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New York in 3 days; a 3 day itinerary for New York City with kids

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Where to stay in New York City with kids

There are no shortages of hotels in New York City, and you’ll find something to fit almost every budget. Hotels near the main tourist spots are likely to be more expensive so it’s worth looking at the more residential areas if you’re on a budget; just remember to factor in the cost of transportation if you do this.

We tend to stay in the same area whenever we visit, which is just south of Central Park. We find this area to be within walking distance of plenty of great restaurants and places we want to see, lots of subway stops when we want to go further afield, and not so touristy that it feels crowded or noisy.

We often stay at the Hilton New York Midtown or the Hilton West 57th Street and I’d recommend both as being great locations for a pretty reasonable price.

How to get around New York City with kids

The easiest way to get around New York City with kids is to walk! As long as the weather isn’t too extreme (no blizzards or 100 degree temperatures) then walking is the easiest way to get around, and a great way to get a feel for the city. Even if your kids aren’t big walkers and tend to complain if they’re asked to walk too far (I have one of those!), there’s so much to look at that they’ll be too distracted to notice tired feet.

If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, a baby carrier is a great option; this keeps your little one close to you and out of the way of the crowds, and leaves your hands free.

If your kids are too young to really walk too far or the weather just isn’t cooperating, then the subway is an easy way to get around as well. There are subway stops all over the place and although the subway system can be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to it, it’s quite straightforward really and easy to get used to.

If you’re traveling with a stroller, the subway can be a bit more of a challenge since elevators (at least ones that work) aren’t always available, so I would recommend a lightweight stroller in case you have to carry it up or down the stairs. I have found that people have always been incredibly helpful when I’ve been alone with the kids and they’ve seen me struggling with a stroller, so don’t worry too much!

New York in 3 days; itinerary with kids

Day One in New York with kids

Grab a bagel for breakfast

Every New York City day should start with one of the foods the city is most famous for: the bagel! I know New Yorkers like to brag that they make bagels better than anyone else, but they’re right! They’re really not the same anywhere else!

There are so many places in New York City to get bagels, but my go to on all of my trips has always been Ess-a-bagel. There are numerous locations around the city and the menu is huge. It can be a bit overwhelming with so many options and that typical New York fast-paced environment, so I’ll usually stand off to one side until I’m sure what we all want.

My typical order is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich or cream cheese with smoked salmon. One of my kids is a real foodie and loves their chocolate chip bagels with chocolate spread, but even my picky eater likes their plain bagels. The portions are huge and could very easily shared, and prices are very reasonable.

FAO Schwartz

Taking my kids to one of the most famous toy shops in the world is something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I saw the movie Big where he dances on the giant piano! The store has changed from its Fifth Avenue location as seen in the movie, but thankfully the piano moved with them to its newest location in Rockefeller Plaza.

If you want to dance on the piano too, then there are a few things to know in advance. Shoes are not allowed but neither are bare feet so if you’re wearing sandals, be sure to bring a pair of socks with you. There was a sign that said no running and no jumping but we definitely had fun dancing on it!

As well as the giant piano, there’s obviously plenty more to look at in FAO Schwartz! My kids could have spent all day (and all of my money!) in the store, so we took the time to look around and really explore.

There are employees demonstrating various toys, which is really fun to watch, and they were very quick to tell me (when I mentioned that anything we bought had to fit in a suitcase to go home) that they offered shipping options that were free once you spent a certain amount of money!

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

One of the ultimate New York City bucket list items is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge! Not only is this an iconic landmark, but it provides some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. There are a few things to know about walking across the bridge with kids though.

First off, you can walk across the bridge in either direction. If your kids are younger like mine, then chances are that they’re not going to make it there and back so you might want to pick a direction first; I think the best views of the New York City skyline are walking towards Manhattan, but you can stop and take pictures either way.

