Visiting the big apple can be overwhelming if you don't know what to do, where to go, where to start. The best thing to do when visiting NYC, and any other new place really, is to educate yourself on the best places to see, how to get from point A to point B, and about how much things are going to cost you (so you can budget, and also, so you don't get ripped off by the seldom opportunist hustler). We put together a guide of kid-friendly things to do when you visit The Big Apple; from where to stay, to how to understand transportation, and some good places to eat we found along the way. So, keep reading and plan your trip!
WHERE TO STAY
Basically, the answer to this question depends on your budget. As you may already know, NYC is divided into boroughs, and they all vary in price considerably. If you stay in Manhattan you will probably pay a tad more than if you stay a little farther from the touristic sites. We always check out deals that include airfare and hotel on Groupon, or Expedia, or even just lodging through Airbnb for the best prices.
HOW TO BOOK LODGING/AIRFARE AT A REASONABLE PRICE
Don't settle by checking just one site. Check them all, several times a day, several days a week as the specials change by the hour. We have noticed that a lot of good deals are released on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays nights. If it's Saturday, and you want to book your vacation right away, you will pay more. Similarly, if your stay includes a weekend, you can also pay more as hotel rooms, and plane tickets increase in price if your travel plans include Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Try booking during the week and you could pay less.
I FOUND A GREAT DEAL, NOW WHAT?
Once you've found the ideal price for your flight/hotel, start loosely planning your days. We like to have a simple and flexible itinerary when traveling. Yes, sometimes is great to do things as they appear, but finding fun things along the way is not always that easy. You don't want to "waste" your day away while deciding what to do, where to go, and how to get there. Have a plan...IF you find something better along the way, then you can change your itinerary. Flexibility is key.
START YOUR FIRST DAY ON A LOW KEY
Don't burn yourself out on the first day, especially if you arrive to your destination later on the day. Relaxing is a very important part of the concept of Vacation. Start sightseeing with whatever is closest and/or easiest to get to, or simply enjoy a good dinner and a short walk. If you already feel rested, or you are one of those people with extreme amounts of energy, try to follow your itinerary the first day.
HOW TO GET AROUND
In NYC, you can walk, take the metro, train, taxi or Uber/Lyft. Up to you. Our preferred method for this visit was Metro. Since we knew we were going to use it a lot, several times a day, we opted for purchasing the week-metro card (about $35). You can purchase single tickets as well. Just don't try to skip the entry gate...if they catch you, it's not pretty.
First thing you want to do is to make sure you have Google maps installed on your phone. Second, know where you are on a map to decide if you need to go in the "uptown" or "downtown" directions. Basically, downtown is south, uptown is north...or pretty close. Plug in the address or landmark onto Google maps, and it will tell you, step by step, what train to take, and the times of arrival based on your location. IT'S AMAZING! Even if the train is running late or if there are scheduled maintenance conflicts, this app will let you know and give your alternative routes and options.
We recommend that you still get a physical map of the metro, just in case your phone dies or your internet stops working... you never know! Don't get overwhelmed by the map. Once you get familiar with the system, it becomes very easy to read. The trains are color coded and the connection stations are clearly marked on the maps. Grab one before you leave your hotel! They are usually free.
Know what you want to see before you arrive to NYC. I've been to the city many times, and I still haven't see it all. Don't think that you can go see everything in a few days... you will burn out. Here's a list of our recommended places to see and eat while in NYC. You can google the names to get the address and directions. Please note that this is just a personal opinion and does not mean these are the best things to do or eat. If you know of other sites or restaurants that are a must do/see, PLEASE comment down below and let us know!! We would love to try them when we come back!
WHAT TO SEE
1. THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Do you know that museum from the movie "Night at the Museum"? Yes, the same! (and if things come alive at night, sign me up for the night shift!) We enjoyed our afternoon at the museum. NOTE: wear comfortable shoes because it's a lot of walking! The museum is large and there's a lot to cover. In fact, you might not be able to see it all if you try to rush. There are four accessible floors in this massive building. You might start on the second floor, as the iconic main entrance on Central Park West leads to the second floor. You will have the opportunity to purchase general admission and/or tickets for the additional attractions. The museum is divided by wings, which are pretty much divided by continents fauna/cultures/sub-cultures. Then you can find ocean life, minerals, and of course, the dinosaurs on the fourth floor. It also has a great planetarium with a stellar presentation narrated by Neal Degrasse Tyson. Don't miss it!
