Things to Do in NYC With Kids: The Ultimate Vacation Guide for Families
Whether you live in New York or are visiting with your family, this episode of Go With Nugget for Parents gives you the local scoop on all the fun things to do in NYC with kids. Or at least, the best things to do that we want you to know about! This city is so diverse it’s impossible to cover all its family-friendly activities in one interview. Read on and listen to the podcast to discover the favorite picks from two local mom-explorers: our host Ranjana Armstrong and Beth Beckman, the parent behind Little Kid, Big City and the curator and co-founder of @FOMOfeed and @FOMOfeedkids.
THINGS TO DO IN NYC WITH KIDS: CENTRAL PARK
Central Park is one of the best free things to do in NYC with kids. Loved by locals and tourists alike, it offers a welcome break from the noise of the city, although the lower part of the park can feel crowded at times, too. Beth has some great tips on how to explore Central Park that include the carousel, Victorian gardens (during the summer) and the boathouse rowboats. Central Park is also home to some of the best playgrounds in Manhattan. Beth’s all-time favorite is the Heckscher Playground. About halfway up the park is the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, a hidden gem perfect for younger kids. For a delightful experience in the heart of Central Park, check their schedule to see what is playing. If your family is seeking total seclusion, head to the northern woods and stroll along dirt paths in search for chipmunks, waterfalls and a secret fort with views over northern Manhattan. The conservatory gardens are also less visited and their flowers provide beautiful photo opportunities in spring and summer.
THINGS TO DO IN NYC WITH KIDS: TIMES SQUARE
While most New Yorkers will try their best to avoid Times Square, if you are visiting the city for the first time you should definitely stop here once. Beth’s favorite time to visit is early morning, before the crowds arrive. She suggests getting a bagel and coffee and sitting on the TKTS steps, soaking in the lights and displays. And if you’d like to go and see a Broadway show, you can get discounted same-day tickets to some of the best shows for families here. If you’re new to the theatre and think that NYC would be a great place to pique your kid’s curiosity, then head over to the New Victory Theatre for world-class theatre productions designed just for kids. The shows are interactive and captivating — they even have sensory-friendly performances.
The New Victory programming is the best way to introduce children to the theatre.
— BETH BECKMAN
THINGS TO DO IN NYC WITH KIDS: CLIMB A SKYSCRAPER
Seeing New York from atop a skyscraper is a must for any visiting family. Photo: Beth Beckman
To appreciate New York’s urban concrete jungle, you have to look at it from atop. Thankfully, there are a lot of different options to see the city from above. Our favorite is Top of the Rock, which offers stunning views of the Empire State Building and Central Park. It also has indoor and outdoor viewing platforms, with the latter offering uninterrupted photo opportunities. Alternatively, the observation platform at One World also offers a unique vantage point over lower Manhattan and the New York harbor. On a clear day, you can even see the ocean! Your kids will also love the elevator ride, which takes you through a visual history of how Manhattan’s building system evolved since its founding days. Beth also recommends the newly renovated observation platform at the Empire State Building. In addition to marveling at the breathtaking views, your family can immerse themselves in the history of this iconic building and come face-to-face with King Kong! Get your cameras ready.
GOOD TO KNOW
Buy tickets in advance for a dedicated viewing time and skip the queue.
Get a bird’s-eye view from the new observation platform at the Empire State Building. Photo: Beth Beckman
NUGGET’S ADVICE FOR TRAVELING TO NYC WITH KIDS
New York is an incredible city to visit, to help make your experience as enjoyable as possible there are a few things you should keep in mind.
If your kids are still little, it’s easy to turn your stroller into a minivan that carries your entire household. Most subway stations do not have elevators and you will need to carry your stroller up and down (many) stairs. If you want to use the bus, you’ll need to fold your stroller. So, pack only the essentials and keep things contained (try and avoid lots of things dangling off your stroller).
pack spare clothes
It’s a slight contradiction to traveling light, but if you are visiting in the summer your kids will want to try the amazing water features NYC playgrounds offer. So don’t be Captain Buzzkill, and bring a set of dry clothes so that they can enjoy themselves. While they splash in the water, you can post your favorite pictures on Instagram and enjoy that latte that you desperately need.
Many museums and attractions have specific days or times with free admission. Pick your must-visit institutions ahead of your trip and plan your days accordingly. Also, make sure you always arrive well ahead of the time the free admission starts, to be at the front of the line. At least 30 minutes, if not earlier.
It’s impossible to see all NYC has to offer in one visit. Don’t even try. Pick one major sight or activity for each day, maybe two, but then leave time for surprises and for your kids to play.
plan for downtime
New York can be overwhelming for kids (and adults) — so many people, sounds, sights and smells. Be mindful of sensory overload and plan for time away from the crowds. There is a surprising number of green spaces and playgrounds around the city. Look them up in advance and allow yourself time to enjoy them.
wear comfortable shoes
This may come as a surprise, but New York is a very walkable city. And it’s a lot of fun to explore on foot, as you always see something new. So make sure everyone in your family wears comfortable shoes, so there are no blisters from all the walking.
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