Kids are used to seeing New York depicted in comics and on the silver screen – but there’s no substitute for the magic of visiting the iconic east coast metropolis in the flesh.
With its glistening skyline so familiar to us all, the Big Apple is one of those rare places that provokes an almost childlike wonder in all who visit. But for kids, the magic is even more stark, with the city’s bright lights and sheer scale of its streetscapes truly beguiling. If you’re coming to New York with little ones and want to pack your itinerary with attractions and activities they’re guaranteed to love, we’ve picked out 10 of the very best things to see and do.
Explore a world-famous park
One of the most celebrated greenspaces on earth, Central Park sees about 25 million visitors per year, including large numbers of families who come to enjoy the array of kid-friendly attractions. Among them are an incredible 21 playgrounds, as well as the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, charming paddleboat rentals and the Central Park Zoo. There are also several seasonal things to do, including an outdoor skating arena from October through spring, which, for the rest of the year, morphs into Victorian Gardens, a delightfully old-fashioned amusement park.
Visit a renowned museum
From learning about multiple animal species in the Hall of Biodiversity, to walking under a giant whale in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, young visitors to the American Museum of Natural History are certain to have their imaginations captured by the venue’s array of incredible exhibits. As well as the museum’s permanent and temporary displays, there are also regular child-friendly special events including sleepovers that invite kids to pack a sleeping bag and spend the night under the famous giant whale.
200 Central Park West / Weds-Sun 10am-5.30pm Closed Mon-Tues
If you’re keen to introduce your kids to world class art but want to avoid the stuffiness of your average museum, this skip-the-line Metropolitan Museum Family Tour is just the ticket. One of the world’s most prestigious cultural venues, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to a huge assortment of exhibits, mainly hailing from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, as well as modern art by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. During the 2.5-hour family-oriented guided tour, you’ll learn about the museum’s collections through kid-friendly commentary as you walk through its hallowed display rooms.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park / Sun-Tues & Thurs 10am-5pm Fri-Sa 10am-9pm Closed Weds
Tell the kids you’re off to a museum and they won’t always react with wild enthusiasm. But reveal the museum in question is dedicated to all things ice cream? A guaranteed game-changer. A world of pure imagination, the Museum of Ice Cream features multi-sensory exhibitions and installations designed for children of all ages. Slide down an epic three-story slide, take a celestial ride on an ice cream-themed subway, and follow the buzzing sound to a giant “Queen Bee” hive. There’ll also be a chance to taste the museum’s signature ice creams along the way, before taking a dive into the world’s largest sprinkle pool.
558 Broadway / Mon & Weds-Thurs 10am-7.30pm Fri-Sat 10am-8.30pm Sun 10am-7pm Closed Tues
View New York from the top of an iconic building
It may have shrunk in status since its completion in 1931, when it became the tallest building in the world (before being overtaken by numerous other structures in the years since), but the Empire State Building still retains an almost mythical allure – for adults and kids alike. Visitors can take their time enjoying the views from the 86th floor before carrying on up to the observation desk on the 102d floor, where the panoramic views are even more stark, making all who witness them feel as if they’re floating above the city.
20 West 34th Street / Mon-Sun 10am-12am
Join a superheroes walking tour
No city has been the setting for as many superhero stories as New York. The 2-hour Superheroes in New York Walking Tour invites you to explore famous superhero movie and comic book sites, visiting the locations where artists and writers developed some of our most cherished fictional characters. Whether you’re into Batman or Superman, Daredevil or Iron Man, you can heed the call for justice during this deep dive into the superhero universe. Throughout the tour, your guide will regale you with tales and insights into comic book history, including how Kryptonite was created, where Batman was saved from cancellation, and the location of keepsakes left behind for New York by The Avengers.
Peruse a famous toy store
Made famous by the classic Tom Hanks movie Big, FAO Schwarz has since moved from its original Fifth Avenue location, reopening on Rockefeller Plaza in 2018. The beloved toy store is chock full of stuffed animals, Hatchimals, Barbies, STEAM toys and more, together with plenty of fun (and free) interactive activities. Children can enjoy magic acts, science experiments, toy race cars, spa treatments and loads of other stimulating adventures. And we know you’re desperate to ask, so fear not, you can also recreate the famous scene from the movie on a giant in-store piano.
30 Rockefeller Plaza / Mon-Sun 11am-7pm
Get active in a scenic waterside setting
Extending over a mile along the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a haven for youngsters who flock here to make use of the myriad of recreational facilities, including basketball, handball, bocce, roller skating, and river kayaking. For little kids, there are also landscaped play spaces, including the Water Lab – a stone-strewn area with water underfoot to splash around in – plus, New York’s largest sandbox. If you’re lucky enough to have kids old enough to entertain themselves, pitch up with a blanket and a book and find yourself a comfy spot to while away an hour or three as your dependents do their thing.
334 Furman Street, Brooklyn / Mon-Sun 6am-1am
Take a boat tour around the harbour
If you’re in New York with younger kids and are unsure how much sightseeing they can sustain, one handy option could be to join a boat tour that lets you see a number of the city’s main attractions all in one go. This 60-minute sightseeing harbour cruise gives passengers spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Sea Port, Freedom Towers and other well-known landmarks. During Autumn, tours also sail up the Hudson River, giving you the chance to admire the surrounding rolling hills with their picturesque fall colours.
