New York City
New York City Family Activities
"New York: The Game" Scavenger Hunt
Stray Boots New York: The Game scavenger hunt and tour takes participants through a series of clues and trivia questions sent via text message (or played on a web browser on a smart phone) to discover the secrets of the Big Apple’s landmarks, neighborhoods, and little-known sights. Along the way, players earn points by answering clues correctly – What is the middle name of Bryant Park’s namesake? How many city blocks make up a mile? – and completing tasks like snapping and sending photos. It's great for a date, an afternoon with the kids, or as a ploy to make your roommate or visiting in-laws disappear for a few hours. Choose from 11 zones/neighborhoods.
American Museum of Natural History
This stellar family destination features fun and informative exhibits like a conservatory with 500 live butterflies, the museum’s iconic 94-foot-long blue whale model, and a massive 34-ton iron meteorite fragment. There are also captivating temporary exhibits, and the adjacent Rose Center for Earth and Space offers a variety of fascinating space shows (get your tickets in advance).
This landmark zoo is worth the 45-minute subway ride from Midtown for its enormous range of fauna on display in variety of settings, from the Butterfly Garden to the 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain exhibit. The wide range of interactive programs and available tours includes up-close animal encounters and performances by Wildlife Theater, a troupe that showcases drama, puppetry, games, and songs. On Wednesdays, the entrance is by donation, so pay as you wish.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Brooklyn’s beloved 52-acre retreat features no less than 10,000 plant species from around the world. This botanical wealth is exhibited in a string of specialty gardens, a handful of themed greenhouses – from tropical to desert – and a maze of paths lined with towering trees and fragrant flowers. The tranquil Japanese Garden, with its pond and a Shinto shrine, is a great place to contemplate the meaning of life. In early April, even Manhattanites cross the East River in throngs to catch the 200 cherry trees in full bloom and celebrate all things Japanese during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Crossing the late 19th-century, Gothic-inspired bridge (one of the most famous and oldest suspension bridges in the United States) affords phenomenal views of the Manhattan skyline’s most famous sites (including the Statue of Liberty). It’s best enjoyed if you start your walk on the Brooklyn side (just hop the subway one stop over the river), but those who choose to start in Manhattan can benefit from ending their walk with a celebratory slice at Grimaldi’s pizzeria, just a few blocks away from the bridge’s Brooklyn base.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
There are many ways to soak in Manhattan’s iconic skyline, but this third-of-a-mile walkway a few minutes by foot from the Brooklyn Bridge along the banks of the East River is one of the best and most famous promenades, featured in dozens of films, including Annie Hall and Moonstruck. Rimmed with flowerbeds and bordered by the Height’s grand historic homes, the promenade makes for a perfect romantic stroll or a spot for pensive architecture buffs to gaze at the skyline.
The borough’s pride and glory, Brooklyn Museum is one of the country’s oldest and largest art institutions. Home to 1.5 million objects, the colossal Beaux-Arts building showcases a striking permanent collection of ancient Egyptian art. The frequently changing contemporary exhibits range from photography to sculpture. Hit up the popular First Saturdays (5pm to 11pm every first Saturday of the month), which draws in a sundry crowd for a free evening of fun, with live music, film screenings, and lectures.
This 843-acre urban oasis – "the lungs of New York City" – is full of treasures like the Central Park Zoo, lakeside Bethesda Fountain, and Loeb Boat House, where rowboats and bicycles are available for rent. Birdwatchers delight in spotting over 300 different species, while couples can enjoy a romantic stroll along one of the numerous winding pathways or catch a horse and buggy ride. In winter, opt to ice skate at the Wollman Rink under the skyline’s facade. In spring and summer, grab a $1 hot dog from one of the ubiquitous street carts and head to the park’s northeast corner Conservatory Garden, a six-acre swath of gorgeous European-style floral splendor.
Circle Line Cruises
Seeing Manhattan from the river provides the perfect introduction to the Big Apple. The sightseeing cruises by Circle Line range from 75-minute jaunts to three-hour tours that circumnavigate the island and take in three rivers, seven major bridges, five boroughs, over 25 renowned landmarks, and a close-up of the Statue of Liberty. Other on-water attractions include a two-hour harbor lights cruise and a 30-minute wet n' wild ride through the New York harbor in a speedboat (May through September).
