Looking for things to do in New York City with kids? Look no further. Whether you’re a longtime resident or just visiting and looking for the best family activities, we’ve got you covered. Think of this as a mix of classics with some new faves sprinkled in. Native or visitor, you can’t go wrong with this collection of three days worth of the best things to do with kids in New York City.
Book a Hotel
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Marriott understands families, which is why many of their hotels offer suites, connecting rooms for larger families and complimentary breakfast. Rewards members even get perks like free WiFi and mobile check-in (no front desk lines here). Save up to 15% when you book in advance using code ADP.
Day 1: Times Square and vicinity
If you and/or the kids have never experienced it, Times Square is a must—not because it is the most impressive urban square on earth (head to Asia for that) but because it's iconic, and well, everyone should see it at least once.
Aside from the towering, technicolor signage, Broadway's impressive theaters and their marquees can be found along the streets radiating off the main thoroughfare. If catching a show is of interest (and you didn't buy your Lion King or Frozen tickets months ago), head to TKTS, where discounted, same-day tickets are sold. Another option is the New Victory Theater, home to first-rate shows for kids from around the world.
Our top picks for attractions worth checking out include the popular National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, or miniature world Gulliver’s Gate. Hershey also just opened a new store in the Square, where you can create your very own gourmet s’more.
For more iconic NYC sights, stroll uptown on Fifth Avenue and don’t forget to hit Rockefeller Center. Home to the famous tree and skating rink during the holidays, it’s worth a trip any time of the year. It’s also home to some retail diversions the kids may enjoy, namely, the new American Girl Place, a LEGO store and the brand-new FAO Schwarz store, which just opened in late 2018. If you’ve got book lovers in your crew, don’t miss a chance to pop into Posman books for great reads and more.
Finally, don’t miss the stunning Radio City Music Hall (worth taking the tour if it’s of interest), and if you still have energy, the Museum of Modern Art is two blocks away on 53rd Street (It’s not cheap—$25—but kids 16 & under are free, and admission is free Fridays from 4-8 p.m.).
If you’re still looking for more fun…
Hop on the train (yellow line N, R or W) south to Union Square. The outdoor Green Market happens Mon., Wed., Fri. and Sat. where you can wander the stalls and marvel at the fresh produce and street vendors. Then walk west to Chelsea along 14th Street, which will bring you to Chelsea Market, an indoor urban food court and boutique shopping mall. From sushi to fresh baked bread to soups and brownies (Fat Witch is our fave), we guarantee you won’t leave hungry.
Day 2: Uptown Museums/Central Park
At the AMNH, in addition to the big blue whale, all those dinosaurs, and an incredible planetarium, you can check out one of special exhibits staged at the Museum. Be sure to download the AMNH app to better organize your visit.
If the west side is your starting point, and you want more museum time, the New York Historical Society and its Dimenna Children's Museum is a block away (The Society also frequently holds kid-friendly exhibits, such as recent ones dedicated to Mo Willems and Eloise).
If you’re a fine art and cultural history-loving family, we suggest starting on the east side of the park at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not only can you see dozens of works by great Masters, the Met is jammed with awe-inspiring exhibits dedicated to arms and armor; Egyptian, Asia, African, and Near East art; Greek and Roman art; the Temple of Dendur, contemporary and modern art and more.
Insider Tip: The Met’s Family Map is a fantastic resource and guide for figuring out what you want to see and how to find it!
When you’re done with the museum, you can hop over the Ancient Playground, inspired by the museum’s Egyptian collection, or stroll south down 5th Avenue along the park.
Central Park lives up to the hype pretty much any time of the year. Plus, it’s so vast you could enjoy one corner of the park and not even get to see all that’s worth checking out (In fact, that’s likely the case.).
At the 72nd Street entrance is Strawberry Fields, the site dedicated to John Lennon (who lived the nearby Dakota). Head into the park with a destination in mind—we recommend taking in the Central Park Lake and the Bow Bridge the middle of the park to the east, or heading south to the Sheep Meadow (where there’s plenty of people-watching to be had and an entertainer or two). Have more time to spare? Further south of the Sheep Meadow is the Central Park Carousel and popular play spot Heckscher Playground.
If you enter at 76th Street, you can check out the massive statue dedicated to Alice in Wonderland and catch the model boat sailing in the nearby pond. Walk further south to the 64th Street entrance to the Central Park Zoo.
