10 New York Spots to Take Your Kids Before They’re Teenagers

Our NYC expert shares her favorite places in the city for some parent-child bonding while on vacation in the Big Apple.


The window of opportunity for parents to connect with their kids is barely open before their child transforms into an independent person who would rather be grounded than go on vacation with—horror of horrors—a parent. Here are suggestions for things to do and see in the city that I’ve done with my son, Alex, before I was on the outside of that window looking in.

1. Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty

Enrich the visit to the Statue of Liberty (a gift to the United States from France more than 100 years ago) by signing up your child (ages 7 to 12) for the self-guided Junior Ranger tour. They’ll get an educational Junior Ranger booklet with kid-friendly activities that they’ll do during their visit; the booklet takes about an hour to complete. Everyone loves the observation deck on top of the 16-foot pedestal for a panoramic view. A cool thing to do before you come: If your ancestors immigrated to the United States (through Ellis Island or elsewhere) consider inscribing their names on the Wall of Honor at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. You can do this online or when you arrive at the museum; your kids will think their ancestors are famous. My son loves seeing his great-grandparents from Canada, Scotland and Italy inscribed on the wall.

Liberty Island, tel. 212-363-3200,

2. Brooklyn Bridge

A favorite New York City memory is walking across this one-mile suspension bridge with Alex. We got up early one morning, grabbed breakfast-to-go from a gourmet shop on a cobblestone street near South Street Seaport and ambled the couple of blocks to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge walk is euphoric with mouth-gaping views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline. We stopped often along the way for photo ops and to relax on one of the many strategically placed benches. An unexpected highlight: The bridge crossing inspired “deep” conversations between us, like what’s the secret of life kind of talk, rather than banter about whose batting average is higher, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez.

Take the 4, 5 or 6 subway train and get off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop or take the water taxi to the South Street Seaport stop.

3. Grand Central Terminal

The celestial ceiling is the main reason Alex and his sister love to visit this Beaux Arts landmark. Get a real rush during rush hour when commuters dash to and from their trains, or take the free tours given on Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30 p.m. Grand Central also is a fun spot to eat: Slurp oysters at the venerable Oyster Bar downstairs (don’t worry, there are kid-friendly items on the menu, too), or sit at the balcony lounge at Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse NYC to share a cheese fondue while enjoying the daily commuter performance below.

87 E. 42nd St. (at Park Avenue), tel. 212-340-2583,

4. Times Square

My daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Tennessee, loves to go to Times Square when she comes to New York City to visit. Why? Because of all the souvenir shops! Times Square is also the place for young kids to take a spin on the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys “R” Us and, of course, to see Broadway shows. Times Square is a fantasy of lights, people, noise and music—a perfect kid attraction and distraction.

Times Square runs from 42nd to 47th Sts. at Broadway and Seventh Ave., and is easily reached by nearly all train lines. 

5. American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History has always been the place for Alex and his grandmother to spend a rainy or wintry day. Favorite spots in the museum for them: the 94-foot blue whale that’s suspended from the ceiling in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life; the dinosaur fossils in the Fossils Hall; and the Space Shows at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Bonus: an IMAX Theater.

Central Park West and 79th St., tel. 212-769-5100,

6. Chelsea Screamer/The Beast/The Shark

We stumbled upon the Screamer at Chelsea Piers after noticing a giggling crowd who’d just disembarked the high-speed boat ride around the southern tip of Manhattan. The next ride left in 15 minutes so we hopped aboard and had a blast, zipping along the salty river at 35 mph past the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Now that we’ve whetted your whistle, here’s the thing: Due to construction on the Pier, the Screamer is operating only for private parties/charters at the moment. However, Circle Line’s Beast and Circle Line Downtown’s Shark are similarly thrilling rides that buzz around New York Harbor with a pit stop in front of the Statue of Liberty for photos. Note: If you or your kids take Dramamine for canoe rides, skip it. (Read our See New York From the Water article for more boat-touring ideas.)

Circle Line Beast, Pier 83 (W. 42nd St. and 12th Ave.); tel. 212-563-3200;; Circle Line Downtown Shark, Pier 16 (South Street Seaport); tel. 866-925-4631,

7. United Nations

If you think your elementary school-age child is too young to appreciate the 45-minute tour at the United Nations, with visits to the General Assembly Hall, the Security Council and Social Council chambers, and international art exhibits (including a Marc Chagall stained-glass window and Norman Rockwell mosaic), think again. One guide poignantly recalls a group tour she led on which there were 8- and 9-year-olds with their parents. She asked the group if they knew what an anti-personnel land mine was and how much did they think one would cost. The adults didn't volunteer an answer but one of the kids finally said, “It costs you your life.” If you’re lucky, you might stumble across a meeting in progress (about 5,000 meetings are held annually; some closed to the public).

First Ave. between 42nd and 48th St., tel. 212-963-TOUR (212-963-8687),

8. Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

The holidays seem Grinch-like without a visit to the decked-out Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Ooh and ahh at the glistening tree, then lace up your skates and spin figure eights at The Rink. We like to warm up with cups of steamy cocoa at Dean & DeLuca, a snowball’s throw away, which overlooks the Today Show studios.

Fifth Ave. at 49th and 50th Sts. The rink opens for the season Oct. 11, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., tel. 212-332-7654.

9. Empire State Building

This midtown Art Deco building has been featured in many movie scenes (Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong and more), as well as our family videos. I will always be grateful for the Empire State Building. One day, when 7-year-old Alex was at school, his rabbit died suddenly at home. When I picked Alex up at school that afternoon I didn’t have the heart to tell him the sad news and certainly didn’t want to go home just yet. So, I declared that we were going somewhere special—although I had no idea where. We jumped on a train, Alex begging me to tell him the big surprise of where we were headed. I thought quickly, and next thing I knew we were at the top of the Empire State Building. Alex had never been, and he was mesmerized by the views from the 86th floor observatory (1,050 feet above Manhattan’s busy streets). He bought a King Kong key chain at the gift shop, we watched the sun go down, and then ventured home. He was sad when I finally told him about his rabbit, but the trip to the Empire State Building had helped buffer the blow.

350 Fifth Ave., tel. 212-736-3100,

10. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

She’s back! Following extensive renovations in Staten Island, the aircraft carrier Intrepid has returned to Manhattan in anticipation of its grand reopening, Nov. 8. In the new and improved attraction, visitors can ride in an A-6 cockpit simulator, check out the guided missile submarine the Growler, step into British Airways’ fast-flying Concorde, visit areas of the Intrepid that were previously off-limits and enjoy a new public pier. Bonus: Plan your visit during the Intrepid Museum’s annual Kid’s Week (next one starts Feb. 14, 2009) for lots of interactive events and fun.

Pier 86–12 Avenue at W. 46th Street, tel. 877-957-SHIP (7447),

Destinations: New York City

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Sightseeing

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