Twenty One New York City Favorites with Kids & Teens

Twenty-One New York City Favorites

New York City is one of our family’s favorite cities to visit – after all what’s not to like?  It has the exciting hustle and bustle of city life, lush parks and green spaces, important historical sites, major sports teams, entertaining theatre, and world class museums.

I’ve compiled a list of our favorite things to see and do in New York City, all of which are also great for kids and teens.  It’s a good mix of lesser known sights as well as the “must-sees”.  Be sure to check some of these out on your next trip to the Big Apple!

Museum of the Moving Picture

When I learned of this museum, I knew it was a place we had to visit.  My son is a big fan of movies, both to watch and create.  The museum is located in Queens, which is just a short subway ride from where we usually stay in Manhattan. 

Once there, we purchased our tickets on site and set off to explore.  We started with the ongoing exhibition, Behind the Screens.  In this exhibit one can view many types of film cameras that have evolved through the ages.  There are some interactive exhibits here as well.  We also made our way through the Jim Henson Exhibition.  Viewing the puppets that really solidified a place in children’s programming was nostalgic for sure.  We took our time reading first scripts of movies, seeing artifacts, and interacting with various exhibits to learn about the ongoing progression of film.  Overall it was very interesting and fun for a teen interested in movie making.

The Museum of the Moving Picture

We grabbed lunch across the street at Napoli Pizza & Pasta and it was delicious!  The pizza was so big it took up nearly the entire table.  The restaurant was very small but quaint and authentic and we highly recommend it.

Tenement Museum

Immigration is something the kids learn in school, of course, but there is no education like first-hand experience.  Visiting an old tenement in New York’s Lower East Side was about as first-hand as it could get.  We had a guided tour through two tenements, each with their own familial stories.  We checked out the reconstructed apartments, listened to the knowledgeable guide tell the backstories, and finally listened to recordings of the actual people who once resided here.  Our teens were very intrigued as were we!

The Tenement Museum

Luckily for us one of our favorite New York stops, Erin McKenna’s Bakery, is right around the corner from here.  Erin McKenna’s is an allergy-friendly bakery so it’s a must stop anytime we are in the city for our kids with dietary restrictions.

NBC Studio Tour & Top of the Rock

This is tops with our teens!  We recommend coupling this with visiting Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) as they are in the same building.

First, to do the NBC Studio Tour kids have to be at least 6 years old.  There is the possibility that shows could be filming so children have to be able to be quiet and well behaved during the tour.  Tickets must be purchased ahead of time and are time allotted.  Check out the website for more details.

The tour begins conveniently in the NBC Studios gift shop.  During our visit, a remake of Michael Scott’s office was here, encouraging you to take photos while seated at the desk – which our kids, big fans of The Office, had fun doing.  Once it was time for our tour, we were collected and brought up on an elevator to begin.  The tour can vary, depending on what is filming at that time.  We were able to view the sets of Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on the day we visited.  At the end of the tour, we created our own version of a show with all the other people on our tour.  We each had a “job” and it was a great time!  This was something our kids & teens really enjoyed.

After the NBC Studio Tour, we had tickets to visit the Top of the Rock.  The Top of the Rock(efeller Center) has some of the best views of New York city.  You get panoramic views of Central Park to the north and lower Manhattan to the south, which is the epitome of an incredible New York skyline view. 

Ava taking in the views from the Top of the Rock

See a Show

A visit to New York is hardly complete without seeing a live show.  We are big theatre fans so this is always a must!  The shows are constantly changing so it’s pointless to list our favorites but I will say if you get the chance to see Wicked, Aladdin, Jersey Boys, Hamilton…well, you get the idea!  Just go!

Excited to see an incredible Broadway show

The last time I was in New York City with my young nephews we escaped the July heat for a few hours and saw a matinee of Blue Man Group.  The show options are endless here!

We love to grab dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner beforehand.  It’s loud and fun with singing waitstaff breaking into show tunes periodically.  It’s especially fun especially before catching a Broadway show!

It’s always lively at Ellen’s Stardust Diner

PRO TIP:  The TKTS booths sell same-day theatre tickets at 50% off.  If you aren’t picky about the show you see this is a great way to snag a deal.  And from my list above, you can see that you really can’t go wrong with seeing any show!

