New York, USA :

New York, NY: The Ultimate Guide with Kids

This guide is your one-stop shop for things do to in NYC, including eateries, hotels, and shops for families!

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Getting into New York City

Although many people came here by boat, it's advisable to fly to New York these days. And with 3 international and very busy airports in the area, there is no dearth of flights into NY. Getting to New York is easy, getting around particularly from the airports may be a bit more daunting.. The web offers plenty by way of getting in and around New York and New York travel information, so do your research before you leave.
new york activities for kids

Getting Around New York City

New York City is simultaneously one of the easiest and most difficult cities to get around. The most important thing to know is that New Yorkers rarely drive and unless you as a tourist wants to tackle belligerent cab drivers and horrific traffic, you'll stick with public transportation as well. The New York underground system is extremely well connected around the city but it does become hard to navigate with a stroller as most have staircases as their only access. Buses can also get you around quite efficiently but be warned again that you will be asked to fold up your stroller if the bus is crowded. Finally, the notorious New York yellow cab will swoop down on you at gut-wrenching speed and are actually quite reasonable in terms of price.

Where to Stay in New York City

There are tons of accommodation options in New York but you have to be careful about where you book and know up front that New York city hotel rooms are infamously tiny (not to mention expensive). This means that for a family you are better off renting an apartment if you are planning on spending more than a couple of nights in the city (which if it's your first time, you should). Sites like vrbo.com will let you rent apartments directly from the owner so you can get a more accurate description of the facilities and layout of the apartment.

In terms of neighborhoods, it's best to stay mid-town so you have access the best of New York activities. Many of the larger hotels are in and around Times Square which is a central location, albeit New York's largest tourist trap. It is additionally convenient because many of the subway and bus lines run through here and it is also close to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station if you are thinking about trips to nearby states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The good news it that it's hard to get lost in Manhattan because the island runs on a grid (North-South, East-West), so as long as you can count, you are ok. (Until you get to the village).

new york activities for kids

Fun New York Activities for Kids:

New York is a playground for everyone (and I mean, everyone) and kids are no exception. When you are done with the main tourist attractions like climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, taking a ferry over the Statue of Liberty and waiting in line at TKTS for tickets to a Broadway musical, you are ready to check out what other treasures the Big Apple holds for the little ones:

  • Spend an afternoon in Central Park: Get a horse carriage ride, hang by the pond, or check out the seasonal activities at the Victorian Gardens
  • Follow one of our 2 kid-friendly itineraries to walk through some of the best parts of city like Soho and better plan your New York activities.
  • See how many of these amazing neighborhood playgrounds you can hit up (see below).

Our Favorite NY City Parks:

There is no dearth of New York activities but the parks are hard to top when the weather is good. Over-the-top play structures, great food options and free wi-fi are some of the things that make the following parks hot favorites with kids and adults alike.
Madison Square Park: Straddling the 24th street block between Fifth and Madison, Madison Square Park has a "where everybody knows your name" kind of vibe. The playground is teeming with kids, giant screens present communal viewing of hot events and the Shake Shack is great for burgers, juices or just water. Big plus that it is fairly contained so no one can get too lost, but everyone can find their own corner of peace. The water play area was a highlight with Karam on a smoldering NY summer day.

new york activities for kids


Union Square Park
: The latest in NY's city playgrounds, this one is bursting with creativity, with funky yellow tunnels and slides for the yunguns and space-themed climbing structures for the older kids. NY is obviously into water play because the sprouting fountains here occupy center court and are quite the crowd-pleaser. Since this is Union Square, the park is flanked by several cafes and restaurants and a Babies-R-Us and Children's Place if you are up for some shopping.

new york activities for kids

Central Park: One of the most famous city parks in the world, Central Park does not disappoint wrt its offerings for children, be it winter or summer. Aside from the actual playgrounds (find them on the interactive map on the website), the special attraction in the summer is the Victorian Gardens, the ice rink that is converted into a mini amusement park. Not exactly cheap ($6.50 pp but one adult accompanying a child is free) but filled with age-appropriate rides and activities (and lavender candy floss, on which I overdosed). You can pay per ride ($2each) or buy the all-you-can-eat package (again one adult can ride with the child for free). My only caution here is that the attendants are not always mindful or aware of the restrictions of a ride and may permit a child to ride alone when they should be accompanied by an adult. So use your judgment and the guidelines displayed at the entrance of every ride. When you are done, hang out by the pond or take an (overpriced) horse carriage ride around the park and wave out to fellow riders.

new york activities for kids

Grab a coffee at the Time Warner Center, if not for the perfectly fluffy quiches at Bouchon bakery, then for the gorgeous views of Columbus Circle.

new york activities for kids

Shopping and Dining in New York:

New York is one of the hottest culinary scenes in the country so let's be realistic about where you want to take the kids. There are several hipster places that make no bones about being adult-only and many others that will accommodate all kinds! The key: don't be afraid to ask - ask your concierge or call the restaurant yourself.

There are innumerable casual dining places that will offer you a high chair, if not a kid's menu. We found some amazing brunch places that were all about the family on our last trip there. Further you can always pack a picnic and go camp out in the park. Or head to Bryant Park Grill for the best of both. Finally, don't forget to pack in a New York slice - truly a unique taste and available only in New York.

