New York City: A Family Vacation

Visiting New York City with kids is easier than you think and there is a lot to see and do – for both adults and children. Of course, it is a different NYC experience with kids than with adults - but it is still a memorable one (if not more so).

New York City: A Family Vacation

How to get to New York City

We chose to fly out of Syracuse International Airport – it was significantly cheaper and very convenient. Border crossing was done via car and then we only had the security line to deal with as a family. The flight was a mere 45 minutes both ways and we had no issues other than a minor flight delay heading to New York thanks to thunderstorms. We flew into La Guardia, which as of July 2017 is under heavy construction, so I advise against booking a hotel shuttle - depending on what terminal you land in, it could be tricky to get to. NYC's infamous yellow cabs, however, are everywhere. And for approximately $40 USD you can get into the heart of downtown Manhattan.

Once the construction at La Guardia is complete it will be a beautiful airport and the subway will go right into the airport, making it even easier, and cheaper, to get anywhere in New York City.

Where to stay in New York City

There are a plethora of hotels in New York City and the good news is you don’t have to stay (and pay) to be in Times Square. We stayed three blocks away from Times Square in the Garment District, which is the equivalent of a five-minute walk to the heart of Times Square. We chose to stay at a name brand hotel with breakfast included to make it easy and convenient to get food first thing in the morning; however there are food vendors everywhere in Manhattan and it’s just as easy to get a bagel for $1 USD right outside your hotel door. Just remember, many of the hotels are smaller than you may be used to because of limited real estate; but how much time will you be in your room anyway?

How to get around New York City

 We travelled by foot, subway or yellow cab. If you want to motivate your kids to walk purchase a step counter and challenge them to reach a certain number of steps each day (we walked an average of 20,000 steps a day!). We also relied a lot on the NYC Subway system. There’s a free subway app you can download to your smartphone that makes travelling via subway easy to understand; and don’t be afraid to ask someone – every New Yorker we spoke with was more than willing to help us.

What to see and do in New York City

1) Top of the Rock

Forget the Empire State Building - located at the top of the Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock offers incredible views of the entire city. We went first thing in the morning and there were no line-ups—apparently the lines can get quite long. So, go early, bring coins for the kids to use the viewfinders (it’s 50 cents each time) and make sure to grab a map from the visitor’s desk so you can play “I spy” with the numerous landmarks that can be seen from each of the three viewing decks.

Top of the Rock NYC

Top of the Rock NYC

2) Central Park

You can easily spend a day at Central Park. There are gorgeous trails, bridges, and playgrounds to keep the kids busy exploring and playing. If you have a stroller you can stay on the main paths of the Park, including the famous Central Park Mall where many movies have been shot (you may even see a celebrity or two jogging through the park). There is a historic carousel near the south end as well as ponds with turtles. The little guys must be used to being hand fed, because as soon as they saw us they came swimming up. If you plan on spending some time in Central Park, I highly recommend downloading the official Central Park app – it has interactive maps as well as interesting audio information about various statues, etc. throughout the park and it is narrated by celebrities, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

Central Park | Feeding the turtles

3) American Museum of Natural History

A museum is a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon, which is what we did. My husband and I have been to the MET before and knew it would be a little big (and perhaps boring) for our daughter, so we chose to go to the American Museum of Natural History. If your kids love learning about animals and nature then they will like this museum; it’s a lot like the Museum of Nature combined with the Museum of History here in Ottawa. It’s big and easy to get lost in, so make sure you grab a map. Tip: there is a spot to refill water bottles for free on the lower level where the cafeteria is.

4) Ellen’s Stardust Diner

This restaurant came recommended to us and we are glad we went! The food here is not only fantastic, but so are the singing wait staff that break out in tunes throughout your meal and sing everything from hit Broadway songs to top 100 pop songs. We did not want our meal to end because the singing was so good. We went to the restaurant just after the lunch rush (around 1:30 p.m.) and only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, so like everything in New York City, make a plan to go during a quieter time (unless you want to wait.)

Ellen's Stardust Diner

Ellen's Stardust Diner

5)   Times Square

The bright lights, the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of Times Square are entertainment in and of itself! We made a point to visit in the mornings and got a coffee (and juice for my daughter) and found a spot out of the sun in the middle of Times Square. There are always interesting people to watch and it’s a great place to rest while you plan what you want to do next.

Times Square NYC

Times Square NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World NYC

M&M World New York is three stories of everything M&M. From stuffed animals, to aprons to personalized M&Ms. It’s fun for kids of all ages… and adults too. We got to try the new caramel M&Ms there and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to going back and buying more than one bag of them.

7)   Staten Island Ferry

The best part about the Staten Island Ferry is that it’s free and on a clear day there are great views of the Manhattan skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty. Just don’t get swindled or confused by the numerous sales people who will attempt to persuade you to purchase the Ellis Island Ferry and tour the Statue of Liberty (unless you really want to go directly to Lady Liberty). Just walk through the Staten Island Ferry front doors and wait in line. The ferry comes every half hour, so don’t worry if you miss one.

8)   Broadway

Depending on the age of your children, indulging in a Broadway show can be a lot of fun. We bought tickets (in advance) to Hello Dolly! because I really wanted to see Bette Midler on Broadway, but we were tempted to see another show as well. There is usually a Disney on Broadway production going on, which is perfect for kids. Regardless, look at the show reviews online and so long as you pick a production filled with uplifting music, dancing, and colourful costumes, kids of all ages are sure to have fun. You can buy tickets from TKTS, which is a discount Broadway ticket vendor located in Times Square, but from what I saw the ticket prices there did not differ that much from purchasing them either from the theatre box office or online.

Broadway

Broadway

9)   NYC Subway

While it is easy to take a yellow cab in NYC (note: from our experience there, Uber costs pretty much the same as a cab), the subway is fun for kids who have never been on one and it is easy to navigate. It’s also fast, inexpensive… and a great way to escape the weather on a rainy or extremely hot day.

10)    The High Line / Chelsea Market

The High Line is a public walking path / park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It makes for an interesting walk filled with great views of the Hudson River as well as modern and historic architecture. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. We got off the high line at Chelsea Market, which is the home to unique shops, bakeries and restaurants, such as the delicious Sarah’s Bakery.

The High Line through Chelsea

The High Line through Chelsea

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Ripley's Believe it or Not

So, these museums may not be all that unique to NYC, but when you have kids with you on any trip it’s always nice to do something that they will love. Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not offer weird and wacky facts, wax sculptures and much more… so, if you find yourself in need of some way to fill an afternoon with kids while in New York City, these museums are right in Times Square and are guaranteed to bring out the giggles in your kids.

Tips

- If you know you will be seeing four attractions invest in the New York Explorers Pass from Costco. It gets emailed to you can save you a lot of money. If you plan on going to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty as well as visit the MET and/or the Museum of Natural History look at investing in this or a CityPass.

- There are also hop on, hop off bus tours, such as Grayline and Big Bus. Depending on the time of year, these tours can be quite busy, but it is a great way to see many of New York’s landmarks without having to worry about transportation.

- If you’re visiting in the summer, bring your own water bottle. We were grateful to have water with us at all times. New York City can get quite warm in the summer!

- Eat the street meat! Buying lunch and dinner from local food vendors is economical and yummy! You can buy more than just hot dogs too! There is Pad Thai, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, fresh smoothies and so much more!