Sure, the American Museum of Natural History and Children’s Museum of Manhattan are fabulous, but many people already live near a natural history museum and a children’s museum. So, what do you do with kids in New York that is more, well, New York? Take a look at 20 must-do’s for families that will leave you with only the best memories of your family trip to the Big Apple.
1. Take the Subway. Hop on the subway with your kids. At $2.75 each way, it’s one of the cheapest ways to entertain your kids in the city. Keep your ears open since some trains are “express” trains and don’t stop at every stop. You may also need to be in a certain car to exit at a specific subway stop.
2. Ride the Ferris Wheel at Toys ‘R’ Us. Yes, no trip to New York is complete without a quick spin on the 60-foot Ferris Wheel inside Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square. Even better, a portion of the ride fee goes to the Toys ‘R’ Us Children’s Fund, which supports children’s charities across the country.
3. Try a Family Program at MOMA. If you plan to be in New York over a weekend, head to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) where they have lots of different family programs and gallery talks. The museum also offers various hands-on workshops that teach kids about creative techniques.
4. Climb to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty. You’ll need crown access tickets to go up all 354 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but it’s well worth the climb for the views alone. Purchase tickets several months in advance from Statue Cruises since tickets are extremely limited.
5. Pose with Charging Bull. Since most cruises depart from the South Ferry or South Street Seaport area downtown, be sure to seek out the Charging Bull statue near Wall Street. It’s a fun statue and a photo opp provides an opportunity to talk to your kids about the workings of our financial markets.
6. Explore a New Section of Town. Sure, when most people come to visit New York City, they stick to Times Square, or maybe the area around Central Park, but why not learn about Brooklyn, the Bronx or even Harlem. CitySights NY offers hop-on, hop-off bus tours that let you explore each of these areas.
7. Go to the Top of the Empire State Building. There’s no better view of New York City than from the top of the Empire State Building on a clear evening. Plan to spend at least two hours there between moving through the queues and taking in the views. Skip the NY Skyride (not worth a combo ticket).
8. Visit the Today Show Window. Whether you get up early to try to get on TV or swing by after the show, it’s worth it to peek in the Today Show window. It’s also across the street from Rockefeller Plaza and down the street from Radio City Music Hall, so it’s a nice area to explore.
9. Take a Backstage Tour. If you can, try a 60- to 90-minute backstage tour of a popular attraction in New York, like Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. Take a tour of Radio City Music Hall and you’ll even be able to meet a Rockette before the tour is over.
10. Go to a Non-Chain Restaurant. In New York (Times Square, in particular), you’ll find every chain restaurant you can imagine (TGI Friday’s, Chevy’s, etc.). Resist the urge to go somewhere familiar. A few recommendations: T45 Midtown Diner, John’s Pizzeria, Dallas BBQ and Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
11. Take a Sightseeing Cruise. If you don’t take the ferry to Liberty Island, it’s a must to take a 60- or 90-minute sightseeing cruise for a different perspective on New York City. We enjoy Circle Line, which also offers special 75-minute Kids Cruises on a seasonal basis.
12. Get a New York Pass. If you’re staying in New York for a few days and want to see it all, invest in a New York Pass. The pass enables you to see 80+ attractions over a period of days and even skip ticket lines at top attractions. I suggest ordering the New York Pass online and poring over the super-helpful 200-page guidebook (complete with addresses, hours and maps) before you go.
13. Take a Ranger Tour at Ellis Island. If you visit Lady Liberty, take the ferry to Ellis Island after you explore Liberty Island. Enter the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and take a 30-minute ranger tour to walk through what it was like as an immigrant. Also, little ones will enjoy the Ellis Kids exhibit.
14. Stay in a Hotel with Free Breakfast. When we visit New York, we usually stay in a Hampton Inn (we like the Hampton Inn Times Square North) for the free breakfast and free wi-fi. I like being able to get a coffee in the building before the kids are ready and they love making their own waffles. The convenience factor alone is worth the stay.
15. See New York by Bicycle. If you can, take a bike tour of Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, New York Pass holders enjoy two- or three-hour bike tours for free. Alternatively, rent a bike on your own and explore New York City as a family. There are loads of Citi Bike locations around town.
16. Experience “The Ride.” On every corner in New York, you’ll be approached about taking a sightseeing tour, but one of the best is The Ride. It’s a 90-minute bus tour that makes various stops, interacting with people on the street (dancers, singers, musicians). Plus, the on-board hosts are fantastic.
17. Relax in Bryant Park. Head to Bryant Park for a ride on Le Carrousel, a game of ping pong and a test of your putting skills on a five-hole putting green. There’s also a Reading Room where you can pick up and read various books, magazines and newspapers. Take a free audio tour, too.
18. Visit the New York Public Library. It’s a must to snap a pic of the huge lion sculptures that sit out front of the New York Public Library. You’ll also want to explore various exhibitions and showcases on display at the library. Free guided tours are also available to walk-in visitors.
19. Get Your Chocolate Fix in Times Square. Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s still fun to make quick stops at both Hershey’s Chocolate World (look for free samples when you walk in) and M&Ms World. They’re just across the street from each other, so it’s easy to visit both in an hour.
20. Tour Grand Central Terminal. Enjoy an audio tour to learn about the history and architecture of Grand Central Terminal, one of the most famous train stations in the world. Be sure to explore the whispering gallery, the kissing room and more than 65 shops that line the concourse.
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Disclaimer: I received three complimentary passes to “The Ride,” as well as three New York Passes at no charge for me and my two girls. This post also contains affiliate links. I received no compensation for this post and all opinions expresses here are my own.