How would you spend just one day with kids in New York City?
This is nearly an impossible question to answer, but I find myself being asked it quite regularly since we moved to New York City. I have thoughts on the subject of course, but let me say this first, there is no one right answer.
It is hard to explain just how much there is to do here until you really spend some time here.
There are always things going on.
There are millions of places to eat and many of them are fantastic.
There are museums, playgrounds, zoos. theater, landmarks, and history.
And for each of those categories there are dozens of excellent options. Well, except the zoos. There are only 5 of those...not dozens.
But when our lovely friends and family ask me for suggestions, my first question is usually - have you been here before?
Because if not, there are some essential New York experiences. Central Park is at the top of that list for me.
I wrote this list of New York must-dos with those first timers in mind.
However, if you have been to New York before and you only have one day, then Lower Manhattan is usually what I suggest.
We have done some version of this itinerary a few times now with at least 3 different groups of people and I think it's a fun mixture of things for a short amount of time.
Why 9 Hours? That's about as long as my kids last before they fall asleep standing up.
Who is this for? Really anyone, but we've tested it with kids ages 3-10. We've done it with just adults and our kids, with a family, and with one other adult and their kid.
Why Lower Manhattan? I'm about to explain...
Lower Manhattan is (probably obviously) the lowest part of Manhattan. Manhattan is one of the 5 boroughs that make up New York City, but what most people think of when they think of New York. Central Park, Rockfeller Center, Times Square, Broadway, etc are all in Manhattan.
Some day I will share a day in Brooklyn (start here for sure) because it is infinitely worth exploring, but for now - Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan is also known as Downtown Manhattan. I tried really hard to figure out which one was the correct term, but they seemed to be used interchangably. One map I saw drew Downtown Manhattan bigger and Lower Manhattan was the lowest neighborhood included. Wikipedia seems to think it's Lower Manhattan and I went with that purely so it would be easier for you to search for additional information.
So, you're headed to Lower Manhattan - but why? What is there to do there? Here's where the fun starts.
Grab a bagel on your way and start your day at the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park. You can find more details in this post.
The SeaGlass Carousel is across the street from the Staten Island Ferry. Head over and up the stairs where you can ride the ferry for free.
Why ride a ferry? Well for one because kids are amused by riding transportation they don't normally get to ride. The other reason (the more adult one) is that you get an awesome view of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Depending on the time of year, there are a couple things to consider.
1. Dress for the weather. We have done this in November and December and it can get a little windy and cold. My kids having spent the last 2 years in Mississippi are a touch dramatic about cold, but you will want to have hats and warm coats. The ferry DOES have an indoor part with big windows though, so standing outside is optional.
2. While we did this early on in the day, you can also reverse this itinerary and do these first two things last. The view of the city and the Statue of Liberty at sunset is breathtaking. Again consider the weather though, because on colder days it will be chillier with the sun going down.
When you get to Staten Island, assuming you don't want to stay, you get off the ferry and hop back on the next boat to Lower Manhattan.
Round Trip this takes about an hour. I recommend packing a snack for the ferry.
Grand Central Station is absolutely cool and the history of it makes it even cooler, but the Fulton Street Station is my favorite in the city.
This station is new to the city. It was still largely under construction when we moved here in May of 2016.
It is now part subway station, part PATH station, and part mall. It has an extensive underground tunnel system that connect to many of the nearby buildings.
If you didn't take the train into this station to get to Lower Manhattan then make sure to walk through on the way to your next stops. From the Staten Island Ferry you can walk a couple of blocks, hop on the train a couple stops and be at the Fulton Street Station.
If you're hungry this also has some lunch options or there is an Au Bon Pain between the Staten Island Ferry and the Fulton Street Station among a zillion other choices.
Currently the tallest building in the USA, this is an impressive structure. It towers over the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
You can gawk up at the building and visit the two memorials for free. If you want to visit the 9/11 Museum or go up in the One World Trade Center (which is a cool experience) then I recommend eating first and buying tickets ahead of time online.
On the surface Brookfield Place is just an upscale mall. What sets it apart however is the awesome art installations and events that it has throughout the year.
This summer the Musical Swings hung out in the terrace, there were birds flying inside at one point, and right now there is a host of events including the beautiful luminaries.
When we walked through the first weekend in December we stumbled onto a free one hour performance of the Nutcracker ballet and an ice skating rink outside.
Make sure to check out their events page before you go.
Also, if you still haven't gotten around to eating lunch or need a snack there is a cafeteria style option downstairs and a food court (with a Starbucks) upstairs.
There are also clean restrooms on the first floor near the escalators. Friendly staff will point you in the right direction.
One of our favorite reasons to visit this area is for the playgrounds. There are fantastic ones all over the city, but these are 2 of our favorites.
Nelson A Rockefeller Playground
This is the bigger of the two and good for all ages. It sits right along the waterfront just a little ways up from Brookfield Place.
It is large, has a variety of climbing and play equipment, and ample seating for adults.
Tear Drop Playground
This is a tiny playground nestled in between a couple of skyscrapers. (Pictured below)
It has a sand area, a slide (that my kids think is fanastic) and an awesome water area in the summer.
This playground is best for 3 and up.
There is a public bathroom to the north east of this playground, also about a block from the other playground as well. It is in the bottom of an apartment building but accessible from the northwest corner to the public. If I have learned one thing about life in New York with kids it is to know where the bathrooms are and take advantage when you're near one.
Somewhere in the 4 or 4:30 neighborhood we start wandering for dinner. If your kids aren't used to eating until later, obviously adjust this time table. If you visited either World Trade Center attraction or stopped for an event at Brookfield Place then after an hour or 2 at the playground it is already later than this.
For dinner, you have a huge variety of options.
There are a few more casual options, like Shake Shack, a couple blocks from the playground.
If you're up for a little bit more of a walk, then I recommend heading over to Stone Street.
On our latest Lower Manhattan adventure, my friend brought paper and crayons for the kids to color with during dinner. They each drew a picture about their day and it was so fun to see what they remembered and enjoyed most. No surprise, the ferry ride is still topping the charts.
It takes a while for anyone to get a used to the amount of walking New Yorkers do on an average day. I personally love that about the city, but it can be exhausting - especially to little legs. After 9 hours in Lower Manhattan you will have all earned a great night's sleep.
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