We just got back from a week in New York City. I have visited the Big Apple many times before, preferably with my husband or my best friends (check out my friend’s blog post about our girls trip to NYC last December).
This time we decided to go as a family and I have to admit, New York is an overwhelming city to visit with children – crowded, loud, expensive and offering a seemingly infinite number of landmarks and must-sees to explore… but I promise, you’re gonna experience the city from a completely different angle.
Where to sleep
#1 Cambria Hotel & Suites: The main reason we picked this location was because it is in walkable distance to some of the main sightseeing spots we wanted to explore with the kids: Madison Square Park, Flatiron, Grand Central Station, Empire State Building and High Line. The hotel is nothing special, but it is clean and relatively quiet. If you are looking for a place with more charm, I would recommend the Freehand Hotel in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. We did not stay at this hotel in New York but in Los Angeles, and we loved the concept and atmosphere of this chain.
#2 MOXY Times Square: For the remaining nights, we changed to this energetic midtown hotel, where affordable rates don’t mean sacrificing style or comfort. Usually I prefer staying far away from Times Square and lodging somewhere in Soho. However, with kids, all the fancy restaurants, nice bars and designer boutiques in the trendy Soho area are not really appropriate anymore, and the MOXY was a perfect starting point for discovering Midtown and Central Park. Although the hotel is more a business hotel than a family hotel (e.g. no cribs available), it was perfect for us. We stayed in a guest room with two bunk beds (the kids loved it!). And when the kids discovered the candy cart in the lobby, where they could get free treats every day, they became even bigger fans of this place. The hotel also owns a large rooftop lounge with epic skyline views (unfortunately, kids below 21 years are not allowed up there).
Where to eat
Our kids have a five-minute threshhold of tolerance when they suddenly get hungry, not to mention that they maintain a certain noise level, which definitely does not match the clientele of a NOBU… meaning our culinary experience was rather limited to burgers, fries, milk shakes and ice cream (shame on us, lol). However, I still would like to mention a few noteworthy places:
#1 Eataly: Big Italian marketplace selling freshly made foods and exclusively imported Italian items, but also hosting four open-market restaurants with authentic Italian food. It has been a long time I tasted such good Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo! Very noisy and vivid place, perfect with kids!
#2 Shake Shack: A chain offering burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, shakes and beer. The burger chain sprouted from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, where customers lined up daily for three summers until they opened their first location.
#3 Gregorys: This East Coast café chain has nearly 30 stores across three states and offers very good coffee, real French croissants and – the best part for the kids – donut holes (their new favorite breakfast!).
#4 Black Tap Burgers & Beer: For $15 (about 15 CHF), sugar addicts can try those massive candy-topped milkshakes garnished with lollipops, full-sized cookies and pretzels (you can follow these crazy milkshakes on Instagram). Be aware that they do not take reservations, and during peak times you can easily wait one hour to get in.
#5 Magnolia Bakery: A visit to NYC is not complete without tasting a cupcake from this place (apparently, you also should try their signature dessert: banana pudding). There is no seating, so grab your treat and enjoy it outside in a park nearby.
What to do
#1 Statue of Liberty: Ever since my little daughter discovered the book ‘Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse,’ she had set her mind on seeing the Statue of Liberty with her own eyes. There are several ways to explore it. If you don’t mind just riding past it in a boat with a view, the Staten Island Ferry is free. It will take you about two hours, as you have to go to Staten Island, get off the boat (they make everyone get off) and then get back on the same ferry to return to Manhattan. If you want to get a close-up, then the Statue Cruise might be the better option. It includes a round-trip boat tour in New York Harbor to both Liberty and Ellis Islands, a Statue of Liberty ticket and admission to the Ellis Island National Immigration Museum (plan around 4 to 5 hours for this). Make sure you buy your ticket in advance. We went for the third option, the New York Water Taxi – a hop on, hop off boat ride – which gave us the freedom to visit Brooklyn neighborhoods and the Statue of Liberty at our own pace.
#2 Empire State Building: In order for your kids to get the full scope of the city, with all its impressive high-rises, I highly recommend visiting one of the city’s observation decks. We did so at the Empire State Building, a truly American cultural item and a wonderful art deco skyscraper. You can purchase tickets online; however, you still need to wait in line to get up.
#3 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center: Whether it is a good idea to take your child to this place or not is a a very personal decision and depends a lot on your kid. But if you go, be ready for them to ask lots of questions. The 9/11 Memorial website may help you on how you can approach this difficult topic. We personally thought that this was a very important piece of modern history, and therefore wanted our daughter to understand what happened. It was very interesting to see how she reflected on what she had seen and what we explained to her.
