Are you daydreaming about your next trip to the Big Apple, but wondering what to do beyond the obvious tourist stops? Check out these insider ideas, guaranteed to keep kids engaged and happy while keeping parents from wandering around Times Square (again). Many are tried-and-true kid pleasers and some will leave everyone saying, “I didn’t know we could do that in New York!”
Right in the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens, Roosevelt Island has seen a long and colorful history since the Dutch purchased it in the 1600s. The best way to access it is by aerial tram — kids will love the short but fun ride high above the city! Board the Roosevelt Island Tramway at 59th Street and Second Avenue (a bargain at $4 round-trip) and you’ll arrive on the isle a few minutes later. Once there, you can explore the peaceful Four Freedoms Park, dedicated to FDR; gaze at the slightly creepy ruins of an old smallpox hospital; tour historic structures like the Blackwell House; and enjoy spectacular views of Midtown Manhattan, including the Chrysler Building.
If “math” and “museum” (cue the groaning children) sound dry and boring, then you haven’t heard of MoMath Museum of Mathematics. Two floors of interactive activities are rooted in math concepts but focus on fun — everything from riding a bike with square wheels to painting patterns with digital brushes. Elementary-age kids and up (and adults!) will get the most out of this one. MoMath is located at the north end of Madison Square Park, so hit the playground at this pint-sized oasis afterward, and grab lunch at the original Shake Shack or Eataly.
Hudson River Park is a great kid-friendly destination. At Pier 25, there is a nicely planned 18-hole mini-golf course with great views over the Hudson to boot. After golf, stroll over for brunch or lunch at the family-friendly institution Bubby’s in Tribeca.
There isn’t a better place in the city to feel what life used to be like than the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Guided tours of the restored apartments and businesses of past residents and merchants bring New York’s sometimes gritty history to life. This one is really for kids in second grade and up (note that babies and children under 6 are not permitted on tours) and provides a great lens into what life was like for those trying to make it in New York. Continue the taste of the Lower East side with lunch at famous Katz’s Delicatessen.
Hop on the East River ferry from Midtown or Wall Street to Brooklyn Bridge Park. A quick boat ride is always a crowd-pleaser, and it takes passengers directly to the park — Brooklyn made easy! Head to Pier 2 Roller Rink for skating to Top 40 music in an outdoor/covered space. Skates and roller blades are available for rent; they even have rolling stabilizers for kids who aren’t yet comfortable on skates. After the rink, take in the views under Brooklyn Bridge and have an ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, or a pizza at Juliana’s near the bridge. The youngest visitors will also enjoy nearby Jane’s Carousel. If you still have energy, enjoy a memorable walk back across the bridge into Manhattan.
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It doesn’t get much more iconic than the Statue of Liberty, but we included it on this list because of a program not many people know about: the Junior Ranger program. Take the ferry over, and after collecting the audio tour, head to the Information Center for a one-page activity sheet. Find the clues and return the completed sheet to be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger of Liberty Island and receive your badge. It’s great way to do the Statue of Liberty in about an hour.
This one is a win for everyone — a delicious meal in the trendy Meatpacking District and an adjacent beer garden with table tennis and foosball. The beer garden definitely caters to adults, but we’ve seen plenty of families blowing off steam during brunch and lunch. Your significant other will appreciate the chance to have a beer in the huge covered patio area too!
TIP: The Standard Hotel also has its own skating rink during winter, which is intimate and much less chaotic than Woolman Rink or Rockefeller Center.
Tucked away in the middle of Greenwich Village, across from Father Demo Square, lies Downing Street Playground. It’s a traditional little park with a climbing structure and a few swings, but there is room to frolic before or after taking in some of the culinary delights around the corner on Bleecker Street, like a slice from Joe’s Pizza or a black and white cookie from Rocco’s Italian bakery. If there’s time, walk around Washington Square Park, which recently enjoyed a makeover; its southwest corner now features an innovative climbing net area with artificial turf underneath.
The High Line, which runs from the Meatpacking District up to Chelsea, has become a fun and family-friendly strolling destination for sightseeing and people watching. They even have family programming throughout the year. There are coffee, gelato and food options along the way. Or finish the walk at the downtown end and venture into the Gansevoort Market food hall, which features everything from lobster rolls to Thai food for budding foodies.
If the weather isn’t cooperating and kids need to burn off some energy, they will enjoy the indoor table tennis “club” SPIN. It can be pricey to reserve a table in advance, but there are open periods (especially during the day) when families can walk in and grab a table for an hour. A bonus for parents is that someone else chases the endless supply of bright orange balls, and they deliver food and drinks to the table.
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