Every year, millions of travelers from all over the world come to this city to experience what, for New Yorkers, are simply parts of the landscape of everyday life: the Empire State Building your kids see on their way to school, Grand Central Terminal’s awe-inspiring ceiling you fail to notice while fighting the evening’s rush-hour crowds, the hand-rolled bagels your family enjoys on any given weekend. But, year after year, many of the city’s best-known treasures go untouched by local families—perhaps because we’re too busy to pay them a visit, or we consider them too “touristy” or simply take them for granted. Whatever the reason, there’s never been a better time for families to rediscover the iconic sights, sounds and tastes that help make our hometown one of the greatest cities in the world. We’ve put together a guide to “must-do” activities for families (plus some “keep it a secret” places that we’re not quite ready to share with visitors). Consider it an essential checklist for every city kid.
The city’s largest playground is a haven for families, featuring such popular sites as the Central Park Zoo, Wollman Rink and Belvedere Castle. Once you’ve visited these kid-pleasing staples, follow up by exploring some of the park’s hidden gems. After checking out the polar bears and penguins at the zoo, head over to the Chess & Checkers House, which offers free arts and crafts activities, or stop by the Harlem Meer, which features catch-and-release fishing through mid-October. For some indoor fun, roam the halls of Belvedere Castle and then hop over to the Swedish Cottage for a marionette show. Between 5th and 8th avenues and 59th and 110th streets, centralparknyc.org.
Boating Around the City
Enjoy the city from a different vantage point—the water! There are lots of fun opportunities for boating around the city. Find your sea legs on a three-hour tour with Circle Line (circleline42.com), visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on a Statue Cruise (statuecruises.com), tour the city by land and sea on an amphibious DUCKtour (coachusa.com), or enjoy a themed Kiddie Cruise complete with face painting, crafts and entertainment (kiddiecruise.moonfruit.com).
Home to thousands of animals representing hundreds of species, the 265-acre Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. Visit the African Plains to see lions, zebras and gazelles; go to Madagascar to meet lemurs and crocodiles; and see a Siberian tiger in mountainous Eastern Russia. There’s plenty to see inside, too—take a spin on the Bug Carousel, visit the Monkey House, and don’t miss the World of Reptiles and the World of Birds. Check the website for daily shows and programs. 2300 Southern Boulevard, bronxzoo.com.
Empire State Building
The city’s most famous skyscraper offers stunning views and year-round fun. After a high-speed elevator ride to the building’s 86th floor Observatory, witness the wonder in your child’s eyes as they gaze across the landscapes of five states! Follow up with an exciting trip on the NYSKYRIDE, a simulated helicopter ride that “flies” guests over 30 of New York’s most popular sites without ever leaving the second floor of the building. 350 Fifth Avenue, esbnyc.com.
Grand Central Terminal
Gawk at the constellation-ed ceiling, admire the Central Clock and catch a kid-pleasing light show at the exquisitely-designed, beau-arts style transportation hub. Afterward, browse the terminal’s many shops, pick up some fresh produce at the Grand Central Market or stop in for a meal at one of the terminal’s many restaurants. (For an action-packed adventure, check out the Grand Central Scavenger Hunt run by Watson Adventures: watsonadventures.com! 87 East 42nd Street, grandcentralterminal.com.
Those looking to hit the ice have plenty of iconic outdoor locations to choose from: Wollman Rink in Central Park affords one of the most picturesque settings in the city. It’s twin, Lasker Rink, is tucked away in the north end of the park. (wollmanskatingrink.com; laskerskatingrink.com); skating is free at The Pond at Bryant Park (thepondatbryantpark.com); Polar Rink at the American Museum of Natural History features a 17-foot-tall polar bear (amnh.org); Seaport Ice at The South Street Seaport offers a visually stunning backdrop of tall ships and even taller skyscrapers (thenewseaport.com); and everyone should hit The Rink at Rockefeller Center at least once (rockefellercenter.com)!
New York Aquarium
The Coney Island Institution is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the country, and is home to more than 10,000 marine creatures, including penguins, sea lions, walruses, sharks and more. After your visit, stroll the boardwalk, munch on a Nathan’s hot dog, and catch a ride on the Wonder Wheel or the Cyclone! Surf Avenue and West 8th Street, Brooklyn, 718-265-FISH, nyaquarium.com.
