New York City is one of the major cities of the world – a hub for art, culture, fashion, publishing, finance, entrepreneurship and food.
It’s a fantastic place to visit with kids as there’s so much on offer! It’s been one of our favourite overseas holidays so far and we have been dying to return ever since we got home. (If you’re not able to visit New York any time soon, check out New York! New York For Kids at NGV International this winter).
We spend 14 days in Manhattan and Brooklyn, visiting the city for the first time with kids age 4 and 6. We barely scratch the surface of the City That Never Sleeps – but we do manage to get to most of the major sights, attractions and eateries on our to-do list.
Here are my best 36 things to do and places to go in New York with kids within Manhattan, sorted by location. There will be a separate guide on things to do with kids in Brooklyn as that’s where we stayed. Buckle up…this is a long list!
Things to do in New York with Kids – Lower Manhattan
1. Staten Island Ferry
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous icons of New York. But in my view the expensive and crowded palaver to take a ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island is not that thrilling for young kids. Plus being on the island makes it harder to take photos of the famous lady with the torch and climbing the stairs inside the statue is not really that interesting. Older kids may be more interested in Ellis Island’s immigration history.
A better option is to take the Staten Island Ferry across New York Harbour, where you’ll be able to get good views of Lady Liberty from the decks. Plus it’s free!
Staten Island Ferry departing Whitehall Terminal Manhattan and St George Terminal Staten Island
2. SeaGlass Carousel
SeaGlass Carousel twirls with glowing sea creatures inside a clear pavilion, evoking the sensation of being underwater. Make sure you choose a seat that goes up and down! It’s so good that we just HAVE to go on twice and I almost cry because it’s just such a beautiful moment.
SeaGlass Carousel, Water St & State Street, New York, NY 10004, USA
In 2018/2019 a new playground will be built for Battery Park, making it even more of a tourist destination.
Places to Eat in New York with Kids – Lower East Side
3. Russ and Daughters
Russ and Daughters is an iconic 4th generation family-owned Jewish deli that’s delicious, atmospheric but also tightly packed.
When visiting with kids I recommend their more spacious sit-down eatery Russ and Daughters Cafe around the corner.
The menu has all the classics – lox, herring, bagels, matzo ball soup – and our lunch is a highlight of our trip. The cafe has got pram access and high chairs and the standard menu is suitable for kids – especially ours, who LOVE their smoked salmon!
Russ and Daughters, 179 E Houston, Manhattan
Russ and Daughters Cafe, 127 Orchard St, Manhattan
Morgensterns is an ice cream parlour referencing the classic retro stylings of a 50s diner with a modern sensibility. Try the NYC mint chip and forget the sundaes (on the server’s advice) so you can really taste the quality of the ice cream.
Morgensterns, 2 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002, USA +1 212-209-7684
Things to do in New York with Kids – Lower West Side, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District
5. The High Line
The High Line is an urban park sprouted from a disused elevated train line. It provides a different view of the city from above and incorporates green areas and public art.
Suggested High Line Route: Start at the entrance at 16th street which has elevators and toilets. It’s the closest access to the small undercover souvenir shopping area and takeaway eateries at 15th and street (including the unmissable Melt ice cream sandwiches) and the Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck between 14th and 15th streets.
The latter offers lounge chairs overlooking a small water splash area over spring and summer where you can dip your toes in.
We don’t make it as far north as the Pershing Square Beams at 11th Avenue – but if you do you’ll find the High Line’s original steel beams stripped back to become a children’s play area.
The High Line is pram friendly, though note not every entrance has an elevator. It can be crowded, particularly during weekends. Unlike a normal park most people walk in one direction on one side in a very orderly way. There are patches of grass where kids can run free but it’s not not really a place to go wild. It’s more of an opportunity to see New York from high (especially at 10th Avenue Square where you can overlook the streets from a huge glass window) and at least kids can’t get run over by cars.
The High Line, from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues.
6. Children’s Museum of the Arts
The Children’s Museum of the Arts is three levels dedicated to kids art! We spend almost 3 hours inside. Start with the Wee Arts studio for babies and toddlers, a fine arts gallery, stop motion animation and the popular Clay Bar (book ahead as soon as you walk in as space is limited).
Workshops and exhibits often change. My kids say the best part is the Swirl Studio, a space filled with Herman Miller chairs that spin!
