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New York City 3 nights with 2-year-old

We are going to be in NYC (staying in Upper West Side of Manhattan) for 3 nights in October (Tuesday-Friday). We will have all day Wednesday and Thursday to explore a little via Subway, but with a trip back to home base for an afternoon nap each day. Staying close to Central Park so we can enjoy the park if we find ourselves with a little extra pocket of time before/after a nap or before/after travel days to and from NYC.

Thoughts on what you'd do with a very mobile just-turned-2-year old?

(1) Statue of Liberty (should we just take the Staten Island Ferry?
(2) Times Square (night time I've heard?)
(3) Central Park (I researched the best playgrounds for Toddlers. Any further suggestions?)
(4) 9/11 Museum (worth it with the baby?)

I'm also wondering if there are any particularly toddler-friendly places to eat nearby any of these places? We also will have a kitchenette in the room so could bring back food for nap times/early bed times.....

Thanks to all!

Posted by
6881 posts

I would rather squirt lemon juice in my eyes than go to Times Square...I cannot imagine going there with a 2 year old. Way, way too many people in the surrounding streets and the experience is not worth it. The 9/11 Museum may also be too much for a 2 year old.

NYC has lots of parks (some are small pocket parks) so Central Park will be ideal. Also Greenwich Village is just a nice small, pleasant neighborhood that seems like a good fit with a small kid. Most of the small kids I've seen were in Park Slope, Brooklyn (lots of young families there). Another nice place to stroll is along the Hudson River from Battery Park heading north.

Posted by
451 posts

Having just returned from a visit to NYC, I can say without a doubt that the 911 Museum is not appropriate for a two year old! It's a very solemn experience with little talking amongst those touring it. When people do speak it is in hushed tones. I can't imagine having that mood broken by an active toddler. In addition to that, it was too crowded for a stroller. Also agree with previous poster, that I wouldn't take a stroller into Times Square at night. That's a disaster waiting to happen. If the weather is nice, you might consider a stroll along The Highline. Central Park and the ferry to Liberty Island are good activities with a two year old.

Posted by
439 posts

If you have not reserved a ticket to the statue of liberty by now, your best option is the ferry. You can take an elevator to the base, the steps up to the crown might be hard for a toddler.

If you go to Times Square, just be aware of the pan handlers dressed up as cartoon characters, they take a picture with the kids for a $1. Don't hold out a 5 & expect change, it will be gone in a second.

I just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the 1st time, living here for 15 years. It is a very cool experience. When you get to the other side there is a park and the docks. You can either take a ferry back over or the subway. Try to walk over early in the morning, we did that but walked back after having lunch & it was a nightmare of people. It is some of the best of views of the city I have seen.

There is also the Intrepid, if I remember right this has alot of interaction for kids to take part in.

Central Park is a good stop for kids. There is a small zoo there, I haven't been there but might be worth it. There is also row boats, carousal. I think it would be too early for the ice skating rink.

The Bronx Zoo is incredible. It is free one day a week, I think Wed, be prepared for long lines.

There is also the Brooklyn or Bronx Botanical Garden. They usually have some sort of exhibits going on.

When you say 9/11 memorial, there is alot there. Some people don't realize there is a Museum underground, it is VERY WELL done. I don't think the 2 year will get it but kids only take in what they can handle. I was worried about my nieces & nephew, they were 6, 7 & 8. The 6 year old boy liked to see the explosion over and over again. They put the really bad parts in little cubes so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. My brother didn't realize, had one of the kids on his shoulders and went in & did a quick U turn. When they did the museum,they wanted you to see the strength and the love that made the city come together. I think they succeeded. The memorials themselves, it isn't really somber place, peaceful. Kids do run around all the time. The freedom tower is open, a long line even with tickets but worth it. Pay the 15 & get the ipad, it will sync up to where you are and what you are looking at, you can then zoom into neighborhoods & bldgs and learn more about them. The subway stop has a new mall, neat bldg to see and walk around the mall. Some people may be bothered if your child starts screaming, some won't....develop the NY attitude and don't worry about it. You can't please everyone, do what is right for you.

You may not be able to take the stroller into some of the places. Just make sure it is a light one if you do use it. Many of the subways don't have elevators. If one of you carry the baby you might be better off. My brother usually put his kid on his shoulders.

