New York is one of my favourite cities to visit and one I don’t think will ever get old for me. I’ve been five times now (three times with kids) and I still get the same giddy feeling when I step foot in the city today as I did the first time more than 11 years ago. I know there are a lot of mixed reviews out there about whether New York City is truly baby and toddler friendly for visitors but, I’ve got to say, I’ve loved taking my kids every time and we always find plenty enough to keep them happy and entertained (and fed). For anyone heading to NYC for the first time with a baby or toddler (or both), here are my top 20 things to do in the city with young kids in tow.
[ 1 ] Brooklyn Bridge Park
One of my all-time favourite places to take kids is Brooklyn Bridge Park. If the weather is nice and you’ve got a stroller or carrier with you, walking across the bridge from Manhattan over to Brooklyn is spectacular. And when you get there you can take the kids down to the park, where there’s a fantastic enclosed playground (made specifically with toddlers and preschoolers in mind), as well as a carousel, and of course lots of open space for running around and watching boats and ferries go by.
[ 2 ] Central Park Zoo
We never go to New York City without at least one visit to the Central Park Zoo. It’s a small enough zoo for little legs but still with plenty of animals to look at. The sea lion show (where the animals are fed and do some amazing tricks with their trainers) is especially fun and happens every day at 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. There’s also a small children’s zoo across from the main zoo with farm animals and plenty of opportunities for kids to crawl, jump and climb around, as well as feed the animals between 12 and 2pm. The tickets are pricey but we usually go twice in one day to get more out of our visit – once to the main zoo and once to the children’s zoo (with food / nap in between) – since toddlers usually don’t want to stay for hours on end. You can’t re-enter but since the children’s zoo is across the path from the main entrance, you need to exit one to get to the other, so there’s no need to do them both in one go.
[ 3 ] Walk the High Line
The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) park built on top of an elevated section of old railroad. It features wildflowers, greenery, artwork, and plenty of opportunities to sit and relax while toddlers run around and amuse themselves. Walk the High Line all the way to the end and grab a bite at Gansevoort Market. They have some great food vendors (I love the pulled pork and smoked brisket at The Pig Guy NYC) and, to finish off your meal, you can grab an über-delicious frozen cheesecake cone at Aunt Butchies.
[ 4 ] Pier 25 Playground
When travelling with young kids, it’s inevitable that you’re going to end up at a playground. I find travelling with toddlers goes so much more smoothly when we spend half our time sightseeing where kids can hang out in their stroller / carrier and take in the sites balanced with the other half at a playground or somewhere else they can run around and burn off some energy. And it doesn’t get much better than the playground at Pier 25 in Tribeca. There’s a slide, climbing structure, swings, a giant sandbox (with toys), and of course the holy grail of toddler playground heaven – an amazing splash pad.
[ 5 ] Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is one of those attractions that young kids will love as much as adults. My kids are always in awe of the expansive main concourse and the rush of people commuting around the city.
[ 6 ] Top of the Rock
Another fantastic must-see tourist attraction that your toddler or preschooler will love as much as you. Lots of windows to observe life below, vintage binoculars to climb on and look through, and lots of room to run around and have fun (in a contained space) while the grownups are busy photographing the beautiful skyline. When your kids get bored, head to the Breezeway, which is especially fun for young visitors. It’s a room made up of lights and, as you walk into the room, a colour gets assigned to you and that light then follows you wherever you go.
[ 7 ] Ride the subway
It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll be using the New York subway at some point or another during the trip. Which is great for your kiddos because, really, what toddler isn’t obsessed with trains? In terms of logistics, if you’ve got a stroller with you, make sure to check beforehand which stations are wheelchair accessible (not a lot are) or be prepared to carry a stroller up and down a ton of stairs.
[ 8 ] American Natural History Museum
Another firm favourite with young kids is the Natural History Museum. So many amazing exhibits, from dinosaurs to African mammals to butterflies. My kids especially love the ocean room for the giant 94-foot blue whale suspended from the ceiling and the tall staircases on either side to endlessly climb up and down.
[ 9 ] Bryant Park
Bryant Park, the green space behind the New York Public Library’s main branch, is one of the cities prettiest parks. Grab yourself a coffee and snack at one of the vendors, sit at one of the many little round tables abutting the lawn, and let your toddler run wild while you enjoy a moment of calm. Once you’ve recharged, take them on a ride or two on the cute carousel ($3 / ride).
