The Best Things to Do in NYC with Kids

A complete guide to kids activities in NYC

Image of author Maureen
Maureen
18. July 2019
214 ratings

It’s not always easy to keep the little ones entertained while traveling. The good news is that New York is an amazing destination for families. If you’re wondering how to spend a great time in New York with your kids, have a look at these fun things to do.

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Kids activities in NYC

There are probably more cool things to do in NYC with kids than you think. Did you know that you can even take them onto a rooftop bar? Most of the activities listed below work just as well for adults, so even if you are traveling without children you can find easily find inspiration for a good time here. For activities geared specifically for adults, check out these fun things to do in NYC.

1. Relax on a boat

Staten Island Ferry at sunset

Taking a cruise with kids in New York is an exciting and at the same time a relaxing way to do some sightseeing. Kids can get tired easily from walking around too much, so hopping on a boat is a nice way to regain some energy. Your options of day cruises are wide and varied. For a short boat ride, we recommend the New York Water Taxi (a hop-on-hop-off ferry) and the free Staten Island Ferry. Both are quick and affordable. If you prefer a sightseeing cruise, consider Circle Line’s 1.5-hour long Best of NY Cruise.

2. Let them explore some cool playgrounds

Kids in New York

New York is not only home to many parks, but also to many playgrounds! Chances are that where there is a park, there’s at least one playground! Central Park alone is home to more than 20 playgrounds and none is quite like another, giving your kids plenty of choices. So whenever you ask yourself what there is to do with children in New York, going to a playground is always a no-brainer.

3. Take them on a carousel ride

Kids on a Carousel in New York

Jane’s Carousel in Battery Park and the Seaglass Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park are both iconic carousels in New York. Before you take your kids there, be sure to check the opening hours as they differ from day to day. Compared to the SeaGlass Carousel at $5, kids can enjoy Jane’s Carousel at only $2. The SeaGlass Carousel, however, enjoys more popularity among kids for its surreal underwater-themed look.

4. Enjoy yourselves at Luna Park and Coney Island

Kids activities in New York

Inarguably one of the best things to do in NYC with kids during the summer is heading to Coney Island in Brooklyn! A great feature here is that you can combine a beautiful day at the beach with a visit to the adjacent amusement park, Luna Park. Speaking of, a lot of attraction passes include a ticket to Luna Park. Coney Island has the best beach in the area and is only one subway ride away from Manhattan. It’ll take you about an hour to get there. If you want to stay closer to the city, you can check out our favorite New York beaches for this year and make a choice from there!

5. Let them play at Chelsea Piers

Things to do with kids in NYC

If you are looking for truly fun things to do in NYC with your kids, then Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex by the Hudson River is the place to go. The giant sports village gives you plenty to do. The indoor activities offered here include indoor climbing, mini golfing, bowling, outdoor driving, ice skating, swimming, and more. There are also activities catered specifically to adults – fun for everyone!

6. Watch a parade

New York Parades

Many of the world’s most famous parades take place in New York City. Whether it’s children or adults, everyone gets excited to see giant floats, balloons, and costumes in the streets. The largest parade held in New York is the annual Thanksgiving Parade, but even smaller parades can be a lot of fun for kids in NYC. There are even parades in which anyone is invited to participate. Those parades include the Easter Parade, Mermaid Parade, and Halloween Parade for example.

7. Go Ice skating or cycling

Ice skating rink in New York

Depending on the season, you can either choose to go ice skating or cycling with your kids in NYC! During the winter season, New York offers you a handful of spacious ice skating rinks. Alternatively, you can ride a bike pretty much anywhere in the city. When visiting New York with kids, however, avoid Manhattan’s busy streets. Instead, head to Governors Island or Central Park where you have no cars, more space, and nature.

8. Spend some time at an arcade

Things to do in NYC with kids

If you ever need to kill a few hours in New York with your kids, consider taking them to an arcade! I personally love Modern Pinball Arcade, but you will also find other arcades like Dave & Busters around Times Square. The Modern Pinball Arcade is a more authentic-feeling arcade compared to the larger arcades. Generally though, going to an arcade with your kids is a great way to escape the weather, whether it’s too hot or too cold on that day.

