Tourists and locals alike both need something to keep their kids entertained. Luckily there’s plenty of kids activities waiting to be discovered across the five boroughs of NYC.
In a city this size of New York, there’s never a shortage of things to do with kids. You can still play the Big Piano in FAO Schwartz, enjoy freebies (like the Staten Island Ferry), and enjoy the best pizza on this side of the Atlantic.
Here’s a rundown of fun things to do in NYC with kids, from museums in Manhattan, to rides in Coney Island, and heaps of room to run in Central Park.
Best children’s museums in NYC
The city that never sleeps isn’t just about nightlife – even their museums are fun for all ages. These are the best museums for kids in New York.
The T. rex might not be as lively as it was in Night at the Museum, but kids will still be left flabbergasted by the fossils on display inside. Alongside ancient history, marvel at moai from Easter Island and learn more about 13 billion years of out of this world history, including seeing a 15.5 ton meteorite.
This museum’s located on a retired aircraft carrier that served in WWII and Vietnam, and if that’s not cool enough, then maybe the fighter jets and stepping inside of a real submarine will tick the right boxes.
Kids with vivid imaginations will love the chance to see futuristic planes up close – including Soviet MiGs, a supersonic A-12 Blackbird and even the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Better still, they can experience what it’s like inside the cockpit when they try out the museum’s two simulators.
One of the most fun things to do in NYC with kids is to meet mummies at the Met. The museum’s impressive collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, with a full-sized Egyptian temple, will leave kids fascinated, and art-loving parents will get a kick from the more than two million pieces of work inside.
The events of September 11, 2001 changed America irrevocably. While this is history for kids, the bulk of New Yorkers still remember the day vividly and it’s a key component of the city. While the One World building is a reminder of American freedom, the 9/11 memorial helps to highlight the weight of the attacks to the first generation of children who weren’t alive when it happened.
Foster your kid’s creativity at CMoM. This NYC kids museum has five floors of fun, and a range of interactive exhibits from drawing to science. Little ones can also learn about animals from Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and go inside her house to play drums or cook.
Find out how film flourished, advancing from optical illusions to stitched-together stills. You’ll be able to make your own stop motion movie and watch classic silent films like The Great Train Robbery.
Kids will love the permanent exhibition dedicated to the master of puppets, Jim Henson. They’ll know him best for Sesame Street and parents who have probably put on Muppets movies (if you haven’t, then there’s no better way to teach kids about the true spirit of Christmas than with singing puppets and Michael Caine). There’s 47 of Henson’s puppets on display, including Big Bird, Kermit and Elmo.
Fun places & top attractions for kids in NYC
Located in Times Square, Gulliver’s Gate takes up one city block, but inside you’ll find the whole world! Miniatures of global locations have been painstakingly recreated – everything from the Panama Canal to the Arc de Triomphe – for you to walk past like Godzilla. Or Gulliver. Or any other big things starting with G. Gilbert Gottfried, for example.
If you’ve got good weather and restless tots, then you can always rely on the zoo as a fun place for kids in NYC. At the Children’s Zoo kids can pet donkeys, goats, and sheep – the lions are off-limits. There’s also regularly scheduled feedings of aquatic favourites – seals and penguins.
Older kids will love the treetop adventure park, where they can put their nerves to the test by taking on a 400-foot long zipline across the Bronx River.
If you’re visiting at Christmas, you can enter the zoo at night and see the place aglow with lit up animals sculptures.
Even the smallest ball-pit will keep kids entertained, but the Color Factory has one so big they’ll never want to leave. Couple this with confetti cannons, giant pens they can paint the walls with, and a room full of neon and you’ve got an ocular overload.
If your kids have their own Instagrams, they’ll be in a photographic paradise. Or, if you’re hoping for some new family snaps, now’s your time. You’ll also have photos taken by Color Factory in each room and have them emailed to you at the end of your visit.
Even in one of the most interesting cities in the world, kids are going to want to play video games, and there’s no better place to do it than at VR World. With 50 games that will immerse them in a VR world, they can get a taste of the forefront of next-gen gaming.