#4 Central Park: Whether you want to ride the vintage carousel with 58 hand-carved painted horses (located mid-park), climb the Alice in Wonderland statue, listen to teenagers singing Beatles tunes at Strawberry Fields, or just have a picnic while your kids climb the rocks, this place is a perfect retreat from all the noise, lights and busy bustle of the city.
#5 The High Line: A public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets and running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. This is really a great place for kids, because it is one of the very few places where you can let them run free without having to worry that they will get hit by a cab. It offers a great view over Manhattan’s West Side, and in summer there are wooden sun beds for relaxing and enjoying the refreshing breeze of the Hudson River.
#6 The Bronx Zoo: You can easily spend a full day in the country’s largest urban zoo. There are different ways to get there (taxi, public transport): I highly recommend taking the BxM11 Express Bus, which stops along Madison Avenue between 26th and 99th Streets, then travels directly to the Zoo’s Bronx River entrance (don’t freak out when the driver just lets you get off at the bottom of a highway ramp – just walk a little bit further below the underpass and you’ll see the entrance). For your return trip, catch the bus just outside the same gate at the MTA BxM11 sign (just before (!) the underpass). Be aware that this bus only accepts either the 7-Day Express Bus Plus MetroCard (quite expensive, but it lets you ride on every mode of NYC public transport during a whole week, so it is worthwhile to buy it at the beginning of your trip); or try a pay-per-ride MetroCard. (Both these passes must be purchased at a subway station before boarding the bus).
#7 Bryant Park: ‘Le Carrousel,’ a French-inspired carousel that twirls to French cabaret music, is only one compelling reason to visit this lovely French-inspired park. It is perfect for a quick break, having some coffee while the kids play and run around.
#8 The American Museum of Natural History: If your children have enough patience for only one museum, this is it. They’ll want to spend a week here exploring the IMAX films, Hayden Planetarium Rose Center for Earth and Space, and many permanent exhibition halls. Especially popular with our kids was the Fossil Halls (dinosaurs) and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, where a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale makes quite a splash.
#9 Chelsea Piers: This indoor play area is perfect for a rainy (or snowy!) day in New York. The open play space encourages fun through movement as youngsters crawl, roll, jump and explore. However, it is designed more for toddlers than for bigger kids (our 5-year-old daughter still had fun, though).
#10 Times Square: Not many words are needed…. Whether we passed by day or night, our kids loved the place with all the lights.
Where to shop
#1 LEGO Flagship Store: The colorful LEGO Store sits right in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, and an 8-foot Statue of Liberty replica gives visitors a great photo op. While browsing the extensive selection of kits, stop by the pick-a-brick station featuring the newest LEGO colors. Parents will love the chance to kick back in the LEGO lounge area, complete with oversized sofas and building carpet for the little ones.
#2 Dylans Candy Bar: This colorful candy heaven offers just about every candy and sweet you could ever want. Perfect to boost your kids’ energy in order to walk back to the hotel.
#3 Disney Store: The House of Mouse takes fun very seriously, making this Times Square retail location a much-needed pit stop for parents with kids (especially as bribery when your kid suddenly refuses to walk any further…).
How to get around
#1 Walk: Subways and cabs are a great way to get around New York, but not so much when you have to lug two car seats or carry a stroller three flights below ground after you fail to find a working subway elevator. The easiest way is actually walking. Therefore, my advice is: Plan ahead what exactly you want to see and then pick your hotel in that particular area. And I would definitely bring your stroller, ideally with a ride-along board for your older kid.
#2 Taxi / ride share: From the airport, we took a Lyft to get into the city. It is a lot cheaper than a car service, and (so far) NYC is the only major city where Lyft and Uber offer car seats for kids!
#3 Subway: Probably the fastest and cheapest way to get around in Manhattan and very easy to navigate. If you do not mind carrying your stroller (including your baby) down the stairs, it is actually quite a lot of fun – our son, at least, loved the clattering of the old subway cars and was very excited whenever we entered a station.
#4 Local Bus: After a few days, we also used the local bus system more and more, which is actually a hell of a lot easier with a stroller than the subway – moreover, you can see something of the city (but try to avoid it during rush hour).
Note that the subway and buses permit up to three children (44 inches tall, or about 112 cm, and under) to ride free when accompanied by an adult paying full fare. You might want to check the different tariff options before you enter a busy subway station so you know what ticket you’re actually going to need.
My final piece of advice is to bring lots of time, allow yourself and your kids many breaks and pit stops, and, finally, don’t not plan too much for the evenings (such as musicals and sport events), because the kids will barely stay awake for dinner or might even fall a sleep before….