9. Work together at an escape room

Escape Room in New York

Escape rooms are an adventure for the whole family! You’ll need to solve a mystery by working together as a team. Oftentimes, I’ve noticed kids do better than adults in the themed rooms. Escape games are some of the most exciting things to do with kids in NYC and a visit typically takes about 1.5 hours, including one hour for the game itself. You’ll find escape room companies all across the city, all of which offer unique missions.

10. Defy gravity at iFLY

If you want to do something a little more special with your kids in NYC, one of the most amazing experiences you can do is stop by iFLY. The indoor skydiving hall will make you feel what it’s like to fly. Who hasn’t dreamed of flying when they were kids? Here, you can actually experience it! I’ve done it twice already and loved every second of it. The closest iFLY is located in Paramus, NJ, a 50-minute ride from Midtown Manhattan. Before or after iFLY, you can also take your kids to the Garden State Plaza Mall t close by to do some shopping.


Kid-friendly New York attractions

1. See wild animals at New York’s zoos

Bronx Zoo with kids

Going to the zoo will always be a great activity for kids. There, they can admire wild animals like gorillas and tigers and even watch penguin or sea lion feedings. You should know that New York is home to more than just one zoo! Apart from the Bronx Zoo, there’s Central Park Zoo, Staten Island Zoo and a few more, giving you plenty of options!

2. Experience nature at a botanical garden

NYC Botanical Garden with kids

For families, a visit to a botanical garden is quite refreshing. Kids of every age will enjoy the fresh air, green space, and marvel at all the different plants and installations. In New York, you can either visit the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Both locations host family-friendly events throughout the year that can make your visit even more exciting.

3. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway

Kids activities in NYC

The Roosevelt Island Tramway is a great and affordable attraction in New York. A ride takes about 3-4 minutes and is free with an unlimited MetroCard. If you don’t have one, a ride will cost you $3. Upon your arrival on the mostly car-free island, you can explore the parks, learn about historical sights, and enjoy the views of Midtown Manhattan. To get around, you can rent bikes and scooters. Throughout the summer, you’ll even be able to participate in regularly hosted and typically free family events. All in all, Roosevelt Island makes for a perfect family day trip!

4. Enjoy views from an observation deck

New York with kids

Children love observation decks. They are spectacular and leave them in awe. The number of observation decks is slowly increasing. As of right now, you can ascend the Empire State Building, The Top of the Rock and the World Observatory. In 2020, New York’s newest and highest open observation deck “The Edge” at Hudson Yards will be added to the list. Before you buy individual tickets, be sure to know that observation decks are included in the New York attraction passes.

5. Take the ferry to Governors Island

best things to do with kids in nyc

During the warmer months in NYC, Governors Island turns into the perfect summer location. You can simply walk around, ride a bike, have a picnic, or even participate in one of the many family-friendly events taking place on the small island. To get there, you’ll need to take a ferry which is a fun activity in itself as you and the kids can enjoy great views of the city.

6. Visit the Statue of Liberty

Kids on Liberty Island

A visit to the Statue of Liberty includes a ferry ride and access to Liberty Island, where you can visit the statue’s crown, the pedestal and the free Statue of Liberty Museum. Seeing the Statue of Liberty is a must for every visitor. With kids, exploring the island is the best option to see it. It’s not unlikely that you’ll spend several hours here with your kids. If you don’t want to visit the island but see the statue, you can read our full Statue of Liberty guide for more options.

7. Climb the Vessel

The Vessel at Hudson Yards

Climbing the Hudson Yards Vessel is another free activity you can enjoy with your kids. Though it is free to visit, you do need to reserve tickets in advance. Available tickets are quickly exhausted, so when trying to get tickets for a family, take care of them as soon as you can. Another thing worth mentioning is that the only way to ascend the Vessel is by stairs! You cannot take a stroller which may affect your decision to visit the Vessel in New York with your kids.

