What to Do in NYC with Kids: Top 10 Family-Friendly Activities

NYC Main
Image via Shannon Watt


Fall is a great time to visit New York City. The summer tourists have gone home, the weather has cooled down to a bearable temperature, and the city is slowly preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Although NYC is one of the top destinations in the world, it’s not known as a place that caters to families with small children. On our recent family trip to the Big Apple we learned some valuable tips to making the most of your time, energy, and budget while in the city. Hopefully our list of the Top 10 things for families to do will help you in planning your New York adventures.

Image via Shannon Watt 

Harbor Cruise

This isn’t typically the first thing that pops in your mind when thinking of NYC, but it’s a fantastic way to see Long Island and get some great photography of the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty. We took a schooner boat ride from the Chelsea Pier past Ellis Island,  Roosevelt/Governors Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge.  

My kids loved the boat ride and watching the crew handle the sails. I enjoyed the photo opportunities and familiarizing myself with Manhattan using the skyscrapers as reference points. For more info go HERE.

Image via Flickr/Supermac1961

Gray Line Bus Tours

Embrace this tourist attraction as it will save your bacon in more ways than one. A hop on/hop off ticket on a Gray line bus is valid for 48 hours, and there are 3 routes to choose from: uptown, downtown, mid-town. The roof top seating is a great way to see the city without walking it. We learned interesting facts from the tour guide, and I enjoyed taking some great photos from my seat as we passed by photo ops. The tour is a godsend when your kids are tired and need a break from walking. Buses come by the stops every 20 minutes so it’s a quick way to see many of the city’s top spots each day without inciting a mutiny from your family.


Image via Shannon Watt

Museums (CityPASS)

If you plan on visiting the world-class museums and historical buildings during your stay, then I recommend you look into purchasing a CityPASS. This will give you admission to 5 museums plus the Statue of Liberty boat ferry, all at a discounted rate. There’s a year expiration date on the pass, so you don’t have to use them all at once. Not having to wait in line to purchase tickets was a huge time saver as well. The CityPASS inspired us to visit all the museums, even if we could only go for a few hours. In a weekend we were exposed to more masterpieces than some people see in a lifetime, it was definitely worth it.

{ MORE:  Air Travel Checklist }

Image via Shannon Watt

Broadway Lottery Tickets

Seeing a Broadway show is one of the highlights of traveling to the city, but it can bust even the healthiest family budget. If your time schedule and musical tastes are flexible, then I urge you to try the lottery tickets process. Several big name shows, like Wicked and Spiderman, will sell about 20 tickets per night at an extremely discounted rate of around $30. Over a few days we got 11 seats for under $350. It was an amazing value and my kids loved it. You can google it and find several resources, here's one to start with.

Image via Shannon Watt

Rooftop Magic

If your children are old enough to stay up after dark, they might enjoy New York more at night than daytime.  Besides the dazzling lights of Times Square, even the average skyscraper seems more magical when it’s lit up against the charcoal sky. My kids especially enjoyed going to the top of the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) at night. The skyline is spectacular, and not to be missed. Admission is included in your CityPASS, or can be purchased separately at each building.


Image via Shannon Watt

Central Park  

Central Park is expansive, and not to be tackled all at once. It is the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing and recharge your batteries. We bought sandwiches and had a picnic dinner at dusk. Playing in the grass or taking a nap is a great way to restore balance during your travels. Boating on the lake or the zoo are other terrific options for families. For more Central Park info go HERE.

Image via Shannon Watt

Statue of Liberty

This iconic landmark can be experienced in many ways, depending on your level of interest. If you want to see it from the ocean and don’t care to go to the park, then you can take the free Staten Island Ferry, which will pass by Lady Liberty on its way. Water taxis from Jersey pass by it, as do chartered boat cruises (see above). If you want to climb up to her crown for a bird’s eye view, a park ranger tour, or to walk around the base of the statue, then you’ll need to take a ferry over to the island. To make reservations for the crown tour and purchase boat tickets, go HERE.

Image via Shannon Watt 

 9/11 Memorial

Ground Zero of the World Trade Center is a beautiful experience and should not be missed. Keep in mind you must register in advance for tickets, but it is free. The exhibit explaining the tragedy is a great precursor to walking the grounds and seeing the memorial fountains. The story of the Survivor tree is heartwarming and one of the most memorable parts for children. The museum will be open soon, so make sure to carve out enough time to fully experience this sacred ground. To make reservations, click HERE.

Image via Flickr/Sue Waters

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a National Historic Landmark, and was the longest suspension bridge for a long period of time. Its beauty and open access makes it one of the most photographed bridges in the world. The bridge has a pedestrian walkway and bicycle path, and more than 7,500 people a day traverse it. Tour guides take small groups through it, explaining the historical significance of the bridge to the New York area. Walking the bridge is a great family outing – don’t forget your camera.


NYC 10
Image via Shannon Watt 

Television Show Audience

Many live television shows are shot in Manhattan, and a few allow audiences under 18. While there we reserved tickets for the America’s Got Talent semi-finals show that was taping at Radio City Music Hall. We got to see the historical theatre, and my kids were thrilled to see the celebrity judges in person. Watching a live show with family-friendly performances, that’s free, is a rare opportunity. We jumped at the chance, you might want to, too. For ticket information, check HERE.

New York City is a vast playground with many options for first time visitors, or seasoned travelers. Hopefully these ideas will help you get started on planning your family adventures in the Big Apple.

What is your favorite thing to do in the city with your family? 

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What to Do in NYC with Kids: Top 10 Family-Friendly Activities

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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  1. My husband has been to NYC a couple of times, once for recreation. He had fun there. I’d like to go someday. I like knowing that there are some child-friendly activities to do there.

  2. Lourdes says:

    Thanks for the information. I haven´t gone yet to New York and I think it will be imposible for the next years until my baby grow up. but now It look like I am going to be able to do it

  3. I definitely don’t stand with the majority in thinking that New York City is a wonderful place for a family of any age. Anything is accessible on foot, forcing the entire family to get out together and interact with the community. It’s such an educational destination, as well! I wish I could visit more often!

  4. Julie says:

    I have visited New York several times with my daughter, we both thoroughly enjoyed the sights and found many amazing restaurants that we have remembered over the years, and plan to visit again. Thank you for showing us some things we may have overlooked.


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