Children’s Museum of the Arts, 103 Charlton St, New York, NY 10014, USA
7. Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art is an unexpected highlight out of our various museum visits. The building’s on the water and architecturally interesting.
The permanent Alexander Calder displays are particularly kid-friendly, though if you’re lucky the temporary exhibits may be fun and interactive too – we love Helio Oiticica.
Have lunch at the rooftop Studio Cafe with shared plates and stunning views of Manhattan.
Open Studio Weekends allow kids to drop in to participate in creative, interactive projects in the art studio. Free with museum admission.
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street New York, NY 10014
Best Playgrounds in New York – Lower West Side
New York playgrounds range from grim, barren concrete enclosures to amazingly tactile and imaginative play spaces with stunning views. We find a lot of the best playgrounds we visit are on the Lower West Side (and Central Park – we’ll get to that later).
In summer the water play opportunities are numerous. I pack a towel and a dry change of clothes for the kids every day, just in case!
8. Pier 51 Hudson River Park
There are plenty of climbing opportunities for adventurous older kids.
It makes for a great outdoor play experience after visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art .
There’s another large playground at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 as well as a skatepark and mini golf course that we don’t get to visit.
9. Nelson A Rockefeller Park
Nelson A Rockefeller Park is a large fenced wooden playground with an extensive network of walkways, bridges, ladders and slides. There are also water play elements. If you’re visiting Ground Zero then it’s a good stop before/after (though personally I recommend an adult-only visit to Ground Zero).
Nelson A Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City, North End Ave at Vesey St
10. Teardrop Park
A green oasis hidden between huge skyscrapers. Unless you look up you’d never know you were in the city. There are slides, sandpits and water play set amongst a lush urban forest.
Teardrop Park, Battery City Park, River Terrace between Murray and Warren Sts
11. Washington Square Park
A small series of climbing nets and rolling hills keep the kids amused for ages while we enjoy a summer picnic in Washington Square Park. The fountain is apparently also open for water play in summer too!
Washington Square Park, 5 Ave, Waverly Pl., W. 4 St. and Macdougal St
12. Battery Park City Library
While not strictly a playground, the Battery Park City Library is a good place to hide from wind, rain or cold or for some relaxation after the numerous Battery Park playgrounds. Books and toys are available.
Battery Park City Library, 175 North End Ave, New York, NY 10282, USA
Where to eat in New York with Kids – Lower West Side and Soho
13. Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market is New York’s favourite food hall and it’s a bustling place to visit, with over 50 vendors selling everything from cheese and flowers to meats and bread. Try the famous taco stall Los Tacos No. 1 and the Doughnuttery for teeny-tiny donuts. Each stall has its own limited seating so it’s more of a grab-and-go affair.
Gansevoort Market is a similar setup also in the Meatpacking District.
Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue, Meatpacking District
Gansevoort Market, 353W 14th St, New York
14. Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel is the creator of the cronut and considered one of the world’s best pastry chefs has only one store in New York – so be prepared to queue during peak hours!
We go early on a weekday and are lucky to quickly score a seat in the outdoor garden and enjoy cronuts, the signature DKA (Dominique Kouign-Annan), a ham and cheese croissant, canele and macarons.
Dominique Ansel, 189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson) New York, NY 10012
15. Ample Hills
We manage to eat New York’s best ice-cream (and once named America’s best ice cream) at two Ample Hills outlets – one at Chelsea near The High Line and one at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Their flagship store in Brooklyn has rooftop seating.
Ample Hills, Bubby’s High Line, 73 Gansevoort St. New York, NY 10014, (646) 590-1288
Ample Hills, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 643-6961
Ample Hills, Gowanus 305 Nevins St. Brooklyn, NY 11215 (347) 725-4061
Things to do in New York with Kids – Midtown
16. Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is one of the most recognisable landmarks in New York and my kids are desperate to visit. The 86th level observation deck is one of the most popular attractions in NYC so the queues are looong – a typical wait is 2 hours, with about 3-4 different queues from memory.
If you’re visiting with kids who are unlikely to have that patience – and if your budget allows – buy a VIP Express Pass ticket (online, ahead of time). It’s really expensive (almost double the standard price and you have to pay for kids under 6 who are normally free) but you’ll skip every single queue, making for a much more pleasant experience when you do finally get to the top.
