Updated: Jun 3
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?!? Well, you do it AWOL style! 😜
Rule #1 when you travel AWOL style: 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 traveling 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. 🥰
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 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 my personal opinion that money spent on those niceties is money that could be spent on another trip.
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. 😜
Since it was our first family trip to NYC, we ended up staying at two different hotels, after adding a few days to the beginning of our trip.
We had some extra money in the budget than we originally planned for, that almost NEVER happens, so we totally took advantage! This gave us a total of 4 FULL days in NYC, plus the 2 days for travel (coming and going).
Our first hotel was The Belvedere Hotel, in Hell's Kitchen (about 10 minutes walking distance from Times Square) and 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 'New York City with kids' itinerary! 🤩
While there were more affordable 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.
We helped cut costs by squishing into a double room with two queen beds. 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 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! 💗
Now that we've got hotels covered, let's talk 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 Kid Things to do in NYC - Times Square
Our first full day involved A LOT of walking! We spend 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), 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 snacking.
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!
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! (That's okay though, 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. 😍
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at the Sombrero Mexican Restaurant. It was super close to the Belvedere, and BEYOND yummy! (It was authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, in case that factors into your food preferences.)
The tacos were heavenly with their soft corn shells, and the guacamole was divine! I may or may not have also enjoyed a delicious margarita with my dinner.
For the quick breakdown of Day 2, we:
Did an amazing (and delicious) 3 hour food & history tour of NYC
Took a short nap/work break during the afternoon
Visited the glorious St Peter's Cathedral
Ate dinner at the Sombrero Mexican restaurant
Went back to the hotel and crashed, tired, full and happy.
This was a really fun and fulfilling day, and we still talk about that food tour often!
Family Trip To New York City Day Three - Central Park, Rockefeller Center, & Holiday Lights
Our third day of our New York City family trip was spent exploring the famous Central Park. We literally spent ALL DAY at the park.
It was not only enormous, but our kids never got bored! They have the obvious family-friendly fun bringer: playgrounds- but more than that, our kids enjoyed walking along the many pathways! We didn't even see the whole thing, and we spent maybe 4-5 hours (or more??) exploring!
Our kids (even our teen!) had fun looking for fall foliage and throwing the huge fall leaves into the air, followed by climbing onto the many massive rocks and boulders throughout the park.
It was a great way to make memories, as our oldest kids played and goofed along with the littler ones.
There were also a few beautiful police horses walking around on their patrols, which brought some extra excitement as well.
While exploring the walking trails, there are several little shops and cafes scattered strategically so that you can grab a coffee, glass of wine, or even buy a little nature book.
We also stopped at a hot dog vendor parked inside, like they have in so many movies set in NYC.
Budget tip: It was WAY cheaper to eat at the hot dog vendor in the park than at one of the cafes, and we our kids were stoked about having a hot-dog lunch after pointing out how we were EXACTLY like Giselle in the movie Enchanted! (Because with 4 daughters, we know that movie quite intimately. 🤣🤣🤣)
That being said, we DO NOT recommend eating at a street vendor out in the actual city- they tend to be high priced for not such great food. Unless, of course, you're into the whole kid with a stomach ache thing. 😉 (We've learned that lesson the hard way!)
After a bit more Central Park exploration, we were pretty wiped out, so we rested for a few hours at the hotel (again) before going back out and exploring the nearby city streets.
Remember what I said at the start of this post about being a laid-back, kid friendly itinerary? Afternoon naps are seriously underrated on the family travel schedule circuit.
Even the big kids appreciate having a few hours to enjoy their tablets, phones, or whatever while the little ones nap and mom and dad got caught up on emails and to-do lists. We definitely suggest that adding in naps when planning what to do in New York City for kids (or anywhere, really),
Once it got dark, we decided to venture out and look at the many amazing holiday lights displays around the city.
Since it was the end of November, a lot of the holiday lights were already up, giving us the perfect and FREE opportunity to entertain our kids for FREE for a couple of hours. (Did I mention it was free?!?)
Many of the big department stores and historical or cultural centers in Manhattan create stunning holiday displays, often with music and moving parts, and sometimes even light displays on the sides of the buildings, and we definitely wanted to see as much as possible!
Our hotel (the Hotel St James) was smack in the middle of Manhattan, so we walked down to Macy's and worked our way past the skating rink at Bryant Park (another great family activity if you haven't wandered Central Park all day).
Also, the Plaza Hotel (yes- THE Plaza Hotel from Home Alone 2) is right across the street from the Menorah, so that's always a fun lobby to peek into if your kids enjoy that movie.
We definitely experienced the 'whats-what' of New York holiday displays! 🥳
And of course, we had to make a pit-stop for hot chocolate (and coffee for us grownups!)along the way to really capture that holiday spirit.
We also found some awesome Christmas lights set up around the area, and saw a lot of other neat stuff we hadn't expected- like a LEGO store in Rockefeller Center that had window displays of the whole city block duplicated in little LEGOs! The kids loved looking at it, they even made a little Lego ice skating rink!
(PS- these pictures cannot even begin to show how amazing the displays were- most of them had moving parts, and music, but unfortunately my phone camera could not keep up well enough to really capture the magic. It is a definite must-see in person activity!)
