Family Activities in New York City
There are more than enough things to do with kids in NYC and families should have no problem filling their itinerary with kid-friendly activities that appeal to parents and kids alike. Manhattan, in particular, offers a wide range of family activities with museums, parks, historical landmarks, shopping, outdoor activities and much more – all in a compact city that is easy to navigate by walking and using public transportation. Below is a list of kid-friendly activities that we recommend for your family to consider on your next visit to The Big Apple.
One World Observatory
There is no better way to get an aerial view of Manhattan than from atop the One World Trade Center. High above the city is the One World Observatory, which is a three-story observation deck that is located on the 100 – 102 floors of the tallest building in the USA. This is much more than an elevator ride to an observation deck; it is a fun and captivating experience that the whole family will love.
Getting to the top of the building is half of the fun as you ride in the Sky Pod elevators. The elevator ride will not only get you to the 102nd floor in under a minute, it will immerse your family with its full-length digital screens that show the development of New York City from 1500 to today. Quite possibly the best elevator ride ever!
Once the family is at the top of One World Observatory, there is a wall-to-wall video about NYC in the See Forever Theater, the main observatory with amazing 360-degree panoramic views of the city, a Sky Portal, which has you looking at the ground from the 100th floor via a live video feed, dining and more. See our article on visiting the One World Observatory or visit oneworldobservatory.com for more information.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
A fun and educational museum that showcases the history of our military and the U.S. space program. Housed aboard the World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and Pier 86, this floating museum packs in plenty of must-see historical exhibits, items and artifacts.
The main draw at the museum is the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype that helped start the space shuttle program. The Enterprise sits in the Space Shuttle Pavilion on the top deck of USS Intrepid and allows guests to get up close to the orbiter and experience the related exhibits that tell the history of this prototype NASA orbiter.
The USS Intrepid itself is very impressive with a flight deck filled with dozens of historical aircraft and multiple levels of exhibits to explore. Add in the USS Growler, the only American guided missile submarine open to the public, a British Airways Concorde, flight simulators, kids stations and you see why this museum will WOW you and the kids. Visit The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s website for more information.
One of our favorite things to do with kids in NYC, is to spend the day exploring, playing and relaxing in Central Park. Taking some time away from the bustling city and heading into Central Park is like taking a vacation from your vacation. The park offers such a wide array of activities and sights that families should have no problem filling their day with fun and educational things to do.
Families can just wing it and head into the park or they can have certain points of interest or activities on their agenda. Whichever way suits your family’s style, Central Park will still have your kids and you enjoying your day together. As you wander the park you will come across lakes, bridges, gardens, fountains, sculptures, playgrounds and much more. Some interesting points of interest in Central Park are the Obelisk, Belvedere Castle, Alice in Wonderland sculpture, The Mall (horticultural, not shopping) and the Carousel. Visit centralparknyc.org for more information on the park.
Statue of Liberty Cruise
One of the top things to do with kids in NYC is to see the Statue of Liberty. There are many ways to see Lady Liberty and each has its own unique experience. If your family wants to visit Liberty Island and Ellis Island, then taking the Statue Cruises ferry is your choice. This option will take some time and patience as lines to board the ferries to each island and back to Battery Park are quite long. The payoff for waiting in the lines is spending some family time on each of the islands, touring the grounds at your own pace and getting beautiful and up close views of Lady Liberty.
If your family is looking for a fun and quick way to see the Statue of Liberty and are not looking to visit the islands, New York Water Taxi has a great one hour narrated cruise aboard their Zephyr boat. In lieu of visiting the islands, your family will get to experience a cruise up the Hudson River and cruise by the legendary landmarks of downtown Manhattan. The cruise then pauses at the feet of Lady Liberty to give you time to marvel in her beauty and take plenty of pictures.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
Visiting the memorial and museum is a deeply emotional journey for its visitors and parents need to make that tough decision on whether their kids are ready for the visit. Your kids will certainly learn about the events of 9/11 at some point and the museum and memorial can certainly help parents introduce their kids to the history of 9/11.
