Exploring the Big Apple with Kids: Top 10 Family Attractions in Manhattan

Exploring the Big Apple with Kids: Top 10 Family Attractions in Manhattan

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.

Kids looking out onto Manhattan from the top of 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.

#3: Museums

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:

American Museum of Natural History

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Children’s Museum of Manhattan

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

Dimenna Children’s History Museum at New-York Historical Society (ages 8+)

The Cloisters

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


#5: Broadway

Family visit to Aladdin on Broadway in Manhattan.

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

in-new-york-city-82289_1280-2

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

intrepid

Photo credit: www.libertyharborrv.com

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

Family visit to Dylan's Candy Bar in Manhattan to buy some candy.

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

statue-of-liberty-1392273_1920

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:

Seaglass Carousel and Battery Park

New York Hall of Science: Discovery, Exploration, Fun

Off the Beaten Path: New York Transit Museum

Wave Hill: NYC’s Hidden Gem

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53 Comments

  1. July 1, 2016 / 2:15 am

    I would add the Transit Museum to the museum list – there are a lot of interactive exhibits, and it would be particularly entertaining for children who are fascinated with buses and trains.

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 1, 2016 / 2:34 am

      We love the Transit Museum – going in my post on Brooklyn coming up! I’m writing a post per borough as there’s just too much. That way people when they’re researching too can refer to each list according to each part of the city.

      • July 1, 2016 / 2:54 am

        Oops – just realized the title said Manhattan. I look forward to your other posts as well – so many fun kid-friendly things to do in this city.

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 1, 2016 / 3:11 pm

      You’re welcome – thanks for reading:).

  2. July 1, 2016 / 1:33 pm

    I am currently planning our first trip to New York, so this is great! Thanks for the tips 🙂

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 1, 2016 / 2:49 pm

      So glad I can be of help – and enjoy your first trip to NYC – you will have a blast!!

  3. July 1, 2016 / 5:21 pm

    when I think of New York, I imagine a very big City……
    You have a very interesting blog, congratulations for your photos!
    many regards from Italy

      • July 2, 2016 / 1:11 pm

        P.S.
        if you like, come to visit my blog.
        bye, good afternoon

  4. July 1, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    Lovely post!! Though New York is crowded, it does have so many things which the kids will love like you have mentioned 😊

  5. July 1, 2016 / 9:51 pm

    Off I go to kidnap a child or two so I can do NYC 🙂 🙂

  6. July 2, 2016 / 6:30 pm

    We absolutely love New York and Manhattan but it’s been too long since we last visited – in the depths of winter and freezing conditions, our son loved every minute but is still pestering us to return in warmer weather!! Done some of the things on your list but I am so keen to walk the High Line and I think my son would just love that candy shop!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 2, 2016 / 8:46 pm

      If I were to pick a season for you to visit def go with Fall if you can – best time in NYC! The fall foliage is beautiful and the temps perfect – impressed you came when it was so cold out!

      • July 5, 2016 / 10:57 am

        We visited at Christmas time to coincide with my birthday – it was a really lovely trip but super cold!! We’ve been in summer when it’s super hot but I would love a fall visit – maybe with a trip to New England…hmmmm

  7. July 3, 2016 / 5:38 pm

    I love The High Line! I’ve been to New York many times, but there are still some of the places on your list, which I have yet to experience. My husband and I will visit New York in September, and he wants to visit Empire State Building:)

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 4, 2016 / 1:44 pm

      September is a great time to visit..cooler weather, kids back in school, you’ll have a great trip. Make sure to walk through the west village too, and Greenwich village..quaint brownstone streets.

  8. July 3, 2016 / 5:53 pm

    My husband is taking his mother to new York in October. We all considered going as i completely agree the city would definitely be cool for kids but the flight duration and cost were tough. Will pass your list on to him nonetheless 🙂

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 4, 2016 / 1:49 pm

      Thanks – I hear you – NYC is not cheap. Maybe when they’re a little older it would be a better trip anyway. Your husband and MIL will have a great time in October – of all the months October the prettiest in my mind.

      • July 4, 2016 / 2:07 pm

        He’ll be delighted to hear that. Sulk, sulk. 🙂

  9. July 4, 2016 / 1:41 pm

    Such a fantastic guide on what to do in Manhattan with kids! I love NYC but have mostly visited alone so really must take my boys. I’d love to do the High Line and Governor’s Island with them and my oldest son would adore the Intrepid. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 4, 2016 / 1:54 pm

      Thanks Clare! I think your boys are prob at the perfect age to visit NYC – both High Line and Governors Island a blast. But, really, just wandering about the whole city a thrill. Hope you all make it at some point.

