In September 2016 the Passports Family visited New York for the very first time. Our son was 2 years and 8 months old and both Mr Passports and I were a bit apprehensive about what we would be able to do with him while there. We also had to be realistic that certain things may be off limits to us due to having a toddler in tow. That said, we never let having a toddler put us off booking New York in the first place. Today I’d like to share with you our top 5 things to do in New York with a toddler in tow to show you that you should never be afraid to just do it.
If you think that New York is a city best left until the kids are older, think again. Despite visiting with our son when he was just 2, we all enjoyed our time in the city and cannot wait to return in the future. Yes, certain things might prove a it difficult with young kids and others they might get bored with, but we’ve proved that New York most definitely can be enjoyed, even with a toddler in tow.
5 Awesome Things to Do in New York With a Toddler
See New York from up high in the Empire State Building
We weren’t sure if we were going to have time to visit the Empire State Building but we were up quite early on our last morning so decided to get the subway into New York and headed for the Empire State Building after a fab breakfast at a traditional diner around the corner from it. We got there very early, just after it opened at 8am and to our surprise there were absolutely no queues. I had been worried as we didn’t pre-book our tickets but we bought them, strolled up to the elevator and straight up to the 80th floor, the first stop, in an elevator with plenty of room in it.
After strolling around that floor and “ooh-ing” at the views, we then headed up to the 86th floor. This is the open-air observatory used in all the films and TV and we had been advised not to bother going any further. The views were even better from there. We really enjoyed our visit to the Empire State Building, especially as we seemed to pick a great time to go. Arriving just after 8am on a Wednesday morning meant there were no queues. We have heard last thing at night (it is open from 8am to 2am) is the best time to visit for no queues and for getting snaps of the New York skyline lit up at night.
Our tickets included the 80th and 86th floors costing $32 each (children cost $26 and under 6’s go free). We didn’t bring our son’s buggy and that was a great idea as you need to fold it before getting into elevators. Tickets to include both the 86th and top deck cost $52 for adults and $46 for children, but as we were advised we didn’t bother doing the top deck and certainly didn’t feel like we’d missed out. The views from the open-air observatory deck on the 86th floor are all you need! There are, however, VIP passes that allow you to skip the queues if you plan visiting at busy times but they come at a premium, so be warned.
Take a stroll through Central Park
This was one New York attraction that we were not going to miss. Central Park is huge with a zoo, lake and various other areas of interest in it. It is 843 acres or 3.4km2 and we only saw a small fraction of it. Surprisingly it is almost half the size of the Phoenix Park in Dublin! Our main reason for visiting Central Park was to have a photograph taken in Strawberry Fields, to carry on a family tradition. We managed to find the elusive rock with memorial plaque on it and a kind passing tourist took our picture, ensuring the tradition carry’s on.
The best part about Central Park is that it’s easy to get to and is free! Attractions inside can cost extra such as the zoo and restaurants but if you are visiting on a sunny summer day, why not take a picnic and enjoy it on one of the many grassy areas. We didn’t get to stop long in Central Park but it will definitely be on our must-return-to list for our future visits to New York. Kids will love it as it’s a great place to run free among a busy bustling city!
Visit the World Trade Centre Memorial
The Twin Towers Memorial park was top of my to-do list and we visited this on our jam-packed second full day in New York (the first being a total washout due to heavy rain). We had breakfast in a traditional diner nearby before heading around to the site. The memorial is both wondrous and humbling and it really hits home what happened on that awful day when you see the two pools and all the names of the people who lost their lives when the two towers fell. Most upsetting for both my husband and I was seeing a lady’s name and beside it “And Her Unborn Child”. We both welled up and gave our son’s hand an extra squeeze.
The pools and landscaped gardens around it are stunning and a fitting memorial. There is also a museum at the site but we didn’t visit it as we felt our son would be too bored for us to take our time going around it. We plan to visit it when he is older so that he can understand it more. The memorial park itself is free while the museum costs $24 adults and $15 for children (under 6’s are free) and you can pre-book your tickets up to 6 months in advance. It is advised to allow yourself 2 hours for your visit, particularly if you plan to include the museum in your visit. The memorial is open from 7.30am to 9pm daily and the museum from 9am to 8pm.
The only thing I will advise, especially if you are visiting with a toddler, and you are getting the subway, do not travel during rush hour. We made that mistake and kept trying to get out of the way of commuters and it took us ages to exit the amazing mall and concourse up to street level. So avoid rush hour if you can! But you should definitely put this on your must-see list of places to visit while in New York.
See Manhattan from the water on a Water Ferry
We did this on the recommendation of my sister-in-law and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a 1 hour boat ride around the tip of Manhattan that takes in Manhattan, Liberty Island and the Brooklyn Bridge, which we would have missed had we not seen it on this trip. We got on the Zephyr, a large ferry type boat, at Pier 16 and headed for the top deck. The weather was lovely and when the sun came out it made our water views of Manhattan very magical. We also managed to get some pictures of the Statue of Liberty without having to step off the boat which we thought was great.
The boat trip is narrated with information from a guide and ours was very funny. There are two cash bars on board, remember cash, and you can buy tickets for this which combine other attractions too. Tickets just for the ferry cost $30 for adults and $19 for children (with under 3’s free) and there are various departure times between 10am and 5pm. This boat trip was thoroughly enjoyed by both us and our son and is definitely one I would recommend you do for a different view of Manhattan.
Enjoy the bright lights of Times Square
No trip to New York would be complete without a trip to Times Square and having your picture taken with all the lights of the billboards behind you. Times Square was the very first stop during our trip and it is an amazing place to see in the flesh. Our son was amazed by all the lights and sounds, although he wasn’t too enamoured with the sirens around us. Times Square is free to visit and there are plenty of shops around if you fancy a bit of shopping or restaurants if you want a bite to eat. We went into the Disney Store and bought our son a t-shirt and Mickey Mouse as it just had to be done.
The only thing I’ll warn you about Times Square and buggies is it gets very, very busy and can be a bit difficult to navigate with a buggy. I’ll be honest and say I took no prisoners on the sidewalk and got through relatively unscathed. For kids on their own two feet, keep a tight grip on their hands and don’t let go as the crowds could easily swallow them up.
So there you have it, 5 things to do in New York with a toddler in tow. There are a thing or two to keep in mind with each of them but they can ALL be enjoyed even with a toddler in tow. We had fun at each of them, got plenty of photos and got to tick a few things off our NYC to-do list. There were one or two things we discovered weren’t ideal with our son, such as the National History Museum due to them charging for toddlers, but that won’t put us off visiting when he is older to enjoy them. It will be a few years until we plan our return trip but when we do we already have a to-do list made which includes Madame Tussauds, Grand Central Station and a Helicopter Ride over Manhattan.
There are many things to do in New York with a toddler in tow and some that we didn’t do. If you are considering a trip to New York and I haven’t convinced you to bring the kids as well, then please check out the great post by Our Globetrotters about 10 things to do in Manhattan with kids and also this post by Dais Like These. And if it’s going to be your first time in New York, you might want to check out this great post from Fly Drive Explore. And, if you only have 24 hours to spend in New York, this post from Zena’s Suitcase has some additional ideas of how to maximise your time in the Big Apple.
Note: all prices were correct at the time of writing this post.