Wondering about the best things to do in NYC with kids? Then you’ve come to the right place! After living in New York City for five years, with kids of every age from zero to 10, I’m here to chat about what you must see on your first trip to New York City with kids!
Whether you’re coming to New York City for a weekend, a week, two weeks or more, we have lots of suggestions for you. Including tips for your first time in NYC, and unexpected things you should know!
Start with our must see destinations in New York City. Then add more destinations from our complete New York with kids bucket list!
Must Do Activities in New York City with Kids
Interested in knowing what my favorites places to go with kids in New York City? This is the condensed list of New York City favorites!
The short list can fit into a few day vacation to New York City. It has a combination of indoor and outdoor activities in NYC, and you could easily see them in about a week. If you have more time, scan the list below to add more activities to your trip.
1. Central Park
Central Park is a green oasis in the middle of the urban jungle. Even when the weather is bad it is an amazing reprieve.
You can spend the whole day here, or just choose a section to visit combined with other attractions on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side or Midtown.
If you are traveling with kids, I suggest combining a visit to Central Park on the same day you visit one of my top museums in New York City (see below). Here are some spots to check out in Central Park
- Belevedere’s Castle
- Loeb Boathouse
- Bethesda Fountain
- Strawberry Fields
- The Lake
- Shakespeare’s Garden
- and more!
2. World Trade Center + Financial District
Walking around downtown Manhattan and the World Trade Center, Financial District, and Battery Park is a must.
Visiting the World Trade Center memorial and the Wall Street Charging Bull is not to be missed! While you’re at it, don’t miss our Favorite NYC Playground for Kids, and more in Battery Park City. You can also incorporate:
- One World Observatory from the Freedom Tower
- Skyscraper Museum
- Museum of Jewish Heritage
- National Museum of the American Indian
- Walk through the Oculus for shopping, dining or restrooms
- 9/11 Memorial Museum — only with older kids
3. Statue of Liberty
You will want to dedicate the better half of a day if you go to Liberty Island, so don’t plan much else beyond visiting the Battery Park area.
4. Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Little Italy
Explore Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, for shopping and eating lots of yummy food! I can’t imagine a visit to New York City without exploring some of the diverse neighborhoods.
All of these neighborhoods are adjacent to each other and within easy walking distance. During your walk, you can incorporate:
- Museum of Chinese in America
- Museum at Eldridge Street (historic synagogue)
- The New Museum (contemporary art)
- Shopping in SoHo boutiques
- Walking in quaint Greenwich Village
- Checking out the Washington Square Park fountain
- If you’re still on your feet after all the walking, you can head north to Union Square for more shopping at chain stores
5. Times Square and Midtown
Times Square….this makes tourist feel like they are really in New York! Not my favorite place but you can spend as much or as little time as you want there.
For a short visit, come by in the evening to see everything lit up. If you’re ready to brave the crowds, you can check out flagship stores as well.
Most of the famous New York City theaters are located on Broadway in Midtown, meaning, near Time’s Square.
You may want to see a show on Broadway or off Broadway, but note that most do not allow children under a certain age! So take note in your planning!
Midtown Attractions to Walk By
Some of the most famous things to do in New York, are located in Midtown. Most of them, do not require doing anything, but walking through these iconic areas can be fun.
You’ve probably heard of these: Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, Empire State Building, and more. That said, little kids may not be too interested in just walking around, so it’s a good idea to plan what you will actually DO in this area.
Hint: Here’s a whole post on Things to Do in Midtown with Kids!
There are just so many great museums to visit depending on your interests. But if I had to choose my top three museums for families, these would be my picks. We have been to all of these several times with our kids:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)– knights, Egyptian mummies, Greek Gods and more!
The Museum of Natural History– dinosaurs and a giant whale, need I say more?
Museum of Modern Art (Moma)– my personal favorite! Kids loved it!
I highly suggest spending a day at one of the museums plus visiting Central Park! The more days you have the more you can incorporate museums into your trip. Dedicate at least two hours for each one.
There are also many, many other museums you can check out, depending on your interests. There’s a longer list here.
Walking the Highline in Chelsea has become a cool attraction. This part of Manhattan has very little in the way of parks, so this is the place to let the kiddos run around and explore.
Chelsea has lots of art galleries, and shopping options. That said, I would only take very young babies or much older kids to most of these places.
Combine a visit to the Highline, with a stop in the Whitney Museum. Or walk toward the Village.
8. Brooklyn Bridge
Cross the Brooklyn Bridge for amazing views and fun for all. Note, that it does get very windy in the winter, and very crowded in the summer. But it’s a unique experience, and it’s free!
Once you cross, you can enjoy Brooklyn Bridge Park, or some explore some of Brownstone Brooklyn, taking in some of the picturesque neighborhoods.
I always suggest heading to Brooklyn when you need a break from the intensity of Manhattan. One a one week trip to New York City, you should definitely spend a day in one of the outer boroughs. Brooklyn or Queens are most accessible from Midtown and lower Manhattan.
