NYC Guide: 8 Favorite Activities for Toddlers

When I wrote my NYC guide last fall, we talked about 10 amazing things to do as a grown-up. But now I’d love to share our eight favorite kid activities (Toby approved!)…

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan (Upper West Side) is a five-floor wonderland for little ones (and a lifesaver on rainy days!). The interactive exhibits include a tongue you can slide down; a fire truck you can pretend to drive and a dragon you feed books to. Toby’s obsessed with the outdoor water area with toy boats and fishing rods. (In the photo above, doesn’t he look like Merrywether from Sleeping Beauty in his smock?)

Bonus tip: If you work up an appetite, head around the corner to Hampton Chutney for Indian dosas and yummy sandwiches. They have high chairs and a window seat with toys and books.

Central Park (Upper West Side). At this enormous (843 acres!) park, you can explore the children’s zoo (with adorable sea lions), ride a carousel, take rowboats onto the lake, ride rental bikes (with child seats) around the loop on weekends, and play with charming toy sailboats. But, if you feel wanderlusty, you don’t need to plan anything: Just walk around, and you’ll come across street musicians, grassy lawns, playgrounds and ice-cream stands. And it’s not just a wonderful place on sunny afternoons; in the fall, the changing leaves are gorgeous, in the winter, you can take kids ice skating and sledding, and in the spring, the cherry blossoms and magnolia trees are in full bloom. Bonus tip: On certain summer evenings, you can bring a blanket and watch movies in the park; find the schedule here.

The American Museum of Natural History (Upper West Side). This huge museum is mindblowing for little ones, with animal exhibits, dinosaurs and a family-friendly Discovery Room, where you can play with flashlights and dig for fossils. My favorite room is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life with a model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. It’s dark and peaceful and magical—and if your kids are six or older, they can sleep over!

Bonus tips: The entry fee is a suggested donation, which is great for families on a budget. For lunch, walk across the street to the wildly popular Shake Shack for delicious burgers and milkshakes.

Pier 25 Playground (Tribeca). New York Magazine featured a list of the city’s 19 best playgrounds, but our favorite by far is Pier 25. Jutting out onto the Hudson River, the pier has a giant sandbox, swings, climbing structures and tons of sprinklers. (These photos don’t do it justice!) It’s gorgeous on warm evenings; as you watch the purple sunset over the river with the sand in your toes, you’ll feel like you’re on a beachy vacation. Bonus tips: The pier also has mini golf, volleyball courts and a soccer field. If you get hungry, walk a few blocks south to the Whole Foods, where you can enjoy your dinner in the family seating area upstairs, which has kids’ toys and a play kitchen.


Children’s Museum of Art (West Village). This bright, airy museum has two big art rooms, where kids can draw, paint, play with homemade playdough, and assemble crafts. But the coolest part of the museum? The ball pit! Toby used to be timid but now he dives right in there! It’s amazing. Bonus tips: The museum offers pay-as-you-wish admission on Thursdays from 4-6pm. Also, on Saturdays and Sundays, the museum has free-with-admission music sessions at 11:30am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm in the main arts room. Two guys play guitars, and all the kids drum on bongos! Toby adores it.

Brooklyn Bridge Park & Jane’s Carousel (Dumbo, Brooklyn). One breathtaking way to spend an afternoon is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the waterfront park underneath. The views of the Manhattan skyline are stunning, and there are fantastic playgrounds, a historic carousel and an ice-cream shop.

Bonus tip: If you’re up for more adventures, walk over to Pier 6 (about a 15-minute walk along the water), which has the COOLEST playgrounds, including Swing Valley, Slide Mountain and the Water Lab (pictured above).

Transit Museum (Brooklyn Heights). Housed in an old subway station, this museum is Toby’s dream come true: It’s full of vintage subway cars, old subway maps and a bus you can pretend to drive. Whenever we go here, he literally runs around the entire time in a state of giddy joy. (My favorite part are the retro subway ads.)

Bonus tip: On Saturdays and Sundays, the museum has free-with-admission kids classes at 1:30pm, like build-your-own-bridge and shadow-puppet storytelling.

Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village). At this historic park, you’ll find old guys playing chess, two great playgrounds, and a giant fountain that you can wade in on hot summer days (apparently, it’s perfectly clean, and kids flip out over it). But Toby’s favorite part is the street musicians dotting every path, from jazz quartets to guitar players to pianists. Bonus tip: If you work up an appetite, just head half a block south to Peanut Butter & Co., and don’t forget your camera: The iconic arch makes a great backdrop for family photos. (We also took this photo there!)

What about you? Any favorite activities or playgrounds for kids in New York City? We’re still working on our list, so I’d love to hear!!!

