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This post contains our kid-approved 3-day itinerary that will keep the whole family entertained. Because some of the most popular attractions among the young ones (and adults too) are a bit pricey, we include tips and advice on how to get discounts or even pay nothing at all! Many of our pay-what-you-wish tours are suitable for children, especially our food tours – they gobble them right up!
Traveling with kids can be made easier sometimes by getting a tourist pass. Tourist passes help you save money by packaging attractions together for one flat price. Some of the attractions suggested in this itinerary are included in the tourist passes. We encourage you to read our post comparing the different New York City Attraction Passes. Also, since you will likely be taking the subway, take a look at our post about which MetroCard to buy so you can plan which kind of card to buy and also learn more about the rules of sharing MetroCards. Did you know that children 44″ and under can ride the subway for free?!?
101+ Things to do in NYC
DAY ONE – Downtown
Your kids have likely seen images of the Statue of Liberty dozens of times in their young lives, so it will be pretty exciting to see the real thing up close. The question is just how close do you and your kids need to get? Visiting the Statue and nearby Ellis Island may not be the best attraction for your kids. It really depends on your child’s age and interests. Also, this activity will take up a good part of your day. If you visit both Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island plan to spend 4-5 hours from arrival at the ferry landing until you return.
Also, the cost really adds up. For a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children under 12), tickets to Liberty Island and Ellis Island is $54. However, if you want to up to the crown that cost goes up to $66. If your budget isn’t an obstacle and your kids can climb lots of stairs, go for it! Everything else you need to know about visiting Lady Liberty can be found here. Tip: If you are planning to purchase a tourist discount pass, keep in mind that all 3 major tourist passes include free Statue of Liberty tickets.
As an alternative to visiting the Statue of Liberty, we recommend taking a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, a commuter ferry that takes you out into the harbor and back again and you can get get a good view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. You can also consider other cruise or boat rides. From cruises that circle the city to the fast speed boat ride, The Shark, one of the many choices may suit your group. Some are included in the tourist passes as well. For other free boat rides or very cheap rides, click here
Battery Park is a lovely 25-acre public park at the southern tip of Manhattan and has much more to offer than great photo-ops of squirrels who abound in the park. Located where the Dutch first settled New Amsterdam in the 1640s, it is filled with monuments and memorials. Within the park is the Castle Clinton National Monument, an open-air fort built as a defensive post for the War of 1812. Later it housed an opera house, an immigration station, as well as an aquarium. It has been restored to its original appearance complete with replica cannons. There is also a very small but quite interesting exhibit room with documents, maps, and photographs that show the development of the fort and the park. It is open 7 days a week 7:45 am until 5:00 pm. And there are public restrooms!
Nearby within the park is the magical Sea Glass Carousel Riders sit on large, iridescent fiberglass fish while music plays and light effects create the sense of scuba diving in a word of over 30 different sea creatures. Hours: 7 days a week 10 am-10 pm, weather permitting. Tickets: may be purchased for $5 on-site.
Just outside of Battery Park is the free entry Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian with works of native art and artifacts. It is a nice place to check out or visit as an alternative activity on rainy days.
The corner of Wall Street and Broad Street is a bustling spot. You’ve got the New York Stock Exchange on one corner and on the other is Federal Hall National Memorial, a small, free museum located in a grand 1842 Customs House building. This is the site where George Washington was sworn in. Outside the building is a larger than life bronze statue of the First President. Be sure to climb up next to George for a great family picture. Inside the museum, there are artifacts from the revolutionary era and some interactive exhibits your kids can enjoy.
Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed on weekends and for all Federal holidays. Free
Tip: Food-wise, there are plenty of options along Broad Street and Broadway. There is no shortage of familiar foods at good prices. Also, there are many food carts, you cannot miss the savory smells. If you see a cart with a line of people waiting, that’s the cart to try!
As long as no one in your group is afraid of heights, the One World Observatory at the top of the Freedom Tower is a MUST-VISIT attraction. After 14 years of delays, the tallest building in North America opened its observatory. On a clear day, you can see for 50 miles in any direction. This experience could possibly be the highlight of your visit to New York and an experience your children will remember for a lifetime. There is much more to see besides the stellar views as the Observatory’s elevator is a unique multimedia experience unto itself. There are other historical and interactive displays that will keep your kids entertained. For all the information you need to go, best times to book tickets, how to find discounts and more, we have all you need to know compiled our post How to visit the Freedom Tower.
On your way to the tower, you can pass through the 9/11 Memorial and see the two massive Reflecting Pools that honor the victims of the tragedy. Hours: The 9/11 Memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to visit the 9/11 Museum which is a very informative but also a somber museum. Check our post to see if a visit to the memorial and museum are a good fit for your family.
It’s highly likely that you and your gang will be wiped out by the end of the day, so why not take some time to rest up your feet for Day Two!
DAY TWO – Uptown
Without a doubt, this is one of the most popular and most satisfying attractions in NYC, and not just for kids. No matter what age, there is something of interest for everyone. From the world-famous dinosaur fossil collection to the overlooked gem collection, from the Hall of Human Origins to the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians this is a museum-see in New York City. Also part of the AMNH is the Rose Center for Earth and Space and it provides a deep look into the nature of the cosmos. There is also an IMAX movie that costs extra and can be added onto the cost of a general admission ticket.