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

This is also a typical New York touristy thing to do but it’s a must in our opinion.  Statue Cruises is the sole ferry that will take you to both Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty sits, and Ellis Island.  Be sure to get your tickets in advance.  This is also imperative if you are interested in visiting the interior of the Statue – whether it be just the pedestal or all the way up to the crown.

The Statue of Liberty

We loved walking around Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty up close.  When we visited, our kids were quite young so we skipped visiting the interior.

We saw the Statue of Liberty up close, shopped in the gift shop, and had a picnic lunch outside.  After our time on Liberty Island we took the short ferry ride to Ellis Island.  For millions of Americans, their ancestors passed through Ellis Island so it’s not only an important national historical venue but a personal one as well.  Ellis Island is laid out so one can see it from the eyes of a new immigrant.  It really brings to life immigration into America and is an incredible place to visit.

PRO TIP:  If you are only interested in viewing the Statue of Liberty from the water, consider a cruise around Manhattan or the FREE Staten Island Ferry.  We did this on our most recent trip to New York.

The Staten Island Ferry

To be able to view the Statue of Liberty, once on the Staten Island Ferry go up the stairs and to the RIGHT of the boat.  You’ll not only cruise right past the Statue of Liberty but get great views of lower Manhattan as well!

Lovely views of Lower Manhattan

Sea Glass Carousel

This is a great add on when seeing the Statue of Liberty, whether via the Staten Island Ferry or Statue Cruises.

The Sea Glass Carousel

Just a 3 minute walk from Whitehall Terminal, the Sea Glass Carousel located in Battery Park is a fun add on for kids after riding the ferry.  Featuring fish to ride on, the lighting is magical.

Current 2023 Pricing:  $5.50 per ride.

September 11 Memorial & Museum

This is another important part of our American History, albeit much more modern.  While today’s kids and teens were not around to live through it, they have grown up hearing first-hand accounts from their parents and teachers of September 11 and the impact thereafter.  We took our time walking around the outdoor memorial, quietly reading names and taking in the lovely tribute to those who lost their lives that day.  Of course the older the kids are, the more they’ll get out of it.

The 911 Museum tells the stories of September 11, 2001 through various artifacts, personal stories, and exhibitions.  It currently contains over 70,000 artifacts to share with the public while walking them through the timeline of September 11 and the days after the attacks.

The September 11 Memorial

Summit One Vanderbilt

In our opinion, this is the best observation deck in New York City!  It’s more than an observation deck, it’s a full immersive experience!

To enter you have two options:  from inside Grand Central Station or from the street.  This is how we did it:  From 42nd Street, turn onto Vanderbilt Ave.  The doors to enter will be on the left at One Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt Ave is a small pedestrian lane located between One Vanderbilt and Grand Central Station.  There are also staff outside helping to guide you into the building.  Once inside, follow the signs to Summit One Vanderbilt.

The first thing you’ll do is view a short movie.  From there, you will put on shoe covers to protect the glass floors you’ll soon be standing on.

Your next step is scanning your bracelet and taking a photo.  We opted to skip this part as we were eager to just get up to the observation decks.  At the very end of the experience you’ll see a video screen with a moving projection of colorful clouds with faces in them.  Your face could be on one of the many the clouds if you took your photo in the beginning.

The elevator ride will whisk you up 91 stories to take in the immersive observation areas unlike any other place.  Part observatory and part art installation, you’ll be wowed from start to finish.  Set within three floors, you’ll get stunning views in every direction over 1,000 feet above Manhattan.

The first room is Transcendence, a fully mirrored two-story room with views outward to the city.

Transcendence at Summit One Vanderbilt

You also will have the chance to step out onto a glass ledge set high above the city to take in the views below your feet if you don’t mind heights!  The next room, Affinity, is full of silver balloons, which are fun to lightly push around.

Affinity, fun for all ages!

After you’ve spent time in these areas, you take the escalator up to the third level of Summit One.  Apres’ is located here, a bar with a fabulous selection of drinks and light fare available for purchase.  We took our drinks outdoors to the terrace and enjoyed sipping while watching the sky turn to pink and finally into night with the city lit up.

The beautiful Chrysler building

Watching Manhattan turn to night

Booking Time:  Consider what time of day you want to be observing the city at and book your tickets based on that.  The total experience can take 60 – 90 minutes to explore, with endless time spent at Apres’ if you so desire.  We booked our tickets for 7:00 pm and were at Apres’ by 8:30.  We wanted to see the city still in daylight but with this timing we also caught golden hour, the sky turning pink, and the city lights coming on for a final “goodnight New York” moment.  I highly recommend booking your tickets for about 90 minutes before sunset to get this full day to night experience.

