Best things to do with kids in NYC
Though 750,000 visitors pass through its doors daily, the celestial ceiling above Grand Central Station’s main terminal has the power to practically stop time. But despite its beautiful, dark green hue and portrayal of the traditional zodiac, there’s just one problem: It’s technically inaccurate. Shortly after its installation in 1913, a visitor noticed certain astronomical inconsistencies, for instance, the placement of Orion. Kids, however—unless they’ve just finished a particularly intensive constellation unit in school—will be awed nonetheless.
Consider this park NYC’s best example of recycling on a mega scale. Built atop an abandoned train track, the High Line offers more than 20 blocks worth of car- and bike-free strolling. Besides plenty of seating and a killer view of the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, there are fun opportunities for little ones such as monthly family festivals, partnerships with schools and camps as well as teen programs.
The American Museum of Natural History isn’t just home to wonderfully colossal dinosaur, sea creature and artifact displays—it’s also home to the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a glass enclosure that houses the stunning 87-foot-diameter Hayden Sphere. Families can explore the 13-billion–year history of the universe, pick up cool facts about planets, stars and galaxies and watch space shows. The Museum collaborates with NASA to keep all of its visual maps up to date.
One World Observatory at World Trade Center lets visitors experience panoramic views of NYC on levels 100, 101 and 102 from atop the tallest building in the United States—1,250 feet above the ground. Kids will love arriving at their destination Jetsons-style via Sky Pod elevators (some of the fastest in the world) which lead to a two-minute video presentation of gorgeous city images on the 102nd floor. Check out City Pulse on the 100th floor, which features HD videos of notable NYC landmarks and neighborhoods. Then daredevil kids (and parents!) can brave the Sky Portal, where a 14-foot wide circular provides a view of real-time, high-definition footage of the streets below.
At this way-cool Queens museum, kids can get hands-on with hundreds of interactive exhibits and activities that bring science, technology, engineering and math to life. Built for the 1964 World's Fair, NYSCI is home to a revolving lineup of displays about light, 3-D printing, outer space and robots, plus the Design Lab, where kids can tackle activities at five stations: Backstage, Sandbox, Studio, Maker Space and Treehouse. Kids can also climb on a rope web and play mini golf at the massive Science Playground and Rocket Park. Trust us, this place is worth the trek.
In the short amount of time it takes to reach this former military base, families will be transported to a world a million metaphorical miles away. Lush green lawns are dotted with quaint Victorian homes, car alarms are replaced by bicycle bells and there’s always a quirky festival going on (think the annual Labor Day weekend NYC Unicycle Festival).
This Williamsburg theater doesn’t always screen kid-friendly flicks—it specializes mainly in new indie releases and quirky throwbacks—but when the occasional PG-rated program come about, tickets go fast! Families can chow down on brunch options like breakfast tacos, waffles and cheeseburgers while they watch live-action or animated films on the big screen—a worthy alternative to cereal and cartoons on the couch. Parents with really little ones (ages 1 or younger) will also dig the theater’s Hawks With Babies screenings, which invite cinema-loving moms and dads to bring their bundle of joy along while they enjoy full food and beverage service. No need to worry about glares if the baby gets fussy, since you'll be in good company.
Dare devils, rejoice! NYC will let you take in the scenes from a unique vantage point. While enjoying a little r&r on Governor’s Island or visiting our city’s fury friends at the Bronx Zoo, you and the kiddos can try your hand at zip-lining. Don’t have the need for speed? No sweat—the venues offers plenty of other attractions to keep the faint of heart entertained while loved ones are gliding through the sky.
The moment the curtain rises at this gorgeous jewel box theater, kids sense that something truly amazing is about to happen. And it does. The New Vic is beloved for its high-quality productions of entertaining and thought-provoking theater sourced from all over the world, with fantastic stories that feature everything from breathtaking new plays to re-imagined classics, and gigantic puppets to breakdancing daredevils. Audiences could be transported to the depths of the ocean, Ancient Rome, the plains of Africa, the circus, or maybe even Mars, with actors, dancers, jugglers, clowns and artists of every stripe keeping everyone enthralled. Most performances are designed with specific age groups in mind—pre-schoolers, grade-schoolers, tweens and teens—and activities such as pre-show crafts, professional workshops and other themed programming build on the young audience’s enjoyment and understanding of the show. Parents, meanwhile, love the New Vic’s family-centric ethos—affordable ticket prices, Autism-aware performances, stroller parking, free lockers and plentiful booster seats—thoughtful touches that take the drama out of taking kids to the theater.
The city's home to some fantastic arcades, including Modern Pinball, home of wall-to-wall pinball machines that'll keep you busy for hours. Other options include Dave & Busters, Chinatown Fair and Funtopia USA.
