What It’s REALLY Like to Live in New York City with Kids

People come to visit New York from all over the world. They usually stay in Manhattan, and enjoy the best the city has to offer: museums, shopping, Broadway shows, etc. But most New Yorkers live outside of the bustle of midtown Manhattan.

There are so many things to do in NYC with kids, but what about the nitty gritty day to day?

Here’s a glimpse at what it’s really like* to live in the city that never sleeps…with kids! Read all about raising a family in New York City, what it’s like to live in New York with kids on a daily basis and then how to make a small apartment work!

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Living in New York City with Kids Means So Much Walking

We walk a lot! I mean a lot! We walk from our house to the subway; we walk because it’s not worthwhile to go on the subway; we walk because it’s faster than the subway (you get the idea) 😉 We walk because there is no parking. But also because there is so much to do and see along the way.

You might notice that many New Yorkers look fit, or rather you don’t often see the type of obesity that is rampant in other areas of the country that are more car-oriented. So here’s to walking!

The Subway with Kids

Before I move onto other forms of transportation let’s get this out of the way: the subway is a necessary part of life.

However, getting around on the subway is extremely difficult if you have any type of disability or in my case, a stroller. Most stations are not handicap accessible and you will be carrying your kids up and down the stairs. So there’s some more walking!

Tip: Let’s say you plan your outing around subway stations with elevators (something I have done regularly), keep this link of elevator outages handy so you can check in real time if your plan will work!

Your Stroller as a Car

One refrain you often hear from moms, is that her stroller is her car. I can attest to the fact, that if you are walking with a baby, a good stroller is a must.

In particular, a stroller with a large basket is particularly helpful for carrying around everything you need on an outing, or even just your daily commute. Not to mention groceries!

Though you may also want to invest in a travel stroller if you live near a subway station with no elevator. Countless times I have carried a baby on one hip and a folded stroller in the other arm. More on that in a second.

Scooters for kids

So in addition to hoards of people walking every where, when you enter some of the more family friendly neighborhoods, you will notice that scooters are everywhere.

A scooter is a mobility device here, not a toy. I know from friends outside the city that they keep their scooters in the garage and the kids get to play with them in the driveway on the weekends.

For us, the scooter helps the kids traverse distances that they wouldn’t be able to do walking.

For example when my son was in pre-K his preschool was 1 mile away from our house. At 4 years old there’s no way he would have been able to walk that distance there and back every day on a regular basis. The scooter made it possible for us to commute on foot and not have to worry about parking. Which brings me to my next point.

Driving not recommended

Even if you have a car, you might not want to use it. We usually only use our car on the weekends and most of our neighbors do the same. The reason is that there is a lack of parking and even where there are garages they can be prohibitively expensive.

Another hassle of owning a car is alternate side street cleaning which requires us to move our car multiple times a week so that the street can be cleaned.

The city speed limit is 25 miles an hour. Effectively with the lights, you are driving at around 12 miles an hour. If you add in the time it takes to walk to wherever you parked, and to find parking (see above), often times it is faster to walk or just use public transportation. But moving on from the transportation department, let’s talk about other things.

Tip: If you do decide to drive, download the Spot Hero app, so that you can find a well priced garage.

Cooking in New York City

Kitchens in New York City are notoriously small. Even in housing situations in which the kitchen size is sufficient, getting groceries is a feat in and of itself. If you are not using your car (because of all the reasons I just mentioned), then you are carrying your groceries on foot.

For many neighborhoods outside of Manhattan grocery shopping is far from convenient. As a matter fact I will regularly commute 30 minutes to get to a grocery store with better prices. Then again, this can mean schlepping your groceries on the subway, something I frequently see people doing all over town.

Delivery, Delivery, Delivery

All these things put together make getting delivery a very appealing option!

As I first said when we move to New York: you go to ALL this effort to get your groceries and haul it on the subway and walk to your house and then you have a tiny kitchen in which to cook it… so of course it’s easier just to order in.