This oceanfront Brooklyn enclave is a veritable slice of Americana well worth the one-hour subway ride from Midtown Manhattan. Although the once iconic Astroland amusement park has now shut its doors, main attractions like the rickety Cyclone (one of the world’s most famous roller coasters) and Deno’s Wonder Wheel are still in operation and comprise must-see sights for snapping a few fun photos. Highlights also include seaside strolls along the boardwalk; a visit to the quirky Coney Island Museum and the New York Aquarium; and chomping on a famous hot dog at the original Nathan’s.
Empire State Building
Take in Manhattan from the heights of the 102-floor, inimitable Empire State Building. Its observatory is open for spectacular views day and night (the last elevator ascends at 11:15pm), but since upwards of 20,000 visitors are shuffled to the summit every day, consider these time-saving tips to separate yourself (as much as possible) from the hordes and get the most out of the experience: Buy your tickets online, go on a clear day/night, and budget at least two hours to get to the top and back.
If you have little ones in tow, be sure to hit this elaborate flagship toy store helmed by America’s oldest toy company (originally founded in 1862). A true fantasyland for any youngster, you and your little one can channel Tom Hanks in the movie Big by trying your feet at “Chopsticks” on the large floor piano upstairs. There’s even an ice cream parlor inside!
Harlem Heritage Tours
Authenticity is the main goal of this community-based business (popular mostly with out-of-town visitors), which has operated nearly a dozen different walking tours all over the neighborhood since 1998. Tour themes range from civil rights to gospel, jazz to general history. Foodies would do well to embark on the “Taste of Harlem” jaunt for sampling some of the best soul food north of the Mason Dixon line, though we recommend the “Take the A Train – Harlem at its Best” trip ($75, summer only). Named after Duke Ellington’s hit single, you’ll meet your guide downtown and literally take the musician’s favorite train all the way to Harlem, wander the area’s most historic streets, down a plate of soul food, and swing by the Apollo Theater’s infamous Amateur Night. Afterwards, you have the opportunity to sneak away on your own for a set of live jazz at a legendary club. All tours are led by resident guides, most of whom have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives and aren’t afraid to venture off-the-beaten path. Prices range from $25 to $100 per person.
Hop On (and Off) a Gray Line Open-Top Bus Tour
It’s more truth than cliché that New York is fast-paced, crowded, and loud, which is why a double-decker bus tour around the Big Apple makes sense for travelers short on time or who want to get their bearings straight before hoofing it or heading underground to the subways. It’s also a fantastic means of ogling the New York skyline’s upper architectural details, without getting stampeded by sidewalk foot traffic. New York Gray Line’s hop-on, hop-off tours run four loops and stop at practically every attraction in the city (though their Brooklyn line’s hop-on, hop-off service does have some operational kinks – we noticed prolonged service delays in between buses; we recommend only using it if you’re planning to stay on the bus for the entire circuit). En route, tour guides supply an animated history of the city, and because of new city noise restrictions, the buses are scheduled to start swapping out loudspeaker systems for headsets some time in 2011. Bonus: Upgrade your trip with a self-guided audio tour of four neighborhoods (World Trade Center and Financial District; Central Park, Columbus Circle, and Strawberry Fields; Chinatown and Little Italy; and Flatiron District and Madison Square Park). Advance tickets start at $39; audio tour costs $15 extra.
Madison Square Garden All Access Tour
Whether you’ve been to Madison Square Garden a hundred times or just seen it on TV, the All Access Tour is sure to show sports and music fans a side of the stadium they’ve never seen before. The tour takes visitors to the heights and depths of the Garden, from the box seats to the locker rooms, all the while presenting fun facts about the history of the stadium and its everyday operations. (Did you know it takes 200 individual pieces of wood to construct the basketball court on top of the ice rink?) Visitors will also see the Theater at MSG and meet a Knicks City Dancer. Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $12 for children.
