One day in New York City with kids: detailed NYC family itinerary to see New York’s main attractions in just a day, with kids in tow.
Few cities in the world excite me as much as vibrant New York. I love how beautiful the city is, how powerful the mix of people on its streets and the endless choice of attractions, things to do, eat and marvel at.
This is why when we had the chance to spend one day in New York City as a family on the way to Utah, I jumped at the opportunity.
Since this was our first time in New York with the kids, I spent aged creating a city itinerary that would allow us to see New York’s highlights and had a reasonable pace.
I had to make compromises but this family itinerary worked for us and this is why I recommend it for a first family visit to NYC.
We had two nights in the city so this itinerary is for one full day in New York City, morning to evening.
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One day in NYC with kids: morning
We flew into New York from Ireland and this meant jet lag helped us have an early start.
Jet lag hits us all pretty hard but, over the course of the years, we have learned some jetlag tricks to make it a little less heavy on us and the kids.
Climb the top of the Empire State Building
We left our hotel at about 8.30 am and we made our way to the nearby Empire State building.
I had planned to only show the kids the lobby, however, when we went, we noticed there was no line at all and couldn’t resist climbing all the way to the top.
We bought tickets at the vending machines and quickly passes thought the empty cordoned areas and made our way to the middle floor and then to the top.
The top of the Empire State Building is every little bit as wonderful as I remembered!
Early in the morning, we were almost alone up there and the light was crisp and bright.
Manhattan laid below us in all its splendor and we were able to show the kids the shape of the city, many of its main landmarks and of course we took a million family photos (they are on Instagram, do you follow us there already? )
This was the best wat to start our day in New York and one of the highlights of our day in NYC for the kids too.
Top Tip: If you are planning on seeing more than one ticketed attractions during your day, you may consider getting the NY City Pass which offers significant discounts on most New York attractions including the Empire State and other attractions mentioned in this post.
Snack in Grand Central Station Food Hall
After the Empire State Building, we walked up towards another main NYC landmark: Grand Central Station.
The station is only a short walk away and perfects to visit with kids under several points of view.
First of all, it is a train station so if you have a train mad child (I know I do), this is a special place!
Second, it has a wonderful food hall downstairs with a huge selection of foods (and free restrooms).
Last but not least, it is shaded, busy and grand, something that makes it a perfect stop in summer, when you may feel like some shade, and in winter, when the new York City cold often demands indoor stops.
Top Tip for families in NYC with kids: downstairs, near the Food Hall, you will find the ‘Whispering Gallery‘. This is an arch built in such a way that voices whispered into one of its corners carry to the opposite one. The corners are far enough from each other to make this a wonder: make sure you whisper really softly for full effect!
Lunch: hot dogs in Central Park
After Grand Central Station we slowly made our way to Central Park.
This is quite a stretch to walk however, there is plenty to see on the way so it is easily done.
You can decide which avenue to walk up (Madison, Fifth or Sixth) and depending on which one you choose you will be able to see Times Square, Trump Tower, the Rockefeller center and radio City music hall.
However you decide to get there, you will then find yourself in front of the Plaza and Central Park, a wonderful green oasis and a welcome relief after the urban jungle adventure of your morning!
Central Park is massive and you can easily spend a day in New York City with kids just here, however, we decided to only take a short break here and indulge in the quintessential New York city treat: a hot dog!
We decided to spend the second part of the afternoon in Lower Manhattan so, for the first time this day, we tackled the NY subway system.
The metro system in NYC works well however, it is not straight forward for first-time users so I do recommend planning a little bit extra time to identify the right station and train for you.
The excellent thing about it is that once you are in, the trains are fast and air-conditioned plus kids go free!
Oculus and World Trade Center
One of the reasons why I wanted to take the metro to lower Manhattan was the World Trade Center NYC station and the so-called Oculus.
The Oculus is the PATH transit hub and a NYC landmark and a wonderful place to visit thanks to its beautiful architecture and futuristic feel.
Built by architect Calatrava, the Oculus is a large space operating as a train station, pedestrian passage and shopping center and it a modern and bright space.
Inside, the main thing you notice is the white beams supporting its pointy roof, from which natural light floods in.
From the outside, the structure is even more impressive as is looks like a bird with wings spread ready to take off!
How to get there: take the metro to Fulton street or Cortland street or the PATH to the World Trade Center (WTC)
Once in the Oculus you find yourself in the World Trade Center, which is an interesting and powerful area full of things to do for adults and children
Since we were short on time, we only truly took the time to see the fountains at the Twin Towers Memorial and it was worth every second.
Our kids are too young to know or understand what 9/11 was about but the place is the perfect opportunity to introduce them to it and its lessons.
