New York City is the pride of Western civilization. It is a social, cultural, artistic and economic hub, where a little bit of everything collides and settles into a perfectly condensed slice of world pie. But as far as pie goes, New York City is a huge slice — one that can be difficult to swallow for a family visiting for the first time — or the second — or the third!
If your family is looking to take a weekend trip to New York City, but isn’t sure where to start, we’re here to help! Welcome to your crash course on New York City!
Written by Maxwell Barna
Day One: Discover the Sights and Sounds
Head to the American Museum of Natural History to kick off your weekend in New York City with kids, which houses over 32 million fascinating examples of animals, plants, rocks, minerals and human cultural artifacts in 27 buildings, spanning over 1.6-million square feet. The Rose Center for Earth and Space is a kid favorite! Here, they'll be able to walk the Cosmic Pathway and learn about the 13-billion-year history of the universe, view a visual presentation of the Big Bang in the Hayden Big Bang Theater, or a scientifically accurate 3D map of the universe, spread across an 87-foot screen at the Hayden Planetarium. They'll also love a trip to the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs, where they'll learn about all of the world's pre-historic ancestors through fossils, skeleton statues and interactive displays.
Afterward, walk across the street to Central Park. Here, kids can play in the famous setting for their favorite movies, including Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, The Avengers, Men In Black, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Smurfs, Spiderman, Stuart Little, and, of course, Madagascar, where the zoo and Delacorte Clock are prominently featured! They'll also love a ride on the famous Central Park Carousel, and there are plenty of traditional New York delis immediately surrounding the park, perfect for an impromptu picnic in the midst of your weekend getaway to New York City!
After lunch, take a five-minute cab ride to Rockefeller Center, where you can visit one of NYC's most prized tourist attractions -- the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Located at the very top of Rockefeller Center, it gives guests a 360-degree panoramic view of the Manhattan Skyline, and the best view of Central Park. Purchase tickets in advance online so you can avoid the long lines.
If you visit during the winter, get a family photo in front of the giant Christmas tree, and head to the rink for some ice-skating afterward.
See a Broadway show! Families love Disney's The Lion King, which has received a Tony Award for Best Musical, and is now the fifth longest-running show in Broadway history. Newsies, another successful Broadway adaptation of a Disney film, chronicles the story of Jack Kelly and his friends, who dream of finding a life better than the dramatic hardships of growing on the street. Other family favorites include Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, Cinderella, and, of course, Annie.
Day Two: Learn the History
Stroll through Battery Park on your way to board a ferry to Ellis Island during your family weekend in New York City. Once there, climb to the top of Lady Liberty's famed crown (354 steps -- but younger kids may prefer a shorter 154-step climb to the pedestal) before a visit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, filled with several exhibits about the immigrant experience in America. You'll have full access to the passenger records of the over 22-million immigrants, crew members and passengers who traveled to the island from 1892 to 1924. Search your name, trace your roots and show your kids where their legacy in America began. Families can also go on a 45-minute Audio Tour, which takes visitors on a journey to relive the "new arrival"ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒ'Ã‚Â experience to the New World, and is narrated by fun and friendly Marty the Muskrat.
Head to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Midtown during your weekend getaway to New York City with the family. Kids will light up at the sight of an F-16 Fighting Falcon that was actually used in Operation Desert Storm. You'll also find a fully restored Army AH-1 Cobra, an F-8 Crusader, an F3H Demon (one of only three on display worldwide!) and many others, along with the crowning jewel -- Space Shuttle Enterprise, the world's first space shuttle. Kids love the Exploreum Hall, an interactive exhibition space designed for all ages to learn about air, water, space and life at sea. You'll also find realistic simulators, where kids can feel the power of a supersonic jet plane and a fighter jet, and experience the XD Theater 4D Motion Ride.
Take the kids for a walk through Times Square, one of the most traveled pedestrian thoroughfares in the world. Kids love M&M's World and Hershey's Times Square. We also recommend a stop at Madame Tussauds New York, Ripley's Believe It Or Not! and Planet Hollywood.
You can walk down nearby 5th Avenue to check out American Girl Place at 49th Street on 5th Avenue and Build-A-Bear Workshop, between 46th and 47th Streets. Keep in mind that both close at 7 p.m. (American Girl Place at 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). FAO Schwarz is just a 10-minute walk away -- if your wallet can handle one more giant toy store with the kids!
Related: 6 Broadway Shows for Kids
Day Three: Explore the Jungle
Where To Stay With Kids: Budget New York City Hotel
Where To Stay With Kids: Mid-Range New York City Hotel
Where To Stay With Kids: Luxury New York City Hotel
Top 5 New York City Restaurants Not To Miss
Located at 51st and Broadway, this retro-styled diner will take you and your family back to the 1950s with delicious traditional American fare. The servers -- many of whom are Broadway performers -- sing, dance and entertain patrons with show tunes, so be sure to stop in during your family weekend in New York City.
2. Serendipity 3
This Upper East Side place is world-renowned for its Frozen Hot Chocolate and delectable dessert options, which include a laundry list of sundaes -- Big Apple Pie, Aunt Buba's Sand Tarts, and Creme De La Creme Cream Cheese Cake. As a hot spot, long lines are a constant, and you may want to stay away from the famous Guinness World Record holder, the Golden Opulence Sundae, a treat priced at $1,000.
3. Gray's Papaya
With two locations (402 6th Ave., and 179 E 86th St.), this 40-year-old foodie haven is home to what are arguably the best hot dogs in NYC. Parents -- try one of the drinks, which include Banana Donburi, Cocount Champagne, and -- you guessed it -- Papaya!
4. Dylan's Candy Bar
At this famous candy shop, you'll find thousands of candies, each arranged into wonderfully eye-popping displays. You'll also find the Candy Cafe, where you can get pizzas, ice cream sundaes, dessert pies and an assortment of frozen hot cocoa! And for mom and dad, there's the Candy Bar, where you'll be able to order a variety of deliciously sweet cocktails to enjoy.
In 1905, Lombardi's opened as America's first pizzeria! Located in SoHo, it remains a legend, serving up delicious, crispy-crusted pizza. Lines and wait times can be long, so go for an early lunch or dinner. Only cash is accepted, but an ATM is located onsite.
Planning & Tips
There isn't a perfect time to take a weekend trip to New York City; each season offers something unique. Spring and summer are beautiful times to visit, and the fall brings plenty of events, such as the kid-wowing Maker Faire and the world-famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Considering a visit for the parade? Check out Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Packages in New York City: Hotel Rooms With a View.
Of course, with winter comes holiday decorations, the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony and plenty of opportunities to ice skate. See our guide to Christmas in NYC With Kids.
While it seems a bit overwhelming, the city's public transportation system is actually the easiest -- and cheapest -- option. Also, download Embark NYC -- it's a free app that helps you plan a subway and/or bus trip, and it works even when you're underground.
The city uses a MetroCard credit-based system. You can put a specific dollar amount (from $5 to $100) on a card (each ride is $2.75), or for $32 you can get a 7-Day Unlimited Pass.
Bus fare is also $2.50, and can be paid with either a MetroCard or exact change (no paper money).
Utilizing a taxi is obviously more expensive (roughly $2 to $2.50 per mile, but varies depending on time, location, distance, etc.), but might be convenient for getting to a Broadway show or back to the airport on time. Uber and Lyft are also an option, of course.