Having grown up on the eastern part of Pennsylvania, I’ve been to New York City a countless number of times since I was a little girl. Although my trips have become less frequent since I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, I still try to get there every chance I can. When my husband was invited to NYC on a work trip over Halloween, we jumped on the opportunity. New York City is beautiful in the Fall, with the changing colors and Fall turned Christmas decor. Plus, it was our first visit to New York City with a toddler, and we were excited to finally share the fun and fast paced city with our son.
Our son was just shy of 18 months old at the time we were visiting NYC. For that reason, we decided to primarily visit places that we could walk to from our East Midtown hotel versus tackling the whole city. Midtown is the central part of Manhattan with the biggest business district. It also has many of the iconic sights New York is known for. This includes Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Terminal. We were only in New York City for 48 hours, but it was the perfect amount of time to explore the city in the unseasonably warm Fall weather.
While this weekend in NYC was with a toddler, as with many of our trips, I’d recommend doing everything here without kids as well.
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Where to Stay in New York City with a Toddler
During this particular trip, the company sponsoring my husband’s trip covered two nights at the Intercontinental NY Barclay. I was super excited to stay at a new hotel I haven’t been to. (Especially when it’s one that would typically be out of our price range!) While its elegance and sophistication may not scream family friendly, the Intercontinental NY totally surprised us in the best way. It was in a good, central location for everything we wanted to see. Plus everyone there greeted our super friendly toddler with smiles and waves as he wandered around the lobby and halls.
Two things to consider if you’re staying at the Intercontinental NY Barclay with kids.
- The hotel primarily has showers (i.e. no tub for bathing that little person.) We love this inflatable tub when we’re staying somewhere for multiple nights that doesn’t have a bathtub.
- The rooms are fairly small, which is common in New York given how much of a commodity space is. (I’ve definitely stayed in much smaller rooms in NYC!) We just made the best of it and created a little space for our son in the corner of the room so he couldn’t peek at us while falling asleep.
- The hotel was more than willing to accommodate both our crib and mini fridge request. A fridge is always key for traveling with a baby or young toddler to store milk and snacks.
Other family-friendly hotels I’ve stayed at in Midtown in the past and would recommend include:
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel New York City – Times Square
- Hilton Garden Inn Times Square
- New York Hilton Midtown
- Waldorf Astoria (currently closed while undergoing renovations)
Things to Do in New York City with a Toddler
I’m an overplanner by heart, but since I committed up front to staying around Midtown it made this a much more relaxed trip. As part of that, I made a point to really enjoy the slower paced way of traveling with a toddler, which isn’t something I can usually say for a visit to NYC.
With my husband being tied up in all day meetings one day, my son and I had an entire day to explore just the two of us. We lucked out with unseasonably warm weather for our trip to NYC in the Fall. Since many stores and attractions in New York City don’t open until 10am, we spent much of the morning walking around before anything was open. Bryant Park is a great place to visit early in the morning, even before the shops open.
Bryant Park is one of my favorite places in NYC regardless of the time of year. I especially love it during the late Fall and early Winter, though. Winter Village in Bryant Park just opened the week we were there on November 1. That meant there was ice skating and tons of cute Christmas shops for us to browse.
It was also our son’s first time seeing anyone ice skating. He loved observing from the outer fence around the rink that was the perfect height for his viewing. If you’re in Bryant Park after 11am, you can enjoy one of many activities offered all year round. That includes Le Carrousel, Art Carts with free crafts, ping pong and multiple board games and chess games available for everyone to use. Bryant Park also has several kid-friendly events throughout the week, including magic shows, story time and juggling.
- Location: Between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues
- Hours: Typically 7am-10pm (but its a park, so you can walk around whenever!)
- Cost: Many activities are free; items are available to purchase including food and gifts; ice skating admission is free but skate rentals are $20.
New York Public Library
While you’re at Bryant Park, be sure to check out the Children’s Center in the Stephen A. Schwarzian Building of the New York Public Library, which is located next door. It wasn’t yet open when we were there on this trip, but it houses the original Winnie the Pooh and it’s also known for one of the best story times in the city. So much so, that you usually need to get there early to get a ticket to story time at the NY Public Library. Even though we didn’t go inside this time, we stopped to see the lion statues and run around the outside of the beautiful building.