I think little italy might be good with a toddler, great restaurants, gelato & bakeries. Don't worry about taking a toddler into most of the restaurants in the tourist areas, they are very used to them. As long as you eat, pay and leave a tip, they are happy. Do look at your bill, alot of them add in the tip in the tourist areas.

Going from the upper west side to downtown and back in time for a nap with all the lines may be harder than you think.

Let me know if you have any other questions


Posted by
2545 posts

There is nothing on the Staten Island side of the ferry but construction work. If you take the ferry just for a ride, stay on for the return trip. Central Park has a nice, small zoo also. It is on the east side of the park. There is a children's museum in Manhattan but we haven't been there in years (my kids are 33 and 31). Just google it.
Also, the New Victory theatre on 42 Street has kid friendly shows, very inexpensive, you can Google their website. The Gazillion Bubble Show is on Off-Broadway, might want to check their website for age, tickets.

Posted by
1733 posts

Another Central Park feature: there's a pond on the east side near 72nd street, where people sail model boats. It is mentioned in E. B. White's Stuart Little.

Posted by
2362 posts

Maybe a tour of the United Nations headquarters, the guided tour itself takes about a hour. All the flags, works of art, and beautiful meeting rooms, are colorful and enticing. Who knows what impressions a 2-year old might absorb, or even yourselves.

Posted by
3336 posts

With a 2 year-old I would never attempt Times Square at night...way too crowded and overwhelming. Honestly it's not that great!
There is a cute playground in the park directly east of the reservoir around 95th or 96th streets.

Posted by
3353 posts

Ok....let's see if I can help.

Statue of Liberty? No, not with the scheduled nap every afternoon unless you choose to take the subway during rush hour to be on the first ferry. With a 2 year old? I wouldn't.

The Staten Island Ferry? Yes!! Take the subway downtown and take the ferry starting after 10am. Sit outside on the right side of the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Bundle up as it's worth it. When you arrive at SI, deboard and catch the next ferry back to Whitehall (Manhattan). You will have to deboard; no one is allowed to stay put roundtrip! On the way back, you can sit on the right side immediately to see the Verrazano Bridge. Then cross to the left side to see the Statue of Liberty again. There are bathrooms at both ferry terminals and onboard but use the onboard facility if it's REALLY an emergency. Either on route to SI or when you return, when you're at the SI Ferry terminal in Manhattan, stop for one of the best hot dogs in the city at Len's Papaya. Trust me.

Times Square? If you really want to see Times Square, go in the evening so you can enjoy the neon lights. It will be just as crowded day or night. Stay away from ANYBODY dressed as a muppet, super hero, or cartoon character. That person will want to take a picture with your 2 year old and will then insist you pay something like $10 or $20. The NYPD is trying to crack down on these shysters but they're still there. Unfortunately, your child will be a magnet to these people. Don't let it scare you; just be firm that you want no pictures. They'll move on quickly because they know you won't pay. Don't be at TS at rush hour. Maybe after dinner.

Central Park? Yes, of course! Much to do including the Central Park Zoo which is geared toward your child. Make sure you all see the feeding of the seals. There is the carousel. There's Belvedere Castle. Depending on when you're here, your child might like the colorscape of fall foliage. The leaves are fun!

9/11 Museum? No.

Other ideas include looking at the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. For more merry-go-rounds if that's an interest, go to Bryant Park's Le Carrousel and the Pier 63 Carousel in Chelsea. Also, independent bookstores have storytimes and puppet shows for toddlers and that might be of interest including Bank Street bookstore on the Upper West Side. See

I hope this helps.

Posted by
6802 posts

Hmmm. I have a two-year old grandson. The only things that get his attention are colorful toys, SpongeBob videos, and dry diapers. Since he can't speak beyond making sounds, it would be hard to share any museum experience or the relevance of any historical site with him. Perhaps yours is different, but I'd say go do whatever things and places that interest you and let the baby enjoy the ride.

Posted by
1172 posts

There is a great kids' museum in New York

Central Park...yes for sure. You could also go to the Prospect Zoo in Brooklyn

I would not do the 9/11 memorial with a 2 year old.

Posted by
8512 posts

If the little one can sleep in a stroller, that's when you could visit a couple of museums, do things for yourself. I'd stay closer to upper Manhattan for activities and try to see the Guggenheim, Met, Neue, if they'll allow strollers and toddler is sleeping. My best visits were when my kids fell asleep.

