Exploring New York With Kids for the First Time
New York City has held a prominent spot on our family travel bucket list; however, we held back on our visit until we felt our children were old enough to understand and appreciate what makes it a city like no other. When we recently decided we were ready to visit the Big Apple as a family, we carefully planned our itinerary. Even though our trip was five days long, New York offers so much to see and do, it was clear we would have to focus and prioritize.
For our first visit we concentrated solely on Manhattan and chose sights and activities that would paint a good picture of NYC for our children…its sheer size, endless energy, rich diversity and cultural offerings, as well as some of its colorful history. We also made sure our itinerary had activities that would be fun and memorable for both children and adults alike.
If you are planning a visit to New York with your own family, here are some suggestions to consider. These destinations and activities made for a great first visit to New York with kids:
Give them a sense of New York’s vast size
We started our trip by visiting the Empire State Building to give our kids a bird’s eye perspective of Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs. It was great to be able to point out the sights that they were most familiar with prior to our visit, such as the Statue of Liberty (which was unfortunately closed during our visit due to last year’s hurricane damage) or Central Park.
On the second day, we took a three-hour boat cruise around the island of Manhattan with Circle Line Sightseeing, which I highly recommend. The “Full Island Cruise” gave us another perspective of the size of the island of Manhattan and a closer view of some of its neighborhoods. We learned numerous interesting facts about NYC, its history, famous buildings and citizens from our highly knowledgeable and entertaining guide.
Introduce them to its varied and colorful neighborhoods
A big part of what makes New York City so special is its many diverse neighborhoods. We ventured to Chinatown for an authentic dim sum lunch and enjoyed an impromptu stop at Columbus Park where we observed players of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) and listened to performers of Chinese Opera and erhu (Chinese string instrument).
In Little Italy we savored New York style pizza, followed by gelato and cannolis at one of its many bakeries and cafes. We visited SoHo and the Lower East Side for great restaurants and shopping (if you are lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two).
Take the subway!
Not only is it usually the fastest and the most economical form of transportation in NYC, but it also represents another authentic NYC experience. During our visit, we took the subway practically everywhere we went and our kids loved it. (Here is the handy app we used.) We took the wrong train once, debated the best route(s) and fought ruthless rush hours crowds on more than one occasion, but this only gave us another great way to experience the pulse of the city. If you ask our kids, the best part of taking the NYC subway was seeing the talented street performers that we encountered each day.
Visit Central Park
No matter what time of the year you are visiting New York City, you must plan a visit to Central Park, a remarkable giant green oasis in the middle of the crowded and noisy Manhattan concrete jungle. Many tourists hire a horse-drawn carriage or bike taxi to take them around the vast park area. (Be prepared to pay a hefty price!) Our family preferred walking and taking in things at our own pace.
The two activities we enjoyed the most were rowing a boat on the Central Park Lake and sailing model boats at the near-by Conservatory Water. Central Park offers many other fun family activities such as catch and release fishing, bird watching, a visit to the Central Park Zoo or perhaps ice-skating in the winter. Or, you can do what many locals do — pack a picnic lunch and a blanket and spend an afternoon relaxing and people watching.
Make time for Show Time and visit Times Square
You can’t visit New York with kids without visiting Broadway! There are so many different options to choose from, every family should be able to find something that will be a hit (in our case, Annie). In addition to seeing a show, you should definitely tour Times Square, the crazy, crowded, glitzy and “one-of-a-kind” piece of Manhattan.
Show your kids the famous Times Square Ball, which they have probably seen on TV, and then enjoy a treat from either Hershey’s Chocolate World or M&Ms World (or both!). Our family stayed at Hilton Times Square, a great family friendly hotel, which put us in the heart of all the action.
The Memorial is an important part of our recent history that one cannot overlook when visiting Manhattan. While the National September 11 Memorial Museum was not yet open during our visit, visiting the Memorial offered us a great opportunity to have a conversation about this terrible tragedy with our children.
In addition to paying our respects to the victims of the attack, we were moved by seeing the only surviving tree, which, although close to death after the attack was nursed back to health in a tree nursery, symbolizing the resilience and unwavering spirit of New Yorkers and the American people.
With only a few days and so many things we wanted to experience, our first family visit to the Big Apple was intense, but thoroughly enjoyable for all of us. We are already looking forward to our next visit and experiencing some of the sights we did not get to see this time around: New York’s excellent museums, the Statue of Liberty and near-by Ellis Island, as well as Coney Island and Yankee Stadium.
You may also enjoy:
- Kid’s Favorite Shopping Spots in New York City
- Biking in Central Park With Kids
- Best New York Restaurants for Kids
- A Day Visiting New York City Attractions on a Budget
- Read more articles on our family vacations to New York City.
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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…