With a reputation as “the city that never sleeps,” New York City might not seem like it has a lot of appeal for families. (Anyone with kids knows sleep is life.) However, even though the Big Apple is full of bright lights and big city excitement it also provides a surprising amount of activities for kids, even the wee ones. In fact, the things to do with toddlers in NYC are extensive. From kid-centric shows to pint-size playgrounds, parents will find New York City excels at entertaining children.
1) Pier 25 Playground
When you think of Tribeca, a hipster art scene that feels way to cool for you and your kids might come to mind. Push those thoughts aside, though, as this NYC neighborhood has the best New York City playground. And, your kids will love it! First of all, the playground location offers beautiful views of the Hudson River and downtown. Second, the park boasts giant sandboxes, swings, climbing structures, splash pad and more. It’s the perfect place to burn off some of that never-ending kid energy!
2) Central Park
Central Park is bursting with things to do with toddlers in NYC. You could easily devote a whole afternoon to taking in the sights and activities within this sprawling urban oasis. Take a simple stroll through the park, stop by one of the many playgrounds or take in one of the many recreational attractions available.
Highlights of a Central Park visit are detailed in picks #3-#7.
3) Central Park Zoo
If your kid is an animal lover like mine, a trek through the small but impressive Central Park Zoo is a must.
I recommend visiting the children’s zoo, specifically. (It's located across from the main zoo.) It features a petting and feeding zoo with a variety of farm animals as well as plenty of places for your toddler to crawl, jump and climb. (Please note: availability of animal feeding is limited to 10 a.m.–2 p.m.) The main zoo, with sea lion shows and a rainforest exhibit, are also worth your time. However, you might need to plan a nap in between the two!
4) Sail Boat Pond (Conservatory Water)
Did you know you can rent toy sailboats in Central Park? This is such a simple yet fun activity for toddlers. However, you don’t have to rent a boat to enjoy the spectacle. In fact, many kids are enthralled enough by all the boats on the pond they won’t even know you didn’t rent them one.
5) Central Park Bike Riding
If your kid is anything like mine, he loves going for walks. I upped the ante the last time I was in NYC with a bike ride and the kid went bananas. He’s a people watcher, too, so he was right at home in Central Park. Rent a bike with a baby seat or baby trailer and go for a ride around Central Park to let your little one enjoy all the sights this attraction has to offer.
6) Belvedere Castle
A real-life castle is hard to beat! Kids get a real kick out of climbing to the top of this castle, too. Make a game of it or create a classic knight/princess story that comes to life right before their very eyes.
7) Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater
It’s no secret New York City has a world-renowned theater scene. But, did you know its kid’s theater scene is pretty amazing too? At the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, everything is designed with kids in mind from the format of the show to the duration (1 hour) to the storylines. Even a toddler's attention will be captured by this mesmerizing puppet theater. Plus, tickets are only $10/adults and $7/kids.
8) The American Museum of Natural History
Have your kids ever seen the “Night at the Museum” movies? If so, they’re probably familiar with the halls of this famous museum. While we can’t promise your kiddos the exhibits will come to life we can promise a really engaging experience, even for toddlers! This is especially true if you have a toddler who really digs dinosaurs. The larger-than-life skeletons like the one of Sue the T.rex will blow their minds. Plus, they can do a little exploring of their own in the Discovery Room. It offers a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at science.
9) Gazillion Bubbles Show
I dare you to show me a toddler that doesn’t love bubbles. It’s near impossible! As a result, the Gazillion Bubbles Show is a surefire hit for families with little ones. The show takes place in an intimate theater, perfect for little ones. Plus, the show features an interactive element as well as a laser show. Be sure to arrive early, too, in order to take advantage of a cool photo op inside a bubble. All of this combines to create one of the best things to do with toddlers in NYC.
10) New York Transit Museum
It seems like all kids go through a stage where they’re obsessed with trains (and not just the talking Thomas the Train kind either). If your child falls into this category visiting the Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights is a must. With a location in an old subway station, this museum boasts vintage subway cars and old trains of every color and size. Best of all, this museum is completely interactive. As a result, your toddler can hop aboard the different vehicles all while learning interesting facts about New York City’s transit system.
11) Brooklyn Bridge Park
When it comes to things to do with toddlers in NYC, you can’t overlook Brooklyn Bridge Park. It has so much to offer! The first being the incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City skyline. Your child may not be able to appreciate them but you will. Secondly, there are two playgrounds specifically designed with kids age 2-5 in mind. Thirdly, a water lab with sprinklers is a super fun activity for kiddos on a hot summer day. Lastly, the area is ideal for walking with a stroller and there are several food stands nearby to stave off any “I’m starving!” pleas.
12) Jane’s Carousel
While you’re visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park be sure to take your toddler for a ride on Jane’s Carousel. This traditional style painted horse carousel is beautifully restored. As such, it’s an iconic stop for many. Plus, rides are only $2 so it’s totally affordable too.
13) Alice’s Tea Cup
Do you have a little one that loves tea parties? If so, a trip to Alice’s Tea Cup is sure to make you parent of the year. This unique café caters to the younger set and is an ideal place to have tea and cookies (or scones or cakes or tarts…you get the picture.) The set-up is Alice in Wonderland themed. And, if that isn’t enough of a draw, kids are given fairy wings sprinkled with fairy dust (glitter) upon arrival. Totally magical, right?
14) Children’s Museum of Manhattan
You probably already know New York City boasts some of the best museums in the world. However, did you know it has a museum designed specifically with children in mind? This five-floor attraction features interactive exhibits perfect for kids age 6 and under. Highlights include everything from a 16-foot long water table to art-making and dance-offs. At the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, kids are encouraged to learn by doing. The best part is, whether it’s math, science or art experiments, kids will be having an educational outing without even realizing it! This easily makes the Children's Museum of Manhattan one of the best things to do with toddlers in NYC.
15) Washington Square Park
There are a lot of great parks in New York City. What makes Washington Square Park one of the best things to do with toddlers in NYC? Well, it’s the fountain. Or, more to the point, a fountain where wading in and splashing around is not only allowed but encouraged. Where else can you do that? (Apparently, it’s perfectly clean too. ) The iconic gates to the Park also make for an excellent photo op. Local musicians also play throughout the area, creating a unique soundtrack to your day.
16) Coney Island
This pick isn’t technically in New York City but it’s close enough, right? A visit to Coney Island can be a lot of fun—even for toddlers! Head to Brooklyn’s famed Coney Island Beach to enjoy rides like spinning teacups and a Ferris wheel. And, this being Coney Island, you can also indulge in kid-favorite foods like cotton candy, ice cream, and funnel cake while you’re there. In addition, right across the street from Coney Island is the New York Aquarium featuring an engaging sea lion show.
17) Children’s Museum of The Arts
Trek to the Children’s Museum of The Arts to enjoy a multitude of art mediums, from drawing and painting to playing with playdough and craft creations. Once your toddler has created their personal masterpiece let them go wild in the giant ball pit! Tip: This museum offers pay-as-you-wish admission on Thursdays from 4-6pm.
Enjoy All the Things to Do with Toddlers in NYC
As you can see, there are a lot of things to do with toddlers in NYC. In fact, this city is super kid-friendly. Which activity do you think your kid would enjoy the most? Do you have an NYC toddler activity we missed? Be sure to let us know about it in the comments.