One of our favorite family vacations to date has been to New York City. When we lived in Washington DC we regularly would take trips to the Big Apple to visit my brother-in-law. But, we rarely were able to spend more than a weekend. Then a few years ago we decided we would take a chance and see what it was like to live in New York. We were on the fence about where our lives were headed and where we would next put down roots. We packed up our van and the kids and drove to New York where we lived with my brother in law for a month.
New York City is expensive.
This goes without saying. But, there are so many great things to do and see here that can help save money. We had our own car but we rarely used it to go anywhere. Other times when we've flown to New York I prefer to hire a car ahead of time. Getting from JFK to downtown New York is just much less hassle when everything is arranged, especially when you have luggage and kids in tow. I used Blacklane car service when I was in Berlin earlier this year and they also have service in New York. I would use them again anywhere I traveled thanks to prompt, professional and affordable service.
We were able to have our costs for housing covered as we stayed with family but my best advice for those visiting who don't have this kind of arrangement available is to look outside Manhattan. Prices will be much more affordable and you'll have the chance to experience what life in the city is really like.
Most people don't live in Manhattan proper. Go for a neighborhood community where you can shop and experience local life. We stayed in Astoria, Queens but there are countless neighborhoods across the boroughs that are accessible and livable. We're huge advocates of living like locals when we travel and you'll also save a lot of money doing this.
Once you're settled in it's time to explore. Here is how I would spend a week with kids. Keep in mind this itinerary is for kids about age 5 and up.
You're going to want to vary what you do and how much you do every day on the age of your children and what they will tolerate. We've learned our kids can handle 2-3 things a day. They need ample time to just “be” and of course meals and snacks must happen regularly. I've grouped things by their general location so you're not running from one end of town to another.
Statue of Liberty – You pretty much have to see this if you're going to New York. There are two options. You can take the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island ferry and pay for the boat and admission to Ellis Island. Our 8 year old really liked Ellis Island, our 5 year-old not so much. If you'll skip Ellis Island then get onboard the Staten Island ferry. It's FREE! You'll see lady liberty and save some cash. The ferry goes from Manhattan to Staten Island and back.
Staten Island Museum – You can turn around and go back on the ferry or hang around Staten Island. This museum is a great way to spend a few hours and is near the ferry station. Adults are $8 and children under 12 $2
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden – This is free! It's not near the ferry terminal so you'll need to take the bus or a taxi to get here but it's a great way to spend a few hours. The gardens are especially beautiful when in full bloom. The highlight may just be the Chinese scholars garden which is an excellent opportunity to see a traditional Chinese garden.
St. Paul's Chapel/Trinity Church – This church has been a part of New York since 1697 and was established during the British occupation. It has served a pivotal role throughout American history.
9/11 Memorial Plaza – We didn't feel like our kids were old enough to visit the 9/11 memorial however nearby memorial plaza was under constructed when we visited. The pools are a unique feature and offer an opportunity to have a conversation with kids about 9/11 as they are likely to see mentions all around them during their time in New York.
Ellis Island – This is my favorite part of New York and I could visit a dozen times and never get bored. M was older when we visited and old enough to understand and be engaged. K didn't care and really was annoyed that we even had to go. We decided to pack our lunch and eat on the grounds. Today more than ever it's so important to teach kids about the diversity of America, this is a must.
Tenement Museum of New York – Another good stop for older kids. The history of late 19th century and early 20th century New York is in these walls. There are numerous tours that are offered along with a walk through a restored tenement building. This is a living, breathing museum.
Chinatown and Little Italy – The lower eastside is where many immigrants settled. Chinatown and Little Italy are perhaps the two best know neighborhoods. Today these places are losing their notoriety as ethnic enclaves but the history and feel is still there. We loved walking around, stopping into restaurants and food shops to try specialties. The Italian and Chinese bakeries were our favorites.
Southstreet Seaport Imagination Playground – Southstreet Seaport is an area full of shops and restaurants as well as this hands on playground. Not only does it have toy features but is an interactive playground with manipulatives.
