Standing in Times Square for the first time is surreal. Lights everywhere: large billboard-type screens continually flashing and cameras galore as tourists snap away at the iconic sights. And people – lots of people – staring up at the screens in amazement, watching the human “statues” as they perform for the crowds and everyday New Yorkers rushing along intent on their daily lives. The City That Never Sleeps can be a bit surreal too, a sensory overload of must-sees and must-dos, but these kid-friendly ideas will delight your kids in New York City!
New York is a city full of fabulous museums devoted to all kinds of things: art, science, history, photography, space and almost anything else you can imagine. Some of the most famous museums, such as the Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the Met) are helpfully clustered together on the aptly named Museum Mile (on Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 105th Street). There are also museums aimed at children such as the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Children’s Museum of the Arts and the Brooklyn’s Children Museum.
Due to time constraints, we headed to the somewhat less highbrow but incredibly fun Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe it or Not! There were a couple of exhibits that were a little scary for some of the younger kids (the Ghostbusters walk-through exhibit at Madame Tussauds for instance), but the teens and tweens were in selfie heaven. We also went to the American Museum of Natural History which was breathtaking. There are so many marvels… and that’s before you even mention the Night at the Museum connection (more about that later).
Most of us feel as if we know New York before we’ve even set foot there because of much-loved films like Night at the Museum, Elf and Ghostbusters (not to mention TV shows like Friends and Sex and the City)! Unfortunately, not all the famous landmarks are still there; FAO Schwartz, for instance, the iconic toy store from Elf, has sadly closed. But you can still:
- Head to the basement at Macy’s department store (151 West 34th Street) and play around on the life-size piano as Tom Hanks did in Big.
- Channel your inner Giselle and dance your way across Central Park’s Bow Bridge and down the Promenade and pretend you’re in the movie Enchanted.
- Discover your favourite characters from Night at the Museum at the American Museum of Natural History.
Be warned: it can be challenging to find your favourite characters since they are spread throughout the four floors of the Museum and not clustered together as they were in the movie. My absolute must-see was Dum Dum aka Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Moia Cast who we eventually found on the third floor in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. Dexter, the devilish capuchin monkey, was hiding out on the third floor in the Hall of Primates. My daughter’s friend was desperate to see the African elephants and lions, so we traipsed down to the second floor to the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, and we finally found Rexy, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton on the fourth floor in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs.
The Museum does offer a self-guided Night at the Museum Tour (we subsequently discovered) and, for a truly magical experience, you can even book a Night at the Museum Sleepover (available for 6 to 13-year-olds). Tickets sell out very fast though so make sure you book ahead!
There are musicals for almost every age group on Broadway. Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton and Anastasia are usually must-sees for teens and tweens but if your children are Sponge Bob fans, then don’t miss Sponge Bob the Musical! Yes, there really is a two-hour musical devoted to the yellow sponge (unfortunately children under the age of four aren’t allowed in the theatre). Disney’s Frozen is also playing on Broadway!
It’s a good idea to book your theatre tickets before your trip because they sell out so quickly. You can buy cheaper tickets on the day of the show at TKTS ticket booths in Times Square but there’s no guarantee you will be able to get the tickets you want. You can also book online and save yourself the line up (although it is a part of the experience from broadwaybox.com or theatremania.com, so if there’s something you’re desperate to see, book well in advance. Frozen was already booking 6 months ahead!
Finally, for a wonderfully unique NYC experience book your ticket for The Ride. It’s described as an interactive New York sightseeing experience where the streets of New York are the stage and you have front row seats.
The seats in the bus are positioned sideways in long rows like in a theatre so you get to stare out the windows at “the stage” aka New York. Our guides were two very funny stand-up comedians who kept us entertained with tidbits about New York and comments on the sights outside the window. There’s something gloriously silly about waving out the window to complete strangers. Sometimes they even wave back!