8. Ride the hop-on-hop-off buses

Hop-on-hop-off with kids

If you’re planning to do sightseeing in NYC with kids, then the hop-on-hop-off buses will be the most convenient option. You won’t have to drag your kids along and ride the subway from A to B. This way they can simply enjoy the ride while learning about the highlights even when they’re tired. Make sure to secure a spot at the top – kids love it! During the winter months, make sure to dress your children appropriately. It can get a bit chilly inside the buses!

9. Enjoy a stroll through one of New York’s many parks

Central Park with kids

Even though New York City may seem like a concrete jungle at first, it actually has a lot of green spaces for you to stroll around. New York’s most known parks include High Line Park, Central Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park but you should also consider smaller parks like Paley Park in Midtown Manhattan for a short break. It’s got a waterfall, making it even greater in the summer!

Kids museums in NYC

Even though we mostly assume that kids will easily get bored in museums, it’s not always entirely true. They may not appreciate art like adults do yet, but there are museums in New York that are specifically designed to cater to children. In the same vein, many museums nowadays incorporate a high degree of interactivity and immersion, making it all the more attractive to kids. Below are some of the best museums in New York for kids.

1. Madame Tussauds

NYC museums for kids

Located in Midtown Manhattan, Madame Tussauds is one of the most loved museums by children. It lets you wander through room after room where you meet wax-figure celebrities, movie characters, and other childhood heroes. All of them are deceptively real-looking! Kids get a real kick out of Madame Tussauds! When you’re traveling as a family, this is also a great place to take memorable and funny photos.

2. National Geographic Encounter

The National Geographic Encounter takes you on a breathtaking journey through the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The immersive technology used here allows you and your children to witness nature like never before. Simulating an experience like getting to whales and playing with sea lions right in the heart of New York is entirely possible.

3. Museum of the Moving Image

Kids museums New York

At the Museum of the Moving Image, children can enjoy immersive multimedia exhibitions and interactive experiences. The audio and visual components will occupy kids for quite some time and teach them about the history, creation, and impact of digital media. All this is topped by an extensive collection of video games. The museum has been adding new features over the years, increasing their popularity substantially.

4. SPYSCAPE

fun things to do in nyc with kids

While learning about the world of spies at SPYSCAPE, kids will be solving puzzles, taking quizzes, and completing a variety of challenges that make them feel like true spies. The motto of this museum is learning by doing! At the end of the visit, everyone will learn what kind of spy they’d qualify for based on the results of various challenges that are saved onto an RFID chip inside a bracelet.

5. MoMath

Fun museums for kids NYC

In my opinion, the Museum of Mathematics is one of the best kids museums in NYC. Nobody needs to be a math genius to come here. You don’t even have to be enthusiastic about math at all. You’ll still be amazed by the wonders of math. Where else can kids (and adults) ride a bicycle with square wheels? It’s fun to explore the many phenomena throughout the museum that can be explained using math.

6. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Intrepid Carrier NYC

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a true kid favorite. The family-friendly museum offers exhibition and hands-on experiences. The coolest part? It’s a real aircraft-carrier called Intrepid. The museum showcases several different types of aircraft and space crafts from the Airforce and Navy. It’s a maritime museum that caters to families making it a great kids museum.

7. New York Hall of Science (NYSCI)

NYSCI is located in Flushing, Corona and is a wonderful museum for kids in New York because of its science and technology center that houses a 3D theater. In total, there are more than 450 hands-on exhibits on biology, physics, and chemistry. Way to make science fun! The museum was specifically designed to cater to families.

8. New York Transit Museum

Have your kids ever been to an underground museum? The New York Transit Museum is actually located in a real subway station! Down there, historical artifacts (like subway cars and buses) of NYC’s public means of transport are displayed here. One of the most interesting exhibits in the Transit Museum is the Vintage fleet, reaching back as far as 1907.

9. Museum of Illusions

This is one of the most fun museums in NYC for kids right now. It’s a pop-up museum that will make you question your sense of reality with optical illusions. The museum guarantees a great time, lots of laughter and the funniest photos. The exhibits will stimulate your cognitive abilities in a way that it will be hard for you to believe your eyes. An alternative to the Museum of Illusions is a visit to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Out of the two, I highly urge you to see the Museum of Illusions, though!

