We went to New York with our daughter for Christmas 2021. The Big Apple is stunning at Christmas time with all the festive decor and music.
Everybody enjoyed the trip, especially Thea. Obviously, New York is a great destination with so many great things to do with kids.
NYC travel tip: The easiest way to get to the city from the airport with all that luggage after a long flight is by taxi. Unless you bring your own travel seat, book a car service that comes with a child’s car seat included.
NYC travel tip 2: A family vacation in the Big Apple deserves more than selfies! I recommend a Flytographer photoshoot of the traveling family to capture those precious memories. After all, aren’t the memories from the trip the best souvenir? (Use the code LITTLETRAVELLER for $25 off)
We did a lot of sightseeing, so I asked her what she loved the most. And what are the must-sees for families traveling with kids just like her?
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So, according to a 5-year-old NYC tourist, the below are the best things to do, and places to go to with kids in New York:
1. Dinosaurs (aka American Museum of Natural History)
This comes as no surprise. What child doesn’t like to see the dinosaurs? Thea loves them, and apparently, herbivores are her favorite. Whenever we travel, I have to check if seeing dinosaurs in that destination is an option. We enjoyed the Dinosaur Walk in Melbourne Museum in Australia, especially its massive fossil of the t-rex. In fact, I’ve written a blog post about it, and you can read it HERE.
Thea expected to see the real, living dinosaurs in the zoo while we lived in Singapore. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that’s off the table even in Singapore.
So, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is absolutely worth a visit.
There are so many things to see and do that even after having spent 5 hours inside we haven’t seen it all.
The highlights for Thea, and what we recommend to see is the skeleton of a Titanosaur. A fellow with a neck so long that it does not fit in one hall! Apparently, these 122 foot-long dinosaurs used to live in the forests of what now is Patagonia in Argentina. And by used to live, I mean 100 to 95 million years ago!
Another dinosaur that Thea loved in the museum is the bad guy in the Jurassic Park movie- the Tyrannosaurus Rex. For obvious reasons, I prefer calling it a t-rex, though. Surprisingly, given the age, the skeleton of one of the largest theropod (google it!) dinosaur is well-preserved. Its giant jaws are wide open, and you can almost count the six-inch-long teeth.
Even bigger than the dinosaurs, though, is the Blue whale. Although the museum exhibits a model, not a real thing, the display of the largest animal on earth is impressive. Apparently, someone constructed this model copy of the blue whale based on a photograph in the mid-1960s.
How did they capture the photo of a blue whale over 60 years ago, you might ask? Luckily for the photographer, and obviously unfortunately for the whale, the picture was taken of a dead female whale in South America almost a century ago.
Definitely, not to be missed are the halls of biodiversity. They exhibit thousands of animals, from tiny rat-looking creatures to magnificent tigers. The Hall of Biodiversity is a permanent exhibition. This is comforting because we do want to visit it again in the future.
2. Playgrounds in Central Park (21 of them to be exact)
We stayed at the hotel near Central Park, which is lovely because we could go to the park every day. Although I enjoyed it more in summer, it was nice to get some fresh air and escape the concrete jungle. There are so many things to do there, even in the winter months! I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about things to do in Central Park in winter for months. Now it’s springtime, and I’m in New Delhi with +30C, so it kind of feels off-topic.
Anyway, Central Park is a perfect destination to go with kids in New York.
Thea loved all of its 21 playgrounds. I appreciate that they are made of wood and something looking like concrete, instead of all the colorful plastic stuff that you see from miles away.
Because it was winter, Thea had the majority of playgrounds for herself and had a blast. I’m sharing some pictures of the playgrounds, and of course, recommend visiting them (all). Thea says it’s a must thing to do in New York with kids!
More information: www.centralparknyc.org
3. Central Park Zoo
If you are in Central Park with kids, visit the little zoo since you’re already there. Don’t expect to see the big five or something, but nevertheless, it’s entertaining for children.
At the heart of the zoo is a pool. Though I wish it were larger because sea lions swim and perform tricks. The zoo presents the show as a natural behavior of the seals, but I still find it unethical to make a wild sea animal perform for our entertainment.
However, I do appreciate their conservation programs and saving certain animal species from extinction.
Many wild animals call Manhattan home. From the above-mentioned Californian sea lions to snow monkeys, kids can see and learn a lot about them all. We visited a bat cave and an aviary with exotic birds. There are dozens of birds of all possible colors making the strangest of sounds. Actually, some of them we see in the wild in Delhi. Just the other day, two of such parrots were chitchatting on our balcony rail.
This zoo offers multiple educational programs for families with young children and even ZooFari camps. Such school break camps are full of hands-on activities, investigation of animals, and various encounters and experiences.
Some of the experiences that you can try out during the visit are the feedings of the sea lions and the penguins. Also, a 4- D theatre experience. We didn’t try the latter, so I can’t comment on that. If you did, share your experience in the comments below!
