There are so many things to do in NYC with teens that this post will barely scratch the surface, but if you’re looking for the must-dos alongside unique things to do in New York City for your family — or even if you’re travelling solo, with friends, just your partner or even with your dog — I’m going to share so many great ideas, so get ready. Seriously…don’t have kids, tweens or teens (or don’t wanna bring them)? You still need to check this out.
I’ve been going to NYC since I was 24 years old, which is officially half of my life. (Cue the “holy crap, I’m old” sentiment here.) I’ve been by myself. I’ve been with friends. I’ve been with my kids. I’ve been for work. I’ve done Manhattan on a budget, staying in cockroach-infested hotels, and I’ve stayed in some of NYC’s most luxurious properties. And, this summer, we had even planned to do NYC with a dog.
And yet… I’ve never written about things to do in New York because I’ve always held it so close to my heart, something that was just for me and my memories.
Until now. It’s time to share my NYC love with the world so you, too, can start planning your own New York City itinerary to make your own special memories.
Things to do in NYC with teens (and without!)
When you’re looking for things to do in NYC with teens, I recommend making a general outline that ensures you highlight the must-dos and must-eats in their respective neighbourhoods and have a plan of attack that also allows space for discovery. I love a timed itinerary, but allowing spontaneity is important — because New York City is rife with opportunities around every corner.
In this things to do in NYC with teens post, you’ll find:
- Getting there and getting around
- the best places to stay in New York (including the best area to stay in Manhattan if this is your first visit)
- a Top 14 list of my teens’ favourite New York restaurants — plus spots for snacks, drinks & more
- New York sightseeing ideas — the 11 most-popular attractions
- a Top 6 list of things to do in NYC with teens, curated by my tween and teen
- how to save money with the New York CityPASS
- our recommended Broadway shows and how not to get scammed
- unique things to do in NYC with teens
(Buckle up and bookmark this sucker; there’s probably more info here than you’ll want to consume in one sitting.)
Things to do in NYC with teens: getting there
Before you get to all the things to do in NYC with teens, you need to get to the heart of the action: Manhattan. For those lucky enough to live close enough to drive — skip this section. Everyone else, start here.
If you’re flying to New York, you have three airports from which to choose:
- LaGuardia (LGA)
- John F. Kennedy (JFK)
- Newark (EWR)
Both LGA and JFK are located in Queens, NY — one of the five boroughs in New York City. Newark, however, is in New Jersey. There are pros and cons to each, but if the price is right, choose whichever one is extra-cheap because there isn’t enough of a difference among them to warrant a big splurge.
Should you not be visiting someone who will pick you up from the airport, once you land, you have three ways to get to Manhattan:
- Take public transit.
- Take a taxi.
- Use a ride-sharing service like UBER or Lyft.
New Jersey is obviously farther from the city centre than Queens, so expect to pay more for this part of your visit unless you use public transportation. But since it can sometimes be far cheaper to fly into Newark, you may find it still works out better financially; just be sure to do the math and factor in the entire trip, including airport transfer costs.
Pre-COVID, I rarely paid more than USD$30-40 to take a cab or UBER from LGA or JFK, but during my a recent visit in January 2023, the taxis outside LaGuardia wanted $65-80 to get me to Times Square. This seemed outrageous to me, so I decided — for the first time — to try taking public transit from the airport to Manhattan. And, OMG, it couldn’t have been easier! Plus, it cost me the whopping sum of $2.75 to do it.
There’s a free bus called the Q70 (LaGuardia Link) that’ll pick you up in Terminals B or C at LGA and take you directly — again, for FREE — to the Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av St subway (Metro) station. It’s the first stop after Terminal B, and when you get out here, it’s a short walk to the underground trains. This station serves a bunch of different public transit options:
- the 7, E, and F trains (at all times)
- the R train (all the time, except late-night)
- the M train (weekdays, except late-night)
- the F train (rush-hour only — in the reverse direction during peak-times)
You’ll find the E train is typically a solid option for a lot of your NYC sightseeing, and it’s a great one from LGA particularly if you’re staying in Times Square. But only you know where you’re staying, and you can refer to these NYC subway maps to find the best route after you get off the Q70 bus.
Will it take more time than a taxi or UBER? Yes. But only about 15-20 minutes more, on average, and that’s worth it to me to save this kind of money. After all, the things to do in NYC with teens are typically on the pricier side — so save where you can.
Things to do in NYC with teens: getting around
Planning on using public transportation in Manhattan? One of the best things to do in NYC with teens: teach them how to use urban public transit!
Using the NYC subway system is really easy — especially if you’ve used underground trains before. Here’s the map. All you need to do is tap your credit card to enter the gate! If you’re staying for a week and plan to use the subway a few times a day, however, the unlimited seven-day pass is great value. At $33/pass, you only need 12 rides to break even. Unlike loadable Metro cards, however, these cannot be passed back to use with others in your group.
It’s a complex network, yes, but it’s pretty straightforward with each train signifying which direction it;s going by posting the name of the last stop on its digital display at the front and along the sides of the cars. Follow the tunnels to go uptown or downtown, and use Google Maps’ transit option for even more precise help.
Prefer the water and open air? Then travel by NYC ferry. It’s a bit pricier (at $4 one way vs. $2.75 on the subway) and has fewer lines, but you can’t beat the view. Grab a 10-pack for $27.50 if you’ll make use of all 10 tickets. Here are the routes and schedules.
