When people think of New York City, kids is not the first thing that comes to mind. This busy metropolis conjures images of tall buildings, business suits, a buzzing nightlife, people on the move, a sophistication unto itself. Yet New York has become increasingly more family-friendly, with more attractions for families than ever before. The city’s sheer size and density can make the prospect of visiting with kids both exciting and overwhelming. On the one hand there is so much to see and do, yet on the other, the crowds and general fast-pace way of life can seem daunting. Where do you begin, what should you leave in, and what should you leave out?
Below are fifi + hop’s top picks to help guide the way. Some are obvious choices, while others are a little more off the beaten path. From museums to parks to shows to cultural sites to the best views of the city, Manhattan has it all (Note this post covers only Manhattan. You may also be interested in the Top 5 Family Attractions in the Bronx).
Top 10 Family Attractions in Manhattan
#1: Take in a View of the City from One World Observatory, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Empire State Building.
One of our recent trips into the city took us to One World Observatory, our first visit with the kids to the top of the Freedom Tower. Walk through the city’s foundation, take the entertaining sky pod elevators up – complete with a historical video on NYC – and arrive to the See Forever Theatre, one of our favorite parts of the entire experience. Watch a short, vibrant show on all things New York, and from there look out onto the skyline. An experience from beginning to end, visiting One World Observatory is fun, educational and inspiring. You can read more about it in my post One World Observatory: Complete Visitors Guide.
Many people say the Top of the Rock Observation Deck is their favorite vantage point in which to view the city. With three different levels and top to bottom glass walls, this building in the heart of Rockefeller Center is a popular choice. Combine it with a visit to Radio City Music Hall, the Rockefeller Ice Rink and 5th Avenue and you have a morning or afternoon set. Lines are not as bad as one would think!
With its 360 degrees views of New York City and two observations decks on the 86th and 102nd floors, visiting the Empire State Building has been a tradition for years . Your kids will love being at such high heights and experiencing the thrill of seeing New York from a bird’s eye view. Getting there is half the fun too, as my girls love taking the high-speed elevators and winding around the building, all in anticipation of reaching the top. It’s best to purchase an Express Pass online ahead of time, as lines form quickly. Even with the pass, go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
#2: Central Park
There is a reason this massive urban park – 843 acres – is one of New York City’s most popular sites. With fields and meadows and woods and waterholes, it’s a place to roam around and relax and play in the beauty of all the leafy green amidst the concrete jungle. Naturally, it’s a great place to take your kids – but not just for the great outdoors alone. The Central Park Zoo (including the Tisch Children’s Zoo) are here, as well as the famous Central Park Carousel and Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. During summer go to Victorian Gardens, Central Park’s own amusement park, and during winter take a skate on Wollman Rink. Clearly there’s a lot going on in Central Park, yet just strolling around is just as delightful.
New York has some of the greatest museums in the world. It also has some great museums for kids. Especially if the weather is not cooperating, a visit to a NYC museum will cure any bad weather blues. Top picks for museums in Manhattan for families include:
The dinosaurs and giant whale at the Natural History will leave your kids reeling, while the Egyptian section at the Met will intrigue and delight. The Children’s Museum of the Arts in Soho is a budding artist’s paradise, with loads of workspaces and activity rooms (my girls are obsessed with this museum), and MoMA’s Starry Night always a hit. New York is not short on museums, and it is one of the most wonderful things about visiting (and living in) this city.
You might also enjoy: Best Family Friendly Museums in New York City
#4: Governors Island
A trip to Governors Island (ferries depart from Battery Park in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn) is like being transported to another world. This is one of our absolute favorite activities to do in New York. The 172 acre island is located in New York Harbor and used to be a military base for the U.S. Army and the Coast Guard. It’s a car-free island, adding to the allure, and very bicycle friendly. You can rent individual bikes as well as family-style bikes, and for a great thrill for all, make sure to bike around the perimeter of the island on the pathway. You can make stops along the way where you will see fields, playgrounds, its famous food vendors (Governor’s Island has awesome food!) and more. And the views of the harbor and city are breathtaking – truly phenomenal! There are always festivals, concerts and art exhibitions happening on the weekends throughout the island. This is one of the most fascinating and unique experiences a family can have in the city. Highly recommend. Note it is seasonal and operates from late May until late September.
You might also enjoy: Things to do with Kids in SoHo
Go see a show on Broadway, such as Aladdin, The Lion King or School of Rock, and give your kids some magic they’ll never forget. I used to love going to Broadway as a girl, feeling in awe every time. And now my girls do too. It really is a larger than life experience.
#6: Times Square
Though the crowds in Times Square can be completely off-putting (chaos is more like it), it had to go on the list for all that it offers families. Gone are the super seedy days, as this hub of Manhattan has become more Disney than sketchy. Of course there is Broadway, and then there’s the Hershey’s Chocolate World and M & M World for a whirl through sugar opulence, and the Disney Store, every young kid’s dream. There is also Discovery Times Square, which specializes in unique, traveling exhibitions, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, and Madame Tussauds, full of life-like wax figures of famous people. And if you don’t want to do any of those, just walking through Times Square is a trip in and of itself. For a list of family-friendly restaurants, see my post 8 Great Family-Friendly Restaurants in Times Square .
#7: The High Line and Chelsea Market
I wrote a post entitled Everyone Loves the High Line. And it’s true. This public park built on an old elevated freight line on Manhattan’s far west side is one of the most unique parks in Manhattan, and the city. With grasses, perennials and trees surrounding the tracks, you follow along all the while catching glimpses of both the cityscape and Hudson River. There are benches and places to relax, and being elevated above the city makes it a totally different experience. Nearby is the beloved Chelsea Market, a foodies haven, where some of the top city vendors are selling their eats, and a good spot to get the kids some ice cream. People don’t always think of the High Line as a place for kids since it’s in trendy Chelsea and Meatpacking, but it’s actually very family friendly.
You might also enjoy: New York Water Taxi: Best Way to See the City!
#8: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex
Get ready for your kids to ooohh and aaaww at this fabulous display of the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise and the submarine Growler. With a variety of exhibitions and family-friendly programming, children learn about history and science in the most exciting ways possible, with many interactive activities. Hours can be spent here, so make sure to allot a decent amount of time.
#9: Dylan’s Candy Bar
With locations on the Upper East Side and Union Square, this mega candy shop with three floors of mania fun pretty much became a classic since it first opened its doors in 2001. Every imaginable candy is here, from old school nostalgic sweets to all the current must-haves. Walking through the store makes you feel like you’re walking through a modern day Candy Land. Though you may not want your kids devouring so much sugar, it’s too fun to pass up – plus they have great gifts to bring back home.
#10: Statue of Liberty
New York’s most famous monument, there are a variety of ways to view Lady Liberty. Ferries for Liberty Island depart from Battery Park, and it is highly encouraged to make reservations ahead of time if you wish to visit the Museum, Pedestal or Crown. Especially for Crown tickets, during the summer months it can book up 6 months in advance. You’ve been forwarned! (All info. on how to make reservations, including the ferries, is in the link above). The ferry ride through New York Harbor is half the fun, and the kids will go nuts at being so close to our treasured monument. For older kids who are interested, continue on to Ellis Island for a trip through immigration history.
Tip: See New York CityPASS for a discount on 6 NYC attractions, many of them listed here.
Other posts on NYC you may be interested in:
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