The Big Apple is an exciting trip for visitors of any age, but for toddlers, the city can be even more wondrous. New York City has much to offer that will keep the little ones occupied and entertained including parks, zoos, stage shows, and several interactive, kid-friendly museums.
Getting around NYC can be a bit of a hurdle with small children, their gear, and strollers. Parents should know that while many of the subway stations have elevators, not all do, and there are few options other than walking down flights of stairs to enter most the subway stations. Alternative options are grabbing a taxi or rideshare, but no matter which means of transport you pick, it is wise to bring the smallest stroller you own.
From the famed dinosaurs to the big blue whale, young children will be enchanted by the exhibits at the sprawling Upper West Side museum. The institution also offers activities and programs specifically for families and children, including a story hour and science and nature programs.
The Discovery Center, while technically geared toward kids 5 to12, is a great spot to include on your Natural History Museum visit with lots of hands-on activities. The museum is a perfect activity to escape the weather during rainy days.
Over 800 acres of fun for the whole family awaits in Central Park. Favorites for kids include Central Park Zoo, the Woods and Water Exhibit at Belvedere Castle, and boat rides at the Loeb Boathouse and the Central Park Carousel. In the summer there is storytelling at the Hans Christen Andersen statue.
Swing by the nearby market in the basement of the Time Warner Center and pick up supplies for a picnic on the Great Lawn—the 13 acres of ample open space is ideal to let the little ones burn off excess energy by running around.
Hosting over 4,000 animals, the Bronx Zoo captivates children of all ages. The bug carousel, children's zoo, and camel rides are sure to be a hit with young children, although additional charges apply. Visiting the Bronx Zoo is an all-day activity (bring your stroller or rent one there,) so if you're looking for a smaller zoo to visit with your toddler, consider the Central Park Zoo instead.
Hands-on creative activities at the Children's Museum of the Arts include everything from making collages to forming clay figures to help encourage children's imaginations. The Wee Studio offers interactive arts activities specifically designed for kids five and under.
The Children's Museum offers drop-in sessions to their Wee Arts program for those who don't like to plan that far ahead. Each session includes exploration of art materials such as play dough, paint, and chalk, as well as stories and music.
The children can learn about fire fighting and fire safety while exploring the New York City Fire Museum's extensive collection. The museum also provides a history lesson on how infernos were battled during the early days of the city, and the kids can even check out the very first fire alarms—which were nothing more than wooden rattles.
There is an extensive gift shop selling kids apparel emblazoned with the FDNY logo including bibs, onesies, t-shirts, and a mini-fire fighter hat, badge, and walkie-talkie.
If your toddler loves trains, don't miss the New York Transit Museum. The kids can climb aboard numerous historic subway and train cars, fuel and drive a bus, and more. Located in Brooklyn Heights, this museum is easily accessible from Manhattan, and it's a great spot to include if you're visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park, planning to explore Carroll Gardens, or heading out to Coney Island.
The Children's Museum of Manhattan has a consistently updated set of interactive programs that are ideal to engage young children. The majority of the programs are education focused and utilize dance, art, and multi-media to keep the kids enthralled. Pop culture exhibits like "Adventures with Dora and Diego" encourage the development of reading skills.
During the summer the "City Splash" exhibit offers an outdoor water-play area— bring extra clothes and a towel.
More than half of the 400 exhibits at the New York Hall of Science are hands-on, which is an excellent way for children of all ages to learn about science.
The Science Playground features fun exhibits on balance, nature, sound, chemistry, and more. Preschool Place is perfect for toddlers with a wide variety of activities like a ball pit, sing-alongs, and story times. For a small extra fee of six dollars, you and your child can join the Little Makers Program, and "tinker, design and create together." The program is worth the time afterward that'll be spent washing supplies off your hands.
If the kids get tired, there is a comfortable 3D movie theater showing a selection of science films that will be a quiet respite to take a small break from the activities.
After watching the fish, take a walk along the Coney Island boardwalk from the aquarium to dip your toes in the sand (or the ocean), and grab a bite to eat at Nathan's Famous Hotdogs or a pizzeria for a slice of famous NYC pizza.
Learn at the Brooklyn Children's Museum
The Brooklyn Children's Museum is specifically geared toward children ages 5 and under and features interactive experiences to promote literacy and development. The kids will get a chance to explore a ColorLab, sensory room, and nature area. The site is modestly sized, which can make a nice change from the mammoth museum options in Manhattan.
