Last updated on January 29th, 2024 at 07:17 pm
New York is a Grown Ups’ playground but what about planning a trip to NYC with kids?
I’d been to New York a couple of times without kids (and had a great time)! Summer 2022 was the first time we’d taken the children and I did wonder whether it would be a little overwhelming for them. I needn’t have worried; New York has so much for kids.
Whether you’re planning a family road trip from NYC like us, or hunting for unique things to do in NYC over a long weekend, read on for what to include in your New York City family vacation.
These recommendations will work best if you’re looking at a 4 day itinerary in New York.
Summit One Vanderbilt
There are now quite a few choices when it comes to New York skyline viewing. Summit One Vanderbilt is the new kid on the block, opening in October 2021, and without a doubt the one to pick if you have kids.
Summit is not just about the view (although that’s definitely impressive). It’s an interactive experience with art installations centred around ‘Air’ and ‘Levitation’. First off, there’s ‘Transcendence’: infinity mirrors with endless opportunities for fun reflections and quirky photos. You’ll be given sunglasses to use as it’s so bright.
Then, the bit kids will really love ‘Affinity’ – a room full of silver balls filled with air, powered by air vents. You’ll all have great fun bouncing the balls around and throwing them to each other.
Upstairs, in the next section, you’ll have the opportunity to step out into a glass box, as if you’re standing on thin air, for a unique perspective of Midtown.
There’s the option to ride in an elevator (‘Ascent’) on the outside of the building. This is a $20 add on. I’d say that Summit is one of the best indoor activities in NYC and currently one of the best kids activities in NYC.
How to get there: Summit One Vanderbilt is accessed via the main concourse of Grand Central Station or if you want to access it at street level, the address is 45E 42nd Street.
Broadway is synonymous with New York and one of the best things to do in NYC at night, so it feels wrong not to at least consider it! It can be expensive for a family though and it’s worth looking at the following options to get a good deal:
TCKTS booth – Times Square
This is where we got our tickets for Beetlejuice on the day of the performance (just a few hours before the show, in fact). They were 30% cheaper than if we’d bought them at the theatre or online – and we got pretty good seats too. You can get 50% off tickets to many shows at the TCKTS booth. It depends partly on the time of year, how many seats are left and how popular the show is.
You can get an idea of your likelihood of getting the tickets for the show you want by looking at the TCKTS website in the days beforehand. It’s linked to the display boards at the booth so you’ll get an accurate picture.
Broadway Roulette is the one to go for if you don’t mind too much which show you end up seeing. For us, it didn’t feel like it was worth the risk as we’d seen quite a few of the shows available.
You can choose between standard, family-friendly or premium roulette. You can cross off up to five shows or musicals which gives you a greater chance of getting the shows you want – but remember, you are probably less likely to get tickets to really popular shows such as Hamilton as there’ll be less availability.
Today Tix often has good discounts on tickets and is the best option if you are set on a particular show, would rather plan ahead and be sure of getting tickets. You can also sign up for Lottery and Rush tickets. These are only available for certain shows and are usually for same-day attendance – but they’re the best value tickets you’ll find.
How to get there: Broadway is otherwise known as the Theatre District, home to 41 professional theatres between 41st Street and 54th Street and 6th Avenue and 9th Avenue in Manhattan.
Ferry To Dumbo
The experience of jumping on a ferry in New York is a fun experience for kids in itself. There are lots of different places you can travel to from Manhattan but Dumbo is a great option as it’s less than a 10-minute trip.
Dumbo (an abbreviation for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is a neighbourhood in Brooklyn which has gone from industrial to arty (see the section on street art, below) with loads of fantastic and varied options for food.
Head to Washington Street for a great photo opportunity of Brooklyn Bridge (you won’t be the only one!), plan a ride on Jane’s Carousel (check the website for opening hours) and factor in a sit down in Brooklyn Bridge Park to recharge your batteries before you head back.
Consider the institution that is Juliana’s for lunch – their large Margherita pizza is big enough to feed a family of four.
How to get there: Get the ferry to Dumbo from Wall Street/ Pier 11 in Manhattan.
New York Food Tour
When you think of New York, images of bagels and pizza probably come to mind (I’m sure that’s not just me)! A food tour is a great way to discover New York hidden gems for foodies.
We chose to do the New York Greenwich Village Food Tour with Secret Food Tours as we thought it sounded perfect for families (even those with kids who are particular about their food, like ours). Our tour guide showed us lots of famous spots and shared loads of fun trivia and local history facts too.
The food was amazing (from falafel to cupcakes to pizza and doughnuts) and there was plenty of it too. Come hungry. Tours last 3 to 3 and a half hours and groups consist of up to 12 people.
The walking is easy-going and there are plenty of opportunities to sit down or use bathroom facilities. This food tour was definitely one of the kids’ favourite things to do in NYC. It’s also a great example of how kid-friendly New York City can be. It’ definitely one to add to your NYC itinerary with kids.
New York Food Fact: Did you know that New York bagels really are the best tasting and it’s all down to the New York water (apparently)!
Cycling Tour (Central Park)
Cycling is a great way to see a city and a cycling tour is one of the best outdoor activities in NYC. Unlimited Biking offers a number of different bike and segway tours. The Central Park route is the best one for families as it’s predominantly off-road and the park is easy to cycle around.
The tour will take you to some of Central Park’s most famous spots – including the boating lake, Belvedere Castle, the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, Shakespeare Garden and the John Lennon mosaic.
Our tour guide shared lots of facts about Central Park, from how it was created in 1876 to the buildings surrounding it (and their famous residents). There were lots of children in our tour group and the tour leader tailored the ride and information to suit all the participants. It’s definitely one of my top recommendations for things to do in NYC with kids so make sure you add it to your NYC with kids itinerary.
