Updated April, 2015
The 25 Best Things to do in New York with Kids
Open every day, 365 days a year rain or shine. 8am to 2am. Reviews.
A visit the Empire State Building with its dazzling city views from the 86th floor is a great New York experience, but it can be a hassle without careful planning. You’ll have two potential lines to cope with—buying tickets and waiting for the elevator. Eliminate the first one by ordering tickets online in advance, and minimize the wait by coming at the least crowded hours, first thing in the morning or late in the day. Dusk is an ideal time to see the city and watch the lights twinkle on, a magical sight. You can eliminate the elevator line altogether by buying express tickets. Tips: Make the most of your time by using the rest room on the second floor before you ascend. Everyone must go through a security check so speed things up by being prepared—no liquids, no tripods. There is no check room, so don’t bring anything you cannot carry comfortably. If you must visit at busy times, bring something to entertain the kids while you wait.
Spring/Summer Hours: (April 1 – October 31) Monday – Friday: 10:00 am – 5:00pm. Saturday, Sunday & Holidays 10:00 am – 6:00pm. Fall/Winter Hours: (November 1 – March 31) Daily (including Holidays) 10:00 am – 5:00pm. Reviews.
Allow several hours as there’s a lot to see—exploring the historic (and enormous) aircraft carrier itself, nearly 30 vintage planes on the flight deck, a guided missile submarine, and the space shuttle Enterprise. The Exploreum on the hangar level is full of interactive fun for kids like climbing into a helicopter and steering the wings of a plane. Save time and lines by buying tickets online and be forewarned: many enticing exhibits, guided tours, and the space shuttle pavilion require extra fees. However, there is plenty to do without the extras. The Intrepid is best suited to older children who can appreciate the history. There is lots of walking, much of it outdoors, so sunscreen and hats are advisable. The best way to get here is the #50 crosstown bus headed west, which brings you right to the door.
Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Closed Sundays, Mondays, and major holidays. Reviews.
Sony’s introduction to the secrets of technology is the best free entertainment in town. Kids (and parents) can have a ton of tech fun, creating video games, animated movies and music. Want more? Learn what makes the internet work, be a virtual surgeon, program a robot, see yourself on TV. In addition to the exhibits, check the web site for a calendar of screenings, family workshops and Tech for Tots programs, all free. You can take your chances and show up hoping space is available, but this is a popular attraction so reservations are strongly advised. They must be made at least seven days in advance by phoning 212-833-8100 Tuesday through Friday between 9am and 2 pm.
Tuesday to Friday: 10am – 5pm. Saturday: 10am – 7pm. Sunday: 10am – 5pm. Reviews.
If you’re traveling with young children, visit this nirvana designed for ages six and under. Age-specific exhibits include Playworks for the youngest visitors and Adventures with Dora and Diego for ages 2 to 6. Changing exhibits show how children live in other lands. City Splash water play is a favorite in warm weather and offers the chance to sail a boat, paint with water, and play with sand. The museum provides waterproof smocks but it may be wise to bring a change of clothes in case of splashes. Stop at the information desk for the daily schedule of special workshops and performances, all included with admission. No food or drink is available in the museum but hand stamps at admission allows you to come and go all day. Grab a sandwich at Artie’s Delicatessen at Broadway & 83rd then head to nearby Riverside Park for a pleasant break.
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm. Reviews.
This great museum covers two square blocks and can’t be covered in one day so start by looking at the floor plan and deciding on the exhibits that best match your own family’s interests. The dinosaurs are the biggest draw but don’t forget the giant blue whale, the African elephants, the animal dioramas, or the fabulous gems and minerals with treasures like the 56-carat Star of India sapphire. Check out the Discovery Room where kids can hunt for animals in a replica African baobab tree or examine specimens such as minerals or skulls. The museum adjoins the Rose Center for Earth and Space with exhibits and spectacular shows at the Hayden Planetarium. Nature films on the huge IMAX screen are another draw. When you want a lunch break, look down. Spoon and fork displays in the floor point the way to the nearest restaurants. The museum shops have wonderful selections of educational toys as well as inexpensive treats for the kids.
Open 24 hours. Free. Reviews.
