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First Time in NYC? 11 Ingredients for the Ultimate Big Apple Family Adventure

Welcome to New York! You have a lot to see, do, eat, and explore, so get planning with this handy guide for discovering your perfect slice of the Big Apple.

Nikki Ridgway · about 1 month ago

  • travel

1. The Sights

Empire State Building

Sam Valadi, WikiCommons

Don’t skip the classics. For your first city trip, plan on a greatest hits tour of the Big Apple’s best-known attractions.  That means being first in the elevator line at the Empire State Building (open 365 days a year), springing for the audio tour at the Metropolitan Museum, and ogling the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal between rush hours. In rain, shine, or snow, don’t miss a quiet morning in Central Park, whether you eat deli sandwiches in Sheep Meadow or head straight to the Central Park Zoo. Then make it a Downtown day with a morning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and back, followed by a ferry ride from the tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

2. The Views

NYC Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi

Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0

The main attractions offer plenty of breathtaking angles on the city, but you can also find them in less-visited locations. The roof decks at the downtown Whitney Museum of American Art and New Museum offer sweeping views across their low-rise neighborhoods. Top of the Rock, while far from crowd-free, does put the Empire State Building into the skyline frame — an advantage of being farther north of its iconic neighbor. And hopping on the Staten Island Ferry or a Circle Line boat cruise gives you one of the best views of all — the city from the water.

3. The Eats

Junior's

Gnarly CC BY-SA 3.0

One tried and true approach to NYC itinerary planning is letting the meals set the agenda. It’s all too easy to miss a standout burger joint by a block, or accidentally nosh at the copycat version of a classic hot dog stand. Not to be missed are slices at West Village institution, Joe’s; morning bagels from Ess-a-Bagel or Murray’s Bagels; burgers in the park at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park; and a slice of cheesecake at Junior’s. For picky eaters, the city has a growing number of something-for-everyone food halls, including Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District, UrbanSpace Vanderbilt down the block from Grand Central Terminal, or Brookfield Place near One World Trade Center.

4. The Music

WeBop Jazz via Jazz.org

WeBop Jazz via Jazz.org

Many New Yorkers will tell you that the city that never sleeps plays its own symphony day and night. And there are so many family-friendly places to hear New York City sing! Try the kid-focused performances at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, or a morning class at WeBop at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Keep an eye on events at the city’s parks, too — Central Park hosts the annual Summer Stage spectacular, while Washington Square Park has a roster of spoken word events and impromptu jam sessions.

5. The Shops

CAMP-8904

CAMP Hudson Yards

Well hey, we have to say it: Come visit us at CAMP! Our three NYC stores on Fifth Avenue, on Manhattan’s west side in Hudson Yards, and across the East River in Brooklyn are packed wall to wall with New York City mementos, plus toys, crafts, and games. Other only-in-NYC retail favorites include the quirky homewares at Fishs Eddy, books galore at McNally Jackson, and the throwback shopping experience of iconic department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

6. The Movie Moments

New York Public Library

New York Public Library, CC BY-SA 4.0

If New York City feels like a movie set, it’s because the city has a starring role in so many beloved movies and TV shows. Snap a family selfie at real-life locations from movies! Classic picks include the Plaza Hotel from Home Alone 2, Serendipity 3 cafe (and its delish frozen hot chocolate) from Serendipity, or the American Museum of Natural History from A Night at the Museum. A hushed walk around the New York Public Library will bring to mind Ghostbusters, while a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge will delight fans of The Secret Life of Pets.

7. The Parks

Madison Square Park via Madisonsquarepark.org

Madison Square Park via Madisonsquarepark.org

Manhattan is known for its taxi-lined avenues and sky-scraping buildings, but the city is also filled with beautiful gardens and green spaces. The best known is, of course, Central Park, which sandwiches 840 acres of parks, ponds, lakes, sports fields, and museums between 59th and 110th streets, smack dab in the heart of the city. Farther south, Madison Square Park is a welcome oasis with artsy offerings and a kid-approved playground. Over on the west side, the Hudson River Park traces four miles of the waterfront, including the now-transformed piers that serve as a backyard, a gym, a doggy park, a picnic spot, and sports fields for all New Yorkers.

9. The Ferries

East River Ferry

East River Ferry via City Guide NY

The taxi rides, subway hops, and miles you’ll walk on foot are a given in NYC, but a boat ride should also be part of your get-around plan, especially for trips across the East River to Brooklyn! The easiest route is from Pier 11 near Wall Street over to DUMBO and the spectacular waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge Park. From here you can hop north to hip Williamsburg and Greenpoint, then cross back to the city and disembark at 34th Street.

9. The Selfies

Bowery Graffiti Wall via Groundswell

Bowery Graffiti Wall via Groundswell

Documenting your first big trip to NYC should include selfies with some of the city’s most iconic sights. Don’t miss snaps at the Flatiron Building (followed by an all-Italian lunch at Eataly), the Washington Square Arch, and Times Square after dark. Admire and take a pic at the latest mural at the Bowery Graffiti Wall on Houston Street and the Bowery. You can even take to the water in Central Park for the often-snapped rowboat shot at the Loeb Boathouse

10. The Walks

High Line NYC

Getty

At the very top of your NYC packing list should be your comfiest shoes. Manhattan is a walker’s city — the subway is far from straightforward but the city’s grid system is a piece of cake. It’s possible to walk a block in a minute, and an avenue in around three, so you can always calculate how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B. Great walks around the city include the walk from Madison Square Park down to Washington Square Park along Fifth Avenue; strolling Nolita’s boutique-filled streets; and a northbound wander up Museum Mile from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Museum of the City of New York. And don't forget the High Line, a 1.45-mile elevated pedestrian walkway up the West Side filled with public art, greenery, snack stops, and architectural views.

11. The Only-in-NYC

Statue of Liberty

Getty

Every great itinerary should include one unplanned day to soak up the destination at your own pace. In New York, this might mean encountering a dance troupe in the park or clocking the number of shoe-wearing dogs in the city. You could eat your way through treats from the Union Square Greenmarket or introduce your kids to a whole new cuisine whether you head to Little Italy, Chinatown, or the nearest diner. Best of all, you’re likely to pause long enough for a chat with a local or a tip-swapping conversation with a seasoned visitor. Perfect for your (guaranteed) return visit!

Join CAMP for an NYC Adventure!

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Join CAMP for a virtual storytime on March 14 at 11 am ET as we take on the streets of NYC!

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