The first time you spot the Manhattan skyline you can’t help but smile. New York City is a dream destination for children at any time of the year.
Home to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park and other iconic sites and attractions, New York has more than enough to keep any family entertained.
With so much to see and do here you would need several weeks to fit in everything.
We’ve put together specific articles on the best places to go ice skating and the top things to do in New York for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But where do you begin? Well, you can start with our top suggestions for entertaining the kids and adults in the city that never sleeps.
Tip – Look into purchasing a New York CITYPASS or New York Sightseeing Pass before you go. These passes should save you money on attractions which will be needed as New York is an expensive city to visit!
It might be noisy, very touristy and hectic but kids will love Times Square. It’s a technicolour dream with its dazzling lights, gigantic adverts and streaming news along the ticker tape – you might also get the chance to have a photo with the NYPD.
If your kids are like our girls they will love shopping at the huge Disney Store, Hershey’s store and M&M’s World and seeing the stars during the live Good Morning America Show.
Tip – Many television shows are made in New York City and you can apply to be an audience member for shows
We made the most of our jetlag and the time difference and visited Times Square very early in the morning and it was practically deserted. We went back in the evening as well, which provides a totally different experience – the only downside was it was much busier.
National Geographic, Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
Only in New York can you experience an aquarium with no water, but this is what they have managed to pull off at the amazing National Geographic, Encounter: Ocean Odyssey.
This was great fun and educational for the girls, as through a clever mix of digital technology, we experienced a fight between two huge Humboldt squid, a 50ft humpback whale passing over our heads and walking through a coral reef, all without getting wet.
There was so much to do here to keep both adults and children occupied. One of our favourites was walking through a kelp-forest and playing with the sea lions. Don’t miss this when you are in Times Square.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $158.43 for 2 adults and 2 children
See the world in miniature at Gullivers Gate
This is a model village like no other, as it’s the largest museum of minatures in the world. Covering 50,000 square feet, this new attraction in Times Square shows the world in miniature as 300 scenes from around the world including New York, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have been recreated with amazing attention to detail.
It’s the level of interaction here that makes it fun for kids, as they can move trains, ships and even hot-air balloons in the models with a special key that you are given on entry.
The coolest part of all is that for £30 you can get yourself recreated in miniature using their 3D printer.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $126.00 for 2 adults and 2 children
Mingle with the stars at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
We visited the world famous Madame Tussauds wax museum in Times Square to check out their latest life-size wax replicas of celebrities and historic icons in themed galleries.
What we loved about the New York museum was that many of the 200 life-like wax figures over it’s five floors are different from what you would find in London including the Ghostbusters, historic US presidents and movie legends like Denzel Washington.
In addition to taking hundreds of selfies with your favourite celebs which kids will love, they will also enjoy the immersive exhibits including walking through Kong’s Skull Island, trying to score a penalty at the football world cup and a 4D Marvel Experience.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $131.80 for 2 adults and 2 children
Stop by at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium
Next door to Madame Tussauds was Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, which is one of the most unique and fun museums that you will visit.
We loved visiting Ripley’s in London (which has now closed) so when we found out that the largest Ripley’s in North America was in New York, we had to check it out.
On this self-guided adventure you explore 17,000 square feet of the most unique, unusual, extraordinary and unbelievable artefacts from around the world founded by the great Robert Ripley.
Around every corner you turn and in each room you enter, there is something extraordinary to see. These range from an actual piece of the Berlin wall and a lifesize replica of the world’s tallest man, to the incredible lizard man.
There is so much to do and see here to keep all the family entertained but highlights not to be missed are the spinning vortex tunnel and look out for the one way mirror – it was so much fun.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $105.80 for 2 adults and 2 children
For sports fans you have to check out the NFL experience in Times Square.
This is a fun fully immersive experience with a 4D theatre, info on every NFL team and over 20 enjoyable interactive experiences from throwing a ball like a quarterback to seeing how high you could jump – we loved it.
The Vince Lomardi superbowl trophy is also on display.
This was due to close so its worth checking if its still open.
(https://www.nflexperience.com) entry is free
Take a bus tour
You can’t miss the brightly coloured double decker buses that tour the city. There are four different routes to choose from each highlighting different parts of New York.
If your children are like ours, they will love sitting on the open air top deck of the bus where it becomes an adventure as you see the main sights. These hop-on hop-off tours are such an easy, fun and convenient way to see the city.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $336.00 for 2 adults and 2 children
We took in the sights including the Flatiron Building, China Town, Chrysler Building, Madison Square Garden, Trump Tower, Carnegie Hall and the Met Life Building as we explored the city.
For an alternative bus tour of the city, check out the immersive The Ride which offers a sightseeing tour with a difference. (https://experiencetheride.com) included in the New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $276.00 for 2 adults and 2 children
Go Ice Skating
Going Ice Skating when in New York City is a must do activity and was one of the many highlights of our trip to the city, especially as so many of the rinks are instantly recognisable after being shown in iconic Christmas movies such as Home Alone 2.
