Having kids required me to rethink my approach to visiting New York City. I found myself Googling things like the best kids museum NYC, rather than the best rooftop patio bar NYC. That said, I didn’t want to completely give up on my life in the land of grownups, so I made it my mission to discover the best things to do in NYC with kids that could also be enjoyed by parents.
Over a number of trips, starting with a visit to NYC with a toddler, and later with two school-aged children, I curated this list of our favorite things to do in New York with kids including family-friendly attractions, museums, parks, shops, and other fun things for kids in NYC – that would not compromise a parent’s sanity. I know you are busy – please use the following menu to find what you are looking for more easily. I hope you have a wonderful family trip to New York City !
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NYC with Kids – Sneak Peek Video
Need some inspiration on what to do in New York with kids? Watch our short video on our favorite things to do in Manhattan with kids (and beyond).
NYC for Kids – How to Save Money
Discounted Tours and Family Activities in NYC
When considering what to do with kids in NYC, you may wish to take a look at an all-in-one attraction pass as this can help you save money on your New York City family vacation. I say can because it depends on how much time you have in New York and how busy you would like to be during the day.
- The CityPass New York can save you up to 41% on a some of the top New York attractions for families. The pass offers discounts for children 6-17 years (pass not sold for children younger than 6 since they gain entry for free at many New York attractions). This pass is valid for 9 consecutive days.
- The New York Explorer Pass is another good option for those who want to see NYC at their own pace. Choose three, four, five, seven or 11 attractions from over 80 top sites and tours, and visit them any time you want in 30 days saving up to 50% off attractions. Discounted passes are available for children 3-12 years.
Free Things to do in NYC with Kids
As expensive as New York City is, there are actually tons of fun things to do in NYC with kids that are free. For example, there are wonderful children’s playgrounds in NYC parks and green spaces (many that become splash parks in the summer).
When specifically looking for free activities for kids in NYC, my favorite resource is the TimeOut New York site. They cover everything from the best free things to do in NYC this weekend with kids, to a general month-by-month Kids Events NYC calendar. See their daily, weekly, and monthly New York with kids calendars here.
Save on Transportation
Uber and Lyft ride sharing services can be a great way to get around New York with kids and can be cheaper than a cab and more convenient than the subway. Both companies offer vehicles with car seat service which is helpful if you are visiting New York with a toddler or a baby. As a user, you are charged an extra $10 per ride and the service includes 1 car seat.
When this service is available, it will show up in the app (scroll down until you see it – see image below), although I would research it prior to your trip to see if your child will fit in the seat. For example, at the time of this post (May 2019) Uber Car Seat New York states that their seats are suitable for a child who is at least (a) 12 months old AND (b) 22-47 lbs AND (c) 31-52 inches. (See also: The Best Travel Booster Seats.)
There are times with Uber and Lyft when their cars are in short supply triggering “surge pricing”, in which case a cab can be cheaper. For example, on our return trip to JFK airport, our cab was a fixed price of $52 (before tip), but Uber would have been $86. On our most recent trip, we also had both Uber and Lyft cancel on us a few times which made taking a cab a better option.
In rush hour, you may be able to get places faster with the subway. We also find that the subway is more economical for going way out of town (The Bronx, Coney Island etc.) My kids have also always loved the excitement and the challenge of navigating the New York subway system. Kids 44″ in height and smaller ride the subway for free (up to 3 with each paying adult).
Save on Family Hotels in NYC
If you have not stayed in a New York City hotel room before, you might be shocked by how tiny and expensive they can be. It can also be a little challenging to find rooms that can accommodate a family. I recommend booking as far out as possible to secure the best rate. Sites such as Booking.com usually have a flexibly cancellation option (without prepayment required). Personally, I like to reserve a room at a family-friendly New York hotel as soon as I have my flights booked and then cancel/change it if I find a better deal later on.
While I have another post entirely dedicated to the Best NYC Hotels for Families, in short, here is what I look for in a family friendly New York hotel.
Location: I like to be near either New York’s Central Park (because it is just so great with kids), or Midtown which is close to many popular attractions. Do be careful with your search criteria if you are looking for a family hotel in NYC as general searches of the city can include Brooklyn and Williamsburg (both areas I like very much – but not on the island of Manhattan).
Reviews: I read reviews thoroughly before making a New York family hotel booking. When using TripAdvisor, for example, I filter for reviews from Families and I also click on reviewer Room Tips. When I book our room, I always make a request that may get us a more attractive room (high floor, quiet room, etc.). In my experience, if you don’t ask – you don’t get.
Look at the Size: Generally, I look for a room that is more than 300 ft² (28m²). While you are not likely to spend a ton of time in your room on a family trip to NYC, you still don’t need to be tripping over each other.