P.S. The rest of the Cup of Jo Guide to NYC, including a secret playground and how not to look like a tourist.

(Top photo of Toby, with graphic design by HipHipGinGin for Cup of Jo. Children’s Museum of Manhattan photos by New York Daily News and me; Central Park photos from the Village Voice, Gotham Girl Photography, Marvelous Kiddo and myself; Transit Museum photos by Zach Summer, Elissa Englund and me; Natural History Museum photos by Hither & Thither, Zirkel, Marvelous Kiddo; Brooklyn Bridge photo by us; Jane’s Carousel photo by New York Magazine; sunset photo by Chris Schoenbohm; Children’s Museum of Art photos by Sharon and me; Washington Square Park photos by us, Kate Spade and Whitney)

  1. Carson Abbe says...

    Thanks so much, I hope my baby boy loves this as much as I did!
    We would like to invite you to watch this ABC Song For Toddlers!

  2. This guide is absolutely amazing! I am in complete love with it. I have been there and couldn’t agree more that remote control boats in Central Park are simply outstanding. However, the drawback is that they are only available in the summers. My kid took his remote control boat there last year and he never wanted to come back, LOL!

  3. Laurel says...

    I’ve been hunting for hot tips on Brooklyn/NYC for 5-nearly-6 year olds. Staying in Williamsburg for a week after Easter, but open to all boroughs and all types of fun! Have you written a post on stuff for older kids (other than the great post authored by Anton and Toby!)? Anything in addition to this post??

  4. Thanks for sharing these kids activities ideas, Joanna. My kid enjoys at Children’s Museum of Manhattan more than at any other place. We are planning to travel to Brooklyn in the vacations, will try to visit Brooklyn Bridge park for sure, hope the little one will enjoy it.

  5. Thanks for sharing these to us my dear. We will definitely find a way to apply them.

  6. Elle Spranz says...

    Question on Jane’s carousel- Are there any restrictions on little riders? Can toddlers ride a moving horse? Can you babywear on the carousel? I ask because the operator on the last carousel my 12 month old rode required us to sit on a bench for the ride. Hoping my boy can enjoy the horses. Thank you!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you for your note! i’m not sure about babywearing, but toddlers can ride on horses if their caregiver is standing next to them. you pay per person who is riding a horse, so if you’re standing next to your child, you’d just pay the $2 for your child. hope that helps! they are really friendly and nice.

  7. Deborah says...

    Planning a NY trip this summer with my Emi, Thank you for sharing! Your post is beyond helpful and I will be using it on our trip!

  8. We are going to NYC for the first time this summer. I’ve been reading your blog for years and always knew you’d be THE guide for doing NYC with the kids. Thank you for posting all these ideas. We’re so looking forward to it!

  9. Patricia M says...

    Lived in NYC for a few years and go back every year but never with a baby. Taking my 16 month old next week and this is exactly what I have been searching for! Grazie!

  10. Just arrived from Ireland with my 15-month-old girl. It’s a bit chilly for central park but am heading to the childrens museum today. Thanks for the post Jo, very useful.

  11. Just arrived from Ireland with my 15-month-old girl. It’s a bit chilly for central park but am heading to the childrens museum today. Thanks for the post Jo, very useful.

  12. I always wanted a good gymnastics centre for my kid. What I want is that my kid must learn in a playful way. Gym for kinds in Central Coast area is a big change.
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  13. Remote control boats in Central Park are simply the best! Too bad it’s only a summer thing though. We have a list going as well for all seasons. Check it out!

  14. Love your tips, do y have more for January?

  15. Just came upon this post because I was researching things to do with a toddler for an upcoming trip to NYC :) Thanks for the info! Quick question: what do you do regarding toddler in a cab? Carseat or no carseat?

  16. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing. Institutes today cater to the needs of the happy who intend to send their child to these institutes where they learn by participating in various activities for children.

  17. Love this this post – we’re looking for ideas when we visit NYC soon with our toddler! so thank you!!

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  21. Great tips for mommies. The next time I’ll be in this gorgeous city, they will definitely help me, as it’s so hard to find places in strange cities to find places interesting for both parents and children. In such situations a trip can turn into horror with bored kids and their stressed parents.

  22. We just returned from a weekend trip to NYC. I looked over your guides and was able to hit up some of your suggestions. Thanks so much for compiling magical pieces of the city. After we left Grand Central Station (sadly… the whisper tunnels were out of commission) we were wandering down by Radio City Music Hall and I am pretty sure we passed Alex and Toby! Very handsome boys!!

    Thanks again for the tunnels I can’t wait to take kids to the city someday!

