NYC Travel Guide for Kids

You’ve arrived in NYC and you’re hoping for a grand experience, but you realize you have kids in tow. You can well imagine that in a city the size of New York there must be lots of children’s activities, but where are they? How do you know whether an expedition will bore or entertain your kids? Thankfully you don’t have to figure it all out on your own…we’re here to introduce you to some of the most epic child-friendly places to go and things to do while still having a great time yourself.

Since kids come in all ages with different attention spans, we’ve included enough to cover all the bases. Categories of activities cover INDOOR, OUTDOOR, TOURS, EATING, and MUSEUMS. Yes, museums are indoors but they get their own category here to make it easy to find the most appropriate activities for your family or group. Whoever you are, whatever your ages, you’re sure to have an awesome time in NYC when you go armed with advice about keeping the kids happy.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not – This ever-popular house of oddities is sure to interest all ages. Mysterious and strange things fill the largest Ripley’s in North America. Mind-bending displays will capture the imaginations of kids and you can add to the fun by playing Smash Dash or the new Ripley’s Relic escape adventure. Located in Times Square.

Madame Tussaud’s – Not only can you rub shoulders with your favorite celebrities and artists, but Madame Tussaud’s also offers “experiences.” Immerse yourself in a Zombie Adventure, call on the Ghostbusters, or become a superhero in a 4D adventure complete with thrilling special effects. Located in Times Square.

Chelsea Piers Field House – Located on the Hudson River, Chelsea Piers Field House is a very popular sports complex with locals, but what many out-of-towners wouldn’t know is that they also offer drop in activities that include rock climbing, batting cages, teen and adult Parkour, and a fantastic toddler gym. Call 212-336-6500 to get up-to-the-minute schedules of events and availability.

New Victory Theater – New York’s first and only nonprofit performing arts venue for kids and families offers both shows and workshops that are sure to entertain and engage. The theater even provides booster seats and stroller parking for no charge and healthy snacks are available at the concession. See a show such as The Riddle of the Trilobites, Drumfolk, or Treasure Island, take a prehistoric puppet workshop with the family, create your own fairytale, or get up and dance. Check their website for the current shows and workshops and bring everyone from babies to grandparents!

Spyscape – This is the place where Mission Impossible fantasies can be lived. Enter the world of spies, secret intelligence and hackers, test your own code making and breaking skills, test your lying and lie-detection skills! Your observational talents are tested in a 360-degree surveillance challenge, and there are even challenges to test your agility and strategy. This truly immersive experience concludes with a debriefing where you’ll be classified according to your skills in a spy role such as Agent Handler, Special Ops, Hacker, or Spy Catcher. Kids age 7 or 8 on through adulthood will love Spyscape.

M&M World – If your kids love M&Ms the M&M store in Times Square is candy heaven with three floors of wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling colorful M&Ms of all kinds and colors. Do you even know how many colors there are? Have you met the M&M characters? Yes, each color M&M has a distinct personality

Lego Store – Kids and adults alike will be quickly drawn into the Lego store to see the awe-inspiring exhibits of castles, cars, and animals built from Legos. The store carries a great selection of rare sets as well as many large sets that you wouldn’t find in mainstream stores. Lego maniacs will consider this a must-do in NYC.

Rock and Roll Playhouse – If you’re in NYC on the weekend with kids, the Rock and Roll Playhouse is a perfect place to take everyone in the family. It’s a rock and roll concert and a place to play all rolled into one. Performances feature the most iconic rock music in history and children aged ten and under are engaged through games, movement, stories and generally rocking out with their parents. Shows are held in two places in NYC; the Brooklyn Bowl and Industry City. Expect to hear music such as the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews, or Bob Marley. What a great way to introduce kids to the best music ever made!

Central Park – Parks and kids go together and Central Park is no exception. But this is a very large park covering more than 800 acres so you would do best to first get yourself a map of the park, available at the Central Park website. Since the list of things to do in Central Park is so long, we’ve chosen our top 10 that includes activities for all ages.

  • The Carousel, with more than 50 colorful horses and calliope music
  • Central Park Zoo – small enough to be manageable with young ones, big enough for all
  • Loeb’s Boathouse – choose a gondola ride for young ones and let the older kids go rowboating
  • Sail Model Boats on the Conservatory Water, just east of Loeb’s
  • Victorian Gardens Amusement Park – for very young ones
  • Any of the park’s 21 playgrounds – the Billy Johnson one has sprinklers
  • Central Park Conservancy Film Festival
  • Discovery Journals – pick one up at any Visitor Center – best for ages 6-10
  • Discovery Walks for Families – These take place on weekends.
  • Finally, my personal favorite is Bike Riding! Rent a bike; baby seats, trailers and tagalongs are available too!

Staten Island Ferry – It’s FREE! But avoid commuter rush hour with children. The ride takes 20-30 minutes and is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. It travels between Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island. You can hop off and turn right around and take the next ferry back to Manhattan, or visit the Children’s Museum, Fort Wadsworth, or Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve to burn up some energy on a great hike.

New York Botanical Garden/Everett Children’s Adventure Garden – Colored streamers welcome children to their very own playful garden space to explore the wonders of nature. Let the kids climb boulders overlooking their domain, dash through Beth’s Maze, and invent their own plant. Hands-on science activities and experiments as well as an indoor Discovery Center filled with plants, books and toys ramp up the fun. Take public transportation to 2900 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx neighborhood.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – Many people consider this outing a must-do for their children at some point in their lives. There is one way to get to these islands and that is via ferry boat operated by Island Cruises. Go first to Liberty Island Museum located in the lobby that is in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Free self-guided audio tours are available, including one for children ages 6-10 narrated by the friendly voice of Marty the Muskrat. Kids ages 4 and older and at least 4 feet tall can climb the 146 steps up a spiral staircase to the crown. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time to climb, and during peak season they should be purchased months ahead of time.

