You can never run out of things to do and see on a family vacation to New York City. The hard part is narrowing your list of things to do in NYC with kids! Just walking down the street and feeling the energy of the city is exciting to our kids (tadpoles to Mommy Frog and me), but they especially flip for hopping in park fountains, seeing Broadway shows, exploring museums, tasting new foods and also getting a taste of history in the Big Apple. Here are our favorite things to do in New York City with kids!
Top Things to Do in NYC With Kids
See a Broadway Show
If your tadpoles are over age 4 (6 for some shows), then your trip to NYC is a great opportunity to enjoy a Broadway show. There are quite a few family-friendly shows to choose from, including "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" and more. Older kids will declare it the best trip ever if you can score "Dear Evan Hanson," "Wicked" or "Hamilton" tickets. For an extra special treat, take the Disney on Broadway Behind the Scenes Tour.
Visit Times Square
Times Square is a feast for the senses. The energetic area is bursting with street performers, giant signs, bright lights, NYC street foods, television studios, the Nasdaq Marketplace and huge stores like the Virgin Megastore and Disney Store. Chocolate lovers will melt for the Hershey store and M&M store. There are plenty of museums to visit in the area, such as Discovery Times Square Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Most of the area is pedestrian-friendly, with plenty to occupy kids right on the sidewalk. This is also the area where you will find most Broadway plays and a same-day TKTS booth in case you want to try your luck at scoring a last-minute seat for a show.
Twirl on the Ice in NYC
There is nothing like ice skating in Rockefeller Center in the winter, but the lines can get long, especially around the holidays. (While you are there, take a trip to the Top of the Rock!) Ice skating in Rockefeller Center is probably one of the most popular things to do in NYC with kids. There are other options, such as Central Park, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park Rink, the LeFrak Center — ice rink in winter and roller rink in summer — and the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, which is open year-round and more.
Visit the 9/11 Memorial
If you visit the 9/11 Memorial, prepare your children for the visit in a way you feel is appropriate. Since your children were likely not born when this attack happened, you can work out how to help them find meaning in the memorial, which has giant waterfalls in the footprints of the original towers. The names of people who lost their lives at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, surround the waterfalls. This is an area for quiet reflection and not loud play. The 9/11 Tribute Center offers a detailed timeline of the events and intense images, which may bring significance and meaning to your children, but may not be appropriate for all kids. This is probably more appropriate for older children.
We re not going to lie. We visited recently with the tadpoles and we were highly emotional. It's hard to explain to you children what that day was like for those of us who experienced it in person. This might be a better visit for your tweens and teens, so you can open up dialogue about that day.
One of our favorite top things to do with kids in NYC is sprinkle some history into our trip. Tad is a history buff, so he loved seeing Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church and George Washington’s teeth (not wooden!) and lock of hair (it’s red!) at Fraunce’s Tavern. We have visited Federal Hall on Wall Street to see where George Washington took the oath of office to be our first President. In the Financial District, you can visit the National Museum of the American Indian. The great thing about these historical sites and museums is that they are generally free (or very inexpensive). Of course, no trip to The Big Apple is complete without a trip to the American Museum of Natural History.
Explore Wall Street
The Financial District area of New York has plenty for families to do. As mentioned, you can visit Federal Hall or other historical sites, sit on a coin couch at the Museum of American Finance, pose with the "Charging Bull" statue, try all kinds of ethnic foods and hop on over to The Battery. You can catch free or inexpensive ferry rides in the area. The free Staten Island Ferry is a 25-minute, five-mile ride with great views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Avoid going during commuter hours. You’ll find it is quieter on weekends.
Play in Parks
It’s smart planning to sprinkle your structured sightseeing with a little free time to keep the kids hoppin' and in a good mood. There are a number of great parks in NYC. We love The Battery park for views of the Statue of Liberty, outdoor cafes, gardens, fountains (April to November), history and a creative SeaGlass Carousel. It is near Wall Street and the famous "Charging Bull" statue, so it offers a haven from sightseeing in Lower Manhattan. You can catch sightseeing boats there, as well.
Central Park offers so much to do no matter what season you visit. This massive park in the middle of the city has playgrounds, climbing statues, a carousel, restaurants, gardens and beautiful sights of nature with a skyscraper backdrop. At the Conservatory Water, you can navigate boats in the warmer months (book lovers: this is the setting for E.B. White’s "Stuart Little") and ice skate in the winter. You can even rent a bike to see it all!
The NY Botanical Garden has the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. It's a place where kids can run and climb and even check out some lily pads. You can guess why we like to hang there!
Get Out on the Water
You can get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty from a boat or the ground at the base of the statue. But if you want to go up inside, it is best to order tickets months in advance. Several of the Circle Line cruises will get you to close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But if you want to step on the island and visit the Liberty Museum and Elis Island Immigration Museum, go for the Statue Cruises. You can get priority entry with the Statue Cruises: Reserve New York ticket. Coming from Jersey City? There a New Jersey ticket option too!