The bridge can get incredibly crowded and there’s no shade to escape the sun in the summer months, so I think the best times to make the walk across the bridge are early in the morning or in the evening. Views at sunset are amazing, but everyone else knows this too and there will be lots of people stopping for photos!

There are lots of people selling souvenirs at either end of the bridge, and places to buy drinks and snacks. We walked over the bridge in the middle of June so it was pretty warm, and ended up buying bottled water and a baseball cap at the request of my complaining kids! Otherwise they did really well and made it over the bridge without too much whining!

Brooklyn Bridge Playground and Carousel

If you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge away from Manhattan then you’ll want to find a few things to do in Brooklyn. Luckily there is plenty to do in Brooklyn with kids, and we could have stayed for hours!

Brooklyn Bridge Park has a great playground for kids to run around the let off steam; the playground is all fenced in so I felt completely safe letting the kids play. Pebble Beach is right by the playground and a great place to get a photo of the Manhattan skyline with the bridge in the background. You can watch the boats in the background, and it was great in the summer since there was a nice breeze.

A short walk back from the park you can find Washington Street where you’ll find the instantly recognizable view of the Manhattan bridge in an area known as DUMBO (down under the Manhattan bridge overpass). It’s kind of mandatory to take a photo here!

On top of the playground and the beach, there is Jane’s carousel that’s super fun for kids. It’s enclosed in a glass pavilion so it’s weather proof and is located just under the bridge on the waterfront.

Time Out Market for lunch

There are lots of fantastic places to eat in Brooklyn but while you’re down by Brooklyn Bridge park, Time Out Market is an easy place to find options to suit everyone all under one roof (also there are bathrooms! Super important when visiting New York City with kids!)

Time Out Market is a food hall with various different locally owned dining options so there’s lots of choice. If you’re traveling with kids and need to satisfy a bunch of different palates, then this is the perfect option for lunch. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and you can take food to go if you want to find seating along the water.

Empire State Building

I have a whole post on where you can find the best views of the New York City skyline, but the Empire State Building is probably the most famous. Built in 1930, this New York City landmark is not only a great activity for visiting New York City with kids for the views, but for the history as well.

Visiting the Empire State Building is an experience that starts as soon as you enter the building. There are interactive displays and exhibits where you can learn about the history of the building and the city of New York. This was a great educational opportunity and I found it fascinating to learn about how the city has changed over the years.

There are two observation decks at the Empire State Building; the first is on the 86th floor and the second on the 102nd floor. Ticket prices vary based on the viewing platform you choose, with the higher being more expensive.

Honestly, I would just choose the cheaper option and stick to the 86th floor. The view isn’t that different from the 102nd floor (and you’re going to see that view from other locations later on in the itinerary anyway!) More importantly, the upper deck is enclosed and a very small space whereas the lower deck is open with plenty of space to walk around.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Ellen’s Stardust Diner is one of those touristy places that I avoided for years because I thought it would be too over the top. When we finally visited this past trip it turns out I was right, it is too over the top – and it’s also fun and crazy and an amazing place to visit in New York City with kids!

Ellen’s is a New York staple that has been around since the 1980’s. The food there is typical diner food (with a slightly higher price tag) but it’s the entertainment that everyone goes for. While you eat your burger and fries, the waitstaff will periodically jump on to the table and belt out songs – which would be terrible if it weren’t for the fact that they’re some of the most talented singers I’ve ever heard!

Plenty of the servers who work here are performers who have previously been (and almost definitely will be again!) on Broadway and in other professional theatre productions across the country. The talent is outstanding, and it’s so much fun to watch their performances. Many of them are between shows or acting jobs and I love that Ellen’s gives them a place to work and practice their skills in the mean time.

A couple of things to know about eating at Ellen’s Stardust Diner: there are no reservations so be prepared to wait in a long line (ours was 45 minutes in early June on a Saturday evening) and be sure to bring some cash with you.

You tip your server here the way you would at any restaurant, but there is also a bucket that is passed around where you can add cash to pay for the employees signing, dancing, and acting classes. There is a Venmo code on the bucket, but most people I saw threw cash in instead.