Hit the beach
While New York can be a little stifling, its waterside setting means there are plenty of options for respite. One of the most popular is Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk, an expansive stretch of shoreline encompassing more than 170 acres of sand in the Queens neighbourhood. Perpetually packed with families seeking an antidote to the concrete jungle, young water sports fans can take part in surfing lessons or rent a stand-up paddle board or boogie board. There are also food options aplenty.
Marvel at an array of exotic sealife
A sure-fire winner for a family day out, New York Aquarium is teeming with exotic marine life. Located on Coney Island’s celebrated boardwalk, the aquarium places a focus on the amazing underwater creatures found right off of New York’s shores. Highlights include the award-winning exhibit Ocean Wonders: Sharks!, which holds more than 500,000 gallons of water, and contains interactive exhibits that put you just inches away from 18 species of sharks and a hundred other marine species. There are also sea lion shows, penguin feeds, as well as an immersive 4D Theater.
602 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Watch a kids’ show at an acclaimed performing arts venue
One of the world’s leading performing arts institutions, Lincoln Center puts on a busy programme of kid-friendly shows throughout the year. The venue is home to Lincoln Center Kids, the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts and the Metropolitan Opera’s family-friendly performance of the Magic Flute. But the family-oriented appeal begins outside in Josie Robertson Plaza, where little ones love to splash around in the fountain which rises and falls to a synchronised rhythm designed to mimic the cadence of dance.
Lincoln Center Plaza
See the city from up high
Spread across the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors of the new World Trade Center – built several years after the tragedy of 9/11, becoming America’s tallest building – One World Observatory lets visitors take in jaw-dropping panoramic views of the city below. Kids in particular get a real kick out of the journey to the observatory, which takes just 47 seconds via super-speedy Sky Pod elevators. On arrival at summit, the more intrepid visitors can brave the Sky Portal, where a 14-foot wide circular disc provides a view of real-time, high-definition footage of the streets below. There’s also the chance to learn about the building’s construction and enjoy interpretive art installations that explore NYC’s rich history.
Westfield World Trade Center, 117 West Street / Mon-Sun 9am-9pm
Take in a theatre show
Seeing a theatre show in New York isn’t just for grown ups, with performances to suit all ages. And while Broadway has some sensational family-friendly theatre productions, Off-Broadway shows are not to be overlooked. Kids will delight in the whimsical experience of The Gazillion Bubble Show and the percussion experts of the Blue Man Group. Another theatre option in New York is the gorgeous jewel-box New Victory theatre, which brings Broadway-quality productions to a young crowd, with everything from brand new plays and re-imagined classics to gigantic puppets and breakdancing daredevils.
Let the kids loose on Governors Island
Reachable in just minutes by ferry from Manhattan, Governors Island is a magical urban park-like setting in the heart of New York Harbor featuring winding paths and play zones that will keep your kids entertained for hours. The seasonal venue reopens every spring, and it comes alive in the heat of the summer, when cooling ocean breezes make a visit all the more appealing. As well as space for little ones to run and play till they’re sapped of energy, there are also e hiking, running and biking routes, along with enticing food trucks.
New York Harbor
Test your mettle on a treetop challenge
Suitable for children aged 7 and over, the Bronx Zoo Treetop Adventure is the perfect place to head with your kids to drain off any excess energy after a fun-packed trip to the zoo. It also offers kids the chance to mimic the athletic skills of the zoo creatures they’ve just witnessed by embarking on their own aerial rope endeavours. Visitors can climb, crawl, and swing through the treetops before jumping aboard an exhilarating 400-foot zipline that takes you over the Bronx River.
Bronx Zoo, River Entrance, 2300 Southern Boulevard / Weds-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon-Tues
Discover a city farm
The oldest continually farmed site to be found anywhere in New York State, the Queens County Farm Museum gives families the chance to get a true agrarian experience in a city setting. Home to goats, sheep, ponies and other barnyard animals, the farm invites kids to feed and pet the loveable creatures who reside on the 47-acre site. There’s also the chance to explore the farm on a tractor-pulled hay ride, and during harvest season there’s a special corn maze and pumpkin picking.
73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Catch a basketball match
Like in many other parts in the US, basketball is a seriously big deal in New York and if you’d like to watch a game then one of the easier arenas to get tickets at is the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets. The cheapest seats are up high, but even then big screens let you watch the action taking place down below. Children in particular love the halftime shows which feature performances by a kids-only dance team and there are also plenty of vendors selling classic American fast food. If you’d like a memento to take away from the game, stop off in the official club shop.
620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn
Learn about 9/11 on a child-themed tour
The horrific details of 9/11 can be upsetting to everyone, but are particularly hard for children to process, with emotions often intensified when they feel they don’t have a complete understanding of what happened – and why. The private family Grand Zero tour is run by an experienced personal guide who will offer children a safe space to share their memories, beliefs and questions, and point you towards reliable resources for future research. The tour runs for around two hours and includes skip-the-line tickets to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial.
Enter a world of wizards
A three-storey retail experience housing a huge collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts products under one roof, the Harry Potter Flagship Store is a mecca for fans of the iconic fantasy franchise. Located at 935 Broadway, next to the famous Flatiron building, the store offers 15 different themed areas, exclusive products and interactive elements, all celebrating different facets of the wizarding world. Highlights include a giant, floating model of Fawkes the phoenix, created especially for the store, a Ministry of Magic London-style phone box, and the chance to pose for photos inside one of Hagrid’s boots.
935 Broadway / Mon-Sat 9am-9pm Sun 9am-7pm