10. Children’s Museum

New York is home to several children’s museums, like the Manhattan Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Jewish Children’s Museum. Out of the three, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is the largest one and, more interestingly, the oldest one in the world! When thinking about the best things to do in NYC with kids, you can never go wrong with a children’s museum. The name says it all!

11.  American Museum of Natural History

Best kids museums in New York

The American Museum of Natural History is a museum classic and one of the kid-friendliest museums in New York. Where else can you go to see real dinosaur skeletons? Big or small, they are impressive and revive your kids’ imaginations. What kids also love about the American Museum of Natural history is the Hayden Planetarium. It hosts a variety of events and programs that are fun, exciting and educational at the same time.


NYC shows for kids

See a Broadway Show

NYC shows for kids

There are plenty of family-friendly shows in New York, some of which are considered Broadway shows and others that are considered Off-Broadway shows. Not surprisingly, however, kids typically love Disney musicals like Frozen, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Wicked the best. You can certainly never go wrong with one of those, regardless of the age of your children. Nevertheless, there are kid-friendly shows in New York beyond Disney musicals. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Blue Man Group and The Gazillion Bubble Show are all shows that kids are likely to enjoy.


Kids stores in NYC

1. Get lost in FAO Schwarz

NYC toy store

When it comes to kids stores in New York, you’ll still have a tough decision to make because there are so many great ones! While Disney Stores are very common across the country, FAO Schwarz established itself as a more unique store. The 2-floor toy shop is located right at Rockefeller Plaza making it very convenient to visit. From stuffed animals all the way to high-tech toys, your kids will be spoiled for choice.

2. Take a peek into LEGO Flagship Store

Just a few steps from FAO Schwarz, you’ll find the LEGO Flagship Store. What could possibly be more fun than walking into a giant LEGO box? The Lego Flagship Store feels like a store and a museum at the same time. So even if you don’t plan on buying LEGO products, it’s well worth a visit to simply look around. The giant LEGO figures will make your kids’ jaws drop!

3. Get your personal M&Ms

M&Ms World at Times Square is extremely impressive! Here your kids can find the largest selection of M&Ms they will ever get to see. The M&Ms here come in all colors and packages you could possibly imagine. Kids simply love exploring every level of the store. One of the best things you can do with your kids in New York is head to the M&Ms factory inside the store. Your little ones can choose to have their personal M&M’s made. It’s a cool and at the same time delicious souvenir!

4. Explore Books of Wonder

Exploring a bookstore can also be one of the more fun things to do in NYC with kids! For roughly 30 years, Books of Wonder has been selling books to New Yorkers as an independent book store. Now, why is this store particularly interesting for kids? It’s a kids bookstore! While they initially focused on antique children’s books, they now also stock a variety of new children’s books. In short, there’s something for every kid.

5. Get dressed at Torly Kid

Torly Kid is a local Tribeca store that sells cool and cute kids clothes. If you’re looking for something special compared to big chain clothing stores, Torly Kid should be one of your top choices for shopping in New York with kids. The clothes and accessories selection is quite diverse

6. Feel like a princess at American Girl Place & Café

Doll store in New York

This store is every little kid’s dream! The number of dolls in this New York kids store is unparalleled. Your children can even choose to create their own doll, which is what’s most special about this store. Even when traveling without kids, getting a customized souvenir here will make their eyes glow! There’s even a café you can have tea, brunch, lunch, and even dinner at.


New York restaurants for kids

1. Get 50% off at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ

Kids meal at Brother Jimmy

Traveling to NYC with kids is not cheap, which is why you should take advantage of some great deals. At Brother Jimmy’s for example, you’ll get 50% off every kid’s meal in combination with a regular meal. It’s an easy way to save money in New York with children and the food is delicious, too. There are two locations in Midtown Manhattan.

