My kids have been asking to visit New York City for years now. In the summer of 2023, they finally got their opportunity to see the concrete jungle. (They don’t get the Alicia Keys reference, but it works.)
I hate a layover, so this summer on our way to and from Nova Scotia, I turned out layovers into mini vacations.
We arrived at LaGuardia airport on a Tuesday afternoon and left Newark Friday morning. That gave us two full days to enjoy the kid’s first visit to the Big Apple.
Before we left sunny Florida for NYC, my kids planned a lot of the trip by checking things out online. Obviously, when we arrived there, some things changed, but let me tell you… we did a lot in a short time.
Why NYC Is a Great Destination for Kids
Before I tell you about the amazing things we did (and some things we stayed far away from), here are some reasons New York City is a great place for kids to visit.
NYC is home to world-famous landmarks that capture children’s imaginations. From the Statue of Liberty and Times Square to Central Park and the Empire State Building, these iconic sites provide a sense of wonder and exploration you can’t see anywhere else.
New York City’s rich cultural tapestry exposes children to a melting pot of different traditions, languages, and customs. They can visit neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, or Harlem, where they can experience diverse cuisine, arts, and unique community atmospheres.
Museums and Educational Opportunities
NYC boasts an impressive collection of museums that cater specifically to kids. Museums like the American Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum provide interactive exhibits and educational programs that make learning fun and engaging.
For kids who love the performing arts, Broadway shows in New York City offer a magical experience. From beloved Disney musicals to captivating plays, there are productions suitable for various age groups, allowing children to be swept away by the enchantment of live theater.
Parks and Outdoor Spaces
Despite being a bustling city, New York has numerous parks and outdoor spaces where kids can run, play, and enjoy nature. Central Park, with its vast greenery, playgrounds, and even a zoo, is so much bigger than you would imagine it to be.
There are plenty of attractions explicitly designed with children in mind. With its famous amusement park and beach, Coney Island is one. The Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum are others.
New York City is a food lover’s paradise, and that includes kids! They can savor various cuisines, indulge in delicious desserts like New York-style pizza and hot dogs, or explore food markets like Chelsea Market or Smorgasburg, where they can sample a variety of tastes.
What to Avoid When Visiting NYC with Kids
During our trip, we covered just about all of this and more. First, I want to tell you about some things you should avoid on your trip.
New York City is notorious for its busy traffic. If you map something out on an app, you’ll notice it takes the same time to walk somewhere as it does to travel by car. Then, if you mix in rush hour, you’re in a hot mess. Which brings me to my next point…
New York City is renowned for its walkability, but young children may get tired quickly. Carrying around a 3-year-old isn’t fun for 20 blocks. To avoid this, plan your itinerary strategically and consider where things are in proximity to your hotel and things to do.
We did two days and were exhausted after that, so make sure you’re not rushing to and from everything to see or do it all. Create a balanced itinerary with breaks, leisurely explorations, and open-ended time for spontaneous discoveries. Remember, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to experiencing the city.
Stick to well-populated and tourist-friendly neighborhoods, such as Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, and areas near major attractions. Keep an eye on your belongings and teach your kids about general safety precautions. Each of mine had an Airtag on them.
Now, I do not consider Time Square unsafe, but the people who dress up as characters around there can act a little sketchy. Then, you have the people who just wear underwear and body paint. Their goal is to get you to pay them for pictures. Like I tell my kids, just don’t make eye contact.
We didn’t have bulky bags or strollers. Instead, my Lulu belt bag was my purse and I told the kids if you don’t want to carry it, don’t bring it!
From flagship stores to trendy boutiques, it’s easy to get sucked into the whole “it’s all part of the experience” excuse to spend money. We limit ourselves to one souvenir per person. A lot of your money is going to go to food and all the other things I’m going to tell you about in this blog post.
Now that you know what to avoid, I’m going to take you along on our trip so you can do the same things we did in the order we did them.
The key to this is staying in a central location. We stayed at The New Yorker. It’s a 3-star hotel in the middle of everything, so we could walk to just about everything we did without any problems.
New York City Itinerary For Kids
The first thing we did after checking into The New Yorker around 3:00 pm at 481 8th Avenue near Penn Station, was walk to Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
This is something I added to the list because a.) we have to eat, and b.) I’ve heard great things about this place and believe that if you’re going to spend a bunch of money to feed a family of five, then it should be fun.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Nestled in the heart of New York City’s Theater District, Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a must-visit destination for those seeking a unique dining experience filled with show-stopping live music and entertainment.
Stepping into Ellen’s Stardust Diner is like entering a time capsule of the golden age of Broadway. The diner has retro decor, autographed posters, vintage memorabilia, and sparkling lights.