If your family loves thrills, The Beast Speedboat ride will have you screaming with excitement as you head down the Hudson River at 40 knots. Make a splash at the Statue of Liberty and see sights such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center.
Take a Bus or Bike Tour (or Even a Carriage Ride!)
If you want to see it all but are short on time or planning, there are many bus tours that will take you around to all the hot tourist spots. From the all-day Big Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour to 75-minute The Ride: Entertainment Experience (with two comedic hosts and five to seven street performers), you can choose the right tour for you. I
f you are an active family that wants to get to know a smaller area, then there are also a number of walking and bike tours that will get you out and about. Hop on a bike for another way to explore the city. You can't go wrong with the Unlimited Biking Central Park Bike Tour. Did you know there are 47 miles of trail in Central Park? You can explore them all on your own on an E-Bike with 2-hour and 4-hour rentals through Unlimited Biking.
If riding in the city makes you nervous with the tadpoles, you can stay on the Hudson River Greenway when you choose the Unlimited Biking Hudson River Bike Rental. You can keep to the designated path as you take in views of the skyline and Statue of Liberty, stopping for tasty snacks and meals along the way. Purchase a child ticket for attachments such as double trailers or tagalong bikes.
A fun open-air way to get around Central Park is to take a Horse & Carriage Tour. This private tour is 15 to 20 minutes long. Want a longer ride? Book the long ride, which lasts 45 to 50 minutes.
Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
Take a walk in the pedestrian and bike lane across the Brooklyn Bridge for great views of the city. You can get there faster and do some more sightseeing with a bike rental or by joining a bike tour with Unlimited Biking.
Take in View from a Skyscraper
Beat the crowds at the Empire State Building by visiting the Empire State Building Observation Deck in the morning between 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The best plan is to buy a ticket in advance for this iconic NYC location. You can purchase VIP tickets if you want to skip the line. There's even an AM/PM ticket that is good for entering twice in the same day. Kids under 6 are free! You’ll need to fold your stroller in the elevator. Potty training tip: Be sure to use the restroom on the second floor before riding up in the elevator.
Another great view of the city can be found at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center. Then there is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the One World Observatory. Take in breathtaking views from the 102nd story.
Explore a Museum
One of the top things to do in NYC with kids is to visit a museum. There are so many to choose from and you can’t do them all, so choose a museum that will most appeal to your children’s interests! Some of our favorite large museums include:
- American Museum of Natural History (houses the world’s largest collection of dinosaurs)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (consider the two-hour express tour if you are short on time for this huge museum)
- Children’s Museum (for ages 2 to 6)
- Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum (outdoor museum is best for older children; involves a lot of walking)
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (check out family tours and art workshops)
Catch a Game
Depending on when you visit, you may be able to catch a sports game. Basketball, baseball, football, hockey ... something is always in season. Did you know you can purchase discount New York Yankees tickets through Undercover Tourist? Toadally cool! You can save up to 60 percent on tickets from grandstand seats to field level!
Speaking of games, your own family can race the clock at The Escape Game New York.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
Your kids will be as happy as, well, a kid in a candy store, but imagine it’s the best and biggest candy store they have ever visited. Dylan’s Candy Bar’s flagship store on the Upper East Side offers three floors of sweetness. There is a candy café on-site. That's in case you want your tadpoles to eat beforehand so they don’t ruin their appetite with candy. The creative desserts, such as Nutella cookie s’mores and cookie butter pizza are going to send you in search of one of those parks we mentioned above so you can burn off all that energy.
Confession time. One of our top things to in NYC with kids is to eat. Forget the diet. Don’t count those calories. Just enjoy. Worry about the scale when you get home. You’ll be doing a ton of walking in NYC, so you’ll burn it off anyway. Fold up a giant slice of hot pizza to take a bite, eat a hotdog on the street, dig into your bag of candy, try a new ethnic food from a food truck or pop-up restaurant. (You can even take a Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour!) We always try to eat at Carmine’s when in Times Square for the best family-style Italian food. Just dig in and enjoy!
Any Harry Potter fans? You can drink Butterbeer at Harry Potter New York! The store has all your favorite Harry Potter treats such as Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizzbees and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans! You can also shop for wands and merchandise without making a trip to a theme park.
Go to LEGOLAND New York
It's not in the city, but this kid-centered theme park is 60 miles away. One of our Legoland tickets includes round-trip transportation if you don't have a car.
New York City is likely to be very different from where you live, so check out more tips for visiting NYC with kids to prepare yourself, keep your family safe and help make your trip go smoothly. We love skipping lines and saving money on vacation, and I am sure you do too. If you are looking for discount tours, museum tickets, Explorer Passes or hotels, be sure to visit the page highlighting New York City discounts on all that and more. Hopefully you have a better idea of the top things to do in NYC with kids. If you have any other favorite things we’ve missed, be sure to share them in the comment section below!
Related: Tips for Visiting NYC with Kids