Planning a family trip to New York City? From museums and parks to the Staten Island Ferry, you won’t want to miss these 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. Here is What to Do in NYC with Kids.
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.
The Best Way to Travel To NYC with Kids
Bus? Train? Driving? Here are my thoughts on the best ways to get to NYC with kids, especially from the tristate area.
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.
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!
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.
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.
What to Do in NYC with Kids
Trying to narrow down the list of what to do in NYC with kids can be difficult as there are just so many options. You could visit every weekend and never run out of things to do!
But if it’s your first (or second) time, here are my top suggestions for what to do with kids in New York City.
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 (toward 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 accessible 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 our large wheelchair 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 another recent, 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 with kids. Without kids, I’ve been to many of the other touristy spots, and most of them are very noisy.
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 our chair (much like the one at the Bellevue in Philly, which I really dislike) but I guess it passes ADA.
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 instead of Applebee’s.
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.
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…….
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.
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 wheelchair. A bummer, but Macy’s was more for me, not my kids.
We headed across the street to Crocs and found some fun stuff.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is one of the biggest attractions in New York City for families (and those without families) as it’s easy to do and free. The ferry runs from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island but the real attraction is the views.
You’ll get some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty as well as the New York Harbor.
Statue of Liberty
Speaking of the Statue of Liberty, you may want to make it a stop all on its own. It’s a great place for an educational experience, with the Ellis Island Museum to learn about immigration and an audio tour at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
When it comes to actually going up into the Statue of Liberty, kids must be at least 4 feet tall. Whether or not it’s worth it will depend on your kids and any issues with mobility or being in small spaces.
New York Public Library
New York is one of the few destinations where the active public library is an attraction itself but a visit to the New York Public Library is one of the top things to do in NYC with kids.
The kids have an entire section of the library all to themselves and are greeted by a vintage Winnie the Pooh and his friends. It’s also one of the more quiet places in NYC, so a good place to sneak away from the hustle and bustle of the city, if needed.
Children’s Museum of the Art
If there was ever a spot in NYC built just for kids, it would be this museum. It’s the perfect place for some hands-on creativity and depending on when you visit, you can even join a workshop or two.
Plus the museum features art by other kids – far more interesting than the other museums!
National Museum of Mathematics
If the kids are more interested in numbers than painting, head to the National Museum of Mathematics instead. It’s so much more interesting than it sounds.
There are tons of exhibits for the kids, including square-wheeled tricycles, painting on a digital canvas, and more.
They’ll learn about the importance of math and science while still having a blast.
No trip to NYC with kids is complete without a visit to Central Park. While there are endless things to do in the urban park, the carousel is one of the top attractions, along with the Belvedere Castle and the playground.
And we can’t forget Central Park Zoo!
There are so many museums in NYC that no matter the interests of your kids, there’s probably one they’ll love. We haven’t visited many as we’re just not a big museum family but here are some ideas of museums you may want to visit with kids in NYC:
- American Museum of Natural History
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum
- Children’s Museum of Manhattan
- New York Transit Museum
- Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling
- Museum of the Moving Image
- Queens Museum
- South Street Seaport Museum
- New York City Fire Museum
- Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum
New York Hall of Science
The New York Hall of Science is another hands-on learning opportunity for kids of all ages, with a playground for toddlers and a sports challenge for slightly older kids.
Depending on when you visit, you can choose between indoor and outdoor activities so this makes a great year-round destination.
New York Aquarium
Need to cool off inside? Head to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. The most popular exhibit is the Ocean Wonder: Sharks! featuring the animals that live right off the boardwalk, like rays, turtles, and, of course, sharks.
There’s also a PlayQuarium where kids can get some hands-on learning about marine life, an outdoor exhibit with sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and penguins, and an aqua theater for an interactive show with sea lions.
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 for that trip. It was an organized bus trip and by then his seizures were very unpredictable.
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 wheelchair definitely would not have fit through the barriers. I’m not sure what we would have done. I would research this further before going.
Sensory-Friendly Travel Tips for NYC with Kids
Here are some important things to keep in mind for any trip to NYC with kids but especially in regards to 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!