First Trip to NYC with Kids
There are still lots more things to do with kids in New York City, so keep scrolling for more ideas. However, first let’s talk tips for your first trip to New York City.
If you’re visiting NYC for the first time, you need to be aware the the city is huge! You will need to choose a neighborhood to stay in and be aware of how you can get around NYC with kids.
Getting Around NYC with Kids
The best way to get around in New York City and especially in Manhattan is by subway. However many stations are not handicap accessible, meaning there are stairs, which can make it difficult for families with stroller. I recommend a lightweight travel stroller or umbrella stroller!
If you are going places that are not too far away from each other at your best bet will be walking. There are of course yellow taxis but much of the driving is at a snails pace. While the city speed limit is 25 miles per hour, the effective driving rate is usually closer to 12 miles per hour!
Accommodations in NYC with Kids
Most of the hotels in Manhattan are clustered in midtown, but there are hotels all over the city. Do note, that the standard room in Manhattan is small and usually only has ONE bed. You will need to look carefully if you need a second bed or a sofa bed to accommodate the kids!
For a family visit in New York City, I would consider staying in the Upper West Side. It is a neighborhood that is very family friendly with lots of great restaurants and close to Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. Getting down to Midtown will be a very short ride on the subway.
Another option if you are coming on a weekend, is to look into staying downtown in the Financial District. These hotels mostly cater to business travelers, and so you can often find great deals on the weekends! I also like this area, as it is a little more peaceful that the non-stop bustle of midtown.
If you really need to save money, consider staying in Long Island City, Brooklyn or New Jersey, where you can get a little more space for the cost.
Saving Money on Your Trip to New York
Ahhh…yes. Once you get over the sticker shock of accommodations in New York City, you can learn that there are actually amazing ways to save money on your trip to NYC.
One method is adjusting the time of the year you visit! If you don’t mind the cold, then January and early February are the quietest time of the year to visit New York City.
Those are the times of the year that you can walk through Times Square easily with a stroller and it will not be crowded at all! Restaurants and tourist attractions regularly run promotions during this time too!
You can also check out a list of museums that have pay what you wish hours. And there are some great food and restaurant options where the whole family can eat inexpensively. (More coming shortly!)
More Activities for Kids in NYC
If you have more time in New York City, here’s a list of more places I recommend visiting with kids. (Note: I’m still working on recapping the best New York City activities with kids, so that you can decide if you want to do them with your kids too!)
More Things to do with Kids in Manhattan
If I had to choose one really fun activity that is a change of pace, I would choose to take the ferry to Governor’s Island. Our kids love it! Note, that it is only open during the summer.
Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
Roosevelt Island is located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. The main attraction of course is riding the tram itself for views of Manhattan, for the price of a subway ride!
Fun for kids, and great for some cool pictures of Manhattan from above. This works especially well in the winter on a crisp sunny day.
More Museums in Manhattan
- Children’s Museum of the Arts
- Museum of Art and Design– by Columbus Circle
- The Museum of the City of New York– on the Museum Mile in the Upper East Side
- The Guggenheim
- The Jewish Museum
More Things to do with Kids in Brooklyn
Brighton Beach– or any other Brooklyn beaches, for beach time, but also to discover some of the ethnic enclaves of the outer boroughs. Great food too!
Brooklyn Botanic Garden– Definitely a green oasis for those that need a reprieve from big city touring.
Brooklyn Museum– right by the Botanic Garden, and good if you need to get indoors, or are particularly interested in a current exhibit.
Prospect Park– Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park! Plus, a zoo!
More Things to do with Kids in Queens
If you’re a tennis fan, and coming to New York City at the end of August, or beginning of September check out the US Open! It is easy to get to from Manhattan, and there are always things for kids to do in addition to watching the tennis matches.
Queen’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park was the site for two World Fairs back in the day. Besides walking around the park, it is also the location of the New York Hall of Science (my kids’ favorite), the Queens Museum and the Queens Zoo.
You could easily spend a whole day here. Then check out some amazing ethnic food in the neighboring areas: Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and so much more.
Long Island City and Astoria
Long Island City and Astoria are just across the East River from Manhattan. If you’re looking for a cheaper accommodation, or have some extra time, hop over the East River to Long Island City. It is almost like an extension of Manhattan, and houses the contemporary art Moma PS1 museum.
More Things to Do with Kids in the Bronx
The Bronx Zoo
If you only go to one zoo in New York, this is the best one by far. Bonus for kids include lots of attractions such as a bug carousel and butterfly garden.
The New York Botanic Garden
This is a large and beautifully manicured botanical garden. It is close to the zoo, but getting there on public transit takes a while.
If You Have a Lot More Time
Let’s say you’re coming to New York City for over a month, or perhaps a whole summer. Well, then, you have a lot more time for exploring. Here are some suggestions for places in New York City that are a bit farther out. All are especially great if you have kids: