New York City is a great travel destination for families even with small kids. It’s safe, fun, accessible, and doesn’t have to be overly expensive either, if you plan it right. Most people seem to make a beeline for hotels in the Times Square or Rockefeller Center areas, but nowadays with AirBNB you can find affordable and easily accessible places to stay all over the city. Nothing like stepping out of an apartment in the Village, smack in the middle of everything!
Another wonderful thing about NYC is that you don’t need a car to get about. The public transport system (MTA) is wonderful, and there are cabs and Ubers everywhere. I found it easier to navigate the subway system with my kid in a carrier or sling when I was alone, but if there are two adults you won’t have any issue carrying a stroller up and down stairs. And many of the stops have elevators anyway, so you can plan your outings based on that. Yellow cabs don’t require children to be in car seats only strapped in properly, and you can book an Uber with a car seat through the app, if that’s what you prefer.
There are so many places to visit in NYC with kids that it’s hard to choose the best ones! I’ve put together a list of go-to spots, most of which can be enjoyed all year round.
Central Park is massive! It spans from 59th St to 110th St, and Fifth Ave and Eighth Ave. With just over 800 acres of land to its name it’s an oasis of greenery and activities amidst the skyscrapers and traffic in Manhattan. In the winter you can ice skate, and in the summer watch bands play or catch a recital or an outdoor movie screening. There is a zoo, a swimming pool, a boating lake, a Discovery Center, a castle (closed for renovations at the moment), and a lot of magic going on all around.
Tip: watch NYC-based kids’ movies like Stuart Little and The Secret Lives of Pets before your trip and try to find the exact spots certain scenes were filmed in.
The Statue of Liberty: I didn’t make it up the Empire State Building until I had been living in NYC for 6 years, but I went to the Statue of Liberty two days after I landed. You can book at boat tour in advance before you leave, and visit the iconic statue as well as Ellis Island. But you can also just hop on the free Staten Island Ferry and check out the views of Lady Liberty from the boat.
Tip: Uptown is north, Downtown is south, the Hudson River is west and the East River is east. Always remember which direction you are planning on heading based on whether it is north, south, east, or west and you most likely won’t get lost.
Times Square: the first time I ventured up to Times Square from my Lower East Side home I was looking for an actual square. I still laugh about this today! It’s very busy most of the time, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s also an iconic NYC spot. There are so many lights and skyscrapers to look at, and also great shops where kids can taste things (M&Ms World), and interact and play (The Disney Store). Also if you kids are aged 4 and up you may want to catch a Broadway show. Same day discount tickets can be found in person from one of the Discount Booths.
Tip: popular chain restaurants pack Times Square, but try smaller, one-of-a-kind places in the less busy streets around the neighborhood for a much more memorable food experience!
Museums: there are so many amazing museums in NYC (and not only in Manhattan!). You can spend a whole day at The Met and still need to go back for more. Depending on their ages, children will appreciate temporary and permanent exhibitions at places like The American Museum of Natural History (life-size dinosaur skeletons are always a good choice), MoMA, The Met, and The Children’s Museum of the Arts. In Manhattan the huge Children’s Museum is a wonderful spot to take younger kids, and its counterpart in Brooklyn has an amazing exhibition called World Brooklyn where kids learn about different cultures through play.
Tip: NYC has tons of playgrounds and parks all over the city. You can plan your days around park stops by using this informative website.
The High Line was completed in 2014 and is on the old elevated railway platform on the west side of Manhattan. Start at 34th St entrance and walk down, taking in artwork and performance along the way. I always find it best to plan the walk before lunch because you can then stop off at the Chelsea Market and feast on all of the amazing things they have to offer there! (The vegan sushi rolls, French crepes, and Australian pies are all fantastic and conveniently located together).
Tip: the best coffees are often found in the corner bodegas (small convenience stores) located all over the place. Much cheaper than the well-known chains!
Coney Island: I personally prefer The Rockaways for real beach time, but Coney Island is the best place for an all-round NYC beach experience. Kids of all ages will have a blast there between the rides at Luna Park, the sharks at the aquarium, the beach, the food, the sideshow, and the oldest rollercoaster in the country: the Cyclone.
Tip: walk the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise and go and hang out in Brooklyn’s East River State Park or Brooklyn Bridge Park at sunset. There is something so beautiful about watching the sun descend behind the Manhattan outline.
Planning a trip to NYC and have any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us or comment below!
All images ©jadeannahughes
Jade Anna Hughes is a writer, poet, mother of three, immigrant, and activist. You can find her work and portfolio over on her website.