Disclosure: This Things to Do in NYC with kids post contains affiliate links. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post helps support Family Travel Magazine®. We did receive complimentary admission to some of these things, but have paid for many others. All opinions are my own.
New York City is a fantastic place to visit with kids. It’s so unique, and has hundreds of attractions, hotels, and restaurants that appeal to families. If you are visiting the area, you may be wondering what to do in NY with families.
It’s absolutely impossible to visit every attraction that NYC has to offer. With so many options, it’s challenging to figure out which ones are best when traveling with a family. Depending on the length of your visit, it’s probably a good idea to only a choose a few things. We’ve been to NYC as a family several times, and choose something unique to do on each visit. Here are things to do in NYC with kids.
Note: Many of these attractions can be visited with the purchase of a CityPass. This can help save money, especially if you are planning to visit multiple attractions during your visit.
Things to Do in NYC With Kids
My son loves anything to do with transportation, so I knew he’d enjoy the Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier which now houses artifacts and exhibits.There are several different pass options, depending on how much you want to see and spend. Since we were only going to spend a few hours, we chose the general admission ticket, which includes the Intrepid Museum, and the Growler Submarine. My kids loved walking around the Intrepid, and especially liked checking out the flight deck.
For a short trip, the general admission ticket is perfect. There are add ons that can be included in your admission ticket, including a guided tour, simulator experience, and audio tours. You can purchase your tickets online, or in person. I generally recommend buying them online where possible, so you can save time in the ticket line once you arrive. The Intrepid is also included in the CityPass.
One of our favorite things to do in NYC with kids is the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise. There are several options, including the Statue of Liberty Express, which lets you see the Statue as well as downtown NYC. There’s also the LIberty Cruise, the Landmarks Cruise, the Best of NYC Cruise, the Harbor Lights Cruise, and the Statue by Night Cruise.
During our experience, we loved being able to see the Manhattan skyline from this perspective. Our guide was also very knowledgeable and engaging.
See our full review of the Circle Line tour here. I highly recommend it!
I first visited the American Museum of Natural History when I was a child, and knew my kids would love it. We arrived in the afternoon on our first day in NYC, and found the museum to be incredibly crowded. After purchasing our tickets, we moved past the main floor and were pleasantly surprised to see that the exhibit halls weren’t too crowded.
The kids absolutely loved the museum – especially the Hall of Asian Mammals, the temporary Google doodle exhibit, and the Hall of Ocean Life. We also purchased tickets to the Penguin IMAX movie, and thoroughly enjoyed it. You could easily spend the day at the museum – although we only had a few hours.
It’s a huge museum, and tickets can also include add-ons if you choose. Options include special exhibitions, giant-screen film, or the Space Show. These vary depending upon your the date/time of your visit. Tickets can be purchased in advance. Pay what you wish admission is also offered, but only at the admission counters.
The Discovery Center in Times Square offers a number of temporary exhibits that are great for families. During our stay a few years ago, we visited the Art of the Brick exhibit (which has since moved on). It certainly wasn’t cheap, but it was absolutely worth the trip. I purchased the tickets in advance, and selected the earliest arrival time possible. We waited in line for a few minutes, then headed downstairs to the exhibit.
The Discovery Center does a great job controlling crowds, and my kids not only enjoyed the exhibit, but were inspired to create their own Lego art when we returned home. Overall, we were only at the exhibit for about an hour, so you can definitely fit this in with other activities. Exhibits change all the time, so check out their website to see what is there during your NYC vacation.
Both of my kids were desperate to visit Central Park. They’ve heard so much about it in pop culture, so it was definitely a must-visit on our first family trip to NYC.
We made our way there after the Discovery Center, and had a difficult time finding the zoo within the park. There are almost no signs directing tourists.So, if you are planning on visiting the zoo, make sure your cab drops you off in just the right spot. Getting lost in Central Park is pretty much a NYC rite of passage.
Despite the challenge finding the zoo, we really enjoyed our visit there. I purchased the basic admission ticket along with tickets to the Madagascar-themed 4D movie, and was able to do almost everything in about 3 hours. We spent a lot of time in the penguin exhibit – my son’s favorite animal.
It’s a very accessible museum for kids, and its small size makes it easy to visit. General admission tickets are available, as are tickets that include the main zoo, the Tisch Children’s Zoo, and an entry to the 4-D Theater. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate.
I learned about MoMath through some friends who recommended it. My kids were a bit apprehensive about visiting, because they felt that it would be too educational. But they really enjoyed the visit.
Depending on when you go, you may encounter some school field trips. I usually recommend visiting tourist attractions earlier in the day, but MoMath may actually be better to visit later in the day if school is in session.
This two-story museum includes lots of interactive exhibits. While these are math-focused, they are fun and don’t feel too educational. So they definitely appeal to kids who may not even realize that they are learning.
Tickets can be purchased online, or in person at the kiosk. There aren’t any special add-ons to the tickets, although you do get a small discount by purchasing online.
I have a full review here.
The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock
We have visited both the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. They both offer stunning views of the city. I compare both of them in this post.
In general, I prefer the Top of the Rock, only because there, you’ll have views of the Empire State Building among the skyline. It’s also a little less crowded. Both are best visited early in the morning before they get crowded.
