LAST UPDATED JANUARY 17, 2020
New York City With Kids
Confession: I love New York! My parents used to live in the Northeast and my Mom and I visited many times. As such, I was super excited to show New York City to my husband and kids. If your kids aren’t sure what there is to do in New York or you just want them to get excited about going, Amazon has some great books you can get ahead of time. We bought “My First Trip to New York” for our youngest and surprised him with it when we got on the plane. I think he read it cover to cover and was super excited about all the cool stuff in New York.
If you have even younger children, there are several options for them on Amazon books as well. There are a lot of movies that you & your kids can watch ahead of your trip. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Elf, Stuart Little, and the list goes on. Watching these before your Watching these before your trip can make your kids even more excited about going to New York City.
Get Tickets For A Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
So, what should you do in New York City on the first visit with kids? New York City is incredibly kid-friendly. I think families who travel there are often pleasantly surprised at New York City’s safety. We highly recommend booking a bus tour online to receive a discount. We used Big Bus tours and they were fantastic. One of the real perks is that it’s a hop on and off tour. As Big Bus has more than 30 stops and multiple ticket options, you’ll save time and money by not worrying about transportation.
On one of our rides, our tour guide turned the tour over to our boys! They had the microphone and the guide told them what to say to the passengers. They LOVED it! As you’re touring the city, the guides are able to give fun facts about neighborhoods, buildings and are very gracious to provide recommendations on great places to eat.
Visit Iconic Times Square
When you think New York City, you think tall buildings and bright lights which is Times Square in a nutshell. Our boys were enthralled with all of the lights and the volume of people. Visit the M&M store, our youngest swears that M&M’s taste better in New York! There are countless Broadway shows to see, tons of restaurants and just people watching is fun. Plus, visiting Times Square is free. Events are always happening in Times Square so check their website for a calendar of events.
TIP: People dressed up in costumes will try and get your kids attention. Keep in mind they do not work for the city and Elmo, SpongeBob and Captain Marvel work for tips. If you do not want to pay a tip to have them take a picture with your kids, just keep walking.
Visit The Empire State Building
I have been to the Empire State Building numerous times and it never gets old. Our youngest son is a huge King Kong fan and couldn’t wait to get to the top. We highly recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time or buying a CityPass. If you plan on visiting several attractions, getting a CityPass will save you a ton of money and time.
The day we went there weren’t a ton of people and waiting to get on the elevator was a relatively short wait. Once at the observation deck you have all the time you want to walk around and look at the amazing views of New York City!
Tip: If you are going on a chilly day, it will be even colder on the observation deck. Make sure to wear appropriate outerwear.
Explore Central Park
Another freebie! Exploring Central Park is one of my favorite things to do! Our kids loved every bridge, playground, winding path and performer they encountered. Central Park is huge! If you have a little one, make sure you are ready to carry them or bring a stroller as they will get tired.
With over 800 acres, it can be easy to get turned around or even feel a little lost. The Ulmon New York app is great because you can see exactly where you are on a map and navigate around. Due to its size, we would recommend looking at a map of Central Park ahead of time and deciding what you and your kids will enjoy the most. If you are doing the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, they stop in several places outside the park.
There are rocks to climb, places to explore and you could easily spend an entire in Central Park. Don’t forget to stop at Belvedere’s Castle. You won’t regret spending time here and it will make your kids fall in love with New York City.
Walk Around Rockefeller Center
Another free one to visit! Rockefeller Center is certainly iconic and there is a lot to see and do. Our kids were beyond excited to go to the Lego and Nintendo stores. We weren’t quite as excited, but once we were there it was a pretty cool store. Rockefeller Center is home to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and of course, the ice skating rink. There are a ton of shops, restaurants, places to grab a quick coffee or satisfy a sweet tooth with a stop a Magnolia Bakery. You can go by the Today Show studio as well.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
Even though our children were not born when 9/11 occurred, they knew enough that is was very moving to them. Be prepared for questions on what happened that day. We had already decided what we would say and how we would answer some of the potential questions. The Memorial is incredibly moving and is a place of reverence. While the boys could feel the sadness of what happened, there is also a peacefulness at the memorial. In the end, we decided that visiting the 9/11 Museum would be a little too heavy for our youngest. Although we think he could have handled it, my husband and I knew how emotional we would become. With this mind, depending on the age of your children and what they know about the events of 9/11, you can decide if your children are ready for it.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is an absolute MUST DO for all first time visitors to New York. This visit marked my 7th time to see Lady Liberty and, to be honest, I have loved every visit. There are a couple of options to get to Liberty Island. First is to purchase your tickets through the NPS or utilize your CityPass.
TIP: Whichever option you choose, purchase in advance. In particular, if you would like a Crown Access tour, you will need to purchase your tickets at least 6 months in advance.
If you decide to wait until the day of your visit, you can attempt to purchase at Castle Clinton in Battery Park. It is the ONLY authorized location to purchase tickets. Beware of illegal ticket vendors! Once you are in line to board the boat, be prepared for an extensive screening process. The ferry ride over is enjoyable and there are snack and drinks available for purchase. Since it’s on the more expensive side, I recommend bringing your own snacks/drinks.