New York is world-famous for its over-the-top dedication to the holidays each December, and few places in Gotham better sum up the city’s love for the season than this annual show. Since 1933, the Rockettes have been bringing cheer to audiences’ faces with each in-unison high kick in their fabulous, sparkling costumes. The massive set pieces and new technology mix with classic elements like the dancing Santas and wooden soldiers to create an experience nostalgic grandparents and first-time viewers will equally enjoy. Afterward, make sure to grab a picture around back at Rockefeller Center’s gigantic holiday tree. This is a quintessential addition to your list of things to do during the holidays.
The mile-long stroll from end to end of the Brooklyn Bridge offers spectacular views of downtown Manhattan, including the Freedom Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island and of course, the iconic double arches that have come to signify NYC’s hippest borough. While you’ll mostly be joined by the thousands of other tourists and locals crossing the East River, be on the lookout for occasional cyclists attempting to make their way through the crowds. If you’re coming from Manhattan, reward tired legs with a scoop of strawberry at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, conveniently located at the base of the bridge in DUMBO.
You’ll have a whale of a time at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s home to marine life. Located off the Coney Island Boardwalk, the aquarium is where you’ll find plenty of fish, starfish and the mammals and birds that live among them. Otters, seals and penguins take in the sun from the stony cliffs before cooling off or searching for food under the water while sea lions show off amazing behaviors in the aquatheater for special shows. Visitors looking for an experience with more teeth should definitely check out the sharks.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is more than just your average street fair—and you definitely aren’t just limited to watching it on TV. Get there early and line up along 6th Ave to see classic balloons like Snoopy or newer additions like Hello Kitty, the Pillsbury Doughboy, SpongeBob and Paddington Bear. There’s also a balloon inflation area on the Upper West Side the evening before festivities begin—usually outside the American Museum of Natural History—if you aren’t interested in battling the crowds on Thanksgiving. It’s one of the best things to do with kids in NYC as the holiday season gets underway.
In addition to Sunday services, this massive Gothic cathedral hosts concerts and tours. Annual events include both winter and summer solstice celebrations; the Blessing of the Animals during the Feast of Saint Francis, which draws pets and their people from all over the city; and, would you believe it, the Blessing of the Bikes, which kicks off the bicycle season each spring.
Though the Museum of Modern Art might seem a bit intimidating for a family excursion, many young visitors love the expressive, colorful works of masters like Picasso, Matisse, Gogh and Jackson Pollack. Talented tour guides on specific days offer tours of the modern and contemporary galleries specifically for four years olds, kids 5 to 10 years old and for tweens. On each group trip through the legendary museum, kids share their ideas about the art and are taught new ways of looking at and thinking about the material through conversation and hands-on activities, like drawing and movement. Can’t find a tour? Explore the space yourself and later stop by the Art Lab, a room with multimedia tools kids can use to express their own creativity.
A visit to Snug Harbor keeps families busy thanks to the scenic cultural center and interactive Staten Island Children's Museum. Wander through hands-on exhibits, engage in song and dance and get in on craft projects. Don't forget to visit the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, where kids can wander through the maze-like shrubbery inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel. There's a miniature castle and rose garden at the end of the trail!
While convincing your children to use their feet and quit their whining about wanting to take a taxi might be a challenge, they’ll happily keep pace with the crown on a special tour about their interests. Broadway babies (and bigger fans) will love the Broadway Up Close tour of the Theater District, where guides not only share stories about the iconic stages and their actors, but also can get into the nitty gritty on the real (non musical) life of one particular founding father with a trip downtown for the “Hamiltour.” For those local history buffs, learn about New York during the Revolutionary War, or the very localized history of your neighborhood like Chelsea or the Lower East Side, check out a walk with the extremely well-informed guides at Big Onion Tours.
Symphony Space’s weekend family program is an utterly kid-friendly celebration of the arts with a lineup of music, literary, dance and theatrical events that will have them grooving, singing and rolling in the aisles. At the ultra-popular Saturday morning Just Kidding series, youngsters experience everything from circus acts and rock bands, to puppetry and beatboxing (the latter comes with massive playground-bragging rights), and during the Thalia Kids Book club, young readers take part in creative writing exercises and engage in dynamic Q&As with their favorite authors. Add a raft of concerts, plays and even screenings of Britain’s finest National Theatre productions, and you’ve got yourself a weekend home on the corner of 95th and Broadway.
Pedaling a bicycle on the streets of Manhattan can be downright terrifying. Better to find spacious paths where they can roll along at their own speed. Running 4.5 miles along the Belt Parkway, the Bay Ridge stretch has a smooth bike lane for little cyclists. Head out for a ride at sunset, when you can catch incredible views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Enter at Shore Rd and 68th St, Brooklyn.