Get the camera ready for this walkway high above the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn with endless panoramas of the skyscrapers of Wall Street and lower Manhattan along the way. Biking is fun but walking allows for easier stops The walkway is 1.3 miles long and can take 30 minutes to an hour depending on your pace. You’ll get the best views if you start on the Brooklyn side with the city ahead. Stay left (the side closest to the Statue of Liberty) for great souvenir photos of your gang with the skyline as an unforgettable background. The closest subway stops in Brooklyn are York Street on the F line or High Street on the A and C lines – all stops are several blocks from the bridge so be sure the kids are up for a good walk. In Manhattan, the 4, 5, and 6 trains stop at nearby City Hall. Bring water along if the day is warm and try not to choose a breezy day as it’s always windier on the bridge than you expect.
Sunday – Friday 10am to 11pm, Saturday 9am to 11pm. Reviews.
A three-story indoor ferris wheel is the centerpiece of this playful wonderland, one of the biggest toy stores in the world. Fun features include a life-size animataed T Rex, a giant Barbie Dream House, sections for video games, and Hot Wheels and a Legoland with imaginative constructions. Superman flies above it all. Of course, you’ll probably be wheedled into a purchase or a visit to Candy Land and the ice cream store downstairs. The only problem is the crowds. Try to come at off hours: in the morning at opening or in the late afternoon. If you are crowd-phobic don’t go near this store at Christmas time.
Open everyday 7am to 10pm though this can change with the seasons. Reviews.
An abandoned overhead freight railway has been transformed into a remarkable elevated park running roughly from 15th to 34th streets on the city’s far west side. A great stroll, it offers river and city views from a lofty perspective and features lush landscaping that reflects the wild plants that grew up along the neglected railbeds. Along the way are art installations, videos, a place to take off your shoes and wade in an inch-high pool, or to sit back, relax and take it all in. Many programs in July and August are geared to kids. On Wild Wednesdays, hands-on nature sessions might feature leaves, butterflies or earth worms. Thursday mornings offer music and stories for little ones at the 23rd Street Lawn. Saturday has art projects for ages 4 and up. Food and treats are available at several places along the way. A visit can mean a 30 minute walk or can fill several hours. Don’t forget hats and sunscreen in summer
Tuesday – Friday 10am to 4pm. Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Reviews.
Housed in a 1936 decommissioned subway station, this museum tells the amazing story of New York’s subways, beginning with how tunnels were dug underground from 1904 to 1927 for the opening of the system. Exhibits continue to follow the construction of the enormous 842 miles of track to the present. Visitors can walk through actual vintage subway cars and see the many kinds of tokens used to enter the subway before the advent of the Metrocard. Another popular interactive exhibit, On the Streets, traces the development of trolley and bus transportation in the city and invites kids to board a 12-seat bus and child-size trolley. Plan to come on weekends when free programs for young visitors are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 1:30pm. The free Grand Central Terminal branch is small but worth a stop for changing exhibits and model train displays.
April 1 – August 31: Monday – Friday 9:30am – 5pm. Saturday & Sunday 10am – 6pm. September 1 – March 31: Tuesday – Friday 9:30am – 5pm. Saturday & Sunday 10am – 6pm. Reviews.
Children at this excellent museum are so busy having fun they hardly realize that they are learning. Science, space, sound, light, physics, astronomy, technology, and math are some of the areas explored through 450 hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, films and workshops. Enticing exhibits include Realm of the Atom, The Search for Life Beyond the Earth, Seeing the Light, Hall of Mirrors and Sound Sensations: The Inside Story of Audio. Favorites include the “Build-It” hall downstairs, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Sports Challenge where kids can test their reflexes with activities like jumping, arm wrestling, and wheel chair racing. Preschool Place and an outdoor Science Playground entertain the youngest visitors, and there is a miniature golf course outside. Tips: Avoid New York school holidays when the museum is most crowded and be aware that admission is free on Fridays from 2 to 5pm and Sundays from 10 to 11am. Don’t miss a look at the Great Hall, originally constructed to wow crowds at the 1964 Worlds Fair, with undulating walls that rise 100 feet with no corners or straight segments.
Sunday: 11am – 9pm. Monday to Thursday: 10am – 9pm. Friday & Saturday: 10am – 11pm. Reviews.
