New Jersey it’s got to be one of the best states. We have our beaches and farms and unique treasures to explore but then we also have easy access to the cities of Philadelphia and New York City. You don’t have to look far to find plenty of family activities. In fact, there are so many cheap and fun things to do in New York City with kids we wanted to create an easy way for you to find them. Consider this your Mom’s Guide to New York City with kids.
I’ll be honest. My previous trips into New York City have always been by public transportation or in a friend’s car. I was always too intimitated to drive into the city. The stop and go, the blarring horns of taxi cabs, the multiple lanes of traffic it was all more than I thought I could handle. Then Chevy invited me to test drive the 2019 Chevy Traverse with an overnight trip into the city with a friend. Yes, I was nervous. But I also remembered all the safety features of the Chevy Traverse and knew this was the perfect opportunity to try and drive into New York City.
My friend and I got into the city pretty quickly. I was impressed. There was traffic but not the kind of traffic I expected. It was managable. Plus being able to connect my Google maps with the oncar dashboard made it easy to navigate my way through the city. I also appreciated the blind spot monitoring as we know some drivers can be more aggressive than others. If you’ve been nervous about driving into NYC for the first time consider these tips.
Tips for Driving into NYC for the first time
- Make sure the gas tank is full.
- Consider getting an EZ Pass. New Jersey has lots of tolls. There are additional tolls going into NYC. I always hate that merging that happens after cars pay their way and then merge from 5 or more lanes down to two or three. With an EZ Pass you can go through special EZ Pass only lanes that usually help you avoid some merging.
- Go at a slightly off peak time. We left midday and the drive from the Atlantic City area to NYC was about 2-2.5 hours.
- Don’t bring the kids the first time. Go with a friend. Sometimes our kids can make a drive more stressful either because of their behavior or because we don’t want to get lost with them in the car. Take a friend the first time. Pick someone who will help you be calm in case you get lost.
- Trying to drive around the city searching for a parking spot can be stressful. Plan ahead for parking. Chevy arranged for us to stay overnight in a hotel that offered parking. It was a convenient option. We left the car there while we explored the city by foot. If you’re not staying overnight there are several parking apps that let you pay in advance for a preassigned spot. It’s usually cheaper to pay in advance too.
- Coming soon our recommendations for parking apps.
- Determine how you will enable your directions. On my current car, I can’t project the GPS directions onto a screen. I have to rely on just listening to them. (I try and avoid looking at my phone’s screen and usually keep my phone in Do Not Disturb mode.) On a car like the Chevy Traverse you can project the directions on the screen, at your eye level, and still keep your eyes on the road.
Now that you have these NYC driving tips, it’s time to head into New York City with kids. Use our Mom’s Guide to NYC with Kids to help you plan your trip.
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Free Things to do in New York City with Kids
Central Park is arguably the most famous park in the world and it is free to walk into. With over 800 acres in the middle of the city, it is a great place to go when looking for free things to do in New York City with kids. Central Park, is not just a park after all, there are countless things to visit within the park. You can find the famous Belvedere Castle, 21 different playgrounds that the kids will love, the Central Park Reservoir, the Bethesda Fountain, fields for running and playing games, and more.
On our overnight visit into New York City, one of the things we knew we wanted to do was see one of the concerts in Central Park. Thankfully, our schedule allowed enough time for exploring, but not enough time to see it all. I’d highly recommend either printing out a Central Park map from their website or buying one when you get there. There’s not a lot of signage to point you to the different Central Park attractions, but using the landmarks and the map together helped us find our way around.
We saw beautiful sites like the Turtle Pond, Belvedere Castle from a distance, detailed ornate archways, Bethesda Fountain and more. I was determined to find, the Arthur Ross Pinetum playground the one playground for teens, but I had no luck. In fact, we couldn’t find any of the Central Park playgrounds. I’m more determined than ever now to find them. Watch for us to return to Central Park this summer to find them AND give you tips to help find them too.
A few tips for exploring Central Park
- Take full advantage of the Central Park website before visiting with kids. You can find a map of the playgrounds or even search for things to do based on yours and your kids’ interests.