This museum is also a favorite of Crown Heights residents, so it is a chance for the children to make some new local friends, and for the adults to get a few insider tips from their parents.
Watch a Puppet Show
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park is the home for original marionette shows like Puss in Boots which are ideal for young children. The theater has child-size seating and the shows are geared to their attention span.
Adults will love the enchanting Swedish architecture of the building which was imported to the U.S. as Sweden’s exhibit for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Tickets are $8 for children and $12 for adults.
The closest entrance to the theater is West 81st Street and Central Park West. No cars are allowed inside the park.
See a Gazillion Bubbles
This show, featuring bubbles and bubble magic, will entrance your little one. The Gazillion Bubbles Show features on-stage bubble artistry with music, dance, and movement. Kids can get involved with the bubbles and may even find themselves inside one. This fast-paced show ends with a colorful laser finale.
Families can have their photo taken inside a giant bubble before the one-hour show begins. Everyone must purchase a ticket (even lap kids). The theater and box office is located at 340 W 50th Street, New York.
Play at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park, just below the iconic bridge, has some pint-sized play areas safe for your toddler. They can climb and jump and when they get hot, they can cool off by running through the fun water sprinklers designed just for small children. There are restrooms and food vendors at the park.
And, if the kids are up for the Brooklyn Bridge, you can walk it with a stroller.
Visit the Disney Store
Times Square can be both fascinating and intimidating for little ones with its huge neon signs and busy sidewalks. For a break, duck into the Disney Store and visit the likenesses of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the Disney Princesses, Fairies, Buzz Lightyear, Winnie the Pooh and more. You'll find a wide range of toys and Disney merchandise and can outfit your toddler in Disney regalia featuring their favorite character. The store holds special events so check their website to see what's going on during your New York visit.
Ride and Play at Victorian Gardens Park
The Victorian Gardens Amusement Park is a seasonal amusement park that is set up at Wollman Rink in Central Park. There are quite a few traditional amusement rides that will be suitable for young children. And, every weekend entertainers perform live, interactive shows.
You can buy a wristband for multiple rides or pay as you go. Children under 36 inches in height get in free with a paying adult. To find Wollman Rink, enter Central Park from 59th Street and 6th Avenue and walk north.
Get Soaked at a Water Playground
Many of New York City's parks have water showers and water playgrounds. On hot days, 80 degrees or higher, they turn on the spray showers in parks and playgrounds across the city from the Bronx to Queens. Your little ones will cool off and have a great time.
Go to the Top of the Rock
Everyone loves a great view of New York City from on high. But the Top of the Rock observation deck in the heart of Rockefeller Center has features that will captivate your little one too. There are windows at toddler level where they can look down on the city, vintage binoculars to climb on and look through, and then there's the lighted Breezeway—as you walk through the room, a colorful light follows you. Children under 6 are admitted free with an adult.
Ride the Free IKEA Ferry
There's a free ferry in Manhattan that goes to the IKEA store on weekends and for fifty cents, you can grab a hot dog for lunch. New York Water Taxi runs the bright yellow daily shuttle (there is a charge on weekdays) from Wall Street's Pier 11 in Manhattan to Brooklyn's IKEA store which has its own pier.
Once you are at the store, you can check out the children's furniture and toys and then head back on the ferry sitting on the open top deck to enjoy the view of the city.
Get Artistic at The Art Farm
The Art Farm is a combination of pre-school, art classes, and an indoor petting zoo that young children will adore. While many enroll their child in ongoing pre-school, there are also time-limited classes, free play sessions, and drop-in fun. Enjoy a session feeding the animals, learn how to create music, or explore painting—classes are geared to the needs of specific age groups. The center is located at 431 E 91st Street.
Watch or Sail the Model Boats
In Central Park, you'll find Conservatory Water, also known as the sailboat pond, where people come to sail their remote-controlled model sailboats. It's fun to watch the boats sail around the pond and for a more patient child with adult supervision, rent one to try out yourself. On Saturday mornings, the Central Park Model Yacht Club members race their boats.
It's such an iconic New York City destination that writer E.B. White based the whimsical boat scene in his children's book, Stuart Little, at the pond.
Boats sail March through November, weather permitting.