Things to do in NYC with kids.

I am in love with New York City. And fortunate to live only 100 miles from it. I understand why some find it intimidating. However, turn intimidating into exciting, and make a plan to take the kids. NYC is a wonderful city with so much to do. There’s no place like it in the world.

I didn’t start taking my kids there until my youngest was 5. I think every child should get to visit NYC at least once. And, since we are now seasoned travelers in the city that never sleeps, I’m sharing my tips for going to NYC with your kids. And some extra tips for traveling when your child has disabilities.

boy standing looking at empire state building nyc

Getting there with Amtrak.

When my youngest turned 5, my mother-in-law and I took the two boys on Amtrak to New York City. It was to celebrate my Brian’s birthday. Before and after the trip, I ran into many people who were genuinely surprised that I would attempt this trip with Kevin.

Sure, it took a lot of planning and research. But New York City is surprisingly disability friendly.

More information on the Statue of Liberty Ferry further down this page.

I have taken the train many times to NYC by myself. I chose Amtrak from Wilmington to Penn Station and back. Because, in my opinion it is easy and I am familiar with that trip. A big reason for me is the big push chair that my son uses. It’s about 33″ wide (just over ADA guidelines) and it weighs 30+ pounds. But, it’s his comfort zone and he does not have the endurance to walk all day in NYC. Having his pushchair made his day more comfortable. So that meant I chose not to do some things like ride the subway. Penn Station is a very walk-able distance to Times Square and that was the main focus of our trip.

Tip: Get a red cap! Our Amtrak experience was wonderful. Ask for a red cap for help and they helped us down to the train with the big bulky stroller. Well worth the tip you give them. I also found the Amtrak phone people to be extremely helpful as I did call and ask some questions prior to booking our tickets. Join Amtrak Rewards so that you get points and so that you get emails notifying you of sales. Our tickets were half off!

My little guy-very excited for his first train ride to NYC!
My little guy-very excited for his first train ride to NYC!

Our train ride itself was very pleasant and the unreserved coach seats have plenty of room, big windows and free wi-fi. It’s almost a 2-hour trip from Wilmington to NYC, with a few short stops. But the time goes by very quickly. My guys didn’t complain at all and had a bit of fun playing with each other.

So fun to watch them interacting and enjoying the train ride.
So fun to watch them interacting and enjoying the train ride.

Driving into NYC

Since this post was first written over 5 years ago, we now drive into NYC when we go. Look online for a parking garage near your destination, and make a plan to go. With gas, tolls and parking, the cost of driving is equivalent to one train ticket. So, it can be a huge money saver if you’re brave enough to try it.

Honestly, I often refer to myself as “hopelessly suburban” and if I can do it, you can too. The mystique of driving in NYC is scarier than actually doing it. Allow time for traffic. Plus, I love having the car in case Kevin has a crisis and we need to leave.

Times Square

Mother Nature really cooperated for our trip. It was 60 and sunny and after a long winter. The streets were packed with people. I found ramps or cut-outs at every street corner. The sidewalks are plenty wide. We struggled with a few doorways. Several times we had to get the boys out of the pushchair, collapse it, then go through. Elevators were easy to find every place we went.

Where to eat with kids in Times Square

There are thousands of restaurants in NYC and you can find whatever you want in the Times Square area. I have been there before and knew that many of the chain restaurants are there. They often add a fun twist to their Times Square locations. I was pretty certain that a Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood would be too loud for Kevin. We chose the Applebee’s on 50th because it was on our walking path (towards Rockefeller Center) and that is where we were at lunch time.

Applebee’s is very predictable and that’s fine for me, with two little ones. The handicapped entrance off of 50th is very wide, with an elevator and a generous lobby area (by NYC standards) upstairs. Applebee’s had no trouble accommodating the push-chair and I knew it was food my kids would eat. The bathrooms were clean and accessible. Had this been an all-adult trip, we probably would have chosen something more unique and adventuresome, but this was fine. My only complaint is that the service was a bit slow. But our food came out very hot, so it wasn’t sitting back there, they must have been busy.

