OVERVIEW OF NYC: I was born outside the city so it holds a special place in my heart. NYC took on a whole new meaning after I started bringing my girls here and I was so touched that they love this city so much. It may seem a bit overwhelming with the hustle and bustle, but it is actually a perfect vacation spot for families. There is ample transportation and the streets are easy to follow since they are numbered. My husband would often travel to NYC so we would tag along and enjoy the city while he worked all day. I did it all by myself with a stroller, a 2 year old, and a 4 year old. We would be exploring the city from morning until early evening (when we would rest up at the hotel before dinner). We loved every minute of it. Well, I could have skipped the moment when my 2 year old told me, “I’m not taking one more step!” and she proceeded to lie down on the dirty streets of NYC. Did I mention that was the day I decided to not bring the stroller?
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: This museum is by far our favorite in NYC and it is always our first stop. It has the best dinosaur exhibits of any museum we’ve ever been to. Our favorite sections are: Hall of Ocean Life, Asian Mammals, Hall of Asian Peoples, African Mammals, and African Peoples. They even have a Butterfly Conservatory, but I think it’s only open from Oct-May. My girls have been going here since age 2 so there really is something for everyone to enjoy. They gained a new appreciation for it after watching Night at the Museum! We would spend the whole day if we wanted but there’s so much to do in NYC that we make it a half day by picking our favorite exhibits and choosing a few we haven’t seen.
- Open daily 10:00-5:45
- “Suggested donation” (You can choose to pay less but the money goes towards keeping the museum fabulous so we always pay it.) Adults $22, Children 2-12 $12.50, Seniors and Students $17.
- There is an extra charge for the IMAX theater, planetarium shows, and special exhibits.
- Located on the Upper West Side across the street from Central Park.
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART: The first time we came here I wasn’t sure if it would be age appropriate because my youngest was only 3. It is absolutely perfect for any age and it became another absolute favorite place in NYC. My oldest daughter loves anything about Egypt (She wishes she was Cleopatra) and they both like being able to touch the mummy cases and walking inside the displays that look like the inside of the pyramids. The last time we went they were obsessed with the jewelry and pretended to be choosing which one they would bring home (Dream big ladies!). My youngest loves the Medieval Art section. She is my wild child and loves looking at the weapons and armor. The torture devices are a particular favorite (Lord help me!). Since I let them choose their favorite things to see they let me choose mine and I always choose to see the paintings by Monet and Van Gogh.
- Open Friday & Saturday 10:00-9:00, Sunday-Thursday 10:00-5:30
- Adults $25, Seniors $17, Students $12, Children under age 12 are FREE
- Located in the Upper East Side by Central Park
CARRIAGE RIDES: Hands down this is the best way to see the park and get a feel for where you want to explore. On your trip you are likely to pass the zoo, Wollman Rink, the Dairy, the Carousel, the Pond, and the Dakota. The horses line up along Central Park between 5th and 6th street. The drivers (??) are knowledgeable about the park but also entertaining and my kids always like hearing all the facts. Once, their driver gave them carrots at the end of the ride and let them feed the horse. Depending on the season, each ride will feel completely different.
- Horses give rides from Monday-Friday starting at 10:00 am, and Saturday and Sunday starting at 9:00 am.
- Rides cost $50 for a ½ hour and $20 each additional 10 minutes (Don’t forget to tip!)
- In summer the horses can’t give rides (and shouldn’t) if the temperature is over 89 degrees. In winter they can’t give rides if the temperature is under 19 degrees.
- Capacity is 4 adults, or 3 adults and 2 kids, or 1 adult with 4 kids.
CENTRAL PARK ZOO and TISCH ZOO: My kids like to point out every movie location in NYC and this one is one of their favorite cartoons…Madagascar. However, they were surprised to find out there were no lions, giraffes, zebras, or rhinos. (Sorry Alex the Lion fans!) It is such a quaint zoo that lets you have a fun zoo experience without having to do an entire day of staring at animals. (If you feel like doing that, the Bronx Zoo is a must). This is a great place to sit and watch adorable animals such as penguins, snow leopards, grizzly bears, polar bears, monkeys, and sea lions. There is a beautiful rain forest section that lets you forget you are in the middle of a busy city. If you are there during the hour or half hour times, make sure you see the historic Delacorte Musical Clock with animals dancing around to the sound of children’s nursery rhymes. There is also a 4D movie that plays on all your senses. The girls loved when the water sprayed on them, wind blew, and “critters” tickled the backs of their feet. It is an adorablel zoo that has the most amazing backdrop of the high-rises of NYC. The TISCH CHILDREN’S ZOO is a small zoo is located right near the Central Park Zoo. It has hands-on activities for kids including a petting zoo with goats and sheep. There are also areas for kids to play and run around.
- Located at 64th Street and 5th Ave
- Open: Daily 10:00-5:00
- Cost: Includes the main zoo, Tisch Children’s Zoo, and 1 entry to the 4-D Theater. Adults $18, Children 3-12 $13, Seniors $15. (Tickets are 10% cheaper if purchased online) General Admission to just Central Park Zoo is Adults $12, Children 3-12 $7, Seniors $9.
