In one of the episodes of the final season of Friends, when Monica and Chandler announce they’re moving out of New York because they don’t want to raise kids in the city, Rachel is genuinely surprised. ‘Ross and I are doing it,’ she says. ‘Sarah Jessica Parker is doing it.’
This has always resonated with me, and 10 years later New York is still one of the most family-friendly cities in the world; in fact it’s probably one of the only cities I would have considered raising a family apart from London (the other being Sydney). Add in the fact that it’s now cleaner and safer than ever and you definitely have the ideal destination for a family city break. Here are my top 10 family things to do in New York:
1. Hang out at Central Park. Whatever time of year you visit, Central Park is a constant source of free fun and total delight for families, with acres of green space and trees, and the added bonus of superb views of the city. In the winter there’s the ice-rink, in the spring and summer there’s always something going on, free concerts and entertainment, plus the carousel. There’s even an utterly charming Swedish Marionette Theatre. On a warm day (and New York can get fiercely hot in summer), grab some hot dogs (remember most hot dogs will be beef not pork) from one of the vans outside the gates and enjoy them strolling around. Take some time to stand on Gapstow Bridge and watch the world go by, or go boating on the lake. Magical – and fantastic people watching for grown-ups as well. Just watch out for the squirrels. Take it from me. Central Park squirrels have no fear.
2. Go up the Empire State Building. It’s the No 1 tourist attraction in New York for a reason, and kids will definitely get a kick out of the ride up in the lift and that birds’ eye view of the city. Not so great if you’re afraid of heights. No 1 Son had to help me walk round the observation deck when we went up there; it’s scary high.
3. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Galleries with giant works of art are fantastic for kids, encouraging their own creativity, and what’s wonderful about MoMA, apart from all the art by the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol and Lichtenstein is that it has lots of hand-on workshops and art labs (plus children under 16 get in free). This is one of our favourite galleries in the world.
4. Take the Circle Line boat tour. On a sunny day this is a brilliant way to get a feel for the city, to see the skyline and the Statue of Liberty, and older kids in particular will be fascinated by Ellis Island. An absolute must-do.
5. Marvel at the displays at The Intrepid Air and Space Museum. With a fantastic location right on the Hudson river, not only will you get the chance to explore a real aircraft carrier, which is pretty thrilling, but you’ll also see aircraft including a Concorde.
6. Check out the American Museum of Natural History. If you took the kids to see Night at the Museum 3 this is guaranteed to be a big hit, with dinosaurs galore as well as various earth and science exhibits. A good one for a rainy day.
7. See the lights at Times Square. The beauty of Times Square is if you have jet-lagged kids, you don’t have to go at night because the lights are on pretty much all the time; and they’re soooo pretty (I took this photo at 9am). Plus with a New York Police Department office right on the doorstep, the chance of seeing real New York cops, their cars and horses is pretty much guaranteed.
8. Take them to a Broadway show. OK, this requires a little more planning and Broadway tickets aren’t cheap. But the production values are superb, and with spectacular shows like Disney’s Aladdin to choose from it’s guaranteed to be something you’ll all always remember.
9. Visit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Admittedly very much a seasonal thing, but a must-do in the winter months: even if you don’t fancy skating you can look at the ice-rink and get that warm glowy New York Christmassy feeling. It’s enchanting.
10. Shop at FAO Schwarz. This is where Tom Hanks did the famous ‘dancing on the piano keys’ in Big (on what’s known as the Big Piano), and it’s packed with toys of every description. No 1 Son and I have always preferred it to Hamley’s, as it’s much more spacious and well laid out, and the displays are really imaginative. My top tip is to give your offspring a set amount to spend and let them make their own decision about what to buy. It will encourage them to get creative, teach them about maths and stop all the ‘please can I have that?’ requests.
So, those are my top 10 family things to do in New York – if you’ve been to the Big Apple (or if you live there) please do feel free to add your own 🙂
*You can find out more about visiting New York at nycgo.