Monday, August 12, 2013

Guest Post: Not the Main Attraction: Great Places for Kids in New York

Disclosure: This is a guest post by travel writer Hillary Bain. I have been compensated for editorial review and posting. 

New York City is a hustling, bustling world of wonder, well-known for many world-class attractions: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Radio City Music Hall, and the Guggenheim, to name a few. Some of these places are must-dos for a family vacation; kids and adults alike will “ooh” and “aah” over the views from the Empire State Building. Other attractions might be more appropriate for adults; not every kid is going to dig walking through the European Paintings Galleries at the Met.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of lesser-known places in New York City that are perfect for kids and will help make your NYC vacation loads of fun for the whole family. Here’s a small selection:

Central Park Zoo
Located in New York City’s most famous park and surround by the striking Manhattan skyline, the Zoo is home to over 150 species from all over the world, including polar bears, snow leopards, sea lions, snow monkeys and red pandas, plus a host of birds, reptiles and amphibians. You can view penguin and sea lion feedings and take in a thrilling 4-D experience in the Zoo’s theater.

Tisch Children’s Zoo
Designed especially for the under-6 crowd, the Tisch Children’s Zoo is part of the Central Park Zoo and is included in the main admission price. Little animal lovers can get up close and personal with goats, sheep, cows, pigs and other furry friends.  Staff members dress up as animals and there are free performances throughout the day at the Acorn Theater. And kids will love the climbing spider web!

Central Park
Central Park has loads to offer kids besides the zoo.  A seasonal ice-skating rink/amusement park (Wollman Rind and Victorian Gardens), multiple playgrounds, many fascinating sculptures and memorials, the famed carousel, fishing, festivals and much more – not to mention the endless trees and expansive green lawns, right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan
This is a great destination for families with young children – five floors of interactive exhibits will entertain – and educate – kids for hours, and parents will delight in the enjoyment their little ones experience.  Kids can join in on animal rescue missions with perennial favorites Dora and Diego, learn about the properties of water at City Splash, and take part in daily Art Lab programs at PlayWorks. Older kids might enjoy learning about the NYPD’s mounted police force unit in 10-Foot Cops (through October 14), and the whole family can learn about ways to create a healthy lifestyle together in EatSleepPlay.

The Art of the Brick at Discovery Times Square
If you have kids who love LEGO, this exhibit might inspire them the next time they sit down with a bucket of their own bricks.  Artist Nathan Sawaya, whose sole medium is LEGO bricks, has built over 100 pieces of art, including famous works of art, human figures, dinosaur fossils, historical sculptures and even the Statue of Liberty, all recreated entirely in LEGO bricks. Truthfully, parents will be just as amazed as kids at this one.

New York Hall of Science
Originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the New York Hall of Science is the only hands-on science and technology museum in New York City.  The exhibits will keep everyone’s mind working. At Preschool Place, wee ones can stage puppet shows, build arches, play house, go to the “grocery store,” explore musical instruments, and more. Older kids might enjoy Sports Challenge, testing their skills at a variety of sports while learning about physics, physiology and science, or Search for Life Beyond Earth, where they’ll explore the extreme environments on Earth and what that might mean for life elsewhere. And adults might like Rocket Park, showcasing rockets and spacecraft from the 1960’s that were, at their time, state-of-the-art exploring machines. Throw in some math, molecules, mini-golf and a Science Playground, and a fun time will be had by all.

Brooklyn Bridge Park
If your family is the walking type, consider heading over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to visit Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre sustainable waterfront park, stretching 1.3 miles along the East River shoreline and containing multiple piers and park areas. With construction breaking ground just a few years ago, in January 2009, some parts of the park are yet to be developed, but there’s plenty to explore. Pier 6’s Water Lab, with a water-jet field and water channel, is a perfect play area for a hot day.  And what kid wouldn’t go nuts over a giant sandbox? Swing Valley features ten swing sets of varying sizes, as well as Tarzan ropes. There’s slide mountain, with slides, jungle gyms and climbing structures. And all of this is just at Pier 6! Don’t miss other areas of the park, including Jane’s carousel, Main Street’s water-edge views of Manhattan and rolling lawns, numerous other play areas, fishing – and the Brooklyn Bridge Wine Bar, when Mom and Dad are ready for a break!

Rockefeller Center
Hopefully you and your family will have a chance to experience the amazing views from Top of the Rock Observatory, but once you head back down from the top, don’t even think about leaving Rockefeller Center just yet. Of course, the Christmas tree is fantastic if you’re there that time of year, and the ice-skating is lots of fun. But kids might also enjoy the FDNY Fire Zone, where kids can play with interactive exhibits, learn about fire safety, and meet real firemen. Get in a little playtime at The LEGO Store. Explore the underground labyrinth known as the Concourse, a complete underground city experience that connects to every building in Rockefeller center and houses a huge variety of stores and eateries; pick up lunch from one of the more inexpensive spots and eat in one of the windowed seating areas.  (You can also access seven subway lines from the Concourse.)

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