  23. This is great – Thanks
    My baby is due in a couple of months and I will be eventually taking her to NYC.

    Thanks again

  24. This is brilliant! I’m not a mommy, so very often these mommy oriented posts don’t apply to me, but this is fascinating anyway, just because NYC is so magical. A girl can dream about raising a little one in the city. I know it comes with it’s own set of challenges, but is there any other place like it?

  25. Christy, Friday nights at MoMA are free. Most museums offer discounts to students, etc, but often they have a big corporate sponsor who makes on night a week or month free (in this case, it’s Target!). As an art lover, I feel your pain about museums. Fortunately, I’m in DC, where most are free!

  26. The ball pit is always endless hours of fun in our family. :)

  27. This is so great, thank you! We have just embarked on a six -week, round the world trip with our 3 year old Maggie- and New York is our last stop before home (Melbourne, Australia). She will love our visit!

  28. Thanks for sharing this! We’ve wanted to make a trip to NYC for a while now but with a little one on the way, I figured by the time we got around to making the trip we’d have to find some toddler-friendly things to do so this is perfect!

    (And I know I say this constantly but…. WHAT A CUTIE TOBY IS!:)

  29. we *just* got back from nyc on tuesday – our last little trip away before baby makes 3. as usual we had a fabulous time {i summed it up on}, but now i’m even more excited to go back with our little one!

    thanks so much for sharing these spots :)

  30. thanks for all these sweet comments!! susan, how fun that you’re moving here!! brooklyn is a great place to live; i might suggest park slope, prospect heights, brooklyn heights, cobble hill, carroll gardens and fort greene, of the top of my head….but so many great neighborhoods!

    • Toir says...

      Can anyone help… do these places all still apply in 2019? We are considering New York with our 1 and 4 year olds in February!! ?

  31. Hi Joanna. I used your guide to NYC when my husband and 20month old son visited in June from Australia!. We went to Washington Square to play on the swings, rolled on the grass in Central park and ran around in circles in Battery park. We were surprised that so many parks wouldnt allow you on to the grass. We had planned to go to the Transit museum, on your suggestion, as my son also loves trains but apparently 8nights is not enough time to do everything in NYC. Thanks for this guide, not sure if we will return, there is too much to see in this world. Love your blog!

  32. What a great City for a kid to grow up. (Says a mom in the suburbs for which the song “Little Boxes” from Weeds is about.)

  33. Love this list. I will add The NY Hall of Science in Queens, with its awesome exhibits and rocket mini-golf. Also love The Metropolitan Museum, NY Aquarium and Coney Island, The Intrepid (now extra cool with the Space Shuttle!,) Ellis Island (and get the Jr. Ranger’s booklet which, if you complete, you get a badge,) Brooklyn Boulders for rock climbing and bike paths (up the West Side to the Little Red Lighthouse is really flat and has lots of fun stops along the way!) Oh and The High Line! And Eataly!

    OK, sorry to ramble on-I love doing stuff with the kids here so am happy to have a chance to tell some of our favorites!

  34. What a great post!!!!!!

    I have been to all the places on the list, and would recommend them as you suggested!!

    The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is pretty cool, I almost liked it better than the one in UWS.

    This post reminded me that I should visit them again, as I did all of them with my son, but haven’t taken my daughter to any of them, maybe cuz they have fun with each other now!

  35. Thank you for all of the great tips! My husband just got offered a job in Manhattan. We are trying to decide where to live. We grew up in San Francisco Bay Area and currently live in Austin. We are thinking about living in Brooklyn. We have a 22m old boy and a dog. Can you suggest areas in Brooklyn? We would be renting. (I find the whole process so intimidating, yikes)

  36. tara, that sounds like an amazing plan. also, MoMA has a rad exhibit right now about children’s toys through the ages. hopefully it will still be there when you’re visiting!

  37. wish i’d seen this sooner! maybe for next time! great post

  38. The first photo that you posted of the Manhattan Children’s Museum is actually of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. I should know, I worked there!

  39. So cute! This is great, thank you. I use to live in NYC, but not with kids. We hope to go back later this year for our Tots (and itty bitty baby’s) first visit. I know we won’t hit everything … but some things I had in mind (for us and some for Max)… seeing the WTC Memorial, Statue of Liberty (my husband hasn’t been), American Museum of Natural History, maybe the MoMA (because I love it), PB Company … but I definitely wanted ideas for a toddler – so thank you!


  40. yes, hampton chutney!!!! and thank you for this wonderful list of things my 2 year old twins will love the next time we’re in the city!

  41. Tobby is such a cuties pie!

    ps: the museum of natural history is one of my favorite places in NYC.

  42. how fun!! i jog past pier 25 every afternoon! it always looks like the kids are having a blast:)

  43. christy, that’s a great idea!! lots of free and cheap things to do here, for sure. i’ll start making up a list!

