New York City Family Trip - 4 Days Of Kid Things To Do In NYC (on a budget)
New York, New York- the city that never sleeps... visiting this lively city is the perfect American experience- nothing quite encapsulates the diversity of the United States like a trip to NYC! This New York City Itinerary with Kids covers 4 days of (mostly free) things to do on your next family trip to NYC!
New York can get expensive, quickly- especially when looking for kid things to do in NYC. Here's how we planned our New York City family trip on a budget- with 5 kids including a TEEN, tween, big kid, toddler and a BABY! (For reference our kids ages were 15, 10, 7, 2.5 and 1 year.)
So how do you visit a HUGE and VERY BUSY city with 5 kids, while still managing your family travel on a budget?!? Well, you do it AWOL style! 😜
Rule #1 when you travel AWOL style: Relax and enjoy.
We NEVER (and I mean NEVER) plan too many things for one day.
Aside from the fact that we've got little feet trying to keep up, little ones get tired and big kids get bored.
Unless your teens are avid history buff adventurers, it's likely that they are going to get a few hours into sightseeing and start asking when you're heading back to the hotel.
A more relaxed schedule allows us to prioritize what's important, and gives us time to rest if the kids get overwhelmed and need a break.
Plus, if you're so busy rushing from sight to sight, you miss a lot of the beauty and you can't really relax...
So one thing I've learned from our family world travel is to eliminate as many deadlines as possible so you can really soak it all up and enjoy it at your own pace.
We also work for ourselves (online), so we try to balance our days to squeeze in at least a little bit of work before we leave the hotel.
That said, our general time for sightseeing tends to be 4-6 hours. By the time we've been out that long, our kids are tired, we're spent, and everyone is excited to head back.
So, if you're looking for a New York City family trip with TONS of activities planned, this might not be your favorite post.
But if you're looking for a good balance of kid things to do in NYC that were actually ENJOYABLE and FUN for the whole family, please stay and read awhile. This is a LOoOoOoNG post. 🥰
Before diving into our awesome itinerary and NYC family vacation tips, let's talk about where to stay and why we chose the hotels we did.
Where to stay in New York City with kids when on a budget?
Family friendly hotels can get pricey in New York unless you sacrifice on quality! We got lucky with a couple good choices!
Before explaining where we stayed (and why), I want to give a quick disclaimer:
We usually keep our family travel on a budget. This means we might sometimes cut out some amenities or niceties that we could otherwise have if we chose to spend more.
It's just my own personal opinion that money spent on those niceties is money that could be spent on another trip and right now our travel goal is to explore as many places as possible.
But this is totally personal, and your travel budget will be different than ours, as will the priorities and perks that you look for during your trips.
That said, please take the advice in this post as simply a suggestion, and always do what you feel is most comfortable for your family.
Okay, whew, glad I got that out of the way. 😜 Back to the family friendly NYC hotels conversation...
Since this was our first family trip to NYC, we ended up staying at two different hotels, just because we had a few days to the beginning of our trip than we originally planned for.
While finalizing our plans, we discovered that we had some extra money in the budget (which almost NEVER happens), so we totally took advantage of the opportunity to stay in New York longer!
This gave us a total of 4 FULL days in NYC, plus 2 more days for travel (coming and going).
Our first hotel was The Belvedere Hotel, in Hell's Kitchen, which was about 10 minutes walking distance from Times Square.
Our second hotel was The Hotel St. James (about a 5 minutes walk from Times Square).
While Hell's Kitchen doesn't sound particularly family friendly, it was actually a great spot to stay!
The Belvedere was quite comfortable and we were close to many of the things we wanted to see and do during our trip! And the location fit perfectly into our fun-filled 'New York City with kids' itinerary and all of the places we planned to visit! 🤩
While there were more affordable hotel options, we wanted something VERY centrally located so we could avoid taking our little ones on the crowded NYC public transportation as much as possible.
Little kids + Subway/Bus/Train = Chaos.
It was worth it to us to spend a little extra $$ on the hotels rather than subway fees anyways. 😉
Some people definitely prefer to stay outside of the island of Manhattan and get better hotels rates, but it's really up to what you want your overall experience to be like.
If you ARE going to be doing some travel by plane, train or bus, check out our post of 5 Must Have Travel Items That Make Traveling Easier) to see some cool family travel gear we've found and a few things that make traveling easier with OUR kids on long journeys.
In terms of hotel rooms, we also helped to cut costs by squishing into a double room with two queen beds instead of choosing a family suite.
Luckily, we have 4 girls and a baby boy, so we put the three older girls in one queen, put our 2.5 yo girl in our bed with us, and got a cot/crib from the hotel for the baby. It was a tight fit, but it was worth it!
In the end, the Belvedere Hotel was the better choice between the two, and ironically cheaper during the dates we were searching. They were updated, modern and had all of the amenities you would need for a family of our size. It was perfect for us!
The Hotel St James definitely had that more realistic 'New York' feeling like you see in movies.
But since they were much more old-fashioned, the hotel room only had one extra outlet (besides the tv) and there were heat pipes that had us panicked whenever a baby got too close.
(I've seen that the Hotel St James has done some recent renovations since our stay, but I haven't seen it myself, and am not sure how much was updated, so I'm just going with our own actual experience.)
