NYC is huge and undoubtedly incredibly awesome. It would take years to fully explore the city, and even then I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to see everything. When we moved to Japan, Dom and I opted to start organizing our adventures into specific geographic regions in hopes of spending less time in transit and more time “doing” and “experiencing.” This was particularly useful in a city like Tokyo, which like New York, is incredibly overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. With only a few days to spend in the city (one of which included my 32nd marathon), we once again applied our “Japan Approach” to focus in on Midtown this time. It worked quite well in helping guide us to make the most efficient use of our time…after all, this won’t be our last visit to the city!
During the fall of 2019, we took a trip to the city to cross the NYC Marathon off the list! If you’ve been tracking our blog, you know that my family is super supportive of my running dreams and we love to tie them into our adventures – enter my 4th Abbott World Marathon Major, NYC! Despite spending Sunday morning on the course, we still found plenty of time to explore. Below are ten fabulous (+ kid friendly) ideas on how to spend your time in Midtown Manhattan!
10. Play at the Silver Towers Playground
Usually one of the very first things that we seek out when we visit a place is a playground. It’s almost like a universal agreement between us and our kids. As much as we try to go, see, and do, it has become increasingly important to Dom and I that our parenting style include some sort of “free play” every day. Brooklyn artist, Tom Otterness’ play structure located on 42nd Street at Silver Towers between 11th and 12th Avenue fits the bill perfectly for folks that are in Midtown exploring. The fanciful bronze character has a few features to climb on (including right up to the character’s head!) and gives kids the opportunity to slide down his legs (super cool, right?). The nice (albeit small) 2.5 acre green space is just large enough to entertain the kids while still being able to sit back and enjoy that latte or sandwich, all the while keeping everyone within view.
Tom Otterness Play Structure at Silver Towers:
- Hours: Sunrise – Sunset
- Admission: Free
9. Walk along The Highline
If you’re interested in something with a bit more of a view, but still dig the art vibe at Silver Towers, head over to The Highline. This park, which opened to the public in 2009, was built on a historic freight rail line that sits right above the bustling sidewalks of Manhattan’s West Side. Not too long ago, a group of city folks came together and saved this historic structure from being ripped down and for that we are thankful! There are railings on either side and it is isolated from the traffic down below, so it’s a great place to let your kids have a little freedom to run.
- Hours: Sunset – Sundown
- Admission: Free
8. Enjoy a different view at The Vessel
Still digging the idea of art? After The Highline, head on over to Hudson Yards to marvel at “The Vessel,” an very cool decorative spiral staircase. Created by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio, the structure draws people from all over the world hoping to get a great picture of the Hudson River or the sculpture itself. Composed of 154 intertwined flights of stairs the work offers people a chance to enjoy the city from various vantage points. On our recent visit there was quite the line waiting to climb the stairs. While we have seen some amazing photos taken from the inside, we just didn’t have time to devote this time. There is always next time, though!
After exploring the Vessel, maybe pop into Hudson Yards Shopping Mall next door and grab a NY craft beer, a glass of wine, and/or a fresh squeezed juice for the littles at Citarella! If you are looking for yet another playground for your kids to climb on, there is a great little climbing area right down the street called Bella Abzug Park and let you littles get some energy out! It’s not big or cool enough to warrant a trip of its own, but if you are walking by anyway…why not?
- Hours: 1000 – 2100
- Admission: FREE! But you need to book tickets in advance online. If you are not sure when exactly you will be there “Flex” tickets are available for $10 which let you show up at anytime instead of a particular time slot.
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 1100 – 2100 and Sunday: 1200 – 2100
- Hours: Sunrise – Sunset
- Admission: Free
7. Explore FDNY Fire Zone
If your kiddos love fire trucks hit up FDNY’s Fire Zone! This facility is New York City’s learning center for fire safety. If your kids love hands-on experiences, pop-in and let them climb into the fire truck, try on bunker gear, and meet a real firefighter. Mind = blown for Miles and Penny. Overall, it was a much smaller/shorter stop than expected. While we definitely think its worth a look, you may not want to go too far out of your way for it.
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 0900 – 1900 and Sunday: 1100 – 1700
- Admission: Free
6. Skate at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park
Visiting during the holiday season? There are a number of things to do, but can we suggest lacing up some skates and swirling around on the ice for a bit? Whether you choose Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park you’re in for a treat. But which one to choose?
