You might think that taking a small child on holiday with you to New York City, would be a bad idea, but you’d be wrong. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in New York, but my time there has only been for myself or with my partner. So, when I recently visited New York for 8 days with my little person (she’s 7) whilst her Dad worked over there, it was a completely different experience. I got to see New York through different (little) eyes. It was just the two of us venturing around the Big Apple. With this experience I have compiled a list of tips and things you can do with young children in this crazy, but wonderful city. Look out for hyperlinks throughout this post for further information on each suggestion.
- Staten Island Ferry
So first thing’s first, get yourselves on this ferry. Why? First of all, it’s FREE. Yes you heard right. The first thing I’m offering up for you to do in NYC with your children won’t cost you a dime. Secondly, you get to see an amazing view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. When you get to Staten Island, many people just jump straight on to the next ferry back (you can’t stay on the one you’ve travelled over on), but I’d encourage you to take a few moments admiring the views over on Staten Island. We sat in the sun, not quite believing what we were looking at and got a ferry half an hour later. If you want to stay even longer and see a bit of the island, the Seaside Wildlife Nature Park (or Pirate Park as its locally known) is meant to be fantastic for kids.
The Staten Island ferry leaves every 30 mins, but is best to be avoided during rush hour as it is used by commuters. The nearest Subway Station is South Ferry- Whitehall St (1 train) and it is located near Battery Park, so you can have a wonder around there whilst you’re at it.
- One World Trade Center Observatory
Go to the top of the tallest building in the USA and the 6th tallest building in the world with your precious darlings, you say? Why yes. Yes I do. Honestly, mine didn’t bat an eyelid at the prospect of being so high up and being pelted up a building at high speed in a lift (elevator, sorry). It is all rather fabulous. The views of New York are fantastic, as you’d expect. The ride in the lift alone is great as the walls of the lift turn into video screens that show you how New York has developed over time. My daughter was fascinated by it. My top tip for you visiting here is PRE-BOOK YOUR TICKETS. You’ll avoid unnecessary long queues and you also get a slight discount buying them online. Under 5s are free, 6-12yr olds are $28 and 13-64yr olds are $34. You have to select a time to visit and arrive about 15mins prior to this time, but it will be worth it once you see the queues on arrival. Oh and it’ll definitely be worth it once you get to the top. There is of course the 9/11 memorial and museum nearby. Whilst we spent a short moment quietly at the memorial (my daughter asked if she could jump in to the flowing water. That was a firm “NO“), we didn’t visit the museum as I did not feel it appropriate to take my young child to. Older children would probably get a lot more out of it though. There are lots of Subway stations nearby to the One World Trade Center. You can find out which ones here.
- Central Park
You could easily spend a week just exploring Central Park alone with your kids. Not only do you have vast amounts of green space for them to run about and rocks to climb, there are 21 different playgrounds spread across the park. Each playground is unique. We played in the Heckscher Playground near the park entrance, mainly as it was the first one we came across, but also because it was a very hot & humid day and it features a maze-like structure with water features throughout. If you’re visiting NYC in the summer, playgrounds with water features or sprinklers will be a Godsend. However, if the green space and the 21 playgrounds aren’t enough to entertain your children, there’s the wonderful Central Park Zoo. It is a compact, but marvellous zoo that actually feels a bit magical. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it and every other second exclaimed “WOW” at everything she saw. Our particular favourites were the penguins and the seals that you can watch as they swim about under water. There’s also a Children’s Zoo that is included in the price of your ticket that is situated close to the main zoo. The zoo is quite reasonably priced especially if you don’t pay to view the 4D film. For myself and my daughter, it cost us a total of $19. If we’d wanted the price of the film included then our ticket price total would’ve gone up to $31.
And if you still need more entertainment for the kids in the park there’s also the lake to go boating on, an amusement park (in the summer), an ice rink (in the winter), the Alice in Wonderland statue that was designed for children to climb all over, fountains, a carousel and a flipping castle for goodness sake. I promise they will not be bored. There are toilets and cafes situated in several places in the park. You can buy $2 maps from several posts situated all over the park or you can pick up a free one from the many visitor centres there (or just download one from the website here). Considering Central Park is 2.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide (stretching from 57th street to 110th street), there are several Subways that you can get to the park, depending on whereabouts in the park you’re going.
1, 2, 3, B and C trains for the west side
4, 5, 6 trains for the east side
A, B, C, D, 1, N, R, and Q for the south side
- American Museum of Natural History
Or the Night at the Museum museum as we call it in our house. There is so much to see at this museum. You could easily spend two days exploring here. Obviously, one of the biggest hits with the kids are the plethora of dinosaurs (head straight to the 4th floor for those). There is also the African Mammals and Ocean Life exhibitions that my daughter loved. Not to mention The Mummies, primates, an Imax cinema and your ticket also includes entry to the Rose Centre for Earth & Space (where there’s a planetarium and everything). Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to go there (too much to see at the museum and not enough time). Oh and if you’re also fans of the Night at the Museum, “Dum-Dum” can be located on the 3rd floor in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific People. There are plenty of toilets and cafes throughout the museum and
lifts elevators to every floor. Tickets start from $22 (depending on what package you want) and you can buy them online. If you want to pay less, you’d have to buy your tickets at the museum. Nearest Subway station is 81st Street station, C & B trains.
