Mar 7, 2016

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Revealed! How to do New York with kids

There’s a wow factor that happens when kids look out the window of a plane and see the magical skyline that is New York City.

Dad and little girl on Brooklyn bridge, New York City, USA

It seems huge and unmanageable, but it’s actually a real toy box of activities for families. New York City is a showplace of the world’s best: a fabulous introduction to great eats, culture and diversity and, without a doubt, fun!

The hardest part about planning a trip to New York City is knowing what to see first. Here are some ideas to help, writes Meryl Pearlstein.

Where to stay with kids

Coffee lounge in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Manhattan with New York and Central Park through the windows. Image shot 2015. Exact date unknown.

The Mandarin Oriental hotel, Manhattan with New York and Central Park.

First, you’ll need a place to camp out.  Many NYC hotels are family-friendly, offering free cribs on request and other baby-related gear. Teens and tweens get perks, too.

How about a hotel with a heated outdoor pool and a lifeguard for when you want a refreshing break from museum-going or outdoor crowds? Try the Gansevoort Hotel (18 Ninth Ave; 212-206-6700) in the trendy Meatpacking District. Perfect for all ages, the hotel offers all the requisite baby supplies (including cribs, nappies and bath supplies) and older kids get Sony PSPs and Nintendo Wiis to use during their stay.

With a bird’s-eye view of Central Park and Columbus Circle, The Mandarin Oriental (80 Columbus Circle; 212-805-8800),  welcomes kids with an age-appropriate gift and keeps them busy with children’s DVDs, crayons and colouring books.

Older kids love Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel (851 Sixth Ave; 212-64-4567) which caters to them with the Tween Trap, a range of gadgets including Instagram printers, iPad Minis, PlayStation Vitas and night-vision goggles, all available to borrow.

In the quieter Flatiron neighbourhood, the boutique Giraffe Hotel (365 Park Avenue South; 212-685-7700) entertains kids with its selfie-inspiring giraffe sculpture on the roof, kids’ menus and large rooms.

Check all for special or even kids-go-free offers as well as pushchair rentals.

Compare New York hotels

Where to eat with kids

Franny's, New York

Credit: Julienne Schaer

Food is a key part of trip to the Big Apple. Where else can you try dishes from so many countries?  Skip the chains that you can find anywhere and visit the one-offs that make NYC so special.

Coal-oven pizza was invented here, and Brooklyn offers some of the best. Try Totonno’s (1524 Neptune Ave, Brooklyn; 718-372-0606) in Coney Island after a walk along the boardwalk.

Or for a wood-fired version, stop at Franny’s (348 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn; 718-230-0221) in family-friendly Park Slope.

Chinese dim sum is also a kid-pleaser. Did you know that NYC has three Chinatowns? In Flushing, Queens, join the crowd at Joe’s Shanghai (136-21 37th Ave, Flushing; 718-539-3838) for their unusual soup dumplings, or in Manhattan go piece-by-piece at Jin Fong (20 Elizabeth St, 212-964-5256), where servers wheel a parade of dumpling carts to your table (hint: get there early to avoid the queues).

For dessert, a touristy “must” is Serendipity 3 (225 East 60th St, 212-838-3531), famous for its frozen hot chocolate, made with more than 30 kinds of cocoa! The concept makes no intuitive sense but it works, and it’s delicious.

For more complete meals (if you can get past the sweet and ice cream shop at the front), Sugar and Plumm (377 Amsterdam Ave; 212-787-8778) is a children’s paradise with kids’ menus throughout the day.

Blue Smoke (116 East 27th St; 212-447-7733), is also a veritable introduction to great American BBQ with specially designed children’s portions and meals.

What to do with kids

Museum of Natural Science, New York

Credit: Meryl Pearlstein

It’s a good idea to get an overview of the city to get your bearings, and you can do it for “free” by water. Splurge on a taxi downtown to the famous Staten Island Ferry. It costs nothing to grab a seat and see the skyline of New York and the Statue of Liberty, all from the comfortable interior of this legendary vessel.

