I was born and raised in the New York suburbs, and spent my childhood going in and out of the city, loving every visit. Now I take my two sons there often, and schlepp them, along with their four NYC-raised cousins (all under age seven), all over town. Just walking the city’s streets makes my kids’ eyes light up; it’s like nowhere else in the world. Here are our favorite places to hit in New York City with kids…
1. Though it sounds a like place filled with priceless artifacts for a child to destroy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must-see for kids in New York City who love knights, mummies, and Ancient Rome: you know, the stuff you can buy in Playmobile form. It’s a great place to ramble, and most guards will laugh off childlike indiscretions, like when my son touched a Roman statue and screamed, “THIS IS VERY OLD!”
2. Next to the Met, inside Central Park, the aptly named Ancient Playground is huge, new, free, and a great place to mix with locals. Also nearby in the park is the Boathouse. The posh, pond-side restaurant is excellent, but probably a no for kids. However, the casual (and cheaper) outdoor café is a great lunch option. After lunch, you can rent bikes there, or take out a rowboat or gondola in the pond.
3. Near the Boathouse is the Central Park Zoo, much smaller than its famous Bronx counterpart (which is worth the long subway ride, and which kids will love), but a lot of fun and the perfect size for young kids in New York City.
4. No trip to New York with kids is complete without a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, where a mind-blowing display of dinosaurs delights city and out-of-town kids alike. And don’t forget to see the enormous, iconic model of a blue whale! The adjoining Hayden Planetarium is newly renovated and has incredible shows. Columbus Avenue and the surrounding Upper West Side is a great place to shop and eat as well.
5. The west side of Central Park is full of attractions for the lovers of the arts – there’s even a playground, across from the Natural History Museum, named for Diana Ross! John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields mosaic is also nearby for budding Beatles fans. If you want to avoid the madness of Broadway and still catch a show, the park’s Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre puts on puppet versions of classic children’s stories, perfect for little ones. Older kids and theater lovers can hunt for plants mentioned in the Bard’s plays in the Shakespeare Garden, and in the summer see Shakespeare in the Park.
6. It can’t be dinosaurs and mummies all the time. Head downtown and mix a parent’s desire to see a more hidden (yet increasingly popular) part of the city with a child’s desire to run. The High Line is a disused elevated railway line that’s been converted to a park and walking path, snaking above the cobbled streets of Chelsea and the West Village and their rows of cool shops and eateries. Offering unique views of the city and the Hudson River, the High Line begins at 34th Street, and can be picked up at several entry points, with elevators to take you up. Chelsea Market, a once-Nabisco factory (can you still smell the Oreos baking?) turned food hall is a great place to stop for a bite along the way.
7. There’s no better way to experience the Lower East Side than by tasting the food! For the world’s best hot dogs and pastrami, go to Katz’s Deli. For bagels-and-lox, a New York requirement, there’s Russ and Daughters (take your food with you; there’s no seating). Walk off your meal at the Tenement Museum, which offers (stroller and wheelchair accessible) walking tours of this fascinating area where immigrant families from all over the world started life in America.
8. Wander over to Chinatown, also on the Lower East Side, to see its narrow streets filled with Asian grocery stores and shops jammed with bright, noisy toys. On busy Canal Street you can haggle for fashion knock-offs for deep discounts. And of course, don’t forget to eat: Peking Duck House is a great place for kids to sample this famous dish. For the real, dizzying, dim sum experience, head to Jing Fong and point to any dumpling or dish that looks good as zooms by on a metal cart. And somehow, no matter how much you get, it’s always $10 a person in my experience! Finally, stop for Italian pastries and gelato at Ferrara’s in next-door Little Italy.
9. For some great kids’ museums off the beaten path, head to the picturesque West Village to the Children’s Museum of the Arts, where kids can see and also create art. For the less artistically inclined, The New York City Fire Museum is nearby and self-explanatory fun. And for a snack between museums, try the Milk and Cookies Bakery, where you can design your own!
10. The space shuttle Enterprise has a new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. On the top deck of this aircraft carrier-turned-museum in the Hudson River, you’ll be in awe as you walk under and around the Enterprise, and think of the equally enormous, hovering whale at the Natural History Museum. Also on the flight deck are military planes and helicopters of every stripe. You can also visit the ship’s bridge and talk to veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid during WWII. Inside, there are more exhibits and an excellent hands-on section for kids. And mark my words: be sure to buy tickets ahead of time online to save money and avoid the long line outside!
Got any tips of your own for NYC? Leave them in the comments!