What are the best things to do in NYC with kids? Inside this post we'll share our favorite places to visit, eat, and explore in New York City with kids!
Thinking about going to New York City with your kids can feel overwhelming. It's such a big busy city and there is so much to do and see! Where do you even start?!!
My top tip for NYC with kids
Recognize that not every activity in New York City is for every family! Just because it's popular, doesn't mean it's for you.
Do your homework and talk to friends and family who have been to New York City. Do research about the different places that sounds interesting to you, and then base your decisions off of your family and the stages your kids are in (and your budget)!
For example, going to the top of the Empire State Building is named as the #1 Attraction in the U.S.," but we've never done it! I've never wanted to spend $38+ per person to go up an elevator and haven't felt like waiting in line, especially with young kids.
Similarly, not everyone likes to go to tons of playgrounds or treat places like we do! Every family is different. I'd love to hear what you discover to be your favorite when you visit NYC!
It's ok if a popular activity isn't for you.
RELATED: Check out these 10 Awesome Things to do with a Toddler in New York City.
How I make a plan for a NYC trip
- Make a list- Make a list together of the activities we want to consider doing in New York City. When we're doing this we talk to friends and look at websites/Instagram accounts.
- Group Activities by Location- Put the activities we want to do into lists based on where they are located (uptown, midtown, downtown).
- Focus on Priorities- Talk with our family about priorities and figure out our top NYC activities we can't miss. Highlight them.
- Make Reservations- Make reservations for any activities or restaurants we want to visit. (These can always be changed later). Resy is a good app for making reservations at several spots in NYC.
- Make a Tentative Plan- Make a flexible plan for each day that prioritizes the activities/food places that are our top priorities. Put them on a calendar (we like to use a Google spreadsheet for this). Every plan will need to be adjusted because things come up. I always tells my kids that the key word for any family vacation is "flexibility."
- Plan Additional Activities- Make an "if there's time" list of activities/places near the top spots we want to visit to have if we need it. Often things will take less time than you think, so having some extra ideas is always helpful.
Awesome Playgrounds in NYC
New York City has so many amazing playgrounds! When we travel with kids, we love to build in time for play. Outdoor play is so great for kids! It helps them get their bodies moving, get energy out, have fun, and build so many skills (imaginative skills, social skills, physical skills and more).
Traveling can be stressful for kids AND adults! Routines and schedules are different and there is a lot to manage. Playing at the playground can give grown ups and kids a mental break and a physical break from one another for a few minutes.
Central Park Playgrounds
- Ancient Playground- Central Park- This playground is not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it's design is inspired by the Egyptian art at the museum. It includes climbers, slides, tunnels, concrete bridges, sandbox, and bucket, tire, strap swings, and a water feature. There are also restrooms.
- Heckscher Playground – Central Park- This playground is one of our favorites! It's not far from the entrance to the park near 5th Avenue and has a gorgeous skyline view while kids play. There are also bathrooms available and fun things to play on for toddlers and bigger kids! We love to climb the big rocks nearby too. It's the largest playground in Central Park.
Did you know there are 21 playgrounds in Central Park? Read more about the other Central Park playgrounds here.
Downtown Manhattan Playgrounds
- The Play Hills- Washington Square Park- These are so much fun! There are nets and fun areas to climb.
- Moira Ann Smith Playground- Madison Square Park- This is a great playground to hang out in while someone else waits in line for food at Shake Shack right nearby.
- Imagination Playground- South Street Seaport- This playground is unique and has things to build, slide on, and make music! My kids love the large sand pit.
- The Battery Playscape – The Battery- This newer play area is beautiful and filled with something for everyone. Slides, playhouses, water features, climbing structures and more! This park is also near the water where you can see a view of the Statue of Liberty.
- Pier 25 Playground- Hudson River Park- This area has swings, climbing structures, water features and more! It also has shaded seating for adults and bathrooms nearby. There are other fun attractions to check out in Hudson River Park as well. We love the Pier 25 Playground because it's walking distance to the 9/11 Memorial and subway stations.
- Teardrop Park- Battery Park City- This is also a short walk from the 9/11 Memorial. It has water features, an amazing slide, and places to climb and explore.
