by Tara Bone

You can do a New York City (NYC) Family Vacation.  If a frugal Idaho girl with three boys age 10, 8, and 4 can do it, anyone can too with a few tips.  There is so much to experience in the city that never sleeps.  The following doesn’t cover everything – it’s a reference to get you thinking. 



  • If you don’t have family in the area, let the hotel hunting begin. The average night in a NYC hotel is $250, depending on the time of year and location.  These rooms are small compared to the large rooms we find out west.
  • Book early and bargain hunt with:,,, or Apartment-style or suite hotels are available and smart for families who eat in.
  • For serious bargains, look for rooms in non-trendy parts of Manhattan like East Midtown, or across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
  • There are economical short-term vacation apartment rentals, but most are illegal. Although many visitors go this route, it’s a controversial NYC topic under debate.  Do your homework and talk to someone who knows the city if you have questions.


It’s Broadway Baby! 

  • If there’s a show you have to see and don’t want to gamble seat availability the day of the show, purchase tickets online in advance or check out This site combines discount tickets with advance purchase.
  • For discounted tickets on the day of the performance, go to the TKTS booth in Times Square or to the theater box office. There are other websites with discounted tickets too.  *Tidbit:  Sometimes the best ticket prices really are at the theater box office.
  • For adults, box office standing room only tickets are worth it for a sold out show.

Historic Carnegie Hall 

  • Carnegie Hall offers a limited number of Public Rush Tickets for $10 on the day of performances. These tickets must be purchased in person at the box office and are available even for sold out shows.  Box office opens at 11 a.m.

What to Pack

  • The humidity magnifies the heat or the cold.

Pack layers, even if it’s May and you think it’ll be warm.  The skyscrapers provide perfect wind tunnels and sun blockers.  Unless it’s the blazing summer, pack hats, scarves, and gloves.

  • Bring your sneakers and prepare to walk . . . A LOT!

Walking Madison Avenue in stilettos isn’t reality if you’re traveling with kids and the goal is to experience the city.  Women wearing skirts and tennis shoes with heels packed in a bag are common sights.

  • Did I mention you’ll walk a lot?

Bring a stroller for the four or five-year-old, even if he or she thinks they’re too big.  At city block 10 they’ll thank you.

  • Don’t use one of those cute monkey kid leashes.

My four-year-old was thrilled to use it, but New Yorkers weren’t thrilled to see it.  Use a stroller or hold hands.  Even my nine-year-old learned to hold on to a parent at all times.

*Tidbit: If you see a public bathroom – use it!  Good stops: M & M in Times Square or a McDonalds (ice cream cones make a great treat).

Getting Around

Make friends with taxi drivers and subway conductors:  They’re helpful and some of the most interesting New Yorkers you’ll meet.

  • It’s nerve-racking to hail your first cab. Take a deep breath, walk a few steps into the street and wave your arm like crazy.  Some will pass, but keep at it. Avoid this with the mobile apps Uber or Lyft and request a cab in minutes.

*Tidbit:  A cabbies’ shift ends at 4 p.m. If you’re trying to hail a cab from 4 to 5 pm – good luck.  How do I know this?  A kind cab driver took pity on my three kids and me.

  • The trick to riding the subway is study the map, use an app, and if needed ask the subway attendant questions. Do all of this while looking confident  – fake it till you make it, you will!
  • On your first day(s) take the plunge and do the touristy thing: get on the double decker tour bus. The Gray Line tour guides are helpful and it’s nice to get your bearings and learn history from a local. You can hop off the bus to explore an area and then hop back on the bus.

Favorite Navigation apps:


As a family decide what you want to see and then plot the destinations on a map.  Divide your days into parts of the city.

  • For example, start a day in the financial district and work your way up to Little Italy.

Possible itinerary:

Start at the 911 memorial:  Visitor passes are no longer required for the memorial, but reserved tickets are recommended for the museum.  Museum admission is free on Tuesday evenings.

Visit surrounding historic churches, Century 21 shopping, Wall Street, and Federal Hall.  Walk on Broadway’s ticker tape parade route.  There are plaques in the sidewalk to honor each parade, dating back to 1886. Wind your way up to Little Italy and Chinatown.

*Tidbit: The financial district is really quiet on the weekends.

Must See Parks

Central Park is an amazing, one-of-a-kind place where symbolic architecture and nature come together.

  • You’ll find playgrounds, the Central Park Zoo and treasures like a castle, fountains, unique bridges, gardens, bronze statues, and remote-controlled boats. It’s not a one-hour stroll in the park.
  • You’ll need a map and time. The Central Park Conservancy offers free park tours and even a park app.   See
  • Bike tours are also a great way to see the park.

High Line Park 

  • A public park on Manhattan’s West Side. It’s a1.45-mile-long park built on old elevated freight rail lines.  It has beautiful views of the city and nature.

Washington Square Park

  • The Park with its impressive white marble arch is a must visit. The famous park is located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood.


  • A helpful website that breaks restaurants down by cuisine type, price, reviews, and neighborhood is com. Try doing take out with hot plate to-go stops in Manhattan too.

*Tidbit: NYC pizzas for $20 are always hit.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

  • Purchase tickets in advance if you want to tour the statue’s pedestal or crown. Crown tickets are reserved for up to six months in advance. Purchase same day tickets near Battery Park through the park service.  *Tidbit:  Here there are aggressive salespeople with private ferry companies.  They’ll tell you that you have to buy a ticket from them or you can’t get to the island.  Ignore them and move on.
  • If you had ancestors immigrate through Ellis Island, there are walls behind the main building with all Ellis Island immigrants listed. This was a trip highlight when we traced our ancestor names on the wall.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the U.S. 

  • Programs and maps designed especially for families and children are available. Kid highlights: the Egyptian exhibits and the sword, gun, and armor collections.  There are “bring the kids” concerts at the MET too.

American Museum of Natural History

  •  – so much to see and do for kids!


Sensory Overload

NYC is wonderful, yet the sights, sounds and even smells are intense.  My boys enjoyed relaxing by:

Catching a Mets baseball game (just a subway ride from Manhattan)

Visiting unique stores:

Niketown: 6 east 57th Street

FAO Schwatz  (the Big Piano): 767 5th Avenue, Central Park’s east corner.

Rockefeller Plaza Lego Store

Our family’s favorite Big Apple experiences:

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island


Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Phantom of the Opera


See the related article “Family Firsts: NYC or Bust!” here