Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure and curiosity.
A New York City That Caters to Toddlers?
New York City has rightfully gained a reputation as the city that never sleeps. With bright lights and perpetually flashing billboards, this is a city where adrenaline and excitement pump through the streets day and night. It is therefore surprising that there is a side of the city that caters to families with very young kids. From small, kid-sized theaters to walkable zoos, toddlers will find much to enjoy in the city with the big reputation. Here are 12 of the most exciting things to do with toddlers in NYC.
1. Pet the Animals in the Small Central Park Zoo
New York City is home to many zoos, but this one is the smallest and most manageable with a toddler. However, don't be fooled by the size.This small zoo makes no sacrifice in quality. With an amazing petting zoo that even toddlers can maneuver, a walkable rainforest zone that is so realistic you will feel like you are really in the sweltering Amazon rainforest, and easy to view sea lion feedings, this zoo is the best one for little kids.
For lunch, there is also a cafeteria that serves excellent kid friendly foods (chicken tenders, pizza, juiceboxes, milk, etc.), and there are restrooms for quick diaper changes. To plan a trip, visit www.centralparkzoo.com.
2. Watch a Puppet Show at Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater
There is no reason why mommy and daddy should be the only ones enjoying New York City's renowned theater scene. Kids' theater is a big thing in New York City, and toddlers have just as much to enjoy as adults and older kids. The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater is one of the few that focuses specifically on the very young.
Everything from the format of the shows to the physical design of the theater focuses on the knee high crowd. The colorful shows run just under an hour, making them the perfect length for the shorter attention spans of toddlers. The seating inside the theater is intentionally sized to fit the smaller body of a toddler, and the theater itself is very small so toddlers won't feel overwhelmed. The thing that makes this one of the best New York City toddler activities is the actual storylines of the shows. The storylines are always filled with the things toddlers love most. Music, colorful puppets, simple language and fantasy keep local families with toddlers anticipating the new shows.
A plus to seeing a show at this theater is its fantastic location in the popular Central Park. After the show, head out into the huge green space for some more fun things to do with toddlers in New York City. Watch turtles or ducks at the nearby pond. Hop on a slide in any of Central Park's many playgrounds, or head to the Central Park Carousel for an exciting ride on the colorful horses. Tickets to see a show are $10 for adults, and $7 for kids, and must be purchased before the show at www.cityparksfoundation.org.
3. See a Gazillion Bubbles at the Gazillion Bubble Show
Theater with a twist. Ok, this is technically not theater, but the exciting show does take place in a small theater that is the perfect size for little ones. There are many other things to recommend this show. The bubble creations will have your toddler in awe; there is an interactive section where the kids get to participate on stage and the cool lazer show at the end will be a hit with both the kids and adults in the family.
If you arrive early, the whole family can even get a photo op inside a giant bubble. All in all, this show is one of the most beloved toddler activities in NYC if you are willing to fork over a pretty penny. For schedules and tickets visit gazillionbubbleshow.com
4. Enjoy Toddler-Sized Playgrounds at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Your toddler may not understand the significance of walking the Brooklyn Bridge, but she will totally get how much fun the Brooklyn Bridge Park is. Sitting right below the popular bridge, this green area on the shores of the East River is filled with play areas specifically designed for toddlers. Visit the Water Lab for water sprinklers spraying at just the right height for a toddler to enjoy. After, head to any of the two playgrounds dedicated to the 2 to 5 years old crowd.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park is walkable with a stroller, and has restrooms and food stands scattered at intervals around the park. If you have older kids this playground is also perfect for your family so don't be afraid to bring along the older ones who will enjoy the more challenging climbing structures, a swing park and more. For information on how to get there and more, visit http://www.brooklynbridgepark.org.
5. Ride Jane's Carousel Under the Brooklyn Bridge
Also, located immediately beneath the Brooklyn Bridge is this New York City institution. Loved by New York families for years, this carousel is a beautiful traditional style painted horse carousel set against a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and the East River. Hop on one of the beautifully restored horses with your toddler for a ride that will be enjoyable for all. Rides are $2. For more information: www.janescarousel.com.
