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Levine Parlor | ©  Battman Studios
Levine Parlor | © Battman Studios
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12 Hours In NYC: An Essential Guide

Picture of Patricia Contino
Updated: 24 April 2017
Twelve hours in Manhattan is too short amount of time to see everything but it’s not impossible to become familiar with aspects of its character. A vacationer, daycationer or staycationer can make the most of their time by planning ahead, plotting transportation, and being realistic so that the experience doesn’t become sensory overload. This suggested itinerary features landmarks which redefine public spaces and private lives on a daily basis.


 Blizzard of 2015: Empty Grand Central Terminal | © MTA of the State of New York/Flickr

Blizzard of 2015: Empty Grand Central Terminal | © MTA of the State of New York/Flickr

Grand Central Terminal

There is no better place to start than Grand Central Terminal. The 102-year-old station is both functional and majestic, resembling a movie set, which it has been for (to name a few) Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Coppola’s Cotton Club. Commuting from Connecticut or Westchester County can be an unwanted adventure, but the marble staircases, brass fixtures, and long passageways ease it some. The Terminal has plenty of retail including a large-scale Hudson News – one of the few magazine stores left in the city. The second level Dining Court has a wide selection to choose from, most famously The Oyster Bar & Restaurant that opened the same year as Grand Central. Tours are offered or you can grab a map, take a long look from the escalator or stairs and imagine a glamourous cross-country journey with a steam trunk that would never get past the TSA.

Grand Central Terminal, 89 East 42nd Street (at Park Avenue), New York, NY, USA, + 1 (212) 340-2583

Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Circus, pochoir, plate II in Jazz (1947). Courtesy of Frances and Michael Baylson | © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2015.

Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Circus, pochoir, plate II in Jazz (1947). Courtesy of Frances and Michael Baylson | © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2015.

The Morgan Library and Museum
History Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum Pierpont Morgan’s Library | ©Graham Haber

The Morgan Library and Museum

Another stately building is approximately ten minutes from Grand Central. The Morgan Library & Museum is where financier J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) amassed a jaw-dropping private library, designed by the famous architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. Visitors can walk through Morgan’s original study and library where Renaissance art and early 20th century pseudo-Renaissance furnishings decorate the red velvet West Room study. Currently in the display cases are one of three Guttenberg Bibles (The Morgan has more copies of it than any other museum or library), a first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the piano score of Stravinsky’s Firebird. Over the course of his career, the artist Matisse collaborated on over 50 book projects. The books, hand-made mock-ups, sketches, and abandoned ideas provide further appreciation of the Fauvist virtuoso’s technical abilities at the library. A list of public programs for children and adults can be found here. The Morgan Café also has great coffee and a friendly staff.

The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY, USA, + 1 (212) 685-0008

Baldizzi kitchen | © Keiko Niwa

Baldizzi kitchen | © Keiko Niwa

More Info
Tue - Thu:
10:30 am - 5:00 pm
10:30 am - 9:00 pm
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
11:00 am - 6:00 pm

Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly

Services & Activities:

Gift Shop, Independent


Indoors, Instagrammable, Historical Landmark

The Tenement Museum

Blocks and worlds away from Mr. Morgan’s library is The Tenement Museum. 97 Orchard Street is a testament to the 7,000 immigrants who lived there from the Civil War through the Great Depression. Considered a risky undertaking when opening in 1988, the museum is a model of presenting and preserving personal histories. There are many types of tours to choose from: child- and adult- oriented, the restored apartments, the street level storefront, living historians depicting residents, neighborhood tours and food samplings. The 90-minute ‘Shop Life’ tour provides a detailed look at the merchants who occupied 97 Orchard Street. The first part of the tour tells the story of saloonkeepers John and Caroline Schneider, who worked there for 20 years (1860s-1880s). For the second part of the tour, visitors choose an object (e.g., apron, paper) from subsequent businesses, a kosher butcher shop, an auctioneer house, and lingerie store. They then place them on a table where a ‘Play Station’ interactive display opens to first-person audio accounts and photographs.

The Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard Street, New York, NY, USA, + 1 (212) 982-8420

Levine Parlor | © Battman Studios

Levine Parlor | © Battman Studios

Whitney Museum of American Art and the Highline

The physical joining of the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Highline is a perfect fit, and ending, for the day. The 85-year-old Whitney moved from the East Side to the Meatpacking District in May 2015. The Whitney’s new home rises out of the landscape, providing a window for looking at both the Hudson River and the institution. Now the works of art and art lovers have more breathing space, especially the Frank Stella retrospective. The move also allows the Whitney’s permanent collection to be seen. Alexander Calder’s adorable mechanical Circus is set up to be studied from all angles while on the adjacent wall a film of the artist setting it in motion (he brought it to parties) runs on a continuous video loop. Early evening on the Highline is an ideal way to end the day as the landscaping includes plants, artwork, great views of the Hudson and train tracks.

Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY, USA, + 1 (212) 570-3600

The Highline, Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues, New York, NY, USA, + 1 (212) 500-6035

Summer on the Highline | © Robb1e/Flickr

Summer on the Highline | © Robb1e/Flickr

By Patricia Contino

Patricia Contino received her MFA from The New School writing program. She uses vacation time either at performances in other cities, The University of Iowa Writing Festival, or very long nights at the Metropolitan Opera. The lifelong New Jersey resident and fangirl is the administrator for Columbia University’s Masters of Bioethics Program.