by Bethany Kandel, 05/14/2014
- more in itineraries/
- more in kids/
- more in kids/
There's no doubt that New York City is kid- and teen-friendly. After all, there are great parks, museums, restaurants and toy stores catering to youngsters' every whim and whimsy all over the five boroughs. In fact, the City is one giant playground for kids as well as a fascinating expedition for young adults—and their parents are sure to have fun right along with them.
With so much to see and do in the City, you'll have to make many trips to NYC to fit it all in—but we'll get you started with a fun-filled three-day itinerary that's jam-packed with activities.
Depending on your kids' preferences, or where you're staying, you can begin the day at either the Upper West Side's American Museum of Natural History or the Upper East Side's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both venues offer something that both younger children and older ones, whether teens or tweens, will find enthralling. At the American Museum of Natural History, kids will love visiting the dinosaur halls and seeing the many real fossils and even models. And the museum's Discovery Room offers plenty of hands-on fun and learning. Throughout the venue, teenagers who are beginning to learn more about science will find much to whet their curiosity about biology, physics, astronomy and other fields.
At The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pick up a family guide at an information desk and inquire about that day's activities, which often include kids' tours and sketching or craft projects. The older set will enjoy this incomparable showcase of classic artwork, contemporary pieces and the history of world cuture on display. At either museum, visit the gift shop first to buy some postcards of pictures or exhibitions you'd like to find—and then spend the morning on a scavenger hunt.
After this initial dose of culture, let the kids burn off some energy in one of the spectacular playgrounds in Central Park (the green space is convenient to both museums). Teens will enjoy a walk through the grounds and its diverse terrain or a bike ride through the greenery; pick up some wheels at Bike and Roll (with two locations near Central Park) or a Citi Bike station. Eventually, head through the park to the Central Park Zoo, at Fifth Avenue and West 64th Street. In the section geared especially toward young kids, the Tisch Chldren's Zoo, you can feed some African pygmy goats, see the Vietnamese potbellied pigs and fall under the spell of the mini-Nubian goats and Patagonian cavies. Afterward, grab a bona fide New York City hot dog and salted pretzel from a park vendor.
If an indoor playground (of sorts) is more your style (or necessary, thanks to Mother Nature), head northwest through the park to the DiMenna Children's History Museum at the New-York Historical Society. The downstairs museum-within-a-museum holds interactive displays that constitute a major part of the institution's recent three-year-long, $65 million renovation. Kids can become history detectives, discovering NYC's past through hands-on games and a full slate of programming. The NYHS also offers a fantastic opportunity to learn about the history of NYC in ongoing and special exhibitions.
Back downtown, exit the park at Fifth Avenue and West 59th Street to emerge right near the City's most famous toy store, FAO Schwarz. The life-size stuffed animals, not to mention the doll and toy collections, might help you convince your small ones that this destination is another museum—but they're probably too smart for that.
Stroll down Fifth Avenue and do some window-shopping until you get to West 50th Street and Rockefeller Center. Be sure to visit the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, where you can see the entire City in all its skyscraping grandeur. From your high-altitude perch, you can point out the art deco Chrysler Building and Empire State Building to the young folk. As you examine the now-miniaturized landscape of Central Park, see if you can pinpoint the places you've been. This perspective on the City is magnificent for viewers of any age.
After a good night's rest, you'll be ready to venture through town again. Start downtown in SoHo at the Children's Museum of the Arts, where there are always fun crafts projects under way. If in search of something literary, head to McNally Jackson, a kid- and teen-welcoming bookstore that hosts YA authors for talks and features a youth-focused Tumblr. Follow the morning of creativity and books with a stroll through Chinatown to shop for bargains. If you've worked up an appetite, try the soup dumplings (deliciously addictive doughy pockets that have the soup broth on the inside) at Joe's Shanghai, on Pell Street. If you have any room left, go north across Canal Street and indulge in some dessert in Little Italy, where mouthwatering cannoli, zeppole, tiramisu and, of course, gelati abound.
Then walk it all off with a stroll over the historic Brooklyn Bridge. When you get to the other side, meander along the majestic Brooklyn Heights Promenade and enjoy the Manhattan skyline. Make a pit stop for some delectably rich ice cream at the famed Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Depending on the season, there will likely be a line to get in, but the indulgence is worth the wait.
Now that you're fueled up, catch a taxi or the nearest subway line to Prospect Park, where you'll find everything from bicycling and baseball to fishing and football. Check out one of the numerous playgrounds, roam through the borough's only forest or ride the park's carousel, a 100-year-old gem that boasts beautifully carved horses and other creatures. The attraction is located in the Children's Corner, which is also home to the Prospect Park Zoo. And for some additional outdoor fun, the recently completed LeFrak Center at Lakeside, near the southeast corner of the park, has a covered rink for roller skating in warm weather and ice skating in the cold; a café there serves food, and on Mondays, children 12 and under receive free admission between 2 and 6pm (there is still a charge for skate rentals).
If you still have energy left, head back to Manhattan to visit the South Street Seaport. You can peruse the historic ships docked at the pier and then rest your feet during a relaxing waterside dinner.
Take advantage of Manhattan's waterfront access by going for a (free) ride on the Staten Island Ferry and taking in the stunning views of the City, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on the trip across New York Harbor. Once you arrive at your destination, catch a bus to the Staten Island Children's Museum, which has a multitude of interactive exhibitions and hands-on activities. The museum is part of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, 83 acres of gardens, museums, performing-arts venues and more. Visit a gallery, see a show or just revel in the natural beauty of the gardens. Be sure to visit the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden for a relaxing and meditative reprieve from the bustle and clamor of the metropolis.
Once you ferry back to Manhattan, saunter along Battery Park's waterfront esplanade. Stop at one of the restaurants along the walking path, or head to the World Financial Center for a bite to eat. Afterward, the kids can run around at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Park playground (off River Terrace, along the water)—there's climbing equipment, animal-shaped sprinklers and plenty of sand in which to cavort. The nearby large-scale Irish Hunger Memorial garden installation, featuring a beautiful field, quotations about hunger, a stone cottage and flora native to Ireland, provides a place for exploration and reflection by the older kids.
Interested in further cultural expeditions? Head back uptown to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and spend some time in the outdoor Sculpture Garden if the weather's nice. Hop on the 7 train to Queens for hands-on exploration at the New York Hall of Science; or get a super close-up view of primates at the Congo Gorilla Forest at the legendary Bronx Zoo. Then, for a final treat, head back to Midtown to check out Dylan's Candy Bar—across from Bloomingdale's, on Third Avenue—where kids can fill bags with M&M's in every color of the rainbow, gummies in shapes like snakes and cola bottles, and chocolates galore. Or end the day sitting at the shop's café, indulging in an ice cream sundae. New York City never tasted so sweet.