New York City is ginormous and awesome. To me, that combo is what makes traveling there so fantastic and also a little terrifying. I hadn’t been to NYC in a long time and my daughter had never visited there. We decided it was time for a family trip to the Big Apple. One of the hardest parts of planning our trip there with our teen daughter was determining what we had to do in the four days we had there.
First, we had to come to grips with the fact that we were limited, particularly in terms of time but also in funds. There would be no way to do it all. We decided to pick 3 things that we wanted to do each day, which got us to this list of a dozen tourist highlights in New York City that will please teens, but they work well for all ages. We’ve also included our tips for making the most of your time at each attraction.
We loved the view of Manhattan from 30 Rock. It offers a fantastic view of the Empire State Building, which is why I suggest doing this one during the day.
Tip: Go early in the morning. We first tried to go late afternoon and the next available passes weren’t for several hours, and by then it would be dark. We headed back another day first thing and getting in was no problem.
I know what you’re thinking. Two skyscrapers? Really? Really. We were really glad that we did both buildings – one during the day, and one at night. Seeing the lights of city from above is breathtaking. My teens said that this was one of her favorite things we did.
Tip: We walked here at night after a Broadway show. It took approximately 15 minutes and was a ton of fun. When we arrived there were no lines at all.
Remember the Night at the Museum movies? The first installment in that trilogy take place here. From dinosaur skeletons to meteorites to 94-foot blue whales to giant emeralds, there is so very, very much to see here.
Tip: The AMNH has an amazing Explorer app that really can enhance your trip. It was incredibly helpful for finding things we were looking for and alerted us to some treasures nearby that we otherwise would have missed. Also, there’s a Shake Shack behind the museum that is crowded but a fun stop if you don’t have one in your hometown.
My teen loves Hamilton: An American Musical and was excited to see the Gilbert Stuart painting of him. The museum is also home to Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Tip: On MetFridays, the museum is open late, until 9 p.m. There were some fun performances and talks taking place, and a more fun vibe that my teen appreciated. It also makes it a bit easier to do this on the same day as the AMNH without feeling quite so rushed, which is a great option if you get a rainy day like we did. If it’s raining cats and dogs, grab a cab or favorite ride share company.
Bright lights, big city. I suspect that teens feel like their brains resemble Times Square, which is why they feel at home here.
Tip: There are tables and chairs scattered throughout so if the weather’s nice (or at least, not bad) consider grabbing something and eating it here while you people watch. We grabbed breakfast at Carlos’ Bakery (of Cake Boss fame) at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to eat on the go and ended up stopping in Times Square for a few moments to eat and people watch. Also, there are some cheesy stores. I may have rolled my eyes as we walked into the M&M store but my teen had a ton of fun in there. It was worth the stop.
A walk through Central Park is fun and fascinating. Taking a walk can be a great way to connect with your teen anywhere, but it’s really special in Central Park. It’s also a great place to unwind a little bit, especially if you’re like me and find that the city can be overwhelming.
Tip: There are lots of events taking place in the park, especially on weekends. Drawing classes, basketball clinics for teens, tours and concerts. Check out the calendar before you go to see if any are of interest. There are also a fair number of food trucks around the area, including Wafels & Dinges. Sometimes a killer snack (or flat out meal) and fresh air are exactly what a teen needs on vacation.
You can see the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry, but please don’t pass up Ellis Island. It is absolutely worth visiting. In addition to the Great Hall and exhibits of what immigrants brought with them, be sure to see the statue of Annie Moore, who was the first immigrant to arrive at Ellis Island. She came from Ireland with her two younger brothers at the age of 15. (They were meeting her parents who were already here.) It was powerful for my teen to realize that children her age made the journey not just alone, but responsible for others.
Tip: There is an audio tour that is included with the price of your ticket. There’s one intended for kids and while it’s a little young, my teen alternated between it and the adult version.
New York Public Library
While the library may not seem like a tourist attraction, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is the flagship of the New York Public Library and a pretty stunning building. The Beaux Arts architecture alone is awesome and there are rotating exhibits. In the children’s section in the basement you can see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends stuffed animal that belonged to the real Christopher Robin. No matter what age you are, they’re worth a quick visit.
Tip: The lions out front are named Patience and Fortitude. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger called them “New York’s most lovable public sculpture.”
This is like the backyard of the library, and it is a New York Scenic Landmark for good reason. We had lunch here and found it so charming. You can see people playing ping pong, pétanque, and chess. Don’t miss the carousel, which was designed to complement the park’s French classical style. We had lunch al fresco at the Southwest Porch in the park which was good, but pricey.
For a taste treat, grab one of these amazing waffles. “Dinges” means toppings. They have a permanent restaurant X and also a spot in a corner of Bryant Park. We grabbed ours at a truck at the entrance to Central Park.
Adults can likely tell you exactly where they were on 9/11 when they first head of the terror attacks on the Twin Towers. Teens, however, have no frame of reference like that. Their lack of memory, however, doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate this hallowed ground.
Tip: At the Memorial, flowers are placed in the names of those born on the day. We made it a point to stop at a few of those names and pay our respects to them and their loved ones who were missing them on their birthday.
We used CityPASS to do many of these. It saved us both time and money. It can get you admission to the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, AMNH, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9/11 Museum, and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Other things we did that may appeal to your teen depending on interest:
- Broadway show
- Trinity Church where Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza are buried
- Mighty Girl and bull statues
- Federal Hall where George Washington took his first oath of office
- New York Stock Exchange
- Grand Central Station
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Other fun options to consider, especially if you have warmer weather:
- The High Line
- Coney Island
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
- New York Yankees or Mets baseball game, or other sporting event
- Tenement Museum
- Chelsea Piers Sports Complex
Disclosure: We received two passes from CityPASS, and purchased additional ones for other family members. No compensation was received for this post and all opinions are my own, or that of my family, as we all know that teens have their own opinions.
You May Also Like: Fun facts about pandas on National Panda Day
Don’t miss a post! Please subscribe to Between Us Parents’ safe, spam-free email list in the box in the top right corner of the page!
Pin for later: