New York City for Kids

Heading on a vacation with the kids in NYC? Check out our picks for best places to visit in the Big Apple.
By: Laurie Bain Wilson

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Photo by: Amy Sussman

Amy Sussman

New York City is a giant playground for kids. With world-class museums, famous zoos, a huge park, exciting theater, celebrity restaurants and iconic attractions, “Mom, I’m bored” isn’t heard very often in the city. Here, some favorite NYC spots to see with your kids (before they don’t want to be seen with you.)

If your children have enough patience for only one museum, The American Museum of Natural History is it. They’ll want to spend a week here exploring the IMAX films, Hayden Planetarium Rose Center for Earth and Space, and many permanent exhibition halls. Especially popular is Fossil Halls (think dinosaurs) and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life where a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale makes quite a splash.

Tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, located in a neighborhood that was once a “Gateway to America.” Costumed guides tell tales of how the newly-arrived immigrants endured life in their impoverished living quarters and new homeland.

Boys love the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum for the ships, jets and, soon, the space shuttle Enterprise.

Tell your tweens and teens you’re taking them to see Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and the Parent of the Year award goes to…you! The Madame Tussaud Wax Museum features more than 200 life-size wax celebrities. (Kids under 7-years-old might get spooked by the wax effigies.)

Take the littlest ones instead to the Children's Museum of Manhattan. In the summer, they’ll cool off at the City Splash outdoor exhibit. And Brooklyn is home to the country’s first and oldest children’s museum, The Brooklyn Children's Museum.

The “Panorama of the City of New York,” the world largest architectural scale model, at the Queens Museum of Art, is worth the subway ride.

Eateries and Stores
Talk about eye candy. Kids love the towering rows of colorful confections, and gooey hot fudges sundaes at Dylan's Candy Bar. The Café’s peppermint-shaped stools elicit giggles. The serendipitous Serendipity3 is where NY celebrities come to slurp a frozen hot chocolate. It’s a rite-of-passage kind of experience ( The Toys-R-Us toy store is as manic as its Times Square location. Kids go wild for the 60-foot-tall indoor Ferris Wheel.

FAO Schwarz is on most children’s top 10 list. Toys are expensive but you can play (channel Tom Hanks in Big and dance on the piano). Well, hello dolly. Your child’s favorite doll can get her ears pierced and her hair done at the American Girl Place store. Botox, too (kidding!). SoHo’s Scholastic Store stocks educational books and houses a studio where shows are held. If you build it they will come. The colorful Lego store holds frequent building events.

Kids go ape for the Central Park Wildlife Center and Children's Zoo. Plan your visit around the sea lion feedings. The Tisch Children’s Zoo is where the diaper set feeds the animals. Bonus: overnight sleepovers.

The Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Park is the country’s largest urban zoo. The Congo Gorilla Forest and Butterfly Exhibit are popular. Little kids can pet the animals at the Bronx Children’s Zoo. Bonus: Family Overnight Safari.

New York kids consider Central Park their backyard. They ride the vintage carousel with 58 hand-carved painted horses, located mid-park. They climb the Alice in Wonderland Statue. And they watch puppet shows at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater. Teens sing Beatle’s tunes at Strawberry Fields’ IMAGINE mosaic.

Bryant Park’s Le Carrousel, a French-inspired carousel that twirls to French cabaret music, is one compelling reason to visit this lovely French-inspired park.

A trip to Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty, designated National Parks of New York Harbor, is educational. Enrich the visit and sign up for the self-guided Junior Ranger program.

The New Victory Theater produces family-oriented dance, comedy, theater and puppet shows. And tickets are cheap. Young actors (8- to 18-years-old) stage 1-hour musical theater performances at Tada! Youth Theater.

The beauty of visiting New York with kids is, that while there’s so much to do, sometimes all you need is an ice cream cone, a bench and a sidewalk packed with real-life action figures for the best entertainment of all.

Laurie Bain Wilson writes often about New York City and is the author of several travel guidebooks, including New York City Made Easy and New York City with Kids.

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