This post is part of our month-long European trip from last August. Check here for our whole trip!
In planning our adventure, we found ourselves with a 14 hour layover at JFK. Rather than spend our first day of vacation bumming around an airport, we grabbed our bags and headed into New York City for a day of exploring!
If you find yourself with a long enough layover to head into the city, your best bet is to prioritize. Choose one thing you really want to do and plan everything else around that! Think geographically too: if you’re relying on the subway and hauling around bags, you probably don’t want to try to squeeze the Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium in the same day.
Since we only had a little time, we decided to prioritize the 9/11 Museum. I visited NYC in 2005 and have a clear memory of Ground Zero. The amount of rubble still scattered was shocking. Nearby buildings were draped in tarps, keeping debris and dust in while they focused on the original site.
Take your time through the museum. We spent a solemn three hours here and could have spent more. The timeline exhibit had an unexpected level of detail: individual stories, sound bytes, detritus from the day. The small details completed the broad strokes of bigger pieces. Steel beams bent at impossible angles. A mangled fire truck. The semi-intact steps most survivors fled down.
The memorial fountain is beautiful. It’s simple but setting it below ground lends a small sence of what was destroyed architecturally: a hole remains where the towers used to stand.
The whole experience is … sobering. It’s such a unique moment in our history as a nation, and it feels so comparatively fresh in our collective memory. There is hope, too: seeing the ways people commemorated the day on display, or stories of both emergency personnel and average citizens responding with courage and kindness to those who needed help. On such a dark day in our history, it’s beautiful to remember that we are capable of such love for others.
If you’re visiting New York City, this is definitely something worth seeing. You can book timed entry, which I recommend.
Quieted, we moved in search of lunch to give us a chance to reflect on the museum before switching into a lighter gear.
I confess that most of my pre-trip went towards Europe, so we winged most of our day post museum. A quick look at Yelp showed some interesting restaurant options a few blocks over, so we wandering in the rain until we found what turned out to be a mall food court. But don’t be misled: this is the nicest food court (and nicest mall) I’ve ever seen. Most of the options were high-class fast casual places, complete with juice bars and espresso carts. We ended up splitting an Umami burger (beer cheese, bacon lardons, onion strings and their signature umami ketchup) and General Tso’s dumplings from Northern Tiger. Both were so good! I’d heard legend of Umami and it definitely lived up to the hype.
After our respite, we headed outside to find the rain had let up! It was Logan’s first time to NYC, so naturally we had to see a few of the big sites. We meandered past Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rock, St. Patrick’s and Times Square before heading into Central Park. Central Park has got to be one of the best people watching spots in the world: dancers, couples, students and tourists all spending their afternoon outside!
Tuckered out and needing to get off our feet for a few hours, we headed to an Irish pub. I’m sure we looked a bit odd – clearly tourists with backpacks, eating fries and reading books. We’d been up since 2:45am, so give us a break. 😉
After our recharge, we gathered ourselves up and headed back to JFK. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to the airport! You never know when the subway will have a closure and you end up taking the long way round, like us. We still made it with plenty of time and happily climbed on the redeye to Paris, asleep before the plane left the ground!
New York City has SO MUCH to do, and you can barely scratch the surface in one layover! What are your must-do’s on a day in NYC?
Opinions are my own and I didn’t receive compensation for my writing. The links above contain affiliate links, which means I get a few cents (at no extra cost to you) if you book or buy something via that link. This helps me keep costs down and posts up! All images copyright Teaspoon of Nose.