On Ellis Island, there is a special interactive exhibit called Ellis Kids which helps young ones imagine what it would be like to come to a new country. A children’s audio tour narrated by none other than Molly the Falcon is offered free of charge. During the summer there are two programs for young visitors: a puzzle station featuring a mental exam that some immigrants had to take before entering the U.S., and a game similar to charades called At The Marketplace, where kids try to shop and order food without knowing the language.

Roosevelt Island and Tram – Spend less than $6 for a roundtrip ticket on the Roosevelt Island Tram that spans the East River. It’s primarily just a mode of transportation that’s connected to the NYC transit system, but kids will love the short trip suspended 250 feet above the river and parents will enjoy the views and convenient travel. Once on Roosevelt, take the kids to two adjacent parks, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park (to see the statue and get a sense of history) and to Southpoint Park to enjoy expansive lawns, twisting paths, and great views.

Brooklyn Bridge Park – This 85-acre park on the Brooklyn side of the East River has six piers and includes the historic Fulton Ferry Landing. There is no shortage of space here for your kids to run around and the views for you are fantastic. The playgrounds here are not your ordinary hometown swings and slides. Expect to find Tarzan swings, ropes, water channels, sandboxes, a two-story water slide, a water jet field, a marsh garden, and much more at Pier 6.

Pier 1 has a playground geared toward the younger children with toddler swings, ceramic animals to climb on, walking paths, and great views. Pier 3 has the Exploratory Labyrinth that really draws families to a walk-in kaleidoscope, mirrored games, dance chimes, structures to climb, excavated railroad tracks and a big lawn for a picnic. At Pier 2 you’ll find swings on a multi-colored surface as well as basketball, handball, and bocce courts. Pier 5 has two playgrounds, one for younger kids, one for older kids, plus it is where you’ll find Apple Hills Creamery for yummy ice cream.

You may not have thought your kids would enjoy touring, but here are a few kid-friendly ones designed to please families.

Free Tours By Foot is my favorite option for young families because at the end of the tour, you pay what you think it was worth. If you’re with children, you never know when one thing or another will interrupt your best laid plans, or whether you’ll have to cut short a tour. Kids will especially enjoy food tours since they can be eating as they walk along listening to the guides. You choose and pay for your own food as you go along.

Options include:

  • Greenwich Village
  • Chelsea Market
  • Harlem Soul Food
  • Chinatown
  • Best Bagels
  • Arthur Avenue in the Bronx
  • Lower East Side Food
  • Cupcake Tour of Greenwich Village – If you already know that you only want to eat cupcakes, take this tour instead. Over the course of two hours you’ll visit five or six shops and taste test your way through the Village. You’ll build your own cupcake along the way and sample gelato as well.

NYC Kids Tours - Learning and Fun Tour – This is a private family tour for ages 6-11 accompanied by parents or other adult. Children younger than 6 can be accommodated. You’ll visit popular sites like Bryant Park, Dylan’s Candy Store, and Grand Army Plaza and the kids will have workbooks to go through with the “teacher.” Kids will be given a camera for photo assignments and play games that touch on subjects ranging from foreign languages to math and science. A scavenger hunt in Central Park is part of the fun and the workbook and camera go home with you.

NYC Kids Tours - Explore Greenwich Village for Kids – This one is for small groups for about a dozen kids, all accompanied by an adult. You’ll visit Bleeker Street playground, Magnolia Bakery, and Washington Square Park. Fun learning experiences include a scavenger hunt, an outdoor drama, and other games that include foreign languages, math or science. This 1.5 hour tour includes an activity sheet and your child goes home with a cupcake.

Edgar Allan Spook Tour – This 1.5 hour, 8PM tour is for your older kids. You’ll walk through the haunted Washington Square Park in search of the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, Aaron Burr, Washington Irving, and many others. You’ll walk past the home of Poe and find the location where Irving wrote the Headless Horseman. The park itself sits atop a cemetery, making it the perfect backdrop for a hauntingly good time.

Children’s Museum of the Arts – This nonprofit art museum introduces children to contemporary art and hands-on art making workshops. Children as young as 10 months and on through 15 years can stop by during general admission hours and participate. Exhibitions have included such titles as Home Sweet Home, Bridge Projects, Breaking the Glass Ceiling, and many more.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan – This museum even has a section catering to babies from birth through 2 years old. Children of all ages can climb, crawl, make art, go on animal rescue missions, and learn to eat their fruits and vegetables. Children up to about age 10 will find plenty to do here.

National Museum of Mathematics – Surprise your kids who don’t think they like math and thrill the ones who do when you enter this fabulous museum that appeals to parents too. Turn shapes into 3-dimensional sculptures, create a logo, take a smooth ride on square wheels, dress yourself in a symmetrical pattern, and generally have a great time introducing kids to the joy of math.

New York Historical Society’s DiMenna Museum for Children 8-13 – Separate pavilions focus on the life stories of a diverse selection of youngsters who lived in New York City. Get to know them through objects, games and stories. Some of the featured people are Alexander Hamilton, Cornelia van Varick, James McCune Smith, and the children who rode the Orphan Trains.

Museum of the Moving Image – This is the country’s only museum dedicated to the art, history, technique and technology of the moving image in all its forms. Check out 19th century optical toys and the latest in digital art. Families are encouraged to come and explore the hands-on Exhibition Behind The Screen with over 1400 artifacts. Make stop-motion animations and add sound effects and music to movie scenes.