This New York institution's claim to fame is its rich, fluffy cheesecake, which comes in several varieties like red velvet and devil’s food—but your picky eaters will be plenty pleased with the original. Work our way up to the sweet slab of loveliness by chowing down on diner fare first. Perfectly salty-sour pickles and other crunchy bites are served while little ones peruse the appropriately-titled Junior Menu and choose from a selection of kiddie favorites like grilled cheese and chicken fingers.
This Brooklyn park straddles the two hipster-fied nabes of Greenpoint and Williamsburg but continues to be a family favorite, too. There are baseball, football and soccer fields, dog runs, a track, tennis courts, a skate park and more. The space operates year-round with movies under the stars and a dip in the pool during summer months and a round of ice skating in the winter.
Goats, sheep and ponies—oh my! Families don’t have to travel far from the city to get a tranquil agrarian experience. At the Queens County Farm Museum, the the oldest continually farmed site in the state, barnyard animals are available for feeding, petting and your “oohs” and “ahs,” too. Explore the full 47-acres on a tractor-pulled hay ride, or stick to the gardens. Come harvest season there’s a special corn maze and activities such as pumpkin picking and a haunted house.
Most of the amazing original sculptures, paintings and multimedia creations at the Children’s Museum of the Arts are made fresh everyday by the artists...which are actually the visitors. Little ones from across the city and around the world convene at this kid’s museum to let their imaginations and creativity run free as they take part in the daily workshops and studio activities.
Prospect Park’s all-in-one recreation center effortlessly transitions from an icy wonderland in winter to a summer-fun hot spot for Brooklyn families, whether it’s biking along the park’s shaded paths or gliding on the 16,000-square-foot roller rink. Rent equipment on-site and move at your own pace with the kids, or improve their skills in a roller-skating or roller-hockey class. Pack a swimsuit, because you won’t be able to duck out without dashing through the 20 water jets of the LeFrak Center’s awesome Splash Pad feature (for those who are under 12).
Brooklyn’s hippest food event has plenty of vendors that’ll appeal to little ones—including newbies such as Big Mozz x DO, which serves deep fried cookie dough. Take in the nice weather with a trip to Williamsburg (Saturdays) or Prospect Park (Sundays) and sample a bunch of delicious foods with the whole family. Make sure you come hungry!
Gotham really is a green place, if you know where to look! Garden-starved city kids will jump at the chance to get their hands in the soil and discover that fresh produce grows on plants—not in supermarket aisles. Journey downtown to Battery Urban Farm—a one-acre educational plot where more than 100 varieties of organic veggies, fruits, grains, flowers and other plants. The farm, which is run by student farmers, donates its produce to food pantries and local school cafeterias and is open April through November. The whole family is welcome to pitch in during open volunteer hours every third Saturday of the month from 10am to 1pm (you must register in advance). When visiting, kids should be sure to keep their eyes peeled for Zelda, the resident street-smart wild turkey. She can often be found cruising the park, sitting under a tree or wandering around Castle Clinton.
Art-loving parents and their babies (even fussy ones) can enjoy private tours of The Whitney’s most buzz-worthy exhibitions, led by Whitney Teaching Fellows and Ph.D. candidates. On Saturdays and Sundays, kids can even use inspiration from the galleries to make a masterpiece during Open Studio For Families.
If you haven’t taken a bite out of Murray’s Cheese, you’re missing out! First, there are always samples available to try (no complaints here). Plus, it’s really more like a cheese library than a cheese store. This West Village staple has hundreds of cheeses on offer and super knowledgeable staff that can help you find what you’re looking for. Murray’s also has specialty items like homemade pastas, cured meats, dried fruit, pickles and infused oils and vinegars. Grab your loot (and a nearby bench) and eat your fill!
You can’t beat the bustling Washington Square Park when it comes to people watching—plus some kind of performance is practically guaranteed on weekends. It’s not rare to see musician Colin Huggins wheeling his baby-grand piano right in the square to play classical tunes beneath the majestic arch (a replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe). Dress the little ones in their swimmies—it will be difficult to keep them out of the fountain on hot days!
We’re all familiar with the bouncy brown sparrows, speckled European starlings and the smattering (or should we say, splattering) of pigeons that live on every block. But look—and listen—a little closer, and you could meet some more unknown city dwellers such as glorious red Northern Cardinals, shimmering Blue Jays and orange-chested American Robins. Nature-nurturing organization New York City Audubon protects the birds, wildlife and their natural habitats in our area. The venue’s fun workshops and school programs teach children how to identify their feathered friends and care for the environment, too.
