Ultimate guide to things to do in New York with kids
New York is full of as many activities for kids as it has for adults! The city’s expansive green spaces are super kid-friendly, each full of playgrounds, unique entertainments and interesting areas to explore. New York is home to a wealth of truly world-class museums, many of which have dedicated children’s programs and tours specifically designed to engage the minds of young kids. Kids imaginations will run wild in this buzzing city and you will find the family spoilt for choice with sights and activities to engage in.
The kids will love
Sprawling Central Park is a green wonderland for children. Let young children play in the park’s 21 playgrounds, take a spin on the carousel, take a row-boat across the lake, bike around the scenic paths, visit the famous Alice in Wonderland statue and watch a show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette – you are spoilt for choice for fun things to do with the family in Central Park.
At this Brooklyn destination take an idyllic family picnic in grassy Long Meadow, wander the wild woodlands, spend an afternoon in the park’s Children Corner – ride the 100-year-old carousel, visit the impressive zoo’s wildlife and discovery centre, take a spin on the roller-skating rink, go outdoor ice-skating in winter or attend one of many family-friendly events run throughout the summer.
New York City is home to a wealth of museums with exhibits specifically for kids. Among the best are – Children’s Museum of the Arts, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), American Museum of Natural History, New York Transit Museum, NBC Studios, Staten Island Children’s Museum and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
The High Line & Chelsea Markets
Throughout summer, spring and fall, family festival series ‘Make It’ hosts free children’s programs including regular shows and interactive activities. Information can be found at www.thehighline.org/activities/family_programs. Chelsea Markets are a fun, nearby place to grab a snack or lunch – toss a coin into the waterfall at the centre of the markets, watch tarts and bread being made before your eyes at Sarabeth’s bakery and try a free brownie sample at the Fat Witch.
Kids will love a field trip to Coney Island – enjoy the Luna Park rides and vintage carousel, visit the New York Aquarium, the Coney Island Museum and take a walk or swim at Brighton Beach.
Best time to travel
New York is wonderful to visit all year round! Spring, March to May, and autumn, September to November, are highly recommended for comfortable travel – at both times tourist crowds are at their lowest. Both are beautiful times in the city – crisp, mild and pleasant. It’s recommended to bring wet weather gear in Spring as showers are common. Hotel rates can become quite expensive from September to November, particularly around the Thanksgiving holiday (falling on the 23rd November in 2017) so it is best to book early or avoid these times.
Summer in New York, June to August, is peak tourist season in the city. Highly crowded and with high humidity levels, this is a particularly popular time for families with school children. In saying this, summertime is a beautiful season to visit New York. The streets are buzzing and exultant and, surprisingly, hotels prices in the city remain quite steady.
There’s nothing quite like Christmas time in New York. The city is often covered in snow and the streets exuberantly decorated – an unforgettable experience. Keep in mind, hotel prices are at their highest from late December to early January. Late January through February can be a beautiful time in the city. The city becomes a winter wonderland during this time of year. Well covered in snow, with low crowds and the best savings on hotels, winter is a good time for travel. Due to temperatures below zero during most of this time, travelling with young babies may be made a little difficult, but a great experience for kids and teenagers.
Things to do in New York with…
Central Park is an absolute favourite for young kids. There are 21 playgrounds throughout the park in total – Arthur Ross Terrace is a free outdoor water park particularly great for very young children. MoMA is a great art gallery for kids of all ages, with guided age-specific tours for children as young as 4. The Children’s Museum of the Arts hosts day-long ‘art camps’ for children under 5, creative group activities and a ball park play centre. Information is available at cmany.org
Kids of all ages will have a ball at Coney Island. Take the subway to this Brooklyn destination and spend a day or afternoon visiting the various attractions – stroll the beach or take a swim during the warmer months, visit the Coney Island museum and New York Aquarium, indulge with a freshly squeezed lemonade or fairy floss on a stick and be sure to marvel at or take a ride on the historic restored B&B Carousel.
