When we were invited to New York as a family for an amazing work project I’m doing, I lost count of the amount of people that messaged me and said “Don’t take the kids” when I asked for tips for kids in New York. I’ve been a couple of times 15 years ago, but never as a mum so I was instantly a bit “argh!” at all these warnings… however I totally get WHY people might think it’s better not to take the kids.
If there is one thing I’ve always loved, it’s travelling with the kids. Is it sometimes stressful? YES. Do they drive me up the wall and make me think I’m going to combust with rage or burst into tears at least once an hour? Also, yes. It’s the moments inbetween all that that stick in your memory though, the little things like Toby running on Brooklyn bridge or Reuben’s excitement at seeing Joe’s pizza. It’s these memories that make travelling so magical with children, and every so often, they will remind you of what an absolute wonder the world is… and then they will go back to making you grey.
A few things I think you should know about New York:
- It’s actually HUGE. No like really huge. It’s separated into 5 boroughs, most of the “touristy” stuff is in Manhattan, with Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island surrounding.
- If you want to see the skyline from your hotel and have a slightly less busy vibe, I would recommend staying in Brooklyn, just over the bridge. I loved Brooklyn, we only dipped our toes in this time but it was so chilled and really lush – more on that in a mo.
- If you want to be nearest to the major toursity points, stay in Manhattan.
- Taxis are expensive – not that bad, but traffic is terrible, so your best bet is walking or using the subway, which isn’t as busy as the tube.
- The one I’ve not seen mentioned before: New York legalised Cannabis in August 2019 and I’m not going to lie, you can’t go very far without questioning if you somehow teleported to Amsterdam because it smells of weed. When we went to Joe’s Pizza is stank because, parked right in front of the restaurant, was a weed van. Literally a van, to go and buy/smoke weed. It was a bit of a surprise to Adam and I, especially when the kids started asking if they could go and see what was in the brightly coloured van… it’s something to be aware of I think, especially with little ones asking lots of questions.
- I don’t give a damn what anyone tells you, NYC is NOT pushchair friendly and if you can avoid it, do. Baby carriers are much much better. If you can’t avoid it and you really want to bring one then there are plenty of lifts etc, the issue won’t be accessibility, it will be crowds and places that will ask you to leave the pushchair outside. We only went in one restaurant that allowed pushchairs, all the “popular” places didn’t. I would just really advise a baby carrier over a pushchair. It’s A LOT of walking, Edith is nearly 5 and we carried her a lot. Still preferable over the trauma of a pushchair.
- Everywhere is so hot inside. To be honest, the weird temperatures spoil New York for me… not spoil it, spoil it, but it makes it hard to enjoy things when you’re so hot you feel ill. We bought thermals because NYC is notoriously freezing in winter, in fact when I went in Winter as a teen there were snow arches cut into the sidewalks because it had snowed so much and I remember one day my mum had to sit me in a hot bath and give me a brandy because it was so cold I had turned blue… it was nothing like that this time, we didn’t even take the tags off the thermals and it was so hot we stopped wearing jumpers after day one, just coats and tshirts. The major problem was the heat INSIDE. Everything is so hot inside but cool (or viciously cold – we did get a taste on the last day when the wind was blowing and it was 3C… still not cold by NYC standards) outside that you just end up carrying huge coats and jumpers. I would say layering is best in winter, possibly put up with being a bit cold outside so you’re not dying of heat inside. In summer it is HOTTTTT so take sunscream.
So, now I’ve covered a few basic things, what about the things to actually do?
Things to do in New York with Kids
Visit Times Square
It’s busy. Like BUSY. You might want to grab wrist links for anxious or run away kids, Reuben is our wanderer but he’s very unlikely to get lost (oh god I’ve jinxed it haven’t I?) whereas Toby is the KING of lost. He will get lost everywhere and anywhere, and we never know how as he doesn’t really wander and stays close… still does it. Anyway, he feels much calmer with wrist links. If you go in the mornings it’s quieter, which is true for pretty much everything, but the evenings are so much more spectacular with all the lights It wasn’t too bad around 5/6pm. I would say any time after 2pm is BUSY.