Think Candyland come to life, with a giant lollipop tree in the center, candy patterns on the walls and embedded in the stairs. Dylan’s Candy Bar claims to house over 7,000 confections making it one of the largest selections of candies anywhere and enough sweet stuff to satisfy the wildest cravings. Pick up a bag and take your pick from the dozens of bins (you pay by the weight) or choose from the endless array of chocolates and other boxed treats. Pillows, pajamas, and personalized mugs are among dozens of candy-theme souvenirs. Fudge-makers are at work downstairs and upstairs the gigantic sundaes come with three scoops and three toppings. Perfectly Peanut Butter is among several unique choices. While the kids indulge in ice cream parents can relax with a pink cotton candy martini.
Departs every half hour. Reviews.
This 25 minute, five-mile sail is one of the world’s best free rides with unbeatable views of New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the skyscrapers and bridges of Lower Manhattan. At the Whitehall Terminal at the tip of Manhattan, a 75-foot-high entry hall greets riders with panoramic views of the downtown Manhattan skyline. On fine days a rooftop viewing deck with benches is an excellent place to go while waiting for the next boat. The closest subway station is South Ferry, served by the 1 and 9 lines. The ferry is basic transportation to Manhattan for residents of Staten Island so avoid morning and evening rush hours when commuters crowd the terminal. This is one city attraction that is quieter on weekends.
Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm. Reviews.
The first museum created expressly for children when it was founded in 1899, this museum remains an innovator. Recently doubled in size, the Collections Central area now has room to show off some of the enormous permanent collection of nearly 30,000 objects, from minerals and fossils to a complete skeleton of an Asian elephant to musical instruments, masks and dolls. In Neighborhood Nature kids can get a fish-eye view by crawling in a tunnel inside the pond aquarium, and dig, play and harvest pretend plants in the garden. New World Brooklyn, a world of kid-sized shops, highlights diversity with stores where you can build a lantern for Chinese New Years, make pretend dough at a Mexican Bakery, and create cloth patterns, construct slat chairs or have a go at drumming in a West African emporium. Whether kids choose to be shoppers or play cashier, the International Grocery is a chance to see products from around the world, The only drawback to this terrific museum is the trek to get there. The subway ride from Manhattan takes nearly one hour and any route requires a six or seven block walk from the station. If you have the time and energy, however, it is a worthwhile trip.
14. Bronx Zoo
March 23 to November 3: Monday-Friday 10am – 5pm. Weekends & Holidays 10am – 5:30pm. November 4 to April 4: Daily 10am – 4:30pm. Reviews.
Allow a whole day for the largest city zoo in America and home to some 4000 animals. Many of the residents are found in open natural settings. Among many highlights are Tiger Mountain and the Congo Gorilla Forest where glass walls put you close-up to these wondrous animals. The African Plains populated with zebras, giraffes, and lions and the Madagascar exhibit with its acrobatic lemurs are can’t miss sights. At the children’s zoo little ones can climb into a birds nest and feed tame animals. Camel rides and the bug carousel are fun diversions. You can cut down the walking in this enormous zoo with rides by tram or monorail. Special times to arrive are feeding times for lions at 11am and 3pm and for penguins at 3:30pm. A daily calendar lists other special events. Order tickets online to save standing in line and try to schedule this outing on less crowded weekdays..
Sunday to Tuesday: 10am – 7pm. Wednesday and Thursday: 10am – 8pm. Friday and Saturday: 10am – 9pm. Reviews.
Discovery Times Square (DTS) is not a museum but an exhibition center presenting changing exhibits with topics from the Titanic to King Tut to China’s Terracotta Warriors. Kids love the shows featuring some of their book and film favorites like movie sets from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. The topics are often unique and the displays are well done but each will occupy only an hour or so. Because admission is separate for each of the three current exhibits and the tickets are expensive, this is recommended only if there is a special lure for your family. If you do go, be sure to check the web site for current special offers and look online for any other discounts like Groupon discounts..
Wednesday to Thursday: 10:30am – 5pm. Friday: 10:30am – 8pm.
Saturday and Sunday: 11:30 am – 7pm. Reviews.
