Ten Things to Do in New York City in 36 Hours

by Julie Cohn

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You find yourself in New York City, but you only have 36 hours to see the sights. Do you go to a Broadway show, visit the museums, or visit the Statue of Liberty?  So much to do and so little time– this was my dilemma a few weeks ago.  With a little help from New York City CityPASS, my son and I were able to get a real flavor of New York.  Here is my list of Ten Things to Do in New York City in 36 Hours.

{I received complimentary passes from CityPass but opinions and photos are 100% my own.}

My son and I made a stop in New York City before heading up to upstate New York to see family.  I’ve been many times over the years, but my son had never been, so I wanted him to see as much as he could see in the short time we had.  Truthfully, the last time I was in NYC was before 9/11. I could not bring myself to go back after 9/11, but my son has been begging to go for years, and I knew this was the perfect opportunity to show him the city I loved.

New York CityPASS

New York City CityPASS 2

Because we only had a short amount of time, I wanted to maximize our time and budget, and I knew one company that could help us make that happen – CityPASS.  CityPASS is a booklet of tickets to popular tourist destinations, available for one discounted price. CityPASS has booklets available for San Francisco, Dallas, Southern California, Seattle, and other major cities, including New York City.

New York City CityPASS

The New York CityPASS includes tickets to almost every major tourist destination in the New York City area, including The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, and The Guggenheim.  Not only does CityPASS save travelers about 40% off the regular price of admission to these tourist spots, it gives front of line access to many of the destinations.  Instead of waiting on line to purchase tickets at each attraction, I could show our pre-paid CityPASS booklets, have the ticket for that destination torn out, get front of line access, and get busy being a tourist! The CityPASS booklet saved us not only money, but valuable time.

Ten Things to Do in New York City in 36 Hours


New York Style Pizza

New York Pizza

According to my son, this is the #1 thing to do when going to New York.  There is nothing like New York style pizza; a crust made paper thin for easy folding and with crunchy bubbles of fire roasted crust, a healthy dose of zesty herbed tomato sauce, and sprinkled with grated mozzarella!  Oh my!  Note: If you want true authentic flavor, don’t get toppings except pepperoni.  Delish!

 Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, between 48th and 51st Streets, is home to NBC, Radio City Music Hall, and Rockefeller Plaza.  In the summer, sit at an outside cafe in the plaza and gaze upwards at the skyscrapers, or enjoy some of the best people watching in the city.  Circling the plaza is a display of 200 flags from United Nations countries, and gorgeous sculptures adorn the pathways.  In the winter, the plaza is transformed into a winter wonderland with ice skating rink, and one of the world’s largest Christmas trees.  There is an underground concourse at Rockefeller Center, with a choice of restaurants and shops.

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock 1

67 Floors above Rockefeller Center is the Top of the Rock, an observation deck spanning three floors (67th, 68th, & 69th) with 360-degree views of the city, including Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the East and Hudson Rivers. We used CityPASS tickets for Top of the Rock and had a minimal wait to get in the line for the elevator to the 67th floor.

Top of the Rock 5

The views were incredible, though it was a bit hazy out.  There were many people on the observation deck while we were there, but I did not feel crowded or rushed, and we had plenty of room for photos.  Note:  Take the escalator up to the 69th floor, most of the crowds did not get up to this level.

Magnolia Bakery

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Just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center is a branch of the classic New York bakery, Magnolia Bakery.  Known for their cupcakes, cheesecakes, and macarons, Magnolia has a million other pastries for any kind of taste.  The cupcakes are light and airy, just the way cupcakes should be! The original Magnolia bakery, at 401 Bleeker Street, has been featured on Sex and the City, Saturday Night Life, and The Devil Wears Prada.  Note:  The macarons sell out quick, so get there early!

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met 6

Photo courtesy of Nick Cohn

The Met 5The Met 2The Met 4

The largest museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or Met for short) is home to over 2 million pieces of art, including European, ancient Egyptian, African, Asian, Byzantine, and Islamic paintings and sculptures.  Be sure to visit the Arms and Armor gallery, the Costume Institute (the Manus Machinas exhibition was on display), and The Temple of Dendur.  Don’t miss Washington Crosses the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, Wheat Fields with Cypress by VanGogh, Water Lilies by Monet, and The Fourteen Year Old Dancer sculpture by Degas.  We used our CityPASS tickets and by-passed a long line of ticket purchasers.

Juniors Cheesecake

Juniors NYC cheesecake

Junior’s, an iconic New York restaurant, is located just off Times Square.  Famous for their cheesecake, they also offer authentic New York Jewish deli food, such as matzo ball soup, and pastrami on rye, but save room for a slice of their mile high cheesecake.  Junior’s also has a kid-friendly menu with burgers, ribs, and grilled cheese.  The cheesecake was exactly as I remembered, dense and creamy with sweet-tart flavor.  Delicious!