Times Square’s massive attraction is also it’s tiniest at this 50,000-square-foot space dedicated to miniatures. The $40 million project brings hundreds of itty-bitty trains, planes and automobiles (and wagons!) whiz through scaled down landmarks from around the world, including New York’s very own Times Square. This isn’t just an impressive diorama; each ticket holder is given a high-tech key (that looks like a skeleton key) that reveals special secrets about the locations. Folks interested in seeing how the lights and motors work can also look into the control room, and, for an additional fee, can make themselves mini with the special 3-D printer.
New Yorkers can thank the French for this iconic gift on America’s 100th birthday, which has welcomed both immigrants and tourists to the country for generations.Though reservations are required for a tour of the Statue of Liberty’s interior, the pedestal and a trek up to her iconic crown, your ferry pass is also valid to make a second stop at Ellis Island for an extra dose of Americana.
Most folks don't come to NYC to brave its climbing gyms, but we can't recommend leaving the city without a trip to Brooklyn Boulders (an indoor climbing gym) or the Cliffs at LIC, which caters to kids as young as six years old.
Get photo ops galore as your kids meet and mingle with more than 200 life-like figure of their favorite stars at the famous Madame Tussauds. Superheroes like Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America are ready for their closeups; Rihanna, Bob Marley and the Beatles need temporary bandmates; Jennifer Aniston, ScarJo and Marilyn Monroe could always use some help walking the red carpet and Jimmy Fallon needs a guest to interview. Little history buffs will be thrilled to meet Abraham Lincoln, JFK and Gandhi.
As the tallest building in the world—well, at least it took the title when it was completed in 1931—the Empire State Building still offers arguably the best view of Manhattan. Take your time enjoying the scene from the 86th floor, the open-air observatory and the enclosed rotunda on the 102nd floor, where kids will be shocked to learn they’re standing nearly a quarter of a mile above the streets below.
One of the great joys of summer in the city is boating on the East River with the Manhattan skyline as your backdrop. Every year, from May until August, Brooklyn Bridge Park offers free (free!) kayaking—just head to the boathouse between Piers 1 and 2 for a 20-minute session of paddling bliss. All the equipment is provided, there are single and double kayaks—some doubles have room for a small child to sit in the middle—lifejackets are mandatory and you should know you’ll probably get a little wet, so wear swim clothes or something that dries quickly.
Seeing a first-rate show on the Great White Way is a rite of passage for every little New Yorker. When the lights go down and the curtains go up, suddenly kids are fully immersed in onstage make-believe and the magic happens before their very eyes. There are shows to suit all tastes, but performances often run two hours or more, so wait until your little wrigglers can sit still long enough to enjoy the show without distracting others. Be sure to check out what’s on offer at the TKTS booths in Times Square, the South Street Seaport or Downtown Brooklyn—you may get lucky and score discounts of up to 50% off.
New York Botanical Garden’s newly renovated and expanded Edible Academy has one goal: to immerse children in nature, whether that’s through planting projects, cooking demonstrations or DIYs in the greenhouse. The grounds will reopen on Father’s Day weekend and kick off with a Saturday and Sunday celebration for the whole family. It’s one of the most fun—and healthiest—things you can do with kids in NYC.
The Liberty Science Center lets kids nerd out over four floors of exhibits. At the end of a long day exploring, catch a film inside the IMAX studio, which on any given day can include features on robots, humpback whales or the Hubble telescope.
Young or old, born-and-raised New Yorker or out-of-towner visiting for the holidays, everyone can find something to tempt their taste buds at Eataly’s sprawling testament to Italian cuisine. Though there several restaurants within the venue, each devoted to specialties like seafood or seasonal produce, as well as dozens of mini shop-in-shops manned by experts in the fields of gelato, roasted meats, condiments and others, savvy kids will bee-line it to one thing: the Nutella cafe.
Yes, 28 acres of gorgeous greenery does exist in the Bronx—and we’re not talking about the New York Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo. This 19th-century estate is home to a historic mansion and public woodlands perfect for getting lost in—or better yet, being led through on a nature walk. Be sure to check the event schedule before visiting (chances are there’s an art project or family festival going on). If you manage to wake the kids up early enough on Saturdays, it’s free to enter before noon.
Thinking of a career in espionage? Test your skills at Spyscape in NYC, the interactive Times Square exhibit that lets visitors uncover the truth with lie detectors, put their flexibility to work in a room full of laser beams and learn about spies like Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma code. See you there...or will we? 928 8th Ave (212-549-1941, spyscape.com).
Whether your toddler loves getting their hands dirty with a gardening class or your book-loving big kid wants to see a classic setting come to life in Snug Harbor’s maze-like Connie Gretz Secret Garden (which was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel), New York has a children’s garden for your family. Young McDonald’s can sing E-I-E-I-O at urban farming co-operative South Brooklyn Children’s Garden, where they’ll frolic among the strawberry patch and herb box, or they can enjoy a leisurely afternoon by the koi pond and under the natural shade at Jefferson Market Garden. Should you find your way to the New York Botanical Garden’s 250-acres, kids will find activities perfect for them including green-thumb workshops.