- Location: 42nd St & 5th Ave
- Hours: Open Every day, hours vary (check website)
- Cost: Free (including story time; the ticket is just to manage the crowd)
Rockefeller Center is another great place to visit with little kids and just walk around and take in the sights. With many of the popular television stations located nearby, there’s never a shortage of events or promotions going on in the area. When we were there, they had just set up the Grinch Christmas Tree to promote the new movie and the #grinchforgood campaign. Simultaneously, staff at Rockefeller Center were getting ready to bring in the “official” tree of New York into Rockefeller for lighting on November 28th. With our visit to NYC occurring over Halloween, we were lucky enough to catch the Fall decorations while city was also prepping for Christmas.
Visiting Rockefeller Center with Kids?
Some of our favorite things to do with kids at Rockefeller Center are included below.
- Stopping at the Channel Gardens, which typically change with the seasons. This time they had a beautiful Fall display, and since our son is currently obsessed with pumpkins we spent a good amount of time here. (I haven’t quite figured out how to break the news to him that pumpkins are a seasonal thing.)
- Going shopping or just walk around to look at the window displays. Our favorite was the Lego store with the Rockefeller Center made of legos that was displayed in the window.
- Visiting the Top of the Rock Observation Deck with amazing views of the city and something I plan to do again in the future when our son is just a little older (kids under 6 are free!)
- Ice skating at Rockefeller is also something that should be done at least once in your lifetime. (Although personally I prefer Bryant Park or Central Park for ice skating since it tends to be less crowded and is also less expensive.)
Tip: To avoid the crowds around Rockefeller Plaza, go early. We were lucky enough to be there on a quiet Thursday morning. That meant our little guy could run around the Channel Gardens without me worrying about him getting run over as he toddled everywhere.
- Location: Between 48th and 51st Streets & Fifth and Sixth Ave
- Hours: Vary by attraction but the plaza itself is open to walk through 24/7
- Cost: Free if you don’t purchase anything (which can be hard to do!) Top of the Rock starts at $36 for adults and $30 for kids 6-12. Ice skating is $25+ per session for adults depending on the day, $11 per session for kids under 11 and skate rentals are $12.50.
Be sure to take a peek inside the beautiful St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue before or after your stop at Rockefeller Center. St Patrick’s Cathedral is right across the street from Rockefeller Center. It’s open to the public and is worth at least a few minutes to look around inside.
We lucked out with the weather and spent a good amount of time exploring Central Park on this trip. The park itself is huge at a sprawling 843 acres. We stayed around the South End of Central Park on this trip since it was the easiest to access from our Midtown hotel. Our favorites things to with toddlers in Central Park are below.
- Walk up to the Cop Cot and take a snack break on the nearby bench with a beautiful view of the city.
- Explore Heckscher Playground and the multitude of swings, slides and play areas, including a sand pit and water channels. It’s the perfect oasis for little kids in the middle of the city. Tip: There are fairly clean public restrooms here along with a changing table if you need it.
- Take a ride on the Carousel, which is one of the largest in the US. The hours vary and it unfortunately wasn’t open when we walked by it. Tip: Call the Park at 212.439.6900 (ext. 4) if you want to confirm that its open.
- Stop by the Chess & Checkers House to play a game and pick up a Discovery Pack for the kids.
- Go ice skating if you’re there during the cooler months. Wollman Rink between 62nd and 63rd is my favorite at Central Park.
- Visiting the Central Park Zoo along with the Tisch Children’s Zoo.
Central Park Zoo and Tisch Children’s Zoo
Although I’ve been goiCentral Park, this was my first time visiting both the Central Park Zoo and the Tisch Children’s Zoo. If you’re thinking about going, just keep in mind it’s right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. For us, that meant the Central Park Zoo wasn’t nearly as big and open as other zoos like our local favorite, the Pittsburgh Zoo. (Plus all those years of watching Madagascar 2 totally mislead me into thinking there are more animals at the Central Park Zoo. They totally fooled me with all lions, zebras, hippos and giraffes.) We still enjoyed it though, and anything the zoo may be lacking in space or animals is definitely made up for with the amazing views of the city throughout.
In the main part of the Central Park Zoo, you can see the sea lions swim and the snow monkeys climb back and forth between the rocks. The snow monkeys are situated in the middle of the Zoo in an open area. I had a hard time bringing my son to the next exhibit after he created his own game of peek-a-boo with the monkeys. I should also mention that the main part of the zoo isn’t necessarily set up for moms pushing strollers.
