Wondering what things to do in New York with kids? I’ve got you covered. Find out my top family attractions, where to get the best views and top food spots in this post.
New York with kids, is not something that you usually see side by side. But if I still feel wonder after countless visits, ask yourself what must a child think? Whether it’s feeling like Kevin Mc Allister in Home Alone 2, or Giselle in Enchanted – New York is a place that transports kids into a fantasy land.
They will recognise the skyscrapers that Spiderman swung from, and the streets where Annie sang Tomorrow, even the yellow cabs will bring back movie flashbacks. If you really want to immerse yourself in all things Hollywood, you can even have a sleepover at the USS Intrepid Museum.
We brought the kids to New York for the first time a few years ago and they loved it. Alex asked if we could live there – a surprise question from someone who likes to travel, but always loves to go home. Most of the reasons that I fell in love with New York the first time I visited, were the same for my kids.
They loved the gruff New York taxi drivers yelling at tourists in Times Square, going uptown or downtown on the subway, and the overall feeling that they were inside a movie, in a galaxy far far away from everyday life.
Just being in New York with kids is an attraction in itself, but while you are there you may as well take in some of the highlights. If you are planning on visiting a few attractions it might be worthwhile getting a New York City Pass.
This offers up to 40% off New York’s top attractions, including Top of the Rock, the Statue of Liberty and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. There are so many things to do in New York with kids, but here are some of my favourites.
1. Visit Central Park
Central Park is one of my favourite places in New York and it is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy some quiet time. The newly opened Highline may be the trendy park to visit, but personally I think nothing compares to Central Park.
In the winter time you can go ice skating, while during the summer you can hire a small rowing boat for only $20 per hour. Located beside the boat-hire area is the Boathouse – Sunday brunch here is a wonderful experience.
If you arrive before 930 am you should have no problem getting a table, but any later and you may have to queue. There are turtles and large fish swimming in the lake beside the restaurant, so try to get a table at the waters edge. See centralparkboathouse.com for more details.
2. Take a cruise to Liberty Island
Boat trips are always a good idea and kids will want to see the Statue of Liberty, that they have seen in countless times in movies. Whether you choose to get off or not, it is worth the trip for the photos alone. You can take the FREE Staten Island ferry, but it is a public service so don’t expect to get a seat or a perfect view.
If you do decide to take the Statue Of Liberty ferry make sure you buy tickets from the authorised ticket booths at the terminal, or better still pre book one on Viator. We fell for a hustle in Battery Park and ended up on a bus to New Jersey!
3. Go to the top of one of New York’s five viewing towers.
Cheesy I know but it has to be done 😜Took me a while till I finally nailed it! Amazing views from the #topoftherock and love the outdoor observation deck. We went to the one World Observatory too which has more to do, but hard to beat the views here 🏙 . . . . . . #newyork #newyorkcity #newyork_instagram #newyorknewyork #newyorkphoto #newyorkskyline #citiesoftheworld #cityscape #cityview #view #instacity #instatravel #travelblogger #travelpics #familytime #familytravel #travelgram #iphonepic #empirestatebuilding @nycgo_press #newyorkview #newyorkpictures
The views of the New York skyline from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Centre are superb, and I have always chosen this over the observation deck at the Empire State Building. However, there are five observation decks in New York now, so depending on the age of your children, you may wish to try one of the newer experiences.
If travelling during the winter, the ice-skating rink and possibly the massive Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza are an advantage to visiting the Top of the Rock. I love the open air observation deck at the top, see ticket options for topoftherock.com here.
If you have teenagers, one of New York’s newest attractions, The Edge also has amazing views of the city (many think the best of all five observatory decks ), as well as a glass floor underneath the sky deck, so you can see New York’s streets 1000 feet below. You don’t have to walk over this if feeling nervous, you can simply visit the outdoor sky deck instead.
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The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is another experience that is not for the faint hearted – but will surely be a winner with teens! Ascending 1200 feet in a glass lift is an experience in itself, but the real fun happens when you step onto transparent skyboxes 1000 feet above Madison Avenue.
I have compared all five observation decks in my post on Top things to do in New York and suggest you visit one of the above as well as the One World Observatory below.
4. Visit the One World Observatory.
The area around the World Trade Centre is a must see if going to New York. The moving memorial pools, the architectural masterpiece – the Oculus building, and the mesmerising World Trade Centre museum are all worth your valuable time.
Younger kids will not appreciate the gravity of what happened here, but older children will, and you will be surprised how much they will learn from the experience.
If like us, you want to go but need to convince younger kids to come along, add in a trip to the One World Observatory while you are there. This not only has a superb viewing point, but its SkyPod elevators climb 102 stories in 47 seconds. As you climb you will see how New York has transformed over 515 years – the lift is an attraction in itself.
There is also a Sky Portal, a 14-foot wide circular glass floor that offers footage of the streets 100 floors below. Not for the faint hearted but my kids loved walking across it and posing for selfies! See ticket options here.
5. Shop at the Lego and Harry Potter Stores
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Located at the Rockefeller Plaza, the Lego Store is an ideal shop to visit if you happen to be doing the Top of the Rock tour, or if you have lego fanatics, like I do. Kids can design their own lego mini figures too, while you relax and rest your legs.