Our original plan for dinner was to visit the famous Tony's Di Napoli Italian restaurant, but by this point, we were just plum tired!
Toddler whining was at a high, and we had gotten a little off path looking at lights, so we fired up the GPS to get back to our hotel and stopped at a yummy bakery called Schmackary's Cookies to grab some gourmet cookies and cheesecake for a fun snack on the way.
It was the perfect compliment to our evening, and although cookies weren't the healthiest dinner (especially considering the hot chocolate from earlier), they were very rich and filling!
Our kids ended up passing out on the hotel beds before we could even think about changing into clean clothes and getting something more sustainable to eat! I guess that's the ultimate sign of a day well traveled!
For our breakdown recap of Day 3, we:
Explored the beauty and serenity of Central Park (for hours!)
Grabbed lunch from the yummy hot dog stand, just like Giselle did
Enjoyed a brief nap/work break to give the kids' legs a well deserved rest
Went on a Manhattan Holiday Display hunt, exploring the lights and festivities while sipping our hot cocoa
Stopped at Schmackery's for some yummy treats
Returned to the hotel and watched our kids pass out from sheer exhaustion before even eating any real (non-sugary) food of substance (oops!)
I think this day was probably our favorite day of the whole New York City family trip- and even though our legs hurt for a few days after all that walking, it was TOTALLY worth it!
(P.S.- If you haven't already seen our top 5 things that make family travel easier, read this post!)
NYC Family Itinerary Day Four - Wall Street & The Staten Island Ferry
Our last day in NYC was probably the least busy, especially considering how much we walked the day before.
In hindsight, I probably should have broken up our itinerary so that the Holiday Display exploration was on a different day than Central Park, but too late now! 🤪 We honestly didn't expect to spend so long in the park, but it was such a great time!
Anyhoo, back to Day 4.
Our original plan was to go down to the Statue of Liberty and take our own little tour around.
There are some ferries/tours which you can purchase tickets and they take you directly to the statue so you can walk around and explore.
Unfortunately, our littlest one was rapidly coming down with a cold and low fever.
We stopped at a cute, modern looking cafe called Bluestone Lane, which had delicious coffee and some pretty-looking breakfast sandwiches that were quickly devoured by all the little fingers around our table.
They also had nitro brew (or is it called nitro coffee), so we gave that a try to see what the hype was all about! (Side note: I wasn't a fan of the carbonation feel.)
After filling up on caffeine and ham & cheese croissants, we headed for our first ever New York subway ride!
Now this was quite an adventure for our kids because it was their first time riding the NYC subway, and as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans, they were excited to see what the hype was all about.
After taking the subway down to Wall Street, we stopped to explore the famous area- and of course visit the Fearless Girl statue (which was partially blocked off at the time).
Next time we visit New York City with the kids, I will definitely book a tour for Wall Street. I feel like it could have had so much more learning potential for the kids if we'd had a more professional way to explore.
Another thing I would change about this day was that I definitely regretted taking the NYC subway.
If we had to do it again, I would probably have hired a taxi instead, because there were a few scary moments on the subway with our little ones and so many (many) people.
Now that we're a bit more traveled (and our kiddos a bit bigger) it probably wouldn't be so intimidating, but if it's your first time in such a big city, NYC's massive subway system might be a little overwhelming when tackling it with small children.
Once we were on the ferry, things were back in full touristy-bliss mode. The kids had a fun time going out to the deck, and exploring the large boat.
Being on the large ferry was an experience in itself, and I was so happy to see how much the kids loved it, even our cranky baby was delighted!
Since the ferry only passes by the Statue of Liberty, the views of the actual statue weren't the greatest, but the views of the water and the bridge were spectacular!
On the way back, the sun was setting, which really made it worthwhile. We got sunset views of the NYC skyline and the statue. 💗 And of course, we got the added perk of sitting to enjoy the ride!
After the ferry ride, we made our way back to Manhattan. For dinner on our last night in the Big Apple, we enjoyed a DELICIOUS meal at Connolly's Pub & Restaurant, which was close to our second hotel. The Irish cuisine was not only yummy, but very filling! The atmosphere was fun and we really enjoyed our visit.
Finally, we returned back to the hotel to get a good night's rest before a big day of overseas travel tomorrow.
Here's our breakdown of Day 4's NYC itinerary:
Had a fun coffee shop breakfast at Bluestone Lane
Experienced our first NYC subway ride
Explored Wall Street
Took the Staten Island Ferry around the Statue of Liberty
Enjoyed a yummy Irish dinner at Connolly's Pub & Restaurant
Returned to the hotel after a day well enjoyed
For our last day in the city, we really enjoyed it- well, most of it. The sketchy subway ride aside, it was a fantastic and fun-filled day! 😅
The next morning, we got up bright and early, and repacked our strategically planned luggage. With 5 kids and two adults, luggage can be tricky!! (See our Family Travel Hacks section for info on how we do it all.)
After getting everything ready, we checked out of our hotel and took a taxi bus to the JFK airport.
Next stop? EUROPE!!! Woohoo!
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