Holiday Family Activities in NYC

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New York City is great anytime of the year, but nothing can top Christmas Time in NYC! On our recent trip, we made sure to get out and about with our two (almost three) year old so she could also get the full Manhattan experience. Many of the things we did in the city were holiday related, but some of them are applicable any time of the year. I’ll include both types of activities here, just in case they are helpful for some other families.  If you want to catch up on the rest of the trip, here are the other related posts.

Getting to NYC: BusinessFirst on the 787

The Macy’s Santa Line

Grand Hyatt – VIP Suite Review

NYC Holiday Activities with a Family (this post)

Andaz Fifth Avenue – Splash Suite Review

NYC Logistics with a Family

FAO Schwartz:

We headed up one evening to FAO Schwartz to let Little C check out all the toys and the “Big” piano. I thought she might be overwhelmed by the wall to wall people that packed the store, but she did great. She cared way more about the toys than the gazillion other people who were jammed into the store. This was great free entertainment! Just be aware this store can be a total madhouse during the holidays.  The wait for your time on the piano was under five minutes.


Carriage Ride in Central Park:

This is actually right next to FAO Schwartz in Central Park, so if you want to do both it makes sense to hit them in one trip. My husband and I actually parted way with our kiddo and let Grandma and Grandpa take over after FAO Schwartz while we went and had dinner with some friends (it seriously pays to use points to bring relatives along on trips). So, we gave them some cash and let them take over carriage duties. They said it was very pricey at around $70 for a 20 minute ride ($50 +$20 tip). You can see all the rates on this site. My daughter loved it though and that was totally the point.  They also got a tour of some of Central Park and learned where some different movie scenes were filmed.

World Trade Center Memorial:

This one isn’t holiday related at all, but it is an important stop we made on our visit. We requested passes online ahead of time. It is free (though you are encouraged to make a donation). This was something that wasn’t geared for a kiddo at all, but it was important to us, so she got to come along. Not to diminish the memorial or 9/11, but I have to say that this was not one of the highlights of the trip mostly due to the very long line to get in. It was about a 90 minute process to get in even though you had a pass for a specific time. You go through security similar to airport security, and most of the wait to get in is outside so prepare ahead of time for hot, cold, or inclement weather.

We will visit again when C is better able to wait in a 90 minute line, the museum is open, and the weather is a bit warmer.  The logistics just made it very difficult to fully appreciate the memorial this time around.



Thankfully right before our trip to the memorial we had lunch at KoKo Asian Fusion that is literally right next to the World Trade Center Memorial. They were very accommodating to our kiddo, had quick service, and all five of us ate for less than $60, which is quite good for a sit-down restaurant in NYC. The sushi and noodle dishes we got were not award winning, but the potions were large, it was better than most Asian food we get in East Texas, and it worked for us. Had we not eaten (and used the restroom) before getting in the 90 minute line, we wouldn’t have made it.


Rockefeller Center:

You simply have to visit Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree if you are NYC during the holidays. It is a brisk part of the city, but most folks are having a great time bundled up and taking pictures. It is a festive atmosphere for sure! You can go ice skating there, but we opted to skate somewhere else. When C is bigger we will ice skate here at least once because, well, you just have to do it at least once under the big tree.


We actually had dinner one night at Rockefeller Center in the underground shops at Hale and Hearty Soups. Again, nothing fancy, but it was inexpensive, warm, and did the trick. There are lots of chain restaurants available in the underground shopping area there in case you want a quick and affordable meal.

Department Store Windows:

Another “must do” in NYC is to check out the decorated department store windows. The photo was below was taken at Sak’s Fifth Avenue right across from the Rockefeller Tree. They also had a light show that went off in the evening. The windows came to life with snow and other movement – it was very well done. Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Bergdorf Goodmans, Bloomingdales, and Barneys all also typically have window displays that are worth checking out. Another qualify free holiday activity!

Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall:

One night Little C and my husband headed to see Yo Gabba Gabba together while I went with my parents to see the Rockettes perform their Radio City Christmas Spectacular show. They do many performance throughout the day, and for whatever reason we got tickets to the 9:30PM show. This was a bit too late as we were kind of wiped out, but I think we did get a good deal on the tickets since the performance was so late in the day. I was a little afraid I would fall asleep during the performance, but it was so well done I had no problem staying awake once it started. It absolutely exceeded my expectations. There are many Christmas themed scenes that include Santa, the story of the birth of Jesus (complete with live animals), NYC at Christmas, and more. There are also some really fun 3-D animated segments.

I would not hesitate to take my kiddo to the show beginning when she is about four years old. She probably would have done okay this year, but no guarantees. The show is entertaining enough that most children would do okay beginning at 4-5 years. Children two and under are free if they sit on a parent’s lap, and heck this late in the day they probably would have been asleep anyway.



The theater was gorgeous, and you got a discount on merchandise with your Chase card as they are a big sponsor of the show. I highly recommend this show for your NYC holiday trip. It is in the Rockefeller area, so it is easy to combine with a trip to see the tree and some of the department store windows.

Ice Skating in Bryant Park:

We opted for skating in Bryant Park is it was right next to our hotel (Andaz Fifth Avenue) and it was free admission…but you do still pay for skate rental if you don’t have your own. They offer discounts if you have a Citi card, so bring one with you. You could skate as long as you wanted, and while it was fairly busy on the Sunday morning we were there, it wasn’t terribly overcrowded. Just in case you haven’t done it, helping a 2/3 year old learn how to skate is truly a back breaking experience. It is much easier if you have two adults helping out as you can each hold a hand. My husband is not the ice-skating type, so I was on my own until Grandpa hoped in and helped out. We all had a bunch of fun though!


20121212-154445.jpgTimes Square:

We also paid a visit to Times Square. Again, I was a little worried that my daughter would be overwhelmed, but that wasn’t the case at all. She quickly learned to pick up the pace when walking, and she learned a fast lesson about watching where you are walking so you don’t run into anyone. It was very walkable from the Andaz 5th Avenue – even with a small kid.


While we were in Times Square we visited the Disney Store, rode the Toys ‘R Us ferris wheel ($5 per person for about a 10 minute ride), and bought some quintessential cheap I Love NY t-shirts.

NYC Playgrounds:

This is not holiday specific, but I highly recommend spending some time just playing in some of the many playgrounds that are available all around NYC. We walked to this one from the Grand Hyatt the first full day we were there. It gave our kid a chance to run around without fear of running into anyone or getting plowed by a cab. Even though it was cold, there were a few kids (and their nannies) out and about playing. We sometimes ask a bunch of our young child on these trips, so it is good to also provide time to just run around and play.



You can find playgrounds here and here. I’m sure most hotel concierge staff could also help point you in the right direction to a close playground. I also did a little research on Yelp before we headed out to check reviews of some different playgrounds.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan:

The first afternoon we were in the city Little C and I headed up to West 83rd ST to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to meet up with Hilary from TravelSort and her kiddo. It was a little bit of a trek from midtown (we took a cab on the way up and the subway back), but it was a really good children’s museum. As anyone with a kid knows, children’s museum is just a code name for an indoor play area.


This one is five stories tall and has both permanent and temporary exhibits. For the holidays they had a Grinch’s Holiday Workshop where the children made some crafts. We then went to a floor devoted to Dora the Explorer and Diego. This exhibit had a bunch of stuff about animals and Latin culture (the dirty-ish stuffed animals that C was hoarding did gross me out a tad). I think we spent a little over an hour there, and could have easily stayed longer if I wasn’t feeling terrible, C wasn’t exhausted, and it wasn’t closing time. Details, details. Bottom line is this is a great indoor activity for young children that can easily occupy them for a couple of hours. It was $11 each and children under 12 months are free. However, we were total boneheads as we probably could have gotten in free with a reciprocal membership from our home children’s museum. I was way too out of it to remember it that day in time – though Hilary did try to remind me….it just wasn’t quite in time.

