New York

Revealed! How to do New York with kids

By Meryl Pearlstein

19 July 20198 min read

An aerial view of Coney Island amusement park in New York with brightly coloured rides and high-rise buildings in the background

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.

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

First, you’ll need a place to camp out. Many NYC hotels are family-friendly, offering free cribs on request, high chairs, strollers 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, complimentary rentals of a range of gadgets including Instagram printers, iPad Minis, PlayStation Vita, Beats Pill Portable Bluetooth speakers, Beat by Dre headphones and night-vision goggles. And it’s a dream location if you’re heading to an event at Madison Square Garden.

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. Plus it’s a short walk away from Madison Square Park with its playground, dog run, and the original Shake Shack.

Check all for special or even kids-go-free offers which vary by season.

Where to eat with kids

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. They know just a little bit about pizza! Totonno’s was founded in 1924. Or if you’re spending the day shopping or touring Little Italy, opt for a tomato pie or a clam pie at Manhattan’s oldest pizzeria, Lombardi’s (32 Spring Street, Manhattan; 212-941-7994) dating from 1905.

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 the more adventurous, head to Brooklyn for a veritable Chinese feast of small plates at East Harbor Seafood Palace (714 65th St., Brooklyn, 718-765-0098).

American BBQ is something every visitor to the US should experience. Blue Smoke (116 East 27th St; 212-447-7733) is a great introduction with specially designed children’s portions and meals. If you’re in the middle of Times Square, Virgil’s is your go-to for kid-friendly BBQ with special menus and BBQ tastes from all around the U.S. (152 West 44th Street, Manhattan, 212-921-9494).

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. 16 Handles (numerous locations), a self-service frozen yogurt emporium, is a favorite among families with creative toppings like mochi, Fruity Pebbles cereal, and fresh fruit.

What to do with kids

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).

From the park’s Western edge, it’s a short walk to the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 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 ever-expanding Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO is a mecca for families and has terrific views of Manhattan plus a historic merry-go-round. On the other side of the river, at the tip of Manhattan, the futuristic Seaglass Carousel in Battery Park is a crowd-pleaser for all ages.

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. Surcharges apply depending on the time of day. A taxi from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) will cost upwards from $35 or $55, respectively, plus tolls and surcharges depending on your final destination. Ubers and other car shares also service the airports.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Take Walks 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!

JW Marriott Essex House New York

  • New York, United States
  • 30 December 2024
  • Room only
  • From Heathrow

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