Brands: For what it is worth, when it comes to the best NYC hotels for families, I am a big fan of the Affinia properties because of their relative value and large rooms (4 hotels in NYC). I also like Kimpton Hotels (3 properties in NYC) for their Kimpton Kids program extras.
As far as using sites such as Airbnb to find a vacation rental in Manhattan, please be aware that short term rentals of less than 30 days are prohibited in this city making the chance of finding a good family vacation rental in NYC difficult. There are other options, however. A frequent-flyer friend of mine swears by Sonder.com. – a company that owns buildings in major cities around the world and offers short term rentals at reasonable prices.
The 20 Best Family Activities in NYC
Take a Tour
For a good overview of the top things to do in New York, you can take peek at the tour and ticket booking site GetYourGuide.com. Some of their most popular NYC tours for kids include the following:
- Skip the Line Tours – Who ever wants to wait in line with a child if it can at all be avoided? You can book skip-the-line tickets for many of the most popular tours in NYC including the Statue of Liberty, the One World Observatory, Top of the Rock, and The Empire State Building.
- Broadway Backstage – The Disney Behind the Magic Tour offers exclusive access to the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway (current home of Alladin and previously The Lion King), where you can experience the magic of Disney in New York City. Created in collaboration with the Disney Theatrical Group, the tour is a dream from Broadway and Disney fans alike.
- Double Decker Bus Tour – The Big Bus can be a good choice if it is your first trip and you want an easy overview of the city (there is an Uptown or a Downtown tour). I think this tour is best booked in the summer months (in the winter, windows can fog up and the open air upper level may be unpleasant). As someone who had a very active son as a toddler, I became a double decker bus convert as it kept my child contained, yet still on the move – the perfect formula for keeping him busy and happy.
Visit Governors Island
Less than a 10 minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan is the reimagined 172 acre public park space of Governors Island. It is a beautiful retreat from the busy New York city streets, car-free and full of lush foliage. The island has some great playgrounds for kids as well as a unique hill full of slides. You can walk around the island (bring a stroller for wee ones) or rent bikes from Blazing Saddles (they have kids bikes too).
The island is the perfect place for a picnic, but there is also a full service restaurant (Island Oyster) and a selection of food carts. There are fun events going on all summer long, so I encourage you to check out Governors Islands Events ahead of time.
One other great thing about Governors Island is that in an otherwise very expensive city, this activity can be very budget-friendly. In fact, on weekend mornings, the first couple of ferries to the island are free! Learn more at: https://govisland.com.
Walk the High Line
The High Line is a beautiful place for a stroll, but keep in mind that it is still a walk, which isn’t always thrilling for kids. That said, in the summertime, the flowers are beautiful and there are birds a plenty (I even watched a mother bird feeding her young). My suggestion on how to do the High Line with kids, would be to start your walk at 18th St. or 16th St. and head south (both entrances have elevator access if you have a stroller with you). Grab some gelato along the way and finish at Gansevoort Street, which is just a short distance away from the Hudson River Park Playground at Pier 51. The High Line gets really busy on weekends (where people kind of have to shuffle along as part of a crowd). If at all possible,visit on a week day.
The Statue of Liberty – Crown Tour
A morning visit to Liberty Island with the opportunity to climb up into Lady Liberty’s crown* was a huge hit with our family. The climb is not terribly strenuous with it only taking about 10 minutes to ascend the 393 steps. It was well worth it for the unique vantage point. Be sure to book your tickets for the crown visit well ahead of time as these sell out months in advance. Buy tickets through Statue Cruises. Even if you are not doing the Crown Tour, there is lots for kids to enjoy on Liberty Island. I highly recommend the kids audio guide (narrated by an eagle). See other Statue of Liberty tour options here.
* Children must be 48″ or taller to climb to the top of Lady Liberty’s crown.
Ride The Beast
I’ll be the first one to admit that tours can be hard with kids. Although we have done many of them, on each and every trip I do with my children they will ask “We don’t have to do any tours, do we?” If the idea of doing a day trip or tour to the Statue of Liberty sounds daunting to you, perhaps this may be of interest to you.
The adrenalin-inducing Beast speedboat is not only super exhilarating, but it also gives you a great view of the Statue of Liberty from the water (the boat makes photos stops). This exciting ride is only 30 minutes long so it leaves you plenty of time in your day to do other family-friendly NYC activities. The dock is located very close to the Intrepid Museum (see below) which could make for a good pairing. Please note, children must be 40″ tall to ride the Beast. See ticket options for The Beast here.
Climb Aboard the Intrepid
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is dedicated to the exhibition and interpretation of history, science and service as related to its home aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a National Historic Landmark. While this isn’t really my thing (I snuck off to shop in Soho for a few hours), my kids thought it was pretty great. Their interest was piqued by the fact that their grandfather was an F8 fighter pilot and this was the aircraft carrier he first practiced landing on before shipping out overseas. See skip-the-line ticket options for The Intrepid here.