Although you can skate at cities across the world there is nothing that can come close to an ice skating experience in New York City. You can read our guide on some of the best ice skating rinks in Manhattan here.
Have a treat at Dylan’s Candy Store
The sweet shops (or candy stores) are bigger and better than most cities – it is New York after all. Check out Dylan’s Candy Store launched by Ralph Lauren’s daughter where you can find over 7,000 different types of candy across its 3 floors – it’s said to be the largest candy store in the world.
It was like visiting a real life store for Willy Wonka. The girls loved the giant rainbow coloured pic n mix wall and don’t forget checking out the wall of celebrity favourite candy.
Close to Dylan’s Candy store is Sprinkles Cupcakes and their famous cupcake ATM – if you have been to Orlando you might have seen this at Downtown Disney.
Kids will also love visiting Hershey’s or the huge M&M’s World in Times Square. As you enter Hersheys they cleverly tempt you into buying by providing free Hersheys chocolates whilst at M&M’s world along with every M&M chocolate and gift you could possibly think of there were so many great interactive features which the girls loved.
Go for a walk in Central Park
You can’t go all the way to New York and not take a stroll around Central Park.
Our kids loved clambering over the giant rocks near to the lake before spotting the iconic Wollman ice skating rink.
You can hire bikes (these were included with our Sightseeing Pass) or take a horse and cart ride around the park, but just walking around the park and taking in the sights.
Don’t underestimate the sheer scale of the park, at over 800 acres you could spend hours here, it even has its own zoo, 21 playgrounds and even a castle. As you explore the park look out for the following points of interest
- Belvedere Castle
- Gapstow Bridge
- Bethesda Fountain – you might recognise this from Home Alone 2
- Alice in Wonderland sculpture
- Pay your tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields
- Loeb Boathouse
Explore the American Museum of Natural History
On the west of Central Park is the American Museum of Natural History, which will be one of the most impressive museums that you will visit.
It might look familiar to some as it was in this museum that the movie Night at the Museum was set – you will even find a brass statue of Teddy Roosevelt modelled on Robin Williams’ movie character.
It’s a huge museum so it’s impossible to see it all in a day so have a plan before you visit. Our favourite attractions included the Rose Centre for Earth and Space and its world famous Hayden Planetarium.
You have to check out the incredibly detailed displays in the mammal halls, the gigantic life size blue whale suspended above our heads in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life and not forgetting the huge 112 foot long Titanosaur, the world’s largest dinosaur.
Tip – Download their app which contains a ‘Night at the Museum’ tour which helps you find all the characters in the film including Dexter the Monkey, Rexy the T-Rex and ‘Dum Dum’ from Easter Island.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or the New York CITYPASS or cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $101.00 (however this is a suggested donation as entry to the museum is free but the cost of the IMAX giant-screen film or space show would be extra)
Watch a Broadway Show
Looking for a great show for kids, then you are spoilt for choice in New York, especially as some shows such as Frozen the Musical are not available yet in the UK.
As it was Christmas we went to see the amazing Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City which was one of the very best shows that we have been to.
Other shows perfect for children include The Lion King, Aladdin, Wicked, School of Rock and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Tip – You can get discount tickets at the TKTS booth at Times Square which is always very busy, a better option is the TKTS booth in downtown Manhattan as the queues are much shorter.
Personally I wouldn’t bother when travelling with children, I would recommend looking at the official websites of the shows and check for special offers especially on Wednesday matinees or try the useful TodayTix app which tells you which shows have tickets left with some discounted from a bargain £35. Other options I would check out include Travelzoo and Groupon.
See the city from above from one of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers
Many asked what’s the point of visiting three skyscrapers but each offer their own unique perspective on the city and we are so glad we did.
Empire State Building
Once the world’s tallest skyscraper, no visit to New York is complete without saying that you having visited the Empire State Building. It was so amazing to stand and look down on the city with the children.
The low cloud scuppered our first attempt but later in the day the clouds cleared providing amazing 360 degree sunset views of Manhattan and beyond from the 86th floor. The powerful vintage binoculars were free to use and were a big hit with the girls as they checked out the sights from 1050ft – it is the priceless New York bucket list moment.
Back at ground level, the art deco lobby is beautiful which you might recognise if you have recently watched the movie Elf.
Tip – Arrive as early as possible from opening 8am to avoid the long lines
Available on the New York CITYPASS or cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $219.20
Top of the Rock
We loved visiting the Top of the Rock observation deck at the Rockefeller Centre and the views from the decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors.
