New York City Family Travel Tips

If your family wants the energy and excitement of a big-city vacation, New York can’t be beat. Along with browsing some of the world’s best museums, you can attend a Broadway show, inline skate in Central Park, see the Statue of Liberty up close, as well as catch a Yankee game at the “House that Ruth Built” (Yankee Stadium) or watch the Mets play at Shea Stadium.

The American Museum of Natural History has reinvented itself with state-of-the-art exhibits: the gem of the Rose Center for Earth and Space is a cutting-edge planetarium; the Hall of Ocean Life features high-tech video screens displaying kelp forests and coral reefs; and the Hall of Meteorites’ biggest specimen weighs 34 tons.

Gradeschoolers enjoy roaming the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, a 900-foot, WWII-era aircraft carrier complete with 30 historic aircraft. Infants to eight-year-olds explore at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, which fosters creative play through interactive exhibits featuring best-loved characters including Dora the Explorer.

Especially if you’re descended from immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island, and even if you’re not, find out what it was like to arrive in a new land with little more than a suitcase and dreams at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Stay for the new living history show, Embracing Freedom, that dramatizes the experiences of immigrants past and present. The show runs until November 5, 2006. The head over to the Statue of Liberty to take in that American icon up close.

For the quintessential viw of the Big Apple, head to the 86th-floor observatory of the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock, the 70th-floor observation deck of GE’s Rockefeller Plaza building.

Be sure to spend some time in Central Park, a green oasis in the heart of upper Manhattan. Stroll the tree-shaded paths, ride the carousel, watch the experts breakdance, and inline skate the snaking trails (which can get crowded, so beware!). The Central Park Wildlife Center has monkeys and sea lions, while kids can pet goats, sheep, and a pot-bellied pig at the Tisch Children’s Zoo. Check the schedule for summer concerts on the Great Lawn and for the puppet shows at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater.

Taking a child to a Broadway matinee is almost a New York rite of passage. The songs, costumes, and sheer showmanship of the musicals will have you and your kids humming when you leave the theater.

Inspiring awe in a different way are the city’s great art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art. The National Sports Museum ia located in lower Manhattan.

Shopping is another Manhattan staple. Along with department stores and boutiques, the city has many kid-pleasing stores. Browse FAO Schwartz for toys, make your own stuffed critter at the Build-A-Bear-Workshop, and buy your favorite characters at the World of Disney. At American Girl Place, explore the “lives” of the 18-inch, historic-era dolls with a show. You can also have tea (or lunch or dinner) with your doll as well as buy an outfit to match hers.

New York City Travel Tips

  • See a Broadway show.
  • Ponder the universe at the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center of Earth and Science.
  • Stroll Central Park and visit the Tisch Children’s Zoo.
  • Browse world-famous art at the Met, MoMA, and Guggenheim.
  • Take in sweeping city views from the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock.

Tip: A CityPass (www.citypass.com) saves you money on admission to six attractions and gets you to the front of the line at some.

Recommended Side Trips: Philadelphia and New York State’s Catskill and Shawangunk mountains

New York City for Families: My Top 3

New York City is the perennial king of worldwide tourist destinations. It’s the place of 1,001 different experiences, tastes, sights, sounds, and perspectives. In fact, there’s so much to see and do in the Big Apple, that planning a trip there can seem downright bewildering (and hey, urban lore holds that there are some New Yorkers who’ve never stepped foot off Manhattan). To add to that Tower of Babel stew of opinions about this great city, here are my three favorite travel experiences with kids in tow in New York City. Don’t agree? Got more to add? Tell us in the comments section!

Best Place to Learn: American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side

The American Museum of Natural History is an impressive space that lays out the world and its wonders for ages young and old. As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York’s vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you’re not overwhelmed once you arrive. Among the museum’s various hands-on kids’ installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away an hour or more with children ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree. The museum’s website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you’ve had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.

  • The subway drops riders directly by the lower-level entrance to the museum, meaning you can get here from Times Square and other central points within a matter of minutes.
  • As with other NYC museums, the American Museum of Natural History “suggests” prices for general admission, though what you pay is at your discretion. It’s a great museum, but don’t feel obliged to pay full whack if you’ll only be here for an hour or two.
  • Among the museum’s various hands-on kids’ installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away and hour or more with youngsters ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree.
As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York’s vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you’re not overwhelmed once you arrive. The museum’s website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you’ve had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.

Best Place to See: Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center

Nobody said visiting New York City with families was going to be cheap, not least when it comes to gaining access to the city’s premium skyscraping real estate. But if my kids were anything to go by, spending time inside, and on top of, a real skyscraper is like winning a trip to the moon for little minds. The Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center may not be the tallest address in town, but it surely has one of its best views—an 850-foot-high perch gazing out over Central Park to the north and the Empire State Building to the south. The place gets busier as the day goes on, so try to get there first thing in the morning to avoid long lines and crowded sightlines. Acrophobics will appreciate the glass-enclosed observation decks on the 67th and 69th floors of “the Rock” (aka, 30 Rockefeller Center, home to NBC, among other clientele). The 70th-floor deck is a breezy, open-air affair with excellent 360-degree panoramas of Manhattan and beyond (not to mention, room to cruise around as if you’re at your own private cocktail party—try that at the packed-to-the-gills Empire State).

Best Place to Play: Imagination Playground Park, Lower Manhattan

It might be an urban jungle, but there’s no shortage of good playgrounds in which to let little ones run wild. Central Park, Madison Square Park, and Washington Square Park are just some of the local favorites (New York magazine lists some other good local picks here.) My family’s vote goes to the Imagination Playground Park, which opened in Lower Manhattan’s Burling Slip neighborhood in summer 2010. Offering an innovative and immersive playground “experience” that includes masts, pulleys, buckets, blocks, and other hands-on equipment for free-form play, this park might even make you forget some of those other New York City must-sees on your list.

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