by Bethany Kandel, 04/04/2012
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There's no doubt that New York City is kid-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—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. 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. 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. 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). Then head south through the park to the Tisch Children's Zoo, part of the Central Park Zoo at Fifth Avenue and West 64th Street. You can feed some African pygmy goats, see the Vietnamese potbellied pigs and fall under the spell of the mini-Nubian goats and Patagonian cavy. 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. Families can explore this interactive playground (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.
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 kids 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 kids. As you examine the now-miniaturized landscape of Central Park, see if you can pinpoint the places you've been.
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. Follow the morning of creativity 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.
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 magnificent 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.
Craving some culture? Head back uptown to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and spend some time in the outdoor Sculpture Garden if the weather's nice. Then, for a final treat, 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 never tasted so sweet.