New York has always been an adult city to me. I associated it with fabulous shopping, interviewing celebrities and cocktail fuelled nights at Bungalow 8 and Pastis. So when my husband got a part in the Globe’s American tour of King Lear, I tagged along for the Manhattan leg with my son Noah.
The great thing about travelling with boys is their love of vehicles – everything is an adventure and from the moment we touched down at JFK, Noah was mesmerised by the yellow taxis and the sheer size of the American trucks, which put our UK lorries in the shade. And find me a young boy who doesn’t love hopping on and off trains. The subway is ideal adventure territory and will have you speeding to exciting destinations all over town.
But while summer in the city offers up Central Park as your default playground, when the East coast chill envelops the city, its time for your little explorer to discover all the treasure buried in New York’s spanking museums, kids shops and fabulous, child-friendly eateries. New York is a young boy’s playground with an exhaustive list of things to do – the only problem you’ll have is trying to fit everything in.
If you only have time to do one thing, you must visit the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West Side at 79th St). It blew our socks off. It is vast, so allow at least 4 hours and with older children it would be easy to lose a day here. This is the place for budding palaeontologists or future Chris Packhams. The dinosaur collection is jaw-dropping – send your boy on a mission to find the Stegosaurus or Triceratops. There are copious halls of mammals and reptiles, and that’s before you’ve ventured into Space. When your feet ache, head to the Imax Cinema. We caught a 3D documentary on the Great White Shark – just the ticket for a 3 year old.
The museum’s prime location on the family-orientated Upper West Side also means you’ll be hard pressed to choose between the myriad child-friendly eateries to hit afterwards. A New York burger experience is never to be missed though and nearby Shake Shack (Colombus at 77th St) or 5 Napkin Burger (Broadway at 84th St) won’t let you down.
Dinosaur enthusiasts with more time and a willingness to leave Manhattan should go on a Jurassic adventure to Field Station: Dinosaur. A 20-acre woodland, stuffed with life size, realistic models, it’s just 20 minutes from Penn Station on the New Jersey Transit. Kids can get stuck in at the dig site and uncover real fossils with their team of palaeontologists.
A must for any fire engine lover The New York City Fire Museum (Spring St and Hudson Ave) is downtown in an old Beaux-Arts firehouse. Stuffed with an array of old engines including the original horse-drawn steamies, kids can dress up in the uniform, and parents can take in the moving 9/11 memorial and exhibition. Pick up super cool FDNY t-shirts for little fire fighters. The only drawback is kids aren’t allowed in the engines.
To complete your New York transport experience hitch a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. This is one of the only things in New York that is still free so take advantage. Not only do you get stonking views of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and bridges, you also pass the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. If you can prize boy from boat, the Staten Island Children’s Museum (1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island) is stuffed with interactive exhibits from giant chess pieces to the opportunity to build your own igloo.
Older children will love hunting down Egyptian Mummies and suits of armour at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Central Park East Side at 85th St). There are tours and craft projects to keep them entertained, but little ones may be more interested in climbing the priceless Egyptian tombs or getting dangerously close to a Jackson Pollock.
Of course, there are times when nothing beats a great burn off in the fresh air, however chilly. Luckily, New York is a city packed with playgrounds. The Ancient Playground in Central Park opposite the Met is a destination playground that has seen a $3 million revamp. The design is inspired by the museum, there is a pyramid to climb, an obelisk, 9 slides (including twisty ones), bridges, tunnels, a sandpit, water feature and tyre swings. This is one of 21 playgrounds scattered around Central Park and there is a program to revamp them all to this high standard.
Bleecker Street Playground, (Hudson St, Bleecker St. and W. 11 St.) is nicknamed the celebrity playground due to its trendy Greenwich Village location, and is a great spot if you’re staying downtown. This small but packed space has a ubiquitous twisty slide but the winner here is the collection of ride on cars and bikes. And it’s opposite the Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street and W.11th St). While New Yorkers may have moved on to the cronut (and beyond – it’s the doughscuit now apparently), the chocolate cupcakes and banana pudding from the bakery that started the cupcake craze are still worth the queue.
If you are looking for something more substantial, rub shoulders with the locals at tiny, family run pizza joint John’s of Bleecker Street (278 Bleecker St between 6th & 7th Avenue). It’s a great leveler. Jack Black loves it, as do the host of celebs pictured on the walls by the rest rooms, but don’t let that put you off, everyone comes to enjoy delicious, authentic thin-crust pizza.
If you can bear the idea of ice cream in winter, head over the Brooklyn Bridge to the corner of Old Fulton and Water Street where the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory awaits. A trendy converted fireboat house in Brooklyn Heights it serves up milk shakes, sundaes, banana splits, ice cream sandwiches… you name it. Just be prepared to wait in line.
Sometimes there is just no getting away from the classic New York experiences, and no trip is complete without a mission to the Hamleys of New York FAO Schwarz, (5th Avenue at 58th St). Packed with huge stuffed toys, Lego, an array of superheroes, a tempting sweet shop, Muppet workshop and most importantly for little chaps, an extensive trains, trucks and cars department. You can easily lose an afternoon.
If time and patience allow, a less commercial shopping experience can be found at Teich Toys and Books (Hudson St at W11th St), which sells classic and tasteful old school toys and imaginative children’s books.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Don’t forget to apply for your ESTAs online at least 72 hours prior to arrival.
- If you’re planning on doing more than a couple of activities it’s worth buying a multi attraction pass (such as the CityPass or Explorer Pass) from NYC & Company for significant discounts on entry fees. Also check out their Curious George itineraries for children.
- Stay for a week. A long weekend in New York is the reserve of the childless. City tripping is only a pleasure if there’s no jetlagged toddler in tow.
- Bookmark Time Out New York Kids and the kids pages of the New York Magazine on your tablet and phone. They’re the only guides you need.
Ticky Hedley-Dent is a features writer and author. She has one son aged 3 and another boy on the way. Her perfect winter Sunday consists of an adventure with her son and husband in Richmond Park, followed by a delicious roast, a movie and some smooth red wine. Her debut novel Murder In Chelsea (Quartet Books) is out now. Follow Ticky on Twitter.
DISQUS: Do you live in New York with children? Know somewhere really fab in or around the city that families shouldn’t miss? Let us know in the comments below.