The shops around Times square as a-plenty though, we visited the Disney Store – a must for all Disney fans as it has a brilliant statue of Liberty Mickey Mouse inside, as well as a fabulous Tangled escalator and Princess castle upstairs. Hershey’s chocolate shop is one to look in and buy buy buy if you love Hersheys (which we don’t). I would avoid the S’mores in the cafe, they were $9.80 and absolutely awful. The milkshakes were a similar price but lovely. The M&M shop is really popular with kids, even though the ones that don’t eat M&Ms! I assume it’s the bright colours! Pele’s Soccer shop is a must for a football fan, as is the NHL store for a hockey fan or NFL store, though we were totally shooketh at how pricey Hockey jerseys are!
There are a few things to be wary of – pick pockets, so try to avoid a big bag. I wore my little Vooray Sidekick crossbody bag. The other thing to avoid is the people dressed up – they might look fab, and by all means, enjoy them from afar but they will rip you off COMPLETELY if you take a picture with them. We’re talking $$$ it will be a case of “I’m not giving you back your phone and I won’t stop pestering you until you pay up.”
A must for Spiderman fans! If you are visiting the Times Square branch, which is the one that was featured in the film, it will cost you $9 for a slice of pizza, but you will get to see all the signed walls and photos, and the Spiderman plaque… if you go to the other branches further away, it’s $3! Ha! I will say that Joe’s pizza was the best pizza we had whilst we were in NYC, it really was lush, but there is very little seating, so you either need to stand and eat or lean against the wall.
Grand Central Station
Oh it’s beautiful in here and a must for Madagascar fans too. It’s maybe an 8 min walk from Times Square and right next to the Chrysler Building. You can visit the Whispering Wall, look up at the beautiful ceiling and architecture and grab a pastry from the cafe. If you go out of the 42nd street entrance, you will see the Pershing Bridge to the right and the Chrysler to the left.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Now this is a MUST MUST MUST. Everyone raved to me about it and I was a bit meh, but I adored it. Two things – firstly, this is one to make the absolute most of the jet lag. Don’t hold off until you’re settled into the time zone. It opens at 7am and you need to be there by 7.15-20, or you can forget skipping a queue. There is no booking service for Ellen’s Stardust diner and it is ALWAYS packed. To the rafters. If you want dinner or lunch, obscure times are better – think early or late lunch, or leave someone to queue whilst you walk around Broadway or grab a coffee in McDonalds.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a springboard for wannabe Broadway stars, they sing to you whilst they serve your food and they are all fab. As it is a springboard to help develop hopes and dreams, the second thing you need to know is that it is eye wateringly expensive and it’s not just the bill you are asked to pay. They will come round with Phillup the bucket, which is a donation bucket on top of your bill AND tip. This is not your tip. This is separate. Personally, we had no issue with it, it’s an experience and that is what you are paying for, but as a family of 5 we left just under $200 lighter once we had paid for food, the gratuity and $20 into the bucket.
On the food, I have heard really mixed reviews. I personally really enjoyed it, but it’s not life altering. I think the less “out there” you go, the nicer the food. The unicorn bagel looks amazing but I’ve not met anyone that thought it was especially tasty. I had an omlette, which was delicious. Edith had chocolate chip pancakes which totally outfaced her (there is no children’s menu – which is the same in a lot of popular places) so they were Adam sized (and priced) pancakes which could easily have fed all three kids. The boys has waffles, eggs and bacon/sausage respectively. They said it was really yummy and Toby loved the tatter tots. Adam had corned beef hash which he also thought was lush. Coffee was refillable and they refill constantly which I just loved.
Do you know what… I didn’t like it. Sorry!! It was so busy, so crowded and just… yeah. I could easily have skipped the Rockefeller itself BUT I’m also not that bothered by shopping… all the time. I’m a much happier shopper at home in my pjs, searching the web. That being said, it’s something that everyone should see at least – the ice skating rink, the big tree at Xmas, the golden statue and there are a tonne of shops you simply must go in. Lego is small but cute, you’re probably better off looking in the windows and then popping in early when it first opens (10am – nothing seems to open before 9.30am by the way). It is nothing compared to the London branch.
