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This island metropolis just keeps on giving, with new attractions and revamped old favourites, guaranteed to make all ages smitten
Jane Anderson reports
Manhattan is the smallest of New York City’s five boroughs. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in pizazz. This buzzing island has over a million and a half people living on fewer than 23 square miles. If you want a quick recap of how Manhattan literally rose from the swamps, catch the lift in One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the western hemisphere, just one of the many highlights of this glorious family-friendly city. For teens, there’s a special buzz about New York, as they’ve no doubt seen it on so many TV shows, films and videos, while there’s plenty for little ones to enjoy, from the iconic American Girl store on Fifth Avenue to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side and an abundance of playgrounds to let off steam.
Even if you’ve been before, make sure you take them to some of the iconic sites as well as newer, quirkier ones. The Empire State is a must, and Midtown is undergoing something of a renaissance, with attractions such as Gulliver’s Gate (the world’s largest interactive museum of miniatures), National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey and NFL Experience just off Times Square. Central Park is a winner for every family.
Kids will feel part of Manhattan life among the rollerbladers, the horse-and-carriages and the artists. We saw a young drummer with his full kit under a tree, and my kids loved clambering on the mammoth rocks by the lake. With its very own zoo, plus the Museum of Natural History on one side and the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other, it’s a great way to ease into this mighty city.
If you and your kids love a model village, you’re in for a treat here. This new attraction off Times Square presents the world in miniature with incredible attention to detail. People the height of pins inhabit 300 built-to-scale miniature scenes of New York, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East and more. Kids are given a key to move trains, ships and hot-air balloons. And for a cost of £30, you can get yourself made in miniature using the 3D scanner! (Adults £26; children (12 and under) £19; Find out more about Gulliver’s Gate.
Bringing the oceans to life in downtown NYC is a tall order, but this impressive attraction has pulled it off with digital technology and passion. Children can experience at Encounter: Ocean Odyssey a strobe-light kelp forest, play in a luminous coral reef by night, witness a full-on fight between two ferocious Humboldt squid and a finale of a 50ft humpback whale passing right overhead, all without getting a toe wet. Adults £28; children (12 and under) £23.
Just as the High Line breathes life into the city, so it will infuse your kids with energy. When city breaks get too much, with museums and attractions, this green lung is the perfect antidote. Walk the 1.45 miles of elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad on the west side of the city, and your kids will encounter unusual plants, be invited to create by street artists, listen to impressive singers, climb on installations and marvel at the crazy views of Manhattan.
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is not to be taken lightly. My daughter came away better informed, but understandably downbeat. Terrorism is a colossal subject to take on board, and surreal when you’re looking at a mangled fire truck like it’s an installation in an art gallery. At the very least, take kids to see the twin memorial pools and, if you all feel up to it, the museum is an education. The 9/11 Memorial is free to view. The museum costs £17 per adult, £14 per child (13-17) and £11 per child (7-12).
This vast brutalist Lincoln Center is a great place to catch some quirky and meaningful children’s theatre or a concert. Upcoming family shows include Tetris, where a quartet of dancers stack, spin, leap and climb to show how we all fit together in society, recommended for ages six and up. Grass, using performance, puppetry and projections, inspires younger children to explore nature.
With locations in Tribeca and the Meatpacking District right by the High Line, Bubby’s is American food that stays true to its roots but has a hipster, authentic feel. Defending the American table is key here, and pies feature heavily. Think: Mom’s apple pie. Other staples include blueberry pancakes, bacon mac’n’cheese and fried chicken.
Take your kids for an old-school New York breakfast at Zabar’s, a Manhattan institution. Fill up on bagels, babka and rugelach (all kosher, of course), smoked fish and caviar. There’s nothing flash here, just a priceless New York atmosphere where regulars mingle with tourists.
For a special treat, head to the lively Chelsea piers to board a Bateaux New York dinner cruise. It may sound cheesy, but this glorious cruise embodies the full-blown glory of Manhattan, with a live crooner belting out Big Apple tunes, spine-tingling views over the city and an up-close look at the Statue of Liberty from the water.
Add in a first-class, waiter-served meal and the price tag becomes more acceptable. A three-hour Bateaux New York dinner cruise from Chelsea Piers costs from £130pp. Children over six are welcome but there is no child rate. A shorter lunch cruise with Bateaux is from £39 per adult and £33 per child aged 3-12.
Combine shopping and eating at ABC Kitchen, well known for its beautiful rugs and homeware. Mums will be in heaven. The hip restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten emphasises local, organic and environmentally conscious food. Little eaters will be happy too, with options like patatas bravas and cheese fondue.
This supersized Wonka-esque Dylan’s Candy Bar will have your kids’ eyes out on stalks. There’s a wonderful retro section downstairs with American staples like Tootsie Rolls and Bazooka Joe gum, and tons of pick’n’mixes, with everything from blue raspberry rock candy to cherry liquorice bites. Put a price limit on before you enter!
The Pearl River Mart offers eclectic and affordable homeware and loads of kids toys and art stuff. It’s a great place to find gifts and souvenirs. Check out the new location in Chelsea.
Wow the kids with a stay at the Millenium Hilton New York One UN Plaza just across from the UN headquarters and a few blocks from the Empire State Building, Times Square and the Rockefeller Center. Parents will enjoy the grown-up and luxurious interiors and bling lobby, while kids can make believe they’re a UN envoy getting ready for their big meeting.
Rooms start 28 floors up, so you’re guaranteed a great view, be it the UN flags and East River, or the Manhattan Skyline. You can even book a game of tennis on its indoor court on the 39th floor. A family room with two doubles costs from £150 per night.
For a taste of old-school Manhattan living, book a family suite at The Beacon on 75th Street and Broadway. This Upper West Side stalwart dates back to 1928 and will make you feel like you’re a Big Apple regular, as you meet long-term local residents in the old-fashioned lift and prepare breakfast in your kitchenette with supplies from the fab Fairway Market across the street. Book a room at the rear for vistas over blocks with roof gardens and metal fire escapes. The corner cafe, Viand, is classic NYC dining, with coffee and pancakes for breakfast in your cosy booth. And the Museum of Natural History is just a few blocks away by Central Park’s Strawberry Fields entrance, sure to spark a John Lennon discussion with the kids. A one-bedroom suite sleeping two adults and two children on a pull-out sofabed costs around £324 per night.
This cool, sustainably aware 1 Hotel in Brooklyn is worth checking out for the view alone. Located by Brooklyn Bridge, the vista of the East River and Manhattan Island is awesome, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building. Rooms are a joyful mix of cool industrial and mindfulness. There are yoga mats in the crate wardrobes, a filtered water dispenser and living moss to help the room breathe.
Baskets of misshaped apples by the lifts are there for you to help yourself, and the rooftop pool regularly doubles as a film location. Feel like a local when you breakfast in Neighbours picnic- fare café, and downward dog in the POE yoga studio. Connecting Bridge King sleeps four and costs from £648 per night.
How to get there
Norwegian flies a twice-daily service between Gatwick and JFK Airport. Fares start from £265 return for an adult and from £198 return for a child under 12. New Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft are faster, greener and help reduce the effects of jetlag.
How to get around
The Subway and local bus are the best way of getting around NYC and the most authentic. Pay per ride (£2) or buy a seven-day metro card for £23 if you’re staying a week.
Happily, there are many free New York attractions, and if you go in the summer holidays, many deals.
Invest in a New York CityPASS, which packages together a choice of six of the city’s top attractions for significant savings. £95.98 per adult, £79.22 per child (aged 6-17). Prices vary for under-sixes at each attraction.