How about the Natural History Museum. Boat ride should hit all the marks.

There are a lot of kid friendly restaurants a few streets over on Broadway on the Upper West Side.

Posted by
26 posts

Excellent feedback. Thank you all SOOO much for your time.
I will definitely be skipping the 9/11 museum (my husband was on the fence about it anyway), but hubby really wanted to see Times Square.....
Baby won't sleep in a stroller, just the occasional doze. She's accustomed to laying flat in a crib :/ I think we'll chalk this vacation up as a vacation for HER not us :)

I'd still love anyone else's input to the above questions. I had already asked on TripAdvisor and gotten little to no feedback. Should have known the Rick Steves crew would be better....afterall, that accounts for our crazy-successful trips to Europe pre-baby!

We are from Dallas, and I'm thinking now about early October weather in NYC. I know weather is unpredictable, but if we're going to be mobile from 8a-2p and 4p-7p, any tips on what to wear or how to dress the baby? I suppose layers. Will she need a bundle-up-jacket then (we won't need one for Dallas yet!).

Thank you guys again, so much. I know it takes time to sit down and write advice (for free!) but I truly appreciate it. This is our first time to travel with the baby!

Posted by
6881 posts

I think, since this is your first big trip with a baby, that you should set your expectations a bit low. I don't know if you've been to NYC before, but it's a very busy, sensory-overload kind of place with people spilling out over the sidewalks during business hours. I've been on the subway many, many times and I have to admit to not seeing many strollers or even elevators (but there are lots and lots of stairs). I would stay clear of the subway during peak hours as it can be a major crunch. It also sounds like your baby is not very flexible when it comes to sleeping arrangements, which can make for some awkward outings where you want to rush back to the hotel quickly but are too far away.

I would take the first day and completely play by ear before getting into full blown tourist mode and heading way out, only to discover that it was too ambitious or disruptive. Central Park is beyond lovely, and October in NYC is also beyond lovely. It can be cool so, yes, you'll need to bring real Fall clothing. I'd be happy just to stick to the UWS with a baby...there are beautiful neighborhoods to stroll there without even needing the subway. I guess this is a long way of saying "play by ear and be open not to seeing as much of NYC as you would without a baby in tow". Please totally disregard this if your baby is more flexible than it sounds. "I've seen this movie before" (so to speak) with a friend, and this was just a simple lunch outing in the local neighborhood.

Posted by
26 posts

Thanks Agnes! A little dose of reality!
Funny thing is, I thought I WAS aiming low with just 4 possible destinations while there :) Maybe I should aim for 2? Haha! Or NONE? :)
I am glad to hear UWS and Central Park are good choices....that's what I was hoping for!
Again, appreciate your feedback!

Posted by
6881 posts

Ok, but make some time to stop in the tiniest hole in the wall bakery with the most delicious (but pricy) chocolate chip cookies ever....Levain Bakery on West 74th Street in UWS. Ungodly good, but rich cookies. That will be your reward for wheeling baby around NYC :-)

Posted by
8512 posts

How about going up to the Cloisters, beautiful building, grounds and collection, but you should probably take a taxi as your activity windows are pretty small.

Posted by
436 posts

Great info above, I just want to add that a very mobile 2 year old is a challenge I survived. Letting her run when in parks and it's safe will burn up some energy and she might surprise you by napping in the stroller. We also used to let our daughter push the stroller when she got fed up with sitting in it. Anything that keeps her from running into a crowd or traffic. Talk to her beforehand to set expectations about behavior in crowded places. I remember talking about not touching in stores and museums, being clear that there are times when holding hands is not optional. Get down and talk to her, at a 2 year olds eye level things are very different.

That said, you can still go to Times Square and enjoy window shopping and the Disney Store. Ride the ferry- either Staten Island or to Liberty Island (without going up). She will grow into being a good traveler because you travel with her, not by staying home!

Also you and your husband can take turns in museums, the Guggenheim is right alongside Central Park. There are many small parks if you are further afield.

Enjoy the trip!

Posted by
1172 posts

Many of us have been there with 2 year olds and I think that you are selling yourself short!

I know that routines are great at home but it is also ok to not always follow them when you are on the road. If she dozes in her stroller for a day or two, she will be fine. She may surprise you!