Day Two in New York with kids

Harry Potter Store

If you have a Harry Potter fan in your traveling party, then you absolutely have to visit the Harry Potter New York store! Not only can you find unique merchandise exclusive to the New York store, but the theming of the store is incredible!

We live 30 minutes from Universal Studios Orlando so we have access to pretty amazing Harry Potter merchandise in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I didn’t know if there would be anything worth buying in New York. I was so wrong!

The merchandise here is amazing! You can get everything from wands to robes to books to stuffed animals, including exclusive New York prints, journals, pens, and so much more! There is even a Butterbeer bar!

The store is beautiful and worth a walk around even if you don’t intend to buy anything. You can find the Ministry of Magic phone box, compare shoe sizes with Hagrid, travel down to the basement by Floo Powder, find a basilisk, and climb a rotating staircase like the one that leads to Dumbledore’s office! The whole experience is incredible and so much fun!

Central Park

I have a whole post on things to do in Central Park with kids because this is my kids’ favorite part of the city and there is so much to do there. My favorite thing about the park is that kids can just run around away from the crowds and traffic in the rest of the city where you don’t have to worry about them being hit by a car or getting in peoples way.

Central Park has some amazing playgrounds including Heckscher Playground, which is our favorite. The playground has separate areas for big kids and little kids, plenty of swings, and is all enclosed so you can easily keep track of your little ones. Even more importantly, there are free public bathrooms!

Other areas of the park we love include Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, the Central Park carousel, and of course the Alice in Wonderland statue. There are also plenty of rocks for kids to climb on, ducks to feed in the ponds, and fun pathways to explore.

Stop for a slice of pizza for lunch

There are no shortages of places to get pizza in New York City, from $2 slices at little hole in the wall places to the fancy stuff at high end restaurants. I think most pizza in New York City is pretty great, but I do have a couple of favorites.

The first is Artichoke’s, which has a number of locations across the city. Artichoke’s is famous for its artichoke pizza (pictured above) and it really is amazing, with a rich white sauce that gives it so much flavor. One slice is pretty huge and I’ve never had a problem sharing a slice with my kids.

My second recommendation is Juliana’s Pizza in Brooklyn. They make pizzas the perfect size to share as a family, and the flavors are amazing! We’ve found that lines can sometimes be long, but the pizza is worth the wait!

Visit the 9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial is somewhere that I’d recommend when visiting New York City with kids, but some parts of the memorial are going to be more appropriate for older children. There are some areas for everyone however.

The Memorial Pools sit in the footprints of the North and South Towers, and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. Around the edge of the pools you can find the names of the 2983 people who were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even if children are too young to know anything about 9/11, they’ll appreciate the waterfalls and the tranquility of the plaza surrounding them.

The Oculus is actually a transportation hub that connects different trains and subways, but it’s a tourist attraction in itself. There are various shops, but I think most people come to see the architecture of the building itself. It is absolutely beautiful inside and always seems quite peaceful, even at busy times. There are also bathrooms inside so this is a good spot to stop with kids!

You can also climb up to the One World Observatory, which sits on the 102nd floor of One World Trade Center and offers spectacular views of the city.

If you have older kids, you could also visit the 9/11 Museum. I’ve never visited with my children because they’re still a little young, but I’ve visited as part of a solo trip to the city and it’s somewhere I would absolutely recommend going at some point. There are various exhibits and the ones that might be particularly distressing are clearly marked before entering so you know what you’re going into.

Junior’s Diner for dinner and cheesecake

Junior’s Diner is the perfect place to eat if you’re in the Times Square area and you want a quick bite to eat before a show.

The food is typical diner food (with a slightly higher price tag due to the location) but what you’re actually there for is the cheesecake! Junior’s cheesecake is famous and for good reason: it’s creamy and light and delicious! There are different flavors to choose from including seasonal choices, and it definitely makes my list of the best New York City desserts to try!