Spend at day around the High Line and Meatpacking District. At the High Line, the ‘Make It’ family-friendly festival runs throughout summer and tours continue year-round. Wander through the Meatpacking District, making sure to spend some time at Chelsea Markets – witness the vibrant arts culture throughout the markets, watch bread, cakes and ramen noodles being made from scratch and sample the diversity of food on offer.
Surrounded by mountains, northern Thailand holds an almost mystical appeal. In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, you’ll find heaps to see and do. The city is home to more than 300 fascinating temples and eye opening traditional practices, plus the fascinating Walking Street Markets, where teens can stock up on trinkets and cheap clothes. And while the pretty moated city offers rich history, culture and tradition, it is also home to some of Thailand’s most teen friendly resorts. It is also an excellent base for visiting the mountains and for exploring neighbouring forests, rice fields and national parks for bamboo rafting, white-water rafting and trekking.
Not too far from Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a culturally diverse region that is home to Thailand’s minority Hill Tribes. Here you’ll find a more traditional Thailand, and visiting families can even enjoy a homestay with a hill tribe family for the ultimate in cultural immersion.
Getting around New York
Subway: Reasonably priced, efficient and reliable, the subway is a convenient (and fun!) way to travel with kids. Sometimes confusing to the inexperienced, it is advised to do some planning before using the system. A 7-day unlimited pass is $31 or single ride fairs are $2.75, regardless of distance.
Walk: New York City is best discovered on foot. Grab a site-seeing map (or use Google Maps) and explore the city. There are many scenic and recommended walks for kids to take around the city where you can have fun whilst getting to your destination. (Do keep in mind that during winter months, walking may not always be a practical option).
Taxi: Taking a yellow taxi cab is a quintessential New York experience. NYC taxis are reasonably cheap, meters start at $2.50 and are approximately $5 for every 20 blocks, with tips expected to be between 10% to 15%. Taxis can be convenient for longer distances but keep in mind that during peak hours traffic jams can be greatly time consuming and when raining, available cabs can be very difficult to find.
Bike: Bikes can be rented from Citi Bike kiosks around the city. 24-hour passes are available for $12 or 3-day passes for $24. The city is bike-friendly, with designated bike lanes throughout, as well as many scenic and tourist routes available. Visit www.citibikenyc.com/ for details.
More about New York for families
- Family-friendly hotels are a go-to option – many have two to four double beds, connecting rooms or options of roll-away and fold-out beds for a small extra charge. Many also offer deals such as free breakfasts or buffets for children.
- There are several family hotels around the Times Square area, including DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel New York City, TRYP New York City Times Square South, Hilton Times Square and Novotel New York Times Square.
- Airbnb apartments are another convenient option for families, usually charging no extra for children. Airbnb rentals also have the advantage of having fully furnished kitchens and laundry. Particularly affordable in the quieter tourist seasons, many apartments are located close to tourist attractions around the centre of the city, as well as a wide range of, usually more affordable, options in the Burroughs surrounding Manhattan.
What to pack
- Practical walking shoes; very light clothing for summer; and layers of warm clothing, wet weather gear and a good winter coat for all other seasons.
- New York is a very child friendly city and any essentials can be purchased either in shopping malls or convenience stores (open 24/7 every few blocks throughout Manhattan). Travel items for babies and children – portable strollers, baby carriers, cots, high chairs, et cetera can also be rented (delivered to you) from sites such as www.babysaway.com
- New York City is bursting with activities for kids. There are a number NYC guides for children to read themselves that will get kids excited about helping to plan the sites they’d like to visit, as well as games to play whilst exploring the city. One highly recommended guide by Eileen Ogintz is available at www.amazon.com/Kids-Guide-York-City-Guides/dp/149302387X
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Janeece Keller is the founder and editor of Family Travel. She mostly travels with her husband and two young kids. She has a large blended family that lives in Australia and Europe. She has visited 52 countries and lived on 3 continents. From camping to luxury resorts Janeece tries to make sure her family has diverse holiday experiences each year. She is an avid hiker and ocean swimmer who loves good food, margaritas and heading off the beaten path.