- Unless you and your children are very familiar with the park, keep them close and talk about what to do if you get separated. With so many different paths it can be easy to get lost in the park (We did.) Unfortunately, we did not see any park rangers to ask questions or help direct us to where we wanted to go. While I certainly want to take my kids to Central Park, this is one safety issue that will be at the forefront of my mind.
- Use the maps and pay attention to the map legend in order to know what the different lines mean.
- Check the Central Park schedule of events as they may affect what is and is not accessible at the park. For example, when we were there the path to the Strawberry Fields and Belvedere Castle was blocked off. We believe it might have been due to the fireworks that were scheduled for after the NY Philharmonic concert in the park.
- If attending a concert, plan out where you want to sit. Sitting closer to the stage will help you hear the music better but it will probably be more crowded. We sat back near the Turtle Pond. We couldn’t hear the music as well, but it was less crowded. The view of the Castle behind us was also an added bonus.
- Consider bringing your picnic meal into the park. We did find some concession stands but they were few and far between. There are shops like Whole Foods within walking distance of the Central Park entrance that will provide you with more options for foods to eat.
- Keep in mind when visiting the park though, that some of it’s attractions do charge a fee and ONLY accept cash. These include the Central Park Zoo, the carousel, boat rides, swimming and more seasonal activities. Learn more at www.centralparknyc.org.
The High Line
Up on an abandoned freight rail line is a different Manhattan: a public park with art, gardens and water features. To be walking along and playing on what used to be a major railway through the city is quite unique. The perspective is of course different from the street, and with the seats, lounge chairs and hidden nooks, The High Line feels like an urban oasis. At just under 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking District) to West 34th Street you will find plenty of things to explore when you visit The High Line. It was a working railroad until the 1980s and first opened to the public as park space in 1999. In just 15 years, the High Line has become a New York City must-see, as well as a vibrant location for events, activities and the arts.
As the weather gets cooler, it’s still a good time for the High Line! Bring the kids for some Lego play and envision what your cityscape would look like. Pack a lunch and enjoy it on one of the many tables/benches/bleachers throughout the park. Or visit one of the food vendors on the High Line, who carry items from ice cream sandwiches to coffee to tacos. There’s stargazing on Tuesdays at dusk, various tours, and you can always count on a pop-up performer or two.
There are 11 access spots, some with elevators. No bikes, no dogs, and no smoking is allowed on the High Line, but bring your stroller if needed! The High Line open hours vary by season, but always opens at 7 AM, and closes 7 PM or later. Learn more by visiting their website at www.thehighline.org.
Staten Island Ferry
Do your kids like boats? How about taking them on a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. These one hour trips will give you a chance to see some of the best water views in New York City, including the Statue of Liberty. The best part? These ferry rides are free 24/7. Learn more at www.siferry.com.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Environmental Education Center
Brooklyn Bridge Park has an Ed Center that is great for a fun, free day in New York City. Here you can see a 250 gallon aquarium which is filled with lots of fun critters straight from the East river. The kids can also enjoy a scale model of the park, arts and crafts, a reading corner and more! Be sure and check out there website though, as they are only open for their free hours 4 afternoons per week. Learn more at www.brooklynbridgepark.org.
New York City Parks Nature Center
New York City is blessed to have over 1700 parks. Of these, 15 of the city parks have awesome and free Nature Centers that you can visit and learn all about the parks themselves, find educational information about the city parks systems, find recreational activities and so much more. Check out the Parks Department website for info on where these nature centers are located. Learn more at www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/naturecenters.
New York City Museums with free admission
Do you love to explore museums in New York City? So do we. Take a look at this post where we share the details on New York City museums with free admission and pay what you wish days.
New York City Museums with FREE Admission and Pay What You Wish Days
FREE New York City events for kids
Here are some great free New York City events for kids.
- Hudson Riverflicks – If you are looking for free things to do with the kids in New York City during the summer, grab your blanket and head down to the Hudson River Park. Hudson RiverFlicks offers free NYC movies played on the big screen in the park every Wednesday night on Pier 63 and family friendly movies every Friday night on Pier 46. These movies happen just during July and August though, so be sure and check the calendar for specific showtimes and dates. Learn more at hudsonriverpark.org/events/series/movies.
- Waterfront Festival – the kids can play games, do nature-themed crafts, see live performances, learn all about science and more! Learn more at www.nycgovparks.org/events/2019/06/23/waterfront-festival.
