New York is a great city to visit with kids, but it is situated in an extreme climate zone — almost unbearably hot in high summer and bone-shakingly cold in mid-winter. And even when you think you’re visiting at the optimum pleasant weather time it can throw a curve ball. I last visited in late spring, when the city should have been bathed in a gentle warm sunny glow, but instead we had to cope with 30°C+ temperatures for the whole week.
We paid big bucks to take our kids up to the top of the Rockefeller Tower and once they stepped outside at the summit, what did they do? They stood just long enough for us to get a snap of them both up there and then ran back inside to air-conditioned comfort. What a waste of money!
As long as you’re prepared, however, New York can be a great city to visit at any time of the year. Here are our top ten must-dos for a fabulous family trip to Manhattan when the weather isn’t playing game:
Little kids don’t like walking long distances and they hate it even more if they are hot, cold or wet. Most of New York City’s attractions are right by the subway so there will never be far to walk when you reach your stop. Make sure you’re based near one too and you’ll slash the moaning time instantly.
Avoid the central business district and opt instead for a part of the city that houses a large population of families. Manhattan is full of little neighborhoods, those particularly popular with families are found around Central Park and Riverside Park – the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side and Harlem. Whilst away from Manhattan island, Parkslope and Williamsburg in Brooklyn are very popular with families as they offer so much more space and greenery.
Stay too close to Manhattan’s most popular shopping and tourist areas – Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Soho and Greenwich Village – and you’ll find a lot of cute looking, but not necessarily good restaurants where you’ll queue for a cramped table and pay through the nose for the privilege.
In the more ‘local’ neighborhoods you will quickly uncover some great cheaper and less pretentious eateries serving good quality, tasty food. And the choice of terrific takeaway establishments will be phenomenal too.
If you’re close to Riverside Drive or Central Park you’ll find a playground every few blocks, whilst Harlem has the surprisingly large Marcus Garvey Park too. Most of the play areas in these parks have sprinklers, which kids love running in and out of in hot weather; and, for older kids, there is normally a game of baseball, basketball or soccer they can join in with too.
The price you will pay for a night in a decent hotel room in New York City is pretty similar to what you’d pay for a transatlantic flight. It is getting ridiculous. Plus, the rooms tend to be made only for two, so if you’re travelling with children you’re likely to need two rooms.
Opt for a holiday rental instead and a house over an apartment. I say this because it is illegal to rent out an apartment in New York State for less than 30 days. It is legal to rent out a house. And there are some great houses out there.
We stayed in this beautifully restored Brownstone, just a few blocks north of Central Park and right by the subway. It is actually in Harlem, but don’t let this put you off. I was concerned at first, the area deservedly earned itself a bad reputation in the past, but now it is very much a thriving up and coming place to be. We stayed four nights, we found everyone so friendly and helpful and felt completely safe walking around day and night. And there is so much to do there, you don’t even have to go downtown.
The owner lives in the basement apartment and she recommended some great places to visit close by. Marcus Garvey park was at the bottom of the street and at the top of the street you meet the buzzy main thoroughfare where new restaurants such as the Red Rooster join the famous soul food eateries such as Sylvias. There is also the renowned old-fashioned toy store Grandmas and the Apollo Theater with its regular family showtimes, close by too.
Or you could base yourselves outside of Manhattan and train it in from somewhere a little quieter. Check out this whole house on Jamaica Bay in Queens, it sits peacefully on the waterfront with a fabulous view of Manhattan, which is less than a 45-minute train ride away. From here you also get the option of spending a day on the beach, at Rockaway, Long Island.
Despite the law, many hosts do list their apartments for holiday lets. In most cases, even if you rent an ‘illegal’ dwelling, you won’t have any issues. But if things do go wrong you need to understand the risks involved – especially if you have to make claims on insurance or have a problem with the quality of the property. To minimize risk, it’s best to book with a company such as HouseTrip who offer protection if you are worried. For example, if you report your worries about the legal status of the rental within 24 hours of check-in and can provide evidence of your claim (such as a photo of the apartment in a multi-block), HouseTrip will provide a full refund or if possible rehouse you.
If you plan to visit some of Manhattan’s most popular tourist attractions such as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or the Top of the Rockefeller Center, book ahead. You can do this online, in most cases. Same goes for the theatre, baseball games and movies. You often save money by buying tickets in advance and there is much less hanging around in lines in all weathers.
If you’re dressed for the cold or the heat or the rain or the ice, you can cope with it and so will your kids. If you’re visiting in winter, pack snow boots, hats, gloves and thermals. If it’s summer you want a sun hat, sandals, sunblock and little more than t-shirts and shorts. If the weather is being unpredictable you need to pack layers and always take wellies and waterproofs.
New York has dozens of fantastic museums and galleries, many of which run special programs for children. Draw up a list before you go of the ones you’d most like to visit, then you know where to head for in a snowstorm. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is particularly special and it’s open until 7pm.
Hidden away amongst the skyscrapers of downtown, the apartment blocks of midtown and the brownstones of Harlem and the Upper West Side, there are bowling alleys, mini-golf courses, ice rinks, roller-skating parks, swimming pools, climbing walls, tennis courts, squash courts, soft-play centers and even kayaking. Ask your host for recommendations close by. You never need hear that word ‘bored’!
Broadway shows tend to be the most sought after and are often booked up months in advance. Off Broadway shows are much easier to get tickets for last minute and there are often some great productions aimed at children and families. If it suddenly gets too hot or too cold to be outside, take a look at what’s on close by you.
If it’s all getting a bit hot, head out of town to the beach. Coney Island in Brooklyn, Orchard beach in the Bronx and Rockaway Beach in Queens are all just a short train ride away from Manhattan.
If you really want to experience what it’s like to live full-time in New York, spend a day or evening ‘in’. Manhattan is all set up for this. You may find a heap of board games in your holiday rental, or you could pop down to FAO Schwarz and get yourself an all-American souvenir game such as Monopoly New York City or a jigsaw map of the United States. Then you can download a movie and order in from one of the take away delivery services your host may have recommended. Or you could buy an American cookbook, go shopping for all the ingredients, pretend it’s Thanksgiving and make a traditional Yankee feast.
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Editorial Note: This trip to New York was paid for by House Trip. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Anna Tobin except where noted.
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