A former movie and TV studio houses a unique treat, a museum devoted to the development of moving pictures from flip books to the digital age. Parents often are as intrigued as the kids at the chance to see exhibits that tell of the development of film and television cameras, projectors, television sets, and sound recording equipment. Visitors can play vintage arcade and console games and have a variety of interactive experiences like recording a sequence of still photos that can be printed to make a flipbook or creating stop-motion animation that can be saved and emailed to friends. You can dub your voice over dialogue from a film or add sound effects and music. A simulated TV control room is the chance to watch the director call for varying shots to cover a baseball game. Clips from some of the earliest films are displayed and modern films are shown at the museum’s theater. The subway ride from Manhattan is about half an hour. Not recommended for toddlers but highly recommended for older children.
Sunday to Thursday: 10am – 5:30pm. Friday and Saturday: 10am – 9pm. Reviews.
In addition to great art from every period from ancient to contemporary, the country’s largest museum has galleries with special appeal for families such as the chance to see mummies and explore an Egyptian temple, see life size knights of old in their arms and armor, and marvel at fascinating masks from Africa and Asia. You can plan your visit by downloading a family map and children’s guides or pick up these free materials at the desk when you arrive The guides have titles like Kings, Wings and Mysterious Mummies or What Shall I Wear Today and help make the museum more fun for kids. Family audio guides are also available. Children under 12 are admitted free and passes are available online for teens who have middle school or high school identification. Note that the hefty adult fee is “recommended” – if the tab is too steep, you may pay less. This world-famous museum is often packed with visitors but you can avoid crowds by going during Friday or Saturday evening hours.
18. Central Park
Open daily during daylight hours. Reviews.
New York’s “back yard” is full of family fun from a carousel and a marionette theater to a zoo that is the perfect size for children. An amazing variety has been packed into this compact zoo, from a tropical rainforest to a sea lion pool to a polar world of penguins. At the separate children’s zoo, little ones can feed sheep and goats and other furry friends. Be sure to see the Delacorte clock just outside the zoo on the hour or half-hour when a parade of whimsical bronze animal musician sculptures plays popular tunes. In winter you can rent ice skates for a whirl on the Wollman Rink and in summer the site becomes the Victorian Garden with slides and rides. Take a walk through the Ramble to discover deep woods and waterfalls in the middle of the city. Every Saturday at 11am from June through September storytelling for ages 6 and up takes place at the Hans Christian Andersen statue near 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue. On weekends, cars are banned and park roads turn into miles of scenic, traffic-free bike paths. Bike rentals for the park are available from 9am to 7pm at 56 West 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Late May to early September and holiday periods: 9am – 10pm daily. Rest of year, Sunday to Thursday: 10am – 8pm. Friday – Saturday: 10am – 10pm. Reviews.
Teens, who can be hard to please, usually love this museum. Why? Because they can take endless photos for their Facebook pages with the lifelike wax figures of everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Barack Obama. The themed sections feature super heroes like The Hulk and Spider Man, sports stars including Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter, politicians from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton, TV stars like John Hamm, movie idols past and present from Marilyn Monroe to George Clooney. Smaller fry will enjoy seeing Sponge Bob and ET. The Marvel Comics Super Heroes 4D film boasts some great special effects. Buying advance tickets online saves up to 25% off the admission price and this is often a Groupon offering, as well.
Boats leave regularly from 8:30am – 5pm. Last boat back departs at 6:45pm. Reviews.
The city views from the boat ride and from Liberty Island are spectacular and standing close-up to the Statue of Liberty is a guaranteed thrill for everyone. For kids who are old enough the climb up the torch is an adventure to cherish. The same boats that go to Liberty Island continue to Ellis Island, a visit recommended for children old enough to appreciate the chance to walk in the footsteps of the millions who came to America from other lands. But be forewarned: Even advance tickets for these iconic sights sell out months in advance, especially tours that include the Liberty torch. If you don’t order tickets ahead, arrive very first thing in the morning or be prepared for long ticket lines and waits that can be hours for the timed departures.
Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday: 10am – 6pm. Friday: 10am – 8pm. Sunday 11am – 5pm. Reviews.