The best part? The servers are aspiring Broadway performers and they showcase their talents while you’re eating. As you enjoy your meal, you’ll be serenaded by Broadway tunes, pop hits, and timeless classics.
Sometimes they dance. Sometimes confetti pours from the ceiling. The talent is amazing here and we had the best time
The menu is full of your basic American comfort food, ranging from juicy burgers and crispy fries to hearty sandwiches and mouthwatering milkshakes.
You can get to Ellen’s Stardust Diner at 1650 Broadway.
M&M’s Store and Hershey’s Store in Times Square
After that, it was time to end the night (remember, we have three little kids) by taking a short walk to Time Square and visiting the M&M Store and Hershey’s Chocolate World, two very popular attractions for chocolate lovers (like me) and kids, of course.
While we were looking at the biggest TV screens my kids have ever seen with dazzling lights and bustling atmosphere, we wanted some dessert!
The M&M Store at 1600 Broadway reminded me of the LEGO store, but instead of a colorful wall of LEGOS, I saw a colorful wall of chocolate. There are M&M colors here you didn’t know existed. Here, you can grab a bag and mix and match your favorites.
There’s also a section to custom-print your own candies, but I can’t tell you much about that because unfortunately, that section was closed when we were there. Also closed was M&M’s Color Mood Analyzer, where you can discover what your favorite color says about you.
Still, we paid $10 for a bag of different colored and flavored M&Ms. Then, we walked across the street to Hershey’s Chocolate World, which I liked much better.
Here, you can check out the Hershey’s Kisses Tower and order delicious desserts like cookies, brownies, milkshakes, and sundaes from the Hershey’s Bake Shoppe.
My favorite part was seeing the extensive range of Hershey’s products, including classic favorites like Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Kit Kats that were bigger than my 8-year-old.
They also had so many different flavors you can’t find in stores. I bought a couple as gifts for people back home. It took a lot of self-control to not buy more because there really was such a wide variety.
You can visit Hershey’s Chocolate World at 20 Times Square, 701 7th Avenue.
After that, it was time to head to the hotel and head to bed because the next day was our only full day in the city and we had a lot planned.
For breakfast, we walked to Best Bagel and Coffee at 225 W. 35th Street. It was close to our hotel and on the way to Central Park, our first stop of the day.
Dining Tip: To plan most of our meals, I opened up Goole maps, looked at where we were, and where we were going, and filtered to restaurants with $$ and at least 4 stars. When you find some that look good on the way, you pencil them in!
That’s what I did with Best Bagel and Coffee, and my husband really did think it was the best!
There are a lot of entrances to Central Park. The place is huge! Looking at a map, it made the most sense for us to enter at Columbus Circle.
Just like the wacky people in costumes in Time Square, you need to fend off the guys with their pedicabs. If you do want to do one of these tours, then plan this one ahead. I’ve heard the horror of stories of people who will take a 20-minute ride and be taken for hundreds of dollars.
Did I mention this place is huge? My kids were obsessed with Umpire Rock and didn’t want to stop climbing them to see the other 99% of what the 843 acres had to offer. I took advantage of being on top of the rocks to take in some of the best views behind us for a photo opp with the fam!
We walked around the south part of the Park, met up with my husband’s uncle around the Central Park Zoo, and spotted the bridge where Kevin McCallister tricked Harry and Marv into getting arrested with the bird lady’s help.
From there, we also saw the famous Plaza Hotel where he stayed on his dad’s credit card after he was “Lost in New York”.
I wish we had more time to see more of Central Park. You could spend an entire day there or even go on a walking tour with a local guide. Some other playgrounds to visit include:
Located near Central Park South, this massive playground has a variety of climbing structures, swings, and slides. It also features a splash pad, perfect for hot summer days, and ample space for running and playing. It’s also right by Umpire Rock.
Designed with an Egyptian theme, the Ancient Playground transports kids to another era. They can climb pyramids, slide down sphinxes, and let their imaginations run wild amidst the ancient-inspired structures.
Row Boating at the Lake
Here, you can rent a rowboat or a paddleboat and let your kids take charge as they navigate the scenic waterway. You are also able to spot ducks and turtles in the lake.
Visit the Central Park Zoo
Kids can explore a wide array of fascinating creatures, including penguins, snow leopards, sea lions, and more. The Tisch Children’s Zoo, located within the zoo, has an interactive experience where children can pet and feed gentle farm animals.
Take a Carousel Ride
Located near the Central Park Zoo, this provides a classic experience for kids.
Picnic and Play on the Great Lawn
The expansive Great Lawn offers space for picnics, ball games, and kite flying. Spread out a blanket, have a picnic, and let your kids run and play.
