The kids have been asking to visit New York City ever since they learned that it’s where Spider-Man lives and where the Statue of Liberty is located. It’s a city I enjoy visiting. The sights and lights, the sounds, the people…the city is an incredible blend of activity, excitement and culture. But what would it be like experiencing it with kids? I wasn’t sure how being tourists in The City That Never Sleeps would be with a 5, 7 and 9-year-old. Well it was great. As is often the case with kids, seeing things through their eyes always brings a new energy and excitement to whatever it is.
We spent our days exploring the city doing both ‘touristy’ things and at times just blending in with New Yorkers. We even rented a car for a day and spent time outside the city visiting family of my husband that lives out in Long Island. New York City was a great adventure! Read on for a few tips for traveling to New York City with your family and to learn more about the activities did and what we recommend.
Tips for visiting New York City with Kids
DO stay in a central location as a base for the activities you plan to do. We stayed at the Double Tree Times Square because it was close to some of the activities we planned to do, but also because it was one of the few options in NYC that provided the space we require as a family of 5. While we were very happy with the accommodations and the location, it was definitely pricier than some other options that would work for a family of 4 or less. We saved some by, you guessed it, booking far enough in advance. Looking at the hotel a couple of weeks before our trip, the prices were already $150+ more a night than the rate we booked. Planning ahead pays! Times Square itself is more expensive because that is where many tourists stay so if you’re looking to save money on hotels, don’t fret, there are many great options around the city and the transportation is so good, you won’t have to worry about getting where you need to go. And speaking of transportation….
DO consider all transportation options to get around the city and not just taxi cabs or Uber. The New York City subway is one of the best subway systems in the world. It’s also one of the places that as a tourist, you feel like a true New Yorker. We took the subway several times to, from or between activities during our trip. And when I say we got the full experience, I mean it. Right down to the ‘interesting’ riders and the train snack sellers. Interestingly, we didn’t take Uber a single time during our trip. When walking or the subway wasn’t convenient, taxi’s were plentiful and less expensive.
DO consider at least one activity you probably wouldn’t have thought of doing. All of the ‘traditional’ tourist sites are great, but trying an activity or tour that you wouldn’t normally consider keeps things interesting. How do you find said activity you ask? Well, the Explorer Pass website is a great place. See my previous blog post HERE on the City Pass/Explorer Pass for more information on what this is. As I was researching and deciding what we would do during our time in New York I read through what activities were included in the New York Explorer Pass. There are literally too many to name, but this is how I came across the Madison Square Garden All-Access tour and just knew my sports obsessed middle child would love it. I would have never considered doing this on my own, but thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a ton. Whenever I’m back without kids I plan to check out one of the interesting walking tours I came across.
Review of New York City Attractions & Activities
We did a number of activities during our stay in New York City. Depending on the amount of time you have, you’ll want to prioritize the things you most want to do. I recommend purchasing the New York City Explorer Pass if you plan to do at least 3 activities/attractions.
Double Decker Bus Tour – Recommended
My kids saw this in San Francisco and really wanted to do it. We didn’t end up doing it there so as I was planning this trip I wanted to make sure we did it since I knew the buses would be EVERYWHERE. There are several companies that have double decker bus tours in NYC. We did Big Bus as that is the one included with the Explorer Pass. They have multiple hop-on/hop-off locations around the city. We initially hopped-on at a stop in Times Square and hopped off in China Town. We then hopped back on and continued to Battery Park where we caught the ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty. This is a great way to learn a ton about the history of New York City while you sit back, relax and enjoy the sights. The guide on the first bus we hopped-on, John Harkins, was great. He was super knowledgeable and it was clear he enjoyed what he did. He definitely earned an extra tip. Be forewarned that if it is super busy as it can often be in New York, you may have to wait longer for a bus that has seats available at the top. It’s not even worth it to sit down at the bottom. Not only is it HOT (most don’t have AC), but you don’t get as good of a view. If you enjoy history or even just enjoy learning interesting, lessor known facts, you’ll love the double decker bus.
