This final part of my three part series on our trip to New York City with our kids looks at everything we did and saw while in New York. If you want to catch up on the other parts, I looked at our journey from Dublin to New York here and then looked at where we stayed and ate here.
If you are looking for a more local, off the beaten track review of New York this is not for you. If you want to hear about how we fit in many of the most talked about spots in New York, and dragged three children around to them then read on. We took a very touristy approach and wanted to ensure the kids got to see some of the traditional, iconic landmarks that they hear about in movies and on TV.
First thing to say is that there are so many things to see and do in New York it is just not possible to get around them all. With only two full days in the city we really had to plan our time well and list only the most important things we wanted to see and do.
A really helpful thing to do is to make your list and then mark them out as places you want to see on Google Maps. By doing this, I was able to identify clusters of things via the little green flags in particular areas and then map out our days. Also, make sure to download the map of New York to ensure you can use it offline.
Everything we did and saw was free with the exception of one attraction. That was Top of the Rock which is outlined below.
Getting Around New York City
New York City is big. It’s great to walk around specific areas but if you want to get between areas you need some form of transportation. Cabs are not really practical – certainly not for a group of 5 and our original plan was to get a ticket for the hop on-hop off bus tour however I was well advised to just stick to the subway as it is easy to navigate and get around. So that’s what we did. It is certainly an experience and really was the best way to get around. While the stations were hot and humid (given we were there in July) the actual subway cars themselves were air conditioned and it was bliss getting in them.
My tips on using the New York subway are as follows:
- Buy a Metro Card – you can get pay as you go cards that you load money on and it takes off the amount every time you travel ($2.75 per ride) or you can get an unlimited card for either 7 days or 30 days. We got 7 day unlimited cards for $33.00 each and that was our New York City transport sorted – until my husband lost his card on day 2 but that’s another story. To be honest I am not sure if we would have been better off just buying pay as you go and topping up as we probably only did around 10 journeys. If you can figure out how may times you need to ride the subway and decide on pay as you go or unlimited. It costs $1 to buy the actual card.
- Make sure you know the line colour, number and direction – all subways are on coloured lines and have route numbers. Know which one you need. Our hotel was on the green line which runs up and down the east side of Manhattan on which route numbers 4, 5 and 6 ran. Also know which direction you need to go – uptown or downtown – as often the entrance you go in the subway station only serves one direction. You don’t want to swipe into a station and then realise you are on the wrong platform as you can’t swipe in again for 15 minutes and if you are on pay as you go you will have lost a journey.
- On the topic of swiping make sure to swipe through quickly – New Yorkers move fast and they are dab hands at flying through the turnstills in the subway stations. The swipe takes a bit of getting used to and my little boy just couldn’t get the hang of it so if you have kids make sure to get them through safely before the adults. Sometimes the stations are very busy and New Yorkers are not the most patient of tourists fiddling around with swiping. That said we didn’t encounter any issues.
- You don’t need to swipe off – you just exit the turnstill by pushing your way out.
You can get more information on the New York Subway here
So, onto the nitty gritty of our stay. Here is how our itinerary went:
Day One: Arrival Day
If you are up to date on part two of this series you will know we arrived into Manhattan in the middle of the day. We went to grab a bite to eat in a nearby restaurant and, as the hotel was only a block away from Central Park decided to take a walk around. Of course Central Park is huge and we were tired from the long flight so we didn’t exactly get to see a lot of it, but we did manage a small bit before deciding we would try to come back and see a bit more later in the trip. That never happened but we were able to at least say we were in Central Park.
Once we had checked into our hotel and taken a quick nap we headed out but stayed local around Upper East Side. The kids had a number of shops they wanted to visit on their list so we decided to tick the first one off on that first day – It’sugar. They were like kids in a….sweetshop!
It was nice to have a little stroll around the streets of Upper East side, and we decided to also take a walk up museum mile on our way back to the hotel. We didn’t go in to any of the museums and on our tight schedule knew it was unlikely we would. Also, our kids were not really interested in seeing the actual art – just happy to see the buildings but if you are into museums this is the part of town for you. The Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others are along this famous mile on 5th Avenue. The American Museum of Natural History (of A Night at the Museum fame) is located across central park on the west side of the city.
