I wanted to write a post about some of our favourite things we got up to when we visited New York as a family, starting with Manhattan. I probably did the most amount of planning and research I have ever done before a trip before, mainly because I wanted to maximise the time and fun we had there. I am actually going to write a post all about how I did my research and planning, but first of all I wanted to share our favourite things we did in Manhattan.
We stayed in Manhattan for four nights- we actually stayed down in the Battery Park area of the city. Battery Park is a quiet area, very near the financial district, with lots of green open spaces. For us we decided we wanted to stay somewhere that was near enough to all the tourists areas in Manhattan, but far enough away for it not to be too intense and crazy. We stayed at the Conrad New York which we found to be a fantastic location- the World Trade Center memorial and museum are just 5 minutes walk away, the hotel is in a quiet and calm area with a lovely park and playground outside the front of the hotel, and it is just 15 minutes away to Times Square by taxi or subway.
One thing worth mentioning as well is that we got New York Explorer Passes from Attraction Tickets Direct before we travelled. The Explorer Passes are prepaid before you travel and you can choose passes for 3, 5 or 7 attractions, there are over 50 top attractions to choose from. You can print them out before you go or you can use your smart phone too and in a lot of cases you also can jump in a separate queue and miss the lines. We found them really beneficial as it meant that we could create our own little itinerary while we were there, but it also saves you a fair bit of money as well. We have used Attraction Tickets Direct lots in the past, in both Dubai and Florida and they are a great resource if you want to plan and book some things before you travel.
There is so much to do in Manhattan with kids, but I wanted to show our favourites. I have also shared a video I did at the bottom of this post which goes into more detail of what we got up to as well.
No visit to Manhattan is complete without a trip to Central Park. I had been to NYC previously a long time ago but I didn’t do much sightseeing while I was there, so as such I was so surprised to see the sheer size and scale of Central Park. We spent pretty much the whole day there and didn’t even scratch the surface. The first thing we did was hire bikes as we had heard that was the best way to get around the park. We used our Explorer Passes for this and hired the bikes for a few hours- we were really impressed that they didn’t charge us extra for a double trailer and a tag-a-long for Maddie.
There’s literally so much to do in Central Park. Some things that we really enjoyed were firstly just grabbing an ice cream and people watching, there is so much going on and it is so fun just to sit there and watch the world go by. There are so many vendors about selling ice creams, pretzels, hot dogs etc. The girls also loved jumping around on all the massive rocks that are dotted about.
If you have young children with you (or even if you don’t) one lovely spot to spend an hour or so is the famous Conservatory Water– you can hire little model sailboats which the girls loved, plus it is a lovely place to sit and have a frozen Lemonade. You can see all the gorgeous New York apartments in the background too.
Other things that we loved were the Alice in Wonderland statue which is a famous sculpture that arrived in the park in 1959. It’s a favourite among children who love to climb on it and it is a perfect photo opportunity.
Top of the Rock
Going up ‘Top of the Rock’ at Rockafeller Centre was one of my must do things on our trip to NYC. Having been up the Empire State Building on a previous visit I knew that there was no huge point doing both, but I had seen that a lot of people recommend that out of the two Top of the Rock was the best as then you got the view of the iconic Empire State Building in the background. We again used our Explorer Passes for this and were pleased to see it helped us jump the queue. The view at the top was absolutely stunning (I love the photo below of me and Mads sitting in one of the windows) and all three of the children loved going up in the crazy elevators up to the top.
I 100% recommend a trip up there- the view will not disappoint.
9/11 Museum and Memorial
Another must have thing on my list of things to do in New York was go to the 9/11 memorial- and if we could go to the museum too, in fact this was my number one thing I wanted to do. I went to New York on an American school exchange in April 2001 and went up the World Trade Centre- and obviously in September 9/11 happened. I then went back in 2004 when they were in the process of building and it was still Ground Zero, so it was really important to me to go and see the memorial. After going up there that day in 2001, I can’t even begin to fathom how terrified and how awful it was to be in the city that day- and for all those days after, and 9/11 is such a huge part of my generations history- I just really wanted to go and see it.
The memorial fountains are beautiful, they have done such a beautiful job of creating a beautiful and poignant memorial- somewhere for loved ones, people who were involved that day, and just those who want to pay their respects, to reflect and pray.
Before our trip I had said to Jon that I really wanted to go to the 9/11 museum but we were unsure of what to say to our young children (my girls are 7 and 5). In actual fact it all worked out perfectly. We explained to them that some planes had crashed and hurt a lot of people but to be honest they didn’t ask more than that. The museum is absolutely incredible really, if you can describe it like that. They have preserved so much information and details about the day. They have also put more detailed and possibly things that might not be suitable for younger children in a different are that is separate from the rest of the museum, which is definitely useful. Jon and I could have spent all day at the museum- there is literally so much to take in and read and look at- however with the children we only spent a couple of hours there which was more than enough for them. We would love to go back when they are older and revisit, but even with children this was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
(Again we used the Explorer Passes for the 9/11 museum too)
Like I mentioned at the start of this post we stayed in the Battery Park area of the city for the four nights we were in Manhattan. We wanted to be close to the action but further enough away that we weren’t in too much of a touristy area. Battery Park really was the perfect spot for us. Our hotelConrad New York was the perfect base with the World Trade Center memorial and museum just 5 minutes walk away, and Times Square 15-20 minutes away by taxi or subway.
