Is an hour long enough to tour Manhatten?
December 25, 2019 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I will have a 5 hour stopover in Newark Airport (EWR) this Friday, Dec 27, from 3pm to 8pm, with two kids (11 and 13) in tow. I want to surprise them with a whirlwind experience in Manhattan at Christmas time so they can see how spontaneous and carefree I am. I am neither carefree or spontaneous. Is this possible in reality and do you have any tips?

I have been to New York several times, so yes I know the scope and scale of the city and understand the scope of the city and the absurdity of my title question. The goal would be for just one "WOW" moment for them. My original thought was a tour to the top of the Empire State Building which is close to Penn Station and offers premium tickets to skip the line. However, recently one of the kids asked about the tree at Rockefeller Center, so perhaps a trip there would be better.

Current plan would be to take the AirTrain to the train station at the airport, drop 2 carry on bags at baggage storage, and take the train in to Penn Station. It seems like the baggage storage places are at Newark Penn Station and not at the Airport Station which would require an extra stop. Is this correct? Is there any local storage at the airport?
If all goes well, I think we could arrive at Penn Station in Manhattan around 4pm. We would then walk down 34th St past the Empire State Building and then up 5th Ave to Rockefeller Center. Five long minutes of awe and amazement, then walk back on Park Ave, bypassing through Grand Central Terminal, then back to Penn Station for the train back to pick up our bags and proceed to the airport. Ideally we would like to be back at the airport at 6pm.

The train seems to be the quickest and least likely method of transport to be delayed, but is there a better way? I see the train is delayed at times, but mostly in the summer for construction. How crazy is the plan?
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Getting from Newark into Manhattan is a real hassle in my experience. Like, you might be able to do it in time, but it will not be an especially fun or carefree experience — it will be a lot of sitting in traffic in a cab or shuttle, or hopping between different busy and overwhelming train systems. It's more likely to be worth it if your kids are transit nerds and would find the Airtrain–NJ Transit–Penn Station situation interesting rather than just stressful.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:35 PM on December 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am in a room with three other adults and a teenager, one of whom lives in NJ and commutes to Manhattan via train every day and another who commutes within NJ on the train.

All of us say this plan will not work. Public transit is not this reliable and you're likely to spend whatever time you end up having in Manhattan being stressed about getting back to the airport. More specifically, getting from Newark airport to Penn Station in an hour is highly unlikely, especially with an extra stop to store your bags.

We advise against it. Maybe hit the CBGB restaurant? Eh, maybe not.
posted by underthehat at 5:40 PM on December 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is admirable! But also bananapants crazy. I took four 12 year olds to Manhattan during this week last year and the walk from Bryant Park (40th) to Rockefeller Center took an hour— extremely crowded the whole way, but an absolutely solid mass of people from 45th on. Definitely would not do this with the pressure of making a flight hanging over me.

If you try it anyway, make sure people in your party are wearing distinctive hats so you can pick them out of the crowd. The crush around Rock Center is no joke— we were separated from each other even while holding hands, and everyone is wearing those knit caps with the fur pompoms and grey/black puffer coats.
posted by apparently at 5:41 PM on December 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: No, this is not enough time.
posted by sallybrown at 5:42 PM on December 25, 2019

Best answer: Going to Manhattan would be bananapants crazy, for sure.

Getting from Newark Airport to Jersey City and back seems like it might fit into your time frame -- from the Exchange Place PATH station you can walk along the waterfront and have a great view of the Manhattan skyline and maybe see the Statue of Liberty (I forget if it's visible from there or if you have to be further down towards Liberty State Park). But you'd be getting into the crunch of rush hour getting back, and I have no advice on bag storage, and the PATH is often sucktacular, so, I don't know if it's worth the risk.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:05 PM on December 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If perchance you have no budget limits, there are several helicopter options between Newark and Manhattan. Or you could just charter a helicopter tour around Manhattan and back to Newark. Just google for options and build any experiences around the Manhattan landing location.
posted by beagle at 6:13 PM on December 25, 2019 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Does your flight land at 3, meaning you'd need some of the time just to get off the plane? I also don't think it's possible, unfortunately, though I've taken the airport express shuttle bus from Newark to midtown in ~1 hour...and perhaps you could buy tickets back to the airport, so you just ride the shuttle into Manhattan, look out the window, and ride back?
posted by pinochiette at 6:14 PM on December 25, 2019

Best answer: This plan is crazy, unfortunately. It’s going to take you longer than an hour to get into town and back, especially with an extra stop at Newark Penn for the bags. Having a fun meal or even a visit to the airport hotel could also be fun and won’t make you miss your flight!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:36 PM on December 25, 2019

Best answer: I also agree this is not enough time for what you propose, especially if you're going to Newark Penn Station for luggage storage.

