spend the $2 and indulge if you must and begin walking towards Church Street and Dey Street to the Century 21 Department Store, what has now become known as New York’s best kept shopping secret. Shopping at Century 21 is not for the faint of heart, but the heavily discounted designer goods may be worth it if you are coming from a country where the dollar is weak and you are in need of new items. If shopping isn’t your forte, meander across the street to the One World Trade Center, the site of the former Twin Towers. As someone who was present during the September 11th attack, the site still remains emotionally charging and incredibly indicative of the strength, courage and tenacity of New Yorkers.
Continue south towards Wall Street, Federal Hall, the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Building. The southernmost part of Manhattan is home to the financial heart of the city and the narrow streets, cobblestone walkways and staunch men in tailored suits, shinned shoes and densely packed briefcases will make you understand why the area is so serious. Navigate up and down the narrow streets until you’ve reached the Charging Bull statue at Bowling Green. At 7,100 pounds of bronze, the sculpture by Arturo Di Modica is a symbol of financial prosperity and aggressive financial optimism, consistently attracting a crowd. Stand in line and wait to have your picture taken with the bull in hopes some of the financial prosperity of the area (circa early 2000s) flows onto you.
Skip the paid charter ferry to the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island and instead opt to ride the free commuter free, which operates, between Manhattan and Staten Island. The Staten Island Ferry charters between the two boroughs and will not transport you to Ellis Island to view the Statue of Liberty. It will, however traverse to and from Staten Island allowing you to once again experience spectacular views of not only France’s famous gift to the U.S., but to also catch New York’s gleaming skyline as the sun sets. The Staten Island Ferry is located at Whitehall Street, just a short walk from the City’s Financial District. Upon arriving on Staten Island, you must disembark and re-embark to go back to Manhattan however it will take a minute or two.
Upon returning to Manhattan from Staten Island, board the 1 train uptown to about 81st Street and stroll through Central Park. Central Park feels as if it should be located upstate, in the heart of Connecticut or a bit west in the range of Pennsylvania. It’s the best place to be in NYC and forget you’re in New York City. 1,317 square miles of trees, ponds, and a light breeze of fresh air in the ever-bustling city. It is even better to spend an early evening taking a stroll through the Central Park in the fall. As autumn settles over New York City, Central Park is one of the best places to see fall’s foliage. You are able to enjoy Central Park without sweating and watch the leaves change. It may seem like something your parents or even grandparents would do but no one can deny the beauty of foliage, especially contrasting the hardness and static nature of New York City buildings.
Take the 1 train downtown, back to Time’s Square and appreciate once again the neon bustle of Times Square.
Even if none of the above situations are applicable as to why you may find yourself in New York City with 12 hours to spare, I encourage you to book at least a 12-14 hour stop-over in New York City which would give you ample time to explore much of the iconic landmarks, allow you to mix and mingle with New Yorkers, and give you the feeling multiple vacations within one. While 12 mere hours in New York City is nowhere near enough to truly get to know the best city on earth, I hope this helps you make the most of every New York minute.
Udodi, affectionally referred to by her middle name Chinye is a scholar of life and explorer of the world. A lover of flowers, chocolate, politics, green juice, and all things financial. She hopes to encourage people to travel with their hearts open, daring to dream big, and go far. She hope to inspire others to seek out Africa and to travel to experience the beauty, richness, hospitality, and love of her home continent. Best piece of advice she's been given: Take a journal to express yourself. Fill it with your dreams, desires, vision and inspiration. Use it as a catalyst to rouse the thoughts through your eyes.