2. TIME SQUARE
This one is a big, "duh!!" Obviously you can't come to The Big Apple and not visit Times Square. The main things to do here are 1. admire the lights and colorful advertising on the buildings, 2. Great dinning, 3. Shopping, 4. Entertainment.
PLACES IN TIMES SQUARE
RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
This place is AMAZING!! Definitely a must do in NYC. I've been to other Ripley's museums around the country, but the one on Times Square takes the gold. It's full of interactive, weird artifacts and fun activities for the whole family. It also makes for amazing photo ops!! It's worth it.
LIKE CHOCOLATE? VISIT M&M WORLD AND HERSHEY'S WORLD ON TIMES SQUARE
Yes, both of these MASSIVE stores are located diagonally from each other right in the heart of Times Square. Word of advice, they are obviously overpriced... like, I can literally buy the same amount of M&Ms at Target for a fraction of the price. The cool thing is that they do offer products that you can't find anywhere else or they are rarely available in stores. We tried to purchase the rare candy and stayed away from the normal products... save your pennies!
THEATER... THE BEST
Plays like The Lion King, Wicked, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are located in Times Square...unfortunately we couldn't purchase tickets in advance...and the fact that are incredibly expensive! You can, however, find great sales on Broadway tickets in Time Square! Keep an eye for those.
Sleep No More is another AMAZING off-broadway interactive play. Read the review here ... Just so you know, Sleep No More is NOT kid friendly...so adults only.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTER: OCEAN ODYSSEY
This fabulous interactive experience will take you into the deep ocean and will make you feel very close to the marine life of our world. Parts of it feel as if you are inside the ocean, while other parts were a little cheesy. Overall, it was good. The kids thoroughly enjoy this guided tour of the seas.
EATING AT TIMES SQUARE
Two of my favorite places are:
BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP COMPANY
Run Forest, Run! Yes, maybe because Forest Gump is one of my ultimate favorite movies of all times, or just because this place is pretty cool, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company had amazing food! Have shrimp anyway you can imagine... this is the place for that.
You better make reservations for this family style Italian Restaurant or you'll be waiting a long while for a table. The restaurant has been around since 1990 and continues the tradition of large meals for the whole table. Believe me... you don't need an appetizer if it's just two of you. The portions are SO BIG that are aimed for a family of 4+. We didn't even have room for dessert and we just had ONE entree. It was fantastic!
3. CENTRAL PARK
This colossal green space in the heart of Manhattan is not only iconic, but also beautiful. It's a green paradise away (and inside) a jungle of asphalt. Take a morning walk, or have a picnic by a lake while gazing over the city. It's relaxing.
4. CENTRAL PARK ZOO
While walking around Central Park, we encounter the zoo. It is NOT very big, but big enough to spend a good couple of hours observing the animals and shopping around.
5. STATUE OF LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLAND
Everyone knows New York's most iconic symbol, the Statue of Liberty. Located on Liberty Island, it is worth visiting this lady at least once. She doesn't look that big from a distance. In fact, she looks faded and small if you observe her from Battery Park. Take a ferry tour (purchase tickets in advance. Beware of scammers. I learned that only Statuecruises.com is the direct seller, and most others will charge you an extra fee to get your ticket. So go directly to statuecruises.com to get them). When you see Lady Liberty close and in person, you'll realize that she's not only massive, but also bright and colorful. We opted to do the Crown pass... We saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to climb up the very, very, very tight 354 steps to the top. The view was fantastic!
Once you are done with the statue, get on the ferry again towards Ellis Island. Here, you can walk through the shoes of the immigrants that entered this country so long ago. The things they went through, the things they suffered, how they were treated. This fascinating museum is powerful and interesting. Don't skip it!
