Visiting New York City with kids is no easy task, largely thanks to the inevitable crowds. But goodness, if you manage to pull it off you will find yourself immensely rewarded.
New York City is the city where dreams come true and the energy is contagious. Visitors can’t help but find themselves inspired, and that extends to children. You’ll find ample opportunities for free things to do with kids in New York City, and some paid activities that are worthwhile.
New York City is an expensive place (I should know, I live here!) but I’ve learned a few tips for visiting New York City with kids without breaking the bank. Read below for my personal recommendations on NYC with kids in tow, I’ll cover everything I know.
Hope you enjoy!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Visiting New York City With Kids
I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they’ve ever questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn’t know, because I won’t ever dare ask that question.Dylan Thomas
FREE Things to Do in NYC with Kids
Get Lost at the Harry Potter Store
Here’s an unpopular (but honest) statement: I never got into the Harry Potter craze. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t consider myself in the same timezone as a fan. As such, I wasn’t expecting much when I paid a visit to the Harry Potter Store but found myself thoroughly impressed.
The entire store is a mythical wonderland and it’s no wonder why parents consider this one of the best activities in New York City with kids. The store spans two exciting floors and has a fun cafe selling butterbeer. Brace yourself for crowds of shrieking children, the joy is hard to hide.
Visiting the Harry Potter store is one of the best free things to do in New York City, if you can get out without splurging on merchandise. If you find yourself in want of a souvenir though, make sure to grab the tantalizing chocolate frog!
Explore Central Park
We can’t talk about the best things to do in New York City with kids without mentioning the masterpiece that is Central Park. It’s world-famous for good reason and there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s must-see list when visiting The Big Apple.
Spanning more than 840 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with. There’s so many great things to do in the park but if you’d like some guidance then I suggest reading 15 ICONIC Central Park Activities You Can’t Afford to Miss.
There’s a ton of playgrounds and meadows for your little one to run off some steam. Just make sure you don’t miss Belveadere Castle because climbing to the top viewpoint is one of the best NYC activities for kids. Plus, if your kiddo loves zoos, make sure to check out the Central Park zoo as well!
I get out of the taxi and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards, New York.Milos Forman
Walk the High Line
The High Line is one of the most unique parks in New York City and goodness, it’s one of the best things to do in New York City with children.
Before the High Line was even conceived, this area was used as an elevated rail-line for freight trains delivering cargo. The demand for this service became moot with the rise of trucking so the railroad was abandoned and neglected until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform it into a city park.
The High Line was opened in 2009 and became an instant success. The elevated promenade stretches for 1.5 miles and receives an average 8 million visitors annually.
The best time to visit the High Line is either spring or summer when the plants are in bloom. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll see beautiful murals, unique art and rotating sculptures. To that end, make sure to swing by and explore the High Line if you’re visiting New York City with kids, they’re sure to love it!
Make sure to check out the Chelsea Market as well, it’s chock-full of interesting shops and great restaurants.
You might enjoy reading: 15 Breathtaking & Iconic New York City Parks
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built and is considered one of the oldest bridges in the country!
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorite free things to do in New York City with kids. The iconic bridge is a sight to behold and an activity the whole family will love.
You can see the striking skyline of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty while crossing, giving you plenty to talk about.
The scenic one-mile walk usually takes 20-30 minutes and offers some of the best views of the city. Once across, head to DUMBO for a fun and trendy spot full of photo opportunities (DUMBO stands for Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass). While exploring the area make a stop at Jane’s Carousel (built in 1922) and the Time Out Market for a bite.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world. ―F. Scott Fitzgerald
Visit the oldest toy store in America
When it comes to iconic toy stores in New York City, FAO Schwarz tops the list. In operation since 1862, FAO Schwarz is officially the oldest toy store in America.
The original location closed in 2015 but recently re-opened in a new 20,000 square foot location at Rockefeller Plaza. All of the classic attractions have made their return, from the dance-on piano made famous by Tom Hanks in Big to the exemplary clock tower.