Kids will love the fun atmosphere, the comforting no nonsense food, and of course the cheesecake!

Times Square and a Broadway Show

It might be one of the most crowded tourist traps in the world, but you can’t go to New York City with kids and not visit Times Square!

My kids love the hustle and bustle of Times Square. There are plenty of famous shops and restaurants in Times Square, but if all you want to do is walk around then there’s still plenty to see. If it gets a bit busy and overwhelming, then head to the red steps where you can sit and watch all of the entertainment going on around you.

Times Square is also close to Broadway, which is where you can find some of the best shows in the city. There are usually at least a couple of shows appropriate for kids, so it’s worth researching in advance to see what has tickets available, what the age restrictions of certain theatres are, and what your kids might like. Read through this post for more tips on seeing Broadway shows with kids.

Day Three in New York with kids

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

If you’re researching a trip to New York City with kids, then chances are you’ve planned to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This has always been a highlight of my kids trips to New York City, and somewhere I’d definitely recommend making time to visit. It takes a few hours to see everything these two places have to offer, so make sure to leave plenty of time.

While the Statue of Liberty National Monument is free, you need to purchase tickets for the ferry to get there. You can purchase ferry tickets here to travel from either Battery Park in Manhattan or Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

The Statue of Liberty was a fantastic place to visit with kids. There is a Junior Ranger program kids can complete to learn more about the history of the statue, and if you have the National Parks passports then make sure you bring them to have them stamped.

One of my favorite things about visiting the Statue of Liberty was seeing the Manhattan skyline and how it has changed over the years. There are photos from different time periods to show just how the buildings have transformed the skyline, and my kids found that fascinating.

After the Statue of Liberty, the ferry heads to Ellis Island. We spent less time here because my kids were starting to get tired, but we still spent some time walking around and learning about what is was like for those who entered America through Ellis Island. My kids have Italian and Irish heritage and have family members who passed through that way, so it was really interesting for them.

I’d recommend leaving at least half a day to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, even more if your kids are a little older and want to spend more time exploring.

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village is my favorite part of New York City, and it’s a great place to walk around if the weather is nice. It feels so far away from the really touristy spots and is so peaceful compared to places like Times Square. It’s also one of my recommendations for a solo trip to New York City.

There are plenty of great places to eat and little local stores to explore. There are also some fun playgrounds to let kids run off some energy.

If your kids are older (or they’re willing to humor your nostalgia!) then take them to some of the most famous filming spots in this part of the city. You’ll be able to recognize the outside of the Friends apartment at 90 Bedford Street, and Carrie’s apartment from Sex and the City at 64 Perry Street.

Ghostbusters firehouse

Something your kids might find more interesting than filming locations for 90s TV shows is the exterior of the firehouse from the Ghostbusters movie. The fire house is home to Hook and Ladder Company 8 and is still a working firehouse, found at 14 North Moore Street in Tribeca. There’s a cute picture outside to let you know you’re in the right place, and a small store inside where you can buy merchandise.

The High Line

The High Line is another great place to let kids burn off some energy away from the crowds of the city streets. A disused railway line that was turned into an urban garden, The High Line runs from 34th Street to Hudson Yards, and provides some great views of the city. It can get crowded in nice weather, but we’ve never found it unmanageable.

If you end your walk along The High Line at Hudson Yards, then you can find plenty of places to stop for dinner or do a little shopping. You’re also in the perfect spot for your final New York City activity!

Sunset from The Edge

Hands down my favorite place to see the New York City skyline is The Edge at Hudson Yards. The Edge is an observation deck suspended in mid-air 102 stories above the ground. It offers spectacular views of the city at any time of day, but the I think the best are at sunset.

It costs a little more to visit The Edge at sunset, and crowds are unsurprisingly heavier then, but I think it’s worth it. Seeing the colors change across the city as the sun goes down and the lights start to come on is an incredible way to end your trip visiting New York City with kids.