I am a native New Yorker who enjoyed doing many things in the city as a child. Here’s a list of fun, affordable things to do with your children while you’re visiting New York City with your kids.
1. Visit Ferrara’s in NYC’s Little Italy. This bright, casual, kid friendly place has gorgeous display cases full of beautiful, affordable desserts and gelato. It’s a good place to stop for a break during a busy day of sight seeing, and kids will enjoy looking at their options in the cases. Most cookies and pastries can be ordered individually and many have miniature versions just right for kids.
2. Pearl River in NYC’s Chinatown is a “Chinese department store”, but it’s not at all like Bloomingdales. Crowded and disorganized, you can also often find beautiful things here very affordably. As a child, I adored their pajamas. It’s a wonderful place to take kids for affordable, unique New York City souvenirs as they have fans, little dolls, and Chinese slippers, all for just a few dollars each. If you have visited Pearl River on previous trips to New York City, please note that it was recently moved and is a bit more organized than in the past.
3. In NYC’s Central Park kids will most enjoy the Alice and Wonderland statue just north of the lake the toy sailboats are run on (there’s also a great ice cream stand there – try the black raspberry). This puts you right near the Metropolitan Museum. While there is a suggested donation for admission, give whatever you can afford – kids love the ancient Egyptian displays and the opportunity to see temples that have bee reconstructed in the museum. The park also has a carosel, rowboats you can rent and a miniature gold course. In winter, this is replaced by an ice-skating rink.
4. Kids love the craziness of New York City’s Papaya King and Grey’s Papaya – the best and cheapest hotdog locations in the city (one is on 86th street, the other is on 8th).
5. I’m not a big believer in theme restaurants, but Mars 2112 is probably the most unique one we have. For a more unique meal though, wander up Lexington Avenue to about 80th street, and go to the old fashioned luncheonette you’ll find there – the food is good, the egg creams are better.
6. Take the Staten Island Fery. It’s cheap, and you’ll be surprised how much kids love boats. It’s also a good cheap way to see the sites of lower Manhattan without getting on one of those expensive tour boats.
7. New York’s Yankees! Bleacher seats are only $10 – $15, and can often be acquired at the last minute (same with the upper deck seating which is about $20). It’s a great old stadium, and if you go early enough you can go to the onsite museum. On days the team is out of town, call the stadium to inquire about tours of the field. It seems silly, but like the commercial says “there’s nothing like the first time you make it to the majors.”
8. South Street Seaport. So much to do and see here especially during the holiday season. Yes, it can get really crowded, but it’s a great area for site seeing, eating and shopping for a broad range of budgets. This is also one of the oldest areas of New York City and is important to understanding teh city’s history.
9. Horse and carriage through the Central Park. I used to do this with my parents a lot as a kid. During the holiday season it is particularly magical. This, of course, is less cheap that some of the other New York City ideas I’ve presented but a brief ride for a group is still probably cheaper than going to the movies.
10. Trail rides in Prospect Park. You can book trail rides through this beautiful Brooklyn park through Kensington Stables, one of the oldest continually operating stables in New York City. Their rates are affordable, and they offer pony rides for children too young to go on a trail ride.
11. Late night eating. New York City has many nice restaurants that are open 24 hours. Children love the opportunity to stay up late and feel glamorous. Make sure they get a good nap in, and then take them to The Odeon, French Roast or something similar.
12. The New York Science Museum in Queens is really really cool, and easy to get to on the subway. I still dig it even as an adult, but it is geared specifically for kids.
13. The Museum of Natural History. Dinos! Rocks! Space! You can’t strike out here
14. The New York City Transit Museum. Trains through the ages, what more can I say?
15. The Museum of the City of New York might be the right choice for pre-teens and up if they have an interest in how people lived in the city throughout its evolution.
16. The Central Park Zoo is a treat since it has been remodeled based on The Bronx Zoo. Both are great, the Central Park one is smaller, but easier to get to.
17. The Big Apple Circus is a one ring old fashioned circus that preforms around the city from time to time. Great fun and affordable if you can catch it.