Family Visitor Guide to NYC

Andrew Rosenberg
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Congratulations—you’re bringing the kids to New York City. We’re happy to report that it’s a family-friendly place, with tons to see, do, taste and experience—and all of it looks exciting through a child’s eyes. It’s also one of America’s safest large cities. Read on for advice about trip-planning, on-the-ground navigation and everything else you need to make your visit with the kids a memorable one. 

Statue of Liberty. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Sightseeing

There are a number of obvious big-ticket sights to take the family to in NYC—kid-oriented museums, sky-high observatories, the country’s largest urban zoo and the Statue of Liberty probably foremost among them. But even places that might seem high-minded, like the Museum of Modern Art, frequently have programs or activities that are geared toward children. It’s generally good to target no more than one or two major sights a day, and probably to spend no more than an hour or two in a museum at a time; kids can easily get burned out on stuff adults find interesting. Make sure you’re varying the types of things you do, working in some fun shops, grassy parks and places to refuel along the way.  

Tips
• Kids usually get discounted entrance fees to attractions, and sometimes get in free, especially if they are on the younger side. Conversely, some places may not be appropriate for kids, or have certain restrictions (at Coney Island, which is a blast for little ones, you need to be a certain height to ride some of the more thrilling rides).   
• Call ahead to make sure that strollers are allowed, especially if you’re going to a museum, gallery or sporting event.

Joe’s Shanghai, Chinatown Joe’s Shanghai, Chinatown. Photo: Malcom Brown

Eating

Lots of restaurants have kids’ menus, though let’s face it: there are only so many chicken nuggets and burgers some kids can take. Pretty much every cuisine you can think of is represented in NYC, so it’s a great opportunity to expose your child to something new—or your already adventurous foodie to the best of the City’s culinary treats.

Pizza is always a good bet to please little ones; see our comprehensive guide to NYC’s best. A dim sum meal at a Chinese restaurant in one of the City’s Chinatowns makes for a gentle introduction to some interesting foods, as you can sample lots of things for a very digestible price. (Chances are they’ll gravitate more toward the dumplings and noodles than the chicken feet.) 

Keep an eye out as well for outdoor restaurants (here’s a brief roundup) and street food. Taking advantage of these means the kids will have more room to run. Also good: the City’s gourmet food halls, which should appeal to even the pickiest eaters in the family. You’ll find crowd-pleasers like ramen, barbecue, tacos and chicken sandwiches under one roof. 

Tips
• With kids in tow, you may find it hard to resist popular ice cream spots like Serendipity 3, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and Ample Hills (to say nothing of the milkshakes at Black Tap), though don’t forget the simple pleasures of an Italian ice in summertime
• Looking to eat gourmet but worried about the formality? A number of upscale restaurants, like Aquavit, Gramercy Tavern and Jean-Georges (in the adjacent Nougatine), have rooms that offer slightly less expensive menus and a more casual atmosphere than in the main dining rooms—which might make them more suitable for a family meal.  

Lego Store, Rockefeller Center Courtesy, Lego Store

Shopping

Plenty of teenagers will probably be interested in checking out comic book shops, video game stores and cosmetics boutiques; younger ones may pine for places to buy toys and candy. NYC has them all and then some: children’s bookstores, sports emporiums, subterranean model train retailers, a couple of giant Lego outlets, a soon-to-open American Girl doll store (moving from its current location). And don’t forget about yourself while here; you’ll probably have earned your own retail therapy while in town. 

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Tips
• The East Village holds St. Mark’s Comics, Forbidden Planet and a few spots for music on vinyl. It’s a good stop for your average teen.
Museum shops = a great incentive for your kids to try to learn a few things during their more culturally oriented excursions.
There’s no shortage of places to get cool duds for young ones; the typical neighborhoods for smaller boutiques probably hold your best bets—places like Soho, the East and West Village, Park Slope, Cobble Hill and the Upper West Side.

Coney Island. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Entertainment

You might think most of the music, theater and movie-going fun is reserved for adults in NYC, but a number of theaters stage performances for children. There are puppet shows, dramatic pieces and comedy troupes. Some concert halls and dance parties have all-ages events. Plenty of free shows take place in parks throughout the five boroughs. There’s even a regular classical music performance on an old coffee barge done to introduce kids to the finer points of Beethoven and Bach.

If this doesn’t seem up your child’s alley, fear not; other forms of entertainment abound.

Tips
• Many shows on Broadway are, if not always geared directly toward kids, perfectly suitable for them. The littlest ones should enjoy fare like The Lion King; School of Rock and Wicked will appeal to older elementary school kids; and Kinky Boots, while more mature, might just be a YA crowd pleaser (the songs are by Cyndi Lauper, after all).
• The BAMKids Film Festival and New York International Children’s Film Festival screen kids’ movies in the winter; the Museum of Moving Image, Paley Center and Film Forum run regular movie series for the younger set.
• You’ll find seasonal amusement parks in Coney Island, Central Park and Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
• Check out our events calendar for more.