Or at least get your groceries delivered! Fresh direct is very popular here, as are all the other grocery delivery services: Instacart, Whole Foods, etc.

On the bright side, New York City has many greenmarkets and farmer’s markets, so it is definitely possible to get excellent quality food if you’re in the right neighborhood. You could always sign up for a CSA share.

Schools in New York City

The school experience can generally be described as stressful for many parents. Off the top of my head, I don’t think I can think of a single person I know that has not complained about their school situation!

On the one hand, there are many, many schooling options. You have a lot of options between public, charter, religious, and private schools. However, the application process starts early: for some, as early as preschool. The result is that children are bussed all over the city in all directions.

The public school system is huge and highly variable. One of these days I will write about our experience in detail, but check the beginning of the linked post for a general idea.

For now, know that there are zoned schools, but many children do not attend their zoned school for a myriad of reason. There is a Gifted and Talented program that many parents focus on. In addition, the influence of the school PTA contributes to the huge differences between schools. (Update: the reporting on Nice White Parents definitely resonated with our experience).

On the other hand, New York has a fabulous (and free) universal pre-K program called Pre-K for All. Our kids went to two different programs and we were extremely pleased with what they learned, but also the amount of time devoted to free play which is so, so important at this age.

Activities for days

New York is a great city with an enormous amount of things to do with kids, many of them for free! The vast majority of museums and cultural institutions are kid friendly.

If you take advantage of all the city has to offer, it is amazing what children can learn! You can travel the world with cuisine, and see cultural programming of all types.

It is also a city surrounded by water, which make regular excursions to the beach, or on the water an amazing attraction! There are just so many fun things to do, that you will never run out of entertainment. Then again…

City life: expensive and busy

I can’t write about living in New York City without stating the obvious. This applies to those with and without children: New York City is expensive. Housing is particularly expensive, but so is everything else.

Food, entertainment, transportation- nothing is cheap in this city. For those of us with kids you can add to the list: kid activities, after-school sports and childcare.

City living is busy and noisy. Though some neighborhoods are quieter than others, the sheer volume of people in the city dictates that there is always some commotion going on.

There is seemingly never-ending construction as well (although that may be a plus if you have a construction-obsessed little one). Cars, trucks, buses and trains all move around and contribute to the noise day and night.

In Conclusion

All in all, I think that living in New York City is not an easy choice for families. It is absolutely understandable why many families move out to the suburbs like in any urban area. But so long as we are here, we are focused on getting the most out of our experience.

That said, as you probably have realized by reading this blog we do make a point to travel outside of the city on a regular basis so that our kids are exposed to nature outside of city parks and other ways of life.

Before you go click to read: How and Why Our Family of 5 Lived in a One Bedroom!

Do you have any other questions about living in New York City with kids? What’s it like where you live?

*This is obviously my personal perspective; I don’t purport to speak for all families in the city. Interested in more details about our daily life? You can check out our current routine.

4 thoughts on “What It’s REALLY Like to Live in New York City with Kids”

  1. I’ve never been to New York, but I can say for sure that I would NEVER live there, especially in Manhattan. Just visiting for a few days would be all I could handle. Being from the suburbs, you can understand why I’d think that. If I’m honest, I don’t know how anybody could stay sane there.

    1. People live in New York for many different reasons: family, friends, jobs — just like any place else. I do have to say that there is nothing quite like the energy in the streets of New York, and that’s something we definitely miss.

  2. I moved to Manhattan from London 10 years ago and since had a child and another on the way. We live in a large 1 bed with Hudson river views, in walking distance of a great school, parks and close to work. We tried Seattle for a while in 2016 since have family there. We also visited and considered other places/suburbs. No other place has the energy of this place. We are in love and although space is limited and living costs are high we could not live anywhere else! I was told many years ago that New Yorkers are not friendly but are kind. I have since understood what that means.

    1. Wonderful! Living close to where you work is a huge advantage and I agree it’s definitely possible to make the space work. Glad that New York City is working out well for you; it is certainly a special place!

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