New York City has an odd relationship with family travelers. On one hand, the city’s panoply of museums and parks and food options make it one of the greatest family destinations in the world. On the other hand, small hotel rooms at astronomical prices make it challenging to navigate with kiddos under the age of 12.
I know these things because I’m a native New Yorker and the father of three girls. I also know them because I’ve just planned my family’s first vacation to New York City, and I’ve lived to tell the tale.
Here, then, in no particular order, are five tips for a family trip to New York that everyone can enjoy.
Book for space
It’s no secret that the vast majority of hotel rooms in New York City aren’t much larger than an average closet. When you’re traveling with children (in our case, three of them), that space shortage can become uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.
Instead of squeezing the brood into a standard room, think outside the box and book larger accommodations from the beginning. In advance of our trip, I booked a two bedroom apartment at Q&A, a hotel comprised of furnished apartments. Other options include outposts of national chains such as Embassy Suites and Courtyard by Marriott, both of which offer suites as standard.
Park it up
New York City—including Brooklyn, people—is home to some of the most incredible urban parks in North America. No. 1 on this list: Central Park. A close no. 2 is the High Line, which was built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.
Almost all of New York City’s best parks are free and open to the public. They’re all also great places for the kids to run around. In the case of Central Park, there are dozens of other (fee-based) attractions, too—a zoo, a castle, ballfields, and more. My advice here? Go early, go on weekdays, and swing by a deli first to pick up picnic lunch.
(ICYW, we did all of those things on our recent visit to Central Park.)
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to treat the kids to a cakey, icing-covered Black-and-White cookie—a New York food staple.
Museums in New York City are second to none. Admission to most hovers somewhere around US$20 per grownup. Unless, that is, you go to a free museum (such as the American Folk Art Museum or the National Museum of the American Indian), or you attend a fee museum on a “Free Day.”
Just about every pay-to-play museum has a free day. At the Brooklyn Museum, it’s Saturday; at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, it’s Wednesday. Some museums, such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, have “pay what you wish” days (that program is available there on Saturday evenings). Others are free for just a short window—for instance, the New Museum of Contemporary Art is free Thursdays between 7-9 p.m.
One more note about museums—especially museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History—these places are big. If you’ve got kids in tow, it’s unlikely you’ll see everything in one visit. Flex your expectations and everyone wins in the end. Beside, the last thing you want on a family vacation is a tantruming toddler.
Consider discount tickets
New York City, like most cities, offers discounted tickets to just about everything.
TKTS is a great place to buy discounted tickets for Broadway shows—if you’d rather not buy your 8-year-old a US$600 ticket to see Hamilton, this is the place to go. Other options provide different levels of discount. For our recent trip, I purchased CityPASS tickets, which saved us more than US$250 as a family after we used the passes to visit the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
Another great source for discounted prices on activities is right here on Expedia.com. Expedia LX offers great pricing for on-the-ground outfitter-driven experiences. Check it out.
Embrace public transportation
People who aren’t accustomed to traveling by bus or subway get intimidated about getting around New York City because they don’t know what to expect. Allow this native New Yorker to reassure you: Public transit in the Big Apple is not only efficient, but at US$2.75 per ride it also is significantly cheaper than the alternatives (Uber and taxis). Perhaps more important: Kids love it! Especially when they can grab spots in the front or back of a subway train and look out the windows as they go.
Our kids fell in love with subways when we lived in London and were just as jazzed about riding the trains in New York. When we took the subway, getting there was as much fun for my kids as the destinations themselves. No matter how you evaluate your vacation, that’s one sign of a great trip.
What are your best tips for navigating a family trip to New York City?