If you’re still looking for more fun…
Hop on the PATH (it’s short for Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train to visit New Jersey. It’s a uber short ride away and will bring you straight to various NJ towns like Hoboken, Newport in Jersey City and Newark (which is a great option to fly in and out of if JFK isn’t an option).
In Newark, head to the Planetarium at Newark Museum for an out-of-this-world dazzling show. Stay at the Museum for family drop-in programs and to visit the Maker space, all geared towards youth and families.
If you’ve got a firetruck-loving kiddo, a stop at Hoboken’s Fire Department Museum is a must. The former fire station houses an old fire truck kids can explore and kids can even ring the brass bell. Stop by any weekend day between noon-5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and kids under 12 are free.
Adjacent to downtown Jersey City is the community of Newport. Families are flocking to Jersey City and for good reason. With farmer’s markets, Liberty Science Center, Newport Centre Mall and an awesome location right on the water, there’s tons to keep kids of all ages entertained all day long.
Day 3: Brooklyn: DUMBO/BrooklynHeights/Downtown
You've heard the tales of this mystical land known as Brooklyn, home to hipsters, brownstones and lots of families (and tons of other cool stuff!)—now check it out for yourself.
For the densest and most kid-friendly spot, we recommend the DUMBO/Brooklyn Heights/downtown Brooklyn area, where there's a mix of "old" Brooklyn, "new" Brooklyn, and plenty of kid-friendly spots as well.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a Brooklyn and NYC icon, and even natives still get a thrill from crossing (weather permitting). It combines history, incredible views as well as a community because we guarantee you won't be alone (Word to the wise: be mindful of the bike lanes.). You can choose to enter or exit the borough via the bridge, but our choice would be to begin your day with this, as you may not want to walk the bridge at the end of a full day.
When you arrive in Brooklyn, head north on Washington Street to Main Street Park. On the way, you'll see one of the most photographed spots in all of Brooklyn, if not New York City: a perfectly framed view of the Manhattan Bridge.
Main Street Park features a fun pirate ship theme and climbing structures, but keep in mind there are more playgrounds to come. Afterwards, walk along the water to Jane’s Carousel, a glass-enclosed restored merry-go-round on a pier.
After you take a spin, head into Brooklyn Bridge Park, a world-class riverside green space that provides more incredible views of water and downtown Manhattan. In addition to lovely plantings, open space, and spots to sit and rest, the park features six piers offering activities ranging from rollerskating (Pier 2) to a stellar collection of playgrounds at Pier 6 (Slide Mountain, Swing Valley, an enormous “sandpit”, a bi-level Water Lab) tucked among lush plantings.
If you’re hungry, grab a bite at Fornino’s Pizza (which serves sandwiches and salads, as well as celebrated pie), and then head over to Pier Five for a scoop of ice cream from popular Ample Hills Creamery.
After exploring Pier 6, you have a couple of options. If you want to check out the historic neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights (Truman Capote lived here) as well as the Brooklyn Promenade, an elevated walkway providing more lovely views of Manhattan, head up Atlantic to Hicks Street and take a left on Montague, which will lead you the promenade.
If you want to skip Brooklyn Heights, you can continue up the busy thoroughfare of Atlantic Avenue, where you’ll also find food options. There are several upscale pizza spots on Atlantic (where you can also get salads and sandwiches.) These include Table 87, Luzzo’s and Brado, the past of which might be our favorite due to its size, room for strollers, etc. If you prefer to keep it cheap and snacky, there’s a Trader Joe’s a few blocks further.
For those wanting more Brooklyn, the New York City Transit Museum is a short walk away. (It has yet to reopen, sadly.) Housed in a decommissioned subway station, the museum features rotating exhibits as well as permanent installations. Not only can kids try their hand a “driving” a real bus, but the lower level of the museum is on the defunct subway platform, where subway cars from all eras—complete with time period-appropriate ads!—can be entered and explored.
If you’re still looking for more fun…
Hop back to the island to lower Manhattan for a ride on the whimsical SeaGlass carousel. Other highlights in the WTC/Financial district vicinity include One World Observatory where you’ll get stunning views of Manhattan and the surrounding areas (in our opinion, it’s worth the splurge especially for visitors), the Staten Island ferry (hey, it’s free!), and a stop at the Fearless Girl sculpture. For more kid-friendly things to do in lower Manhattan click here.
Feature photo: Anna & Michal via Flickr