We decided, to ensure we were fresh for our two full days of exploring, that we would call it a day and get an early (New York time) night.
Day Two: Full Day 1
Our body clocks had us awake early – around 5.30am – so we decided to go with it and get up and get moving. Of course getting three excited kids up, get bags ready and get sun tan lotion on and get out of the hotel took us well over an hour and it was at least 7am before we got to our breakfast where we mapped out the rest of our day.
There were two subway stations near our hotel, 86th Street and 96th Street – both on the green line. We headed to 96th street which was nearer where we had breakfast. Our plan to head to Staten Island Ferry and then come back to do the Brooklyn Bridge. We soon realised that 96th street only had route number 6 of the green line and we needed route 4 to go the Staten Island Ferry so we decided to jump on route 6 in the direction of downtown and get out at the Brooklyn Bridge stop and we reversed our plans, starting our day with Brooklyn Bridge before going on to the Staten Island Ferry and it worked out great!
Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo
We exited the subway station and followed the map towards Brooklyn Bridge. There are lots of stalls selling tourist souvenirs, drinks and so on but we just kept walking. It’s a long walk and we were really glad we started on it early and not wait until the searing heat of the middle of the day.
The bridge itself has car traffic, foot traffic and cycling. The foot traffic and the cyclists share the upper part of the bridge and God forbid you move out of the allocated lane. The cyclists will mow you down – so take care. There are some great views and photo opportunities.
Arriving at the other end of the bridge takes you into Brooklyn, in the neighbourhood of Dumbo. We took a walk around Dumbo where there are multiple fantastic photo opportunities, from the famous Dumbo shot to down by the water’s edge. After a short time in Dumbo we headed back to walk the bridge in the opposite direction rather than take the subway.
Staten Island Ferry
After Brooklyn Bridge we made our way back to the subway and traveled via subway in the downtown direction on the green line (either 4 or 5) to Bowling Green station which is a short walk to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
The Staten Island Ferry is free and runs every 30mins off peak. It is recommended that tourists do not use the ferry early in the morning or late in the evening when it is busy with New York City Commuters. We were there on a Saturday so it was not too busy and we waited a few minutes to board the ferry. The ferry takes about 20 minutes and if you are on the right hand side you get great views of the Statue of Liberty. We had no plans to go out to Ellis Island or Liberty Island where you can access the statue close up so it was our chance to see the statue and tick that off the list.
We had originally planned to just get off at the other end and come straight back to Manhattan but when we arrived in Staten Island we realised there was a whole Outlet shopping area and we somehow emerged with 6 pairs of Nike trainers!
We were all getting a bit hungry so this is where we stopped for a bite before heading back on the ferry for another glance of the Statue of Liberty. If we had been in New York longer I would have definitely taken a trip over to Liberty Island and Ellis Island and do the Statue of Liberty much closer.
Wall Street and the Raging Bull
We walked from the Staten Island Ferry up towards Wall Street where we spotted the famous Raging Bull. It was mobbed with tourists trying to get the perfect shot so we just looked at it from a distance and kept going up Wall Street and on to our next stop.
One of the things I really wanted to see in New York City was the 9/11 Memorial. I think most of us who were around for that fateful day will remember exactly what they were doing when the planes hit the twin towers. I had been in New York as a child and saw the twin towers, I passed through New York briefly in transit as a young adult and saw the twin towers then too and this was my first time in New York since the terrorist attack of that day.
There is the park which houses the memorial which is free to walk around and look at and there is also the museum tour which is a paid event. There were some remarks about the museum tour not being suitable for young children so we decided to just have a walk around the memorial. If you want to do the museum tour and full experience you can purchase tickets in advance.
It was so surreal to see the shapes of the two towers in the memorial. And to see all the names written down around the area really brought it home how many people perished that day. There was such a quiet respectful mode around. Stark contrast to the loud busy streets just meters away.
Unfortunately one of my children, who shall remain nameless, was getting a little hot, tired and cranky at this point in the day and our time at the 9/11 Memorial was cut shorter than I would have liked.