Children ages 8 to 13 are invited to become history detectives learning about early life in New York through a series of engaging exhibits. Turn a dial to see photos of a street as it was 100 years ago and as it looks today, put your face into a cut-out of George Washington and imagine your own inauguration speech, practice making a cross-stitch like early New Yorkers who had to sew their own clothes, meet the young newsboys who went on strike against the city’s biggest dailies—and won! The library areas is a place to rest, play interactive games, see early children’s books and find current books about the city. The museum offers programs to entertain tykes while older siblings explore. Storytime for ages 4 to 6 is at 11:30 am on Sunday and Songs and Stories for Little New-Yorkers age 3 to 5 takes place on Tuesday and Friday at 3:30 pm. Pay what you wish every Friday 6-8 pm.
Saturday and Sunday: 10am – 5pm. Monday and Wednesday: 12pm – 5pm. Thursday and Friday: 12pm – 6pm. Closed Tuesday. Reviews.
This little gem is a hands on museum inviting families to explore art through intriguing exhibits and the chance to actually experiment with art materials, clay, sound and animation. The Fine Arts Studio is open for everyone to paint, draw, or sculpt a take-home art work and the Clay Bar lets novice sculptors go to work. Check for hours when the Media Lab and Sound Booth are open, places where you can learn how to animate a short film or record a song. Children under five have their own WEE Arts studio and the Ball Pond lets everyone work off excess energy before you leave. Some smocks are available but its best to come dressed in clothes that can take a bit of paint or glue. Be sure to sign up as soon as you arrive for a 35-minute session in the popular Clay Bar and for the day’s special workshop. Pay what you wish on Thursdays from 4 to 6pm.
Monday to Thursday: Sunday: 9 am – 12am. Friday and Saturday: 9am – 2am. Reviews.
Temptations abound in this nirvana for chocoholics, a mouth-watering reward for good boys and girls. How about a Chocolate Chunks Pizza made with melted chocolate and topping choices of hazelnuts, bananas, peanut butter, or roasted marshmallows? Or maybe a Cookieshake, white chocolate ganache blended with Oreo cookies and ice? The menu of hot chocolates is amazing along with the O.M.G Chocolate Chunk Cookies, served with whipped cream, berries and melted chocolate. There’s a food menu as well, and the super crunchy mac and cheese gets kudos. But it’s chocolate that makes this worth the trip. Be sure to make a reservation as the dining room is often packed. It can get noisy, crowded, and a little chaotic at peak meal times and on weekends.
24. Chelsea Piers
Hours vary with seasons: phone 212-336-6100 to check. Reviews.
Children who dutifully trudge through sightseeing deserve a reward. At Chelsea Piers, once defunct piers on the Hudson River have been transformed into a 27-acre riverfront sports complex that can be a welcome break. Activities include a bowling alley and indoor ice skating in winter and a summer skate park. The Field House, which serves many leagues and classes, offers a selection of Drop-In Programs for its facilities between scheduled sessions. These include batting cages, soccer fields, basketball courts, a gymnastics area, and a rock wall. Children age 4 and under have their own indoor play area. Call to find out what is available on the day you want to visit. The 23RD Street crosstown bus headed west brings you right to the entry.
Check for current offerings. Reviews.
New York’s first major theater devoted entirely to family entertainment offers troupes from around the world presenting a changing array of plays, circus acts, dancing, puppets, and surprises. Arrive an hour early for Arts Express, pre-performance hands-on activities inspired by what is on stage. “Try This” in the lower lobbies gives the chance to engage with props and design elements from the current show. Some performances have “talk-backs” where the audience has the chance to ask questions of the performers. Many workshops are scheduled with the artists teaching performance skills from puppetry to circus arts to hip hop. These are mostly for ages seven and up though there are a few for ages four to seven. Check the web site for upcoming performances and programs – each listing indicates the recommended ages.
The Best Playgrounds in New York City
- Pier 25 (pictured above), Hudson River Park
- Union Square Park. Lots of fun, new, and interesting equipment.
- Central Park has 21 different playgrounds. The Ancient Playground, Billy Johnson Playground, Diana Ross Playground, and Tarr Family Playground are the among the favorites.
- Madison Square Park. There’s a Shake Shack (burgers, fries, shakes) in the middle of the park.
- Silver Towers Playground is the closest playground to Times Square.