See a Yankees Game
On a sunny summer evening, grab the subway to the Bronx and catch a Yankees game. In comparison to many New York activities, this one can be quite inexpensive (we paid $17/ticket and the kids even received bobbleheads). For more information see the Yankees website. Be sure to also check their website for special events as they often have fun things going on for kids at the stadium before games.
Note: In no way does this picture represent the excitement of watching a baseball game (We took the red-eye to New York and hit the game the following evening.)
Visit FAO Schwarz
Thank goodness it is back ! Three years after closing its flagship store near Central Park, FAO Schwarz has returned to New York City in a new location – 30 Rockefeller Plaza. While smaller than the original store, it is still, in my opinion, one of the essential New York attractions for kids. My daughter calls in “magical”. In fact, we enjoyed a New York City family vacation when she was just a toddler and FAO Schwarz (the original store) is one of the few things she remembers vividly.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Take a stroll (or ride bikes) over the Brooklyn Bridge. Plan to hang out for a while on the other side, going for ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, riding Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, or enjoying a picnic at Main Street Park and Playground (fantastic views of Manhattan). See also our post on things to do in Brooklyn with Kids.
Note: The bridge is 1.1 miles in length.
Visit Times Square
Times Square is a rather overwhelming experience, but something my kids always enjoy seeing. Primarily, they are interested in visiting the M&M store and the Hershey’s store. We like to plan a quick walk through, without lingering so long that we get a headache.
Note: Beware the angry character mascots. If you don’t tip them enough for a photograph, they have been known to aggressively demand more. Let me tell you from experience that it is rather disconcerting when a trio of sinister Disney characters turns on you.
Explore Central Park with Kids
Central Park is one of my favorite places to spend time with my kids in New York City. It is also the place where my son once exclaimed “Finally ! A breath of fresh air !” Visit Belvedere Castle and the Central Park Zoo, sail model boats at the Conservatory Water pond, ride the carousel, or visit one of many wonderful playgrounds and spray parks.
My children’s favorite New York city playground is the Ancient Playground, which was designed to compliment the Egyptian Collection at the neighboring Metropolitan Museum of Art. Learn more on the Central Park website.
Tip: While on a summertime visit to Manhattan, we got in the habit of tucking the kids suits, a large Ziplock (to later hold the wet suits) and a towel in a backpack just in case we stumbled across a water park.
While in the area, you may wish to visit one of several beautiful restaurants in the park. Both Tavern on the Green and The Loeb Boathouse offer kids’ menus and take reservations (the Loeb on weekdays only). On our most recent trip, we requested a table near the lake’s edge at The Loeb and my daughter loved watching the turtles and giant fish swim around in the water right in front of her.
Visit the Best New York Museums for Kids
Almost all of the major Manhattan museums offer a complimentary kids guidebook to the collections upon request. Even better, kids are free at New York City museums. I would also encourage you to check the museum’s calendar of events as many offer weekly tours for families with children.
As cultural experiences such as this can be a little challenging for young children, you may want to consider visiting only one small portion of a museum, rather than tackling the whole thing. For example, on our first visit to The Metropolitan Museum in Central park, we only took the kids to the Ancient Egyptian gallery. We followed this up with a visit to the Rooftop Garden Cafe. With its sweeping views of Central Park and no formal seating required, it is not surprising that this is a favorite spot for families. Other great NYC museums for kids include the American Museum of Natural History (see Night at the Museum Sleepover further down) and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Note: Museums such as The Met and The MOMA can get very busy, with crowds and lines being typical. I recommend buying tickets online in advance. Even with pre-purchased tickets, you will likely need to wait in line to get through the bag check. On our most recent trip to The Met, we went at about 30 minutes after they opened and had to wait about 20 minutes to get through the security check. The lines went around the end of the building but moved quickly. When our kids were very young, we liked to visit museums near the end of the day, with lighter crowds and few lineups.
Tip: We have been known to take advantage of our kids’ jet lag (coming from the West Coast = our kids stay up late) by visiting museums during extended evening hours. On a most recent trip, for example, we visited the boutique-sized Whitney Museum of American Art on a Friday evening when it was relatively quiet.
Take the Subway
My mathematically minded son cannot get enough of riding the subway. After several visits to the city, quite frankly, he know the rails better than I do. In fact, both of my children are very engaged with the process of figuring out which station to get off at, where to change trains, etc. Never do we hear “Are we there yet?”, which is a blessing in itself.
Tip: Ask for a subway map from an attendant as it makes for a great souvenir (we also have London and Paris framed in inexpensive IKEA frames on our son’s bedroom wall).