This kid-pleasing venue offers food, bowling, shuffleboard and—best of all—a pretty impressive arcade. Favorite games include Jurassic Park Arcade, where kids can use “tranquilizing guns” to help restore order to the island and save over 30 species, Candy Crush Saga, Kung Fu Panda, Batman, Mario Kart Arcade Grand Prix Deluxe, Star Wars Battle Pod and tons more—many games offer prize tickets, too.
Ample Hills is on point with unique kid-pleasing favorites like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Chocolate Milk and Cookies, The Munchies and Snap, Mallow and Pop—it also doesn’t hurt that there are great flavors for grownups like Salted Crack Caramel, Butter Pecan Brittle and Mexican Hot Chocolate. The Gowanus location boasts a roof deck complete with colorful chairs, super cute murals, a stationary bike kids can ride to help make ice cream and a build-your-own-sundae option with whipped cream, brownie, sprinkles and your ice cream of choice.
Barclays is home to many a fantastic thing, but one thing you MUST do there is catch a Brooklyn Nets home game. Even if you grab a seat in the nosebleeds, big screens give you access to all you’ll want to see. The kiddos will love the halftime shows with giveaways, energetic performances by the kids-only dance team (Brooklyn Nets Kids) and traditional sports arena fair available throughout Barclays—though we prefer walking across the street to Shake Shack. Your mini-mes will also be glad to know there’s a Brooklyn Nets gear shop not far from their seats in the stadium so they can walk away repping their favorite team.
A 20 plus year tradition at the New York Botanical Garden, the Holiday Train Show is every curious kid’s dream. They’ll be eye level with over 150 iconic NYC buildings recreated with bark, leaves and other natural materials, seeing G-scale choo choo trains weave around the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center and even cross the Brooklyn Bridge on a quarter-mile of track in the conservatory. While you’re there, visit the Garden’s other indoor exhibits or walk through portions of the 250-acre grounds.
With origins as far back as 1888, Katz’ Deli is certainly worth a visit. It’s been family-run for over 100 years, offering huge servings of delicious corned beef, pastrami and brisket (among others) all cooked to perfection. Kids will love the hot pastrami sandwich, matzo ball soup, knishes and mouth-watering New York cheesecake. The cool décor is also worth checking out—there are pictures, hand-written signs and other artifacts from famous guests. We’d suggest visiting in off-peak hours to minimize the wait. Pro tip: Parents, hold onto your family’s meal tickets! You won’t be able to leave without giving them to the cashier (and will face a hefty fine if you lose them).
Built in 1880, this teeny structure is the sole remaining lighthouse in Manhattan. The lighthouse served as the inspiration for Hildegard H. Swift's 1942 children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.
Believe it or not, hours of waterfront fun can be found right in Tribeca! At Hudson River Park, athletic kiddos can tackle a massive playground and get their toes in the sand and play on regulation-size beach volleyball courts. If volleyball isn’t your game, take to the 18-hole mini golf course, complete with a pond, streams, footbridges, waterfalls, sand traps and even a cave. Young Masters-in-training will also love the Play Area outfitted with a sandbox, swings and water features.
At this low-tech playhouse, kids will gladly cast phones and gadgets aside to see amazing handmade puppets in action. Founder Nicolas Coppola adapts classic tales for his marionettes to perform in the cozy theater (kids sit on rugs at the front, parents are on benches at the back). Families will be swept away by the artful scenery, lively music and intricate puppets as they take on a life of their own, moving across the stage as if by magic.
We love this city like life itself but let’s be honest, it’s disgustingly hot in summer, bitingly cold in winter and our apartments are too damn small all year long. When the kids get cabin fever and the playground’s a no-go, it’s time to embrace the indoor play space. They’ll find room to run and equipment for them to clamber over under and around, and you’ll find yourself feeling smug that for once the little-kid whirlwind isn’t happening at your place. In Chelsea, City Treehouse has a splashy water-play zone and a giant treehouse to explore, Apple Seeds (Chelsea, the Upper West Side) offers a multitude of classes and soft-play galore, Recess Dumbo raises play to an art form with it’s sleek play area and complimentary crafts, and in Queens, the children’s educators at Raising Astoria have created a serene playspace and lead classes in everything from breakdancing to yoga. Various locations, times and prices.
During the winter season, the New York City Ballet presents the crème de la crème of NYC holiday performances: company co-founder George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. But the NYCB’s calendar is teeming with reasons why you and your child should book a ticket any time of the year. Check out this season’s lineup to see what you and your crew will enjoy!