- The High Line
Well it’s about time we took ourselves to another park, isn’t it? How about one that is off the ground? Like, up high? One that was once a freight rail line, but has now been transformed into a beautiful, public park for all to enjoy and meander around? How about the High Line? The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street (1.45 miles). It’s either accessible via stairs or at certain points via ELEVATOR (I’m learning). Elevator points are at Gansevoort & Washington Streets, 14th Street, 16th Street, 23rd Street and 30th Street. There are also places to eat and restrooms along the way too. We particularly enjoyed the part of the High Line at 14th Street, the Diller von Furstenberg sundeck & water feature. It was perfect for my daughter to cool down in on a very humid New York day. Whilst you’re there, you may as well pop to Chelsea Market and get yourselves an ice cream or taste some of the delicious food they have there.
- Dylan’s Candy Bar
Dylan’s Candy Bar is apparently the world’s largest confectionary emporium and sells itself as a modern day version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I took my daughter here as a surprise and the look on her face as it lit up when she first saw it was delightful. Visiting Dylan’s Candy Bar was definitely a holiday highlight. If your child has a sweet tooth (and I’m guessing that they probably do), then they’ll be in heaven. Technically, it is free to visit, but it would be near impossible leaving here without spending any money as your child runs around with a wild look in their eyes squealing, “can I have this Mummy? And this? AND THIS AND OOOOHCANDYFLOSSOOOHLOOKATALLTHECHOCOLATE”. Don’t expect them to get to sleep early that night. On the 3rd floor (yes this is a 3 storey sweet shop), there is a reasonably priced cafe that serves pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and ridiculous sweet based drinks. In the above picture my daughter is drinking the Pink Cloud Lemonade (and yes that is a heap of candy floss on top). The service was great and if you’re lucky you could be seated in one of the huge cupcake seating areas. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is also played on loop in the cafe. Oh and parents, the best thing about this place? There’s a bar, so you can get drunk on cocktails and forget about how much you’ve just spent on bloody sweets that have seemingly turned your child slightly demonic. Nearest subway station is Lexington Ave/59th Street, N, R, Q, 4, 5, 6 trains.
- Coney Island
What’s not to love about Coney Island when it comes to entertaining the kids? Large sandy beach- check, amusement park catering for all ages- check, world famous hot dogs- check, pier- check, plenty of toilets- check. Perfect. I totally recommend taking the Wonder Wheel ride at Luna Park (which is right by the beach and boardwalk) as you get fabulous views of New York at the top. Some carriages swing and some are stable. You can choose which one you want to ride in. You can buy all day wrist bands for unlimited rides at Luna Park, that start at $29. My daughter loved it at Coney Island and I think she could’ve happily come here several days in a row. Nearest subway is Coney Island- Stillwell Avenue, D, F, N, Q trains.
- Prospect Park
Prospect Park in Brooklyn was designed by the same people that designed Central Park. It’s a beautiful and peaceful park and much like Central Park there is lots of green space for your balls of energy to run around. We ended up finding and spending 4hrs at the Lefrak Centre at Lakeside, where my daughter roller skated for 2 hrs and ran around the sprinklers for a further 2 hours. Other attractions for kids in the park are 7 different playgrounds, Lefferts Historic House, the zoo and boating. At Prospect Park, you are also close to the Botanic Gardens and the Brooklyn Museum. So much to see and do with kids and probably not enough time. Nearest subways are 7th Ave (B, Q), 15th Street (F, G), Eastern Parkway- Brooklyn Museum (2, 3, 4), Botanic Garden (S), Prospect Park (B, S, Q) and Parkside Ave (Q).
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
Wow, get yourselves down here as the views of Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge are amazing. Also by the water, you have some playgrounds, a nice park walk, a swimming pool, climbing walls, a carousel, fitness equipment, a roller rink, sports fields, BBQ areas, a beach, ferries, cafes AND the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory who serve delicious and generously sized ice creams. It’s cash only though, so don’t forget your dollars. Nearest subways to the park are High Street (A, C), Clark St (2, 3) and Court St (N, R, W).
- Thoughts on Times Square
I mean, I’m not sure why I’m even bothering to put this in here, but my thoughts on Times Square might help you decide if you want to bother going there with your young child or not. To be succinct, I hate Times Square. It makes me feel all…stabby. I only took my daughter there as we were in the area and thought that she may as well see it. As you can tell by the look on her face, she wasn’t too impressed. As you can imagine, it’s very busy and hectic and there’s not a lot for them to get excited about. However, we did find the big Disney store, which she loved. There’s so much else to see and do in New York that is so great for young kids. If you’re short on time, I’d spend it elsewhere. Somewhere much more enjoyable for them. And you. Nearest subway 42nd St (1, 2, 3). Have I sold it to you?
Things that I wanted to do with my child, but didn’t have time to do.