Grab a coffee in one of the many coffee shops inside or outside, and walk around looking at the shop windows, the atmosphere and just generally taking it all in. FAO Schwartz is now at the Rockefeller centre and is one to go to when it just opens – for the love god don’t do what we did and go late afternoon as it’s hellish and so busy you will want to cry… or sweat to oblivion. It is one of the most famous toy shops in the world – made famous by Big (and so many other films) where Tom Hanks plays the floor piano – which my kids got to do up on the third floor! The bakery recommended to me the most was Magnolia Bakery and we just didn’t get time to go in, but there is one right around the corner, their cakes looked AMAZING. American Girl is genuinely the doll store to end all doll stores and I’m going to give it it’s own section now…
American Girl Store
Seriously, if you have a doll fan, you can’t miss it. Two floors dedicated to everything doll. Everything. Boy dolls, girl dolls, baby dolls, disabled dolls, fairy dolls, every skin colour dolls, dolls with stories… you get the picture. If you’re buying don’t expect to leave without spending a minimum of $100. This is not your Our Generation doll, this is an American Girl doll and they. are. crazy. expensive. We bought Edith “Blaire” who was one of the girls that comes with a story book (it’s not a few pages but an actual book) so she was $90. You can buy the Truly me dolls which are a bit less but you will no doubt add an outfit and then cry into your latte as you leave bankrupt.
The lower ground has a cafe which we didn’t have time to get booked into, but it is so worth it from what I have been told. There is a salon that Edith was most upset you need to book into where they will do everything from your doll’s hair to piercing her ears and doing her make up. There is also a doll hospital, basket ball hoops and lots of places for Dads to sit and question their life choices with older kids who don’t give a hoot about dolls.
Top of the Rock
Whilst we’re loitering around Rockefeller centre I thought I would mention the Top of the Rock experience. Pre book your tickets or buy a NYC pass, because the queues for this are wild however the view? Sensational. So, we were only in NYC for 3 nights and didn’t really want to use the NYC pass because we only wanted to do 1 thing out of the 6 on it – it wouldn’t have paid for itself. That one thing was Top of The Rock… now I looked at prebooking tickets and I’m kind of glad I didn’t but the staff lie like crazy about queue times so don’t even ask them. We went and there appeared to be no queue, so we asked the staff how long the wait times were. They said there would be a 15min wait, tops. HA. HA HA. HAAAAAAA. Bastards. It was around 45mins which is still good, but that was purely to get through security and to wait for elevators. I don’t think you could fast pass that, so even if we had prebooked or done a “skip the queue” it wouldn’t have mattered as there wasn’t a queue as such, it was just the facts of waiting for elevators and security. You book time slots and I would advise avoiding sunset because, whilst glorious, it’s the busiest time. I would also suggest night time is better because you can see all the lights – which I didn’t know meant different things! The NYC skyline is white, completely white lights, including the Empire state building… unless there is a reason, so check here to find out why the lights are fun colours. If you want to watch an amazing sunset or sunrise, walk the Brooklyn bridge, for free, at that time and you will see the skyline descend. The one thing I will warn you about is that it is CRAZY hot inside, and that goes for everywhere, so you might be wearing thermals from -4C weather, but you will be dehydrated and sweating from places you didn’t know sweated within minutes inside.
There are several “decks” once you are up there, and there are places to sit both inside and out, so make the most of it.
Oh yes! Definitely one for kids. Central Park is amazing and I wish we had more time there, we went on an evening and did the Horse and Carriage ride, which was lovely but I think I would have preferred it in the day where you had a better view… that being said, the lights from the buildings were so pretty and it was pretty quiet. We paid $140 for around 30 mins so it’s not something you would do more than once.
There are loads of play areas and a really lovely looking restaurant that has gondola rides, though I think it’s more aimed at adults and not really ideal for kids. You can find the iconic Friends fountain in Central Park, as well as the scene from Home Alone 2 where Kevin runs away from the burglars and meets the pigeon lady. Personally, if we had had time I would have gone back and just strolled. The horse and carriage was nice but overpriced and I wouldn’t bother.