This complex is teeming with sights and activities to suit the whole family. The Top of the Rock offers unobstructed, 360-degree views and will host a concert series come fall. Have stars in your eyes? Head over to NBC Studios for a behind-the-scenes tour where kids can have their photo taken at the news desk. As the weather gets colder, lace up your skates and hit the rink, all while taking in the beautiful lights of the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree. West 49th Street and 5th Avenue, rockefellercenter.com.
Statue of Liberty
With the recent reopening of Lady Liberty’s crown, children have the opportunity to see their city skyline from a most unique vantage point. (Reservations are required.) Ferries leave from Battery Park and a round-trip ticket includes stops at both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, so be sure to explore the historic immigration museum as well. nps.gov.
The crossroads of the world has lots of options for families. Kids will be amazed by the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which holds 25 themed galleries displaying everything from a six-legged cow to books made from spider webs. Madame Tussauds offers more than just lifelike wax creations of celebrities, sports icons and historical figures—it also has a Cinema 4D theater and “American Idol” stage, where kids can sing and record their very own performances. After working up an appetite, head over to Dave & Buster’s for a kid-friendly meal and a wide selection of games. Finish up the day at the Discovery Times Square Exposition, which hosts fascinating world-traveling exhibitions like “Titanic.” timessquarenyc.org.
South Street Seaport
Tall ships and a fabulous view aren’t all this historic seaport has to offer. The South Street Seaport Museum traces the history of New York through this port, and is full of paintings, drawings, models and other sailing-related paraphernalia. Grab a bite to eat and enjoy shopping and strolling the cobblestone streets. Plus, don’t miss the world-renowned “Bodies” exhibit! Fulton and South Streets, Pier 17, southstreetseaport.com.
Shh! Keep This Attraction A Secret!
For the price of a subway ride, families can enjoy spectacular views of
from the Roosevelt Island Tram. Once on land, families can ride bikes on the
promenade and explore the historical lighthouse. For some culture, hit up the
American Girl Place
A grand emporium of all things “American Girl,” the store includes a café where guests can dine with their dolls, a hair salon for dolls, and a photo studio where visitors can purchase a souvenir issue of American Girl magazine with their face on the cover. 609 Fifth Avenue, 212-644-1145, americangirlplace.com.
At the largest Build-A-Bear Workshop in the world, pick out a fuzzy friend, fill him with stuffing, and dress him up. There are tons of outfits and accessories to choose from, including major league sports gear. 565 Fifth Avenue, 212-871-7080, buildabear.com/nyc.
Nothing says “You’re in New York” like a trip to this iconic toy store. The museum-like toy emporium has something for every child, from stuffed animals to wooden toys to The Muppet Whatnot Workshop and the Madame Alexander Doll Factory. 676 Fifth Avenue, 212-644-9400, fao.com.
This store features the most comprehensive collection of NBA and WNBA merchandise and hosts free events, including player appearances and musical performances. The space is designed to look and feel like a basketball court. 666 Fifth Avenue, 212-515-NBA1, nba.com/nycstore.
Nintendo World Store
With more than 10,000 square feet of hands-on entertainment, kids won’t lack for things to do! Feeling clueless about the Wii phenomenon? Learn the basics with a virtual tour, and then test your new skills on the game stations. And be sure to check out the collection of Nintendo artifacts. 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 646-459-0800, nintendoworldstore.com.
This Store A Secret!
Located in the Flatiron District, this
trendy store is chock full of hip clothing and accessories (think Paul Frank,
Juicy, and Tiki); quirky, kitschy toys and action figures; funky furniture and
more. The staff is attentive and helpful, making this a great place to find the
perfect off-the-beaten path gift.
East 22nd Street
Toys “R” Us in Times Square
The massive flagship store houses its own 60-foot ferris wheel, not to mention the animatronic T-Rex from Jurassic Park, the two-story Barbie’s Dollhouse, the Filled With Love plush toy-making workshop and the “R” Zone electronic playground. 1514 Broadway, toysrustimessquare.com.