In my view it’s one of the New York City experiences to splurge on. Do you want to remember the fantastic views or the queueing dramas?
My research indicates that it isn’t worth the extra money to visit the 120th floor as the views are much the same but you’re enclosed in glass, making for worse photos.
Empire State Building, 350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118, USA
17. New York Public Library
The grand building facing Bryant Park is home of the famous Library Lions who guard the entrance.
Go down the stairs and you’ll find a large Children’s Centre with the original Winnie The Pooh toys of A.A Milne’s son Christopher Robin. Free entry.
New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
18. Museum of Modern Art MOMA
In my view MOMA is the best major gallery in New York for kids. The Sculpture Garden is a relaxing place to visit and in summer it opens 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the gallery, so it’s a good way to ease your way into the museum experience and beat the queues.
They have a dedicated Art Lab for kids with books, games, artistic prompts and materials. The theme changes regularly.
During our visit there’s also the child-friendly The People’s Studio inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. We explore architectural concepts and build with different blocks and materials for almost an hour.
Museum of Modern Art MOMA 11 West 53 Street Manhattan and 22 Jackson Avenue Queens (Moma PSI)
19. Bryant Park
On Fridays in summer Bryant Park comes alive with pop up food vendors, free circus equipment, an Art Cart and free Shakespeare performances. There’s a vintage carousel at the park too. It’s adjacent to the New York Public Library.
Bryant Park, 5th Ave, 6th Ave, 42nd St
20. Grand Central Terminal
The grand dame of train stations, Grand Central Station is an awesome sight.
Under the roof of this spectacularly restored landmark you’ll find the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant. We have an extremely expensive and underwhelming lunch at the Oyster Bar (honestly, the worst meal we have in NYC) so I recommend a drop-in visit to Grand Central Station and maybe just a peek at the famous mosaic of the restaurant if you’re so inclined.
Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, USA
21. Times Square/Broadway
If you’re going to visit New York, you’ve got to make it to the epicentre – Times Square. It’s a very busy, crazy, tacky and touristy place so we have just one destination in mind – M&M’S World. That’s because we know it’s the one of the few place in the world where you can personalise your M&Ms.
This experience is worth waiting for – it’s interactive, you can stamp your name or New York icons on your M&Ms and of course your patience is rewarded with a bucket of personalised M&Ms!
We decide not to see any Broadway shows on this visit – except that we agree that our budget can stretch to buying one, overpriced ticket to the sold out (adults) musical Hamilton.
I have no real tips on how to get Hamilton tickets except to set your alarm to join the lottery every day (twice a day on matinees) and if you’re not successful towards the end of your stay cough up the money to buy a ticket on the resale market like Stubhub or Ticketmaster Resale. T claims the show is worth the money!
M&M’S World, 1600 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, USA
22. The Lego Store
There you can play with and of course buy bricktastic creations, including a minifig Statue of Liberty fridge magnet, a highly recommended souvenir!
The Lego Store, 200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010, USA
Where to eat in New York with Kids – Midtown
What kid doesn’t like pizza, pasta and Nutella? Eataly is a shrine to Italian food which can be crowded and noisy but generally it’s a great place to visit with kids because of the menu choices and the casual atmosphere.
Note if you have a pram it can be hard to maneuver past all the narrow produce aisles, so you may have to stick to the areas near the entrances. Luckily the Nutella bar has a direct street front doorway!
Eataly NYC Flatiron 200 Fifth Ave (and other locations) 212.229.2560
24. American Girl Place New York
American Girl Place New York is 3-level store of dolls and doll accessories that has to be seen to be believed!
On the top floor is a cafe where you can eat with an American Girl doll (or BYO) who is provided with its own doll’s chair so she can sit next to you. Brunch there is a good option at $20 per head with drinks and 3 smallish courses. Book ahead as it’s very popular.
American Girl Place New York, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, USA
25. The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel
Eloise fans under 12 years can enjoy a rawther fancy Eloise-themed afternoon tea at The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel with a huge array of treats, including a huge bag of fairy floss and pink lemonade poured from an Eloise tea set.
Don’t worry you can take leftovers home!
Make sure you visit the Eloise shop downstairs too. Having said that, I discover that items like the Eloise tin tea set with matching suitcase are much cheaper on Amazon.