Feel like the ultimate sleuth in Spyscape. Weave your way through lasers, hacking into the mainframe, and learning the tricks of the trade and buy a fedora at the gift shop. Maybe not the last part, but the rest is all there.
This pick is perfect for anyone willing to explore beyond Manhattan and one of the best things to do in NYC with kids.
New Yorkers flock to the beaches at Coney Island during the summer, and thanks to a new Luna Park, amusement rides have had a resurgence after a post-WWII slump that had no major resurgence until the last decade.
Sights to see with kids in NYC
It’s not hyperbole to say the New York skyline is iconic. Skyscrapers dominate the avenues and with forerunners of colossal architecture like The Empire State Building and The Chrysler Building, architects from around the globe flocked to the city to leave their mark. Fortunately, you can go up a number of the city’s tallest towers and let kids see the big picture of the Big Apple.
Alongside behemoth buildings, there are a few spots in the city that you can’t go without seeing.
13. Times Square
It may be busy, but it’s a must. The ever-changing display of billboards and the bright lights make for a memorable family photo and give you a true taste of the hustle and bustle of New York.
Completed in March 2019, The Vessel’s buzz is growing and while the jury’s still out about its addition to NYC’s architectural scene, it’s nothing if not interesting. Visitors can climb the 16 story structure, and stop at 80 landings amidst the honeycomb labyrinth. If little legs are feeling tired for traipsing around the city, there’s an elevator to the top so they can still enjoy the unbelievable view of the interior.
30 Rock’s got plenty to do inside – and its seen more stars pass through its doors than nearly anywhere else in NY thanks to the key tenants NBC – but its crowning glory is its view from the top of the building. Overlooking Central Park on one side and the Empire State and Lower Manhattan from the other, you’ll be in no rush to leave. Soak up the sights before you head back to less dizzying heights, or pop in a coin and allow the kids to see things up close through the tower viewer’s binoculars.
King Kong’s peering in the windows at the second-floor exhibit of the Empire State perfect for kids. Before you go to the top, make sure to check out the exhibit hall to find out about the building’s past. How did Hollywood and pop-culture turned it into the world’s most famous building?
From the top of the Empire State, make unforgettable memories with panoramas of downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor.
It may be the youngest skyscraper in New York, but it’s the granddaddy of views in the USA. The ride to the top of the Freedom Tower will have your jaw on the floor. The multimedia ride to the top chronicles the history of New York – it’s the closest you’ll get to a time machine for now – through an intense LED display.
Boys and girls will keep butterflies in their stomach for years to come as they step up to the window to look down at the city nearly 2,000 feet below.
Have an emergency plan if you get lost
Don’t get lost in New York! Make sure your kids have your number – write it somewhere, or have a bracelet made. If they have their own phone or a GPS watch, even better. Failing that, make sure they know to ask a police officer.
Despite what Home Alone 2 led us to believe, New York’s pretty friendly to kids and you don’t even need a pigeon lady to act as your guide.
Whether your kids want to cycle around Central Park, or see the whole city from New York Harbor, there’s plenty of ways to see the Big Apple with children.
Gifted by the French in 1886, Liberty Enlightening the World stands at 93 m tall (that’s including the pedestal she stands on). Gustave Eiffel – of Parisian tower fame – built the metal framework and for more than a century, she’s stood as a symbol of freedom. The big-green beauty (originally big-copper beauty), would have been one of the first thing migrants would see upon their arrival in New York.
Once those migrants finally stepped on dry land again, it was at Ellis Island. Roughly twelve million immigrants were processed there from 1892 to 1954 and the migrant community of New York has fundamentally shaped the city’s terrain.
Sitting up high on a double-decker bus while the swell of city sounds blossoms beneath you is an out of the ordinary way for kids to see NYC. The Hop-on Hop-off bus has two routes and 30 stops, so getting around the city is never going to be an issue, especially when buses run frequently.