Wall Street Bull – If you're in the neighborhood you have to walk up Wall Street to get a picture with the Wall St. bull!
United Nations Tour – Maybe it sounds odd but one of my oldest sons' favorite travel memories is visiting the United Nations with me and taking a tour. Guided tours are 1 hour long and offered in multiple languages. Children must be 5 or older to join a tour. The Delegates Dining Room is open daily to the public and culinary traditions from around the world are on full display. Reservations are required, business casual dress expected, and the buffet has a fixed price.
New York Public Library Children's Center on 42nd St. – We love stopping in to local libraries when we travel. Not only do they usually have great programming for anyone to attend it's a great way to cool down. Summer in New York City can be hot! Check out their listings online for any of the branches. The Children's Center is targeted for younger visitors. Attend an activity or just curl up with a book for a little while and cool down.
Natural History Museum – This museum was found in 1869 and is one of American's pre-eminent natural history institutions. It's worth noting the admission price is a suggested admission. If you wish to pay less you can do so just be indicating the amount you can pay at the ticket window. There are also regular free museum tours led. Ask when you buy tickets for starting times.
Times Square Pizza Food Tour – It wouldn't be a vacation for us if we didn't take a food tour. What is better than combining a tour and pizza? Not much if you're a kid! Head to Times Square for this tour. If you've got younger kids who might not be up for the walk they also have a bus tour on Sunday's that goes further distances.
Times Square – Where all of New York comes together it's Times Square! You must visit at least once just to see it. There are numerous kid friendly stores and restaurants nearby. Mine especially loved the Hershey Store and Toys R' Us.
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – This museum is on an aircraft carrier and aims to bring an awareness and understanding of science, history and service.
Beast Speedboat Ride – What better way to see NYC than on a speedboat? For tween boys this is ideal! Boat tours are always a good idea especially in summer months and this high speed boat ride is sure to get everyone excited.
Broadway – Even if you don't snag tickets to a show just walking up Broadway is a great experience. Of course if you can swing a show even better! Kid favorites like The Lion King, Matilda, and Wicked are a great idea. Try a mid-week matinee for better prices. You can also seek out TKTS booths for discounted same-day shows
Central Park – Say goodbye to your big week in the Bit Apple with a day at the park. Pack a picnic and check out these 21 hidden things to do with kids in Central Park from Mommy Poppins.
New York City also has great parades! One year we were visiting during the St. Patrick's Day Parade but we've always said we'd love to check out the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you're going around this holiday make sure to read my friend Jen's post (linked above) that is full of great tips and advice for attending!
Fun Restaurants for Families with Kids
When we travel it's all about the food. These are some family friendly restaurants you may want to check out when you're in NYC.
- Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain – an old time soda shop. Pull up to the bar and order an old-time favorite.
- Alice's Tea Cup Chapter I – what kid wouldn't love a real tea party? This is the place to go!
- Ninja – The inside of this restaurant is designed as a ninja village and serves up Japanese cuisine. It's not just a meal, it's an experience.
- Max Brenner – Do your kids have a sweet tooth? You'll want to visit Max Brenner. They have a secret chocolate menu for kids that is going to make yours squeal with happiness.
- Shake Shack – Sure it's just burgers but for kids that's what's important. The chain was born in NYC from a pushcart and so when you're here it only makes sense to visit.
- Ganso – This ramen restaurant does noodles right. For kids that are culinary crusaders this will be a dream come true. Daily and seasonal specials mix up the menu.
- Any ethnic neighborhood! Seriously, there is amazing food in New York. We love Halal Guys food cart and Greek eateries. Ethnic bakeries are another favorite for snacks that are really affordable and unique memories.
- Scott's Pizza Tours – So I did this tour when I was in New York by myself and I am dying to get back to take my family on it. It was so much fun and also so delicious!
Even after a month in New York we weren't able to do and see everything we wanted to see. This is certainly a place to come back to time and time again to see and experience the wide range of opportunities that exist!