After enjoying seeing the Statue of Liberty in person and taking all the required pictures, visit the gift shop. Besides offering the normal t-shirt selections, there are a ton of great items to buy to remember your trip. Don’t forget to pick up a Christmas ornament for your family travel tree! While it’s easy to overdo it on souvenirs, we usually tell our boys to each pick 2 things that they really like (and there is a price limit).
There is no shortage of museums in New York City! Indeed, it can be hard to decide on which ones to visit. Without a doubt, we are an art-loving family and I wanted to make sure we saw Vincent Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night” in person at MoMA (Modern Museum of Art). Our children have been visiting art museums since they were in strollers and they actually enjoy going to them. We started a game when they were very little. After each gallery, they would tell us which piece they liked the most and which they liked the least. It leads to some great and sometimes funny conversations on which pieces of art they liked or disliked. MoMA has an absolutely incredible variety of art and is very welcoming to children. The American Museum of Natural History is another great one that kids will love! Also, the Intrepid Air & Space Museum is a fantastic option that kids will like.
The High Line & Chelsea Market
If the weather is nice, I cannot say enough good things about the High Line & Chelsea Market. The High Line is a public park built atop an old freight line and features a balcony overlook, a sundeck and so much more! One of the best ways to enjoy the High Line is to stop at Chelsea Market, pick up some food and then head up to the High Line and enjoy amazing views! Chelsea Market features a fantastic variety of restaurants which should ensure that everyone can get something they want. Whether soups, gelato, bratwurst or tacos, the options are pretty endless and all delicious!
Where To Stay
Of course, there are endless hotel choices in New York City. Since we’re IHG Members, earning points for free stays comes in handy. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Times Square South. Located on West 36th, it is a perfect location! One of the many pluses of staying at a Holiday Inn Express is the free breakfast. Having free breakfast each morning can save a family a ton of money.
On one side, the hotel has a great little shop where you can buy drinks, snacks, and even lunch. It’s perfect for grabbing a drink to have in the hotel room without having to walk 10 blocks. On the other side is a great Irish pub, McGettigan’s. I had one of the best burgers I have ever had there. Along West 36th Street, there are other really great options as well. From this Holiday Inn Express, you can easily walk to Bryant Park, Times Square, Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library (go see the Rose Reading Room). There’s also a Chick-fil-A just around the corner that is a great (and quick) restaurant option as well.
Like a lot of hotels in New York City, the rooms are on the smaller side, but you can request a room with a view of the Empire State Building. Staying in Midtown Manhattan is a great choice since it really is a midway point to so many things in New York City.
Where To Eat
I have already talked about how great Chelsea Market is and the options it offers. Another consideration is going old-school and going to one of New York City’s oldest restaurants. Fraunces Tavern is the oldest, operating as a tavern since 1762 and served as a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty. George Washington famously said goodbye to his soldiers here. It still serves great food with a side of history. Delmonico’s has been around since 1830 and is still serving mouth-watering steaks.
Keen’s Steakhouse opened in 1885 and is the only survivor from the Herald Theater District. Writers have been praising Keen’s mutton chop since the turn of the 20th Century. It also holds the world’s largest collection of churchwarden pipes. Keen’s Pipe Club includes luminary names such as Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Albert Einstein, J.P. Morgan, John Barrymore, General Douglas MacArthur and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. We chose to celebrate my birthday with dinner at Keen’s and it did not disappoint! While pricey, it was truly worth every penny!
Our oldest son loved the Halal food cart vendors and had their chicken several times. Of course, our youngest enjoyed the pretzel carts more times than I would like to admit. Sarabeth’s Central Park West has the most delicious brunch. Located in the Meat Packing District, Old Homestead makes a mean burger that kids will enjoy.
Discussing who has the best pizza in New York City is a dangerous business. However, I am a huge fan of Artichoke Basille’s which has several locations throughout the city (including one nearby Chelsea Market). Lombardi’s is America’s first pizzeria that opened in 1905 and has been serving delicious slices ever since. For a quick slice, Joe’s Pizza is a great option with several locations throughout the city.
Another New York classic is Katz’s Deli. Located in the Lower East Side, it is well worth the visit! If you watched When Harry Met Sally, you’re already familiar with Katz’s (e.g. Meg Ryan’s famous scene ending with, “I’ll have what she’s having”). It was so good that we have ordered it twice online to be shipped to our house! Be prepared for a full house and to stand in line, but one bite into your pastrami sandwich and you will be glad you went.
New York City is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Your kids will be amazed at the sheer volume of people, the lights and sounds. For some, it can be a bit overwhelming but they will quickly become enthralled with this special place. Landmarks, history, parks, art, good food, and interesting people are just some of the reasons to visit New York City with kids.
Our youngest son constantly asks when we can go back to NYC. So. fair warning that your child may fall in love with New York too 🙂