Central Park Zoo
Completely overpriced? Yes. Small and only for a few hours max? Yes… but I really loved it! It cost us $85 but it is cheaper if you prebook and we also (accidentally – I didn’t read the sign) paid for the 4D cinema (don’t bother) and the petting/children’s zoo (do bother).
It’s the zoo that Madagascar is inspired by but you won’t find zebras or hippos or giraffes… or lions. So basically the penguins and that is it. There is a big grizzly bear, red pandas and a beautiful snow leopard. These animals looked much happier and better cared for than my memories of The Bronx zoo, but it’s been almost two decades since I visited there. If zoos are your bag, I think this one is a small treat whilst you explore Central Park. The children’s zoo is lovely, though very small, we’re talking 30-40 mins in there max and for kid’s like mine who see sheep and goats all the time it was less than thrilling. You need 50c for the feeding machine (two quarters) and you can change a 1$ note. There is a cafe and a diner but it didn’t have very good reviews and like with more or less everything at the zoo, it was pricey. I’ve been told that locals use the many MANY food carts but we were a bit nervous and the kids wanted something a bit more filling, so we headed away from the zoo and central park.
The Statue of Liberty… via Staten Island Ferry.
DO IT FOR FREE. Ok there are two ways to do this and with kids I think it’s a no brainer… do it the free way. We got a cab to Staten Island ferry port and we were instantly jumped on by a very official looking guy from the Staten Island Ferry tours company who told us we wouldn’t see the Statue of Liberty on the normal ferry, we needed to do the amazing, wonderous ferry tour of the Statue. It would show us the delights of Brooklyn Bridge, Liberty Ellis Island and more, all within a beautiful and informative 1 hour tour with tour guides… for a price of $35 per adult and $25 per child. Ladies and gents my kids would have HATED it, not to mention it was really foggy on the day we did it and the man insisted it wouldn’t matter – utter lies. If you want to learn about the history of these monuments and you want to come away informed and learning then I have been told the official Statue tours (which you will see a sign showing you where to go to buy tickets) are amazing… but if you have kids who just want to see a big statue and go “She was in Ghostbusters” then please heed my advice and take yourself over to the free ferry. You don’t need to purchase a ticket, they are every 30 mins and they go right past the statue. Literally. You are about 30ft away from the expensive ferry guided tour… it doesn’t stop, but it’s a pretty big statue so you don’t really need time to stop and take pictures, you can take them whilst moving. It takes 25mins across on this ferry.
When you get over to the other side you can either go off and explore Staten Island (which we didn’t do) or you can hop straight back on the next ferry. We suddenly needed a toilet break so missed the next return ferry and had 30 mins to kill. Outside the ferry port on the far right is a very lovely shopping area, including places to eat and a starbucks, up the stairs are some funky looking seats that the kids loved running around. All free fun.
Iconic thanks to it’s Fffrozen Hot chocolate, Serendity 3 is a must for everyone I think. Personally, I would advise going to Serendipity 3 in the mid afternoon or morning just for the hot chocolate and/or desserts as it’s wildly expensive (what isn’t in NYC?!) and the food is average. We paid nearly $200 for 1 meal each, a glass of coke and 2 Frrrozen hot chocolates to share. You don’t really need one each as it’s huge, especially for the kids. Frrrozen Hot chocolates are $14. I know.
By some miracle we managed to just walk in as they only had one table of 5 left, but normally there is a 1-2hr wait for a table unless you prebook (and you can’t prebook the night before it needs to be in advance). You can give you name to the hostess and come back instead of standing and queuing, which I recommend you do and go to…
Dylan’s Candy Store!
Big fan of this place, big fan! It’s expensive but Dylan’s Candy store is so much fun… it’s one of those places where you let your inner child run about and stare at all of the sweets and chocolates. There is a fudge bar downstairs, pick n mix upstairs and rare/foreign sweets and chocolates downstairs. I’m a big fan of their macaron bar as well!