Rockefeller Center has room for only 150 skaters at a time, so there can be a bit of a wait depending on when you visit. Additionally, it can be a smidge pricey. So, if waiting isn’t really your thing or you’re a budget is a bit strapped we recommend maybe checking out Bryant Park instead.
If you are not an ice skater, keep in mind that Rockefeller Center also has some great shopping (hello, FAO Schwartz!), studio tours (we’re looking at you, NBC!), and some beautiful art-deco artwork to take in. You can actually see one of the NBC studios from the plaza, so you can be one of those annoying people waving trough the glass on live TV if you are so inclined.
Bryant Park’s Ice Rink is always free which is a huge plus, although if you don’t own skates the rentals can be fairly pricey. If you prefer to watch from the side, there is still quite a bit for you to enjoy, as well. Every year a large Christmas market sets up and you can spend some time sipping hot cocoa and checking out the loads of holiday vendors in addition to Le Carousel for a nominal fee.
If you need to get inside to warm up a bit, head down to the opposite side of the block to check out the formidable 42nd Street Library! Despite going by several times on this particular trip, it was unfortunately closed for a charity event when finally were able to visit, but we hear it’s where the original Winnie-the-Pooh has been calling home (well, since 1987 anyway) as well as four of his closest pals (Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger)! So, if you’re a Disney fan then maybe take a peak inside and visit the Children’s Corner if you have some time!
- Hours: 24/7, although different attractions and tours are offered at certain times only.
- Admission: Free to walk around. Skating: $25/Adult, $15/Child for 1.5hr session (Note that during the holidays the price goes up to $28 per session or $33 for “Peak” holiday days). An additional $13/Skate rental (adult and child rentals are the same price). Check their website here for details.
- Hours: 0700 – 2200
- Admission: Free, skate rentals range from $16 – $33
5. Visit MOMA
We have a love-hate relationship with this place, but luckily its WAY more of the former than the latter so we thought it best to include on our list. So what’s to love? It is undoubtedly a world class museum, and the number and variety of famous pieces of art that are on display here is breathtaking. Around every corner is a landmark piece of art which you’ve (most likely) only seen in textbooks. Okay…so why the hate….errr….it’s maybe more like dislike? Well, keeping children at least an arms length away from exhibits can be challenging and a bit stress-inducing at times. Our kids loved the exhibits SO. MUCH. and wanted to touch #allthethings and well, that’s not okay. We can’t blame them either, as many of the exhibits are on eye level with them and are made of everyday materials that BEG to be played with or touched! One exhibit literally had a jar full of candy with little people sitting on the gumdrops – what kid isn’t gonna be all about that?
Luckily for us, with lots of verbal cueing we were able to keep those little arms and hands at bay (with the promise of a NYC hotdog post-visit, because we aren’t above bribery). If you’ve got a toddler can we suggest using a carrier for peace of mind? As a bonus, military is free with ID (and, yes that includes family as well)!
- Saturday – Thursday: 1000 – 1730 and Friday: 1000 – 2100
- Admission: $25/Adult, free for children 16 and younger
4. Watch (or run!) the NYC Marathon
Admittedly, this one might not be for everyone. However, if you think you might be looking to run your first (or 50th) marathon, there are few better than this one! Part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, this marathon lives up to the hype and then some. Well-coordinated, well-supported, beautiful, and out-of-this-world crowd support along a fairly challenging course makes it one for the books! Check out the NYRR webpage if you are interested and register for the lottery.
Perhaps 26.2 sounds a bit too insane and spectating is more your jam, yes? Midtown is the perfect spot to see the very end of the race and watch runners dig deep as they run to the finish line in Central Park.
- Hours: Next Race Day is November 1, 2020!
- Admission: The application period for 2020 TCS New York City Marathon will begin January 30, 2020 and run through February 13, 2020. The drawing for the lottery spots will take place on February 26, 2020.
