There are so many fun things to do with kids in New York it can be hard to decide on what to see first.
To get you started on planning your New York family holiday I’ve put together my top 10 things to see and do with kids in New York City.
With Central Park, Times Square, The Statue of Liberty and many family-friendly museums you are sure to have a fun-filled and memorable family holiday in New York City.
10 Things to Do in New York City with Kids
1. See the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is one of the world’s most recognisable symbols. Whether you are from the USA or an international visitor getting a glimpse of Lady Liberty is a must. (Learn all about the history, symbolism, and construction of the Statue of Liberty here!)
It is possible to visit the Statue of Liberty up close and even ascend to the crown. Tickets to the crown can be purchased from the National Parks website. They can sell out fast so book as soon as you know your travel dates. There is a height limit of 4 feet or 1.2 metres to ascend the crown so those travelling with Kindergarteners and younger will only be able to explore the base and pedestal.
One of my favourite ways to see the Statue of Liberty is to take the free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan which runs every half an hour 24 hours a day.
Sit on the right and rear of the Ferry on the way to Staten Island and the left front on the return.
2. Hang out on Times Square
With multi-storey flashing billboards, street performers and an electric vibe Times Square is a happening place in New York City with kids. Be sure to stop by for a visit; kids will recognise this spot in movies and television shows for years to come. Swing by at night if you can when the lights are even more dazzling.
If you are looking for something to do on Times Square you can join a city bus tour, visit Madame Tussauds, Gullivers Gate, Ripley’s Believe It or Not or National Geographic’s Ocean Odyssey. Go shopping at M&M’s World, Hershey’s Chocolate World or the Disney Store. Or catch a family-friendly production at the New Victory Children’s Theatre.
3. Get a view from Top of the Rock
There are three main towers you can head up to get a fantastic view over New York City. The Empire State Building, Freedom Tower and Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre. They could each take a place on my top 10 things to do in New York City with kids list, but in reality, most families will only have time to visit one.
For a visit to New York City with kids going to the Top of the Rock would be my recommendation.
The reason for this is simply queues. Top of the Rock has timed entry which means the queues are more manageable and predictable, we all know how kids hate being in queues.
Another bonus of Top of the Rock is that you get to have the Empire State building in your photos. And out of the three mentioned, Top of the Rock is the only one to have a view of Central Park.
4. Explore the American Museum of Natural History
Made famous by the Night at the Museum movies, the American Museum of Natural History is a fun place to visit in New York City with kids.
The museum has a huge collection of dinosaurs, amazing animal dioramas, a planetarium and an excellent space and earth exhibit.
A full-scale model of a blue whale hangs from the ceiling in the Hall of Ocean Life.
The number of exhibits can seem overwhelming. Download the free app before you plan your visit and consider joining one of the free tours that will show you some of the highlights and help you to get orientated.
To avoid queues buy your ticket online, for those on a tight budget there is also the option to “pay what you wish” at the main entrance ticket booth.
5. Eat at Ellen’s Star Dust Diner
This funky retro diner has been entertaining its patrons for over 20 years. From the moment you walk in you know this isn’t going to be your regular restaurant experience.
Ellen’s Star Dust Diner hires wannabe Broadway stars, but not just anyone can get a job here. The wait staff need to be the whole package with an epic voice and moves to match. They need to be dedicated to their craft with a portion of their salary to be used only for acting and singing lessons. Many go on to find Broadway roles.
The service is friendly and fun, the food fresh and delicious, and the waiters and waitresses belt out show tunes all for your entertainment. Highly recommended – but expect a short wait as it can get busy.
6. Tour on a Double Decker Bus
While the Subway and walking are a great way to get around New York, little legs can sometimes use a break and joining a city bus tour can give a good sense of the scale of the city while passing by some of the iconic sites.
Crane your neck upwards as you pass sites (or sights?) like the Empire State building which was once the tallest building in the world. If the weather is dry, choose a spot on the open upper deck to maximise your view.
Not satisfied with a traditional hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus, then consider “The Ride” the next generation in sight-seeing. This purpose-built multimillion-dollar bus is kitted out with theatre style seating and the 75-minute tour around Manhattan promises a multimedia entertainment extravaganza with engaging hosts and street performers on route.
7. Stroll through Central Park
Central Park is a great place to hang out with kids in New York City and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Central Park is huge, with a zoo and several museums you could spend days seeing everything the park has to offer.
The central and south part of Central Park have the most appeal to families visiting New York with kids.
Starting at the 72nd Street subway, enjoy the view along the lake before visiting the Bethesda Fountain. From the fountain, walk down the tree-lined “Mall” which is a popular spot for street performers and artists. Head to Gapstow bridge where you might see a marriage proposal and can take some classic Central Park photos with the cityscape behind. Next head to the Central Park Carousel or one of the nearby playgrounds.
8. Eat a Pizza Slice
The first Pizzeria in the United States opened in New York in 1905 and the city fell in love at first bite. Now you can find hundreds of pizza joints just on Manhattan alone.
New York style pizza is made with a hand stretched dough usually cooked on an 18-inch pan making the classic large thin slices we all recognise, smothered with a rich and well-seasoned tomato sauce and grated (rather than sliced) mozzarella. Extra toppings such as vegetables, pepperoni and sausage are also common.
The slices are so large and with the thin crust, the traditional way to eat it is to hold it from the crust and use the fingers and thumb to fold the pizza in half giving it some structure and avoiding ‘pizza flop’.
There are more opinions on which Pizzeria is the best than there are pizza toppings so check reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp or Google to find the best slice of pie nearby when hunger hits. Make sure you eat where the locals do!
9. Cross Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a fun and free activity to do while you are visiting New York with kids. For the best views start on the Brooklyn side; it’s easy to catch the subway there.
Walking from Brooklyn you will have the iconic Manhattan skyline in your sights. You can also see the Statue of Liberty from the bridge.
Walking at a brisk pace you can cross the bridge in 25 minutes, though allow an hour to give time for photos, enjoying the viewing and reading the plaques about the construction of the bridge.
To keep kids safe, stay on the pedestrian side of the path and if you need to move into the bike path to move around other pedestrians look carefully for bicycles whizzing past.
There can be a cool wind on the bridge so bring an extra layer of clothing in the cooler months.
10. Ride the subway in New York City with kids
Taking the subway in New York is not only the best way to get around, it is also an experience that kids will remember. Between walking and subway rides you can get everywhere you want to go; it is cheap, fast and you’ll avoid the gridlocked traffic.
If you are lucky you might even be entertained by a musician or hip-hop dancers busking in one of the cars.
Don’t be intimidated by taking the subway; getting a ticket is easy. You can pay with cash or card, enter 99999 as your postcode for transactions with a foreign credit card.
Three children under 44 inches/112 cm travel for free with a paying adult. If you will be taking more than more 12 trips on the subway save money by purchasing a weekly unlimited ticket.
Kaylie is a doctor, mother of 2 and writer at Happiness Travels Here and DrKaylie.com. Kaylie and her family moved from their home country of New Zealand to Germany in 2014, they spent 4 years working and travelling in Europe before moving to the USA in 2018 where their travels continue.