10 awesome things to do in New York with teenagers

by Jan

Are you planning a trip to the Big Apple with your family?  Or, need to know the best things to do in New York with teenagers?

After our recent trip to New York, I want to share 10 awesome things to do in New York with your kids.

With so much choice, you’re guaranteed a fun time, but deciding on the perfect itinerary can take time.  Luckily, we’ve just come back from 7 fabulous days in New York and have done the planning for you.  Our guide to the best things to do in New York with teenagers has family attractions that everyone will love.

After our week in NYC, we asked our teenagers (13 years) to choose the highlights of their trip.  They were unanimous in their decision and picked the following as their top 10 things for families to do in New York.

Read our guide, picked by teenagers, to help you plan a trip that teenagers will love.

AD:  Please note that we were kindly gifted the tickets for the Natural History Museum and the Intrepid Museum, but all the opinions are our own.  The post also contains *affiliate links.

Visit the Statue of Liberty

Take your teens to see America’s most iconic statue

The first on our list of things to do in New York with teenagers is a visit to the Statue of Liberty.  After all, there must be a reason why over 3.5 million visitors a year make the trip to see the famous Lady Liberty!

Although you can take a free ferry ride around Liberty Island, we bought a ticket with Statue Cruises, which includes entrance onto the island and into the Liberty Museum.

The Statue of Liberty Museum is extremely family-friendly and has various multi-media displays to make the information accessible to children.  It’s worth taking an audio guide, which will guide you through the statue’s history from conception to construction.

Afterwards, you can go out and get a close-up of the Statue of Liberty as well as views of the Manhattan skyline before heading on to Ellis Island.

The boat to the Statue of Liberty departs from Battery Park.  We booked a 9am ticket in advance, and it wasn’t too busy.

Statue of Liberty Manhattan, New York, USA

Discover the National Museum of Immigration

Teach your kids the history of the first 12 million immigrants in the USA

Your ticket to see the Statue of Liberty includes a visit to Ellis Island and admission to the National Museum of Immigration. Ellis Island has a really significant place in American history, as it was the first port of call for over 12 million immigrants arriving in the USA.

Close up the Statue of Liberty is bigger and more impressive than she looks from afar.  You can get a perspective when you remember that people can fit in her crown!

Ellis Island, New York, USA

After a quick stop in the cafeteria, we set about exploring the Immigration Museum.  Once again, we used the audio guide to take us on a tour.  You can see the halls where the early immigrants had to wait and learn about the medical and mental examinations they had to pass to avoid deportation.

There’s lot to see at the museum and plenty to learn, but the kids found it interesting.  Exhibits, photos, videos, and real-life stories help tell the tale of those desperate people who came in search of a better life.

Watch a game at the Barclays Centre

Brooklyn Nets Basketball Game, New York

Let your teens enjoy a basketball game at the Brooklyn Nets’ home stadium

Even if you’re not a sports fan, seeing a basketball or baseball game is one of the best things to do in New York with teenagers.

We booked tickets for a game at the Barclays Centre between the local team Brooklyn Nets against Houston Rockets.

It was a high-speed, exhilarating game and the atmosphere in the stadium was electric.  Expect very loud music, cheerleaders, slam dunk contests and a lot of audience chanting.  Perfect for teenagers.  Don’t worry, they have a large screen to help newbies like us.

We ate first at the Shake Shack opposite the Barclays Centre, but there are plenty of food concessions inside.

See a show on Broadway

Lion King Broadway Show, New York

Show your children the bright lights of Broadway

Nothing says New York much more than a show on Broadway, the heart of New York’s theatre land.  Broadway is famous for being the only street in Manhattan that runs at an oblique angle.

With 41 theatres on Broadway, you’ll find something to suit all tastes.  However, if there’s a show you really want to see, it’s worth booking in advance.  If you can wait until the day, you can get budget tickets online with Todaytix or go to TKTS in Times Square.

We took the teenagers to see The Lion King, one of the most popular shows for children in New York.  We didn’t buy our tickets until the day before, and it was quite a good way to entertain the family on a rainy afternoon in New York.  Luckily, the show was totally awesome (or should I say roarsome!).

