How do I kill a Friday morning in NYC?
June 22, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

What can I do for fun in NYC around Grand Central Station on a Friday morning?

I'm attending a wedding in New York state this weekend, and I'm taking the red eye from Denver to Newark in order to get there. I get into Newark around 5 a.m., and then plan to take the Olympia Trails bus to Grand Central Station, but don't actually need to take the Metro-North train to my final destination until around 1 p.m.

Originally, I had plans to meet up with a friend for breakfast, but they just had to cancel. Now I'm wondering -- what would be a worthwhile, interesting, or fun use of my time that morning in the area around Grand Central Station?

Any suggestions for a good place to eat breakfast, or sit with my laptop, or even an interesting or unusual place to visit or something that might help me while away the hours before I travel north?

(I will have luggage, but as I'm a light traveler, it won't be much.)
posted by heurtebise to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
GC has self guided audio tours and it is right by the NYPL main branch which is an awesome place to sit with your laptop. If you'd rather be outside, Bryant park is right there, with WiFi.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:11 PM on June 22, 2011

Bryant park also has a outdoor reading room now where they have books and papers you can borrow. Its a short walk from Grand Central (and right behind the library).
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:19 PM on June 22, 2011

The aforementioned library also has the original Winnie the Pooh toys on display in a case. Also near Grand Central is ICP (photography museum), Morgan Library (papers, letters, historic building and cafe), and Kinokuniya Japanese bookstore (and cafe). Most of these won't open till 9 or later; you'll want a leisurely breakfast.
posted by xo at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2011

I get into Newark around 5 a.m., and then plan to take the Olympia Trails bus to Grand Central Station, but don't actually need to take the Metro-North train to my final destination until around 1 p.m.

This is not the optimal way to get into New York from Newark Airport.

From the airport you should take the AirTrain to the Newark Airport New Jersey Transit station. From there get a train into Penn Station. You now have the morning to stroll about Manhattan at your leisure. Penn Station and Grand Central are in easy walking distance from each other, and if you get tired or lose track of time there are numerous bus and subway connections between the two.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Worthwhile stopping points include:

the Flower District along 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues if you arrive extra early.

Rockefeller Center (48th-50th streets roughly between 6th and 5th) is lovely on a weekday morning. You could check out a taping of the Today Show if that's your thing, but honestly watching the commuters drift in is also pretty cool.

The aforementioned NYPL and Bryant Park.

Grand Central itself. The main terminal is somewhere I always take friends and family who come to visit in New York. It's so beautiful and grand. I also love to point out that, even though most people there are alone or in small groups and not really talking loud or anything, the noise is deafening. Acoustics. Yay.

The original gigantic Macy's, if you're into that.

The Empire State Building, which you should at least admire from a distance. Ditto for the Chrysler Building.

If you end up super early and have lots of time to kill, check out the High Line park. It's a little further afield in Chelsea/the Meat Packing District, but it's either a quick hop on the subway or a very cheap cab ride, depending on what you're more comfortable with.

Shit, if you're not familiar with New York, take the subway somewhere or a yellow cab. That's a quintessential New York experience right there.

Get lunch somewhere interesting. This is not really tourist-worthy, but 6th ave from the 20's through the 50's helped to spawn New York's current food truck trend. On any given day you'll find everything from bratwurst to potstickers with creme brulee for dessert. There's also a pretty interesting food hall inside Grand Central if you want to buy a picnic lunch for the train. The restaurants in this part of town are a little less interesting, but I'm sure someone will come along with a great recommendation.
posted by Sara C. at 6:41 PM on June 22, 2011

Sorry for the triple post, but for breakfast: an everything bagel with cream cheese (and maybe lox, if you dig smoked salmon). There are lots of delis with seating areas, but you could also get it to go and eat while you stroll, or grab a bench at any of the parks and plazas that have been mentioned.
posted by Sara C. at 6:46 PM on June 22, 2011

It is Grand Central Terminal, not Grand Central Station. Unlike Penn Station, trains terminate at Grand Central...


For the few hours, you can

a) go from GCT to exploring Fifth avenue's beautiful shop windows

b) turn left at the Fifth avenue Apple Store for Central Park South to smell the *wonderful* horse shit

c) Reach Columbus Circle, head north on Broadway towards the Lincoln Center. Go on the grassy patch, lie down and read something...

d) Go back on Broadway and head south towards Time Square and mingle with other tourists

e) Turn left at 42nd street and walk by Bryant Park towards Grand Central Terminal to catch your train.

Yay! :)
posted by jchaw at 6:50 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you're not getting from NJ to Manhattan the best way. GC is nice to check out, Penn (the other commuter station) used to be gorgeous, but they tore and down and built MSG :( Don't worry about looking around, there's nothing to see.

Really, you've got several hours to hang around Manhattan, you can easily check out anything you wanted, provided you are OK with getting on a subway (something you should do anyhow) before heading to Grand Central (which is a brisk 17 minute walk away).
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:52 PM on June 22, 2011

Bus is fine, and cheaper. No reason to go into Penn unless you want to be on the west side.

Along with the other suggestions above - Japan Society is also near GCT at 47th and 1st. Some fun stuff going on. Gabarron Foundation is nearby as is Scandinavia House (38th and Park). Bryant Prk is great for people watching and there's a ton of food choices in the park and immediate vicinity
posted by TravellingCari at 7:03 PM on June 22, 2011

Bryant Park and the NYPL over there have free, good Wi-Fi. The NYPL is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and there are all sorts of wonderful programs to celebrate going on. This particular branch has many artifacts and historical papers that are really worth checking out.