6. CONEY ISLAND
We didn't get in the ocean, but the beach looked beautiful! We walked by the pier and along the boardwalk. It was a fun day of (expensive) carnival rides, and funnel cake! We stopped by NATHAN'S famous Hot Dogs, and shopped for souvenirs. The rides are good, but they cost a pretty penny, so choose wisely.
WHERE TO EAT?
So many options!!! I cannot possibly tell you about every single place or this list would have to be a book. Besides the two places in Times Square mentioned above, we visited a couple of local landmarks that are a must:
Established in 1905, it's said to be the very first pizzeria in the US! Now, I don't know how true this is, but this place looked pretty retro and has a great atmosphere. Beware! Cash only my friends!! Enjoy good pizza, but bring your cash, as plastic is not accepted. The walls are covered with pictures of the celebrities that have visited the restaurant.
Hands down my favorite dessert place in the world...Another very old city landmark. If you want amazing desserts, go straight there. Everyone that visits NYC should go here first. Serving pastries and desserts since 1894, this family owned cafe has been in business for five generations. Sweet and heavenly place this is.
Black Tap offers craft burgers and beer as well as the most amazing and creative milk shakes you would ever encounter. The milkshakes are massive and should probably be shared and not consumed alone....unless you are OK with the million calories you can ingest. They are deliciously tempting!
In the mood for some good, affordable, Venezuelan cuisine? Go to Patacon Pisao. This very small hole in the wall is made for big taste buds. Get your food to go, or eat it there (if there's a table). They cook the food as you order it, right in front of you. Guaranteed that you will lick your fingers.
WHAT ABOUT BREWERIES?
If you would like to taste some good craft beer you don't have to go very far. NYC has a few breweries that are kid friendly, so no excuses!
With several convenient locations, Heartland Brewery offers great beer and good food. Their Time Square location is within walking distance of many attractions, so swing by in between or have dinner with your beer!... Or beer with your dinner...whatever.
CONEY ISLAND BREWERY
Like the name suggest, Coney Island Brewery is located in Coney Island. After a hot day of walking about the boardwalk, take a rest and have a cold one at the brewery. We weren't sure how kid friendly this place is, but it seemed OK if you sit down outside by a shaded picnic bench. Their beer was interesting, with cotton candy flavors, and other sours (which are my favorite). Hubby enjoyed the IPA.
By far my favorite NYC brewery. We tried many of their beers over the week and they were all amazing. The facilities are very inviting, spacious, and kid friendly. Definitely a place I would come back to. Also, the staff is extremely helpful and friendly. LOVED IT!
There were many other places we visited and many many more we wanted to visit but didn't have the time. Here are other places you may want to consider for your sightseeing adventure:
*Empire State Building.
You can climb the stairs or take the elevator to see the city from this 102 floor building. There's really nothing much else to do, just take a pic and make your way back down.
I've never seen a store this big in my entire life. This block long, 10 story building feels like a city within itself. I am pretty certain that you could find anything you can ever need here. Also, it's NOT cheap. I couldn't find a cute outfit under $100. Cool, but not my kind of store.
Commemorate those who died in this tragic attack by visiting the museum. Read the stories and learn about the history and the rebirth of the city after the attack.
Yes, I know this is not New York, but Hoboken is just a short train ride away. Hop over the river into the shore of New Jersey, and observe New York skyline from the other side. It's breathtaking and peaceful. Also, Hoboken has plenty of restaurants and entertainment to offer!
This culturally rich neighborhood in Manhattan has a lot to offer for a fun afternoon of great food and good, cheap shopping. Hundreds of vendors and stores will try to lure you into their shops, while the smell of good food will lure your nostrils and wake your appetite. Beware of scammers and be vigilant of offers that sound too good to be true!
There are many, many more attractions, museums, landmarks, and sites that I didn't mention. I mean, NYC is a place with 8.5 million people! I'm giving testimony of what I've experienced when I traveled. Please feel free to add to this list by commenting below!!!