There is someone walking around handing out sweets but there is also security on and around the pick n mix who WILL happily tell you and your kids off so don’t let any fingers nip into the sweet stash. I would recommend avoiding the overpriced boxes for sweets and just grabbing a pick n mix bag, it’s still really pricey but it’s a chance to try all sorts of sweets you wouldn’t get in the UK.
Walk. Over. It. No for real, whatever you do, don’t get a taxi or go on the subway, it is easily my fave part of this holiday. Walking across the Brooklyn bridge gifts you with the most fabulous views, from the skyline of Manhattan to the Manhattan bridge to the State of Liberty/Ellis Island. It was breathtaking, plus awesome for little car fans (and transformer fans as Reuben was convinced he was spotting transformers as all the transformers are american cars/trucks)
It will take you roughly 30-45mins to walk over, there are bikes and runners so keep an eye out. You will also be stopped a lot to take photos for people but our experience was that everyone was happy to do it for each other and there wasn’t anyone trying to charge for the privilege.
Dumbo & Time Out Market
Dumbo is the name of the area of Brooklyn just under and around the bridge. If you bare to the left of the bridge as you’re coming off, you will go under and down towards Dumbo and the Time Out Market. We adored it. There are so many lovely shops and places to visit around there, from hip and trendy coffee shops to lush independent jewellery shops and more. If you’re looking for the iconic under the bridge photo that you see all over insta, this is the place to get it. It’s also the place to walk around and grab some lovely pictures of the Manhattan skyline, have an explore and just enjoy the surroundings. Just outside the entrance to the Time Out Market there is a play park so little ones can burn off steam.
Inside the Time out market, you can find the BEST street food/market food stands from all over the whole. It is the BEST place to grab a bite to eat. We chose to go to DO which is literally cookie dough, scooped like ice cream and ready to eat. Me, Reuben and Edith demolished ours, Toby and Adam weren’t keen. Had it been me on my own, I would have happily eaten one of all the meals, but Adam is one of those annoying people that only eats when he’s hungry and the kids didn’t want to try foods. Weirdos.
Moving on from all the glorious food I didn’t get to eat, I would recommend going up to the rooftop garden at the Time Out Market, it’s free and wasn’t crowded at all, but rather a nice place to walk about and see some wonderful views, drink your coffee and chill. The kids really enjoyed running around and playing in Dumbo. I didn’t let them go on Jane’s Carousel by the waterfront but we did have a look.
Back in Manhattan and between Times Square and the Chrysler building, I would highly recommend visiting Bryant Park, especially in the winter when they have the Christmas fair. It was fabulous and the carousel there was much quieter, not to mention the ice skating and lots of wonderful stalls.
So that’s it! We managed all of that in 4 days, or really 3 days and 1 evening. It was brilliant, so full on and absolutely exhausting but just brilliant. I will note that we have had lots of moaning about the amount of walking, lots of “I’m tireddddd” but then after a little rest, endless chatter about how good it was. The first day we walked 22,900 steps, so the kids will easily have walked 30,000. Their little legs are very achy, but the jet lag isn’t as bad coming back from New York as it is Florida.
I would highly recommend the compeed (or if there are other brands) blister pads – we carry them everywhere when we go on holiday now and they stop the kids (or our) blisters being painful.
- Flight times 7hrs out, 5hrs in
- Lots of walking
- More to do than you could fit in one short trip
- VERY expensive in Manhattan, less so in the other Boroughs, but still $$$ compared to other parts of the states.
What would you add to this then? We were there for such a short time that I think it’s really important to say that there is so much we didn’t get to do!
My husband surprised me with a trip to New York for my 30th this year! Cannot wait. Thanks for all the fab recommendations.
This is JUST what I was looking for…we’re taking our 5 & 6 year olds for Feb half term & although we’ve been as adults pre-kids, you’ve given me loads of new ideas for sharing with my boys! Thanks so much – glad you all had a great time 😊
Sounds like you had a fab time, I am going the end of feb and it’s been years since I last went so you have given me an insight into costs. I decided against taking my children to New York and it will be my first trip without them so nervous about that but I have to say I am excited. Thanks for the tips xx
It sounds like you all had an amazing time. I am planning on visiting in a few years with my teen so this was super useful. You packed so much in to such a short trip xx