Things to do in NYC with teens: best place to stay in New York
The best place to stay in New York is what fits in your budget. Because there are a million-zillion hostels, hotels, apart-hotels — you name it. If there’s a lodging category, it exists in NYC, and there’s something for just about every budget.
But if this is your first time visiting NYC, the best area to stay in Manhattan is Midtown near Times Square. Yeah, it’s kitschy and busy and the ultimate tourist trap — but it’s got those big billboards that light up the night sky, free entertainment just walking around nearly 24/7, it’s central enough to walk to a lot of different neighbourhoods that have many of the things to do in NYC with teens and, if you do want to hop on the subway, it’s a mega-hub for the trains.
In case you’re wondering, though: no, I don’t have the cockroach-infested hotel listed here among these suggestions. All of these Manhattan hotels are clean, safe and within reasonable walking distance of public transit. I’ve listed them from least to most expensive*, but please know that you don’t have to splurge on accommodations in NYC to feel like you’re “doing” NYC. There will be plenty of opportunities to splurge during your stay!
I have personally stayed at and vouch for each of these hotels, but do keep in mind that new owners, management, cleaning policies and other factors can change a property pretty wildly in the blink of an eye, so it’s always best to narrow down your choices here and then do an extra search on Google Reviews and/or TripAdvisor to consider the most-recent reviews.
Pro tip: even if you plan to book online, always call the hotel to ask if there are any discounts available — for example, your CAA/AAA card may get you an even better rate.
Staypineapple New York (337 W 36th St.)
website | 3-star | midweek off-peak double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$211/night
Pet-friendly? YES! Here’s the policy.
This is a new one for us and we enthusiastically give it all our thumbs up! Talk about mega bang for your buck.
From the great location and budget-friendly rooms that don’t sacrifice modern conveniences or decor to the little details like free snacks and amenities like the hotel’s signature yellow bicycles, which guests are free to use during their stays, we can’t say enough good things about Staypineapple’s service, inclusions and price.
Snaps, Tik Toks and Instagram pics and Reels are probably on most people’s list of things to do in NYC with teens, and Staypineapple has a number of fun social-forward vignettes that are perfect.
An important consideration when choosing Staypineapple New York City’s property, though, is that it only has king-sized beds. Now, as a couple who only book rooms with king beds, this is a delightful option and one that is sorely lacking in Manhattan where what seems like the majority of hotels — especially boutique-style properties — only offer doubles and queens. But as a family, it’s a less ideal bedding scenario because it means each adult is sharing with a kid. Fine for Miss Q and me, provided I create a pillow divider to avoid being kicked in the jugular, but not exactly ideal for Big B (at 6’6″) and The K Man (who, at 15 years old, is nearing six feet tall).
Did we make it work, though? Absolutely. Because finding a fun hotel in a great location in Manhattan for around $200/night per room (especially where your pup is welcome, if you’re bringing him/her) is worth a bit of family jostling. And, bonus — the mattresses and bedding were spectacular. It may be a 3-star hotel, but it’s got 5-star bedding.
Pro tip: we usually prefer adjoining rooms, but it turns out we liked the non-adjoining rooms more at Staypineapple. They’re actually a fair bit bigger! And the adjoining rooms share a mini-foyer that has a light that won’t turn off, so it means you still need to shut your individual doors anyway.
Hyatt Place New York City / Times Square (350 W 39th St.)
website | 3.5-star | midweek off-peak* double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$222/night
Pet-friendly? YES! Here’s the policy.
Breakfast is included with your stay — and it’s actually pretty good (even if it doesn’t photograph very well)! Google will tell you the Hyatt Place in Times Square is a four-star property, but I’m going to disagree. It’s modern and nicely appointed to be sure, but in the grand scheme of Manhattan hotels, the star-rating system needs to be tougher. For the most part, you won’t get amazing views from your room here nor does it feel like it’s right in the heart of Times Square like its name would suggest.
However, it’s a relatively easy walk to Times Square and it’s on a quieter side street so you can escape the hustle and bustle. It’s also less than a five-minute walk to a subway station that a number of trains service. I felt safe-ish walking alone at night back to the hotel, but it’s not exactly on the nicest, most well-lit street, so nervous travellers may not want to book here if travelling solo.
Hyatt Place NYC was really easy to find coming directly from the airport without using a taxi. Rooms are compact but well laid out, and in NYC, small rooms are the name of the game and this hotel gets big points for providing a bigger-than-average footprint on a very decent budget. There are a number of different room categories, too, making it easy to find one that’s right for you and your family.
Iberostar 70 Park Avenue (70 Park Ave.)
website | 4-star | midweek off-peak double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$237/night
Pet-friendly? YES! Here’s the policy.
I stayed here with girlfriends a few years ago, and we all loved this hotel. It’s in a great location, just a few blocks from the East River on one side and the Empire State Building on the other and you don’t need to walk through any sketchiness to get “home” after dark. Plus, the rooms are nicely appointed, with a number of different bedding configurations that will work for various groups and families.
The Iberostar name comes with consistency. I’ve stayed in a number of the portfolio’s properties around the world — including the Iberostar Selection Bavaro Suites, Iberostar Paseo de Gracia, Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via and the Iberostar Santa Eulalia — and they’re always good to excellent. This one also happens to be easier on the wallet when it comes to New York City hotels.