We did get to see the new Freedom Tower that has been built in the area but I don’t think New York’s skyline will ever be the same without the Twin Towers. Nor should it be.
We took the crankiness as a sign that we had packed in enough for the day. Between subways, bridges, shopping, ferries and lots of walking it was a long day for little people so we headed back to chill for an hour or so including a little rooftop drink, before heading out to dinner.
Day Three: Full Day 2
We kicked off our second full day with another early start, another breakfast in Starbucks and a bus ride down 5th Avenue. The metro card works on buses too and it was a straight run downtown which was great fun. We jumped out to take a stroll looking at all the high class shops and even got to see Trump Tower. We had tickets to Top of the Rock so we killed time until our slot walking around checking out the area around the Rockefellar centre which included the iconic Radio City.
The key agenda item for that morning was our pre-booked trip up to the Top of the Rock. It cost us $187.27 and was the only paid attraction we visited. We booked and paid online on their website before we left Ireland.
A little background; the Top of the Rock is an iconic building in New York. From my online research is seems to be the competitor to the Empire State in terms of getting great views across the city from a height. Reviews seemed to indicate that the Top of the Rock was a better experience so we went for that – rather than going up the Empire State. Again, more time and money and we would have done both but we had to choose.
It was outstanding. The lift up was a lot of fun and the views just stunning and with a clear day we could see everything. In fact the picture in the poster for this series was taken from the Top of the Rock. You get great views of Central Park and the Empire State building. I would highly recommend it.
Back down to earth and the kids still had a few shops on their list. So next up was M&M World and then the Nintendo Shop. There are no words. M&M World is a kids and chocolate lovers paradise. I have never seen so many M&M’s of every conceivable colour and flavour in my life. The kids filled up a bag each and ticked that shop off their list.
A Nintendo mad son was keen to see the New York shop and he wasn’t disappointed. He came away with a nice protective cover for his Nintendo Switch too!
With Times Square nearby we got to take a look around the flashing lights of the iconic square of New York. It really is so bright and flashy.
After refueling on our one dollar pizza we took a walk to Grand Central Station before heading back to freshen up before heading out again.
Our final part of this second full day involved a trip down to Hudson Yards. We didn’t go up the Vessel but we did walk the High Line which left us near Chelsea Market which we took a look around before thinking about dinner. We ate in Times Square and as we came out of the restaurant we got to experience Times Square at night, in the dark. As if it wasn’t crazy enough during the day, at night it was insane but a superb experience I will never forget.
Day Four: Departure Day
Our pick up to take us back to Newark Airport was not until 3.50pm so we had the guts of the day to explore. We decided to take it a little easier on the final morning and get our packing and check out done before we headed off for the day so that we could just come back to the hotel and grab our bags and go. As a result, it was late morning by the time we got going and the one thing left on the shopping side of things was to visit Macy’s.
Macy’s is such an iconic store in New York and while we didn’t have anything specific we wanted to buy there, we definitely wanted to check it out. It really is just so overwhelmingly big. We spent quite a while wandering around and picked up a couple of bits before heading off.
We took a walk around the area and got to see the Empire State Building (just from the ground) and we spotted a Target store in the area and there was much excitement to check one out.
Finally, my oldest daughter wanted to experience a 7-Eleven slurpee so we took a walk to a nearby store. She got her slurpee but this is the store she left her first phone in. The less said about that the better. While I did get a call while in Cancun to say the store personnel had found the phone and I provided my address to send it back to us, it never did make it back. It was an unfortunate end to a fabulous trip to New York.
Final Thoughts on New York
New York is amazing. It is a definite bucket list city. I hope I will get to see it again someday as there is so much more to see and do – and even things I would do again in a heartbeat. If I was to redo the trip in any way I would have added on at least an extra night as it really was full on, and in an ideal world a 5 night break in New York would be perfect. I would also book self-catering or apartment style accommodation as I think that might have suited us better. That said it was a trip that made lifelong memories and I am so very grateful to have been able to incorporate such a fantastic city break into our summer holiday.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. We booked and paid for every aspect of this trip ourselves. We were not asked to write this post by anyone and all opinions are mine and my family’s.