As the building is further north in Manhattan, the views of Central Park were outstanding and the pinnacle is the picture postcard views of the Empire State Building and downtown Manhattan especially from the 70th floor and if you arrive early like we did you can basically have the observation deck to yourself.
From our vantage point looking down on the city, we had great fun spotting the parts of Central Park that we had visited the day before, watching the Thanksgiving Day floats and picking out landmarks such as the Chrysler Building
Just make sure that you book your tickets in advance (even if you have a sightseeing pass or CityPASS you still have to book a timed entry).
One World Observatory
While most visitors flock to either the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock but for a real bird’s eye view of the city, it’s well worth visiting the experience at One World Observatory – the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The observatory sits next to the 9/11 memorial.
Excitement was high as we raced skyward in some of the fastest lifts in the world to the top. It takes just 47 seconds from the ground level to the 102nd floor, made even more enjoyable with a brilliant video display as you ascend, revealing the transformation of New York City.
Unlike the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, the viewing platforms at One World Observatory are behind glass, similar to our experience at the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The 360 degree views from the floor to ceiling windows show off fantastic views of all of New York’s iconic landmarks including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. On a clear day you can see up to 50 miles from the top.
Its worth paying the extra for the iPad experience which comes with a built in map and compass and was great fun for the girls to learn about the buildings they were seeing below.
Available on New York Sightseeing Pass or costs $152.52 for 2 adults and 2 children
The Oculus and Wall Street
When you are in the area I highly recommend visiting the Oculus Westfield World Trade Center, this is one of the most beautiful architectural buildings I have seen and it’s also one of the best places I thought for shopping in the city.
Take a walk to nearby Wall Street and see the famous charging Bull on the way to Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry
The 9/11 memorial serves as a humbling reminder of what happened on that terrible day and we took the girls to see the twin memorial pools and explained what happened that day.
We had tickets for the 9/11 Memorial Museum which is built on the site of Ground Zero as part of our New York Sightseeing Pass but because of the nature of the museum we felt that it wasn’t appropriate for the children. It was a difficult decision as you could spend hours there exploring the museum on the atrocities of 9/11.
The SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park is a carousel with a difference, I saw it first when watching the TV show Billions and it has been somewhere I knew the girls would love.
You sit on one of the 30 different iridescent fish that glide through a 360 degree aquatic adventure, which are all lit up with colour-changing LED lights – it will be a carousel like no other, and the kids will love it.
At $5 a ride, it’s an affordable experience that is sure to add a little magic to your kids day.
An alternative to check out is Jane’s Carousel, a vintage merry go round which looks out over the lower Manhattan skyline in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
(http://www.seaglasscarousel.nyc) Costs $5 per rider
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
You can walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn but I would recommend catching the subway across to Brooklyn and walking back towards Manhattan taking advantage of the skyline.
Also when in Brooklyn stop off at the famous Grimaldi’s Pizza and the most Instagrammable views of the Manhattan skyline from the waterfront.
Staten Island Ferry & the Statue of Liberty
Using this free ferry (from the Whitehall Terminal) which is typically used by commuters who live in Staten Island but work in Manhattan, you get great views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty during the 50 minute round trip.
The Highline is a great place to escape the traffic and hustle and bustle of New York’s busy streets. Once an elevated railway it was been converted into a family-friendly and car free urban park with trees and art installations spanning 1.45 miles across several neighbourhoods of the city.
Kids will love the Pershing Square Beans, a playground made from the original steel of the railway and it is a great way to see the city from a different perspective.
Where to dine with kids
Breakfast at Sarabeths
For breakfast we struck gold at Sarabeths overlooking Central Park. I highly recommend their buttermilk pancakes – the kids thought it was hilarious that my husband loved the maple syrup (like Buddy the Elf)
Dine at Eataly
We had heard about Eataly before our visit and we can see why – it’s hard not to be impressed by all that Eataly has to offer.
Located next to the Oculus and 9/11 Memorial, Eataly isn’t your typical Italian restaurant – it’s an Italian dining concept and we loved it. Featuring seven different dining areas, coffee market, pasta counter and a huge Italian food market, spread across 40,000 square feet, it’s well worth visiting.
We dined at La Pizza & La Pasta at Eataly which offered a wide selection of freshly made and delicious varieties of pizza and pasta along with fantastic Gelato – the food here is amazing.
The views from the floor to ceiling windows over downtown Manhattan are just as impressive.
Have lunch at Lillies Victorian
If you want a unique experience try Lillies Victorian, which is a hidden gem in the city just a short walk from Times Square.
Between the food and the amazing interior decor we loved it here – it will be one of your favourite places to dine at.
Eat some authentic NYC pizza
You have to try some authentic New Year pizza at an old school pizza parlour for some Neopolitan style pizza. We tried Ray’s in Midtown which was great fun and the pizza’s are huge – one is more than enough for a family.