Explore the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

USS Intrepid, New York, USA

Climb aboard a nuclear submarine with your kids!

Boarding the decks of the USS Growler submarine was just one of the amazing things to do at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.  You can also explore above and below the decks of the aircraft carrier, Intrepid and see a real NASA space shuttle.

The Intrepid Museum was high on our list of the best things to do in New York with teenagers.  It is ideal for families, as it is so interactive.  You can walk round the cabins, climb in helicopters, and speak to former crew.  They also have a G-force simulator, but there is an additional charge for this.

The visit to the museum takes about 3 hours.

Climb the Summit One Vanderbilt

Take your teenagers on an immersive art experience in the sky!

If you’re visiting New York for the first time with kids, you need to take them up at least one skyscraper to one of NYC’s fabulous observation decks.

There are five main observation decks, the iconic Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, the Edge, and Summit One Vanderbilt.  After much research the teenagers chose Summit One Vanderbilt, located in central Manhattan.  And we had no regrets!

A visit to Summit One Vanderbilt is not just about the views, but the opportunity to experience an immersive art installation spread over 3 floors.  The fun starts with a light and sound show in the super-speedy, state-of-the-art elevator ride to the 91st floor.

From the mirrored Transcendence rooms, you’ll have amazing 360 ° views of Manhattan, including the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings and Central Park.

Afterwards, have some fun with the silver balloons floating around the Affinity room or pose for a photo on the glass ledge.  Surprisingly, the teens were extremely nervous about this, and we practically had to drag them there.

You can go even higher with Ascent, an exclusive ride in the outside glass elevator.  However, we paid for this, and I would say it’s not worth the extra charge.

Boys in room full of silver bubbles at Summit One Vanderbilt, New York

Dine out at Benihana

Indulge your kids in a unique dining experience at Benihana

Of course, when you’re travelling with teenagers, they are usually thinking about food and when they will next be fed.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cool food experiences in New York City.

One of our best meals out with the kids in New York was at Benihana on 56th Street.  This is a unique dining experience, where the chef cooks your dinner on a flat top grill at your table.  It uses the ancient Japanese art of Teppanyaki (like Hibachi).

Benihana, New York, USA

Although the food was delicious, one highlight of eating at Benihana is watching the chef in action.  He amazed us all with his flaming onion volcano and his ability to flip shrimp tails into his hat.

It was not a budget restaurant, but was very entertaining, especially if you are eating out with friends.  (Ironically, we met up with friends who live just 5 minutes from us in the UK!).  All four teenagers enjoyed it and thought it was one of their best meals out in New York.

Visit the American Museum of Natural History

A Blue whale in the National History Museum in New York, USA

Show your children some of the oldest exhibits in New York

One of the most family-friendly attractions in New York is the Natural History Museum.  After all, who doesn’t love a giant dinosaur?

The Natural History Museum is enormous and spread over four floors, so allow lots of time.  As well as dinosaurs, you’ll find sharks, gems, ancient animals and people.   We also had a visit to the Hayden Planetarium.

If the weather is not great, this is an ideal thing to do on a rainy day in New York with kids.

Try the Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

Black Tap Shakes, New York

Treat your teenagers to some super-size shakes at Black Tap

Another of the teen’s best experiences in New York was trying the shakes at the Black Tap.  It is a trendy bar, with booths and graffiti.

Although they serve tasty gourmet burgers, the kids were just here for the shakes.  However, these are shakes with a difference – they are gigantic. Don’t be surprised to find a slice of cake, giant Oreo, or lolly on top.  It really is sugar-heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Black Tap offers a fun eating experience and we all loved it, even though we felt truly stuffed when we left.  The staff were friendly and were in no rush to move us on once we’d eaten.  Plus, if the adults don’t fancy shakes, they serve beer too!

It gets remarkably busy at Black Tap, so try to go off-peak or book in advance.

Walk over Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, New York

Take a family walk over one of the oldest suspension bridges in the world

If you want a free day out in New York with kids take them on a walk over Brooklyn Bridge.