- Brooklyn Bridge: I really wanted to walk across the bridge with my daughter, but it will have to wait until next time. If you fancy it, it’s best walking from the Brooklyn side towards Manhattan. The pedestrian entrance is on Washington Street and Prospect Street.
- South Street Seaport: This is a lovely area to walk around with great places to eat outside. For children there is the South Street Seaport Museum where they can wonder around a huge historic ship or hop aboard the Shark Speedboat. There’s also the Imagination Playground and great views of Brooklyn Bridge.
- See a show: Okay, so it seems almost sacrilegious going all the way to New York with our child and not taking her to see a show, but it all came down to money and again, time. However, there are cheaper ways to get tickets via Todaytix. Current shows in NYC that would be great for kids are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion King, Aladdin, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, School of Rock and Wicked.
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum: the first museum in the world specifically for children, offers lots of play and art activities. I think this would be a great place for a rainy day. They can also hold and feed animals and play in a miniature city. There also seems to be lots for under-5s to do here too. More info here
- Washington Square: Hot day and need somewhere free for your kids to cool off? Chuck ’em in the fountain at Washington Square. Your child can also do things like the free kids yoga or join in with the National Geographic kids club that takes place once a month, but mainly they’ll enjoy splashing about in the water and playing in the playground.
- Governors Island Play:groundNYC: Don’t do what I did and that was go to Brooklyn Bridge Park with the idea that we’d hop on the ferry there across to Governors Island on a weekday. The ferries only run from the park at the weekends. Restrictive hours aside, the great thing about play:groundNYC is that you can actually leave your child there and go off and explore the island. They have play workers within the playgrounds at all times keeping on eye on children. And your children? Well they’ll be given lots of materials to build with, imagine with or indeed destroy if that’s what floats their boat. Other things to do on Governors Island with your kids are the play fountains, other playgrounds and huge slides going down hills (one is 57 feet long). Oh and a castle. And kayaking. And learning centres. Quite a lot then.
- Alice’s Teacup Being huge Alice in Wonderland fans, this would’ve been a perfect place to take her for lunch, but we didn’t make it. There are three Alice’s Teacups in New York with the one on West 73rd Street being the original one. Looking at the menu it looks very traditionally British, so it might feel like a home from home place.
Other Suggestions (particularly for older children)
- Empire State Building: as we’d already been to the top of one tall building, I felt it would’ve been almost a waste of money and time to take her up another. Next time, I’ll take her here though.
- Statue of Liberty: most people say that the queues are so bad when visiting the Statue of Liberty, it’s not worth going and sailing past it on the Staten Island Ferry is enough. Personally, I loved visiting it and climbing up to the crown, but then it was February when I went to see it.
- Ellis Island Immigration Museum: one of my all time favourite museums. I think it would be appreciated more by older kids though. Your ticket to the see the Statue of Liberty includes entrance (and the ferry rides) to this museum.
- Tenement Museum: this is a fascinating museum that is only accessible by guided tour, but again it would probably be more ideal for older children. The museum recommends that if you do take young children the “Meet Victoria Confino” tour would be the only one suitable for them.
- Subway: generally the subway is bit of nightmare for prams and wheelchairs, but there are some accessible stations, so it’s worth planning ahead for your journey here. Unlike the London Underground, you generally only have one flight of stairs to conquer to access the stations. The trains run much closer to ground level than they do in London.
- Uber: it’s worth downloading the Uber app for times that you’re too tired or lazy to get the Subway. Of course, there are the yellow cabs too, but I found Uber cheaper and more convenient.
- Water: if you go to NYC in the summer, please make sure you drink plenty of water and have water on you at all times. New York is a very hot and humid city during the summer months. The great thing about the city is that there are plenty of water fountains where you can refill your water bottles. Generally these are in the park areas. It will save you money as well as reducing plastic bottle wastage.
- Safety: generally New York is a very safe city, especially Manhattan. As it is a 24hr city, this actually makes it much safer to walk around at night as there are so many people about. Google do a New York safety map for all five boroughs though that can be useful when choosing whereabouts to stay.
- American School Holidays: it’s worth noting that American school holidays run at slightly different times to ours, so it might be a good idea to check when they are depending on what you’d prefer for your holiday. Personally, as my child is an only child, it was great for us that the American children where on their school holidays when we went, as my daughter had plenty of children to play with. Generally, we found American children to be very friendly and open, so my daughter came away with a new best friend at the end of each day. During the American summer holiday, the parks and other child-friendly places often have crowds of summer camp children. They usually all wear the same bright-coloured t-shirts, so you can’t miss them (we started referring to them simply as “the T-Shirts”)! And I have nothing, but total respect for the young leaders that look after these summer camp children. It’s definitely not a job I could do.
So, in short we had an absolutely fantastic time in New York with our young daughter. She whole heartedly loved this crazy city. She walked around wide-eyed and fed off the energy that the city provides. We created some very special memories in New York and I felt quite emotional leaving. So, thank you New York for such a wonderful and exceptional holiday. We’ll definitely be seeing you again.