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How to Spend a Layover in New York City

Got a layover in JFK and want to make the most of it? Enjoy The Big Apple's main tourist sites and then get back to JFK in time. See this guide for JFK Airport to make your journey smooth and hassle free. 

 

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  • Empire State Building

    The empire state building standing taller than the other skyscrapers around it with a purple sky behind it
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    Via History

    To begin a layover in New York, and to get a sense of how big the city is, why not go all the way to the top? The Empire State Building has a 360 degree views of the city and is an American icon (remember when King Kong decided to climb it?). Located in Midtown Manhattan, the Empire State building is conveniently close to everything and definitely one of the must-do's in New York. 

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain from JFK to Jamaica Station, then change to the Ronkonkoma Line heading towards Penn Station. Alight at Pennsylvania Station and walk two minutes to West 34 St and 7th Avenue, and catch the M34A-SBS Bus towards Select Bus Waterside Via 34 St Via 2 Av. Get off at East 34 St and 5th Avenue, walk one minute and you're there. This trip will take an hour and will cost around $10.50. 

    How long to spend there: Depending on the time of day, it could take anywhere between one and four hours (the lines get very long). 

    Cost: $$-$$$ - Standard adult tickets for the main deck (86th floor) are $52. 

    Best time to go: Lines are shortest in the morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Avoid lunch times. 

    Google Maps, MTA Trip Planner and CityMapper are all useful apps for navigating New York with public transport. 


  • Times Square

    A view of times square from above street level at night, with illuminated billboards and moving cars and people
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    Via Wired

    Times Square: one of the most iconic places in the world. Appearing in countless movies, Times Square is also one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the world (on some days, up to 460,000 people walk through it). Times Square is at the heart of the Broadway Theater district, so there's plenty to do there. Sitting on a bench and people-watching is also as much fun as anything else. Watch out for the (nearly) naked cowboy

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station. Get off and walk two minutes to the Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue / JFK Station, and catch the E line subway (going towards World Trade Center). Alight at 7th Avenue Station and walk six minutes to Times Square. Getting there will take around an hour and will cost around $7.75. 

    How long to spend there: 30 minutes to 2 hours. 

    Cost: Free, but the advertising billboards are very convincing. 

    Best time to go: Times Square is busiest at 5:30 p.m. when commuters are making their way home. If you want to avoid the crowds, go there mid-morning or in the evening. 


  • Brooklyn Bridge

    a view of Brooklyn Bridge from the center of the bridge looking towards Manhattan
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    The best travel destinations are those that tourists and locals alike love, and Brooklyn Bridge is one of them. Technically, it's not so much a landmark as it is a functional part of the city, but nonetheless walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most New York things one can do in New York. The bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, but walking towards the Manhattan skyline is where the stunning views are at (that's why the directions below take you from the Brooklyn side). Don't forget to take some pictures. 

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Howard Beach Station and transfer to the A line going towards Inwood. Get off at High St/Brooklyn Bridge Station and walk six minutes to the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn side. This journey should take just over an hour and will cost around $7.75. 

    How long to spend there: It takes about 30 minutes to walk across the bridge, plus extra time for taking candid walking-casually-on-a-bridge photos. 

    Cost: Free, but if anyone tries to sell the bridge to you (like George C. Parker did to many unassuming punters), it's a scam! 

    Best time to go: Sunset is particularly beautiful.  


  • Central Park

    an aerial view of Central Park, with buildings surrounding the green rectangle of the park
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    Via Archinect

    Ah, Central Park. The most famous park in the world. Situated bang in the middle of Manhattan, Central Park is huge. One could easily spend a day exploring what the park has to offer, which includes manicured gardens, fountains, memorials, lakes, yoga classes, free Shakespeare plays, horse carriage rides, boat rides, bike rentals, concerts and a zoo. Check out everything to do the Central Park webiste, and make use of this interactive map. It is recommended to focus on one area of the park, rather than trying to see the whole thing in one go. 

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station. Get off and walk two minutes to the Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue/JFK Station, and catch the E line subway (going towards World Trade Center). Alight at 7th Avenue Station and walk nine minutes to arrive at the southern end of the park. Getting there will take around an hour and cost aroundn $7.75. 

    This is the same route passengers take to get to Times Square; both are within a few minutes walk of each other. Kill two birds with one stone and see Times Square and Central Park in a day. 

    How long to spend there: It's up to you. You could spend an hour or a day there. 

    Cost: $-$$$ - Entry is free but the activities in the park can cost up to a few hundred dollars. 