Not far from the world’s biggest train station, Grand Central Terminal, there’s also plenty to do within walking distance of the Iberostar 70 Park Avenue, like the Empire State Building, Bryant Park and both Fifth and Madison Avenues.
Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza (One UN Plaza)
website | 4-star | midweek off-peak double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$313/night
The last time we did NYC with kids five years ago, when they were just six and eight years old, we found what I think must have been an error fare on Expedia for this hotel. We found ourselves in a grand two-bedroom suite, with views of the East River on one side of our living room — a full-sized living room! in Manhattan!! — and a glorious city view on the other for just CAD$288 per night, including all fees and taxes. I still thank the travel gods for that one.
Literally across the street from the United Nations Headquarters, this property is the least centrally located of the ones I’ve listed in this post but offers exceptionally spacious rooms, which can be hard to find in NYC. When you’re travelling with teens, space is something you might be willing to sacrifice something else to get; in this case, it’s subway proximity. But, hey, they’re teens — full of stamina and attitude…they can walk.
You’ll find the service here closing in on five-star, too, which is a nice bonus.
The Beekman, A Thompson Hotel (123 Nassau St.)
website | 5-star | midweek off-peak double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$485/night
Pet-friendly? YES! Here’s the policy.
If well-worn leather and old-world celebrity married and birthed a hotel, The Beekman would be it. Shrouded in dim lights with a distinctly sultry-but-sophisticated vintage vibe, names like Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe are no stranger to this revived 19th-century hotel. The experience here is refined. Regal. It feels like a step back in time, in terms of both decor and service.
Completed the same year as the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), what’s now called The Beekman was originally one of New York City’s original “skyscrapers.” This storied building has been preserved in its reinvention with meticulous attention to detail, including a commitment to next-level service. In a post-COVID hotel world where daily housekeeping is a fading norm, this property still offers evening turndown service — on top of morning housekeeping.
The Beekman’s house car is a six-passenger Lincoln Navigator with somewhat limited availability for guests.
The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue (400 5th Ave.)
website | 5-star | midweek off-peak double-occupancy rooms starting at USD$785/night
Pet-friendly? YES! Here’s the policy.
If your list of things to do in NYC with teens includes a luxury hotel experience, this is it.
There’s a huge jump in price when you go from a four- to five-star hotel in NYC. But there’s also a huge jump in service that comes along with it. The Langham represents one of the best hotel stays of my life (right up there with the Four Seasons in Toronto, Waldorf Astoria Orlando and The Mira Hong Kong) because of the service.
Let me paint the picture for you to illustrate just one of the reasons it stands out: my friends and I were waiting in the lobby for the last of our group to come downstairs one morning. As we talked amongst ourselves, one friend wondered aloud if we should have brought sunscreen with us for the day. Before it should have been humanly possible, one of the front desk team members had grabbed some petty cash, run to a nearby store and procured a tube of sunscreen — handing it to us with a casual “have a great day in New York, ladies!” as if this was perfectly normal. And, at The Langham, it is.
The Langham New York also has a house car, and it was my first experience with such a thing. When we visited, it was a four-door Aston Martin but I understand it changes every year to a new luxury vehicle. It’s first-come, first-served and if you’re the first to ask while it’s sitting onsite waiting for guests, you can skip the subway, taxi or UBER to get to your destination in NYC and take the house car — for free. Just be sure to give the driver a tip before exiting.
I think it’s important for me to note here that I am not wealthy; we scored a flight-and-hotel package for three nights through Expedia to stay at The Langham for less than a single night costs today. I still don’t know why or how, but trust me when I tell you it was a “start the car!” moment.
Things to do in NYC with teens: New York restaurants
At some point, hopefully soon, I’m going to write a post about our favourite NYC restaurants that will be much more expansive than this, with more photos and information, and which also encompasses the restaurants in Brooklyn we enjoyed; but a gal has limits and — at a current word count on this post of more than 9k (and counting), I need to reign it in.
So, in the meantime, in an effort to meet the demand for this New York City with teens content you all asked for, here is the easiest Top 14 list of things to do in NYC with teens — the Manhattan restaurants that should be on your short list, in alphabetical order. (Watch for an upcoming Brooklyn highlights post, too, if you’re planning to venture beyond Manhattan.)
Whenever possible, I highly recommend making reservations as far ahead of time as possible. Some New York City restaurants are notorious for egomaniacal reservations games, so proceed with patience.
1. Capizzi | website
My favourite pizza in Manhattan — and now my teens’ favourite pizza in Manhattan. Everything is fresh and made-to-order at this tiny family-owned pie shop, with salads as simple as sliced raw fennel with orange slices making my best-salads-ever list. The Neapolitan-style pizza is made in an old-fashioned brick oven and if you like mushrooms, then — by golly — make sure you order the truffled mushroom pizza.
2. COTE Korean Steakhouse | website
So your teens want to say they’ve dined at a Michelin-star restaurant but you’re not made of money? Yeah, neither are we. That’s where COTE comes in. It blends upscale Korean BBQ with classic American steakhouse and offers a Michelin-recognized dining experience for as little as $68 per person by way of its Butcher’s Feast — including all your sides and even dessert!