6. The Brooklyn or Manhattan Children's Museum
New York City is known for its excellent museums. Give your kids the museum experience with these well curated and interactive museums designed specially to appeal to toddlers. Visit the Brooklyn branch for a day filled with hands on interaction with global cultures, musical instruments, scientific concepts and even water play. Your toddler will have fun while you will appreciate the value of one of the most educational New York toddler activities you can arrange.To plan a trip, www.brooklynkids.org.
The Manhattan museum is a favorite with kids of all ages. With hands on displays and guided activities for kids of all ages, this is the one to go to if there are older siblings in the family. The fun activities includes a messy art time for toddlers, math and science experiments, story times for both toddlers and older kids and even mural painting. Before going, note that there is no cafeteria here, so pack a lunch or be prepared to head out to a nearby restaurant. Plan your visit at www.cmom.org.
7. Show Toddlers Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular attractions for both local families and visitors. Both the kids and adults in your family will enjoy the wide variety of awesome displays dedicated to the history of the natural world. Dinosaur loving toddlers will particularly enjoy this larger than life museum. Point out the amazingly realistic fossils of rarely depicted dinosaurs on display. Or swing your toddler onto your shoulders for a close up view of the pteranodon suspended from the ceiling.
If your toddler isn't a dinosaur lover, there is lots more to do in this huge museum. The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life is a favorite for its 94 feet long blue whale model and its many other models of sea creatures. Older toddlers will also enjoy the interactive 3D shows that are always on show in the museum. Over the holidays, the museum puts up a unique origami Christmas tree that has become a local tradition. If you are visiting between November and January, be sure to include a visit to the tree on your itinerary of things to do with your toddler in New York City.
For information on tickets and getting there, www.amnh.org
8. Ride Toddler Rides at Victorian Gardens or Coney Island Amusement Park
Summer time is a time of excitement in New York City. It's a time when families are excited to play outside after the long dreary months of winter. What better way to play outside than on one of the colorful rides in an amusement park? In Manhattan, families with toddlers head to Central Park's Victorian Gardens for rides that are small and gentle enough that even a toddler (accompanied by parent) can enjoy. The Victorian Gardens is small and well suited to new walkers or families looking to spend just a couple hours.
After leaving the amusement park, head out into the treasure filled Central Park for even more fun. If you want ideas on kids activities in the rest of the park, check out my article, Central Park for Kids for cool ideas your kids are sure to enjoy. Or check out my article,Things to do in Central Park for ideas for the adults in the family.
Head to Brooklyn, for an amusement park that is a local institution. Located on the boardwalk of the Coney Island Beach, this amusement park is bigger, more crowded, and well suited to families who also have older kids. While the older kids enjoy bumper carts or the rollercoasters, toddlers will love the area dedicated to the knee high crowd. Traditional rides like the cho cho train, a carousel and a teacup ride will have toddlers asking for more, while more inventive rides where some kids (32 inches and higher) may ride alone, will have your older toddler excitedly showing off his independence.
Make it a whole day affair by visiting another local institution right across from the amusement park. The New York Aquarium, being the city's only aquarium is another top thing to do with kids in New York City. Take toddlers and older kids to watch an excellent sea lion show in the Aquariums large aqua theater. Also look out for the amazing bioluminescent jellyfish display.
The area immediately surrounding Coney Island's amusement park is also home to funnel cake, Nathans Hot Dog restaurant, many ice cream stands, cotton candy and all the foods that toddlers enjoy. For more information, www.lunapark.com.
NYC Toddler Activities by Interest!
|Animal Lovers||Parks/Rides||Theater Lovers||Museums|
Central Park Zoo
Victorian Gardens Amusement Park
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater
NY Transit Museum
Museum Of Natural History
Brooklyn Bridge Park Playgrounds
Gazillion Bubble Show
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Coney Island Amusement Park
Manhattan Childrens Museum
Build A Bear Workshop
9. Build a Stuffed Toy at the Build-a-Bear Foundation
Young kids and stuffed toys go hand in hand. Building a stuffed toy for herself at the Build a Bear Foundation is one of those New York City toddler activities that pays double. Not only will your toddler take great pride in her achievement, she will also have created a lifelong friend.