If you’ve never visited The Cloisters, now’s the time: It’s a must-see for the little ones. Devoted to the architecture of medieval Europe (and home to the ever-magical “Unicorn Tapestries”), this branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is full of incredible medieval artifacts and indoor-outdoor gardens. Pack a picnic lunch and set up camp on one of the grassy areas on your way to The Cloisters (food inside can get a bit pricey), then enter the museum to check out jewelry, sculptures, paintings, metalwork and furniture. After, go for a walk overlooking the Hudson or hit the Fort Tryon Park playground with swings, playhouses and a splash pad with spray fountains as you meander back to the subway.
The American Museum of Natural History’s collection of dinosaur fossils in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs is one of the most impressive things your kids will ever lay eyes on. They’ll gaze up at a toothy Tyrannosaurus rex, check out a Velociraptor skull, learn about maniraptora (whose evolutionary trajectory extends to birds) and see the first fossil dinosaur specimen collected by AMNH researchers. While the dinosaurs are definitely our favorite part, pay a visit to the Hall of Ocean Life (you’ll see the famed big blue whale!), Hall of North American Mammals and the Hall of Biodiversity.
Imagine a boat cruise around the New York harbor with views of the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline—now try to think of one that’s free! While many Staten Islanders use the boat simply as a way to get to work, this hour-long trip is also one of the best totally free things to do with kids in NYC. Even better? The frequent schedule makes the need for careful planning unnecessary. Depart from Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan or the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island (siferry.com). Free.
New York has plenty of kid-friendly brunch options…that is, if you know where to look! Whether your hungry munchkins are craving a heaping plate of syrup-drenched pancakes, a pick-your-own-ingredients omelet or a soul-warming plate of chicken and waffles, this city has it all.
New York has plenty of kid-friendly brunch options…that is, if you know where to look! Whether your hungry munchkins are craving a heaping plate of syrup-drenched pancakes, a pick-your-own-ingredients omelet or a soul-warming plate of chicken and waffles, this city has it all. Check out Sweet Chick, Sarabeth’s and more to feed the belly before a full day of play.
NYC is known for some unique fashion, and there’s no reason little ones can’t get in on the action. Head to cute mom and pop stores like Torly Kid (or even big name brands) to peruse racks stocked with outfits your mini-me will love.
Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place of Civil War generals, sports legends, artists and politicians; famously, Green-Wood is also a Revolutionary War historic site. Visitors can ride the site’s green trolleys to see monuments, Green-Wood’s historic chapel and Battle Hill. Every year, the Cemetery also hosts a commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn—you’ll see cannon fire, historic cooking demos and re-enactments on the 478-acre property.
New York is blessed with some of the finest dining options in the world, but sometimes even the most sophisticated families just want to play with their food. If the kids are Willy Wonka fans, Max Brenner Chocolate Bar and Restaurant is just the (golden) ticket: crazy pipes pump molten cocoa around the sweet-scented room while kitchen pumps out hot-chocolate shots, chocolate pizza and the aptly named Chocolate Mess Party (bring your own wet wipes). Got a houseful of LEGO Ninjago nuts? Ninja in Tribeca will have them jumping out of their skins as black-clad warriors leap out and perform magic tricks at your table in this dimly-lit, temple-like spot. Looking for something less intense? Dainty real-life tea parties are on the menu at American Girl Cafe, where you dine with dolls, or Alice’s Tea Cup, where the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit adorn every wall. Food is served with a side of show tunes at Ellen’s Stardust Diner in Times Square, where Broadway-quality performers belt out classics while your family feasts on burgers, wraps and super-stacked sandwiches.
Before they’re old enough to appreciate the New York Historical Society, bring budding history buffs to the DiMenna Children's History Museum. The venue caters to the 8-to 13-year-old set by featuring exhibits on children throughout the city’s history, from an18th century Dutch merchant’s daughter to Alexander Hamilton, as well as the newsies who worked the streets in the 20th century.
While the highlight of most museums is what’s inside, simply climbing aboard this former aircraft carrier, which fought in World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War, and survived five kamikaze attacks is one of the most exciting parts about visiting. No trip is complete without stepping inside the Bell 47 helicopter, navigating the interacting submarine, or steering the wings of an airplane in the Exploreum hall, but don’t miss the Space Shuttle Pavilion, either, which houses the giant NASA orbiter Enterprise. In 2018, visitors can explore the history of USS Growler through "A View From the Deep" to learn about the world's first nuclear submarines.