More information: www.centralparkzoo.com
4. Helicopter flight over Manhattan
The helicopter flight made it to Thea’s top 5 list but is my absolute favorite activity! If you have the time just for one attraction while in New York, do board a helicopter. It’s not cheap, but the experience is worth every dollar.
I don’t remember the exact name of the helicopter operators that we used, but there are several to choose from. It’s absolutely one of the best things to do with kids in New York!
My husband had been on multiple helicopter flights on all continents, but for Thea and me, this was the first time. From liftoff to landing, it’s a breathtaking experience. I’m so glad that we had an opportunity to do this. It’s not only that flying in a helicopter is awesome but you see the amazing skyline of Manhattan. Highly recommended!
5. Space, ship, planes, and a submarine (aka Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex)
My daughter loves all things space, planes, rail, and sea. So while Intrepid has nothing to do with the railway, it ticks all the other boxes.
At a first glance, a warship that fought in World War 2 does not seem like a good idea to explore with kids. But bare with me. It actually is an incredible learning experience for the whole family and kids of all ages.
So, the main highlights of this museum complex are the Intrepid ship, of course, space shuttle called Enterprise, the submarine called Growler, and the fastest aircraft ever built- the Concorde Alpha Delta G-BOAD.
British Airways Concorde
The flight between London and New York lasts approximately 8 hours. The record-breaking plane crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2 hours 52 minutes and is now on display at the museum’s Pier 86. It’s a pity that the planes are no longer in service.
They say that British Airways and Air France blamed high maintenance costs and low passenger count. The crash after takeoff in Paris, killing over 100 people, didn’t help either.
The Space Shuttle Pavillion
I mentioned above that my daughter loves all things space and asks me to buy flights to the moon. So, imagine the joy and surprise when you get to see a space shuttle up close! You can find Enterprise in the Space Shuttle Pavillion.
There are 17 exhibit zones within this pavilion where you see various original space-related artifacts and original photographs. Opportunities to listen to the audio recordings and watch films immerse the visitors, young and old, in the history and science of the Enterprise space shuttle era.
If you ever wanted to see a real submarine up close, the museum complex has got you covered. Growler submarine is half-submerged in the Hudson River and offers its visitors a fascinating firsthand look at life aboard. Apparently, it is the only American guided missile submarine open to the public, so do go to visit before they change their mind and close it!
It was interesting to see how tiny the rooms are, the narrow bunk beds, miniature-looking kitchen, etc. Imagine 130 men locked up down there for months without seeing the light of day…
Aircraft Carrier Intrepid
As the name of the museum complex suggests, the aircraft carrier is the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Just like Growler, the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid fought in World War II. Having survived a torpedo strike and five kamikaze attacks, the Intrepid later served in the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
Thankfully it is peaceful onboard the Intrepid now. Instead of exploding bombs and fighting all around, visitors are exploring the exhibits. These exhibits and activities for sure are among the best things to do with kids in New York.
We liked its aircraft collection on the ship’s flight deck. There are plenty of helicopters and little planes of various designs coming from near and far.
If you like LEGO, you will enjoy the model of Intrepid assembled out of Lego bricks. The artist, Ed Diment, crafted it out of 250,000 LEGO pieces. The model which is nearly 4.5 feet high and 4.5 feet wide is on display as well.
We loved the Exploreum! It is a delightfully interactive exhibition space on the hanger deck. It is designed for families with kids of all ages with plenty of hands-on experiences. All these experiences are related to Intrepid’s history and its educational focus. It’s probably the best place for kids in the museum with plenty of vessels to climb in, buttons to press, and pictures to take.
Overall, Intrepid is a wonderful experience. From the Exploreum fun to overnight stays and birthday parties, there is something for everyone.
6. Horse rides in Central Park
Another activity that made it to Thea’s list of the best things to see and do with kids in New York is the horses. A ride in a carriage pulled by an actual horse moving all across Central Park, to be exact.
I am not a big fan of entertainment activities that involve animals. Although the horses live in supposedly nice stables in Manhattan and are well looked after, I doubt they would volunteer to pull carriages every day.
However, it was a surprise for Thea and me from my husband for Christmas Eve. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. It was lovely to sit in a nice carriage covered with warm blankets and travel through the festive streets of Manhattan and listen to all the Christmas songs.
The ride lasted one hour, after which we gave some feed to our horse called King and hailed a cab to go back to the hotel.
Thea adored the whole experience! Like with most places and things to do that she enjoys, she did not want to leave. When we remember and speak about the memories of our trip to the Big Apple, it’s always the horse carriage ride that comes to her mind first.
So, here goes the overview of the best things to see and do with kids in New York City. I hope that you enjoyed this recommendation from my 5-year-old, and added some of these attractions to your to-visit list.
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