The Eloise Afternoon Tea at The Plaza is not a cheap outing but definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We still talk about it today.
The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York
Things to Do in New York with Kids – Upper East Side
26. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met is one of the premier museum in the world and its vast collection is astounding. To beat the crowds, arrive at The Met for opening at 10am.
Pick up a Family Trail Map to see the most popular sites for kids, including the stunning Temple of Dendur. The Audio Guide for Kids features thirteen tours that are ideal for children ages 6–12 and their families. You can also download Family Guides before your visit.
If you’re visiting in summer, be sure to check out the roof garden, where art installations are set against the backdrop of Central Park.
For extra magic read ‘From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg’ beforehand, a classic children’s book set inside the Met. And check out the #MetKids interactive map!
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
27. Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum is a fairly traditional art gallery setting and there’s a lot of ‘no running’ ‘no touching’ ‘not too close please’ on our visit which makes it stressful rather than pleasant.
It’s probably most interesting for kids for its architecture rather than for its art, though older kids may enjoy the free audioguide.
Pick up a Family Guide and explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural features.
Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave, New York
Things to Do in New York with Kids – Upper West side
28. American Museum of Natural History
A huge place with famous residents as featured in the Ben Stiller film Night at the Museum. Dinosaur fans should start at Level 3 for huge fossil displays, then work your way down to other exhibits including the giant blue whale and Native American displays.
It costs extra to visit the Planetarium and special exhibits, but the permanent collection is already overwhelming so I don’t think it’s really necessary.
At the cafeteria try the Dino Nuggets!
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192.
29. New York Historical Society Museum & DiMenna Children’s History Museum
Just across the road from AMNH (and a much quieter experience) is the New-York Historical Society’s museum. Most of the building is laid out in a traditional museum setting, though when we visit there’s an Eloise at the Museum exhibition with works and information about the book character.
While the New-York Historical Society Museum is mostly geared towards adults, the bottom level houses the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. This is a fantastic place to learn about New York and American history.
I think it’s best suited for kids 6+ years as it’s interactive but not really in a physical way and there’s lots of written information to absorb. Lady AB could easily spend hours in there, Baby 2.0 is itching to get out after about an hour.
Where to Eat in New York with Kids – Upper West side
30. Milk Bar
David Chang’s famous Milk Bar bakery sells crack pie, compost cookies and cereal milk soft serve ice cream. Accept no imitations! There are branches all over Manhattan and Brooklyn but the UWS branch is surprisingly quiet. Zero queues.
Milk Bar Upper West Side 561 Columbus Ave, at 87th st, New York, NY 10024 347.577.9504 ext 2
Wow the famous chocolate chip cookies from Levain really are amazing – warm, gooey, soft and huge. Worth a trip if you’re in the area but don’t bother if there’s a long queueing.
Levain Bakery Bakery, 167 West 74th Street and 351 Amsterdam Avenue (also Harlem and Hamptons)
Best Playgrounds in New York City – Central Park
32. Central Park
Central Park is one of the world’s greatest urban parks and the city’s largest green space that stretches from Midtown all the way up to Harlem, splitting the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. There’s always something to see or do in Central Park, including the famous sites like Belvedere Castle, Central Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountain, Shakespeare Garden, Carousel and boat rides on the lake.
33. Billy Johnson Playground
Billy Johnson Playground is an oldie but goodie. A large playground most famous is the long carved granite slide – just watch out it’s pretty fast! There’s also an extensive sand play area, wooden structures and a stone bridge all set amongst a green leafy area.
34. Heckscher Playground
Heckscher Playground is the biggest playground in Central Park and it’s at the southern end of the park. It has numerous zones, including an extensive water play area, and is unfenced so you’ll need to be vigilant with younger kids.
35. Ancient Playground
After your feet and head are sore from visiting the Met, head outside to Ancient Playground, an awesome play space inspired by the museum’s Egyptian collection.
The playground features stone pyramids, tunnels, slides and forts plus water play and sand play.
36. Diana Ross Playground
The Diana Ross Playground is named after the singer who funded the play space. It features a large, wooden play structure with a variety of interconnected play elements, including a climbing net, bridges, firepoles, slides and ladders.
Diana Ross Playground, Central Park, West 81st Street off of Central Park West
What are your favourite things to do and places to go in New York with kids?