Stop by at a NYC food hall
Trendy food halls are huge with locals in New York and I can see why – they are a great way to taste a variety of NYC’s culinary scene and more importantly they are reasonably priced – we were so glad of this recommendation.
We stopped off at the amazing food hall in the Plaza Hotel for hot chocolate and cake and at the Great Northern Food Hall inside Grand Central station. With their communal tables and fun atmosphere it’s a great way to dine like a local when in New York.
Other food halls in Midtown include Pennsy at Penn Station, Urban Space across the street on Vanderbilt Avenue and Gotham West on the West Side.
Tip – For a really fun café that’s so bright it begs to be Instagrammed is Palette at the department store Bergdorf Goodman.
Dine overlooking Central Park at the Landmarc
The Landmarc at the Time Warner Centre was recommended to us and is very welcoming to families with children.
This restaurant is run by one of New York’s most celebrated chefs Marc Murphy and we enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner overlooking Central Park.
It’s also in the fab Columbus Circle mall so you can do some shopping before or after your visit.
Other places worth checking out are
- Serendipity 3
- Eloise High Tea at the Plaza
New York is a dream shopping destination with every store imaginable, so it’s perfect for shopping even with the weaker pound to dollar exchange rate!
One of our favourite places to shop was at the stunning Oculus near the World Trade Centre. It’s the largest shopping centre in Manhattan and we liked it because it was really child friendly.
For shopping bargains it’s well worth heading out of town to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, it’s one of the best shopping outlets we have been to with over 250 stores. If you have a Sightseeing Pass transport is included to Woodbury Common which will save you $42 on a return trip.
Back in Midtown Manhattan, kids in particular will love the new FAO Schwarz store, Lego Store, American Girl world and the toy department at Macy’s the world’s largest department store.
As soon as you enter FAO Schwarz you quickly realise it’s much more than just a toy shop – it’s an experience with live science shows, a Melissa and Doug supermarket and a 24ft rocket ship to explore. For UK visitors there are also lots of toys that you can’t buy in the UK.
Play the giant piano during a visit to FAO Schwarz The world’s most famous toy shop FAO Schwarz has just reopened at Rockefeller Plaza and yes it has the infamous giant piano like in the Tom Hanks movie Big.
American Girl World
Along with FAO Schwarz, American Girl was the best store the girls had ever been to (according to Chloe and Holly). I could see why!
If I was a little girl, this would be my dream store – set over 2 huge floors there are so many dolls and accessories, you can even design a doll that looks like you.
That’s not all, once you have chosen your doll, you can even take it to lunch at their café, followed by a manicure or hair styling at the salon.
Tip – Book a free personal shopping experience before you visit for the best American Girl experience
If you are visiting the city over Christmas another must to is viewing the amazing window displays of 5th Avenue and Macy’s – you can read about this here.
There is so much to see and do in New York for families that it’s impossible to do everything and below are other suggestions from our community of other things to see and do.
- The Trolls Experience
- Museum of Illusions
- VR World
- Bronx Zoo
- Roosevelt Island Cable Car
- Museum of Math
- The Met
- Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
- Visit to Coney Island – perfect for the warmer months
Where to Stay
With so many hotels and areas of New York to choose from, we were really happy with our choice – The Kimpton Hotel Eventi – for our visit to New York over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Read our review of the Kimpton Hotel Eventi
With spacious rooms for New York standards and a fantastic location, this trendy hotel is a great choice if you are visiting New York with children.
Other hotels that were highly recommended and worth checking out are below
- The Langham
- Lotte New York Palace – perfect for Christmas
- The Mark Hotel
- Omni Berkshire Place
- Wagner at the Battery or the Conrad New York– great if visiting during Spring and Summer
How to get around the city
We spent hours looking at forums and recommendations on how we would get into Manhattan from JFK airport.
The cheapest option would have been the train from JFK via Jamaica station in Queens which would have taken us into Penn Station within 50 minutes. (https://www.jfkairport.com/to-from-airport/air-train)
We decided on getting a yellow cab ($70 inc tolls and tip) which was stress free. As you leave the arrivals hall follow the signs to the official taxi line.
At the end of our trip we returned to JFK with a private SUV transfer arranged by the hotel which although more expensive $115 was by far the best way to arrive or leave the city.
We read before we travelled that the subway is a great way to get around New York but compared to the London Underground we found it dirty, complicated and stressful.
Expect to do a lot of walking in New York City, so bring comfortable shoes, we would typically average 20k steps per day.
How to get here
You are spoilt for choice with direct flights with Virgin Atlantic, Norwegian, American Airlines, Delta and United. As there is so much capacity and choice on this route you can pick up some great bargains across all cabins.
We flew with British Airways which has several flights a day from London Heathrow to JFK, with return fares from £280 in economy class.
For more information it’s well worth checking out https://www.nycgo.com the official online guide to New York City