[ 10 ] IKEA Ferry
Did you know that Manhattan has a ferry to IKEA? And that it’s completely free on weekends? I’m not actually suggesting you go shop at IKEA, but I love a good free attraction and what toddler doesn’t love boats? Hop on the ferry, grab a $0.50 hot dog for lunch, then hop on the ferry ride back and you’ve got yourself lunch plus some prime Manhattan skyline photo ops all for the price of $2 for a family of four. Compare that with the Statue of Liberty ferry and buying yourself a hot dog lunch at their cafeteria, and you’re looking at $67 for a family of four (assuming kids are young enough to be free, otherwise that’d be another $18 for two kids aged 4-12). Yes, you don’t get your Statue of Liberty photo op, but in the eyes of your child, the two experiences are pretty much the same.
[ 11 ] Belvedere Castle
Several of Central Park’s attractions are on my list and for good reason. The whole park is a toddler’s dream come true – wide open spaces for running around in, ponds, horses, playgrounds, and a cute little castle. Climb to the top of Belvedere Castle for great views of the park and New York City. Head down to Turtle Pond in search of turtles that live there year-round. You can also borrow a free discovery kit from inside the castle, which includes a map, binoculars, notebook and field guide for exploring Ramble’s Woods.
[ 12 ] Gantry Plaza State Park
The last two times we were in New York we stayed at a friend’s place in Long Island City, which was actually really great for us as we had access to four different subway lines within a five minute walk and were only a short walk away from the beautiful Gantry Plaza State Park, which is a 12-acre riverside oasis with stunning Manhattan views for the adults and plenty of piers to run up and down as well as a fantastic enclosed playground perfect for toddler-aged kids. So many of New York’s playgrounds are built on this springy rubber turf which I absolutely love for young kids. Wish we had that more in Toronto!
[ 13 ] Shake Shack
If you (and your kids) are obsessed with In-N-Out burger in California, Shake Shack is the east-coast equivalent (although they have a couple in California now as well). Delicious burgers, friends, and of course milk shakes.
[ 14 ] Roosevelt Island
The cable car ride alone is enough to keep toddlers happy. Add to that a long riverfront promenade without cars to worry about (and a beautiful view of Manhattan to boot) and it’s the perfect spot to spend half a day.
[ 15 ] Tea party at Alice’s Tea Cup
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience that is not just child friendly, but truly caters to their younger guests, look no further than Alice’s Tea Cup. The perfect place for an afternoon cup of tea along with the best homemade scones with clotted cream I’ve ever had. And young guests are given fairy wings and sprinkled with fairy dust (glitter) on arrival. Isabelle was completely enchanted when we went!
[ 16 ] Children’s Museum of Manhattan
The perfect indoor space (five floors!) for kids aged 6 and under to learn about culture, history, and science. There are plenty of interactive exhibits (e.g. a fire truck you can pretend to drive), a 16-foot-long water table, and plenty of classes and workshops.
[ 17 ] Washington Square Park
What’s unique about this green space is the huge water fountain in the middle that you can actually climb into. I mean, seriously, where else is that even possible?
[ 18 ] Rent a bike (with a child’s seat) and bike through Central Park
Central Park is huge and there’s no better way to explore than on a bike. Several bike rental shops around the park have baby seats available.
[ 19 ] Transit Museum
If you’ve got a train and bus-obsessed toddler, the New York Transit Museum (in Brooklyn Heights) is a perfect rainy-day activity. There are several hands-on exhibits where visitors can climb into and pretend to drive various vehicles as well as learn about different fuel technologies and their environmental impact.
[ 20 ] Model Sailboats in Central Park
Another one of my favourite spots in Central Park is Conservatory Water, also known as sail boat pond, where people come to sail their model boats. It’s a great place to give tired legs a chance to rest and watch the toy boats (you can rent one if you like). There’s also a great little sandbox next to the boat house.
In case you missed it, I did a post last month about my favourite travel gear, all of which we used during our recent NYC trip. The stroller we brought with us was the Uppababy G-Luxe which was fantastic for our adventures – small enough to weave in and out of pedestrian traffic, light enough to carry up and down subway stairs, with a surprisingly roomy storage basket for everything we needed throughout our day. To read more about this amazing little stroller as well as my other travel gear essentials, check out my post here.