FAO Schwarz lives up to their reputation of being a popular activity in New York City for children. They specialize in sparking the imagination and have the toys and activities to prove it. Visitors are encouraged to participate in a plethora of free daily activities like book readings, magic shows and music performances guaranteed to entertain your child.
New York is where you prove if what you think in theory makes sense in life. Miuccia Prada
Swing by Lego’s Flagship Store
How many cities have an entire toy store dedicated to LEGOs? If you’re visiting New York City with a young one in tow, swinging by the LEGO Flagship store is non-negotiable. This epic NYC toy store is what dreams are made of! Think impressive life-sized LEGO creations and fascinating decor.
The store is located in the heart of Midtown, right across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches in New York City — making it an easy stop while visiting New York City with kids.
You might enjoy reading: 15 Exciting NYC Toy Stores Guaranteed to Inspire Kiddos
Visiting NYC with kids in the summer?
Make your way to Bryant Park! Bryant Park hosts “Movies in the Park” every Monday and Tuesday. The lawn opens at 5pm and family-friendly movies start at sunset. Bring a cozy blanket and arrive early because it gets busy. There’s no better way to end a summer evening in New York City with kids than by watching a movie in the park.
Cheap Things to Do in New York City with Children
Ride the NYC ferry
After you’re done enjoying the trendy DUMBO area, take the ferry to Wall Street. The NYC ferry is a true crowd-pleaser and a great way to rest your legs while taking in the epic skyline of the Big Apple. And since the NYC Ferry is part of the public transportation network, rides are only $4.00 per person.
You might enjoy reading: The 18 BEST Views of NYC (For All Budgets)
Take the tram to Roosevelt Island
The views of NYC from the Roosevelt Island tram are some of the best in the city, which is why I consider this one of the best things to do in New York City with kids. The tram takes you from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island for the price of a subway ride ($2.75).
The trip to Roosevelt Island is a nice way to escape the bustle of the city and have a moment of calm and quiet while still seeing the iconic NYC skyline. Make sure to swing by Four Freedoms Park (it’s beautiful) and rest your legs on the many benches provided.
Fun Activities in New York City with Kids (Admission Required)
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking to save money while visiting NYC with kids, we highly recommend getting the New York Pass. We had a chance to try it out firsthand and found it incredibly easy to use.
There’s several pass options available — ranging from 1 day to 10 days — that can suit any NYC itinerary with kids. We suggest looking into the 2-day pass and knocking out some big attractions (like the American Museum of Natural History, Top of the Rock and the Statue of Liberty). It’s a great way to save money, we can’t recommend it enough!
Visit the American Museum of Natural History
Omitting a visit to the American Museum of Natural History on a list on the best things to do in New York City with kids would be inexcusable!
That’s because the American Museum of Natural History is arguably the best museum in NYC for kids. This incredible science museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display (and even that amount can get quite overwhelming!).
Welcoming 5 million visitors per year and spanning all aspect of the natural world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.
Don’t miss the Hall of Ocean Life where you’ll have an opportunity to see a life-size model of a 94-foot blue whale — it’s an experience your kids won’t soon forget.
Also, the taxidermy mammals are remarkable and have captivated both children and adults for years.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Best Things to See at the Museum of Natural History
Take in the Views from Top of the Rock
If your kiddo isn’t afraid of heights and you’re looking for the absolute best views of NYC, make a beeline for the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Visitors can access three separate indoor/outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. The subsequent panoramic views from this iconic building makes this one of the most popular observation decks in NYC. As such, you can expect crowds practically every hour of the day.
From Top of Rock you will see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building and the One World Trade Center. This is a fun New York City activity for kids and I guarantee you won’t forget the experience anytime soon.
New York is a work of art in and of itself. It’s a masterpiece that shouldn’t make sense, yet somehow, it does.Jacqueline E. Smith
Play a round at The Escape Game
If you’re looking to stay indoors, one of the best things to do in New York City with kids is to play a round at the Escape Game.