Visiting the Central Park Zoo with a Baby or Toddler?
For some of the downfalls of the main part of the zoo at this age, the Tisch Children’s Zoo totally makes up for it. It has the cutest areas to run around and explore. From the moment we entered, we were greeted by a multitude of birds and fun pathways to walk on. My son’s favorite part was the animal feeding, since he LOVES goats. Note: There’s a separate entrance to the Tisch Children’s Zoo, but it’s included with the price of admission to the main Central Park Zoo.
Below are some additional tips when visiting the Central Park Zoo with a baby or toddler.
- Many of the animals were in separate, inclosed indoor rooms and they require you to leave your stroller outside.
- The viewing areas can be difficult to see for little kids, and some of the rooms are darker inside. If your kid’s anything like mine, they may not love it! I ended up carrying my heavy toddler most of the way in the unseasonably warm weather. (Something I wasn’t prepared for on this solo sightseeing day with no extra hands.)
- Some of the paths (particularly at the top of the hill by the bears) aren’t stroller-friendly and you’re required to take a different route.
- Location: Central Park, 64th St & 6th Ave
- Hours: Currently 10am-4:30pm daily until April. Check the website before visiting as they vary by season
- Cost: $19.95 for adults (although we were there on a Thursday in November and my ticket was only $13.95.) Children 3-12 are $14.95 and kids under 2 are free
FDNY Fire Zone
The FDNY Fire Zone store and free exhibit is small, so you can easily miss it when walking by the 51st street entrance. It’s definitely worth the stop though, especially if you have kids obsessed with firefighters/ trucks/ anything that moves like ours. At the FDNY Fire Zone Fire-Safety Center, you can:
- Climb onto a firetruck and push buttons, pretend to steer, call someone on the intercom and strap yourself to the back seat.
- Try on the jackets and hats that firemen wear
- View the many badges from hundred of different fire stations
- Meet real fire fighters
- Buy a souvenir from the extensive gift shop, which is great for all the little firefighter fans out there
- Watch the simulated fire safety presentation to learn what to do if you’re caught in a fire and how to prevent them
- Location: 51st St between 5th & 6th Ave
- Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm and Sun 11am-5pm
- Cost: Admission is free; fire safety presentation is $6
If you’re in Midtown, you definitely need to at least walk through Time Square. Times Square can be super crowded and a little overwhelming with little ones. Our son loved it, though, and while you may not want to spend several hours there on your visit to New York City with a toddler, it’s definitely worth the stop.
A few favorite stores for kids in Times Square are Hershey’s Chocolate World, the M&M Experience and the Disney Store. FYI, if you have ideas of taking your kid to the Toys ‘R’ Us store with the big ferris wheel like I did, sadly it’s closed like the rest of the Toys ‘R’ Us franchise.
On the bright side, F.A.O Schwartz just reopened in Rockefeller Center November of 2018 (yay!) I’m super excited to take my son back on a future trip to NYC. F.A.O Schwartz was always the highlight of our trips to New York City growing up.
Grand Central Terminal
If you have time, try to walk around the beautiful and iconic Grand Central Terminal at the 42nd Street entrance. I sadly don’t have pictures since we missed it on this trip, but it’s on the top of our list for next time.
If you’re in New York City with kids from November to February, there’s also holiday train display. The Grand Central Terminal train display is at the NY Transit Museum Gallery and I have fond memories of it from growing up.
Halloween in East Midtown
We arrived on Halloween day during our trip to New York City in the Fall. We were super excited to experience a different type of trick-or-treating than we were used to in the suburbs. After consulting family travel groups and friends in the NYC with toddlers, we ultimately decided to trick-or-treat in East Midtown.
The East Midtown Partnership did a great job with the trick-or-treating event. There was a detailed map with each of the participating shops and what they were handing out. Our little shark loved it, and all of the shop owners and staff seemed to really enjoy participating in the event.
Planning to visit New York City for Halloween? There are several parades and neighborhood celebrations throughout the city. Mommy Poppins is a great resource to find all the best kid-friendly Halloween celebrations in NYC.
Kid-Friendly Places to Eat in Midtown NYC
We avoided some of the super touristy spots on this trip and opted for quick and convenient. Several of the kid-friendly restaurants we ate at were grab and go versus full service. Its not the way we always do things when traveling with a toddler, but it totally worked on this trip.