- Summer on the Hudson: Children’s Performance Series – Just for kids, this event features theater, music, storytelling and more! All for kids ages 7 and under! Learn more at https://www.nycgovparks.org/events/2019/08/01/summer-on-the-hudson-childrens-performance-series.
- Schedule of FREE NYC park events for kids
- Schedule of FREE NYC park events with fireworks
- Schedule of FREE NYC park concerts
- Schedule of FREE NYC park movies. Check the schedule and ratings first to make sure the movie is appropriate for your child.
- Schedule of FREE NYC park summer theater events. Check the schedule first to make sure the program is appropriate for your child.
Cheap Things to do in New York City with Kids
The following New York City family-friendly activities are $5 or less per person.
I could have actually put Bryant Park in the free things to do list, but you just can’t visit Bryant Park without taking the kids for a ride on the Le Carrousel and the cost to do that is $3 per person, or you can get a 10 ride card for $20. In addition to Le Carrousel, Bryant part is full of exciting events such as free concerts and fashion shows, summer movies and winter ice skating. This park provides year round fun! Learn more at bryantpark.org/?/the-park.
Okay, technically, it’s free to visit the island, but it does cost $2 per person (over 12) to ride the ferry to get there. Here the entire family can enjoy theatrical performances, musical shows, STEM activities, playgrounds and more! Learn more at govisland.com.
Where used to sit the New York Aquarium (one of the country’s first public aquariums), now sits a unique carousel experience that your children will love! At the SeaGlass Carousel, each rider sits in an iridescent fish which glides through the movements, while its rider hears the sounds of an aquatic adventure surrounding them. Tickets to the SeaGlass Aquarium are $5 per person. Learn more at www.seaglasscarousel.nyc.
If exploring the city is on your to-do list, then the Tram is the way to do it! This commuter cable car will take you on a journey over the East River and into Manhattan. Each trip will cost the rider $2.75, but it’s worth it. Once your Tram ride is over, hop on the Red Bus Service which is a free bus service that runs the same schedule as the Tram. Be sure to avoid rush hour though! Learn more at rioc.ny.gov/339/Get-Around.
More Fun Things to do in New York City with Kids
Need more ideas for NYC activities for kids? We’ve got them! There’s so much to do I need to find another time to test drive that Chevy Traverse. My kids would enjoy the wifi for their devices while we drive into the city. But once we’re exploring the city, those devices only come out to take pictures of all they fun they are having.
Earn a Junior Park Ranger badge from the National Park Service
More details coming soon.
Our favorite museums for kids in New York City
Staten Island Children’s Museum
Science, art, food…there is no end to the awesome learn through play subjects that your kids will learn at the Staten Island Children’s Museum. The hands on experience here will have them never wanting to leave! Learn more at sichildrensmuseum.org.
American Museum of Natural History
If your children have ever watched Night at the Museum, they are going to flip out about a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. While it may not be quite to the extent of the movie, the displays that are here at the museum are incredibly engaging and people love visiting. With so many displays, you will be hard pressed to find something that each member of the family doesn’t love, plus there is a recently opened T. Rex exhibit which has awesome reviews! Oh, and if you really want to see what the museum is like at night, you can join in on a sleepover night with your kids! Melanie did. Read about her Night at the Museum Sleepover with Animal Jam! Then, learn more at www.amnh.org.
New York Hall of Science
If your children have expressed an interest in science, then you need to take them to the New York Hall of Science. The hands on experiments are a blast, the outdoor science playground is lots of fun, you can play a game of minigolf while standing close to retired NASA rockets and your kids can even have a sleepover during the summer! Learn more at nysci.org.
Our favorite tours for kids in New York City
When you park your Chevy Traverse or other family car, or take public transportation into the city you’ll find some unique ways to tour New York City with kids.
What better way to check out New York City than by doing so while enjoying cupcakes? This two hour tour will lead you through Greenwich Village and introduce you to the best small bakeries to give you a taste of the best cupcakes around! Brace yourself though, it’s a lot of cupcakes for such a short amount of time. For a money saving tip, check out Groupon or getyourguide for deals on this tour. Learn more at sugartoothtours.com/cupcake-crawl.
