Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

New York City can be a magical place for kids © Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

New York City has something for visitors of all ages – including the youngest ones.

This world capital is home to some of the best museums, inventive restaurants and beautiful parks in the world, which (with a little planning) kids can enjoy as much as adults. Read on for the best things things to do in New York City with children.

Is New York City good for kids?

The city’s hustle and bustle can quickly tucker out children – and parents. Long city blocks can be exhausting to little limbs. Cozy cafes are a tight squeeze for strollers. Yet exploring Gotham with the kids is also a magical experience, one that lets grown-ups experience one of the world’s most famous places through new eyes. Here are a few ways to make your next New York City trip a family-friendly delight.

Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

The American Museum of Natural History is a popular spot to spend a day with the kids © Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock

Gather under the whale at the American Museum of Natural History

You don’t have to be a science buff to enjoy the renowned American Museum of Natural History. From the life-sized dinosaur skeletons (including one of a scary Tyrannosaurus rex) to the galaxy-spanning presentations of the Hayden Planetarium, families could easily spend days at this thrilling museum. Your kids will be especially impressed with the jaw-dropping, 94ft-long hanging blue whale made out of 21,000 pounds of foam and fiberglass.  

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Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

New Victory Theater mounts Broadway-caliber shows geared for young audiences © Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Catch a kid-friendly Broadway show at New Victory Theater

Few visitors to New York City can resist its spectacular selection of Broadway shows – but kids don’t always have the stamina for two-hour-plus productions, and the outlay for tickets may not seem worth it if you end up in the lobby with a rambunctious child. Luckily, New Victory Theater, located in the heart of Times Square, is one of NYC’s best-kept secrets: a nonprofit venue that produces shows geared exclusively toward kids and families.

Each play has a suggested target age, ranging from babies to older kids, making it easy for parents to plan. Once the house lights go down, spectators will be captivated by theatrical fare of the highest quality, which might include puppets, fairy tales, magic shows and more – all at an affordable price point. Sensory-friendly performances are often also available.

Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

The SeaGlass Carousel is a fantastically unique spin on the classic horse carousel © Bo Zaunders / Getty Images

Take a spin on the SeaGlass Carousel

One of the most mesmerizing attractions to hit the city in recent years, the SeaGlass Carousel is a vision of aquamarine, pink and coral spinning under a spiral-domed pavilion. The fiberglass fish are best seen at night when a light show is projected against the walls,  creating the feeling of being underwater. Kids can choose from a dozen types of fish to ride; instead of moving around a pole, the fish spin on turntables, which adds to the ethereal experience. 

Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

Central Park is a free family-friendly activity in New York City © Granger Wootz / Getty Images

Run around in the sunshine in Central Park 

The 845-acre urban oasis of Central Park is New York’s most beloved (and most famous) green space. With well-maintained meadows for picnicking, beautiful paths for walking and an unbelievable 21 playgrounds for playing, the park tops most visitors’ lists.

Don’t miss stopping by Wollman Rink, set up for ice skating in the winter and the Victorian Gardens amusement park in the summer. Young park-goers in particular will adore the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, a fairy tale–like cabin in which audiences take in astonishing puppet productions. 

 A perfect weekend in New York City 

Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

Coney Island has pleasures for visitors of all ages © Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Enjoy hot dogs and coasters at Coney Island

Taking the subway to Coney Island is a summer rite of passage for New Yorkers of all stripes. Located on the last stop on the D, F, Q and N subway lines in Brooklyn, this only–in–New York spot boasts two amusement parks along a glorious beachfront boardwalk. As you slowly rotate the 150ft-high Wonder Wheel and chow down on a Nathan’s hot dog, you’ll enjoy a bit of urban Americana. Older kids will enjoy riding the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster that’s been generating screams of (we think) delight since 1927, while younger kids will find thrills in the kiddie rides. Stay late on Friday nights for a weekly fireworks show.

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Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

Enjoy ice cream, dim sum, street vendors and more tastes of Chinese-American culture in New York City’s Chinatown © Photo Spirit / Shutterstock

Savor the flavors of Chinatown

There’s nothing more fun for the entire family than an afternoon in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Numerous attractions here will keep everyone engaged, from family programming at the Museum of Chinese in America to the unexpected flavors on offer at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

For a unique brunch experience, families should stop by the spacious and ornate dining rooms of Golden Unicorn in the heart of the vibrant neighborhood. This multi-floor Cantonese dim-sum restaurant is as much as an experience as a place to fuel up. Steaming carts will whiz past tables as customers make their selections, choosing from from dumplings in the shape of pigs, pork buns, sweet sesame balls and more. Even picky eaters will find something to love here.

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Bright lights, kids’ city: the best family-friendly things to do in New York

A historic carousel housed in an ultra-modern pavilion, Jane’s Carousel is a highlight of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood © Nielskliim / Shutterstock

Recommended New York City neighborhoods for families

There are countless wonderful neighborhoods in New York, with almost unlimited hotel options catering to all price points and interests. Visiting families often choose to stay on the Upper West Side, which offers easy access to restaurants, museums and glorious Central Park; at the other end of Manhattan, the area around South Street Seaport beckons with historic streets and plenty of playgrounds. One of the more unique areas to stay is Brooklyn’s Dumbo, where cobblestone streets (with few cars) meet the East River under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge overhead.

The opening of the eco-friendly 1 Hotel Brooklyn gives families the perfect spot to rest their weary heads. Kids are welcome all over the hotel, including at the rooftop plunge pool, which offers a view of the Manhattan skyline, and the cafe, which has a kids menu. (Pets are also welcome, so feel free to bring furry little ones, too.) 

The hotel is situated on Pier 6, part of Brooklyn Bridge Park Park, a sprawling waterfront green space offering sports fields, playgrounds, expansive lawns and even kayaking. Kids of all ages will love riding the restored Jane’s Carousel, a 100-year-old merry-go-round offering views of Manhattan across the river.

Hungry youngsters can participate in a time-honored New York tradition: finding the perfect slice. Grimaldi’s is a classic coal-brick-oven pizzeria whose pies are so good Frank Sinatra was once rumored to have delivered them by jet to the West Coast. You’ll know you’re there by the line snaking out the door. (Don’t worry; it moves fast.)

How to get around New York City with kids

There’s no better way to get around New York City with kids than riding the subway. It’s also economical, as children under 44 inches can ride the subway for free when accompanied by an adult. Not all subway stops have elevators, so parents with strollers should take heed.

Parents still on diaper duty will be happy to know that since 2019, all new public buildings and gathering spaces like restaurants, retail spaces and movie theaters have been required to provide diaper-changing stations, helping you avoid those bathroom emergencies.

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