SWEDISH COTTAGE MARIONETTE THEATER: We discovered this gem of a theater on one of our first trips to NYC. It is wonderful for younger children and parents will appreciate the beautiful details of the puppets as well as the skill involved in creating a marionette puppet play. The plays are mostly based on children’s classics like Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Hansel and Gretel. One time when we were there a school was doing a field trip but usually it is not crowded. I would recommend buying tickets in advance to make sure you can get in. The theater itself is a beautiful work of art in the park. It was imported to the US in 1876 from Sweden.
- Tickets cost $10 for adults and $7 for children.
- Located on 79th on West Drive.
- Do not show up late. We were about 5 minutes late and the woman at the door didn’t want to let us in.
BELVEDERE’S CASTLE: This is one of the most surprising places in Central Park and you feel transported back in time as you stand inside this gorgeous 1869 castle. When you stand at the top of the castle you get breathtaking views of the Great Lawn. It is no wonder the castle got its name from the Italian phrase “beautiful view.” Your kids might notice this castle was used in the first Smurf movie.
- Open daily from 10:00-5:00
- Located mid park at 79th street
One of the best things to do in Central Park is simply stroll around and get lost in the beauty of the park. Walk down the winding paths and take in the sights of the flowers, ponds, and bridges. NY considers this park their backyard and they take pride in it. Before I went I wondered if it would be dirty but it really is a lovely, well maintained park that is safe to walk around during the day. Here are a few of my favorite places:
CIRCLE LINE CRUISE: I love to get a different perspective of the area and one of the best ways to do this is by boat. The Circle Line reminds me of my childhood so I knew the girls would like it. The boat takes you past many important NY sites including the Statue of Liberty, Columbia University, South Street Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge, Yankee Stadium, the Cloisters, Grant’s Tomb, and many more. My girls were really interested in the Statue of Liberty and this cruise takes you within 100 feet of Lady Liberty. You can’t beat sitting in the sun with wind in your hair watching the amazing views of the skyline of this great city. The commentary is informative and is a good way to learn some history of NYC.
- Boats depart from Pier 83 (On West 42nd Street & 12h Avenue)
- Departs daily at 10:00, 12:00, and 2:00 from Apr 27- Sept 7. In September & October there is only a 10:00 and 12:00 boat.
- Cost: Adults $41, Children (Ages 3-12) $27, Seniors $36
- Food and beverages are available for purchase.
EMPIRE STATES BUILDING: I had visions of my daughters and I at the top of the Empire States Building gazing at the beauty of NYC (sigh). Well maybe I should have looked at the weather and understood that if it was windy at the bottom then it would just get worse at the top. It was so windy that my girls were almost blowing away and needless to say we didn’t get the magical moment I had hoped for. But we will go back and when we do they will LOVE the top of this building as much as I do.
- Opened daily from 8:00-1:00 am
- It is less busy from 8:00-10:00
- The view is absolutely gorgeous at night.
- If you buy an express pass you can skip all lines.
- The main deck is on the 86th floor and the top deck is on the 102th.
- Tickets cost: For just the main deck- Adults $32, Children (6-12) $26, Seniors $29; For the main deck as well as the 102th floor Adults $52, Children (6-12) $46, Seniors $49
TOP OF THE ROCK: This is actually where my favorite view of NYC is. The 67th and 68th floors have observation terraces with transparent safety glass. This is perfect for windy days or when there’s a chance of showers. The 70th floor is completely open air. This is the place to get the most magical aerial view of Central Park.
- Open from 8:00-midnight daily.
- Entrance is on 50th Street between 5th and 6th.
- Timed tickets avoid lines but you can also buy unscheduled tickets.
- Tickets cost: Adults $30, Children (6-12) $24, Seniors $28.
MORE NYC FUN:
- Ride the Ferris wheel at Toys R Us in Times Square.
- Get your sugar rush at the M&M store in Times Square. Walls and walls of M&M’s of different colors and flavors are waiting.
- Ride in a taxi. My kids have been in many cabs but they say there’s nothing quite like riding in a NYC cab.
- Bring along a book and read it on the lawn somewhere in Central Park.
- Have a slice of pizza… real pizza. I love you NH but there’s NO comparison.
- Ride Le Carrousel in Bryant Park. It is a beautiful carousel that was designed with a French feel. You can sit on beautifully carved animals while French cabaret music plays. They also have a book library where you can borrow picture books and read them with your kids on one of the many shady benches. (I believe they also take book donations.)
- Visits the American Girl Doll store. This is a little girl’s dream. There is a doll hair salon, doll hospital, doll photo studio, and lots of floors to shop. Reservations are recommended for the café and they do a wonderful little tea party.
- Stroll through Shakespeare’s Garden in Central Park during the spring and summer.
- See a Broadway show (We loved Lion King) or Off Broadway (We loved the Gazillion Bubbles Show)
Still on our bucket list for NYC:
Ride the carousel in Central Park. Seriously…I can’t believe we’ve never done this!! We miss this every time we go.
Tea time at the Plaza
Visit the Intrepid
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Botanical Garden
NY Transit Museum
Go to The Cloisters
See the holiday train show
Go to Children’s Museum of Art
Go to NYC during Christmastime