9/11 Memorial and Museum

Ten Things to Do in New York City in 36 Hours 4

Photo by Nick Cohn

The attacks were one of the main reasons I stayed away from New York so long.  I loved New York and still felt such sadness for the tragedy, but knew I had to take my son to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum while we were here. Although visiting was very emotional, I am so glad we made the time to come.  In the 15 years since 9/11, New York has done a good job of re-building, but we could still see remnants of the devastation caused to surrounding buildings.

911 Memorial & Museum 4

The memorial is a set of twin reflecting pools built into the footprint of the twin towers, a solemn yet breathtaking tribute to the lives lost and sacrifices made.  The names of each person who died in both the 1993 and 2001 twin tower attacks is inscribed on the bronze panels surrounding the pools.  The museum located inside underneath the reflecting pools, offers very detailed accounts of not only the attacks on the twin towers but also the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA attacks.

911 Memorial & Museum 3

Although I watched extensive coverage on television over the years, there were so many more details available at the museum of that day and the days after.  Pieces of the buildings, damaged fire trucks, and even shoes and clothing are displayed on exhibit.  I found these displays comforting and appreciated that the museum honored those who died (and their families) with careful consideration and without being sensationalistic.  The museum and memorial were a true testament to the strength of the people of New York, and I was honored that my son and I could visit and pay our respects.  Note: Just as with the MET, when we showed CityPASS tickets and were admitted quickly.

Shake Shack

Shake Shack

Although I like a good cheeseburger now and then, it was not on my to-do list when we went to New York.  Still, my son tried Shake Shack while on a trip to DC. so insisted we go.  Oh boy.  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!  On the west coast we have In-N-Out Burger, but New York City based Shake Shack is the bomb!  Shake Shake makes everything fresh, so you get a juicy 100% all natural beef burger with the fixings, and what a burger it was!  Shake Shack is 1000% better than In-N-Out!  It didn’t hurt that Shake Shack carries the famous Stumptown cold brew coffee and shake. The fries?  Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, of course.  Shake Shack has about 18 locations in the New York metro area, and several locations around the country.

Times Square

Tony DiNapoli 8Times Square 2

In the twenty years since I was last in New York, Times Square has cleaned up, and is much more family friendly.   Popular shops and restaurants line the streets of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, jam-packed with tourists, tour buses, and dress-up characters. The crowds can get a bit much, but the spectacle that is Times Square is something to witness in person, especially at night, when the billboards and lights dazzle bright.  Note:  There are now designated zones in Times Square for the costumed characters, and they must remain in those areas. Visitors are not required to take photos with the characters, so do not let them get too pushy, but If you request a photo with a character, tipping is recommended.

Tony Di Napoli’s

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When I heard Tony DiNapoli’s was right off Times Square, I immediately thought “tourist trap”, but my son chose the restaurant, so I begrudgingly went along.  Was I ever wrong!  Though just a few steps off Time Square, Tony DiNapoli’s is a different breed from the glitter and bustle of the busy streets outside.  There is a definite Broadway vibe to the restaurant, but it is more sophisticated than the typical Times Square eatery.  Caricatures of famous Broadway stars frame the walls, many of them signed by the stars themselves, but the decor is elegant and fun.

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White linen topped tables dot a spacious open room of with dark wood paneling, Grecian columns, and sparkling chandeliers. Leather trimmed booths are tucked in the corners for cozy dining, and long tables host large parties.  Friendly servers scurry about, serving humongous plates of authentic spaghetti and lasagna, refilling wine glasses, and offering decadent dessert options.  Tony DiNapoli’s is perfect for a business dinner or large family gathering, and the huge traditional Italian dishes are meant to be shared, so bring your appetite.  My son and I shared a meatball appetizer and a Chicken Parmesan entree, and we still had enough food for two other people!   By the way…the food?  Delizioso!

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Photo by Nick Cohn

Ten Things to Do in New York City in 36 Hours

It is not only possible to see New York City in 36 hours, but you will have fun and eat well too!  What places would you see if you had 36 hours?  If you want to see upstate New York, be sure to check out my Eight Reasons to Love Upstate New York in the Autumn (it is gorgeous!)

The New York CityPASS is $116 for adults (18+)  and $92 for youth (6-17).  Each CityPASS includes a choice of six attractions in a nine (9) day period.  CityPASS can email your tickets or ship them to your hotel, whichever is more convenient.  For more information, visit CityPASS on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.


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