Instill a sense of team loyalty in your little sluggers by heading to Citi Field or Yankee Stadium for a family ballgame. Don caps and jerseys for your team of choice and get to the stadium early—both teams often hand out free swag (think trademarked gear like water bottles, bobbleheads, T-shirts, etc) to prompt fans. Cheer on the players, munch on popcorn and hotdogs and get in on fun, kid-friendly activities in the park
As your brood strolls up Fifth Ave with the shopping bags in hand, make sure to drop by this iconic locale. In the wintertime, this spot draws major crowds who want to take a spin around the beautiful skating rink or ogle at the largest Christmas tree in the world. The handmade ornaments and other trimmings on the massive spruce make a great backdrop for a family photo, but not to worry if you can’t make it over the holiday season. On balmy days, the plaza is still a fun sightseeing stop, plus a farmers market and nearby shops like the LEGO Store provide plenty of opportunities to browse.
You can reach this narrow island in the middle of the East River by bus or subway, but the red tramway cars make for a unique commute. Hop aboard at the 59th Str and Second Ave station and check out the Queensboro Bridge as you make your way across the water in mid-air. There’s tons to see once you get to the other side, from public gardens to waterfront art. On weekends, explore on two wheels by renting bikes from Blazing Saddles near the 103rd Street pedestrian bridge—there are adult- and child-size bikes available. With two miles of paved pathways and significantly less traffic than Manhattan, you won’t have to worry about your wobbly little ones.
While a NYC apartment can feel pretty cramped, at least you and your brood don’t have it quite as bad as the immigrants who called this Lower East Side building their home in the 19th and 20th centuries. Big kids (children under 6 are not admitted) can see how their ancestors and New Yorkers who came before them lived on a one hour tour of the former tenement, which covers in great detail how the German-Jewish and Irish families struggled to find their way in their new country through grueling labor and tough living conditions. You also see taste how these immigrants ate, with a sit-down meal of various foods that were sold around the neighborhood with a tasting at the tenement.
Look for the big yellow roof to find this Crown Heights behemoth, which when it opened in 1899 was one of the first museums in the country geared specifically to kids. It doubles as an ode to the borough, however, with permanent exhibits like “World Brooklyn,” a pint-sized cityscape where little ones can shop at fake Mexican bakeries and international bodegas, or “Neighborhood Nature,” which explore the critters and plants found in everyday Brooklyn backyards. Plus, every day, there’s a slew of drop-in workshops that’ll keep them entertained.
Even if your little rides public transportation every morning, they probably still get a kick out of playing with toy trains, cars and buses. You can give in to that obsession, and teach them a few fascinating facts that might even be new to you, while at this spot dedicated to the history of the city’s subway system. Located in an authentic 1930s subway station, the museum uses pictures, models and vintage cars (which you can hop aboard) to tell the fascinating story about how New York got its iconic underground tunnels.
The Gowanus Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is always packed, but the food is worth the wait. Visit early on weekdays to score one of six outdoor picnic tables and on weekends, put your name in and stroll around the block until the host shoots you a text. At the restaurant, you'll find kids' activities at the table (like coloring) to make sure any whining is kept to a minimum while you wait for a plate of delicious comfort food.
Venue says Join us for Happy Hour Monday - Friday from 3pm-7pm at the bar and high tops only. $4-$7 Happy Hour specials including select $6 appetizers!
Most NYC families can argue endlessly about the best slice in town. To make your own decision, you'll probably want to sample them all! Get slices from Di Fara, Lombardis, Paulie Gees and more to fill your bellies. Don't forget to fold your cut of the pie before taking a bite—otherwise you might get some weird looks.
Jack Sparrow wannabes will flip over the fleet of historic ships docked at this harbor on the southern tip of Manhattan. At the South Street Museum’s active waterfront, visitors can get up close with vessels including the Ambrose, which served as a floating lighthouse, and an 1885 schooner named Pioneer South—you can even set sail aboard a few! Back on dry land, families can fuel up on tasty treats or track down just-for-kids activities like workshops with FiDi Families, live KidAround performances or free Front Row Cinema screenings.
For curious kiddos who’ve visited “the dinosaur museum” one too many times, the Met offers an alternative that’s just as kid-friendly—as long as you know where to go. Start by walking through the Temple of Dendur in the museum’s Egyptian Wing, then say hello to Sphynxes, the statue of the Nile crocodile and—for brave older siblings—a peek into the coffin of Khnumhotep, where they’ll gaze upon a real mummy!
Believe it or not, there are some things in NYC that don’t come with a hefty price tag. Thanks to offerings at NYC Parks, the public libraries and many other venues, kids can experience a variety of offerings—for free—thanks to these no-cost classes. It’s one of the most enjoyable things to do in NYC with kids, and your wallet will thank you!