They are handy souvenirs, especially the lego characters with the I ❤️ NY tee-shirt! Unlike most things in New York, prices are pretty good, about 10-20% cheaper than in Ireland. See legostores-us/rockefeller-centre.com for more details.
The newly opened Harry Potter Store is a must visit for any Harry Potter fan – it has the largest collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts products under one roof.
There are two VR experiences here too, which need to be booked in advance. Suitable for 10+ and priced at $37 each, they are surely one of the top things to do in New York with kids. See Harry Potter Store.com for more details.
6. Have breakfast at Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Well that’s one #happyboy 😆 Thanks to everyone who recommended @ellensstardust diner – I have been to NYC a few times but never heard of it before. It is one of the busiest restaurants in the world, located on #timessquare that has singing waitresses who all have performing arts degrees. They are really good singers and the kids loved it. The food is’nt the best – well except for the Cookie Monster shake that Luke got 😍 but the atmosphere is amazing. Definitely worth a trip for breakfast, especially with kids 👍 See more on my highlights 👆 . . . . . . . . . #newyorkcity #newyork_instagram #newyorknewyork #newyorkphoto #citiesoftheworld #cityscape #instatravel #travelblogger #travelpics #travelgram #iphonepic #happykids #familyfun #familytravelblogger #family #newyorkpictures #familytrip #icecream #milkshake #diner #newyorkdiner #newyorkrestaurant #milkshakelover #foodporn #icecreamlover
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a must visit with kids! It is located just off Times Square, is one of New York’s oldest restaurants. and is home to the famous singing waitresses. I was amazed how talented they were, the staff sang hit after hit to a roaring crowd. You have to have a performing arts degree to work there, and I’m told it is a stepping stone for many careers on Broadway.
The food is your typical American diner style and pretty poor at that, but the atmosphere makes up for it, and our kids loved it. Make sure you go early though, we went at breakfast time and there was no queue, but lunch and dinner is a different story. Milkshakes and musicals – what better when in New York? See Ellensstardustdiner.com for more details.
7. Take the Subway
Love riding the subway in #newyork 🚇 Its the cheapest and fastest way to get around and you almost feel like a #newyorker – well except when you get the camera out 😆 . . . . . #newyork #newyorkcity #newyork_instagram #newyorknewyork #newyorkphoto #citiesoftheworld #cityscape #cityview #instacity #instatravel #travelblogger #travelpics #familytime #familytravel #travelgram #iphonepic #timessquare #ilovenewyork #iloveny #subwayslife #subwayselfie #subwaypic #train #newyorkcitylife #newyorksubway
Contrary to what you might think, the Subway is a great way to get around New York. It is cheap, efficient, and kids will enjoy the experience. By design, New York is one of those cities where you tend to walk a lot. Kids will get tired and instead of always hopping in taxis, live like a New Yorker and take the Subway.
8. Have lunch in Brookfield Place
After a visit to the World Trade Centre or One World Observatory, pop across the road to Brookfield Place. From the outside it looks like a regular shopping mall, but walk through to a trendy outdoor area lined with cafes and restaurants. Located on the Hudson river you can watch the boats go by and even catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
We ate at PJ Clarkes, which is located right on the waters edge. An American style restaurant with Irish roots, it is a great family choice serving good quality food and they even have Guinness on tap.
9. Visit Times Square
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Depending on the age of your kids, most will love wandering around Times Square. They will have seen it in movies and will appreciate the dazzling lights, street performers and their favourite cartoon characters dressed up. There is a Disney Store located here, as well as numerous American diners and street food vendors.
10. Visit the USS Intrepid
The aircraft carrier USS Intrepid is harboured in New York City since 1982, and is officially titled the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. Unlike most museums, kids are encouraged to sit in the Captain’s chair, climb inside the numerous jets on board and into the submarine adjacent to it.
There is also a flight simulator on board where kids (and adults) can climb into a real cockpit of a fighter plane and see if they can land it on the deck of the Intrepid. See IntrepidMuseum.org for more details.
11. Shop till you drop
No trip to New York would be complete without shopping, even if the dollar is not as favourable as it once was. Shopping may not always be a hit with younger children, but toy shops like American Girl Place and FAO Schwarz should prove popular.
Teenagers will love getting designer clothes at discounted prices, and if you have time I suggest taking a trip to the outlets at Woodbury Common. Think Under Armour, Nike, Adidas as well as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and North Face at a fraction of the cost of what you would pay at home – get tickets here.
12. Order in Pizza
A family trip to New York is wonderful experience, but beware the kids will be exhausted by day two. If like us you are travelling from Europe, the time difference will be five hours at least.
You will wake at 4 am and want to sleep by 7pm. After a long day’s sightseeing why not live like a New Yorker and order in a take-away pizza to your hotel room. Dining out in New York isn’t cheap, so this is also a great way to save those extra dollars for shopping.
Where to stay in New York with kids:
We stayed in The Beacon Hotel, ideally located close to Central Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The rooms are so spacious and all have kitchenettes, perfect for those early morning wake ups.
There are so many things to do in New York with kids that I couldn’t possibly fit them all in. I’m looking forward to bringing them back to try the rest! For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing, green spaces and more, see www.nycgo.com