Family Travel Survival Guide: New York City

Top Attractions
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Aerial View of Central Park in New York City
OLMSTED’S MASTERPIECE: Take to the park where the kids can run free for a bit (Corbis)

Times Square
Walking down Broadway under the flashing lights with hordes of people feels thrilling no matter how many times you experience it. Fake Gucci handbags and Rolex watches, hot pretzels and peanuts, T-shirts, and shoes are all for sale on the street. Artists set up shop on the sidewalks and draw names in colorful patterns resembling dragons, pandas, and dolphins. Broadway musicals include family favorites such as Mary Poppins, Hairspray, Wicked, Legally Blonde, and the long-running The Lion King. Try to get discount tickets at the half-price ticket booth on Broadway and 47th Street. Tickets go on sale at 3:00 p.m. for nightly performances and 10:00 a.m. for matinees. It's best to get there 30 minutes before opening time, when the line starts to form.

American Museum of Natural History
There's so much to see here, it's hard to know where to start. Have the kids watch Ben Stiller's Night at the Museum before you arrive—a good primer. I'd probably go to the Rose Center for Earth and Space and get tickets for the Robert Redford-narrated film in the planetarium, and then visit that nasty T-rex and other dinosaurs in the natural science collection on the fourth floor, along with as many animal exhibits as possible before the kids tire. By then you've earned the right to run down the front steps and walk across the street into…

Central Park
An urban oasis, that, like the locals, you'll crave after running around the concrete jungle of Manhattan. Take time to frolic through Frederick Law Olmsted's masterpiece of landscape architecture. Rent bikes and pedal the six-mile loop, go boating on the lake, picnic on the Great Lawn, get lost in the Rambles (a wild garden), or simply hit one of the many playgrounds and let the children get their ya-yas out. There's also a small zoo and an ice skating rink that has far less people than the one at Rockefeller Center.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Spend some time at the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, housed in a specially built, glass-walled gallery, and you'll quickly realize that the Met is no ordinary art museum. In fact, it's the number one site in Manhattan, averaging five million visitors annually. You can join the crowds at the popular 19th-Century European Paintings and Sculpture Galleries to see the many works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, and Cezanne, but the kids will be far more impressed by the magical period rooms. Make your way to the Islamic Art rooms on the second floor, where you'll find the Damascus' Nur Ad-Din House. Dated 1707, this elaborate room was created for a wealthy Syrian family during the Ottoman Empire. Then high-step it into the Asian Art galleries to Astor Court—deep in the recesses of the Chinese Art section, stroll a circular walkway into the pagoda-lined room. To the left, goldfish swim in a small pond under a steady stream of water. Sit down on one of the benches to the right and watch the sunlight sift through the glass ceiling directly onto the palm fronds. You have found tranquility in New York.

Empire State Building
Follow in the large footsteps of King Kong and head to the top of the 102-story beauty, created in 1931 in the popular art deco style of the time. The 86th floor stop is actually more fun than the top, because you get to go outside, drop quarters into the viewfinder and check out the many rooftop pools atop Manhattan's buildings. To skip the lines, pay the extra couple bucks and buy your tickets online. Another great savings is the New York City Pass, which gives you tickets to the Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty (or an option to cruise around Manhattan on Circle Line), Museum of Modern Art, and Guggenheim. Cost is $74 for adults, $54 for kids.

Statue of Liberty
Visitors can no longer walk the 354 steps to Lady Liberty's crown, but a new observation deck on the statue's pedestal, some 16 stories up, offers close-up views of the statue and New York Harbor. The pedestal observation platform is only accessible to people who have tickets for the Observatory Tour. The other option, the Promenade Tour, takes guests through the lobby, past the original torch to a Statue of Liberty exhibit, and then outside to the Lower Promenade for views of downtown Manhattan.

Board the ferry for the 20-minute ride at Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan. Like the Empire State Building, you can purchase tickets in advance from Statue Cruises. Admission to Ellis Island is also included in the fare, but both might be too long of an outing for families. Another option is to get close to both sites on a two- to three-hour cruise around Manhattan via the Circle Line or New York Waterway, where you journey past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and under the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges. It's a great way to see the city skyline.

The Bronx Zoo
I know what you're thinking because I've been in your shoes. Do I really want to leave Manhattan behind and head to the northern fringes of the Bronx? By all means, yes! This is one of my two favorite zoos in the country (the other being the San Diego Zoo). There's some serious chest-thumping going on in Congo Gorilla Forest, a 6.5-acre African rainforest that houses the largest population of western lowland gorillas in America. At Tiger Mountain, you can go nose to nose (through glass) with Siberian tigers. The Reptile House has a tantalizing collection of pythons, cobras, and poisonous frogs. And don't miss the Bengali Express, a relaxing monorail ride past elephants, rhinos, and antelopes.

Boston-based writer Stephen Jermanok has authored or contributed to 11 books on the outdoors, including Outside Magazine's Adventure Guide to New England , Discovery Channel's Backcountry Treks , Discovery Channel's Paddlesports , Outside Magazine's Guide to Family Vacations and Men's Journal's The Great Life . His latest book is New England Seacoast Adventures . His many adventures appear in National Geographic Adventure , Outside , Men's Journal , Forbes FYI , Travel + Leisure , Hooked on the Outdoors , and Backpacker . He can be reached at

Published: 23 Jun 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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