Plus, LOOK at our view from the Belvedere! (Yes, that's our sweet toddler looking out the window. 🥰)
We were super excited to be a few minutes walk from Times Square, so of course that was our first day itinerary. I want to stress, of course that we NEVER plan actual activities on travel days. Those days are just chaotic all on their own.
Nobody wants to deal with a toddler meltdown after long trips, so after arriving we just veg out at the hotel, grab dinner, and rest for our busy vacation ahead! 💗
One of the best family vacation tips we've been told over the years was to make sure hotels are comfortable, but not to get too crazy because you're probably only sleeping there. Don't spend unecessary money on amenties and perks you wont use.
I think these hotels gave us a GREAT balance of comfort (and beauty) without breaking our travel budget.
Now that we've got hotels covered, let's talk about activities.
We stayed in New York in late November, so holiday celebrations were in full swing.
That affected some of our activities, but many of the things we did would be fun at any time of the year!
Day One of Our Kid Things to do in NYC Itinerary - Times Square
Our first full day involved A LOT of walking! We spent most of our time exploring Times Square, because it's really not very big and only takes a few hours to navigate from end to end so it seemed like a good first stop.
But since our luggage was carefully packed for minimalism (we were going directly from NYC to Europe as part of our larger move abroad with family), we didn't want to spend very much money- IF ANY- on shopping, and Times Square is basically like an outdoors mall, with lots of shops and stores to visit.
That being said, window shopping in Times Square was VERY fun! There was also an ADORABLE little Christmas shop complete with a few moving displays inside.
Next we hit up the M&M's World store. Of course, this was one store where we definitely spend a bit of cash and not worry about luggage space. 😉 The kids loved it!
We wandered around the various floors checking out all of the themed merchandise and then let the kids fill up little bags of M&Ms in any color they could possibly imagine.
There was also a section where you could personalize M&Ms with pictures or names as well, if you wanted to.
We had a great time exploring the different stores, most of which were decked out in holiday decor and gave off a wonderfully festive vibe.
We also took our time crossing the few different crosswalks, feeling like we were in the movies and soaking up the NYC vibe.
Outside the stores, there were several people around the street dressed up in costumes taking pictures with tourists. So we spent some time ducking between crowds, people watching, shopping, and snacking.
This brings me to the subject of food.
We were pretty tired after traveling to NYC the night before, so we slept in and grabbed a late breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Lunch was essentially comprised of street-side vendor snacks, so we could get the real New York travel experience.
For dinner, we found an awesome little pizza place right near the hotel.
It was small and crowded, but the pizza was dripping with grease and DELICIOUS!
Because I was in full-on travel-mom-is-wiped-out mode by the end of this first day, I didn't think to grab the name of the place, but I'm pretty sure it was just called Hells Kitchen Pizza. 🤪
There seems to be a pizza place on every corner in NYC and of the few we've tried so far, we have not been disappointed!
A quick travel with kids tip: Eating at food trucks around New York did cause some tummy upset. Something to settle little tummies (tums, kids pepto, etc) would have been really nice to have had in our day packs.
So as a quick breakdown of Day 1, we:
Shopped around Times Square
Explored the giant M&M store (and ate a LOT of M&Ms, oops!)
Explored the holiday decorations and costumed people around the square
Ate yummy pizza at a local spot (just like in the movies)
Went back to the hotel and crashed, tired, full and happy.
This was by far our easiest day, and we spent most of it just soaking up that New York feeling.
Our Family Trip To NYC Itinerary Day Two - Historical New York
Our second day, we did this AMAZING food and history tour that we found on TripAdvisor.
Our oldest (almost 16) is a huge foodie, and we wanted to do something special that we knew she would love.
Plus, even though we were trying to travel to New York on a budget, the reviews all said this was one of the best NYC tours for families, so we gave it a chance!
The food and history tour was the perfect choice- and since it was 3 hours long, it made for a great way to spend the afternoon.
Our guide walked us through the history of each neighborhood and the city as a whole.
We checked out the old neighborhoods like Little China and Little Italy, saw many gorgeous city buildings, and got to hear stories that brought the whole city together.
Plus, the food was fantastic! We started the tour with a Stroopwafel- a Dutch waffle that is very thin and has a caramel layer inside. Yum!
Those little things are heaven, and we often look for them in supermarkets now.
Next, we ate dumplings in Little China, and then tried some fresh mozzarella in Little Italy.
Moving on to a Jewish bakery, we tried a few of their different knishes, which were as delicious to eat as it is fun to say. 😍
I'm not exaggerating when I say that the whole experience was mindblowing.
Learning about the history of the city and cultures that came together was almost as awesome as trying the food in the various neighborhoods.
Even though the food tour was not the cheapest, it was totally worth it when considering it counts as a filling meal also- plus kids 5 and under were free! Total score! In case you're interested, the tour we took was the Lower East Side Food and Culture Tour.
After a brief nap/work break at the hotel, we went to the incredibly beautiful St. Patrick's Cathedral, in Manhattan.
It is absolutely stunning, and it's #5 on Trip Advisor's list of top things to do in NYC!
But to be honest, this stop was mostly for me, since I'm a huge history lover and architectural aficionado. 😉
If you have any interest in architecture, this is worth a visit, The pictures simply cannot do it justice.
The cathedral was built in 1879, which makes it even more amazing.
See those spires at the top of my photo?!? They stand 330 feet from the ground!
There's also an insanely huge organ inside, unbelievable stained glass windows- basically everything you'd expect to see from a 13th century Gothic-style church. 😍