Like eating, there is no dearth of shopping options in NYC for adults and kids alike. Head to 34th street to the flagship Macy's store in addition to all your favorite mid-range brands such as Zara, H&M and the Gap, or stroll down world-renowned Fifth Avenue if you have a taste for luxury and money burning a (big) hole in your pocket. For the kids, we recommend:

  • A trip to some of the best NYC toy stores below. I am not kidding, these are worth a visit, even for the big kids (you!)
  • An afternoon of quality kids' literature and cupcakes at Books of Wonder, the best bookstore in the world, in my opinion.
  • The boutiques on Thompson Street in Soho

Must-Visit Toy Stores in NYC

Kiddin' Around: Tucked just off W. 15th street, this cute store has both mainstream and unusual toys for kids of all ages. Bath drums, Parisienne carousels and a small selection from the ELC which is not yet available in the U.S. are some of the things that make this place unique. The aisles are narrow and the toys are closely packed, but that's half the fun! Plus free gift wrapping if you need to pick up a little something for a play buddy.

new york activities for kids

 

Times Square Toys-R-Us: There is nothing subdued about Times Square and there is nothing subtle about this legendary store either. Prepare for complete sensory overload. As you stare mesmerized at the giant Ferris wheel at the entrance, don't miss a chance to pose for a picture with Jeffrey or Iron Man casually strolling through the store (caution: all at a cost). On the ground floor is a delightful selection of NY-themed toys and souvenirs which are a little cheesy but admittedly irresistible. "NYPD" onesie or SpongeBob Times Square Pants tee, anyone?

Take the elevator to the next level up and pose with the Jurassic Park dino or check out the selection of infant toys and nursery items. In the basement, test drive some of the huge selection of cars, bikes and trikes, just for fun!

When you are done, walk over to Bryant Park and counter all that conspicuous consumption with a little snooze on the grass.
new york activities for kids

The Best Kids' Bookstore in NYC

The Scholastic in Soho usually gets a lot of props in this category but we have fallen in love with Books of Wonder on W.18th street. This little gem showcases a specialization and quirkiness that only NY can pull off. Categories include Classic Picture Books, Modern Picture Books with titles like People and Places with John's Secret Dreams: The John Lennon Story (which I bought), Old and Rare Books, and the unbeatable 50% off rack where I found Mummy Never Told Me,which has become my personal favorite. The shop carries collectors editions of classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other museum-worthy jewels. The store also has an amazing collection of vintage art, all pertaining to children and reading, and hosts new artists on a regular basis. Finally, check out the "New York City" section for unique books on one of the world's most vibrant and diverse cities.

Before, after or during your expedition around this literary maze, indulge in a cupcake at adjacent Cupcake Cafe (because you will need the sugar even if your kid doesn't). The coffees aren't half bad and they serve ice creams and juices as well.

Definitely one of my favorite places in NY. Karam and I will be returning on every visit to the Big Apple.

 new york activities for kids

The unbeatable NYC collection

Ten Reasons We Love Bryant Park

1. Its perfect size, so everyone can spread out, but no one can get lost

2. The carousel at USD 2/ride

3. The children's reading "room"

4. The adults' reading "room"

5. The optimal mix of sunny and shady spots

6. The power outlets at the Southwest Porch

7. Its unbeatable location bang in the heart of Manhattan, flanked by some of New York's finest architectural masterpieces.

8. The parrot people

9. The short walk to the legendary Toys-R-Us in Times Square

10. The cafe where you can get a coffee, bottle of Rose and a delicious chicken quesadilla any time of day, or the grill for more upscale fare and a great view of the park from upstairs

Find out what's happening at Bryant Park (there's always something happening at Bryant Park), and definitely make it a stop on your visit to NYC!

new york activities for kids

Safety for Families:

New York has been traditionally depicted in the movies as gritty and grimy where people get mugged and stabbed on a daily basis. The city has cleaned up its act tremendously over the last couple of decades and while it is far from a leave-your-doors-unlocked kind of place, it is one of the safer cities in the country simply because of its density. And that's your metric for safety: if you are in a crowded neighborhood you are generally in good shape (but you may still get mugged so have your wits and valuables about you). Like you would in any city, stay clear of dark and quiet streets and try not to look vulnerable (harder with children, I know), but that's why it's all the more important to stick to the main routes and not to be too adventurous. Not this time anyway.

New York - General Travel Tips:

ny311. You wouldn't think it, but NYC is actually one of the most baby-friendly cities I have been to, perhaps because it has to cater to the needs of its diverse population. Despite the fact that the city is big and intimidating to most, you can find tiny oasis of child-friendly activities scatter throughout the island of Manhattan. Further, since this is the retail capital of the States, there is nothing you can't find in New York, no matter how rare or weird.

2. Transportation in NY is fairly easy: the subway connects most destinations and is handicap-accessible at most stations, taxis are easy to come by and fairly reasonable, and the numbered streets are simple to stroll through. You do not need car seats in NY taxis but make sure to buckle up because NY has some of the worst traffic and drivers in the country. Buses are available as well, but are harder because they can get pretty crowded and you have to do the whole stroller-folding thing.

3. Basic baby supplies are available at Duane Reade, which you will come across at practically every block, CVS pharmacies, and major supermarkets, D'Agostino and The Associated. And of course because this is New York, specialty stores will take care of the rest.

4. Every cuisine in the world is available in NY, including vegetarian, vegan and organic options. No dearth of variety here.

5. Hotels are generally small and cramped so I would definitely opt for renting an apartment if you have more than a few days' stay in NYC.

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