Just Walking Around the Big City:

I asked my daughter what her favorite part of the trip was expecting her to say the visit to Santa at Macy’s (whole post dedicated to that), or ice skating, or the carriage ride, and instead she says “just walking around New York with you”. Are you kidding me?! Are you sure you are just two years old?! She really did so well just walking around for a girl who is not normally accustomed to strolling around a city.

I always kind of thought she would love NYC because she is somewhat of a frenetic, energetic, and fast paced kid, but I had no idea she would appreciate the beauty of just being in Manhattan so young. She did.



Since we all love NYC, and we have family just a short train ride away in Connecticut, I have no doubt this is just the first of many trips for C to the Big Apple. I’d love to hear some of your other family friendly holiday (or non-holiday) activities you enjoy in New York!



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  1. What a fantastic trip for little C! I too love New York city, especially at the holidays. My favorite deli is Oliva’s, which is just around the corner from the World Trade Center Memorial…next time you are in New York, check it out! Good to see you on the web!

  2. Great report — and I fail to see how taking your daughter to the 9/11 Memorial, and offering her such tremendous travel experience, is superficial!

    New York has changed massively since I first visited in the 1980s. I now find it to be one of the friendliest, cleanest cities to visit in the world and, like little C, my favorite thing to do there is just walk around taking it all in.

    You’re doing a wonderful job raising your daughter. I look forward to following her further adventures!

  3. Great recap! A nice reminder of all of the places and things I take for granted, and also a reminder that I need to make sure my kids see all of these things! So glad that you and your family had a great experience and such wonderful memories.

  4. There are at least two children’s museums in the city that I think are more interesting that the Manhattan one — The Brooklyn Children’s Museum (admittedly harder to get to) and the Children’s Art Museum downtown.
    The Manhattan Children’s Museum is right across the street from arguably the best cafe in New York (Cafe Lalo).
    There are some really great (and different) playgrounds in Central Park — basically there are play grounds around the periphery of the park space every 5 to 10 blocks. That’s a lot of playgrounds! Also, a really great, small zoo (with nearby children’s zoo) at 64th Street.

  5. Next year she’ll be old enough for Broadway shows and you can take her to something like Cinderella (Disney ones are good, Annie has a 4 year old minimum and a little too mature).

    And dare I mention the American Girl Store? My nieces love that place! They also love the M&M store in Times Square, Museum of Natural History and Chinatown (which has some really cool cheap stuff to buy). I second the Central Park Zoo as well (Bronx Zoo in good weather but that requires an entire day.)

  6. This is a blog about traveling with children, so Gubbel’s comment makes no sense. I’m not a huge NYC person myself, but now that I’m a Mom I like to hear about good things to do with kids in different vacation spots. My baby is only 5 months, so we’re not there yet, but it’s good to know.

  7. Thanks guys! I like to think that travel and exposure to different things will be a gift to my kid as she grows. 😉 Our food selections for the most part on this trip did suffer. I had some good recs (though would always love more), but it often worked that we just ate wherever we were due to time limitations (and toddler patience limitations). We did have one nice meal out that I haven’t posted about yet, but mostly food was just like gassing up with fuel for us. My parents were with us and took much better pics with a real camera (my iPhone camera is a blessing and a curse), so they may share some of their thoughts as the third generation and I will get theme to include more/better pictures. As far as the Radio City tickets went, the later show is not usually considered a “prime” time so it is cheaper. We also took advantage of an Amex sync offer for a statement credit back for the purchase.

  8. Do not overlook the NYPD Museum, with special 9/11 tribute (downtown, a few blocks from South Street Seaport) TEMP. CLOSED due to Sandy 🙁

    Also, see FDNY Store, near Rock Center

    Hey Mommy, keep posting and continue to expose your child to the world ! I applaud you !

    This year, thanks to your blogs and some others, we managed to take our family to Niagara Falls, Orlando, Florida (Discovery Cove, Universal Studios), Atlantis, Bahamas and Old San Juan, PR.

    NYC is home, and we love it too !!

    Happy Holiday to everybody !

  9. I’ll always remember standing at the 9/11 Memorial and staring up at the Freedom Tower back in April. I remember hearing someone mention it had just become the tallest building in New York, and it sent a chill down my spine.

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