3. Ellen’s Stardust Diner | website
There’s a reason why there are more than 16,000 nearly-five-star Google reviews for this joint. Don’t let a visit to NYC with teens (or kids of any age, for that matter) pass you by without doing Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Broadway stars-in-the-making sing while they serve! Food portions are inexpensive and generous and, once you’ve stood in line upwards of an hour to get in, you’ll be glad to know that you can stay as long as you like. Take some cash for tips; you’ll find out why once you’ve been inside long enough.
4. Il Forno | website
I’ve eaten a lot of really terrible food in Times Square. In fact, I implore you — in general — to do your ogling of the circus that is this part of NYC and then get the heck outta there to eat. However, for those with theatre tickets and long days, it can be crucial to have a restaurant near the Broadway shows with lots of seating, reasonable prices and consistently good food. And that place is Il Forno in Hell’s Kitchen. Around the corner from Wicked at the Gershwin Theater, and within easy walking distance to a number of other Broadway theatres, Il Forno serves up pasta that’s cooked properly in an environment that will get your food out quickly.
5. In Common NYC | website
A must-not-miss breakfast menu in a gorgeous space within Hudson Commons, near NYC’s newest neighbourhood sensation — Hudson Yards. Prices are extremely good considering the food quantity and quality and after trying four different menu items, I’m convinced everything served here would get a five-star rating from this wannabe food critic.
6. Jacob’s Pickles | website
I don’t care whether you have any other reason to head to the Upper West Side — go just for a Jacob’s Pickles brunch if nothing else. Seriously. If you’re looking for the best brunch in NYC, this is definitely one of them. It’s rare to find a restaurant in the USA that does poutine right, and not only does Jacob’s Pickles nail it but the portion size was too big for four of us. FOUR. OF. US. The real star of the show, however, were the freshly baked biscuits on which our breakfast sandwiches sat. They get a big wow with my arms waving. Oh, and the old-fashioned lemonade here is, without question, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in my 48 years on this earth.
7. Katz’s Deli | website
NYC’s oldest deli is alive and well — and filled to the brim with meat. So much meat. Even if you think you brought your appetite, share a sandwich with your teen. They are nothing short of enormous (and divine).
8. Liberty Bagels | website
Home of the rainbow bagel, there are a couple of locations from which to choose. We visited the Midtown address around 9 a.m. and had just one person ahead of us and we scored a spot to eat inside, too. By the time we left around 9:30 a.m., the lineup was out the door and there was no chance you’d be doing anything but takeout. Whatever bagel you choose, make sure to have some of the ridiculously delicious maple bacon sriracha cream cheese schmeared all over it. MY GOD.
9. Mercado Little Spain | website
The brain-child of chef extraordinaire José Andrés (whose Las Vegas restaurant I’ve written about lovingly in my Las Vegas for couples post), this Spanish-inspired food market has both casual food kiosks and more upscale menu options with a variety of seating to enjoy your wares. Spend a little or a lot — you can do both here — but make sure you pop in even just to look around at the vibrant decor. (It’s on the lower level of Hudson Yards near The SHED.)
10. Nougatine at Jean Georges | website
For teens who love fine dining and the parents who hate paying for it, may I suggest the three-course prix fixe lunch at Nougatine? Be sure to make a reservation well ahead of time, and prepare for a memorable indulgence.
11. Raising Cane’s | website
What do you get when you mix a limited menu featuring toddler food favourites (chicken fingers and fries) with the bright-lights-big-city vibe that is Times Square and add a DJ for good measure? Raising Cane’s — the Tik Tok sensation that opened mere weeks before our visit that my kids begged me to add to our 4-day New York itinerary.
12. Shake Shack | website
Just when you thought you were doing everything right as a progressive parent, avoiding the well-known homophobia-laden chicken burger chain that shall not be named, here comes Shake Shack’s controversy sneaking up on you only after you visited three in Manhattan with your teens in a single week because it is, hands down, their favourite burger chain. EVER. Sigh. I wrestled with whether or not to keep Shake Shack in our list, and ultimately decided that it’s you who needs to make the decision for yourself.
13. Suram Sushi & Ramen | website
For those of you with ramen-loving teens, I implore you: make your way to Suram. The sushi was some of the best we’ve ever had but the ramen stole the show! The green salad with its gorgeous ginger dressing also deserves a big shout-out — so crisp, so fresh, so good.
14. Tacombi | website
I tried Tacombi years ago for the first time when it was barely more than a food truck in Nolita. It has since expanded (watch for it in my NYC restaurant guide in the Brooklyn section, too) and we introduced our teens to it during our most recent visit. This is authentic Mexican at its finest. The street corn and quesadillas in particular will blow your mind.
Things to do in NYC with teens: snacks, cafés & street food
One of the best ways to save money in NYC is to incorporate fewer traditional meals, using cafés and street food for those in-between moments that call for nosh. Again, I’ll be more detailed in my upcoming NYC restaurants post; for now, here’s our alphabetical Top 5 list of things to do in NYC with teens when those mid-morning tummy rumbles come a-callin’ (and, let’s face it, mid-afternoon, too!):
1. 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar | website
There aren’t a lot of bars that allow kids and teens anywhere, but especially in NYC, so while it’s got to be before dark on weekends, 230 Fifth Rooftop allows you to share the fun of New York City rooftop drinks (and snacks) with your offspring. There are lots of non-alcoholic options that, set alongside the cityscape with house music pumping out of every speaker, are sure to set the mood.