    Best time to go: Anytime, especially when the weather is good. 


  • Metropolitan Museum of Art

    the outside of the MET museum and the fountain in front of it, with people walking in the distance
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    Via Tiquets

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art , or 'MET' museum, is an absolute MUST for art-lovers. With over 2 million artworks, it is the largest art museum in America, and documents 5000 years of art history from Leonardo DaVinci to Gucci. It also hosts some of the coolest celebrity events of the year (hello MET Gala). For more information about its exhibitions and access, have a look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station. Get off and walk two minutes to the Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue/JFK Station, and catch the E line subway (going towards World Trade Center). Get off at 5th Avenue/53rd St Station and walk two minutes to Madison Avenue/East 53rd St. Catch the M2 bus towards Washington HTS BWAY 168 St via Madison and get off at Madison Avenue/East 83rd St. Walk three minutes to arrive. This journey takes around an hour and 20 minutes and costs around $10.50. 

    How long to spend there: 3-4 hours is the average time most people spend there, but it depends on how much of an art-lover they are. 

    Cost: $-$$ - General admission for adults is $25.

    Best time to go: Seven days a week, from 10 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. on Sunday to Thursday, and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Go during the week to avoid crowds on the weekend.


  • Rockaway Beach

    beachgoers and beach umbrellas sprinkle the sand with blue water in the background
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    Via Thrillist

    Beaches always promise a good time. Rockaway Beach is no exception, especially for those who've been sitting inside a big metal freezer (in other words, an airplane) for the past ten hours. Located in the Queens, Rockaway Beach is the biggest urban beach in the USA and also the only one to legalize surfing. Rockaway Beach sits beside a 5.5 mile-long boardwalk and is surrounded by quirky cafes, boutique shops, restaurants, bars, and exquisite street food, so there's much more to do than reading a book on the beach - although that is also an excellent way to spend time. Thrillist has a great article about the best restaurants near Rockaway beach

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Howard Beach Station and transfer to the A line subway heading towards Far Rockaway/Mott Avenue. Get off at Broad Channel Station and switch to the S line going to Rockaway Park/Beach 116 St. Alight at Beach 90 Street Holland and walk five minutes to the beach. Drop everything and jump into the water. This trip will take 45 minutes to an hour and will cost around $10.50. 

    How long to spend there: However long you can endure beach fun in the sun (forever?).

    Cost: $-$$ - Entrance to the beach is free, but it'll be hard to resist the temptation of the cafes, food trucks and bars surrounding the beach. Prepare to spend money on lunch and a drink. 

    Best time to go: Anytime, but it's especially nice when the sun is shining. If you want to avoid the crowds, don't go there during lunch time. 


  • Queens Night Market (Saturday evening)

    an aerial view of red tents and crowds of people at the Queens Night Market
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    Those with layovers on Saturday nights are in for a real treat. The Queens Night Market is one of the biggest events on the New York food scene, and it takes place every Saturday night. It hosts up to 10,000 people (is there anything more uniting than food?). With around 100 vendors representing food from 80 countries, hungry people are spoiled for choice. To make it even better, just about every dish costs $5 (with the exception of a few $6 meals). For those who like eating, this is a definite must in New York. For more information about the market, visit the Queens Night Market website

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station. Get off and walk two minutes to the Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue/JFK Station, and catch the E line subway (going towards World Trade Center). Get off at Forest Hills/71st Avenue and walk one minute to 71st Avenue/Queens Boulevard. Catch the Q23 bus towards East Elmhurst Ditmars BL via 108 St and get off at 108 St/49th Avenue. Walk 8 minutes and follow the smell. It will take around one hour and 10 minutes to arrive. 

    How long to spend there: However long it takes to choose a meal from the endless options and devour it. 

    Cost: $ - Entry is free, but meals cost $5 - $6. 

    Best time to go: 5 p.m. - midnight every Saturday. 


  • Chinatown

    a scene of Chinatown in New York taken from street-level, showing many signs in Chinese, pedestrians walking and cars driving in the narrow street
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    One of the best things about New York is its multiculturalism, and a trip to New York wouldn't be complete without visiting Chinatown. New York's Chinatown is THE place for low-priced, highly-delicious Chinese food, the weirdest souvenirs one could wish for, and as many fake designer handbags as one's arms can carry. There are also Karaoke bars and acupuncture masters to soothe a weary traveler's soul. Chinatown has it all. 