One issue is that the NJ Transit schedule is somewhat irregular. For trains to Manhattan, there's a 3:05, a 3:13, and then nothing until 3:43 and 3:48. The AirTrain at Newark is slow, and particularly if you're going to go out of the way to Newark Penn Station first, finding the luggage storage place, dealing with the storage, getting train tickets (there's an app, which helps), getting on another train, an hour is just not a realistic estimate from your flight landing to standing in Manhattan, even assuming your flight is on time, it's not an international arrival, etc...

Once you're in Manhattan, Google puts the walk you propose at 1.3 miles/26 minutes each way. While you can walk on 6th and try to walk like a local for added speed, with two kids and needing to stay together, the desire to generally look around while walking, and the huge crowds at Rockefeller Center, it will take longer.

On the way back, it's the same thing, plus it will be rush hour, reversing the luggage storage operation, holiday security lines at the airport, etc... Plus the extra time that comes from not having everything scheduled down to the minute: someone will need to go to the bathroom at some point during these five hours; orienting yourself and finding the right train platforms takes a bit; walking while keeping track of two kids and looking at a map and trying to check train schedules on your phone is difficult; and so on. Without the luggage storage or the 3 mile walk through Manhattan, and if you're already familiar with the transit involved and what's required, it would mayyyyybe be merely crazy to take the train in, look up, perhaps a quick look at Times Square if you're cognizant of the train schedule, and take the train back, but generally stressful, risky, and difficult for very little reward, and I say that as someone who likes doing weird quick trips of this nature that others find ridiculous. Add in the extra complications here, and nope.
posted by zachlipton at 6:47 PM on December 25, 2019

Best answer: no chance, sorry. one winter holiday season i sat in standstill traffic on the way from manhattan to ewr. i watched in dismay as the 3 extra hours i had budgeted for travel burned up. ended up running through security and to the gate and i was the last one on the plane — and this was an international flight, which have a sliiiightly higher probability of waiting for late passengers. during the holidays nyc transit cannot be predicted, to say nothing of adverse weather. suppose a snow squall hits (just happened last week), it can severely delay transit options.

all that said, 1 hour isn’t enough to see much other than the subway (not much of a sight). i suggest planning a trip to nyc which isn’t during a holiday rush if at all possible.

p.s. i have a weekly appointment in midtown. i walking to it last week and noticed that the usual throng of people had somehow tripled in density. realized quickly enough that it was all holiday season tourism. which is to say, the crowds can intensify weeks before and after the holidays. if you come during a holiday season, plan sightseeing on a different day from your travel.
posted by =d.b= at 7:00 PM on December 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers. They all confirmed what I was expecting to hear. If our return flight gets delayed at all we will probably have to overnight on Newark, which would give them a shot at seeing a few things. For what it is worth, my wife and I had a 14 hour layover in LaGuardia a few years which resulted in a fun 5 hour tour of Manhattan and still a decent amount of sleep at a hotel. The transportation went pretty well on that trip, but it was late July. We will plan a trip to New York City sometime, but not this week.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 8:39 PM on December 25, 2019

Yep came here to say what snickerdoodle said. You could/should take a very cheap taxi to newark penn station (under 20 bucks) and take everyone via PATH train to WTC. The oculus is a fancy mall but impressive enough and then you’re literally across the street from the observatory at one world trade. PATH should be on a regular weekday schedule tomorrow.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:37 AM on December 26, 2019

For kids that age it often isn’t the mainstream tourism places they are interested in. They want the more personalised/quirky impactful places. Have a look on atlas obscura and instagram for places near the Newark Airport that involve art, urban legends, pop-up experiences etc.
posted by saucysault at 4:58 AM on December 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

Another option: From Newark you could stay on the NJ side of the Hudson and head to Hoboken or Jersey City or Weehawken to admire views of the Manhattan skyline. You could even grab a ferry ride before heading back to the airport. Probably more wow in terms of scenery than being on the street in Manhattan.
posted by 6thsense at 9:23 AM on December 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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