More Cool Playgrounds- Tiny Beans
More Lower Manhattan Parks and Playgrounds- Macaroni Kid
NYC Museums to Visit
- American Museum of Natural History- This Natural History museum is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan across the street from Central Park. It is ENORMOUS! My kids loved it! The best tip I received about this museum is to do your research and study the map ahead of time so that you know what you want to visit and where it is. There is so much to see ! For the best experience, prepare ahead of time so that you don't get lost and miss visiting things you want to see. We especially loved all exhibits related to dinosaurs.
- The Sloomoo Institute - Slime Museum in NYC- If you have kids who love sensory experiences and slime, this museum is for you! It's full of hands-on fun! You even get to design your dream slime and take it home. Kids of all ages will love it.
- Museum of Ice Cream- This was the yummiest museum we've ever been to! We engaged all our senses as we explored new ice cream flavors, played ice cream themed games, slid down a giant slide, jumped in a pool of sprinkles and more! The best part? You could have unlimited ice cream! This was a sweet experience! We were so glad we stopped by for a visit. It was the highlight of our NYC trip.
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial- This solemn memorial tells the story of 9/11 through media, stories, and artifacts. With younger kids we typically walk around the memorial grounds outside. The 9/11 Memorial is free and the museum costs a fee. Read tips about taking your kids to the 9/11 Museum here.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art ("The Met")- The Met is one of the most visited museums in the United States. Several resources for families/kids who visit can be found here. Similarly to the Natural History Museum, it's important to research what parts of the museum are most important to you to visit before you arrive with kids. You may have stamina to see tons of exhibits, but your kids might not! Spend time deciding together what you want to see before you go so that you maximize the time you have at the museum!
Shopping in New York City with Kids
- FAO Schwarz- A GIANT toy store with unique toys for kids! The flagship store in Rockefeller Center is not to be missed! My kids love waiting in line for a turn to play on the iconic giant piano! You can also watch magic tricks, try out toys, and (our favorite) pick your favorites stuffies from the dozens of stuffed animals!
- American Girl Doll Store- My kids love to browse all the dolls, bitty babies, accessories and books! It's also fun to eat at the cafe or take your doll to the salon for a new hair style. There is even a doll hospital for dolls that have an accident. We also had fun playing a Pac-Man arcade game during a recent visit, since one of the dolls (Courtney) is themed around the 80s.
- Nintendo Store- Have a Nintendo obsessed kid? Don't miss this! You can check out new titles headed to Nintendo Switch and explore Nintendo memorabilia. We had fun playing some games at one of the Switch stations.
- LEGO Store- The LEGO store at Rockefeller Center is worth a stop if you have LEGO lovers. I especially love snapping pics of my kids in front of the LEGO brick Statue of Liberty. There's a small LEGO store at JFK airport that we like to explore while we're waiting for our flight home too.
Things to do in New York City with Kids
- Take Pictures in Times Square- always a must stop for a few minutes!
- Go on a bike tour of Central Park- We did a bike tour with Bike Rental Central Park. We loved learning all about the best spots to visit in Central Park and some of the history. We biked for two hours with a guide who answered our questions, told us interesting tidbits, and helped us have a fabulous experience!
- Ride the Liberty Express to the Statue of Liberty- We did the Liberty Super Express Downtown Cruise to see the Statue of Liberty! It was short (50 minutes long) and took us under the Brooklyn Bridge and across to see the Statue of Liberty. We had breathtaking views of the NYC skyline as well. We got pictures in front of Lady Liberty and then went back to South Street Seaport. We did not get off the boat! It was the perfect length of time for a family friendly boat ride!
- Go Ice Skating in Central Park (winter)- Wollman Rink is our favorite because it has gorgeous skyline views while you skate. We took a group of kids ages 3-12 skating and they had a great time. We also were able to find seating, snacks, hot cocoa, and bathroom access. If you want a less busy spot, Bryant Park also has a wonderful ice skating rink with views of the Empire State Building (and it's free if you have your own skates).
- Ride the Seaglass Carousel At the Battery Conservancy- We shared about this fun activity in our NYC toddler guide. It's great for big kids and adults too! The seaglass carousel is beautiful and is located close to a great view of the Statue of Liberty. It is fun during the day and also beautiful at night with the lights on.
