While it might be best known for its excellent shopping, world-class museums, and swanky dining and nightlife, New York is also an incredible place to take kids of all ages — particularly if you’re a family that likes being on the go. To make it a holiday they’ll remember forever, follow travel writer Anna Hann’s golden rules of travelling to NYC with kids and watch as a city break becomes their new favourite type of trip.
Work with the jet lag
Make the most of your body clock waking you early (New York is five hours behind the UK) and take a dawn walk along the High Line. This disused freight line has been reimagined as a 1.45-mile-long linear park and cuts a scenic route up the western edge of Manhattan. Join it from 7am after a quick circuit around the brilliant Little Island, a kid-centric play space set on stilts over the Hudson, which opens at a jetlag-friendly 6am.
If you’re planning on catching a Broadway show, work with the jet lag and book a matinee to avoid any unintended snoozes. There are always family-friendly shows both on Broadway and Off-Broadway, whether your kids are ready for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or The Lion King is more age-appropriate for your kids.
See it from above
One of the best ways to get your bearings of New York’s sprawling metropolis is to see it from above. A perfect way to continue your morning at Hudson Yards is by visiting Edge, the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. A 52-second elevator whisks you smoothly to the top, where you’re met with far-reaching views across the city from 100 storeys high.
Edge isn’t the only way to see New York from above. The classic observatories, the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, are two excellent options. There’s also Summit One Vanderbilt which you can ascend in a glass-bottomed elevator, and One World Observatory, which is even higher than Edge but indoors.
Plan around their passions
Putting your kids front and centre is a surefire way to keep everyone enjoying themselves, whether they’re avid gamers and want to visit the huge Nintendo store in the iconic Rockefeller Centre, fancy being James Bond at Spyscape, or they’re sports fans and want to watch the New York Knicks in action at Madison Square Garden.
New York is even a brilliant place for pre-schoolers. On the Upper West Side, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan has five floors of interactive activities, water play and role play. And the whimsical carousels in Central Park, Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan will be a winner for smaller kids in between other sightseeing.
Consider the seasons
The winter months, particularly around Christmas, can be magical with the chance to ice skate and peer into beautifully decorated shops. New York for kids really comes into its own in the spring, when outdoor attractions such as Governors Island come to life. The island is a short ferry ride from Manhattan or Brooklyn, and you can hire four-seater Surrey bikes and cycle the island's circumference, stopping to admire the Statue of Liberty across the water and taking a pitstop at Slide Hill, which features the longest slide in all of NYC.
Summer can be hot in New York, and Brooklyn is a perfect neighbourhood when the mercury rises. There are splash zones to cool off in, including Brooklyn’s Splash Pad at Prospect Park and Domino Park in Williamsburg. You could also choose a hotel with an outdoor pool — 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge and The William Vale have two of the best.
Choose your hotel wisely
Before you choose your hotel, plan a rough itinerary first to make sure you’re in a location that works with what you want to see and do. It might make sense to split your stay over two hotels to save a lot of walking or extra subway or taxi journeys. Staying in Midtown for shopping, theatre, and Central Park might be a good place to start, but if you want to visit places further south, such as the family-friendly borough of Brooklyn, you might want to consider switching hotels midway.
Look at the square footage to get a feel for how tight your quarters will be, especially if you’re planning on sharing a room rather than opting for adjoining rooms. Homewood Suites Midtown Manhattan Times Square South has well-proportioned suites that feature kitchens for the odd light lunch or if you have a takeaway. Best Western Plus Hospitality House NYC offers a similar apartment-style set-up within walking distance of Times Square and Grand Central Station.
New York is a brilliant city for set-jetting and visiting film locations in real life, whether they’re Ghostbusters fans and want to see Ghostbusters HQ in the Tribeca neighbourhood or whether they want to board the Staten Island Ferry that played an exciting role in Spider-Man: Homecoming on your way to visit the iconic Statue of Liberty, who scored a starring role in the sequel.
Fans of Night at the Museum will love the chance to step inside the American Museum of Natural History and imagine the famous T-Rex skeleton coming to life. Or visit Central Park Zoo, where Marty and friends lived before their adventure in the animated movie Madagascar, then stroll over to the Friends fountain or see where Buddy skated on the ice rink outside the Rockefeller Centre in Elf on your stroll down Fifth Avenue.
Fuel the adventure
New York has pizza, burgers, and hot dogs galore, perhaps making it as kid-friendly as it comes. On a sunny day, keep things simple and pick up street food or a picnic — Chelsea Market (handily situated at the start of the High Line) is a one-stop shop for locally-sourced supplies.
Visiting a food market is also a great option for family dining in the city. Time Out Market New York in Brooklyn is a top destination for a casual and easy dinner. Everyone can choose from the different outposts, where some of New York's best restaurants host pop-ups. Then you can all reconvene on the fifth-floor rooftop with twinkling views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline.
Plan playtime, screentime, and downtime
Avoid burnout and tantrums by planning your itinerary, factoring in plenty of breaks, too and creating the perfect excuse to pick up sweet treats from some of New York’s famous bakeries like Magnolia Bakery and Doughnuttery.
If little ones need to burn off some energy, Central Park is a wonderland of playgrounds with hidden trails around the woodland of The Ramble and huge ancient bedrock to clamber over. If teens are clamouring for their devices, plan to stop at a rooftop bar (you’ll need one that welcomes under 21s, such as the Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar at The Met on Fifth Avenue) so you can enjoy a drink with a view of Manhattan while they check into their online lives.
However long you decide to spend in the city, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a full-on, fun-filled holiday. Make the most of being Stateside and jet south to Miami or the Florida Keys for a few days lazing by a pool. Or dial-up the wow factor and continue west to Hawaii for some downtime on island shores.
Ready for a family adventure in this concrete jungle? Let us create a personalised itinerary that will leave you feeling like true New Yorkers. Get in touch to start planning.