The walk from Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge is 1.1 mile (2km) long and takes about 25 minutes.  Of course, you need to allow lots of stops for photos.

We started our walk on the Manhattan side, where we soon encountered the numerous vendors selling their NYC wares. Unless you go early, Brooklyn bridge will be crowded, but it has a vibrant feel, which the kids love.

View of Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo, New York

After your walk across Brooklyn Bridge,  head down into DUMBO (District under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  Here you’ll find some of the best photo spots and plenty of places to stop for snack.

I loved our walk over Brooklyn Bridge, so was pleased to see that this appeared in the top 10 things to do in New York for both teens.

Click here for more details of our 1-day itinerary in Brooklyn.

More things to do in New York with teenagers

Bright lights on the billboards at Times Square, New York, USA

We spent 7 days in New York, so got to see far more than than the 10 top sights I’ve listed above. Of course, one of the must-do attractions for first timers in New York is a walk or picnic in Central Park.  And even better, it doesn’t cost anything!

Another free activity in New York is a walk along the High Line and trip to Little Island.  Take the teenagers to Chelsea Market, which they’ll love.

Our twins also found the 9/11 Museum interesting, even though the events happened before their time.

And don’t forget the bright lights of Times Square, where there’s always something new to see!  Although neither of my teenagers are big fans of shopping, they still enjoyed browsing the Lego store and M&M shop there.

Is New York kid-friendly?

We found all of the New York attractions very family-friendly.  Many of the museums had free audio guides and interactive displays which appealed to children.

It is a very vibrant city, so there is something new to see at every corner.  In addition, New York has a big choice of green spaces and parks, where you can escape the city if needed.

Where to stay in New York with teenagers

If you’re looking for family-friendly accommodation in New York, try Fifty Sonesta Hotel & Suites on East 50th Street.   We picked this hotel for its amazing location, as it is only two blocks from the Rockefeller Centre, Times Square and the theatre district.  It was so easy to step out of the hotel and walk.

Our room was ideal for a week’s stay in New York with teenagers.  It had two queen size beds and a sofa bed, so we could all share one room.  Plus, it had a small kitchen, so we could get our own breakfast and make coffee.  Another advantage is the hotel’s location.

Click here to see more details of the the Fifty Sonesta Hotel and book.  Of course, there are hundreds of other hotels in New York and something to suit every budget.  Check here for the wide choice of New York Hotels on Booking.com.

How to get around New York with kids

New York Subway, USA

We used the subway or walked.  We covered a lot of miles, so it is important that the kids have comfortable walking shoes.

If you’re going to use the subway every day, buy an unlimited card and pay a flat free up front.  This will save you money, as you won’t have to pay each time you travel.

Where to eat in New York with teenagers

New York has a fabulous choice of family-friendly restaurants and diners.  As well as Benihana and Black Tap, here are some of our favourite places to eat in New York with teenagers:-

  • Juniors (cheesecake)
  • Ess-a Bagel
  • Greenwich Market (one of the best food halls in NYC)
  • Sala Thai (Amsterdam Avenue)
  • Hudson Eats (food hall)
  • Los Tacos 1
  • Motorino Pizza (East Village)
  • Venerio’s Pasticceria (patisserie)
  • Luncheonette (old-school diner – perfect for breakfast!)
  • Lobster Shack (best lobster rolls in New York)

Best Travel Guides for New York

If you’re looking for more information on the best things to see and do in New York, we always find the DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides very inspiring.  As the name suggests, the Top Ten New York City travel guide provides top ten lists to everything, from museums and monuments to restaurants and bars.

Another good option for helping you get the most out of your visit is the Mini Rough Guide to New York.  These travel guides come in a handy, pocket-friendly format, so are ideal for popping in your bag or pocket.  And you can never go wrong with a Lonely Planet New York City Guide, which provide practical information from locals.

If you are looking to enthuse younger children about your visit to NYC, try the Kids’ Travel Guide to New York City.  It will help prepare them for all the iconic landmarks on your trip.

What are your favourite things to do in New York with teenagers?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn some money at no cost to you if you click on one. (Read our full Disclosure Policy)

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