On our most recent trip in 2017, we ate at the Shake Shack on Broadway. Again, very predictable. But affordable and I know my kids will eat it. We also have eaten at the Sbarro’s in Times Square.

Rockefeller Center

I’ve been to Rockefeller Center many times during the holidays to see the tree. My son wanted to go to the Lego Store which is at Rockefeller Center and we had some extra time. From Applebee’s it was about a 10-15 minute walk to Rockefeller Center and the Lego Store. The Lego Store was fun through the eyes of a 5-year-old, but I found it surprisingly small. I was expecting more. They also had a lift thing to accommodate the stroller (much like the one at the Bellevue in Philly, which I really dislike) but I guess it passes ADA.

Looking at a LEGO replica of Rockefeller Center
Looking at a LEGO replica of Rockefeller Center

The store staff were very helpful. We went to the Nintendo Store at Rockefeller Center which my son found hugely disappointing. All they sell is shirts and plush stuff.

Top of the Rock

After that we went to “Top of the Rock” which is an attraction that you can go to the top of Rockefeller Center. As we were heading to the spot to buy tickets, we saw a restaurant that is basically eye level with the ice skating rink. There were also tables and chairs there so that you can go to the nearby food court, get something and eat while watching the ice skaters. I wish I had known about it as we probably would have eaten there.

I purchased our tickets ($70 for 3 tickets, 5 year old was free) and we headed up, up, up 70 floors to the top of Rockefeller Center. Everyone in that area was extremely helpful and our wait times were minimal. We repeated this excursion on our 2017 trip and enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

radio city music hall

Some of the corners were a bit tight, and I’d be worried if the elevator stopped. We were pretty packed in there. But everything went really well. The Rockefeller Center employees were very helpful and cordial to us.

And the view from the top is spectacular…….

One of those images I will treasure forever!
One of those images I will treasure forever!

In high school (20+ years ago) we went to the top of the World Trade Center and I haven’t done anything like this since then. Loved it, and it was fun and scary and dizzying all at the same time! Go do it! Spend the extra $3 for the map they offer you.

top of the rock NYC autism
What a difference a few years make. This time he enjoyed making me nervous!

After that we headed back towards Penn Station and we were going to stop at Macy’s on the way. We tried three separate sets of doors on 34th street and couldn’t find one that fit our stroller. A bummer, but Macy’s was more for me, not my kids. We headed across the street to Crocs and found some fun stuff.

Updated tips from 2017:

Since this post was first written, we have been back more times than we can count. I have taken Kevin with us each time, except at Christmas time.

Christmas in NYC with Kids

We saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and did a few other things in 2017. I decided to not take Kevin this time and it was a good one. I don’t know if you have ever been to NYC at Christmas time, but the streets are packed. We could barely move at some parts, like 5th Avenue.

Kevin would not have been happy. If you want to do something like the Christmas show or ice skating at Rockefeller Center, you should make reservations months in advance. We got our Radio City tickets in June and were unable to go ice skating.

Additionally, due to safety/terrorism concerns, there are now huge concrete barriers at each intersection. So the sidewalks are packed and then everyone has to funnel in between the barriers to cross streets. It created huge walking traffic jams. I also couldn’t help but notice that at some of the intersections, Kevin’s push chair definitely would not have fit through the barriers. I’m not sure what we would have done. I would research this further before going.

New York City-Sensory Friendly Travel

  • NYC can be noisy. Know your child. At times I wished I had brought our sound-canceling headphones.
  • Use a redcap at the Amtrak stations. Amtrak is a great way to travel.
  • You can probably find some quiet corners to regroup, but have other tools in your toolkit.
  • Plan a reasonable but fun day. Don’t try to overdo it.
  • Food and accessibility were not a problem for us at all. We did not try the subway.
  • Plan ahead, call ahead…and it can be done!
overlooking nyc
Kevin looking at Manhattan skyline from the Statue of Liberty.

{this post was originally published in 2014, updated recently}

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