One of the joys of the USA’s north-east is that, if you want the buzz of the big city, you can find it in abundance. In fact, you can find it three times over in the space of less than 250 miles, where New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. form the sort of neat line easily followed on a road trip. Each of these major dots on the map of America has been the country’s capital at some point. And while each is a metropolis full of fine restaurants, galleries and other adult concerns, each also offers plenty of fun for children. Further information nycgo.com; discoverphl.com; visitpa.com; washington.org.
NEW YORK CITY knows how to cater to children. This, after all, is the city that announced Taylor Swift as its ‘global ambassador’ in October, and recently gave a similar title – ‘family ambassador’ – to that favourite of the under-eights, Dora the Explorer.
Of course, the Big Apple packs more thrills for little ones than just big-name supporters. The Children’s Museum of the Arts (cmany.org; general entry £7.50), in the South Village of Manhattan, encourages its guests to express themselves via mediums such as sculpture and animation. It has a collection of 2,000 pieces of children’s art, and holds workshops – aimed at youngsters – which cover topics as varied as Frida Kahlo and Moon landscapes.
Another prime Manhattan cultural landmark, the Museum of Modern Art (moma.org; adults £16), also throws open its doors to junior visitors, offering free entry for the under-17s. There are plenty of child-friendly workshops here, too, and dedicated audio guides which help translate the often obtuse angles of contemporary art into youthful language for all ages.
Then there is the roof. The One World Observatory – 1,254ft above the ground at the top of the One World Trade Center skyscraper (oneworldobservatory.com; adults £21, children £17) – is reached via lifts that rush you to the 102nd floor in under 60 seconds. The view from what is the tallest building in the western hemisphere is unsurprisingly special. It showcases, among other things, Central Park, where 843 acres and 21 playgrounds provide earthbound merriment for active kids (centralparknyc.org).
STAY The Viceroy New York (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com) has a great midtown location, treats such as a kids' in-room dining menu and family rooms for £386.
The drive from New York City to Philadelphia is a simple task – 97 miles south-west on Interstate 95. You could break the journey by pausing for lunch in Trenton, the charming capital of New Jersey, which loiters on the Delaware River and throws out a tasty selection of Italian restaurants in its Chambersburg area – before rolling into ‘Philly’.
STAY The Loews Philadelphia (loewshotels.com) does ‘old-fashioned’ in that it dates to 1932, and ‘modern’ in its Loews Loves Kids scheme, where everything from car seats to computer games are available to guests. Family rooms start from £212.
Distance in the day: 97 miles.
PHILADELPHIA revels in its place in America’s history, especially in Independence National Historical Park (nps.gov/inde), which includes Independence Hall (entry £1), where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, and the Liberty Bell Center, where the famous bell - which supposedly rang in recognition of American becoming its own country - is kept. Costumed actors and a sense of fun bring the area to life for kids.
The Philadelphia of the present comes to the fore in the inventive Please Touch Museum (pleasetouchmuseum.org; general entry, £11), where children of seven and over can play tunes on a walk-on piano, slip into a fantastical realm in an Alice in Wonderland area, and listen to tall tales in the Story Castle. Philadelphia Zoo (philadelphiazoo.org; adults £13; children, aged two to 11, £11.50), meanwhile, was the first such institution in America when it opened in 1874. Nowadays, it plays host to more than 1,300 animals - and has a dedicated KidZooU space, where children can meet plenty of gentler species, such as sheep and ducks.
I-95 continues on its southwesterly path, connecting Philadelphia to Washington DC in 140 miles. This is a busy stretch of road, so make sure you set aside a full day to complete the journey.
STAY The Dupont Circle Hotel (doylecollection. com) sits in a prime spot in the heart of the US capital. It has a ‘Children’s Concierge’, who can send up soothing milk and cookies at bedtime and classic board games for use. Family rooms cost from £229.
Distance in the day: 140 miles.
WASHINGTON, D.C. is awash with memorials and monuments. But its main child-magnet is its many museums. The Smithsonian Institution (si.edu), the world’s largest museum and research complex, proffers 19 distinct museums and galleries – all of which are free. The National Air and Space Museum (airandspace.si.edu) shelters crucial artefacts from America’s race to the skies including parts of the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed man on the moon in 1969 and also the Spirit of St Louis plane which made the first flight from New York to Paris in 1927.
The National Museum of American History hosts over three million exhibits, including the iconic ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (americanhistory.si.edu). Elsewhere, the International Spy Museum (spymuseum.org; adults £14; children, aged 7 to 11, £10) is perfect for any budding James Bonds in the family, sending them on secret spy missions to decipher secret codes and vanquish the bad guys via its interactive Operation Spy attraction.
11-day car hire with Hertz starts from £580 John F. Kennedy international airport pickup and drop of at Dulles International Airport. hertz.co.uk