Things To Do in New York City With Kids

by Jeanna Canapari
Originally Published: 
Statue of Liberty with New York in the background.

There are so many kid-friendly attractions in New York City and things to do in NYC with kids, you may not be sure where to start planning. We have a few suggestions from the best NYC tours, best hotels in NYC, best time of year to visit NYC and more. If that’s not enough, we’ll also tell you some of the best restaurants in NYC to bring your family to. And because NYC is so big, we’ve got a totally separate guide on the best things to do in Brooklyn with kids. Here are our favorite things to do in New York City with kids.

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5 Best NYC Tours for Kids

  1. New York City Helicopter Tour: Definitely for the heights-lover in the family, this tour will show you the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, the Hudson River and more. The tour lasts 15-30 minutes.
  2. NYC Kids Learning and Fun Tour: Just like it sounds, this tour incorporates learning and fun as kids visit Bryant Park, Grand Army Plaza and make a sweet stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and begins at 10 a.m.
  3. Empire State Building: You can’t leave NYC without checking out the Empire State Building, though this is less of a tour and more of a visit. You and the kids can take the elevator all the way to the observation deck where you’ll get an amazing view of the city. Best time to visit is between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. when the crowds are smaller.
  4. Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Tour: Give your kids a history lesson and let them visit one of the most iconic monuments in the world on this tour of Liberty Island. You’ll learn all about the history of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island and get some great photos. Tour takes approximately 3 hours.
  5. Times Square Tour: Experience the lights and magic of NYC with this exciting night tour. Tours happen year-round.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New York With Kids

Free Things to Do in NYC

1. Central Park

There’s enough to keep you busy for a full day inside Central Park. 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 Loeb 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. Don’t forget to visit the park’s iconic carousel, which is great for kids and Instagram-lovers alike! Central Park New York is so big, family-friendly and has so much to see and do, you could probably spend an entire day here. If you have the time for that, there are many self-guided tours of NYC for you and your family to explore, including a tour of Central Park that includes the pond and Gapstow Bridge, the Chess and Checker House, Statue of Balto, The Mall and more. Central park is open daily until dusk. Read a review of Central Park.

Central Park Zoo

Near the Boathouse is the Central Park Zoo, much smaller than the Bronx Zoo (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. The 6.5-acre zoo lets kids feed sea lions, get up close with goats and Patagonian Cavy and more. The zoo is part of the New York Zoological Association and they make an effort to save wildlife in addition to giving the dozens of animals a good home right in the middle of Central Park. Open Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Last entry is 30 minutes before closing. Read reviews of Central Park Zoo.

John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Mosaic

The west side of Central Park is full of attractions for the lovers of the arts – there’s even a playground, across from the American Museum of Natural History, named for Diana Ross! But perhaps one of the most Instagrammable spots in Central Park, John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields mosaic is also nearby for budding Beatles fans. The living memorial was created to honor Lennon and his mission-through-music to achieve world peace. The memorial was dedicated in his honor on the 45th anniversary of Lennon’s birth. Park is open until dusk. Read reviews of John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Mosaic.

Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

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. The theatre was actually imported to the park as part of the Philadelphia Centennial Explosion. Tickets for most of the shows are available for purchase online. Daytime and nighttime shows all summer long. Read reviews of Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

2. Chelsea Waterside Play Area

Located within the Hudson River Park, this recently-renovated playground is what childhood dreams are made of. Originally opened in 2002, the play area closed from wear and tear in 2016. It reopened with an extensive range of playthings to keep the kids busy – from the giant wood pipefish to the 64-foot long slide. The playground also contains water elements that close in winter but provide great fun on hot summer days. Open year-round from 8a.m. to dusk. Read reviews of Chelsea Waterside Play Area.