Battery Park itself has lots of green open spaces and it was the perfect place to stay when we wanted a bit of time to let off some steam or be away from the rush and crowds.
One highlight of our trip for us was the Seaglass Carousel. I had seen this somewhere a couple of years ago, way before we were planning our trip, and it had stuck in my mind as somewhere I would like to visit. The Seaglass Carousel is based in The Battery, a lovely green open space at the bottom tip of Manhattan- with stunning views of the harbour (also really near to where you catch the Staten Island Ferry so a good opportunity to do both). It is basically a carousel of fibreglass fish, which glisten and twinkle to mimic the bioluminescence found deep in the ocean. I’ve never been on a carousel like it, it was beautiful, so beautiful we went on it twice. It’s not cheap for a family ticket, but it is 100% worth it in my opinion. The kids loved it and so did I.
Also in Battery Park just outside our hotel was a brilliant playground which we spent a lovely lazy afternoon in. The playground is situated in is Rockefeller Park, which is a great big open space with loads going on, including lots of sports courts, but the playground was the real excitement for the children. It is a large playground with a great big sand pit and water fountains too, and was the perfect place to let off some steam and run about before going back to bed in our hotel.
As a little side note I also wanted to mention the Staten Island Ferry. We had wanted to go on a boat trip to see the striking Manhattan skyline from the water, however we didn’t really want to have to go on one where it would take a long time, as we had so much we wanted to pack into our itinerary. We then heard about the Staten Island Ferry- the ferry provides 22 million people a year (70,000 passengers a day not including weekend days) with a ferry service between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan.
It’s a free service and there are ferries at all times of the day and night. The journey takes 25 minutes each way and is the perfect way to see the iconic skyline and also amazing views of the Statue of Liberty too. Just a quick tip- don’t go at work rush hour as that is definitely not the time to take a leisurely trip. We went about 10am on a Sunday and there was hardly anyone else on board- we got to Staten Island and literally jumped back on the same ferry to go home. It was the perfect way to take some photos but not commit (and pay!) for a tourist boat trip.
It might seem weird to mention a cake shop as something that you must do while you are in NYC, but Flour Shop is not a normal cake shop. The creation of Amirah Kassem, Flour Shop is one of the coolest and most bizarre places I have ever been. We walked into the instantly instagrammable, rainbow coloured shop to find that Jon and I were definitely one of the oldest there. The place was full of tween girls (either with their parents or without), pouting, making peace signs and generally snapping here, there and everywhere with their iPhones.
That’s what makes Flour Shop such a great concept. You go in for the cake (which I hasten to add is DELICIOUS but EXPENSIVE, we shared a mini explosion rainbow cake between the five of us which came out at a whopping $30), but you also secretly have to admit you are there to take photos too. There’s an amazing rainbow wall, but lets face it everything in Flour Shop is perfect for ‘the gram’. Flour Shop most recently has created cakes for Arianna Grande, North West and the rest of the Kardashian Clan. It’s a bit of an insta cliche, you will feel about 100 years old, but it was a highlight of our trip- and the cake genuinely is worth every penny for the experience you get.
Another must have place to visit for myself and Jon was ‘The Highline‘. The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. Think urban garden on railway tracks and you would be about right. It is well worth a walk all along just to marvel the fact that you are walking above the streets of NYC. There is greenery and plants everywhere you look, as well as vendors selling food or local art projects. We also found a cool glass viewing window where you could sit and watch the crazy NYC traffic.
We spent a good few hours up there, it was nice to let the kids not have to constantly hold our hands to keep them away from the traffic (although it does get very busy up there so you still have to watch them like a hawk) and it was just a nice place to chill out for an afternoon. While you are there you also need to head to Chelsea Market which is nearby for some brunch or lunch.
And that is it. My top must have things to do in Manhattan with kids. One thing I will say is that before we travelled we wondered if we were making a mistake taking young children to NYC. We couldn’t have been more wrong, New York was actually one of the most family friendly places we have ever been. People were so accommodating and friendly towards the children (I find to be fair that Americans normally are), people went out of their way to help us, and we found so much to do with them. It really was one of the best trips we have ever done, we definitely want to go back again one day and explore even further.
I definitely think planning and doing a lot of research in advance definitely helped us maximise the fun we had, so I hope that this post helps any of you who might be thinking about going on a trip to New York. I’ll be back soon writing about planning a trip to NYC with kids and also my top things to do in Brooklyn as a family too.2