The city that never sleeps is surprisingly also a huge playground for children
The appeal of Coney Island is so varied that it might take you a day or two just to figure it out. However, you may rest assured that this is a great destination for your kids, as well as an exhausting one. Vintage merry-go-rounds, death-defying roller coasters, clowns and magicians: there’s just so much to do. Or would you rather work your way through ice creams and hot dogs? If it’s too overwhelming, look for the walking tours of Coney Island. They work as aperitifs and give you teasers until you decide which road to take. Whatever you choose, don’t forget a visit to the aquarium.
First, be prepared to accept the fact that there are four floors, a planetarium and an IMAX theatre to navigate through. You will also be one of five million people who will visit this space this year. So where do you start? The Museum of Natural History is a fascinating exhibition of the living sciences, giving you rare glimpses into a world you would not normally have access to. If you have children with imaginative minds, be prepared to spend days here. To make the most of your time, narrow in on interests – animals, dioramas of different ages in history, planetary science, or, and this is possibly the biggest draw, the fossils.
One of New York’s most iconic spaces is large enough to accommodate the thousands who trudge through, visit, and picnic without taking away from its awesome sense of natural space. Of course a picnic is the best way to start off your day (head to Sheep Meadow), but make sure you visit the Children’s Zoo as well as the Petting Zoo. The Carousel is a vintage marvel, originally built in 1908, and its painted horses elicit just as many squeals from the iPad generation as it did a century ago. Heckscher Playground with its slides and unusual gyms is the best playground.
Don’t let the weather foil your plan. Winter is one of the most magical times in the Big Apple, as Hollywood has shown many times over. Rockefeller Center is dominated by its gigantic tree but the base is where you should be heading. The skating rink opened in the 1930s and ever since has been the base for winter bonhomie and cheer. Bryant Park and Wollman Rink are similar seasonal hot spots, with the latter being particularly conducive to newbies. All of them command magnificent skyline views of the city and at night, if you can ignore the cold, skating under the stars takes on quite a magical vibe.
Buy your tickets online to avoid long queues. The ferry ride is beautiful and gives you a whole new vista of the city. If the weather holds good, head to the top of the ferry for the best views. Of course, you get an equally spectacular view from the top of the statue. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is worth a visit, if only to look around a space that once admitted 12 million people between the years 1892 and 1910 from around the world who escaped their own countries to seek safe passage and haven in the USA.
Kids love the view from this 102-storey skyscraper, which held the title of tallest building in the world for more than 40 years. Zooming up the glass elevator, the city drops away into toy-like insignificance. The observation deck on the 86th floor has been featured in dozens of movies and no matter how many times you’ve seen it on screen, the real thing is quite a thrill. Even if it’s no longer the tallest in the world, it’s still the tallest in Manhattan. On the second floor is a swanky theatre that introduces New York with much fanfare and special effects, highlighting the key spots to drop by.
With 13 docking stations across the coast, these large yellow and black boats are a fun way to get around the city. They work the same way as a hop-on, hop-off tour and work around the city taking you along calmer routes than the frenzied and traffic packed roads of the city. The bigger highlights include Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the entertaining tour guides who insist on doling out droll bits of information as you sail through the city.
Despite being one of the world’s premier urban centres, there is no dearth of open green spaces in New York. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are an exceptional example of this. Spread across 52 acres, the gardens are a hothouse of beautiful landscaped grounds, flowers and plants. The Children’s Garden is full of saplings planted by kids between two and 17, encouraged by a programme of communal horticulture. One of the most popular spots is the Japanese Gill and Pond Garden, a colourful and picturesque space built in 1915. Its main features include an avenue of cherry blossom trees (beautiful in spring) and wooden bridges, Shinto shrines and a Japanese temple to wolf spirits.
The magnificence of watching a Broadway play cannot be easily surmised in words. There’s the music, the sets, the awesome choreography, and the sheer magic of the entire spectacle. People have been raving about The Lion King as being the show to watch with your kids, but there’s some competition in the form of Spiderman, which debuted to insane celebration recently. It’ll be hard to top a man flying around on top of your head 50 feet in the air, so keep the show towards the latter half of your holiday. It’s always best to end on a bang.
OK so you’re building up that little wall of magnets on your fridge back home and yes, it’s incomplete without a bit of New York on it. But don’t get an ‘I heart NYC’ T- shirt. Instead take your kids to SoHo, to the more avant garde spread of stores to pick up one-of-a-kind gear. Kid Robot is full of hipster goodies – cool T-shirts and Japanese anime and manga-inspired stuff. And Evolution on Spring Street retails miniature fossil and similarly inspired products. A stop at Forbidden Planet at Broadway is a must-do for their gargantuan range of comic books.