The fountains are very powerful and surprisingly easy to visit with kids.
A park surrounds them and several plaques allow you to explain as much or as little about the events of that day to your kids, tailoring the experience to what is most comfortable for you and your family.
Beside the fountains, there is also the museum but as I mentioned, we had several things we wanted to od on the day and therefore skipped it.
If you want to visit, the entrance to the museum is included in the New York City pass offering and can make the pass cost worth it.
Wall Street and the Fearless Girl statue
Our next stop was by special request of my daughter and was a visit to the statue of the fearless girl.
The girl first appeared on wall street a few years ago and wow, she is mighty!
She stands right in front of the Wall Street Stock Exchange and stares at it, hands on her hips: she is not messing and making sure the men inside know she is there watching!
She is wonderful and a fantastic thing to see in New York with kids: at the start, you may not see her as she is the same size as a 7-year old-girl (tiny) but her mini size is just what makes her so powerful.
This is a must-see for any child in New York City, girl or boy!
Battery Park and the Glass carousel
At this point, we were ready for some green space and a snack and so we headed to Battery park, the point of Manhattan overlooking the sea.
This is a wonderful place to visit with kids.
The park itself is lovely, it has a nice cafe, views over the Statue of Liberty and also something very special, the Glass Carousel.
The Glass Carouses is just what it sounds, a carousel, but it is special. Its theme is the sea and you don’t ride horses but glass seashells and seahorses!
The whole experience is magical: we took two rounds and it was one of the highlights of our family day in NYC.
Top Tip: as you approach Battery Park you will find tons of people trying to sell you tickets of the Statue of Liberty. Avoid them! Only go to the official seller (in the park) for real tickets and regulated prices.
Late afternoon: the high line
I had one more thing on my New York bucket list and this was a walk along the High Line.
This is a little bit of a detour from where we were but it was wonderful and really worked for us: the Highline in the late afternoon is quiet, shaded, beautiful and a super interesting place to visit with kids.
The high line used to be a train line running above the city and now is effectively a suspended park.
There are no cars here, so kids can walk and even run safely, the space has wonderful art and is it a wonderful mix of urban yet green vibes. A must!
How to get there: the High Line has several access points, some by stairs and some by elevator. You can find access info here.
Something special. I know this will not be for everyone but we took a family tango class while in the area and it was super fun! Our teacher had a studio close to the High Line and gave a class to both us and the kids – it was fun, we learned loads and the class was in the same building as auditions for musical. If you ever loved’ Fame’ as a teenager, you can understand my excitement. So special!
Dinner in the Village
I love the Village so when we planned our day in NYC with the kids we made sure we would spend the evening here.
it was as special as we thought it would be.
The Village is very family-friendly, its small streets being perfect for a leisurely walk, and we found lots of cafes that were kid-friendly enough to allow us to have a drink and our kids a soda.
This was lovely as we may never find ourselves in NYC again on our own and so it was nice to have a ‘night out in the village’ even with the kids!
For dinner, we had a reservation at The Little Owl and it was wonderful.
The restaurant is in the same building where Friends was shot (or more accurately, the building serving as the outside of Monica’s house) and while not for kids as such, it welcomed our kids and served them what my daughter defined ‘the most delicious meatballs ever’.
It was the perfect end to the perfect day in New York City.
Where to base yourself for a day in NYC with kids
We thought long and hard about where to stay in NYC with the kids and ended up with a wonderful pick: The Redbury Hotel in Mid Town Manhattan.
The hotel is perfectly located to allow easy sightseeing (a short walk from many attractions), it has lovely family rooms, a good family-friendly Pizzeria on-site (Marta Manhattan – they give kids dough to play while they wait to be served!) and it also has a Starbucks around the corner perfect for breakfast.
I highly recommend it!
One day in New York with kids: final considerations
We adored our day in New York and while it was not enough to see everything, we manage to see so much, we felt we made the absolute most of our time.
We walked A LOT on this day and I am aware not all kids will be able to do as much.
Because of this, I will add two alternatives, which we visited the morning after but could well be done in one day, should you decide to skip the High line.
They are both close to Battery Park.
Ferry To Staten Island: this is a FREE ferry and the ride offers wonderful views over the Statute of Liberty. Info here.
The Seaport District: The Seaport district is a car-free area in between Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge full of restaurants, quirky shops and outdoor art installations. A lovely place (albeit pricey for meals) for slowing down in summer especially. Info here.
With a short walk from there, you can also catch sight of the Brooklyn Bridge, the one thing we didn’t get to walk this time!
I hope you enjoyed this NCY itinerary and it was useful to help you plan your own day in New York City with kids. Safe travels!