2. Angelina Bakery | website
The best bakery in NYC that we’ve tried, the croissant sandwiches and glazed doughnuts at Angelina Bakery are out of this world. Arrive early enough and you might even score a table.
3. Boba Guys | website
Chances are if you have a teenager, you’ve got someone with a boba addition in the family. We passed Boba Guys while shopping in SoHo and Miss Q begged to go in. She went with a strawberry milk concoction and declared it the best boba she’s ever had. So there.
4. Rice to Riches | website
It was the hilarious signage that caught my eye, and when a customer exiting Rice to Riches saw me eyeing the place, she said in her perfectly thick New York accent, “We come here every week. If you like rice pudding, it’s the best.” And she was right. I sampled three flavours before deciding on the mascarpone with tart cherries rice pudding and, OMG, I will dream of it until the day I die.
5. Urban HAWKER | website
Housed in an ultra-cool food market, dedicated to all-things-Singaporean, if you and/or your older teen like southeast Asian cuisine or you need a midday java jolt, the Nanyang coffee (kopi) that Kopifellas serves is mind-blowing. (As in, it’s a very good thing there isn’t a location within a two-hour radius of my home or I’d be commuting daily for kopi. It’s that good. Iced or hot, I’ve tried both. Multiple times.) We also loved the soup from Dim Sum Darling.
Things to do in NYC with teens: don’t forget street food!
Long live the NYC pretzel. Seriously, get one. At least one. From a guy in a random cart on a corner in downtown Manhattan. Of all the things to do in NYC with teens, this is one thing you have to do. There’s nothing like eating a piping-hot pretzel slathered in a package of cheap mustard as you squeeze through throngs of people making their way to important meetings and lunches or sightseeing like you.
Bagels are another great street food in NYC — and far cheaper than you’ll find in any brick-and-mortar restaurant. Wanna eat on a budget in New York City? These $1.50 bagels will do the trick. Are they as amazing as the spendier bagels you’ll find at, say, Liberty Bagels? No. But if you’re from anywhere other than Montreal, I’m gonna bet the street-vendor bagels will still be better than the ones you have at home.
Street meat, on the other hand, I might be inclined to skip (unless you brought along really solid health insurance). You just never know.
Things to do in NYC with teens: New York sightseeing
If there’s one thing you’ll probably never say, it’s “I’ve exhausted New York City.” It would be virtually impossible, even if you lived there, to keep up with the scores of new restaurants and attractions alone, much less the various parks, coffee shops, museums, galleries, shows and more.
You’re definitely going to do the super-touristy things if it’s your first time visiting New York City, so let’s cross those off immediately so you can prioritize what will go on your list of things to do in NYC with teens:
- Central Park
- Empire State Building (pro tip: arrive before it even opens to avoid the crazy lineups)
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Statue of Liberty
- Bryant Park
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Grand Central Terminal
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Wall St. bull/Fearless girl
- Flatiron Building
- Times Square (look for the Naked Cowboy and about a dozen different Spider-Men)
There’s not much I can write about these that hasn’t already been written elsewhere, so I’m going to save your time and mine and leave those as bullet points. Are they worth seeing and doing? If it’s your first-ever visit to NYC and you know you’ll be back someday soon, yes. Pick a bunch of them.
If you live halfway around the world and this might be the only visit you make to the Big Apple for the next two decades, stick to the Empire State Building and do a guided bike tour of Central Park to see the highlights. Then roll in the MoMA and World Trade Center (both noted below), some of the more unique offerings in New York City (also below) and a couple of Broadway shows — where you can take in the sights, sounds and smells of Times Square — and do a lot of eating. Done and done.
Things to do in NYC with teens: my kids’ top-rated attractions
Hands down, this is our teens’ favourite museum they’ve ever visited. In hindsight, I wish we’d carved out nearly a whole day to take it all in; we stayed four hours as part of our day touring around Central Park and we could have easily doubled that and still scratched only the surface of this world-class history museum. We added two limited-run exhibits (Invisible Worlds and Worlds Beyond Earth); Invisible Worlds was better suited to younger kids and tweens while Worlds Beyond Earth captivated all four of us.
This doesn’t just belong on a list of things to do in NYC with teens — you can add your littles and tweens, too! Miss Q is a slime fanatic and had THE BEST time at what must be described as Slime & Sensory Play Heaven, where you get to play and interact with slime in many different ways but also get to create your own custom creation. Choose the texture, smell, colour and even three charms before popping a squat in this bright, cheery space where you can mix, stretch and bubble your DIY slime to your heart’s content.
Make sure your tween or teen wears casual clothing; some of the slime colours may transfer and there’s also a really fun opportunity at the exit to remove your socks and shoes to walk through a slimy obstacle course.
Pro tip for international travellers who usually travel with only carry-on luggage: the slime containers are too big for liquid carry-on size restrictions and airport security will confiscate it if you try to bring it home in anything other than checked baggage.
The Oculus and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum are both here. If you’re in the mood to shop, there are multiple floors of mostly high-end brands that are at least worth window shopping. Start at the impressive Oculus architectural masterpiece on your way to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, leaving yourself time to take in the jaw-dropping view from inside The Oculus.
If you’re visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum using the CityPASS C3 ticket, note that the ear loops are not included ($10). I suggest going to the memorial in the morning so you have all day to process the experience. It’s harrowing. Eerie, even. Despite the high ceilings and open design, the air in the museum is somehow heavier.