Bread + Butter
Bread + Butter is great for any meal of the day and has every type of food you can imagine. The set up is a little overwhelming at first since there are so many stalls to order from separately. Once you order from any of the endless options, you pay for everything in the middle of the store. I had a yummy egg white, veggie and turkey bacon breakfast wrap. Note: The upstairs seating is a little difficult to get to with a stroller. There’s downstairs seating with only a few steps that’s easy to get to, however.
Milk + Honey
It’s not a trip to New York without freshly made, New York style bagels loaded with cream cheese. Milk + Honey is conveniently located in Midtown by many of the major sights. The service is quick, the bagels were fluffy and the lox was fresh. For not being a place I thoroughly researched in advance, I was pleasantly surprised. Note: Milk + Honey is also Kosher if that’s something you’re looking for!
UrbanSpace Food Halls
We opted for the convenience of food halls for lunch both days. That allowed us to grab something and take it back to our hotel to take a break from the crowds. Urban space actually has two food halls in East Midtown. We ended up going to both of them since they were located on our walks back to our hotel both days.
- At UrbanSpace Vanderbilt we had We had a sushi burrito and amazing tuna poke bowl at Hai Street Kitchen & Co. There are several kid-friendly offerings like tacos, pizza, fried chicken and grilled cheese available at various stands.
- At UrbanSpace @570 Lexington we shared the green falafel platter at Taim. It’s loaded with falafel, hummus and veggies, plus a yummy grilled pita.
Both spots were a little crowded to navigate with the stroller, which was another reason why we ate back in the hotel. It was totally doable though, and they do both have ample seating available.
After an early afternoon of trick or treating on our first day in NYC, we ended the night with dinner at Dos Caminos. There are a handful of locations throughout the city and we went to the one at 50th St & 3rd Ave. Dos Caminos has a great kids menu, which is always a plus for us.
If you read my post on kid-friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh, you know that our son LOVES mexican food. The kids meals also came with a drink and ice cream to finish off the meal. I had amazing grilled fish tacos and my husband had enchiladas made two ways. Tip: The bathroom I used didn’t didn’t have a changing table. So make sure you have a changing pad if it’s an emergency.
Bareburger has several locations throughout NYC. We met a friend at the one in Midtown at 52nd & 2nd for dinner one night. It was my first time at a Bareburger, and it focuses on locally sourced food and sustainability. That and the unique menu make it pretty different from most burger chains. (The sweet potato and kale burger was amazing.) Plus, Bareburger has a “Cubby” kids menu with several options to choose from.
Places for Dessert in Midtown
We grabbed 2 scoops of Cookie Do in Urbanspace @570 Lexington, wanting to see what the hype was all about. (Especially after all those years of my mom telling me I would get sick from eating cookie dough.) We tried the birthday cake and the halloween special and both were amazing. The cookie dough was so rich that it took the 3 of us pretty much a whole day to finish 2 scoops. I definitely recommend giving it a try, though!
Trick or Treating with East Midtown Partnership also allowed is to visit some of our old favorites for dessert. Participating stores at the Midtown East Trick-or-Treating included:
Additional Places to Eat in Midtown NYC with Kids
We still love some of the touristy places in NYC for the fun atmosphere and food. A few recommendations include:
- Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity
- Crazy Milkshakes at Black Tap
- Cheesecake at Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery
- Brunch at Tavern on the Green
- Singing waitstaff at Ellens Stardust Diner
Tips for Visiting NYC with a Toddler
- United States car seat rules apply to taxis in New York City. (This differs from some other countries that don’t require car seats in taxis.)
- Ubers with a car seat are readily available in NYC. It’s a great option if you don’t have a car seat with you and need to quickly get somewhere.
- Subways in New York City aren’t always stroller friendly. There are elevators at some stops, but they can be tough to find.
- We love this travel stroller that folds up small so we can tuck it away as needed. It’s perfect for restaurants or subways that weren’t stroller friendly.
- New York City can be a little overwhelming for babies or toddlers at first. We definitely recommend taking breaks at one of several parks and green spaces throughout the day.
After our first trip to New York City with a toddler, I already can’t wait to go back and explore more of the city with him. What are some of your favorite things to do in NYC with kids?
Children’s Book Inspiration: Go, New York, Go by Josh Cleland
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