Explore the Real Upper West Side
This Explore the Real Upper West Side tour is a walking tour that is fun for the whole family! You can experience the Upper West Side in a whole new way. During this tour you will have fun learning all about the area with history and fun facts. You will also get to grab a deliciously massive cookie from a wonderful bakery along your route. Learn more at www.lifenomading.com/upper-west-side-walking-tour.
Our favorite family attractions in New York City
While New York City may have over 30 bridges, none are more recognizable as the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous and most photographed bridges in the country. You do have to pay a toll to drive over what used to be the largest suspension steel wire bridge in the world, but you can walk it or bike across it at no charge! Oh, and there is a walking path right in the center of the bridge above the vehicle lane! Learn more at www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/infrastructure/brooklyn-bridge.shtml.
General Grant National Memorial
I’m sure you have all heard of Grant’s Tomb, right? Well, the General Grant National Memorial, which happens to be the largest mausoleum in the country, is where President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant are laid to rest. This is a unique attraction, but it has a tremendous amount of historical significance. Did you know that President Grant dedicated the nation’s first public park? Learn more at www.nps.gov/gegr/index.htm.
Statue of Liberty
No visit to New York City is complete without a trip to the Statue of Liberty. As many know, the people of France gifted the “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” to the United States and the statue was dedicated in 1886 as has since then been known as a symbol of freedom. Tickets for your visit to the Statue of Liberty will depend on what park you plan to visit, and don’t forget, you can also visit Ellis Island at the same time! Learn more at www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm.
Grand Central Terminal
As far as New York City attractions go, Grand Central Terminal, or, as you may know it, Grand Central Station, is a biggie! Not only is it one of the busiest stations in the country, but you will find far more than just trains here. Enjoy the incredibly main waiting room, the starry constellations that dance across the blue ceiling, grab a bite, or even hit up the awesome toy store located right in the station. Learn more at www.grandcentralterminal.com.
There is literally just so much to do at Coney Island, than kids and adults alike can find an entire day of fun here! Carnival rides, entertainers, parades, minor league baseball, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, are just some of the fun things that you and the kids can do for a fun day in New York City. Learn more at coneyislandpark.com/tickets-passes/daily-tickets.
Our favorite places to eat in New York City with kids
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Enjoy your meal at Ellen’s Stardust Diner while your waitstaff sings! This is not the place to go for a relaxing meal with the kids because there is non stop singing throughout your meal. Really though, is a relaxing meal ever the case case when eating with kids? Learn more at ellensstardustdiner.com.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met a kid who didn’t love ninjas. If this sounds like your child, then a visit to Ninja’s is a must! This themed restaurant will give you a thrill as you enjoy your meal in a restaurant that is made to look like a ninja village. Learn more at www.ninjanewyork.com/index.html.
I bet many people would have no idea that there is a cereal cafe located in NYC that was created by Kellogg’s (yes, that Kellogg’s). This cereal cafe offers a great Coffee & Cereal Club held daily, where kids 12 and younger gets to enjoy free cereal with milk & toppings for FREE when with a parent. How cool is that? Learn more at kelloggsnyc.com.
You can’t mention restaurants, kids and New York City together without mentioning a great pizza restaurant, right? Joe’s Pizza has been around since the mid-70s. You won’t find any ninjas, or singing waitstaff here, just delicious NYC pizza. Learn more at www.joespizzanyc.com.
New York City events for kids
Here are some great New York City events for kids.
- Camp Broadway – Your theater loving children aged 10-17 will love Camp Broadway. Here they learn all about life in the theater. Learn more at campbroadway.com.
Our favorite places to stay in New York City with kids
- Coming soon
Coming soon to New York City
New family attractions coming to New York City
- Coming soon
Coming soon to New York City family attractions and museums
- Coming soon
New New York City restaurants for families
- Coming soon
Upcoming New York City events for kids
We’re excited for these upcoming great New York City events for kids.
- Coming soon
New York City is the perfect spot for a day trip with the kids. If there are things to do with kids in New York City that you think we should add to the list, leave a comment below and let us know! The city is waiting to be explored! Have fun!
For more help planning your New York City vacation or New York City Day Trips, please visit these stories.
Grab one of these New York City maps or travel guides before your next trip into NYC.
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