The 9/11 Memorial, which consists of two reflecting pools set in the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood, Memorial Plaza and the Survivor Tree, is a good starting point for those with younger kids. The memorial is free of charge and is open to the public daily from 7:30 am to 9 pm.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum does a wonderful job at telling the story of 9/11 through various artifacts, images, movies and audio; all of which will certainly stir up emotions and memories of the tragedy. Going through the museum will bring the tragic events into context and meaning for your older kids (10+) and can certainly bring up questions and conversations about what they are experiencing. The museum’s Historical Exhibition is a vivid look into the day’s events, but it may not be appropriate for kids under 10 years old. Visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website to plan your visit and for more information on visiting the museum with children.
Top of the Rock
High atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza is their observation deck, which has a unique location in midtown Manhattan to give you amazing views of NYC that others cannot. Top of the Rock is a multi-level observation deck that offers beautiful indoor and outdoor open-air views of the city’s landmarks, like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park. The 70th floor observation deck provides guests with picturesque 360-degree panorama views of New York City. Before or after your visit to Top of the Rock, spend some time at Rockefeller Center where you can skate the Rink at Rockefeller Center, take the Tour at NBC Studios, shop at the LEGO and NBC stores and grab a bite to eat. Visit the Top of the Rock website for more information and to plan your visit
Discovery Times Square
In the heart of Times Square, this huge exhibition center showcases remarkable exhibits for limited time runs. The exhibits at Discovery Times Square range in subject matter from historical to entertainment and everything in between. Although the exhibits are limited-run touring exhibits, they look and feel as though they are permanent exhibits at a prime museum. With exhibits like Star Wars and the Power of Costume, Discover New York and the Titanic Artifact Exhibition, families can easily find exhibits that will educate and entertain them. Visit the Discovery Times Square website for current exhibitions and ticket information.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Take the kids on a walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway, which overlooks the roadway. This amazing walk is a little over a mile long and walk times can range between 30 minutes to an hour depending on your pace and how many stops you want to take along the way. Your family will be rewarded with spectacular views of Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as the Statue of Liberty. If you go during the day, we recommend pairing your walk with some time at the Brooklyn Bridge Park and maybe grabbing a bite at Grimaldi’s. If you wear the kids out with the bridge walk and activities in Brooklyn, just take the subway back into Manhattan and skip the walk back.
American Museum of Natural History
Bring the kids to the largest natural history museum in the world. With 45 exhibition halls, a planetarium, earth and space halls and limited run exhibitions, this massive Upper West Side museum covers four city blocks and will give the family plenty to see and do. From the depths of the oceans to the edge of the universe and everything in between, the American Museum of Natural History will give you and the kids something fascinating to experience and learn about. We recommend downloading the amNH’s Explorer app for the family to chart their visit, get turn-by-turn directions and find out more about the exhibits. Visit the American Museum of Natural History’s website to plan your family visit.
See a Broadway Show
Whether your kids love seeing live shows, plays and musicals or have yet to have attended one, catching a Broadway show is one of the best things to do with kids in NYC. Broadway shows are considered among the best productions in the world and having your kids experience these live performances will leave a lasting impression on them. Many of today’s 40+ Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are kid-friendly and finding a show that can appeal to the whole family shouldn’t be a problem.
Staten Island Ferry
Mainly used by commuters to get from Staten Island to Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry is a great way for visitors to enjoy a 5 mile boat ride across New York Harbor. Along the 25 minute ferry ride, passengers get magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Lower Manhattan skyline. The cost for your family’s scenic voyage will set you back absolutely nothing – it’s free! In 2017, families will have another reason to jump on the ferry as Staten Island will open the New York Wheel; the world’s largest observation wheel at 630 feet tall that will overlook the harbor and give guests an amazing view of the skyline.
Empire State Building
One of the best known buildings in the world, this 102-story art deco styled building is a national historic landmark, a top tourist attraction, pop culture icon and is currently the third tallest building in New York City. Venturing to the top of this iconic building to take in the city views is usually on the check list of most visitors. The building has two observation decks; one on the 86th-floor that offers open-air 360-degree views of the city and a second observation deck on the 102nd floor, which is enclosed. There is also a Dare to Dream exhibit on the 80th floor that tells the story of the building’s history with photos and original documents chronicling the construction of the world’s first 100-story building.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met is one of the most iconic art museums in the world that houses over two million works of art and treasures from across the globe. The museum is one of the best places to introduce your children to art and culture as there are so many different types and eras of art to explore together. Since the museum is so large and has way too much to see in a day (more like a few hours with the younger ones), it’s a good idea to plan ahead and focus on what the family would be interested in seeing. The Met has also done a great job at catering to children and their families with kids map, family guides, audio guides for kids and even an online interactive map to let them find some works of art they want to see when they visit. Visit the The Metropolitan Museum of Art website to plan your visit or send your kids on over to the #metkids website to have them plan your visit.