American Museum of
Dinosaurs, elephants, planets, oh my! Co-founded by Theodore Roosevelt, the museum’s collections span human culture, the natural world and the universe. Dioramas, dinosaur bones and the Hayden Planetarium are popular attractions, but families won’t want to miss the permanent exhibits exploring human origins, minerals and ocean life—or the chance to catch a film at the state-of-the-art IMAX theater. Central Park West and 79th Street, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
CMOM presents interactive, arts-based exhibits and programs. Popular exhibitions include “Playworks,” where kids can drive a fire truck, paint on a six-foot art wall and even feed letters to a talking dragon; “Adventures With Dora and Diego,” where kids can help Diego rescue animals in the rainforest; and “Little West Side,” where kids learn words and numbers by performing everyday actions like telling time and shopping for groceries. Plus, CMOM always has a calendar full of fun and educational workshops. 212 West 83rd Street, 212-721-1234, cmom.org.
As if the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed spiral building isn’t fascinating enough, the Guggenheim’s vast holdings include Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and more. Kids will love taking the elevator to the top of the building and then making their way down the spiral staircase. Drop in on Sunday for a family-oriented tour and workshop. For a fun introduction to this special museum, check out A.C. Hollingsworth’s children’s book “I’d Like the Goo-gen-heim.” 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, 212-423-3500, guggenheim.org.
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
Centered on the World War II aircraft carrier Intrepid, the museum features a range of interactive exhibits, like the A-6 Cockpit Simulator, the Virtual Flight Zone, and the world’s fastest commercial airplane, the Concorde. Pier 86, 12th Avenue and 46th Street, 877-957-SHIP, intrepidmuseum.org.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met’s expansive collections draw people from all over the world. Perennial favorites include the Egyptian section—home to scads of mummies and the Temple of Dendur—and the weapons section, not to mention the American Wing, The Costume Institute, the Ancient Near Eastern art, the Greek and Roman art, the Asian and African art, the Medieval art…. 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.
Museum of Modern Art
The world’s foremost modern art museum is for kids, too! Introduce your children to Twomblys, Picassos and Warhols, and participate in a family tour, workshop, artist talk or film screening. Take a stroll through the Sculpture Garden, and browse through unique jewelry, furniture, books and more at the adjacent Design Store. 11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400, moma.org.
Morgan Library and Museum
The former private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, this museum’s vast holdings include rare books, manuscripts, drawings and other artifacts. Kids will love peeking into Mr. Morgan’s study, and the museum presents monthly family programs with gallery activities and hands-on workshops. Afterward, stop in at the museum store to browse books, artwork, jewelry and more. 225 Madison Avenue, 212-685-0008, themorgan.org.
This Museum A Secret!
Rubin Museum of Art
Boasting an extensive collection of
art from the
regions, the Rubin is one of the city’s most fascinating under-the-radar
museums—highlights include such exquisite exhibitions as “Mandala” and “From
the Land of the Gods.” Kids ages 5 and up and their families are invited to
Family Workshops every Saturday; during the week, the museum offers
storytelling, art-making and movement programs for children under 5.
Today’s Broadway hits make fun outings for the whole family, with classic shows like “Phantom of the Opera,” Disney’s ever-popular productions “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins,” and uproariously funny shows like “Shrek The Musical.” Through the Kids Night on Broadway program (kidsnightonbroadway.com), kids ages 6-18 attend shows free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Theater District, 1-800-BROADWAY, broadway.com.
The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall has a wide variety of children’s programming, including interactive family concerts recommended for kids ages 5 to 12. This season’s highlights include the rock/pop/Indian fusion stylings of Falu and the classic New York Pops’ production of “The Polar Express.” CarnegieKids also presents interactive music shows for pre-schoolers. 154 West 57th Street at 7th Avenue, 212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org.
The New Victory Theater
Located in the heart of the theater district, the city’s blockbuster theater for children and families showcases a variety of kid-centric programming, including dance, circus, vaudeville and puppetry. Each production is accompanied by a fun, interactive workshop. 209 West 42nd Street, 646-223-3020, newvictory.org.