Look at the Conservatory Water
The Conservatory Water is a pond in Central Park that is a hub of activity for young sailing enthusiasts. This is the perfect place to watch as remote-controlled boats glide across the water or bring your own sailboat to participate in friendly races. Kids can also rent and sail model boats.
Enjoy the Marionette Theater
Located at the Swedish Cottage, the Marionette Theater offers puppet shows.
For the best things to do in Central Park for kids, click here.
FAO Schwartz is a legendary toy store in a legendary place at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
FAO Schwarz has a rich heritage dating back to 1862 when it first opened its doors. Since then, it is like entering a dreamland with an extraordinary collection of toys, ranging from classic favorites to cutting-edge innovations.
Something else that sets FAO Schwarz apart is its larger-than-life displays and interactive experiences. It’s pretty cool to see employees host interactive demonstrations and magic tricks.
You can also play a tune on the giant piano made famous by the movie “Big” and create your own custom toy at the Personalization Station.
The location is also perfect because it’s at 30 Rock, so you don’t need to take more than a few steps to see, like:
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
During the winter months, you can jump on the iconic ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center. This is also where the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is.
Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Ascend to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck for breathtaking panoramic views of New York City’s skyline. From the 70th floor, you can see the cityscape, including landmarks like the Empire State Building, Central Park, and the Hudson River.
Radio City Music Hall
Situated within Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall is a historic venue that has hosted countless iconic performances.
NBC Studios Tour
For television enthusiasts, the NBC Studios Tour provides an opportunity to go behind the scenes of popular shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Art and Sculptures
Throughout Rockefeller Center, you’ll notice various artworks and sculptures like the gilded Prometheus statue, the statue of Atlas, and other notable pieces.
On our way from Rockafeller Center to see The Lion King on Broadway (more on that soon), we walked down 5th Avenue.
Stretching from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to the Harlem River, this well-known avenue offers a blend of high-end shopping… and the LEGO Store (which is just one block away from the toy store we just visited).
Famous Joe’s Pizza
Because we spent a little too much time climbing on rocks and checking out all the cool new things at FAO Schwartz and the LEGO Store, we didn’t have a proper sit-down lunch before we saw The Lion King, so right across the street from Minskoff Theater, we ordered takeout from Joe’s Pizza.
Eating NYC pizza was something Julianna had on her list of things to do, so we sat on a bench inside, opened our pizza box, and downed the delicious pizza pretty quickly. I highly suggest this restaurant before or after a show. It’s the perfect time to do it.
The Lion King on Broadway
The Lion King has been called the show of a lifetime. The Broadway Show inspired by the Disney movie has been in production for over two decades now.
The costumes, puppetry, and set design are very impressive… especially that elephant walking down the aisle! My son Dylan loved the opening scene and sings it all the time. The acting and singing are phenomenal.
To prep for this, we watched The Lion King before leaving for New York City and it was pretty cool to see it brought to life on stage.
After the show we walked to Hudson Yards for one reason and one reason only, to visit Dylan’s Candy Bar. It’s the perfect place to get a souvenir for a person named Dylan.
Hudson Yards is on the West Side of Manhattan and has tons of things to do. By this point, we were pretty tired, so we just visited the candy bar and grabbed dinner at a restaurant in The Shops at Hudson Yards, but if we had more energy, we would’ve done more, like:
One of the most recognizable landmarks in New York City is The Vessel. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, this interactive art installation is a striking honeycomb-like structure consisting of interconnected staircases.
Visitors can climb the 2,500 steps and enjoy unique perspectives of the surrounding cityscape.
Shopping and Dining
The Shops at Hudson Yards feature a mix of luxury brands, including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and many more.
I saw this when we were walking to Hudson Yards, and thought, “Oh hell no would I ever go on that thing!” An engineering marvel, The Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck at 30 Hudson Yards.
Visitors can step out onto the glass floor… or even repel onto it from above. (No thank you!)
Something else near Hudson Yards that was on our list of things to do, but after taking almost 20,000 steps that day just didn’t have it in us, was checking out the High Line.
The High Line
The High Line is an urban park that has transformed a historic elevated railway into a green oasis of 1.45 miles.
Instead of falling into disrepair, this historic structure was repurposed and transformed into an elevated park in 2009. The High Line is also an outdoor art gallery. Along the pathway, you’ll see a range of thought-provoking art installations and exhibitions.
There are numerous seating areas, wooden lounge chairs, and picnic tables to sit and enjoy the various food vendors and eateries there too.
The Empire State Building
I don’t like heights, so Julianna and Colin traveled to the top of The Empire State Building on their own. Walking here was half a mile from our hotel, so it was a perfect way to start our morning.
Tip: Buy tickets in advance!