Bryant Park. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Sports and Outdoors

New York City is filled with public parks, good for stretching, running and blowing off steam. Some of these, like Central Park and Prospect Park, have attractions that will hold your kids’ attention (zoos, skating rinks), as well as green space for them to roam about; between the two they also have nearly 30 playgrounds. Most, if not all other, parks have playgrounds too, some of the best of which can be found in Lower Manhattan, Long Island City and Brooklyn Bridge Park

Tips
• The local baseball and soccer seasons run from late spring to fall; going to a game mixes being outdoors with fan excitement. If it’s wintertime, you’ll be choosing from indoor spectator sports like basketball and hockey and participatory sports like ice skating—best done alfresco in a place like Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park.
• There are nearly a dozen beach areas in NYC, and the City runs numerous public pools in the summer, both of which are free to access.

New York Marriott Marquis. Photo: Jeff Goldman

Hotels

Choosing where you stay is a crucial part of your visit. You’ll likely consider a few factors: Do you want to be near specific family-friendly sights? Do you want a place that has affordable suites and kitchenettes, to have extra space and to save some money by keeping (and perhaps preparing) food in the room? A few things seem certain: kids like hotels that have pools, and room service is always a fun experience. (Certain hotels have restaurants that provide pretty extensive in-room menus.) 

Tips
• Many hotels have special programs for kids, often involving toys, coloring books and maps of the City. Inquire at the places you’re interested in booking.
• Another thing to ask about: whether the hotel offers a special family deal, which may knock some dollars off the regular room or suite price.

The High Line. Photo: Brittany Petronella

Transportation

Getting around by foot is a great way to see the City with kids, especially with ones children old enough to enjoy (and maybe even recognize some of) the visual stimuli. If you’re walking with a stroller, you’ll be in good company on the sidewalks, though some areas—especially spots like Midtown and Soho—might seem extra crowded. To get everywhere you’ll want to go will, no doubt, require other, quicker means of transportation; fortunately, you’ve got a few great options. 

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Subways
Most kids get a kick out of going underground (and in some cases, above) to ride the subway. You’ll need to purchase a MetroCard from a machine to enter. You can add money for however many rides you think you’ll need, or get daily or weekly passes that allow you to ride as much as you want. 

• Kids (up to three of them) under 44 inches travel for free with a fare-paying adult.
• Each ride is $2.75, though you’ll get discounts the more you put on your card; each new card is $1.
• Make sure to follow some basic safety precautions: stand well clear of the yellow line in stations, and hold on to strollers (and little ones, if not seated) when the train is in motion.
• You can transfer from subway to subway at connected stations for free, as well as from subway to bus (and vice-versa).

Buses
The cool thing about MTA buses is getting to see the City’s streets and buildings while you move from place to place. The downside: sometimes there is traffic, and stops are more frequent. A MetroCard works for these blue and white buses, and the price of rides and rules for transfers that hold for the subway are applicable here.

Ferries
If you think kids love subways and buses, imagine how getting around the City by ferry will make them feel (presuming, of course, they are not prone to seasickness). The services of the NYC Ferry are expanding; visit ferry.nyc for current routes and schedules. Make sure you’ve got a seat with a good view, and be prepared for the journey to be half the fun. You can’t use a MetroCard but the price per ride is still the same at $2.75, payable with cash or via app. The most famous vessel of them all, the Staten Island Ferry, is free and travels back and forth between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island’s northeast shore; a trip on it, even if you’re turning right around, is well worth your time for the harbor views and Statue of Liberty photo ops. Check siferry.com for schedules.

Roosevelt Island Tram. Photo: Marley White

Tram
The Roosevelt Island tram operates like the subway and buses, with one obvious exception: it travels on cables that rise 250 feet above the East River, going only to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan and back. Kids might recognize it from a climactic scene in 2002’s Spider-Man. And you can use your MetroCard for this scenic trip.

Taxis
Very few cabs will have their own kid seats, but you can put one in if you’re carrying your own. You’re also allowed to have kids 7 and under sit on an adult’s lap in the back seat. 

A few general pointers while visiting NYC

• Take plenty of breaks. Yes, you want to see as much as you can, but you don’t want to run everyone ragged. It’s hard enough to get everyone on the same page for what to see and do, much less on the same energy-level. Cool drinks in summer heat, some time relaxing on a park bench, a pit stop in an uncrowded café or shop, maybe even a movie break—these go a long way toward keeping the peace.
• Bookstores, department stores and hotel lobbies are relatively reliable spots to find public bathrooms.
• Though the City is generally safe, you should take common sense precautions when traveling with your kids. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, stick to well-lighted places at night, take licensed yellow or green taxicabs instead of livery cabs and observe all traffic rules and signals when walking (or driving or biking).
 


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