You can create a full-day educational and fun scavenger hunt for the family at the city’s central gathering place, Central Park. Join the throngs of local kids climbing over the park’s beloved sculptures of Alice in Wonderland, the Three Bears and Balto. Then wander through the various playgrounds to the Central Park Zoo and Children’s Zoo (fee required), buy a ticket for a performance at the adorable Marionette Theater at the Swedish Cottage, or take the kids to watch the sailboat races at the pond or do some catch-and-release fishing at the Dana Discovery Center (free).

Three Bears, NYC

Credit: Meryl Pearlstein

From the park’s Western edge, it’s a short walk to the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West & 79th St; 212-769-5100). What child doesn’t like dinosaurs? But there’s much more to keep the little and big ones engaged. The wildlife dioramas are classic, a fascinating mix of educational and creepy, and the Hall of Gems is always a thrill. If it’s butterfly season, wear a brightly coloured t-shirt to attract them to your shoulders.

Head to the boroughs outside Manhattan for some more child-friendly attractions: the New York Hall of Science (47-01 111th Street, Corona; 718-699-0005) in Queens and the Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, 718-367-1010) are musts for curious kids.

At the New York Transit Museum (Boerum Place and Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn Heights; 718-694-1600), set in an historic 1936 Brooklyn subway station, kids can explore all manner of urban transportation from buses to subways and trolleys.

For some park time, the new Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO is a mecca for families and thrills with the futuristic Sea Glass Carousel.

How to get around with children

The city is designed for walking. Most of the streets in Manhattan are laid out in a grid, so you can find your way around pretty easily.

The outer boroughs are connected by far-reaching subway lines that run all day long. If you get lost, that’s half the fun. Don’t be shy about asking a New Yorker for help; rumours to the contrary, people in New York City are super helpful and love showing off their city.

If the kids are getting tired, there are lots of taxis and Ubers to bring you back to your hotel. Download the Arro and Uber apps to your phone for easy summoning.

If you’re traveling with kids, suitcases and, perhaps, a guidebook in hand, get in the queue at the airport for a yellow taxi. From JFK, there’s a flat fee of $52 to New York City plus tolls. A taxi from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) will cost upwards from $30 or $50, respectively, plus tolls depending on your final destination.

My tips for parents

  • It helps to see the city from higher up, especially if you’re a little one. The wondrous High Line, a walking park built in an abandoned elevated train track, traces a route along the city’s Hudson River, with plantings, food carts and art.Or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for an astonishing view of downtown Manhattan.

Wannabe Cinderellas and their Princes will love climbing the Shrek-like Belvedere Castle in Central Park for an expansive view of the Upper East Side.

HighLine New York

Credit: Julienne Schaer

  • Are your children budding chefs? At Cool Mess (137 East 62nd St; 212-355-9834) on the Upper East Side, you can don aprons and make your own ice cream. Or create your own designer cookies using edible markers at the Color Me section at Eleni’s New York (75 Ninth Ave; 888-435-3647) in Chelsea Market (perfect after a walk on the High Line).
  • There’s nowhere better than Manhattan to give your kids an introduction to theatre, TV and the movies. Are they wannabe actors? Take the kids backstage with Walks of New York at the New Amsterdam Theater, home to Disney productions such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. Here they can try on costumes and play with the actual props from some of these shows.

Older kids will love the Central Park TV and Movies Sites walking tour. They’ll recognise the Literary Walk from Glee, The Smurfs and Trainwreck; the Boathouse from Home Alone 2; the Plaza Hotel from Home Alone and the Bethesda Fountain from Stuart Little. And there are lots of photo ops to make their friends jealous!

Have you been to New York with kids? Can you add your own recommendation? Leave a comment below to let us know.

  1. Devon says:

    You can also check out the NYC playtime at Vimbly https://www.vimbly.com/kidsnyc
    It provides NYC kids great fun and adventure.

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