I first visited New York City two years ago. It was overwhelming and exciting and loud and buzzing. I loved it.
I’ve been dying to go back, and I loved the idea of going as a family. It’s one of those cities that is so recognizable, even to children.
But, it’s a big city. Lots of people. Lots of walking. Lots of places to lose children! Could we really do New York City with kids?
Over April vacation though, we had the opportunity to spend a few days there with friends. What better way for the kids to experience the city for the first time? So, we jumped at the chance.
And, it was amazing.
Living in Boston means that we can drive to New York. I know! Brilliant.
With no traffic it’s a good four hour drive though, so we decided to split the journey on the way there by staying overnight in Connecticut. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend driving to Connecticut on a Friday afternoon, it was a long slow drive down to Hartford, CT, but it got us half way! We took it easy, having a long, lazy breakfast on the Saturday morning before finishing the drive. Again, it was slow going, but we made it to New York by early afternoon.
Getting on to Manhattan was the only stressful part of the journey, our Sat Nav took us on an interesting (!) route and once in the city GPS signals get bounced around by the very tall buildings, so the Sat Nav becomes a bit useless. BUT, the grid system is so amazing, and once we got on to 42nd Street we knew we just had to drive west until we hit 10th Avenue and we’d be round the corner from our hotel.
Our hotel was on 57th Street, a couple of blocks south of Central Park. A great location. We could walk to the park and easily walk as far as Times Square, and in fact we walked a lot further than that over the course of the weekend!
New York is very easy to navigate on foot. The grid system makes it easy to find your way and, a bit like London, things aren’t as far as they might look. The Avenues run north-south and a block takes a couple of minutes to walk. The Streets run east-west and in that direction the blocks are longer, but still only about five minutes, even with the kids.
One of the families that we were meeting was already at the hotel, so we headed straight out to get some lunch and have a wander.
After some AMAZING New York bagels we carried on walking south and found ourselves in Times Square. Bright and buzzing, it was a good place to start. The kids loved all the screens and the random dressed up characters.
We continued our walk, taking in Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Plaza. The sun was shining, the streets were busy, but not overwhelming, and there was plenty to see and keep the kids interested and excited. We spent a bit of time in the shadow of the Rockefeller Center, enjoying the sun and people watching. Well, we people watched, the kids stood with their noses against the windows of the Lego Store :)
We then continued on our loop, taking in St Patrick’s Cathedral. This had been covered in scaffolding the last time I was there, so it was wonderful to see it in all its glory. I love how it is set amongst all the new glass buildings.
The following evening we ate dinner close by and I was able to see it lit up at night too. Amazing.
We passed Trump Tower as we started our walk back to the hotel, and had a quick look inside, but I can’t bring myself to say anymore than that. It’s sobering seeing the ostentatious building and thinking about current state of politics in the US.
Our last stop before getting back to the hotel was Columbus Circle, just on the south west corner of Central Park. What an afternoon! The kids did so well with the walking, although they were glad to get back to the hotel, meet up with our other friends and have a well earned rest.
The following day we started off by getting tickets for an open-topped bus tour. We bought Explorer Passes prior to our trip that gave us discounted access to three attractions and the bus was one of the best deals. HOWEVER, you need to exchange your Explorer Pass for a physical bus ticket and this took us a long time.
If using the Explorer Passes for the Grey Line bus tour, head straight to the main Gray Line Visitors Center at 777 8th Avenue (between 47th & 48th Sts.) to get a physical ticket. You will save yourself a lot of time (the on-bus and on-street ticket sellers cannot do it!), but still be prepared for a bit of a wait while they verify the tickets!
Once we had our tickets we hopped on the Downtown Loop. It was a great way to see the city, and the kids loved it! Our tour guide was very entertaining, and I would definitely recommend it as a way to get a good flavor of the city.
We hopped off close to Battery Park to have some lunch and let the kids run around. The wee girl and her friend put on dance shows for passersby. It was an entertaining hour!
Then, we headed for the Staten Island Ferry so that we could take a closer look at the Statue of Liberty.
The Staten Island Ferry runs every half hour during the weekend and in the middle of the day during the week (with a more frequent service during rush hour). It’s FREE! It goes past the Statue, albeit not as close as the official tours, but perfect for kids. It’s a very quick trip, you can hop straight back on the return ferry, and it’s an adventure. I’d definitely recommend this if you have younger children who might get bored by the longer Liberty tours.
Our next stop was the 9/11 Memorial, which is not too far from Battery Park. We walked there, after a quick ice cream stop, past the Bull of Wall Street. The kids were amused by all the people stroking the bull…
The Memorial is very powerful, beautifully done, and a must-see. Overlooked by the stunning Freedom Tower, it is sobering, sad and uplifting all at once.
Everyone was exhausted by this point, so we headed for the nearest bus-tour stop and hopped back on. We took in the rest of the Downtown Loop and next time we visit New York I want to go back to the East Village and have a proper look around there! Our guide on this trip was a little less entertaining, but a lot more informative :)
The next day the plan was to do the Natural History Museum and the Empire State Building (using the Explorer Passes). Unfortunately the 9yo became ill over night and was not at all well. So, while the others headed off to do the sights, he and I took it easy for the day. We managed to get out for a little fresh air, taking a short stroll through Central Park, but the poor boy was asleep by 4.00pm.
Our friends left on Monday evening, but luckily we were staying for an extra day. I wouldn’t have fancied the car journey with our sick boy!
Thankfully, he was back on form when we woke on Tuesday morning, so we made the most of our last day.
Leaving the hotel we hopped back on the bus for a few stops (we had a 48hr ticket that took us to lunchtime that day!). We got off at Times Square and headed to the M&M shop… the kids had spotted it from the bus earlier in the weekend and were keen to visit!
The smell of chocolate was overpowering, but the range of M&Ms was quite impressive! The kids were all happy to leave with a cuddly M&M each..
It was a beautiful day, so we continued our walk. Heading south-east, we took in the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station, before the 9yo and I took off on our own to do the Empire State Building.
Having missed out on the trip the day before, we were keen to fit it in. It was well worth it, our wait time was good (only about 30 mins from security queue to the viewing platform) and the views were incredible.
Our last stop was the High Line. This is an elevated walkway that runs through part of the south-east of the city, from 32nd street to 20th. It’s a disused rail line which has been planted and turned in to a public garden. It’s worth a visit, and although we were all tired by that point, so didn’t walk too far, we sat on a bench and enjoyed a snack in the sunshine.
We had an amazing time, and you can definitely do New York City with kids! But, be prepared to walk, a lot.
We did take a small umbrella stroller for our four year old, which I would recommend. The seven year old took a turn in it a few times too! We didn’t use the subway at all, although that was partly as we had the option of the hop on/hop off bus to take us on the longer distances (although that is definitely not the fastest way to travel!). We walked for miles, but it never seemed like a slog.
Our kids are four, seven and almost ten, and are more able to walk distances now. The boys were really excited to see places that that they have seen on TV and talked about at school and we didn’t hear a single I’m bored for the whole four days that we were there!
We left Manhattan at 7.30 in the evening and our drive off the island was smooth and (relatively!) quick. The journey home was just under five hours (we were doing really well until we hit road works just south of Boston!).
We will definitely do New York again, there is still so much to see! But, next on the list is Washington DC :)
Sharing with Country Kids.