Amazing Grace plays in the distant background while copies of missing persons posters flash digitally across one wall. Sections of steel from the original towers, some pieces bent like origami with others mimicking a trash-bound crumpled piece of paper, adorn others. Walking among the wounded remnants of the original World Trade Center buildings, called the Tribute Walk, names are said aloud in a loop to honour those who died.
During our visit, two girls — who couldn’t have been older than 15 — listen to a story about two young sisters who died alongside their parents on Flight 77 bound for Australia, and just cry and cry. It’s all a devastating reminder of life’s fragility. Take tissues.
Hudson Yards has got to be on your must-do things to do in NYC with teens!
The Edge and the Vessel are two of my kids’ most memorable NYC attractions! At Edge security, they looked through my tightly packed bag and, seeing the look in my eyes at the prospect of unpacking it all, said: “Just promise not to blow anything up.” With that in mind, ride up 100 floors and make your way out onto the Western Hemisphere’s highest outdoor skydeck.
Suspended in mid-air, the Edge is literally a ledge that juts out of one of NYC’s tallest buildings — a feat of engineering that offers the best skyline views of Manhattan. Period.
There’s an immersive, multimedia experience leading to the elevator ride itself, making the journey to the Edge more interesting than the standard waiting rooms of yesteryear’s attractions. And the elevator ride alone is super cool, with digital panels in every direction bringing this architectural marvel to life before it spits you out a hundred floors due north.
The Vessel opened in 2019 but is now indefinitely closed to foot due to safety concerns. You can still take it in from the ground floor (look wayyyy up!), though, and it’s free, so make sure to pop in after your time at Hudson Yards comes to an end.
Right off The High Line in the now-posh Meatpacking District, this converted Nabisco plant has become a lively destination that houses everything from vintage goods to sample sales to iconic NYC brunch names like Sarabeth’s. Whether you’re looking for beautiful stationary and books or the best local fishmonger or cheeses, Chelsea Market brings together a cornucopia of vendors under one roof.
Attracting six million annual visitors, if you’re looking for things to do in NYC with teens that don’t involve crowds, you’ll probably want to steer clear. We were there midday in the middle of the week and it was slammed with people.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
We haven’t done them all, but when it comes to art galleries in New York City, the MoMa gets my teens’ highest marks. Probably because they more easily recognize art and artists here like The Starry Night, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Jackson Pollock’s splatters and the likes of Frida Kahlo and Picasso and Klimt.
Impressionist fans will want to head to the 5th floor where some of Monet’s enthralling, large-panel Water Lilies are on display in The David Geffen Wing.
Things to do in NYC with teens: save money with a New York CityPASS
If you want to visit some of Manhattan’s most iconic museums and attractions, a CityPASS is the way to go. It offers the best value you’re gonna find when it comes to entrance fees. This flat-rate, all-in-one pass is available in several cities, but the New York CityPASS is also now available in two formats:
The OG CityPASS
For those staying in NYC a bit longer or who have no trouble keeping up with an action-packed, Energizer Bunny-style itinerary, the original New York CityPASS includes admission to a total of five attractions, allowing some flexibility between various sites.
If you add up the admission prices for five of the below-mentioned sites, it comes to around CDN$320 per adult and C$310 per child (6-17 years old); a CityPASS, on the other hand, saves you more than 40% with it’s pay-one-price approach that costs C$180ish/adult and C$152ish/child. With your New York CityPASS, here’s what you can see and do:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The C3 CityPASS
- Empire State Building
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Guggenheim Museum
- City Cruises (seasonal)
- Edge at Hudson Yards
Here are two *big* CityPASS Pro Tips: first, as soon as you buy your CityPASS, check to see which of your key attractions require reservations. I recently used a C3 pass to visit the 9/11 Museum, Edge at Hudson Yards and the MoMA, and I needed reservations well ahead of time for two of them. I booked a couple of months in advance and there were already some limited slots. Second, take a screenshot of your pass QR code and the QR codes issued for each of your reservation and save them in a NYC album on your smartphone. Even if you don’t have WiFi at the ticket counters, you’ll be able to pull up your screenshots without issue.
Things to do in NYC with teens: Broadway shows (& avoiding scams)
I don’t even care if you think you don’t like plays and musicals — you’re in New York City. Home to the legendary Broadway. See a freaking show already! Of all the things to do in NYC with teens, this might be the one where you need to divide and conquer. Miss Q was game to see anything and everything, while I couldn’t even convince The K Man to try some of the more dark-humoured shows.
There are loads of different ways to buy Broadway tickets, but please heed this crucial warning: there are also loads of scammers ready to sell you fraudulent tickets.
Here are some guaranteed ways to buy legit Broadway show tickets:
- Go directly to the theatre — purchase tickets in person from the ticket wicket counter. This is also a great way to get last-minute tickets without incurring hefty online service fees when using third parties
- Use the “buy tickets” link on a show’s official website — some of these will take you to other sites like SeatGeek or Ticketmaster, and you’ll make your purchase there. Keep in mind that for the most popular shows, you could be buying resale tickets at an inflated price, depending on the site
- StubHub — these are all resale tickets, so if you’re looking well in advance of a mostly sold-out show like Hamilton, expect to pay through the nose. But, if you’re willing to take a chance, you could score half-priced (or better) tickets an hour or less before curtain time. Keep refreshing as curtain time draws closer and watch those prices drop! Just be ready for sky-high fees and taxes on top of the ticket prices listed
- Go to the TKTS booths in Times Square or the Lincoln Center — or use the TKTS app
- Use your CityPASS — and access its own Broadway show discount page
The concept of “rush” seating — that is, same-day discounted tickets awarded to those willing to get up early and stand in line for hours — started on Broadway when RENT was playing in the 1990s. It has evolved and now there’s only one in-person rush ticket option I know of, which is for Wicked; the rest are digital. And it’s worth the effort if you’re open to risk and don’t care whether or not you see a specific show while you’re in NYC — because the payoff could be 60 per cent or more off the face value of a single or pair of tickets.
