New York City has loads of activities for young ones, including imaginative playgrounds and leafy parks where kids can run free, plus lots of kid-friendly museums and sights. Other highs: carousel rides, puppet shows and noshing at markets around town.

Best Parks & Playgrounds

  • Central Park

More than 800 acres of green space, a lake that can be navigated by rowboat, a carousel, a zoo and a massive statue of Alice in Wonderland. Heckscher playground, near Seventh Ave and Central Park South, is the biggest and best of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds; another good one is Ancient Playground at 85th St and Fifth Ave.

  • Prospect Park

Brooklyn’s hilly 585-acre Prospect Park has abundant amusement for kids, including a zoo, several playgrounds, hands-on playthings at Lefferts Historic House and an ice-skating rink that becomes a roller rink and water splash area in summer. Pedal boats and kayaks for Brooklyn's only lake and a variety of kid-friendly bikes are available at the LeFrank Center at Lakeside in the park.

  • Brooklyn Bridge Park

Check out the park's fun new playgrounds, then hit the water-filled play area on Pier 6 (bring swimsuits, all will get wet), followed by pizza at waterfront Fornino. Pier 2 has shuffleboard and bocce courts and a roller rink that becomes an ice-skating rink in the winter. Further north are the grassy hills of Pier 1 and Jane’s Carousel.

  • Hudson River Park

Coursing along Manhattan’s western side, this park offers loads of kiddy excitement, including mini-golf near Moore St (Tribeca), a fun playground near West St (West Village), a carousel off W 22nd St, watery fun at W 23rd & Eleventh Ave, and a science-themed play space near W 44th St.

  • The High Line

NYC’s celebrated elevated green space has food vendors, water features (which kids can splash through) and great views, plus warm-weather family events – story time, science and craft projects, fun with food, and more. Check the website (www.thehighline.org/activities/family_programs) for details.

  • Riverside Park

Riverside Park on the Upper West Side has a bicycle trail with views of the Hudson River. Take a break at the River Run Playground (at W 83rd St), with fountains for cooling off in summer, or at whimsical Hippo Playground (at W 91st St).

Attractions

For many kids, some of New York City’s top attractions are a world of fun.

  • Wildlife

The city has a number of zoos. The best, by far, is the Bronx Zoo, which is known for its well-designed habitats. (The Congo Gorilla Forest is a stunner.) Otherwise, if you’re pressed for time, the zoos in Central Park and Prospect Park are great for short visits.

  • Statue of Liberty

The boat ride to Lady Liberty offers the opportunity to chug around New York Harbor and get to know an icon that most kids only know from textbooks.

  • On Top of the World

A glass-roofed elevator leads to the Top of the Rock, a lookout that offers glittering views of New York.

  • Coney Island

Hot dogs. Ice cream. Amusement-park rides. Coney Island is just the ticket if you’re in need of some lowbrow entertainment.

Best Museums

The American Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaurs, marine world, planetarium and IMAX films, should not be missed. Nearly every big museum – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of the City of New York and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum – all have kids’ programs, but many smaller institutions are even more appealing for young visitors. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers an interactive tour where kids can meet an immigrant (costumed interpreter) of centuries past.

  • Toddler Time

For tots aged one to five, hit the Children’s Museum of the Arts in West SoHo and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. Both have story times, art classes, craft hours and painting sessions.

  • Five & Over

Bigger kids can clamber on vintage subway cars at the New York Transit Museum or slide down a pole at the New York City Fire Museum. Out in Astoria, the Museum of the Moving Image has hands-on exhibits for kids.

Fun for Kids & Parents

Markets around NYC are great snack spots, particularly Smorgasburg, which has vendors selling everything from popsicles, doughnuts and pickles to tacos and pork sandwiches. The Chelsea Market also has many temptations – assemble a picnic then head over to the Hudson River Park for a waterside picnic.

Kid-Friendly Theater

Tiny Puppetworks in Brooklyn’s Park Slope has amusing weekend puppet shows throughout the year.

Need to Know

  • Car Seats Children under seven can ride on an adult’s lap in a taxi or you can use your own car seat. Ride-sharing services may have available car seats.
  • Strollers Not allowed on public buses unless folded.
  • Babysitters Contact the Baby Sitters’ Guild (www.babysittersguild.com).
  • Resources Check out Time Out New York Kids (www.timeout.com/new-york-kids) and Mommy Poppins (www.mommypoppins.com).
  • Subway Children under 44in (110cm) ride free.

City Trails

For an insight into New York aimed directly at kids, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s City Trails: New York. Perfect for children aged eight and up, it opens up a world of intriguing stories and fascinating facts about New York's people, places, history and culture.