Museum of Modern Art
One of America’s most visited museums, founded in 1929, MoMa’s 150,000-work collection includes paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings, photographs, design objects, and architectural models. The extensive cinema archive includes 22,000 films and 4 million film stills – the largest and most varied collection in the U.S. The museum’s varied program includes film screenings, gallery talks, artist lectures, and poetry readings. Admission is free on Friday evenings (4 to 8pm); MoMa is closed on Tuesdays.
New Museum of Contemporary Art
The iconic New Museum of Contemporary Art opened in December 2007 at its current location on the recently gentrified Bowery in a brand-new, seven-floor building by Japanese firm Sanaa. The museum's mission is to serve as an incubator for new creative ideas as well as to showcase the latest in contemporary art, with work by artists like Elizabeth Peyton, John Bock, Sarah Lucas, and Tomma Abts. Closed Monday and Tuesday; free admission on Thursday evenings between 7 and 9pm.
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
This MoMa-affiliated outpost in largely industrial Long Island City is reason enough to venture out to this desolate stretch of Queens. Devoted to showing experimental contemporary art, this non-profit art institution housed in a converted public school is the place to see works by emerging artists as well as new genres. It presents about 50 exhibitions yearly, including artists’ retrospectives, site-specific installations, performances, and the hugely popular Warm Up music series each Saturday afternoon during the summer. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; suggested admission is $5.
Brooklyn’s own version of Central Park features 585 acres full of lush landscaping, biking trails, BBQ pits, the Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, and even a small zoo. Free concerts can be caught in the band shell during the summer, while the blankets of snowfall in winter make for exceptional Kodak moments (and sledding). Grand Army Plaza’s year round Green Market operates every Saturday from 8am to 4pm, and there are a number of subway stations on each side of the park for convenient access to any corner.
Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour
Site of the yearly Christmas Spectacular, the landmark Radio City Music Hall is an Art Deco gem and one of the world’s largest indoor theaters – the size of an entire New York City block. The Stage Door Tour brings visitors backstage to witness the history of the beloved theater and uncover some of its secrets, like the hydraulic system for elevating the stage that remains unchanged since Radio City opened in 1932. At the end of the tour, you’ll meet one of the famous Rockettes. Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $10 for children.
This Art Deco masterpiece is home to Radio City Music Hall, NBC studios, and the Top of the Rock observation deck – great for panoramic city views. Pop into an outpost of high-end, international boutiques like La Maison Du Chocolat or the Kinokuniya Bookstore, or splurge on dinner at the Top of the Rock’s famously glam Rainbow Room. Come winter, the ice rink and Christmas tree in the flag-lined plaza take center stage.
See Manhattan by Helicopter
Get a rare bird’s-eye view of The Empire State Building during an exclusive four-person "Romance over Manhattan" helicopter tour. The 25-minute flight circles around New York’s most famous sites, including Central Park, the United Nations building, and the Statue of Liberty. Just be sure to show up 30 minutes early, and wear a smile for the complimentary photograph.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Housed in a white curvy structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim is a definitive New York landmark. Special temporary exhibits are on display inside the great rotunda; smaller galleries hold the permanent collection ranging from Impressionist to contemporary works. The rich repertory includes lectures by artists and critics, performances, film screenings, classes, and free daily tours of the galleries. Note the museum’s closed on Thursdays; pay-as-you-wish on Friday evenings (from 5:45 to 7:45pm). Its stylish new restaurant, the Wright, opened December 2009 for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, with walls dressed in illuminated fiber optics and a modern American menu featuring the likes of slow-roasted suckling pig with quince, violet mustard, and apple bacon jus.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Built in the late 19th century, this is the largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the United States and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Outside, the impressive stone spires rise over 300 feet above bustling Fifth Avenue, while the interior is decorated with soaring stained glass windows and ornate wood and marble sculptures.
Statue of Liberty
Catch the ferry from Battery Park – the fare (approximately $12) includes a stop at the iconic statue, as well as at Ellis Island, where between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through New York Harbor (take a turn at the computers to see if you can find members of your family). Hours vary seasonally; be sure to get there nice and early before the lines get too long. If you go during the fall or winter months, dress warmly, as the strong winds off the river induce a wicked chill. As of July 4, 2009, visitors can again ascend the statue’s crown for the first time since 9/11, but access is limited and the 354-step climb is rather strenuous. Call 877-LADY-TIX or visit www.statuecruises.com to reserve tickets.