TIPS:  Be sure to wear shorts or pants – there is a lot of reflection here!  There is a non-reflective path but it does not go through all the spaces.  Also, bring sunglasses!  Due to the amount of light entering the area, it will be much easier to take in the views if you wear shades.

Summit One Vanderbilt, a cool experience!

Chelsea Market

To get some of New York’s best food in one place, look no further than Chelsea Market.  We stopped here after our visit to Starbuck’s Reserve & Roastery as it’s right across the street.  You’ll see everything from ethnic food to donuts to retail stores.  

Chelsea Market

It’s also home to the original National Biscuit Company, which is now known as Nabisco.  The Oreo Cookie was invented here as well!

The Oreo cookie was invented in Chelsea Market

This place had a cool vibe, we really enjoyed meandering through the market.

Chelsea Market

A Touristy Bus Ride

We have two types of bus rides we recommend.  The first is the traditional hop-on/hop-off.  We recommend these in every city because it gives one the lay of the land and doubles as transportation to many of the touristy hot spots.  What we do is stay on for the first loop to see everything from the bus and decide what interests us.  We then start using the hop-on/hop-off aspect during the second loop.  If you plan to visit a lot of the touristy spots, you can’t go wrong with a bus tour.

Front seat views

The second bus tour we recommend is The RideMike and Braden were not interested in seeing Mean Girls with Ava and I, so they opted to do this non-traditional bus tour.  While it is a bus ride through NYC, what sets it apart from the rest is that all seats are bleacher style and face to the side.  There is no worry about not getting a good view with this type of seating.  It’s also not simply a “tour” but rather an interactive experience.  Both guys said it was a blast!

Walk the High Line & Visit the Vessel

The High Line, located on the west side of Manhattan, is meant for wandering.  An elevated public park on an old New York City train line, the green spaces and gardens offer beautiful surroundings while taking in some great views of the city.  We combined our stroll here with a stop at the Vessel, also known as “the beehive”, due to its hive like appearance.

Mike and I at The Vessel

NOTE:  The Vessel is currently closed for an interior visit, however you can still visit the exterior.  For up-to-date information, visit the website.

Central Park

Central Park deserves a visit in any season.  We love just walking through here when we need a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

There are many things to do in Central Park besides simply wander and people watch.  To start, there are 21 playgrounds for the little ones to get out their energy in between sightseeing. 

Ava tumbling in Central Park at 5 years old!

If water activities interest you, consider renting a rowboat from Loeb Boathouse or try your hand at maneuvering a model boat, renting from Kerbs Boathouse.  One can also catch-and-release fish from Harlems Meer with rentals available from the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

The Central Park Zoo is a hit for kids and adults alike.  Or take in some of the beautiful architecture such as Belvedere Castle, Cleopatra’s Needle, a variety of statues, and of course the famous Central Park bridges.

The Museum of Broadway

The Museum of Broadway is a must stop for any theatre lovers.  It’s laid out in chronological order, beginning from the first plays shown in New York all the way through the modern shows of today.  We really enjoyed checking out costumes and props from shows, taking pics at photo stations, and learning all about the backstage process. 

The Museum of Broadway

Costumes from Hamilton

Putting on a Broadway-scale involves a lot of moving parts.  We see it come together seamlessly as theatre goers so it was very interesting to learn all about the entire process in the museum.

Learning all about the behind of the scenes in the making of a Broadway show

Grand Central Terminal

The art deco interior is like a free art exhibit so we took in the beauty while grabbing snacks from some of the many food stalls.  We also did a little shopping and enjoyed people watching as folks scurried to and from platforms off on a grand (or not so grand) adventure!  It’s also right next door to One Vanderbilt, so if you plan to visit Summit One Vanderbilt, you can head to Grand Central a little early to take in the sights and then head up to Summit One when your ticket time comes about.