3. New York Public Library

A place for both adults and kids to enjoy, the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is a must-visit for family trips to NYC. Visitors are greeted by two marble lions (by the names of Patience and Fortitude), who have been standing guard outside since 1911. The children’s room is home to the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends, gifted to the (real-life!) Christopher Robbins in the 1920s before his father realized what great characters they would make in a bedtime story. The library admission is free with the exception of certain lectures that require advanced tickets. Open from 8a.m. weekdays and 10a.m. weekends. Closes at 8p.m. Monday and Thursday, 9p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 6p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5p.m. Sunday. Read reviews of the New York Public Library.

4. Staten Island Ferry Ride

All aboard! This shuttle ferry offers spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline…for the family-friendly price of nothing! The half-hourly service currently helps around 22 million commuters per year to get between Manhattan and Staten Island. It also operates 24 hours a day, so if you want to admire the city lights, you can do so at night. The ferry runs between Lower Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal and the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. Whitehall Terminal is easiest reached by the 1 or R subway lines to South Ferry and Whitehall St. Read reviews of the Staten Island Ferry.

5. The High Line

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. Let the kids burn off energy on the Perishing Square Beams, a playground designed from the railroad’s original steel. 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. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Read reviews of The High Line.

6. The Vessel at Hudson Yards

Another New York City tourist attraction you won’t want to miss is The Vessel at Hudson Yards. Vessel is at the heart of Hudson Yards New York and is a climbable landmark with stairs and walkways around a gorgeous soaring structure. There are actually 154 flights of stairs, so be prepared to walk, although you don’t have to go all the way to the top if you don’t want to. If you or the little ones are afraid of heights, don’t worry. You can still take in the breathtaking sight from the streetview even if you don’t want to go up. Tickets are available at times from 12:40 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. Read reviews of The Vessel.

Best Museums in NYC

7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though it sounds a like place filled with priceless artifacts for a child to destroy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must-see in NYC for kids who love knights, mummies, and ancient Rome: you know, the stuff you can buy in Playmobile form. Sure, it’s an art museum, but there are tons of exhibits that will pique kids’ interest if you take the time to explore the museum. Open Sunday – Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Read reviews of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

8. American Museum of Natural History

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! There are tons of exhibitions for everyone in the family, from the dinosaur lover to the marine biologist and space explorer among you. The adjoining Hayden Planetarium is recently renovated and has incredible shows. Columbus Avenue and the surrounding Upper West Side is a great place to shop and eat as well. Open 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m. Read reviews of the American Museum of Natural History.

9. Children’s Museum of the Arts

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. There are exhibitions on claymation and ecology and this is truly one of the most interactive places you could bring your kid in NYC. For the less artistically inclined, the New York City Fire Museum is nearby and self-explanatory fun. Seriously, if you have a firefighting fan in your family you have to check it out. And for a snack between museums, try the Milk and Cookies Bakery, where you can design your own! Open for general admission from noon to 5 p.m.; under 5s drop-in class from 10 a.m. to noon. Read reviews of Children’s Museum of the Arts.

10. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

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 our words: be sure to buy tickets ahead of time online to save money and avoid the long line outside! Open Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and for early morning tours at 9 a.m. Read reviews of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Best Restaurants in NYC

11. Chelsea Market

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. Located in the Meatpacking District, Chelsea Market is one of the most known food halls in the world. Whether you like food (who doesn’t like food?) or not, this mega market is a sight to see—in fact, more than 6 million visitors come to see it every single year. Open 7 days a week. Read reviews of Chelsea Market.

Katz’s Deli sandwich

12. Katz’s Deli

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. The deli was established in 1888 and is still a staple of the area. The deli is best-known for its pastrami, but you really can’t go wrong with anything you order. 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. Open Monday to Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.; Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.; Friday from 8 a.m. to all night long. Open Saturday all day and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. Read reviews of Katz’s Deli.

13. Chinatown

You could also 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 Cafe in next-door Little Italy. In fact, there’s lots to see in Little Italy, so you may want to take a tour of the area. Read reviews of Chinatown.

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