2. Make and eat pizza at Jimmy Max

Jimmy Max is a child-friendly restaurant, where you can not only eat with your kids but also make your own pizza! The Children’s Pizza Making at the Staten Island restaurant is free with any adult purchase on Mondays and Tuesdays after 5 pm. It’s a great way to combine the free Staten Island Ferry, a dinner and a fun activity for kids.

3. Save on food at Uncle Jacks Steakhouse

Uncle Jacks Steakhouse’s Sunday Special is hard to beat. From 4 pm onwards, children at the age of 12 or under eat for free with a dining adult.  The kid’s menu lists burgers, chicken tenders, pasta, a selection of sides, and a dessert.

4. Get your daily sugar intake at a Candy Bar

Candy bar for kids in NYC

What kid doesn’t like candy? Regardless of personal preferences, kids will find what they want at the famous Dylan’s Candy Bar. Walking into this candy land, all you see is candy wherever you look. It can be overwhelming at first, but there are surely worse types of stress! You can even buy safe-to-eat raw cookie dough from one of my favorite spots Do.

6. Enjoy the spectacular views from a rooftop bar

NYC rooftop bars with kids

Visiting a rooftop bar in NYC with kids? That’s not a problem! While it’s typically not allowed to take minors to rooftop bars in the United States, New York has some exceptions for you! Though you still cannot take your kids to rooftop bars at night, there are bars allowing kids throughout the day. This way you and your children can still enjoy a refreshing soda with amazing views of the city. One of the rooftop bars we recently discovered is Westlight in Brooklyn. More of our favorite rooftop bars you can visit with children are:

  • 230 Fifth in the Flatiron District
    Monday-Friday from 4 to 6 pm and on weekends from 10 am – 6 pm
  • Refinery Rooftop in Midtown Manhattan
    Monday-Saturday: 11:30 am – 6 pm and on Sundays all day
  • The Roof in Midtown Manhattan
    Monday-Friday from 3 – 7 pm and on weekends from 1 – 7 pm
  • Gallow Green in Chelsea
    daily until 11 pm

Fun day trips from New York with kids

Kids discounts

When thinking about things to do in NYC with kids, you do have to consider the cost of attractions and activities. There is no doubt that traveling as a family is expensive. That’s why it’s very important to plan ahead and inform yourself about discounts for kids. Depending on the age of your children, they may be eligible discounts and, in the best case, free admission!

Sightseeing passes for kids

Especially if you’re visiting New York for the first time, you probably will take advantage of one of the many different attraction passes to save some money. All attraction passes offer a discount for kids, the deciding factor being age. All children below the ages stated in the table enjoy free admission!

You don’t know which attraction pass would make sense for your trip? Try out our savings calculator and you’ll find out in just a few clicks!

FREE admission for kids

Each attraction in New York has different regulations, which is why it can be a pain to perform the necessary research. To help you out, we’ve listed some popular attractions, where kids under certain ages will enjoy free admission. This list should help you know where to save money with kids in New York.

Museums

  • 9/11 Memorial Museum: ≤ 6
  • American Museum of Natural History: pay what you wish
  • Brooklyn Children’s Museum: ≤1
  • Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air, and Space: ≤4
  • Madame Tussauds: ≤2
  • MoMA: ≤16
  • MoMath: ≤2
  • Museum of the Moving Image: ≤3
  • New York Transit Museum: ≤1
  • New York Hall of Science: ≤1
  • SPYSCAPE: ≤2
  • Whitney Museum: ≤18

Attractions

  • Empire State Building: ≤6
  • One World Observatory: ≤5
  • Statue of Liberty: ≤3
  • Top of the Rock: ≤6

Zoos & Gardens

  • Bronx Zoo: ≤2
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden: ≤12
  • New York Botanical Garden: ≤1
  • Queens Botanical Garden: ≤3
  • Staten Island Zoo: ≤2

Other

  • Hop-on-hop-off buses by Big Bus: ≤4
  • Hop-on-hop-off buses by GrayLine: ≤2
  • Circle Line Cruises: ≤2
  • Water Taxi: ≤2

Do you have another cool idea or a tip on what to do in NYC with kids? Please let me know and I’m happy to add your suggestion!!

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