How to get there: Unlimited Biking’s Central Park rental service is at 56 W 56th Street. Book ahead.
Bagels at Ess-a-Bagel
When you’re in New York, a bagel has to be on the list and the place to try them is Ess-A-Bagel. They have a huge range of flavoured cream cheeses (or ‘schmear’) and lots of fillings children will love (the ‘pizza bagel’ was my son’s choice – it was huge)!
Bagels are fresh and chewy with lots of different toppings to pick from. You’ll definitely find something you love here!
How to get there: Ess-A-Bagel is at 831 3rd Avenue (between 50th and 51st Streets).
We stayed in Chinatown on our recent trip to New York – mainly because we found reasonably priced accommodation there (we stayed at 50 Bowery), but also because we wanted to stay somewhere different.
It’s so easy in New York, as with many cities, to stay in one area and not venture far from it. Chinatown New York has the highest population of Chinese people in the western hemisphere and is also one of the oldest Chinese areas outside of China.
The food in Chinatown is amazing and worth travelling for even if you’re not staying in Chinatown. We particularly loved the dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlour. The side streets in Chinatown are also worth exploring to get a true sense of what this area is like.
How to get there: Take the subway to Canal Street Station to reach Chinatown.
The Ghostbusters building
This one’s at the top of the list of must-see places in New York if you’re a fan of the films. It’ll serve up a big chunk of nostalgia and is definitely one of the more unique things to do in NYC.
Built in 1903, the firehouse is owned by the Hook and Ladder 8 Brigade. It was used as the Ghostbusters Headquarters in Ghostbusters 1 and 2 and even makes an appearance in the 2016 Ghostbusters remake. Apparently, Dan Ackroyd himself chose the firehouse to be used as the Ghostbusters Headquarters as he was familiar with the area and particularly liked the building.
How to get there: The Ghostbusters Building is located at 14 North More Street in Tribeca.
The High Line
A popular family activity on a weekend morning in New York is to stroll along the High Line, coffee in hand. There are frequent art exhibitions and family events (check here to see what’s coming up).
The High Line is classified as a public park and there’s no charge for entry, making it one of the best free things to do in NYC. It was built on an old railway line and opened in 2009, following a campaign by New York residents not to demolish it.
You’ll find food and drink vendors along the route and some great views, taking in many of New York’s famous landmarks – such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
The High Line offers free public tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and you can also book a private tour where tour guides will tailor the information they share with you to your particular interests (for example, nature, history, or architecture). Make sure you book ahead on their website.
How to get there: There are elevators to reach The High Line at the following locations:
- Gansevoort Street and Washington Street
- 14th Street and 10th Avenue
- 23rd Street and 10th Avenue
- 30th Street and 10th Avenue
Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island
Your kids will undoubtedly have seen pictures of the Statue of Liberty, a gift given to America by France in 1886. Seeing it in real life during your trip to NYC is a must.
You’ll have to book well ahead if you want to tour the crown or the pedestal, but the boat trip and a walk around the statue might be enough if you have kids with you.
Head to Battery Park where you can pick up the ferry to Ellis Island (there’s also a ferry from New Jersey) If you’re on a family trip to NYC on a budget and not too fussed about getting off on the island, then you can get a good view of Lady Liberty on the free Staten Island ferry. Book your ferry and statue of liberty access tickets here.
How to get there: Ferries go from Battery Park in Manhattan or from New Jersey.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
There’s guaranteed to be a queue snaking all the way around the side of Ellen’s Stardust Diner (and beyond). Make sure you give yourself enough time to stand in line – especially if you’re off to see a Broadway show afterwards. The queue does move relatively quickly, however, as the restaurant is deceptively large inside.
Ellen’s is a 1950s 1950s-themed diner with singing waiters and waitresses – many of whom have been on Broadway or are headed there.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner has an amazing atmosphere and kids will love the waiters/singers who come over and sing at the tables as well as on the ‘catwalk’ in the middle of the restaurant.
There’s also a healthy dollop of humour in this restaurant. Our kids loved how our waitress threw straws onto our table (sounds like bad service, I know – but it was hilarious) and sang over her microphone that she was going to go and get us some water.
The food is actually pretty good (think burgers, breakfast burritos and chicken pot pie) – but let’s be honest – you’re not here for the food. You’re here for the fun and there’s plenty of it.
How to get there: Ellen’s Stardust Diner is on 1650 Broadway and it’s open from 7am to midnight every day.
The street art in New York is jaw-dropping. If you’re looking for free things to do in NYC, or non-touristy things to do in NYC, definitely consider seeking it out. There’s nothing like walking around a corner and being met with something as striking and emotive as Eduardo Kobra’s kneeling firefighter, in honour of 9/11.
But, if you’d rather know where to head rather than happening upon New York’s street art, here is where you and your family can come face to face with some of NYC’s best artworks:
- David Bowie (Eduardo Kobra) – Jersey City (837 Jersey Avenue)
- Mother Teresa and Mahatma Ghandi (Eduardo Kobra) – Chelsea Square Market (you can see this one from The High Line)
- Dumbo Walls – various and changing – see here for more details
- Boy With a Hammer (Banksy) – Upper West Side (79th Street)
- Kneeling Firefighter (Eduardo Kobra) – Midtown East (780 3rd Avenue)
If you’re looking for more quirky things to do in NYC, take a look at 15 Unique Things To Do in NYC.
If you’re planning an East Coast road trip from New York like us, take a look at 20 Best East Coast Beaches For Families.