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain to Howard Beach Station and transfer to the A line going towards Inwood/207th St and get off at Fulton St subway station. Walk three minutes to Park Row/Beekman St and catch the M103 bus towards East Harlem 125 St via 3rd Avenue. Get off at Bowery/Bayard St and walk three minutes. This trip should take around an hour and 20 minutes and cost $10.50. 

    How long to spend there: Enough time to eat a meal, buy some souvenirs and have a stroll around the streets - 2 to 3 hours should do. 

    Cost: Free entry, but it's hard to resist the many cheap things Chinatown offers. 

    Best time to go: Chinatown gets busy during lunchtime, so if you don't love crowds, go in the morning or afternoon when the neon signs start to light up. 


  • The Statue of Liberty

    the Statue of Liberty stands in the center of the photo with the blue water below and blue sky above
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    The Statue of Liberty is the most well-known symbol of New York. The big lady, who is originally French and weighs 204.1 tonnes, is a representative freedom, and in recent years has become a star of pop culture - she's in a huge number of films. She IS America. For all of these reasons, seeing Lady Liberty is a very worthwhile thing to do in New York. She's on an island called Liberty Island (there are free tours there), but the museums are on Ellis Island (very nearby). 

    How to get there: Take the AirTrain from JFK to Jamaica Station, then change to the Port Jefferson line going towards Penn Station. Get off at Pennsylvania station and enter the 34th St/Penn Station, boarding the 3 line towards New Lots Avenue. Get off at the Wall Street Station and walk about seven minutes to the pier or to Battery Park (depending on where the ferry is departing from). This journey should take 1.5 to 2 hours. This journey (not including the ferry cost, which is listed below) costs around $10.50. 

    Cost and tickets: $-$$ - According to Liberty Ellis Foundation and the National Park Service website, tourists must purchase their tickets through Statue Cruises, for all other vendors are unauthorized. Adult tickets to the pedestal (the bottom of the statue) are $18.50 and tickets to the crown are $21.50. It's best to reserve tickets in advance. The ferries depart from either New York or New Jersey, so passengers should double check their tickets to make sure they're in the right spot. 

    How long to spend there: Trips to Liberty Island take around 3 hours (not including getting from and to the airport). However, a trip to Liberty Island and Ellis Island will take 4-5 hours, possibly more if there are queues. 

    Best time to go: Open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, the ferries operate between 8:30 a.m. and 5:45/6:45 p.m. The queues are shortest in the morning and the sun can get hot in the middle of the day (remember to bring sunscreen and a hat as there isn't much shade). 


  • Sightseeing Tours

    A red bus with 'New York Sightseeing' written on the side drives through the city, with pedestrians walking around it.
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    New York City has it all, and deciding what to see on a layover can be exhausting. Luckily, there are literally hundreds of tour companies to choose from, which offer a range of different tours. For people on a layover, a one-day ticket is usually best. 

    For those who want to see and do the many attractions in New York, the New York Pass is the best option. At $134 for adults, the one-day pass includes free entry to many of the landmarks in New York such as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park bike tours and much more.

    For those who prefer to just see the city, companies like City Sightseeing New York offer one-day passes for bus tours around the city, as well as boat tours. There are also tour companies that curate tours specially for particular activities. Trip Advisor rates and provides reviews for its tours, and is a great resource for choosing a tour in New York. 

    In addition, there are also pay-what-you-wish walking tours by Free Tours By Foot, bus tours (have a look at Free Tours By Foot's breakdown of bus tours in New York) and tours specific to the attraction such as Central Park Pedicab Tours (who said you have to walk?).

    How to get there: Each tour begins in a different place. Check on the tour website or call the company to find out where to go. Follow the directions for one of the above attractions, or use a navigation app like Google Maps to get into the city from JFK Airport. 

    How long to spend there: Each tour will run for a different amount of time. Contact the tour company to find out how long the tour will be. 

    Cost: $-$$ - Tour tickets can start around $15 and to up to $150 

    Best time to go: It depends on the type of tour. Try to go to landmarks at the quiet times of day (avoid lunch time) to bypass the queues. For walking tours, go in the morning or afternoon the the sun isn't too harsh. 


  • Leaving New York

    a person pulls a slice of fresh pizza from a full pizza with the cheese melting
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    After a few hours or a day in New York, make sure to sustain the body and mind with some classic New York Food. Try a bagel from Russ and Daughters, a huge $1 slice of pizza from 2 Bros. Pizza or the city's best cup of coffee at Abraco. Check out Culture Trip's List of Essential New York Food for more ideas. When one's belly and camera SD card are full, you can be sure that it's been a good day. 

    Now, don't forget that flight out of New York. Remember how to get back to JFK Airport? 

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