Statue of Liberty – Recommended
This was one of our first stops the day we arrived in New York City. I purchased our tickets for the Statue of Liberty in advance on the statuecruises.com website. While there are many sites that sell these tickets this is the official site and only one that allows you to also purchase tickets to go up the statue of liberty to the pedestal or crown. Other sites are generally more expensive and only include the ferry boat ticket (this is also the case with the NYC Explorer Pass). While I did purchase tickets to go up to the pedestal (an extra $3 on top of the ferry cost), we ended up not getting off the ferry. My kids loved seeing the Statue of Liberty up close from the ferry, but took one look at the line of people waiting to get back on the ferry and decided they were fine and didn’t want to get off. So while not quite what I had in mind initially, taking the ferry to Liberty Island, and just being out on the water for the ride was a great experience. And it was still a much better view of the statue than seeing it from the city.
Empire State Building – Recommended
This is one of the classic sites of New York City. I debated us visiting here or Top of the Rock which is a different building, but with a similar ultimate goal…amazing 360 views of New York City. I ultimately decided on The Empire State building for the kids first visit (I knew I wouldn’t want to do both in this trip) because of it’s history. The Explorer pass zipped up pass the line and we were on our way up. I love all of facts you learn about the building and the process of it being built. And then of course the view at the top. The kids loved looking through the binoculars they have outside the 86th floor and even saw a Disney cruise ship docked in port. Fun! While there are likely other places to get a great view of New York City, the Empire State Building is one of those that I wanted them to experience at least once. Check.
Madison Square Garden All-Access Tour – Recommended for Sports fans
This was an activity that I initially booked because I thought my sports loving son would enjoy it…and he did. It was great touring the arena while it was empty. We got to visit the exclusive corporate boxes and VIP areas as well as see ‘The Beer Room’ and the Knicks locker room. And of course learned about the history of the arena and major events that have taken place there. It’s a 1.5 hour tour, but seemed to go by quickly. All in all, we enjoyed this activity.
The 9/11 Memorial – Recommended
We did not visit the 9/11 museum, but did spend some time outside at the memorial. While I explained the events of 9/11 and the reason the memorial even exists, I am not quite sure my younger two fully grasped it. Nevertheless, they were in awe of the memorial itself which is certainly a sight to behold. As an adult, each time I visit, I take time to reflect on that fateful day and remember those that lost their lives. The memorial is a beautiful tribute and a great stop to make during your trip to New York City.
Central Park – Recommended
We spent an afternoon enjoying Central Park. We grabbed lunch nearby (street hot dog vendor for the kids) and took our food to the park to enjoy the surroundings and have a little play time. Many people rent bikes or take a carriage around the park. We found the playground and just let the kids play. It was a great relaxing afternoon seeing such a green and peaceful environment in the middle of the concrete jungle.
The Lion King (or another Broadway show of interest) – Highly Recommended
Broadway and New York City go hand in hand. I’ve seen several different shows during trips to New York and hate when I can’t take one in if I am in town. There is a show for everyone. The Lion King is one of the longest Broadway shows and is great for families. Children and adults alike will love it. It is truly amazing. This was my third time seeing it (but first time on Broadway) and it was just a great as it was the first time. As a wonderful bonus I got to see an old friend that I used to dance with growing up, India Bolds, perform in the show. She dances 9 different characters! The music, the costumes, the timeless story of friendship and courage – every detail of the show is great. The children were mesmerized the entire show. Even though the show is over 2 hours long (including intermission) there were no complaints – even from my 5-year-old. Not only does Disney do great vacations, they also have great Broadway shows :).
Times Square – Highly Recommended
Even if you aren’t staying there, you can’t go to New York City without visiting Times Square. We were fortunate enough to be staying steps from the action so during ours days there we experienced several things including a taping of ESPN’s College GameDay, the filming of a movie and a few great street performers. You just never know what you’ll see. If you aren’t staying in Time Square definitely visit once it’s dark so that you can get the full experience of the lights, sounds, and action!
As you can tell, there is plenty to do and see in New York City with kids. We only did a fraction of what is available, but we enjoyed it all. As you’re planning, think about your family’s interests and plan an itinerary that will be the most engaging and fun. I already have my must do list for whenever we return to New York City with the kids.