Help your toddler pick out her favorite animal, color and body and watch as it is stuffed. This is guaranteed to be one stuffed toy she will treasure forever.
10.See Colorful Trains at the New York Transit Museum
Toddlers are at an age when their interests take on an almost obsessive quality. If you have a toddler that is currently obsessed with trains, the New York Transit Museum is the most exciting NYC toddler activity you can add to your itinerary.
Dedicated to the history of NYC’s public transportation system, the museum is filled with answers to every question a train lover could have. The first sign your toddler will have that his day is about to get very bright is his walk down to the museum which is housed in an actual underground subway station no longer in use. Watch as his face lights up when he sees old trains of every color and description parked on the old tracks. Collections include older wooden models that will seem archaic even to the untrained mind of a toddler.
Bright red trains and models with cool looking seating also call the museum home. Speaking of the trains’ interiors, visitors get to actually tour the models on show for an experience that is highly interactive. The museum is firstly a history museum so point out interesting facts about the history of NYC’s subway system to older kids who will understand all the information on construction and model types the museum contains. Other interesting memorabilia like ancient subway signs and equipment are also on show.
If your train loving toddler also loves other forms of transportation, make his day even brighter by heading to the museum’s excellent bus collection. Contrary to popular belief, the New York Transit Museum isn’t dedicated solely to the subway system. Its aim is to preserve the city’s whole transit system, so there is also an excellent collection of old buses that vehicle loving toddlers will want to explore. The colorful buses date back to the 1900s and are a lesson in the history of New York City’s above ground transportation system history for all members of the family.
Although the New York Transit Museum is one of the most interesting things to do with toddlers in NYC, there are a few things to bear in mind. Some parts of the underground museum gets very hot because of inadequate cooling so be mindful when dressing your toddler in the warmer months. There is also no cafeteria so either plan on having lunch at any of the numerous nearby restaurants or pack a lunch that you can later have at the onsite dining room.
11. Sail Around the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is synonymous with New York City. Symbolic of all that America stands for, seeing this statue is on the to do list of most visitors. Why not make it a family affair and take your toddler on a cruise around Lady Liberty. New York City's ferries sail around the clock and are a safe and exciting way to give your toddler an iconic New York City experience.
12. Stroll Around the Exciting Times Square
Times Square is the perfect place to end this list with. Consistently ranked the most popular place on earth, Times Square is simply magical at night. Kids will love strolling through this exciting place at night. The bright lights, energetic crowds, flashy billboards and colorful costumed characters will be eye candy of the best type.
For an edible treat, get ice cream from the always delicious Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Store smack in the middle of Times Square at 44th street and 7th avenue. Take a five minute walk to the nearby multi-floored Disney store with its endless displays of toddler favorites like Mickey Mouse, Peppa Pig and the Disney princesses. The entertaining store will have any toddler mesmerized, and is one of the top things to do with a toddler in NYC. If you want to spend a full day exploring the mesmerizing Times Square, you may find my article on things to do in Times Square handy.
This list of exciting things for toddlers to do in NYC is proof that you can't always judge the book by the cover. So go ahead, take your little one to the flashy city, it's the most fun she will have in any city. If you need help finding any of these activities, here is a handy map you can use for directions. Just bookmark, and pull it up as needed!
Handy Directions to The Exciting Things to Do With Your Toddler in NYC.
Rosheda Stephenson (author) on February 11, 2020:
Thank you Avis Hardy. NYC is great for kids of any age
Rosheda Stephenson (author) on April 16, 2019:
@Avis Hardy. Splendid! NYC, is a great place for kids. Hopefully your grandkids will like some of the activities on this list if they visit.
Avis Hardy on March 01, 2019:
Rosheda Stephenson, Excellent article. I enjoyed reading it. I'll have my daughter read it and the next time she visits New York she can take her two sons.
George Johnson from San Antonio, TX on December 05, 2018:
We took our daughter to NYC when she was really young. Had a greAt time on Times Square amd Central Park And the playgrounds.