Seeing the urban jungle of New York in one frame is worth it. Hundreds of different architects, millions of migrants, and more than a century of building has raised the city from foundations to fruition. On a sight-seeing cruise, you’re able to take in the city as a whole as your children enjoy the boat ride. Along with the towers of Wall Street, you’ll pass by the Statue of Liberty, the Yankee Stadium and the five boroughs
Central Park’s 2.5 miles long, and while you can walk it, there’s no better way to streamline the process for kids than on a bike. Discover a hidden hideaway from the rush of the city and fill up on hot dogs while you’re at it.
If you’ve got older kids willing to explore, then riding across the Brooklyn Bridge and into less-crowded Williamsburg is a great alternative to Manhattan madness.
Hamilton tickets are still harder to come by than photos of Spider-Man (and not every kid is going to love rap battles between Hamilton and Jefferson), but there’s never a shortage of things to see on Broadway.
It’s been showing in New York for more than 20 years now – there’s been more than 9,000 performances – and you can guarantee the kids will love it if they’re a fan of the movie. There’s no promise of hyper-real lions, but the songs are still as memorable.
Disney know how to create a score and Aladdin’s definitely got one of the strongest around. The Tony nominated show will have your toes tapping and your mind mulling over wishes for days after.
The longest running show in Broadway history, and for good reason. With runaway performances and more drama than a telenovela, the Phantom continues to delight after more than 30 years on stage. Teens with an interest in theatrics will fall for it.
A twist on the Wizard of Oz, Wicked has a repertoire of songs that have become Broadway classics. For youngsters who have memorised every Disney song already, Wicked’s an alternative alternative about outcasts.
Family-friendly restaurants in NYC
27. The American Girl Cafe
If your kid can’t put down their doll, then The American Girl Cafe is the perfect place to have high-tea with their favourite playmate. There’s the option for brunch, afternoon tea, or lunch and dinner – they’ll even add a special place at the table for dolls.
28. Big Gay Ice Cream
Tons of flavours and plenty of locations across the city, Big Gay Ice Cream servres up some of the best treats in town for kids in search of a sugar-rush, and parents will get a laugh from the creative names of the flavours.
29. Shakes at Black Tap
Get a milkshake straight out of a cartoon at Black Tap. Their Crazyshakes will leave you wondering where to start – almost as much artwork as they are taste sensation, there’s eight flavours to choose from, so take your time picking which sounds best!
Alongside the shakes, there’s burgers that look more American than the stars and stripes and craft beers on tap that will leave mum and dad as happy as any kid.
30. Pizza at Rubirosa
If you’re a kid in NY, you’re going to want to feel like one of the Ninja Turtles. You could descend into the sewers, learn martial arts from a rat, and wield a pair of sai, but eating pizza also works. You’ll find some of the city’s best slices at Rubirosa in Soho. Locals love it, so you know it’s the real deal.
31. The High Line
Built on a retired railway line viaduct, the High Line’s quickly become a NYC must-see and a fun place for kids in NYC.
Plant life sprouts along the path, and walking above the city streets while enjoying views between city blocks is something unique to NY. Kids will love playing on the Pershing Square Beams, old girders that have been revamped especially for play.
32. Smithsonian Museums
Goodnight, sweet prince.
Shakespeare for kids? Well, if they’re young enough to fall asleep in their pram, you’ll get to enjoy some free Shakespeare. Tickets sell out fast, so keep an eye on the official site before you book your trip!
Christmas in NYC with kids
While NYC is enchanting all times of year, some fun things to do in NYC with kids can only be done at the most wonderful time of the year. If you’re there during the winter season, check out these two can’t-miss Christmas family activities.
There’s a touch of old-fashioned New York magic in Radio City Music Hall and you feel it most when the Rockettes take to the stage every Christmas. These high-kicking performers are a triple threat, combining acting, singing and dancing (not to mention plenty of costume changes) to bring a holiday extravaganza that will fill you with Christmas cheer and precious memories.
Cue the Peanuts Christmas music, and get ready to roll around Wollman rink in Central Park. If you’re looking for the perfect winter memory, a snapshot of the family gliding along the ice surrounded by NY nature is it.