Here's the Centennial mini site. The Find the Future game is a nice way to introduce you to some of these artifacts and special treasures of the collection. I was one of 500 people selected to participate in the kickoff event last month, and it's really worth seeing.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:11 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone! I've been to NYC a bunch of times, but for some reason, this sudden change in plans + the fact that it's the early-ish morning was throwing off my usual sense of what to do and when, but now I have plenty of ideas...

(Re, the bus - my original plan was to take the AirTrain/Penn Station route, but the person I was to meet was all NO NO TAKE THE BUS. I may rethink that now.)
posted by heurtebise at 7:23 PM on June 22, 2011

If you're jetting directly to Grand Central to meet someone for breakfast, then sure, the bus makes sense. If you have 6-7 hours to see the city that extra mile and change between Penn Station and Grand Central isn't going to make a difference and might inspire you to see a little more of the city.
posted by Sara C. at 7:30 PM on June 22, 2011

The aforementioned library also has the original Winnie the Pooh toys on display in a case.

Aren't these at the Donnell library? Regardless, the main library is fun to explore.

Seconding the bagel with cream cheese! If you end up going down to the high line, pick one up at Murray's Bagels on 8th avenue and 23rd street. They're among the best in the city (and I know that's a hefty claim in NYC.)
posted by one little who at 7:49 PM on June 22, 2011

A specific suggestion—the area around Grand Central is perfect for a cluster of Japanese restaurants (due to expatriate clientele), and is perfect for a nice but not expensive lunch:
- Onya has hands-down the best udon in the city. It is handmade and the broths are intensely flavorful.
- aburia kinnosuke serves Japanese-style set lunches. Very authentic and carefully cooked. Very nice ingredients—very good quality fish and beef.
- Cafe Zaiya is a very small bakery (with seating). It's very popular, they have all sorts of stuff for breakfast and lunch. For lunch they have combos such as fried pork cutlet with curry sauce and a side of salmon roe steamed rice.
- For something more upscale there's Sushi Yasuda; however the above three places are already good quality dining, excellent deals.
posted by polymodus at 7:55 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cupcakes for breakfast.
posted by effigy at 8:02 PM on June 22, 2011

There's a really awesome Japanese bookstore around Bryant Park called Kinokuniya. They have a bunch of English and Japanese language books, DVDs,'s amazing.
posted by inturnaround at 8:27 PM on June 22, 2011

Are you a fan of fashion? The Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met is wonderful. There have been reports of long lines but if you get there right before opening at 9:30am you should be OK.
posted by kathryn at 9:20 PM on June 22, 2011

Aren't these at the Donnell library? Regardless, the main library is fun to explore.

Nope, they're at Schwarzman. Downstairs in the children's room. Still holding up, though they added that new otter from the recent series in the case and it looks out of place.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:28 PM on June 22, 2011

Nope, they're at Schwarzman

Ah, whoops, I see they've moved. Guess I haven't seen them for a couple years. Thanks cmgonzalez
posted by one little who at 11:55 PM on June 22, 2011

My parents came to visit me a couple of months ago and we went to the Pompeii exhibit at the Discovery Times Square. I was reluctant to go - a museum exhibit in Times Square, wtf - but I was VERY pleasantly surprised. There was a good review in the Times about it.
posted by falameufilho at 6:09 AM on June 23, 2011

Grand Central Architecture tour!

If you can wait until 2:00 PM to leave, the free, 90-minute Grand Central Architecture Tour is fun and informative. It meets across the street from Grand Central at 12:30 PM every Friday. You'll also see and get to go into the (beautiful) lobby of the Chrysler Building.
posted by cnc at 12:50 PM on June 23, 2011

The McQueen exhibit at the Met was stunning but if you choose to do this, it'll probably be your only activity of the day. If there's a big line for tickets in the main entrance, consider using the group entrance to the lower right of the main entrance. It's not as pretty but it'll be faster. Food is expensive and sparse up there; though, so I'd eat; jump on the subway; look at the exhibit; hit the Greek statues, Egyptian wing, or arms and armory bits if I had time; get back on the subway; and eat again before getting on the second bus. I had a half-hour wait in the McQueen exhibit line but I don't know what it's like earlier. The exhibit was packed and it took me a bit over an hour to get through, but I'm the sort to read every placard.

The Museum of Art and Design in Columbus Circle has a creepy and fun exhibit called "Otherworldly." It boasts a ton of mesmerizing dioramas, a huge zoetrope, and other unsettling works. Great if you like feeling a little wigged out.

If you want to play it safe and stay near Grand Central, I'd third (fourth?) the New York Public Library centennial exhibit on the first floor. It's got a Gutenberg bible, Mary Shelley's lock of hair, Virginia Woolf's walking stick, a letter from Keats to Brawne, a handwritten score by Coltrane, Audobon's humongous book of birds, Malcolm X's personal effects, a draft of "The Wasteland," and more. I had to stop writing that sentence because I was getting all worked up and excited. The library opens at 10 a.m. It's all free and the humorously mangled--I mean well-loved--Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals are a floor below.

The International Center for Photography is only a few blocks away from Bryant Park and it has three excellent exhibits right now.

I can also send you a private message with an architecture walking tour that I made for myself if you are into that kind of thing. It's mostly focused on Art Deco but it has other styles as well.
posted by CCCC at 1:27 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to wrap this up:

I had less time in NYC than I thought, due to flight delays and changes in my schedule later in the day, but I did end having enough time to to the NYPL and looking at their centennial exhibits, and then drank coffee and read a book in Bryant Park -- a nice mini-vacation before a bunch of wedding stress. I'm going to spend a few days in NYC next week before I head back to Denver, so I'll probably end up using some of these other suggestions -- thanks again, everyone!
posted by heurtebise at 6:58 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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