When little ones ask to go to the zoo, there’s no doubt they mean the Bronx Zoo, NYC’s best and biggest. Bustling with more than 5,000 creatures, the go-to attraction is home to lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), the World of Reptiles (including the famous cobra who went missing a few years back), adorable snow leopards of the Himalayan highlands, an outdoor baboon reserve, the sea lion pool and an exhibit dedicated entirely to lemurs and other animals of Madagascar. While every kid will have their own favorite part, no trip is complete without a ride on the Wild Asia monorail.
Simply say the words “Coney Island” to a kid in the summertime and they'll think of one thing: the Cyclone. Actually, two things: the Cyclone, followed by a giant Nathan’s hot dog. While no visit is complete without a few spins around Luna Park and a dog, any kid who braved the F train trek to Brooklyn’s southernmost border deserves an ice cream cone on the boardwalk and a visit to the New York Aquarium, too.
It’s hard for kids to choose whether they’d rather go ice-skating or visit an amusement park, but luckily, this multi-use space changes with the seasons. From October through spring, it acts as Trump Rink, an outdoor skating arena with public hours and drop-in private lessons, but when the ice melts, it turns into Victorian Gardens, a delightfully old-fashioned amusement park. Expect nostalgic rides like the classic round swing, bumper boats, and a train track, plus carnival games parents will remember, like Whac-A-Mole. (212-982-2229, wollmanskatingrink.com).
Just because you have kids in tow doesn't mean you can't enjoy a frosty beverage. Spectacular NYC venues like Greenwood Park allow kids during certain hours so parents can mingle and enjoy some time away from the playground/apartment—same with Habana Outpost, which both serves alcohol and frequently offers movie nights and free crafting hours for families.
Sure, maybe the prices are cheaper on Amazon, but there’s nothing like watching kids’ imaginations run wild in between the aisles of a bookstore. Favorites include indie shops like Word, which, fun fact, is located near Henry Miller’s Greenpoint home and of course, Books of Wonder, the city’s largest kids-only bookshop where they’ll stumble upon rare and out-of-print editions alongside newer titles. Launch parties and author visits at bookshops like powerHouse Arena, Greenlight and McNally Jackson are common as well, and nearly always free.
Any time is brunch time thanks to these cereal restaurants in NYC. Your little ones will love creating their own kooky masterpiece at one of these kid-friendly spots. Brunch is one of the best things to do in NYC with kids, so you have to make sure you pick the venue accordingly. After your bite to eat, make sure you head home for some Saturday morning cartoons before heading back out for a day of adventure.
For a spectacular show at a fraction of the cost of The Lion King, consider off-Broadway productions, many of which have been running for as long as some Broadway shows. For kids, there’s percussive acts like Blue Man Group and Stomp, or the Gazillion Bubble Show, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Don’t be intimidated by all the surfboards—this expansive Queens beach, which emcompasses more than 170 acres of sand, is always full of families looking to get away from the hot concrete jungle. If your little beach bums are between the ages of 5 and 15, however, they’re welcome to take part in lessons or week long surf camps, or simply rent a stand-up paddle board or boogie board. Don’t bother packing a picnic, either—the food options here are too good to miss, from the bangin’ burgers at Ripper’s to the breakfast burritos at Anna Bow.
You can’t beat the original location of this fast food favorite, which, as New York’s answer to L.A.’s In-N-Out, offers kid-friendly portions at reasonable prices. No burger is complete, without a side of crinkle-cut fries and a concrete (that’s a frozen custard milkshake blended with mix-ins like cookie dough or peanut butter sauce). Be sure you’ve blocked out a big chunk of time, as it’s the most popular location in Madison Square Park and summer wait times have been known to exceed an hour.
Bryant Park offers plenty to enjoy throughout the seasons, including a skating rink and holiday market at wintertime, Broadway in Bryant Park's free performances, rides on the carousel (as well as regular free children's programming) and summer movie nights on the lawn when the weather's fair. From spring through fall, the park also offers games and art supplies (on loan) to help make the most out of your visit.
Dinner and a show doesn’t have to involve a television set—just ask NYC’s crop of rooftop restaurants that come summertime, are filled with families looking to dine al fresco. Brooklynites get the brunt of the outdoor options, with Williamsburg bars like Northern Territory and Berry Park catering to families with kid-friendly hours (before 8pm!), plus the picnic table-replete roof on the new Whole Foods Gowanus, which carries burgers as well as fare the downstairs hot buffet.
Handily located directly adjacent to the playground’s inspiration, the Egyptian Wing of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park’s Ancient Playground lets kids work off post-museum energy with stone pyramids, tunnels, treehouse-like wooden forts, tire swings, a sundial, nine slides and a sandbox anchored by a mini obelisk. As the park’s most recently renovated playgrounds, there are also cool features like a kid-activated waterfall that runs across two bridges and cascades into an open area.