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The best summer activities for kids in New York City

No, summer's not canceled. We round up the coolest summer activities for kids: drive-in fests, hiking trails and more.

Written by
Paulina Jayne Isaac
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New York City becomes a completely new place in the summer. Once kids are out of school and the weather’s beautiful, most people head outside. Central Park is crowded, the subways are hot, and tourists are everywhere. It can feel overwhelming to figure out what to do with your family, especially since we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Well, if you’ve found yourself scratching your head because you don’t what to do, you’ve come to the right place. A city with as many options as NYC means that there’s something for every type of family. The nature-lovers, the explorers, and the food-lovers will all find something that suits them on this list—promise. 

If you're wondering how you're going to keep your little ones busy while staying safe, check out our roundup of the best outdoor activities for kids (think hiking trails and bike paths). And come back for more fun activities to be added to this list in the coming weeks.

Summer activities for kids

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • The Bronx
  • price 2 of 4

If you live in NYC then odds are you’ve made your way to the famous Bronx Zoo. Even if you’re just visiting, you’ve probably heard of it since it’s one of the largest zoos in America and takes up 265 acres. The zoo has reopened, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all guests must have a date-specific ticket. In accordance with current New York State policy, face masks must be worn at all times by staff and guests. Masks are required for all guests over the age of two, regardless of vaccination status or medical condition.

  • Sports and fitness
  • The Bronx
  • price 2 of 4

The more activities you can do outside this summer, the better. The heat combined with the pandemic means it’s safest to social distance outdoors. Even though social distancing from people is recommended, we don’t need to social distance from horses! Riverdale Stables is located in the Bronx and dubs itself, “Where New York City Learns To Ride!" So, if you’ve never tried riding, grab some durable shoes (boots if you have them), and hit the saddle.

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Take a foraging tour at Prospect Park, Bronx River Pathway, or Central Park! You’ll learn about the common and mostly overlooked wild plants and mushrooms that are not only edible but also medicinal. They’re often considered “weeds,” but after a tour with “Wildman” Steve Brill and his 14-year old daughter, Violet Brill, your family might think twice the next time they step into the local supermarket. You can take a tour of a local park and also gain a new skill!

You don’t have to vacation in New England to spot whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. In case you haven’t noticed, New York has beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Ocean that are home to marine life. The American Princess Cruises are approximately 3.5 hours long and depart from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Pier 3. There’s a great chance you will see whales or dolphins while on the tour. The cruise company had a 97% sightings rate in 2020.

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  • Things to do

Biking is the new walking, didn’t you hear? With multiple biking companies like Blazing Saddles, it’s easy to rent a bike, scooter, or surrey to explore Governor’s Island. You can take a simple trip to the island and upgrade it by making it a fun adventure for the entire family to explore a new and scenic part of New York. Governor’s Island is only a seven-minute ferry ride from Manhattan. Blazing Saddles is located on Hay Road, between Castle Williams and Colonels Row. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Take a sight-seeing cruise
  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Hell's Kitchen
  • price 2 of 4

Let’s not forget that New York is an incredibly historical city. It’s easy to take advantage of the 130 landmarks in the city. Yes, there are that many. If you want to go (or cruise) back in time, book a cruise with Circle Line Sightseeing. You can sail around the Hudson and East Rivers to see the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, and the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges. Just remember to pack your mask.

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  • Things to do

Alright, let’s run down some of New York’s best beaches. We have Rockaway Beach, Coney Island, and Fort Tilden Beach. That’s just in the city. Then there are also Long Island and New Jersey beaches that are just a short drive or train ride away. If you are going to make a family outing to a beach, bring some towels, water, snacks, and all of your swimming essentials. Be prepared for crowds, so it’s best to head out early in the day.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Chelsea

Every family needs a little healthy competition—emphasis on healthy. We’re not going to assume that you might end up in a heated match with your kid over miniature golf, but we also can’t assure you that it won’t happen. What we can assure you is that the views at Hudson River Park combined with it being Manhattan’s only 18-hole mini-golf course make it the perfect outing for a family looking to enjoy a fun group activity.

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  • Sports and fitness
  • Kayaking & canoeing
  • Hell's Kitchen

You might be sensing a theme here. Manhattan is an island, but not everyone utilizes the benefit of being surrounded by water. When you’re in the middle of Midtown or making your way through Central Park, it doesn’t feel like an island. Summer is a great time to take advantage of water sports that are available like kayaking. Manhattan Kayak Club currently has season passes and special offers on sale now. Make sure to get one before they sell out!

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Coney Island
  • price 2 of 4

If the Bronx Zoo interests you then most likely, so will the New York Aquarium. The aquarium currently has a new exhibit, Spineless, which highlights animals who live without spines. You can view the Pacific octopus up close, see moon jellies and check out zombie worms, which apparently exist. But, just like the zoo, you must have a date-specific ticket before you arrive. And of course, wear a mask and prepare to social distance from other guests.

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  • Things to do

We’re aware there are a lot of outdoorsy activities on this list, but if there was ever a summer for hanging out outside, it's this one! New York City is surprisingly full of fun outdoor activities that have nothing to do with dining or shopping. Who knew? There are even hiking trails that are accommodating for even your smallest family members.

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  • Movies
  • Greenpoint

There’s something nostalgic about a drive-in theater. You can probably find one in almost every state in the country. They’re not specific to New York, but Skyline Drive-In airs a film and shows spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. If the movie doesn’t capture your attention, we’re sure the views will.

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