If your visit takes you to NYC in the winter, there are a few places for outdoor skating. Rockefeller Plaza at Rockefeller Center is the most popular. However, there is also an outdoor ice skating rink available at Bryant Park. During the holidays, you can also enjoy the small outdoor market at Bryant Park.
High Line Park
If you are looking to take a nice, (somewhat) quiet walk in the city. Visit the family-friendly High Line in Chelsea. The High Line is an elevated public park, located on a former New York Central Railway elevated freight line track.It features flowers, plants, art installations, benches, and elevated viewing areas of the city.
During our most recent summer visit to the city, we loved taking a morning walk from the beginning to the end. The kids especially loved being able to see the streets of NYC from above. It’s free to visit, and definitely worth a trip if the weather cooperates.
Statue of Liberty
Arguably the most famous landmark in NYC (and maybe even the United States!), the Statue of Liberty isn’t as accessible as you might expect. There are several ways to see it from a distance, including the One World Observatory. You can also see it from the Staten Island Ferry, and the Circle Line Cruises.
If you want to actually go into the Statue of Liberty, it takes a bit more planning. Tickets should be purchased in advance for the most availability. When purchasing tickets, you can either get just the ferry to Liberty Island, ferry plus pedestal access, and ferry plus crown access. All three of these options include an audio tour on the island, but you can only go in the statue if you have those tickets. There’s no extra charge, but you will need to buy these tickets in advance because availability is limited.
There are New York and New Jersey departure options for the ferry. When we visited, the lines for the New Jersey ferry were definitely shorter.
While you can definitely see the statue from afar, going right up to the island is definitely a bucket-list experience worth doing at least once.
The Ride NYC
We’ve had the opportunity to go on the Ride NYC twice, and have enjoyed it both times. Unlike traditional tours, the Ride is more of an entertainment experience. The experience is led by two guides who provide narration and entertain you for the full 75 minute ride. The bus itself is completely unique. One side of the bus and the ceiling is all glass, and seats are stadium style, so everyone has a good view of the outside.
During the journey, you’ll see some highlights of the city. In addition, you’ll be treated to outside entertainers who blend in with the NYC landscape. At first, you may not even realize that they are part of the Ride!
Purchase tickets in advance, because the buses only accommodate 40 and do fill up. You’ll catch the bus right in Times Square, so you can combine it with other attractions in the area.
My kids were completely in awe the first time they saw Times Square. The lights and action are totally engaging to kids. If you do visit the area, make sure you avoid the costumed characters wandering the area. The first time we visited, I talked to my kids before we arrived and told them not to engage with the characters.
Within Times Square, kids enjoy visiting the M&M store, which is the most popular Times Square attraction. My kids always insist that we go in every time we pass by. It’s a huge building, and has lots of fun M&M merchandise.
One World Observatory
The One World Observatory is located on the top of the 1,776 foot tall One World Trade Center Building on floor 100, 101, and 102. There’s a separate entrance for guests to the observatory.
Various ticket types are offered. Priority access tickets are available if you want to skip the main line and go right into a SkyPod elevator. Once at the top, there’s a little pre-show, and then you can enjoy the panoramic views of the city. It’s a different vantage point from the Empire State Building, but is still beautiful.
If you want to get some energy out, the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex is located near the High Line. It offers daily drop-in activities, like batting cages, bowling, basketball, and rock climbing. There’s also an ice skating rink.
See a Show
If your kids are old enough, consider taking them to a Broadway show. We love the theaters in NYC, which tend to be a little smaller than the ones in Boston.
Regardless of when you visit, there is likely to be at least one family friendly show on Broadway. We’ve seen Annie, Cinderella, Hamilton, Aladdin, Frozen, and Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway, and my kids have enjoyed every show.
I have some tips in this post for visiting Broadway with kids. Just make sure that your children are old enough to enjoy the whole show. Broadway shows can be long, so check the times before you commit.
Go to Popular Restaurants
Gray Line NYC
I mentioned that I enjoyed most of what we did. The Gray Line Hop On Hop Off bus was the exception. I’ve loved the Gray Line in other cities, but was really disappointed with the experience in NYC. The buses were absolutely packed, the quality of guides was inconsistent, and the staff wasn’t particularly friendly. After purchasing a voucher online, we headed to the Times Square area to pick up the tickets. I waited in a LONG line staffed by one employee who was more interested in chatting with his coworker than helping guests (no idea why the coworker wasn’t also helping behind the counter).
We did both the Uptown and Downtown Loop. Our first guide hardly uttered a word – not much of a guide at all. The second guide was better, but peppered her narration with constant shills for both TripAdvisor reviews and tips. But the third guide was great – she was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. Because of the inconsistency though, I can’t recommend Gray Line NYC (but will continue to recommend them in other cities).
If you are planning to visit NYC with kids, I recommend the following hotels. These are hotels that I have personally stayed in, so there may be others that are great as well. Please note that while I was hosted at two of these hotels (the Omni and the Staybridge Suites), all opinions are my own.
Omni Berkshire Place – I love Omni hotels (tip – join their free club for free beverage delivery in the morning) and this one has great service and is conveniently located.
Hilton Midtown – this large hotel is conveniently located and has nice-sized rooms (for NY standards)
Staybridge Suites Times Square – if you need a little more space for your family, this is a great option. They also offer free breakfast!
The Row NYC Hotel – a small boutique hotel located right in the heart of Times Square. This is a fabulous spot for a hotel, because you can walk to so many things.