Get Your Sweet Fix
Have a little sweet tooth in the family? Tie in a visit to Central Park with a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar on the Upper East Side (they also have a location at Union Square) or to nearby Serendipity 3 for their famous frozen hot chocolate.
If you are near Times Square, check out M&M World and the Hershey’s store. You may pay a premium, but my kids can’t resist the allure of that wall of candy-coated goodness.
For real candy aficionados, Economy Candy on the Lower East Side is a must. What the store lacks in attractive design, it makes up in assortment. One small word of caution. My son is not of fan of this place because the Pokemon cards he bought there were counterfeit. (Hard life lessons.)
Enjoy great burgers and incredible shakes at Black Tap Craft Burgers (3 NYC locations). We visited Black Tap Soho, and although don’t take reservations, they will text you when the table is ready. Totally worth the wait in my opinion.
Have a little baker in the family? Fans of Chef’s Table might enjoy a visit to one of Milk Bar‘s many Manhattan locations. Kids are also welcome to participate in cake making classes at their Brooklyn location. They must be accompanied by an adult taking the class and there is no children’s discount.
Visit the Vessel
The centerpiece of New York’s brand new Hudson Yards development is The Vessel – a giant sculpture comprised of 154 interconnected flights of stairs that offer incredible views of the city, the river and beyond.
Since its debut in the Spring of 2019, this has been a super hot ticket, selling out online weeks in advance (tickets are free, but you still need to have one). Alternatively, timed tickets can be obtained onsite, you just may need to kill a little time before starting your ascent. Thankfully, there is a playground, shops and a Shake Shake nearby.
Learn more at: https://www.hudsonyardsnewyork.com/
Have a Kids NYC Museum Sleepover
Absolutely the best thing that we have ever done in NYC with kids was to have a sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History. While it is the kind of thing that seems a little expensive at first, when you take into account the fact that you don’t have to pay for a pricey NYC hotel room, and also get the privilege of roaming the great halls without crowds, it starts to seem more economical. For more information, see our complete post on the AMNH Night at the Museum Sleepover.
See also: Upcoming dates for AMNH sleepovers.
Visit Coney Island
Yes, it’s a little gritty, but we found that to be part of the charm. This iconic amusement park is only a 45 minute subway ride outside of Manhattan. Grab a hot dog at Nathan’s, stroll along the boardwalk and work up the courage to ride the historic Cyclone wooden roller coaster, which has been terrifying riders since 1927. See tickets options for Coney Island on GetYourGuide.com.
See New York from Above
Enjoy a great view of the New York City skyline by visiting Top of the Rock, The Empire State Building, or one of New York City’s newest attractions — The One World Observatory. Find skip-the-line ticket options for all of these here.
Personal opinion: Honestly, our family found the One World Observatory to be really overrated and expensive (Disney attraction-esque). We much preferred the other two, where you can actually go outside to enjoy the view, hearing all the sounds of the city below. That said, One World Observatory gets great reviews on TripAdvisor, so it might just be us. What did really impress us, however, was strolling through the beautiful arched Oculus building (shown below) on the way to the tower.
See a Kids Broadway Show
Looking for the best New York shows for kids? A few kid-friendly favorites that consistently receive great reviews include The Lion King, Aladdin, Wicked, School of Rock, Harry Potter and the Curse Child and Frozen. Most shows offer a weekend (and sometimes weekday) matinee option, which may be a better choice for toddlers.
Tip: You may have heard about the TKTS booths in New York City that offer discounts of 20-50% off same day performances that still have seats available. While the Times Square booth has notoriously long lineups, the South Street Seaport usually only has a few people hanging around. You can also download the TKTS app which will give you real time updates on which shows are available for that day. Plan to visit the booth at opening for the best selection. You are allowed to buy up to 6 tickets per show.
Update: I have just become aware of an interesting site called Broadway Roulette. The site allows you to buy discounted tickets ($49-$59) to a range of upcoming Broadways shows (from next day to 3 months ahead of time), where the show remains a mystery until after purchase. What I especially like about this site, is that it gives you some flexibility in your choices (you can eliminate certain shows), and it also has an option to opt for only family-friendly Broadway shows. According to CEO and co-owner Elizabeth Durand Streisand, booking in advance (up to 3 months) will increase your chances of winning tickets to the hard-to-get-into shows. This is because at Broadway Roulette they like to lock those tickets in earlier since the prices never drop and they like to reward people who plan ahead.
Visit the Bronx Zoo
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a day trip to the Bronx Zoo. This sprawling green space makes for a delightful stroll while admiring the enormous collection of creatures from around the globe (It is the largest metropolitan zoo in the U.S.A.).
Tip: While in the area enjoy some great Italian fare on nearby Arthur Ave (The Real Little Italy) and take in a game at Yankee Stadium.