The Brooklyn Bridge

This is something we almost always view when we are in town.  There are several spots with great views, but our favorite is near South Street Seaport.  We love to grab lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Industry Kitchen, which is located right there on the waterfront.  After lunch, we enjoy walking along the path in which you get great views of the bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge

One can walk from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn via the bridge.  The location to get on the bridge from lower Manhattan is located near Pace University.  Cross over Frankfort Street via the pedestrian crosswalk, this will take you under the road on the Brooklyn Bridge above, and follow the signs to the bridge.  It will be just a few feet until you see the sign pointing you up a dark stairwell.  As you get to the top, you’ll be on the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Times Square

Can you even go to New York without seeing Times Square?!  We don’t think so!  A colorful, loud, chaotic area that will leave you seeking respite in quieter places of the city, a visit to New York City isn’t complete unless you stand in the triangle that is Times Square! 

Chain restaurants and stores that are in most major malls in America line the streets with vendors selling hot dogs and pretzels.  Creepy costumed characters walk about trying to get you to take a photo with them while hordes of people mill about.  But it’s a must see to experience!

We most often stay at the Marriott Marquis, located right in Times Square.  We love the spacious rooms as well as the location because it’s so easy to get anywhere from here.  Additionally, we love to dine or just get a drink at the Broadway Lounge so we can take in the views of Times Square from above, a much less chaotic way to experience it!

Views of Times Square from The Broadway Lounge at the Marriott Marquis Times Square

Chinatown

We appreciate the sudden immersion that one experiences while walking around Chinatown.  As the largest settlement of Chinese outside of China, New York’s Chinatown is a must see.

If you love Chinese food, this the place!  We enjoy popping into shops, strolling the streets, and enjoying a tea to go while we do so.

Chinatown

Starbucks Reserve & Roastery

For any coffee lover or Starbucks aficionados, a stop at Starbucks Reserve and Roastery fulfills all your coffee dreams.  This is an elevated experience with tasty food made with high quality ingredients and unique drinks.  One can even enjoy drinks from the bar.  Had it not been 10 am I would have loved the espresso martini flight!

The Starbucks Reserve & Roastery

Being a roastery, you’ll have the freshest beans in your coffee.  Take time to listen to the roasting process, you’ll probably not look at coffee beans the same again!

Amazing food & drink!

Other Favorites

We have been to New York several times in the last few years and are always on the look out for new things to do.  As the kids have grown, our list continues to change with their interests.  The list below contains some things that are great for young kids, some better suited for teens, and some seasonal.

FAO Schwarz

A stop at FAO Schwarz is always on our list.  We like meandering through this nostalgic NYC toy store and of course the lower level candy section is always a hit.  Be sure to try out the floor piano that Tom Hanks danced on in the movie BIG!

FAO Schwarz originally opened in 1862 in Baltimore, Maryland before moving to New York City.  In recent times it had a shiny place on 5th Ave, but closed its doors in 2015.  It reopened in 2018 at its new location in Rockefeller Center.

The kids at the old FAO Schwarz location on 5th Ave

Bumper Cars on Ice

In the winter, ice skating in the city ranks high, although we found a fun alternative during a February visit – Bumper Cars on Ice at Bryant Park!  Getting tickets ahead is necessary as walk-up tickets are not guaranteed.  Our teens found this fun!

Slipping and sliding on the ice at Bryant Park

The FRIENDS Apartment

We love the show Friends so we wanted to see the apartment that was used in the exterior shots of the show.  From Times Square, we took the subway to the Christopher Street station and walked through Greenwich Village to 90 Bedford Street – the official address of the apartment, located on the corner of Bedford and Grove.  Once we found it, the kids got a kick out of seeing it up close!  Someone was playing the Friends theme song on their phone, which was kind of funny and set the ambiance for sure.

The kids in front of the FRIENDS apartment

New York City has endless things to see and do for all ages, including families with kids in all different age groups.  It remains our family’s favorite city!

Continue reading for more information as to traveling to New York City with dietary restrictions, if that contains information you need.  Otherwise, stop here and get planning a trip to NYC!

Read More!

We have created a guide sharing how to organize your time in New York City with daily itinerary options:  How to Organize Your Time in New York City.

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time my husband is grain/gluten-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we seem to encompass a large amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

Eating in New York City with dietary restrictions is relatively easy.  There are just endless restaurants and ones we have sought out have been wonderful to accommodate.  There are also some specialty shops, such as Erin McKenna’s Bakery and A La Mode for ice cream.  

Here are some restaurants that we have eaten at in recent times that have been great with our food allergies, click the name for a link to the restaurant’s website:

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Drake

    Such a chill list 🥶 🥶

Leave a Reply