Broadway digital lotteries are legitimate ticket options, but you don’t need to pay a site to tell you how to access the rush tickets — because I did the digging for you and even tried a bunch of them myself. Some of them require payment within an hour after you’ve been notified, so if you don’t have an international data plan and you’re not from the USA, this may not be ideal for you.
- Hamilton — rush tickets are about a week ahead of time and just $10 each; you can get a maximum of two if you win. I’ve won in Toronto and our tickets were front row! I’ve never won in Manhattan in the six or seven years I’ve been trying, but go for it. It can’t hurt. Just download the Hamilton app and register your information; once you have full access, look at the top row for the “lottery” icon. Select “Broadway” from here and then enter the lottery for the show dates and times that work for you
- Wicked — you can win a maximum of two tickets at $45 each; enter the in-person lottery 2.5 hours ahead of each curtain time in the theatre’s breezeway or enter 24 hours ahead of time online
- Aladdin — you can win a maximum of two tickets at $35 each; enter the day before online
- Hadestown — you can win a maximum of two tickets at $42.50 each; enter the day before (weekday performances only) online
- Moulin Rouge! — you can win a maximum of two tickets at $42.50 each; enter the day of the performance online
- SIX — you can win a maximum of two tickets at $45 each; enter the day before online
There may be other Broadway rush tickets available, but these were the ones we were interested in and researched for our trip and this post.
Current teen-approved Broadway shows
- SIX — Miss Q and I do declare this our new favourite musical. (And it’s up against some pretty tough competition.) It tells the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives and sees an all-woman cast (and band!) rock the stage for 88 uninterrupted minutes. From laugh-out-loud funny to sob-in-your-seat heart-wrenching, this fast-paced show reminded me at times of the brilliant storytelling in Hamilton. But it ain’t history, it’s her-story, baby! Since there’s no intermission, be sure you hit the toilets before showtime
- Moulin Rouge! The Musical — the reimagining of Baz Luhrmann’s musical genius starts with a sexy pre-show that is best reserved for the 13+ crowd. Expect actors to meet and hold your gaze, tempting you in ways you never thought possible from the safety of a theatre seat. The set is enchanting. The musical arrangements are poetic. The costumes are seductive. And the story is heartbreakingly beautiful
- Wicked — seen by more people each week than any other show on Broadway, I finally got to share one of my most-treasured musicals with Miss Q (who obviously fell in love with it, too). The story riffs on The Wizard of Oz’s characters that you think you know so well and casts a completely new light on them — especially the “wicked” witch of the west, who you’ll soon learn is merely at the centre of a PR smear campaign
- The Book of Mormon — two inexperienced Mormon missionaries walk into a Ugandan village. No, really — that’s not just the start of a bad joke, it’s the entire basis of the most offside musical I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. It’s full of naughty language, religious stereotypes and fabulous music
- Funny Girl — Glee alum Lea Michelle will be starring in this revived classic until September 3, 2023, and although tickets can be hard to come by, it’s worth every penny to experience her powerful vocals live. If you’ve ever managed to see Idina Menzel on stage, it’s that kind of WHOA. Funny Girl’s resurgence may be thanks to Glee and the Fanny Brice-wannabe story thread that Rachel Berry carries through the series, but it’s a fantastic show in its own right
We’ve also seen Hamilton, Chicago, Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, and The Lion King — all of which are currently playing and all of which I highly recommend if you can get Broadway tickets.
Unique things to do in NYC with teens
If you’re only doing a long weekend in Manhattan, or for first-timers, you’re probably idea’d-out at this point, but for those of you have visited the Big Apple a few times and you’re still looking for more things to do in NYC with teens, I’ma give you a few more juicy nuggets…
Shoot some hoops at the Nike NYC store
I’ll probably create a NYC shopping spin-off post down the road because it was too much of a beast to tackle here, but one of the coolest things do with teens in Manhattan has got to be the free basketball court on the top floor of the five-floor Nike flagship store in SoHo. Whether you’re testing out a new pair of kicks or just want to shoot some hoops, sign up on the 5th floor to wait your turn. Midweek, you can expect about a 20-minute wait.
If Central Park isn’t already on your things to do in NYC with teens itinerary…
Don’t just walk around Central Park — rent eScooters! You’ll be able to cover so much more ground and you can even ride all the way up to Harlem to check out the Apollo and this now-ultra-hip neighbourhood. We chose Fancy Apple for (a) its proximity to the park; (b) good all-day-use price (about $80 per person, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and policy — if your battery gets low, come and swap for a new eScooter; and (c) because their eScooters were the only ones I could find that could hold all 300 lbs. of Big B. Plus they’ll rent one to your tween. Helmets and locks included!
