Taking the kids to the Big Apple is like a dream come true for them! I guess most kids have New York on their bucket list. They often see images of this city with its enormous sky scrapers in the movies they see. Our children had been counting the days before we went!
If you are interested in street art and graffiti’s, we did a really cool street art tour in Brooklyn, and created our own piece of Street art to take home with us! This is our coolest souvenir of our trip to NY. You can also walk around in the area by yourself. Read my blog post on NY Street art here.
When you go to New York there are so many places you must visit! Let me tell you about the highlights we did!
New York must-sees:
If you are planning on visiting some of the famous highlights in New York, I would suggest you to buy a CityPass. There are two different CityPasses available, for 6 highlights or for 3, depending on the length of your stay. This will definitely make you save a lot of money on admission fees! You can buy a CityPass here.
Empire State building
We were at the Empire State Building on a foggy day, but if you wait a bit then sometimes the clouds will go away, if even for a couple of minutes, and you will still get the good view over Manhattan, the skyline, the One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. When you have the CityPass you still wait in line for the security check, but once you have passed that check, you tell the staff member that you have the CityPass, and you skip the ticket line to go straight to the Elevator. The elevator first takes you to the 80th floor, where you can see the view from behind a window, and then you take another elevator for the outdoor observation desk on the 86th floor. You can pay extra to go all the way to the 102nd floor, but we did not do that. The 86th floor is already very impressive!
Climbing on the rocks, enjoying the view, or just walking around, Central Park is of course a place in NYC where you should take the kids! There is also a zoo right in the park, but just looking at all the squirrels is already fun as well. There are often performers in the park so we were lucky to be able to listen to some music in the park on a sunny day as well, and there are tons of playgrounds.
The Metropolitan Museum
The Met is located in Central Park and really is a beautiful museum that is great to visit with kids. The best thing to do is to choose beforehand which galleries you would like to see, because the museum is quite big, so with small children you may not see the entire museum on one day. The entire collection of the museum is quite impressive, but with children the Egypt gallery is definitely a must see! We went to the Egypt, Rome and Greek gallery and the European painters to see some famous Van Gogh paintings and Cézanne. You can ask for a cool children’s map at the reception area. There are playgrounds right next to the museum so if the kids want to get rid of some energy right before or after the visit, it is all right there!
The NY Highline is a public park created on an out of use train track, elevated above the streets of Manhattan. It is a beautiful urban walkway with some trees, benches, various art works and viewpoints. It is a nice way to discover the West-side of Manhattan!
Top of the Rock
The top of Rockefeller Plaza has a great view of Manhattan. It is one of the best places with a view of Central Park and a view on the Empire State Building. We liked the fact that it was an outside observatory, so no glass windows in front of you which of course makes for better pictures!
If you are heading in the direction of the 9/11 Memorial, or the One World Trade Center, you will probably see the Oculus, the WTC Transportation Hub. The Oculus is a metro station, and a shopping mall with restaurants, juice bars and so on. It’s a nice modern building in the shape of a dino carcass and one of NY’s popular Instagram photo spots 😊.
Maybe you are wondering whether you should take your kids here or not. We did, because unfortunately, it is a real story, recent history, and a part of the history of New York. We explained them what had happened, and our 10-year old was interested and asked a lot of questions, for our 8-year old, it was a bit much and I took him for the quick tour of the memorial, learning about it, but without being there too long. As adults we were very much impressed by the museum. They really made a beautiful and moving memorial of the remains of the buildings, and the personal stories of the people.
One World Trade Center Observatory
The One World Trade Center now dominates the NY skyline. A beautiful, modern, skyscraper with an observatory with an animation well done! First you enter the elevator and, just like in the Empire State Building, a movie is shown in the elevator when you go up. It only takes 47 seconds to go up to the 102nd floor! You are then guided into a space where another animated movie about New York is shown. Make sure your kids stand in front so they can see the moment they raise the curtains in the end 😊. After that you can walk around as long as you like in the Observatory which offers 360 degrees views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. The Brooklyn Bridge is so close by it really gives you a beautiful view on it from above. When you are so high up, the building moves a bit and that is a weird feeling. There is a small circular glass platform called the Sky Portal where you can walk on and which shows high-definition footage of the streets below. It is a screen, and not the real view of course, but children like to walk on it to get an idea. The elevator back down shows you again a cool animated movie about New York. We really loved visiting this skyscraper!
The One World Trade Center is not included in the CityPass, but you will get a discount on your ticket price if you show your CityPass voucher.