Built in 1931, the Empire State Building is 1,454 feet tall and held the title of the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years. The observation decks are located on the 86th and 102nd floors.
From there you can see unobstructed vistas of Manhattan’s skyline, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Hudson River.
You also get to learn a bit here too and go on a multimedia journey that provides insight into the history, design, and construction of this Art Deco landmark.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there is an annual Empire State Building Run-Up. The event challenges runners to conquer the 1,576 steps from the lobby to the observation deck.
The Harry Potter Exhibition
Right beside The Empire State Building and across the street from the Macy’s we see every year on Thanksgiving morning, the boys and I spent time in The Harry Potter Exhibition. We bought tickets in advance and scheduled an arrival time that matched up with Julianna and Colin’s time for The Empire State Building.
This was pretty impressive. From the moment we entered, we were immersed in the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We “visited” the Gryffindor Common Room, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Great Hall.
We could see a collection of authentic props, costumes, and artifacts used in the Harry Potter films, like Harry’s glasses and wand, Hermione’s Time-Turner, and Ron’s Quidditch robes.
The coolest part was the interactive experiences. Landon and Dylan tossed Quaffles in the Quidditch area, pulled a Mandrake in Herbology, and made a potion in the Potions classroom.
There were also some pretty cool merchandise and souvenirs we’d never seen before on the way out, but we practiced self-control.
Take the Subway
After that, we met up with the other two, popped into the largest department store in the world to pee, and jumped on a subway to head south to eat and see The Statue of Liberty.
For more people, taking the subway isn’t exciting. I did it every day for hours when I worked as a reporter for News 12 The Bronx. However, the kids wanted to try it out, and let’s be honest, it’s the best way to get around the city.
So, after their 100th lesson on germs and my Googling how to get from Macy’s Herald Square to Whitehall Street, South Ferry, we hopped on the R train.
Because it was lunchtime, I opened up Google Maps and looked for restaurants in the area. That’s when I spotted this little area nearby called Stone Street. The cobblestone road was full of tables on the ground with flags strung above and lined with a variety of restaurants.
The Statue of Liberty
Then, it was off to see The Statue of Liberty. My cousin who lives in New York City said the best way to see it is to hop on the ferry in lower Manhattan to Staten Island and just take it back.
There are tons of people who will try to sell you on their excursions, but the kids didn’t care to learn about the history of Ellis Island or get off the boat and walk around Liberty Island. They just wanted to see it from the water.
Not only is the ferry free, but it’s a great spot to sit and rest your feet from all the walking. You can also get a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge from here.
We took a ride there and back on the Staten Island Ferry, then hopped on a different subway to go head to Penn Station near Madison Square Garden, the closest stop to our hotel.
It was time to stop at a tourist trap for I Love NYC t-shirts and drive to Newark and get ready for bed because our flight was leaving in the morning.
We were going to visit Battery Park after this and see the Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center, and the 9/11 Memorial, but by this point, we were exhausted.
…and that is how we spent a very tiring two full days, spread out between three, in New York City.
Other NYC Options
Maybe we did some things you didn’t want to do. Maybe you’re staying longer and want some more options, so here are some more things you could add to your list of things to do or your kid’s New York itinerary.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal offers a glimpse into New York City’s golden age. You can visit to admire its celestial ceiling and the Beaux-Arts design. Grab a bite to eat at the diverse array of dining options. (It’s where I stopped to eat when I changed trains when I lived and commuted here.)
The address is 89 E 42nd Street.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“The Met” is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious art museums. It has a collection spanning over 5,000 years.
It’s at 1000 5th Avenue.
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library houses millions of books, manuscripts, and historical artifacts, including the original Gutenberg Bible. You can explore the Rose Main Reading Room too. (As a book lover, I’m disappointed I didn’t visit this spot.)
The address is 476 Fifth Avenue.
In Union Square, you can see a dynamic mix of street performers, bustling farmers’ markets, and a wide array of shops and restaurants. It’s an ideal spot for people-watching and immersing yourself in the spirit of New York City.
This area spans from Broadway To 4th Avenue and East 14 Street To East 17 Street.
Flat Iron Building
The Flatiron Building is a symbol of New York City with its distinctive triangular shape and stunning Beaux-Arts design. The Flatiron District surrounding the building offers a vibrant mix of boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries.
You can see the building at 175 5th Avenue.
Meat Packing District
Once a bustling meatpacking district, this neighborhood has transformed into a trendy hotspot with fashionable boutiques and high-end restaurants.
Another tip: Don’t forget to ask New Yorkers what the best places are to go to have a great time.
When you visit New York City, find me on Instagram at @ChristinaAllDay, and let me know what you’re doing to have the best time!
If you ever travel to the west coast, don’t miss this blog post on things to do around San Diego.