3. Enjoy the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Gigantic floats, humongous balloons, music, and performances (including 11 marching bands) this parade is one every family is sure to enjoy! If you’re planning on visiting NYC this Thanksgiving for the epic extravaganza plan on grabbing a spot early as they are all free and first-come first-serve. We have heard crazy stories of folks beginning to claim spots before the break of dawn and well, we don’t think that’s necessary unless you want to be in the front row along the barriers. If your like us and want just a few more minutes of sleep because, hey, it’s vacay we recommend finding a spot along 6th Avenue between 59th and 34th. As you get closer to the Macy*s store the seating gets a bit tougher due to all the media crews so aim a bit before that area and you should be good!
The parade generally rolls at 0900 sharp from 77th Street and Central Park West. From here, the party will travel south to Columbus Circle, then east onto Central Park South, and then onto 6th Avenue from 59th Street to 34th Street before ending at Macy*s around 1200. That’s 3 hours of awesome parade viewing, so with that in mind, make sure all the kiddos use the bathroom beforehand!
We debated on whether to add the following as it isn’t technically in Midtown, but thought it would be a shame not to mention the balloon inflation held on Wednesday, November 27th for families that will be in town for the parade. So, if you’re in the city that day head on up to Central Park West between 81st and 77th (plug the American Museum of Natural History into Google Maps) and see the balloons get ready for the big day from 1500 – 2200! The event is free, so don’t miss out!
Oh yes, and one last thing!
Leading up to the big day and visiting NYC, we got Miles a really awesome children’s book, Balloons Over Broadway, which is all about the origin of the parade and how the puppeteer Tony Sarg invented the “upside down” puppets that became the balloons. It’s a great way to teach your kids a little about the history of the parade and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.
- Hours: The parade will begin rolling on November 28, 2019 at 0900 from 77th Street and Central Park West. Plan on events winding down around 1200!
- Admission: Free and all spots are first-come, first-serve!
Now, back to Midtown…
2. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway
Looking to distance yourself a little from the craziness of the city while taking in the sights from a slightly different perspective? Head over to the Roosevelt Island Tramway, self described as “the most modern aerial tramway in the world.” We don’t know about that, but whether you want to call it a tramway or gondola or skyway it is a fantastic way to spend a few hours. One of only two commuter tramways in the entire United States, the tram leaves from 59th street and Second Avenue and takes you over to nearby Roosevelt Island. Don’t worry much about timing it, as it runs every 7 – 15 minutes. There was a refreshing lack of people when we went, and some huge green spaces for the kids to play in.
In addition to walking around, the Island has some pretty awesome history to explore. The City Hospital located on the island (also known as Smallpox Hospital) was built in 1832. As you can imagine, keeping contagious smallpox patients in a densely populated urban area wasn’t the best idea. Consequently, the city built the hospital on Roosevelt Island as a form of quarantine to help slow the spread of disease throughout the city. Today, the hospital has deteriorated to the point where you can no longer enter it, but the frame still stands and serves as a living memory to what the city must have been like nearly 200 years ago.
- Hours: The tram runs every 7 – 15 minutes throughout the times outlined below.
- Sunday – Thursday: 0600 – 0200
- Friday – Saturday: 0600 – 0330
- Morning Rush Hours (Monday – Friday): 0700 – 1000
- Evening Rush Hours (Monday – Friday): 1500 – 2000
- Admission (each way): $2.75/Adult, $1.25/Seniors, free for children up to 44 inches (112 cm) in height (limit 3 per paying adult)
1. Visit the Central Park Zoo
As non-New Yorkers, we had no idea there was a zoo in Central Park! As you would expect, it is not the biggest or most comprehensive zoo, but you can’t beat the location and convenience – particularly if you are staying in Midtown. Their tropical aviary, in particular, was extremely well-done. While it is a bit pricey, active duty get in free and there is a discount for family members if that applies to you. If it doesn’t, it still may be worth it if your kids like animals nearly as much as ours do.
Don’t forget to visit the Tisch Children’s Zoo as well while you’re there (your general admission ticket will get you into that section as well).
- Hours: 1000 – 1630, last entry half-hour prior to closing (hours vary by season, so check the website to confirm before visiting)
- Admission (to the zoo only): $13.95/Adult (13 years old and older), $8.95/Child (3 – 12 years old), $10.95/Senior (65 years old and older), free for children 2 and under
Enjoy The Big Apple,
Full disclosure we act as an affiliate for several sites, so clicking through and purchasing products via our links does make us a little money and allows us to continue to put out (hopefully) useful content.