The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.
Novelist extraordinaire Dave Eggers is the mastermind behind this secretive costume shop that doubles as the headquarters for his successful nonprofit writing program for kids, 826NYC. Hidden in lair-like style behind a bookshelf, the organization offers free tutoring and workshops in all literary styles. The whimsical wares here include an imaginative arsenal (think particle guns and force fields) and must-haves for any aspiring Clark Kent, like “Muscles in a Can” and invisibility paint. A flight simulator machine (i.e. high-powered fan) is on hand for assessing the aerodynamics of your cape before purchase (while posing like a superhero). The organization’s other locations include San Francisco’s Pirate Store and the Echo Park Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles.
A satellite of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters holds a permanent collection of art and architecture from medieval Europe, comprising approximately 5,000 works of art dating from about the 9th to the early 16th century. Made from elements of five French cloisters from monastic sites in southern France and situated on 4 acres overlooking the Hudson River, it’s a perfect spot to take in art and then enjoy a picnic. Closed on Mondays.
The Frick Collection
Wandering around the galleries inside this French-style mansion, you may feel as if you’re peeking at someone’s private art collection (actually, you are – the property and all its possessions formerly belonged to steel magnate Henry Clay Frick). The Frick is undoubtedly New York’s most intimate museum. It showcases paintings by great European masters, sculptures (including a great assortment of small bronzes), French furniture and porcelains, Oriental rugs, and a collection of antique clocks and watches. There are classical music concerts multiple times a month and free lectures on Wednesdays. The museum is closed on Mondays, and admission is pay-as-you-wish on Sundays between 11am and 1pm.
The High Line
The first section of New York’s most hyped and much-loved public park was originally constructed as an elevated railway in the 1930s (it’s been closed since 1980) – it was recently revamped by gung-ho greenhearts and opened to much fanfare in summer 2009. Featuring concrete pathways, gobs of greenery, water fountains, and wooden benches, it’s a convenient new place to kick back and relax beneath the surrounding skyscrapers in an area with previously little-to-no grass space. So far, entry is available via stairs at five points between Gansevoort and 20th Streets. The second section, running from 20th Street to 34th, opened in 2011; combined, the park is a mile-and-a-half long. Free walking tours are available on Saturdays in spring and summer. Open 7am to 10pm daily in spring, summer, and fall, 7am to 8pm daily in winter.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lovingly called “The Met,” this star New York museum, housed in a neo-classical structure in Central Park, features a 2-million-plus collection that spans from the 8th millenium BC through the 20th century. Founded in 1870, it frequently rotates the works on permanent display and regularly hosts special exhibitions, as well as a series of concerts, film screenings and lectures. There’s also a variety of free guided tours daily. Admission is pay-what-you-wish (though $20 is the recommended amount) and includes access to sister museum, The Cloisters. Closed on Mondays.
This over-the-top sensory experience clusters chain shops, restaurants, and tawdry attractions under sparkling neon lights – steer clear of the tourist traps and just spend some time ogling the spectacle. Repeat and new visitors alike will be delighted to discover that, since May 2009, Duffy Square and two lanes of traffic in the area’s epicenter have been closed off to cars as a pedestrian plaza – with tables and chairs, 16-foot-tall ruby-red bleachers (situated atop the TKTS booth), and free Wi-Fi now permanent public features. On Fridays at noon, line up for a free two-hour tour (no reservations required; www.timessquarenyc.org) outside the restored Embassy Theater for a guided glance of some of Time Square’s hot spots. See more Times Square suggestions in Top 10 Tourist Trap Tips.
Whitney Museum of American Art
This compact museum holds one of the world's foremost collections of 20th- and 21st-century American art, starting at 1900 through today. About 18,000 works on permanent display include paintings, sculptures, multimedia installations, drawings, prints, and photographs. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday; free guided tours are available.
Hand-Picked New York City Deals
Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice
Popular museums in big cities all over the world have "pay what you want" or free admission on certain days.
Danielle Long Assistant Deals Producer
Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter
to get exclusive weekly deals