- Walk the High Line and explore Chelsea Market- Fun shops, a beautiful nature trail, and lovely views. The High Line is a public park built on a freight rail line that is elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. We liked taking a break from the city streets and walking along the paths.
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge- On a sunny day the views of the skyline are beautiful as you walk across the bridge! It's only one mile long and the perfect length for an adventure with kids. We love to walk across and then go get Grimaldi's pizza in Brooklyn.
- Tea at The Plaza- The Plaza Hotel is a NYC icon. Dining in the Palm Court is a treat for very special occasions. We recently took my daughter for tea at The Plaza for her birthday. She enjoyed treats and sandwiches from the children's menu. We had fun dressing up fancy for this special occasion!
- Watch the Macy's Day Parade (Thanksgiving time)- Coming to NYC for Thanksgiving? Don't miss watching the Macy's Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day! Make sure you come see all the balloons the day before the parade. They are easy to see up close right in front of the American Museum of Natural History on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Shows for Kids in New York City
Broadway is such an exciting part of NYC! We love to take our kids to see Broadway Shows and other shows in NYC when we find one we know they will love.
We've been to New York City a few times with kids and love it when we find a show that's the perfect match for our kids. Although going to a Broadway show is a popular thing to do in NYC, remember that it's important to make sure to consider your family and your kids to make sure it's the right fit for you. We took our kids to their first Broadway Show when our youngest was almost 4, but some shows have an age limit.
Check out these tips for taking kids to live events.
Here are the shows we've enjoyed with kids in NYC:
Do you have any other shows you've enjoyed with kids in New York? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!
Pro tip: Find someone who lives in NYC to buy your show tickets for you or buy them when you arrive (if you can)! Online fees are super expensive! We usually ask a friend to grab out tickets for us a few weeks before we go to New York.
NYC Kid Friendly Places to Eat
You could probably eat out every meal in New York City and find a new restaurant to try every time! Here are a few popular spots that were recommended to us that we've found to be family friendly!
- Joes Pizza Times Square
Dessert Spots in NYC
Our family motto is "enjoy the journey, stop for treats." When we go to NYC, we do a lot of walking! We try and intersperse treat stops throughout our day to help us enjoy our journey around New York City more. Here are some of our favorite dessert spots to repeat.
- Serendipty 3- home of the famous Frozen Hot Chocolate. Make a reservation ahead of time!
- Black Tap NYC- home of the CRAZYSHAKE® milkshakes. We love the Brooklyn Blackout and CakeShake®! The burgers and appetizers are yummy too if you need something to balance out all the sugar.
- Levain Bakery- Famous for their cookies! Only about a 10 min walk from the American Museum of Natural History if you're going there for a trip!
- Schmackary's- So many yummy cookie flavors!
- Max Brenner- Make sure to grab a reservation so you don't miss this yummy spot! The desserts are delish! We especially love the hot cocoa and fondue!
- Van Leeuwen Ice Cream- This is the perfect quick treat right after a Broadway Show or trip to Radio City. It's located in Rockefeller Center.
- Dominique Ansel Bakery- We love the cronuts here!
- Magnolia Bakery- delicious treats you can find in several spots around the city. The original store is in the West Village on Bleeker Street.
- Il Gelato- Eataly- Need a sweet treat when you're downtown? Grab gelato in Eataly.
- Hersheys Chocolate World NYC- There are so many fun treats at Hersheys Chocolate World. We love getting the indoor s'mores.
- Big Gay Ice Cream- Yum! There's a shop near South Street Seaport, which is perfect when you're visiting Imagination Playground or going on a boat cruise out of the Seaport
There are so many yummy treat places in New York City! Do you have a favorite one that we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments!
Family Friendly Hotels
There are so many great hotels in New York! Here are our two favorites that we like to stay in again and again. They have suites that work great for families and complimentary breakfast.
- Best Western Plus Hospitality House- Great location, friendly staff, apartment style family suites, and free breakfast makes this a great spot for families. We visited NYC with our entire extended family and all five families were able to get comfortable suites in the hotel.
- Residence Inn Times Square (by Bryant Park)- The 2 bedroom suite was the perfect size for our family of six. Great location and comfortable rooms.
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