2 Days in New York: A Family Itinerary

You can take a big bite out of the Big Apple even if you only have a little time to spend.

New York is a fantastic city to visit and explore with kids. It’s got the culture (Theater! Museums!) The food (Pizza! Bagels! Absolutely every cuisine you can think of!) and numerous different neighborhoods to roam. It’s also got historic sites, fun pop-ups, incredible views, and enough places to shop, sit, swing, and find serenity to satisfy everyone in your group. Here, a two-day itinerary with kids in New York.

2 Days in New York: Day 1

Start your trip at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, or, as it’s been known to generations of kids, “the dinosaur museum.”

butterfly vivarium natural history

On the second floor of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, the new Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium invites visitors to mingle with nearly 1,000 free-flying butterflies among lush vegetation in tropical temperatures. Alvaro Keding/© AMNH,

You’ll want to check out the dinosaur fossils, of course, as well as the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. The new Gilder Center offers a butterfly vivarium and an insectarium, featuring one of the world’s largest colonies of leafcutter ants. Plus, don’t forget the Planetarium, and of course the blue whale model that dominates the Hall of Ocean Life. You can grab a snack in one of the many cafes, and then head right across the street to Central Park.

What to do? Head to the famed carousel. Featuring 57 carved wooden horse and two chariots, it’s been an iconic symbol of the park since the first model was installed in 1951. Tickets are only $3.50—still one of the city’s best deals.

You could probably spend many hours there, but the Central Park Zoo beckons. If you time your visit properly, you can see the sea lions being fed—always a treat (for you as well as them). Don’t miss the Polar Circle, which features the immensely popular penguins. In the Temperate Territory, you’ll see the red pandas and snow monkeys; while The Tropic Zone: The Rainforest, hosts lemurs, tamarins, and plenty of bats. The Children’s Zoo offers a giant “spiderweb” for climbing, as well as the chance to feed some animals.

You can eat at the museum or grab a hot dog the park, weather permitting, and sit in park bench and people watch. The Loeb Boathouse restaurant just recently reopened as well, for wonderful park and lakeside views.

Peter Roan/Flickr.

If you keep walking east, you’ll come upon the boat pond, featured in the children’s classic Stuart Little. You can rent a mini remote-controlled sailboat or just enjoy the sight of the boats zipping across the water. You’ll also find other children’s book icons in the same area—the Alice in Wonderland statue and the sculpture of famed fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Anderson, both practically begging to be climbed. (Near the entrance to the park on 79th, you’ll see a sculpture of bears by Paul Manship, also prime for climbing. There’s another similar sculpture—not for climbing—inside the Metropolitan Museum, right nearby) Speaking of which, you might be museum-ed-out, but if not, an hour spent in the Egyptian (yes, there are actual mummies) or Arms and Armor galleries in the Met is always a great draw for kids.

Nearby you’ll find some fun stores for kids—the Tiny Dollhouse Store may be tiny, but it’s packed with gorgeously rendered dollhouses and accessories, while Mary Arnold Toys has been serving generations of New York families, and has wonderful old-fashioned toys, from classic stuffed animals to miniature trains.

2 Days in New York: Day 2

seaglass carousel

Start Day 2 downtown, in Battery Park. Where can you take a free ride that takes you past one of New York’ most famous landmarks? The Staten Island Ferry, of course—and the landmark is the Statue of Liberty. You can even go to Staten Island and then turn right around and come back—kids won’t mind at all. Before or after your trip, make sure to take a spin on the SeaGlass Carousel—you’ll feel like you’re in a dreamy underwater nautilus shell. There’s a playground there as well, but if your kids want the full Peter-Pan-no-parents-allowed-creativity-unleashed experience, head to the Yard on Governors Island. Loose materials for building, creating, and even destroying are available, just for kids. (You’ll need to take a ferry there and back.)

While you’re downtown, One World Observatory beckons for amazing views; across the street you’ll find plenty of eating options at Brookfield Place, from ramen to sushi to bagels. You can also visit the 9/11 Memorial—a somber but moving experience, appropriate for older kids. The museum is a separate experience, right nearby.

seaport wavertree

Another option (or add-on): The South Street Seaport, where you can visit the museum, tour several ships docked there, including the 1885 tall ship Wavertree, visit a printmaker, or just grab a snack and look out at the water. Endless varieties of egg sandwiches at Double Yolk are good any time of day, or grab a hand-painted cookie at Funny Face. Kids’ programs are offered often, so check their website. If you need refueling (or presents for everyone back home), head to Economy Candy (candy you won’t find anywhere else, like many varieties of KitKat, as well as old-fashioned treats like macaroons and licorice) or The Evolution Store  (the latter features such offerings as parts of meteorites to scorpion lollipops—yes, actual scorpions.)

If you have more time—or want to swap something out:

katniss selfie madame tussauds

A theater matinee on a Wednesday or Saturday plus a trip to the Museum of Broadway for theater buffs is a definite part of the New York experience. Madame Tussauds is also fun for kids (got Marvel or Ghostbusters fans?), and also located in the Times Square area; and definitely check out the offers at the New Victory Theater, which specializes in exceptional kids’ theater from around the world.

You can also head in the opposite direction—uptown to see the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. When you’re done gazing at the incredible details inside, you can wander the expansive grounds and even eat there on a nice day; don’t miss the outdoor Biblical Garden and the Peace Sculpture, two favorites of kids. You’re also within shouting distance of not one, but two great New York pizza experiences: V&T, for classic thick-crust pizza and heroes, and Koronet Pizza, where each massive pizza slice easily takes up two paper plates—and then some. A stop at the Hungarian Pastry Shop will finish off the meal nicely, from strudel to Linzer tortes to cheesecake.

And even when your trip is done, you may still not feel like you’ve checked everything off your list—and that’s okay. After all, you need something to look forward to—and New York never disappoints.

Got Tweens in Times Square? Here's a great itinerary for two days at "The Crossroads of the World."

About the Author

Evan Levy runs fable & lark, which offers interactive museum tours inspired by great stories. See for all the details. In addition, she's the author of two children's picture books. She loves stories in any form, and lives in New York with her family.

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