This was the only way we could make it to Jacob’s Pickles for brunch, spend the morning at the American Museum of Natural History and then the late afternoon at The Met — plus lap the park at least three times. When it comes to things to do in NYC with teens, this is a big winner. Just ask my kids what their favourite activity was all week in Manhattan and it would be eScootering around Central Park.
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty. Yeah, I already listed it; and, no — it’s far from one of the most unique things to do in NYC with teens. That’s a big “LOL,” right? Well, here’s my hot take on visiting the Statue of Liberty: stay on the ferry. Unless you have a burning desire to go inside the ol’ gal, she’s best viewed from the ferry boat in the water than on foot on Liberty Island.
Is the Statue of Liberty just something you do when visiting NYC? Absolutely. Do you need to wander around with throngs of people, craning your neck to see her up close? Nope.
And if you don’t want to get off at Liberty Island, that means you can also get a sweet view of the old girl for free, because you don’t have to get on the pay-to-play boat. That’s right, you can hop on the FREE Staten Island Ferry, which is a commuter ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island that goes back and forth every 20 or 30 minutes all day long.
It gets very close to the Statue of Liberty and you won’t need to burn one of your CityPASSes. Because, did I mention it’s free?
A must on your list of things to do in NYC with teens: a candy tour!
Create your own candy tour! There’s Dylan’s Candy Store, Sugarfina, the M&M’s New York store, Economy Candy, IT’SUGAR, The Sweet Shop NYC, Li-Lac Chocolates, Hershey’s Chocolate World, Stick With Me, Teuscher, and probably a dozen more options. As you plan your things to do in NYC with teens itinerary, figure out a day when you have time to integrate a big handful of these based on geography.
The High Line
Get off the streets — and up onto The High Line. This is one of my all-time favourite things to do in NYC with teens (and without ’em)! Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., start at either Hudson Yards or the Meatpacking District and walk the entire 1.45-mile greenway, or walk down to street level at various exit points.
Built on an elevated railway line that’s long been out of use, there’s no better way to walk several NYC blocks, up above the noise, traffic — and without traffic lights. With its beautiful gardens featuring more than 500 plant species and revolving installation art, the experience has been different every time I’ve visited.
Check out some graffiti
New York’s street art is, in a word, incredible. If you’re bringing along budding photographers, artists or social gurus, one of the things to do in NYC with teens is a self-guided graffiti tour. Here are some of our favourites that you can work into your itinerary:
1. “Tolerance” by Kobra— super-famous artist with a gorgeous mural located at 516-500 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011; best viewed from The High Line but I think it would be best shot with a wide-angle lens from street level.
2. NYC Love — best viewed from The High Line at 22nd St.
3. Two World Trade Center — just north of The Oculus Mall.
4. The Bowery — lots in and around here, including the mural du jour on the south side of Rivington St., just east of Bowery
5. Freeman Alley — I’ve saved the best for last! Plug “Freeman Alley graffiti” into Google Maps on a day you’re wandering around SoHo and NoHo and have your camera ready. This is the best graffiti alley we’ve ever seen and absolutely has to make it onto your things to do in NYC with teens list!
Do a Greenwich Village food tour
If your list of things to do in NYC with teens doesn’t involve food, and a lot of it, maybe we could trade teens. Mine never seem to stop eating!
In this self-guided NYC walking tour that I created for my own kids several years ago, this Greenwich Village Sweets Tour — featuring the Friends apartment building and the not-to-be-missed banana pudding from Magnolia — replaced dinner one night, giving me a shot at the elusive Mother of the Year Award. (Note that it’s an older post so you should double-check that each store is still open.)
When we heard we could “fly over New York,” and be part of the legendary New Year’s Eve ball drop, we knew we had to visit RiseNY. This multimedia, interactive museum is sort of like three experiences in one. You’ll move from a fascinating Jeff Goldblume-narrated short film about the beginnings of the NYC subway system on to a series of spaces devoted to the evolution of finance, radio, TV and fashion — all centred in New York City — before strapping yourselves in for a 4D ride.
If you’ve done FlyOver Canada in Vancouver (which I wrote about here), you won’t find the ride quite as long or as good, but if this is your first experience with this kind of media, you’ll love it. For us, where RiseNY really won was in its historical storytelling and the awesome artifacts on display — plus the Friends couch and makeshift set from The Honeymooners will be great for the family album!
If this didn’t give you enough things to do in NYC with teens, then you’ll just have to wait for the spinoff posts that will augment this one. But that’s a good month or two away, so if you have any planning questions, feel free to pop them in the comments and I will do my best to help.
I hope you enjoy all of the things to do in NYC with teens that you can fit into your upcoming visit!
*I know this is a things to do in NYC with teens post, but to compare hotel apples to hotel apples, I used Aug. 29-31, 2023, with two adults, for all of the midweek off-peak dates in these examples. Per-night hotel rates will vary widely based on many variables. Please also note that parking fees will be extra and most of these prices will not include a nightly amenity fee (a.k.a. resort fee), which seems to be the norm now in NYC and could be as little as $25 per night or as jaw-dropping as $100 per night.
DISCLAIMERS: unless otherwise noted, all prices listed in this post are USD. And, although we may have had a handful of partners who provided media rates or attraction passes along the way as we planned and plotted this things to do in NYC with teens content, this post represents mostly self-funded trips and probably tens of thousands of dollars over the years.