The cultural mecca offers a multitude of programs for children and families through its 12 constituents, which include Jazz at Lincoln Center (offering the concert series “Jazz For Young People”), New York City Opera (offering the “Looking Forward” and “Opera Matters” family series), New York City Philharmonic, New York City Ballet and more. This winter, celebrate Lincoln Center’s 50th birthday at the “Family Festival” on December 12. 65th Street and Broadway, 212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org
Madison Square Garden
The site of great moments in music, sports and history should always be on your radar for events that everyone in the family can enjoy. This fall, visit the Beacon Theater for “Video Games Live,” in which symphonic orchestras interact with video games, and for Cirque du Soleil’s magical winter adventure, “Wintuk.” 4 Penn Plaza, 212-307-7171, thegarden.com.
Radio City Music Hall
The New York stalwart features shows suitable for kids and families throughout the year, but the most magical time of year to visit Radio City is for the annual “Christmas Spectacular,” featuring the famous high-kicking Rockettes, Santa’s journey to the city and the Living Nativity. 1260 Avenue of the Americas, 212-247-4777, radiocity.com.
Shh! Keep This Theater A Secret!
This ballet company offers the “Once Upon A Ballet” series of
one-hour ballet performances for kids, starting with “The Nutcracker” in
December and continuing with “Cinderella,” “Carnival of the Animals,” “The
Firebird” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Florence Gould Hall,
This action-packed Japanese dining experience includes a children’s menu to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters—with some knife juggling and balls of fire on the side! Hibachi grillers entertain kids with ninja-like reflexes while you watch in wonder as they eat their vegetables, for once, without protest. Truly a meal to make everyone in the family smile! 47 West 56th Street, 212-581-0930, benihana.com.
Tavern on the Green
Kids will feel like princes and princesses at Tavern on the Green, where New York sophistication is combined with a kid-friendly menu and an ambiance as inviting as Central Park itself. Tavern on the Green is great for making special occasions more memorable, or for adding a touch of magic to Sunday brunch. Reservations required. Central Park at West 67th Street, 212-873-3200, tavernonthegreen.com.
Give your children a taste of literal serendipity with the delectable treats that have made Serendipity 3 an Upper East Side institution. From their famous frozen hot chocolate to an array of mouth-watering cakes and sundaes, this iconic restaurant ensures that even the sweetest tooth leaves satisfied. 225 East 60th Street, 212-838-3531, serendipity3.com.
Peanut Butter & Co.
Peanut butter sandwiches have gone gourmet! Children and adults alike can savor classics like PB&J, Fluffernutters, and Ants on a Log, or try creative concoctions like The Elvis—a peanut butter, banana, honey, and bacon sandwich! 240 Sullivan Street, 212-777-3530, ilovepeanutbutter.com.
Blast off to the red planet for a unique dining adventure! Perfect for a space-themed birthday party or a family night out on the town, Mars 2112 is an interactive restaurant complete with a Martian landscape, Crystal Crater, and alien friends. 1633 Broadway, 212-489-2112, mars2112.com.
Few kids ever say “no” to pizza—why not introduce them to America’s first pizzeria? Still slinging some of the best pies in the city, Lombardi’s in SoHo offers a wide array of toppings from mozzarella and basil to clams, all atop the pizzeria’s exceptional crust. Cash only. 32 Spring Street, 212-941-7994, firstpizza.com.
Russian Tea Room
The legendary Russian Tea Room boasts a children’s menu worthy of a king or queen. Kids can snack on PB&J on Blini, Grilled Trio of Cheeses and Little Pigs-in-a-Blanket, followed by delectable sweets like red velvet cupcakes and chocolate mousse—all served on a three-tiered carousel. The kid-friendly cuisine is accompanied by a choice of decaffeinated tea or the restaurant’s signature hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. 150 West 57th Street, 212-581-7100, russiantearoomnyc.com
Shh! Keep This Restaurant A Secret!%uFFFD
This whimsically decorated Greenwich Village sweet spot serves up
ice cream, cookies, cake and more—along with an array of lunch and dinner fare
ranging from schnitzel to fried chicken—in a cozy space outfitted with hot pink
furniture and mirrored walls.
Contributors: Katie Main, Amanda Orenstein, Kate Willard
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