Hours: Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Admission Policy and Prices: Admission is by “suggested donation.” Not everyone knows this and the Museum certainly doesn’t advertise this fact in big letters. “Suggested donation” means that the ticket prices posted are not mandatory and that you can give whatever amount you like. Note: If you do not pay the full price posted, you do not have access to the Rose Center for Earth and Space. To purchase tickets and information on additional ticket combinations including IMAX tickets or the Planetarium, see the museum’s website.
TIP: Be sure to see our list of deals and discounts for the museum. Also, if you do buy a tourist pass, remember that the AMNH is essentially free so you might not want to choose this as one of the attractions included in your self-designed package.
For the little ones, Central Park has 21 playgrounds in addition to its historic and beautiful landmarks. The best playgrounds for the little ones can be found at East 72nd Street and the East 110th Street. Other highlights in the park are the Central Park Zoo, the Belvedere Castle’s “Woods and Water Exhibit” and the fantastical Central Park Carousel, open April through November. In the winter months, you can ice skate at the Wollman Rink. For kids of all ages, you can rent rowboats at the Loeb Boathouse. If you are interested in an easy-paced bike tour, take a look at our bike tours.
For more information on Central Park including other landmarks to see, a self-guided tour, and food options in the park see our post Things to do in Central Park.
Seeing a Broadway show will thrill your kids. There are so many shows that are geared toward young kids, tweens and teens. You can choose from Matilde, Wicked, Cats, The Lion King, Aladdin, School of Rock and Finding Neverland. We know it can also take a bite out of your wallet. Before buying tickets, you should read our post on the many ways to get discounted tickets to Broadway shows.
For food, these favorites really are delicious and convenient to all the theaters:
DAY THREE – All Around the Town
Greenwich Village (if you are traveling with ‘tweens and up)
Now that you’ve seen the big sites, you may want to explore the smaller neighborhoods of New York and get a real sense of how New Yorkers live. One of the most loved neighborhoods is Greenwich Village. It has a casual vibe, there are leafy parks like Washington Square Park, and great inexpensive food.
One way to explore the history of the Village while keeping your kids entertained is to join our pay-what-you-wish Greenwich Village Food Tour offered several times a week. Kids of all ages from toddlers to teens (and adults of course) love this tour! You’ll try one of the best pizza in the city, mini bagel bites, falafel and more. It’s a great way to introduce kids to different cuisines. If you can’t join us, feel free to use our self-guided food tour and neighborhood guide.
Another food tour that is good for families is our Lower East Side Food Tour. The neighborhood’s history is filled with stories about immigrants who came to America in the 1800s creating the ‘great melting pot’, something that almost every kid will know about. After the tour, you can visit the Tenement Museum afterward which is one of the most popular activity to do in NYC and has 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor by over 4,400 reviewers. It’s best for tweens and up.
Bronx Zoo (for younger children and toddlers)
If you are with younger children then a visit to the world-famous Bronx Zoo. It is the largest city zoo in the country with more than 7,000 resident animals. You’ll see a vast array of animals in the Monkey House, Jungle World the World of Darkness with bats and other nocturnal animals, and the Congo Gorilla Forest. There are many ways to save money on tickets: check out our page on Bronx Zoo deals and discounts. And if you visit on Wednesdays, the ticket policy is “pay what you wish” – donate what you’d like, and this will save you a whole lot of money. For food near the Zoo, use our self-guided Food Tour of nearby Arthur Avenue, some people say it’s the “real” Little Italy.
Grand Central Station
In the late afternoon/early evening, head over to this historic landmark building. It is one of the most spectacular interiors of any building in New York City. Its ceiling of constellations is heavenly. The Station has a bunch of secrets that you and your kids will love discovering, such as the Whispering Gallery. Check out our complete guide to Grand Central to learn about these secrets, and also learn about free guided tours, free audio tours, and an online self-guided tour. You can also grab an early dinner at the Grand Central’s dining concourse with 35 different food stalls to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Just make sure you save room for dessert — and you better like chocolate!
As the sun sets and the lights go on across the city. your family will be dazzled by the massive neon billboards and banners. Our visitor guide of Times Square will get you up to speed on the stats and fun facts about this square that isn’t actually a square! Over at M&M’s World, you can get a photo taken with a candy-coated Statue of Liberty. If M&Ms aren’t your thing, you’ve got the Hershey’s Chocolate World Times Square. Finish the night by saying hello to your favorite animated characters at the Disney Store.
If you are with teens, you’ve got two great attractions to choose from that are open late — like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, included in tourist passes if you decide to get one and there are several ways to find deals and discounts on the exciting venues. Check out our discounts and deals page for these and other big attractions in the city like the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and Radio City Music Hall.
If this isn’t enough action for you, here are some other suggested activities for you and your family. And we hope to see you on one of our tours!
Be sure to check out our post “Free Things to Do in NYC” for hundreds of ideas of activities for you and your family.
Written by Courtney Shapiro