If you and the family want some celebrity fun, then Madame Tussauds in Times Square is one of the cool things to do with kids in NYC. Have fun posing and interacting with over 200 amazingly life-like celebrity wax figures as you stroll through multiple themed rooms that are lined with plenty of A-list stars. With 5 floors of movie stars, pop icons, historical figures, sports legends and super heroes, there is a celebrity that every family member will want to grab a picture with. Your visit will even generate conversations on who some of the figures are and what got them into the wax museum. Parents might need to explain who Gandhi is and then the kids can educate the parents on who Ed Sheeran is. Visit Madame Tussauds website for more information and to plan your visit.
When you and the kids are ready for a sensory overload, head on over to Times Square for a fast paced adventure. This is the fun and glitzy area to gaze at the electronic billboard show, shop for souvenirs, grab a bite or just hang out and people watch. Some of the fun things to do with kids in Times Square include the Disney Store, Hershey’s Chocolate World, M&M’s World, Madame Tussauds, Discovery Times Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and the TKTS Bleachers in Duffy Square. Even if you and the kids don’t do any activities, the family will still love seeing Times Square light up at night.
Hopping onto a boat to go see the Statue of Liberty is usually why families end up in Battery Park, but there are plenty of other family-friendly things to do while you are at this waterfront park. The 25 acre park has plenty of playgrounds, green space and gorgeous views of New York Harbor, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Around the park you will also see monuments and memorials in the park such as the eagle statue, American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial and The Sphere sculpture that was recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers. Kids can also enjoy a ride on the SeaGlass Carousel that feels like an underwater experience with its LED color-changing lights that illuminate the spiraling pavilion of glass.
Things To Do with Kids in NYC Outside of Manhattan
Coney Island and Luna Park
With its combination of sandy beaches, seaside boardwalk and amusement park, Coney Island has enough family fun to lure you down to Brooklyn. Luna Park, has over 30 rides that range from mild to extremely wild and is home to Cyclone, one of the best known roller coasters in the world. The iconic wooden roller coaster opened in 1927 and will treat its riders to 2,600 feet of track, 12 drops and speeds up to 60MPH. This ride is on every roller coaster enthusiasts must ride list and should be on your list of things to do with kids in NYC. When the weather is warm, families can have a thrilling time at the amusement park and then relax on the beach before grabbing a bite on the boardwalk. Visit the Luna Park website for more information.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
After taking the kids for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, this puts your family in one of the best parks of New York. Brooklyn Bridge Park is a world-class family friendly park that is on the waterfront of the East River. It should be worth the visit to the park just to take in the beautiful skyline of Manhattan and the bridges, but this 1.3 mile park has so many activities and amenities that families will have a to-do list that will exceed its amount of time at the park. There are playgrounds for all ages, a beach, a vintage carousel, bike paths, the largest sandbox in NY, massive 2-story slides, rope climbs, a water-jet field and so much more. Plan out your family day at Brooklyn Bridge Park before you visit.
NYC with Kids Vacation Guide and Travel Tips
Visit our complete New York City with Kids family guide, with our categorized lists of NYC’s best family friendly activities, restaurants, hotels, and kid friendly Broadway shows. This all-in-one family guide will help you plan that perfect New York City vacation with your kids.
If you have any questions or know of any family friendly things to do with kids in NYC that we didn’t list here, feel free to leave us a comment with your question/suggestion or email us.
Photo Credits: One World Observatory Sky Pod by One World Observatory | 9/11 Museum by Jin Lee | 9/11 Memorial Plaza by Joe Woolhead | Discovery Times Square by Paul Martinka | Brooklyn Bridge Walk by gigi_nyc via license | American Museum of Natural History by AMNH/D. Finnin | School of Rock by Matthew Murphy | The Lion King Musical by Joan Marcus | Staten Island Ferry by Phil Dolby via license | Empire State Building View by Pitch87 via license | Times Square by Fred Seibert via license | The Met David H. Koch Plaza courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Battery Park by Robert Taylor via license | Brooklyn Bridge Park Main Street & Waterlab by Etienne Frossard | Top of the Rock by Glenn Beltz via license