Are you planning your visit around lunch time? We bought our tickets and then had lunch close by in a typical American Diner restaurant that was very family friendly and the food was good (especially the Nachos). The restaurant is called Tribeca’s Kitchen and is located on 200, Church Street, in short walking distance from the One World Trade Center.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Well, this is of course the most famous must-see… I would definitely recommend to either go early, or reserve your time slot in advance to beat the queues… When you have a CityPass, access to Liberty and Ellis Island is included, but you cannot reserve a time slot, so in that case you should really come early. First, you have to queue inside of Clinton Castle to exchange your CityPass voucher for tickets, and then you have to queue outside for the security check and to get on the boat right after the check. The line was going quick before 10 o’clock, but was a lot longer after that… We waited in line for quite a while but we were still happy we went! Of course, you can also take the Staten Island Ferry or a NY Water Taxi to see the Statue of Liberty, but then you cannot go on land and you will just pass by.
We went to Liberty Island and Ellis Island and I like Ellis Island for the history as well. Ellis Island was the place where millions of immigrants arrived in the US after weeks spent on boats to cross. At Ellis Island they received their first medical check, were taken care of if ill in the hospital buildings and had to wait for their paperwork to be done. You can still see luggage in the baggage room, look at examples of personal belongings of people who took the risk of the journey to an unknown land to them, and realize how it must have been to leave everything they knew behind to search for a better life. On the outside of the museum you will have again the stunning view of the NY skyline, with a wall of all the names of people that have gone through Ellis Island.
MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art
Located in a beautiful and modern building, the MoMA houses, just like the MET, a great collection of art works. Modern art work from photographers, or from artists like Roy Lichtenstein, we really liked this museum as well. On the 5th floor master pieces of older painters are to be seen, like for instance the famous Starry Night of Vincent van Gogh.
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is also a must-do when in New York! Joggers, cyclists and tourists all cross one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US. The bridge was finished in 1883 and connects Manhattan to Brooklyn. While crossing the bridge, you get beautiful views of the NY skyline, and the Statue of Liberty.
Not our favorite part of the city as it is really busy and we walk around with our kids, but of course you go there at least once during your NY trip. Just to see all the screens, and maybe to go to the M&M’s store. We had lunch in a diner near Times Square which was good, called Junior’s Diner. There is also the famous Ellen Stardusts Diner on Times Square where staff sing and perform while you eat, but there was quite a line outside to get a table, so we chose not to do it.
We liked Carmine’s restaurant on a side street. Carmine’s is an Italian restaurant where you can easily go with your children. At Carmine’s you order a main course which is big enough for 4-6 people and is served on 1 big plate, like at home. We had fried calamar for starters which our kids adore, and we had spaghetti meat balls as a main course. Address: 200 West 44th Street.
New York through the eyes of kids:
Our children very much liked New York and were amazed about several things. They liked looking up at the skyscrapers, and getting on top of them, they asked about the holes in the ground with steam coming out of it, they were impressed by the number of people living there and moving around on the busy streets, and they liked the street performers. They were also a bit impressed sometimes by the NY daily life that some people live, for instance the homeless people, but it is important for them to learn about it.
Where to stay:
Choosing the right neighborhood is important, especially with kids. Manhattan is of course best as you will be close to most things, can walk back after dinner or easily hail a cab.
This hotel in NY is great with kids as it is close to Central Park and has its own garden.
Another Manhattan hotel know to be good for families is this one. Remember to ask for a room on a floor higher up to enjoy the view.
Some families prefer renting out an apartment instead of going to a hotel, check out a great apartment here.
Shopping with kids:
These are the shops our kids specifically wanted to go to while in New York:
- Lego store on Rockefeller Center, and one on Fifth Avenue
- Nintendo store at 10 Rockefeller Plaza
- M&M’s store, on Times Square, just follow the screens with an M&M character on it
- Skateshop: we went to a skateshop called Zumiez in downtown Brooklyn (425 Fulton Street) where the kids got a nice customized skateboard. It is a lot cheaper than in Europe and they have a nice NY board.
General advice on places to visit:
If you are in New York for a few days and have some of the highlights on your list, think about reserving some time slots for visits in advance! On cloudy days, there will be almost no line to get your tickets for the buildings, keep an eye on the weather forecast and reserve your tickets on a cloudy day to go up on a day with a sunny weather forecast. This is what we did for the Top of the Rock and that worked out great! Also, the Statue of Liberty Cruise is quite popular, same here, if you can reserve a time slot in advance, it could just save you hours of waiting in line.
Good reads and cool maps:
To prepare for the trip, here are some good books and cool maps especially for a family trip to NY:
New York pop-out map:
New York childrens map:
New York customizable map:
New York city trails