  44. one claire day — how fun that you’re coming to visit! yes, it’s really easy to get from brooklyn to manhattan, especially if you’re staying in the closest neighborhoods, like brooklyn heights, dumbo, carroll gardens, cobble hill, williamsburg, etc…. plus, there’s so much going on in brooklyn anyway, that it’s really fun to hang out there, too! :)

  45. Thank you! We live on long island and feel out of the loop when we bring our kids to the city. We usually end up at the Times Sq toys r us (which is cool) but I’m glad we now have some other fun stuff to do.

  46. Thank You Joanna!
    We’re going to be in NYC from Sept 8 til Oct 10 :)

  47. I’m loving your NYC guides! Of course, now I wish I had a kid so I wouldn’t look like a weirdo if I decided to visit all the awesome parks and playgrounds :)

    Question- do you think you could do a city guide themed with only free and low-cost things to do? (I know you did include some in your Adult list, kayaking for example). I just never knew the MoMA was so expensive! But still, I know I must get there someday.

  48. Oh wow – the Merryweather photo is too precious!

  49. Great finds! Now if only i had a time machine to go back a few years and be a kid again… :)

  50. Oh, thank you Jo! The timing couldn’t be more perfect! Me, my husband and little girl are making our way to the big apple all the way from the Northern tropics of Australia and we couldn’t be more excited (or clueless as to where to go in nyc!).

    This will be a real help for us creating an itinerary for our first big international family adventure… roll on October! x

    P.S – Brooklyn seems like our kinda place and accommodation seems so much cheaper there (and bigger and trendier). Do you think it’s too far away from the city’s main attractions to base ourselves there and commute across the city? I’d love your personal opinion!

  51. so cool to know !
    thanks jO ^_^
    & i have a thought for @lovetaza who just arrives in the big apple

  52. Anonymous says...

    Echoing some other comments, Toby looks adorable in that smock! I love how he’s getting right in there with the big kids. So cute!

  53. This list is fabulous Joanna!!!!

    We live in NYC (Brooklyn) with our just about 3 yeard old and have been to and loved each one of these, also I’d add some of the amazing storytimes the city has to offer, namely our favorite at McNally Jackson in Soho.

    Lindsay @ Darling Clementine

  54. That Toby is getting far too adorable and my, what an honour it is to watch him grow. Thank you Joanna :)

  55. We just moved to NJ from FL and this list is amazing. Excited to explore NY with my one year old.
    Thank youuu!

  56. Anonymous says...

    That Cinderella reference is hilarious. Yes, Toby looks just like Merriweather!

  57. Shannon says...

    How cute! I don’t have kids, but am kind of tempted to do some of these things myself:). And Toby does look like Merryweather in his smock — so funny.

  58. Lauren says...

    I am a nanny for two boys here in Brooklyn and they love when we go to play at the Pratt Institute’s campus in Fort Greene. There are beautiful old buildings with courtyards and lawns (read: hiding places and forts), plus the entire campus doubles as a totally rad sculpture garden! Not only is it a safe atmosphere for them to run around, but it’s a cool setting for their imaginations to run wild too! I’d definitely recommend the area for your Brooklyn house hunting :)

  59. Perfect timing! We’re taking our 3 year-old in a month. Thanks for the tips.

  60. Joanna, thanks so much for being a guest of Shake Shack. With so many awesome things to do in NYC, we’re thrilled to be included in your guide.

    Hope our team sees you and Toby again soon at the Shack!

    -Brandy, Shake Shack

  61. Thanks for a fab post! We are headed to NYC for the first time in January with our kids (9, 6 and 4) – one thing I was wondering about was what to do if it’s really freezing, but it sounds like there are some great things to do indoors. I would love to hear your tip on which area to target our accommodation search in – choice overload and being unfamiliar with the city it’s difficult to know where’s going to be a good location to base our stay around. Thanks again – and love all the pics of Toby enjoying the sights!

  62. This is a great post! We’re planning to have a baby so we would add this to our bucket list of “thing to do with our baby” :-)

  63. Anonymous says...

    You have a way of finding all the good places in NY and where you visit. You should write a travel guide! This was fun to read.

  64. Toby in that blue smock is just about the cutest thing ever. He looks so little! And yeah, a little bit like Merryweather, only not as chubby.

  65. B says...

    This is a great post, I’ve been to some of these places as a kid. This makes me want to go to NYC!

  66. Gorgeous post! We’ve been to NY several times (we’re from Syracuse!), but I love your little insider tips about food! Heading down next summer and will definitely check them out!

  67. Love to see this list! This is a mix of things I enjoyed as a child in NYC… and as an adult, when I spent the last 4 years living in Brooklyn.