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 the 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, Frozen and Sponge Bob Square Pants. Older kids will declare it the best trip ever if you can score Dear Evan Hanson, Wicked or Hamilton tickets.
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 museums 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 Rockerfeller Center in the winter, but the lines can get long, especially around the holidays. This 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 Museum
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.
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 American Indian. The great thing about these historical sites and museums is that they are generally free (or very inexpensive).
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, 5-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.
The NY Botanical Garden has the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden where kids can run and climb and even check out some lily pads — you can guess why we like to hang there!
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Boat
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. The Early Access Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ticket lets you beat the crowds and have access to the pedestal of the statue.
If you want to see it all but are short on time or planning, there are many hop-on/hop-off double decker bus tours that will take you around to all the hot tourist spots. If 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.
Empire State Building Observation Deck
Beat the crowds at the Empire State Building by visiting 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. 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.
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 (check out family tours and art workshops)
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.
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 in case you want your tadpoles to eat beforehand so they don’t ruin their appetite with candy. The creative desserts like 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. We always try to eat at Carmine’s when in Times Square for the best family-style Italian food. Just dig in and enjoy!
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