  10. July 4, 2016 / 2:56 pm

    candy shop? that’s for me too:) #mondayescapes

  11. July 4, 2016 / 6:44 pm

    We absolutely love New York however we haven’t been back since having our children nearly three years ago. As you point out, there’s so much on offer for them but it doesn’t automatically for some reason. Great post.
    Potty Adventures
    #MondayEscapes

  12. Ruth
    July 5, 2016 / 1:04 am

    I have been to some of these attractions but I still have to check others (High Line, Chelsea Market, Governors Island). I didn’t know one of the Space Shuttles was places on the Intrepid Museum. That looks cool!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 5, 2016 / 12:01 pm

      Yes, it’s a very cool site. The High Line is rather new”isn” to NYC and Governors Island used to be just weekends but now the whole season. Thanks for reading!

  13. July 5, 2016 / 12:27 pm

    I didn’t realise how many family friendly things that there are to do in NYC. I’m hoping to go to New York in the next year so I am bookmarking this post. The Highline looks super cool as well as the obvious attractions like the museums, and the Empire State building and Statue of Liberty #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 6, 2016 / 2:15 am

      Yes – there actually are so many family-friendly things to do in the city, and this is just Manhattan. Brooklyn has a ton of things too, and that post will be coming up. Def check out the High Line, as you mentioned. Thanks for reading!

  14. aandj8804
    July 6, 2016 / 3:22 pm

    This is a great list! There is so much to do in NYC, but I think you’ve covered the basics. Looking forward to seeing your Brooklyn post. 🙂

  15. fifi + hop
    Author
    July 6, 2016 / 5:52 pm

    Thanks so much – yes, so much to do, had to cover the basics with a first post of this size, more to come. The topics are endless. Thanks for reading:).

  16. July 6, 2016 / 11:28 pm

    NYC is high on our list, and has somehow remained elusive. I think my must see is Broadway and Central Park. ..plus skating in the Winter!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 8, 2016 / 5:10 pm

      Yes! There’s also skating at Rockefeller Center, which is especially beautiful during the holidays, but crowded..

  17. July 7, 2016 / 7:45 am

    What a great post and tips – New York is somewhere i’d love to go back to with my daughter and the High Line is right at the top of my list as it wasn’t open on my last visit! I find it so fascinating revisiting cities with my daughter as I see a whole different side and I think MY would be the same as i’ve only done one or two from this list. Thanks for joining up with #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 8, 2016 / 5:12 pm

      I totally agree – I think it’s fascinating visiting places I’ve already been to with my kids now too. So interesting to see somewhere you love from a child’s perspective, and to be able to show it to them for the first time.

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 8, 2016 / 5:13 pm

      Thanks so much for reading!

  18. July 7, 2016 / 7:05 pm

    I love the sound of the High Line. Manhattan sounds like our sort of place. Anywhere with a list of museums that long has to be worth a visit!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 8, 2016 / 5:13 pm

      I feel the same way about London!

  19. WanderMum
    July 10, 2016 / 10:01 pm

    We haven’t been back to New York since we got engaged there so a trip back with children is definitely needed! It doesn’t strike me as the most family-friendly city but glad you have proved me wrong…How are they with strollers on the subway? Love these suggestions and had no idea there was so much to do in Central Park! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      July 11, 2016 / 12:06 pm

      Wow how great you got engaged here! It’s a romantic city indeed;). The subway with strollers isn’t as bad as one would imagine. I used to do it solo during the week and most of the time if I just went to the stairs someone would offer a helping hand – or I would look for a big, tall man who would have no option but to help me! With my husband on weekends it was fine. Some stations have elevators too. It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s also not terribly bad, esp if you’re just visiting.

      • WanderMum
        July 11, 2016 / 1:29 pm

        Haha – it sounds a bit like London to be honest. I usually rely on the good will of strangers to help out. There are a few stations with lifts but it takes a bit of planning with the route.

  20. July 25, 2016 / 7:43 am

    I seriously cannot wait to take Monkey to New York! I’ve always thought Manhattan would be family-friendly because every time I’ve been there I’ve seen so many kids. Glad I’m right. Great guide. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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