There are 5 different rooms to choose from, each riddled with clues you have to piece together while trying to beat the 60 minute countdown.
My personal favorite was the Gold Rush room, which my friends and I beat with less than 5 minutes to spare (talk about cutting it close!). It was so much fun that when asked if we wanted to play a second round, we cancelled our lunch reservations and said absolutely.
The Escape Game is fun the whole family can partake in, and one of the best things to do in New York City with kids. Difficulty levels vary, but the Escape Game recommends kids are 13+ to make sure things aren’t too difficult.
Address: 295 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10017
Catch a Broadway Show
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Broadway Shows are expensive. But dang, the experience is unforgettable and so fun for kids visiting NYC for the first time. You may be able to score a better deal on tickets if you opt for a matinee or swing by the ticket booth in Times Square (TKTS Times Square).
There’s a lot of great shows to choose from and I would budget at least one during your visit. Catching a live performance of a favorite film is one of the most unique thing to do in NYC with kids, and I guarantee they’ll absolutely love it!
Best Broadway Shows in NYC for Kids
- The Lion King
- The Music Man
- Harry Potter & The Cursed Child
Visit the Statue of Liberty
Arguably the most famous icon in New York City, the Statue of Liberty is synonymous with the freedom. Dedicated in 1886, Lady Liberty was gifted to the United States from the people of France in celebration of 100 years of American Independence.
I can’t think of a single movie (or show) filmed in NYC that doesn’t include the Statue of Liberty. Kiddos have been seeing Lady Liberty on the screen for years, so why not take them directly to the site? Just brace yourself for hearing “I saw that!” on a weekly basis.
I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline … What other religion do we need? When I see the city from my window—no, I don’t feel how small I am—but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.— Ayn Rand
Explore the New York Transit Museum
Dating back to 1904, New York City’s robust transportation system is one of the busiest and oldest in the world. Thankfully, visitors can take a walk down memory lane and explore vintage subway cars parked in a decommissioned subway station.
Located in Brooklyn, this is one of the most fun actives in NYC for kids. The museum covers a century of subway history and each car displays era-appropriate ads, which makes for some fun age-appropriate humor.
Visitors are able to explore the inside of vintage cars (some dating back to 1903), sit inside the driver’s cabin and admire vintage walk signs and transit furniture. Make sure to study the impressive photographs that highlight the evolution of the subway system.
Finally, swing by the gift shop before heading out, it’s well curated and has tons of fun transit-inspired souvenirs for kids and adults alike.
Explore the Museum of Ice Cream
The Museum of Ice Cream might be deemed a museum but it feels more like a playground. Adults love this interactive musuem as much as kids because it’s ripe for exploration!
You’ll learn all about the world of ice cream through colorful exhibits. The star of the show is a toss up between the 3-story slide (longest indoor slide in NYC) and the sprinkles pool.
With so much to explore (and a chance to sample ice cream) it’s no wonder this is one of the best activities in NYC for kids.
Surviving NYC with kids: 10 Memorable Manhattan Bars (you’re welcome!)
Things to Do with Kids in New York City (Post Summary)
- Get Lost at the Harry Potter Store
- Explore Central Park
- Walk the High Line
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge (& Jane’s Carousel)
- Swing by Lego’s Flagship Store
- Visit the oldest toy store in America
- Play a round at The Escape Game
- Catch an outdoor movie in Bryant Park
- Ride the Ferry
- Take the tram to Roosevelt Island
- Visit the American Museum of Natural History
- Take in the Views from Top of the Rock
- Explore the New York Transit Museum
- Visit the Statue of Liberty
- Explore the Museum of Ice Cream
- Catch a Broadway Show
So I went to New York City to be born again. It was, and remains, easy for most Americans to go somewhere else and start anew. I wasn’t like my parents. I didn’t have any supposedly sacred piece of land or shoals of friends to leave behind.Kurt Vonnegut
Map of fun activities in New York City for kids