There are many places that can jump to mind when thinking of a “family” holiday. Bali. Fiji. Hawaii. Essentially – anywhere with a pool (to wear them out) and a kid’s club (when you’re worn out) – receives a big tick of approval.
One destination that very rarely makes the “family holiday” list? New York City. It’s a city that is known for many things. But being child-friendly? No, that’s not one of them. However, this didn’t stop my husband and I from determining it was an ideal spot for our family’s first big overseas holiday. The fact that the city itself has rarely seen a sidewalk without potholes? Or a restaurant that has heard of the term “high chair”? Minor details. With our 18-month-old and 4-year-old in hand, we were ready to take on the city. While there is simply no denying that New York City can be a battle with small children, we can happily report – having come out the other end – that if you’re searching for a spot that will expose your children to the best the world has to offer, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Big Apple. Now, let’s get down to business. Here is how to enjoy – and get the most out of – a trip to New York City with children in tow.
WHERE TO STAY
Anyone who has been to New York knows that your experience relies almost entirely upon where you choose to stay. Looking to immerse yourself in the mayhem of Times Square? Midtown is your pick. Here exclusively for museums and department stores? No need to venture further than the Upper East Side. Feeling much more hipster than tourist? Don’t go past Williamsburg. With so many different neighbourhoods, New York City can feel like one hundred different cities housed in one small island. If you’re not up for navigating the subway system with children in tow, your best bet is to stay in a selection of varied locations throughout your stay. We opted to stay in three distinctly different areas: The Upper West Side (for museums and easy access to the Theatre District), The Lower East Side (for culture, food, shopping and diversity) and Tribeca (for more relaxed, sophisticated downtime, with views to boot). Do your research on the New York neighbourhoods to determine the spots that will suit your family best, and develop your plan from there. Now, this is when your work begins. New York hotel rooms are notoriously small, so finding a room that will happily squeeze in your entire family may be easier said than done. As we all know well – life without sufficient toddler naps is not a life worth living. So, selecting a family-friendly hotel is key to your holiday enjoyment. Happily, the three hotels we called home throughout our stay were not only spacious but incredibly accommodating for children.
The Viceroy Central Park
The Viceroy happily proved to us that luxury and children do not need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, they balanced the two so harmoniously that I wondered why it’s been so hard for us all these years. The rooms are thoughtfully designed with custom furniture that would take your breath away if it weren’t for the view that had already completed that job. Overlooking Central Park (it sits just below the park at 57thSt), the view adds a stunning backdrop to an already very special location. We had the good fortune of staying in two interconnecting rooms – the Viceroy Park View Suite + the Viceroy Deluxe Park View – and happily could have moved in forever. Incredibly spacious, with a lounge room, two bedrooms, a kitchenette and two bathrooms, these rooms made it hard to leave (particularly in -5 degree temperatures). If it’s your first time to New York, this location is the perfect place to start exploring. It is housed directly in the centre of many of New York’s famous attractions, including museums, galleries, luxury shopping and of course, Central Park.
As The Ludlow is a featured property on family-travel-Bible, Kid & Coe, you can rest assured that this hotel acts with children in mind. Which is no simple task in its trendy neighbourhood, the Lower East Side. We stayed in the spectacular Ludlow Loft, which had two separate rooms for sleeping, a long hallway which provided ample opportunity for ball-throwing, and a luxurious marble bathroom that I took photos of for any future renovating opportunities. As far as location is concerned, this is a top pick for anyone looking to experience a slightly “cooler” New York (did that statement alone already deem me uncool?). Surrounded by great bars, fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurants and some of the best boutique shopping in New York, this is where we’d choose to live, should our lives not revolve completely around our children. The spot made for incredibly easy mealtimes (it’s on the same block as the famed Katz’s Deli for any other pickle and smallgoods-obsessed families), while also being close the subway for days exploring further afield (including Brooklyn – which is a direct line). With single beds, cots and even lush robes for tiny bathed bodies, The Ludlow delivered on all fronts.
After a week exploring the crowded spaces of New York, arriving at The Conrad felt a little like a breath of fresh air. Uncharacteristically spacious for New York, The Conrad is large, grand and equipped with every conceivable amenity. We stayed in a Deluxe Suite – which, despite being The Conrad’s standard room – was outrageously spacious and comfortable. They also had our children at the front of their minds, having set up a double bed and cot (in a separate room to our own), topped off with child-sized robes and slippers, colouring books and stuffed toys. What delighted us even more was the addition of a bar fridge, which could easily hold the plethora of milk and yogurt cartons we seemed to make our way through daily (it’s the little things). The hotel also has children covered in the meal department, with kid’s menus and high chairs, which can be hard to come by in New York. Our children – who were usually ready to pass out by 6pm – revelled in their first Room Service experience, and haven’t stopped asking for “Conrad’s spaghetti and meatballs” ever since. Sandwiched between Tribeca (that’s where Beyoncé and Jay Z live, to paint you a picture of the suburb) and the Financial District, the neighbourhood feels both corporate and family-friendly, but with a slightly slower (and highly welcomed) pace to the rest of New York. Directly opposite the hotel is Brookfield Place, which offers great shopping, easy dining options and a view of the Statue of Liberty. Across the road is One World Trade Centre and the breathtaking 9/11 Memorial. For those very brave, you can also venture to the discount shopping mecca known as Century 21; just be sure to swing by Eataly’s downtown outpost afterwards for a well-deserved glass of wine and bowl of pasta.
HOW LONG TO GO FOR
Having lived in New York City many years ago, I used to gasp in horror when friends would claim that they’d “seen” New York in their three-day stay. Sure, they may have seen the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower, but did they bite into a Taim felafel? Did they spend a night discovering celebrities behind masks at Sleep No More? The reality is, however, that you could spend a lifetime in New York and still not see it all. Case in point: it would take 22.7 years of dining out (for every meal) to visit every restaurant in the city. The pressure! So, to give yourself and your family enough time to explore New York (without running yourself completely into the ground), you need at least one week. Any less won’t do it justice, and any more is a bonus.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Ah, New York. A city for the faint of heart, you are not. Before you arrive, throw out any grand plans of strolling the streets, easing into elevators with your pram, or navigating public transport with ease. This is a city with hustle, and you need to bring your A-Game to keep up. Firstly – if you’re bringing a pram, be prepared to carry it. Up flights of stairs at the subway (only a few stations have lifts), through sidewalk construction sites, and over bumpy cobblestoned streets. Instead, I recommend a baby carrier (if your child still fits), or using legs wherever possible. However, make sure those legs can walk fast, or risk being trampled. This is not a place for dawdling. Pleasingly, there are no rules about car seats in cabs. In fact, children up to the age of seven are permitted to sit on their parent’s laps. We embraced this to make our way around the city, but only for short jaunts. For longer trips, we opted for Kidmoto (including to and from the airport), which is a company dedicated to providing child-safe transportation across New York City. Their vehicles are incredibly spacious and comfortable, their drivers are friendly and knowledgeable, their car seats were perfect, and they even provided water and parenting magazines. When it comes to car safety and ease of transportation, this is a must. It should go without saying that the subway is one of the fastest, cheapest and most direct ways to make your way around the city. If you have children who no longer require prams – particularly those who are transport obsessed – buy yourself a MetroCard and don’t look back.
WHAT TO DO
New York is buzzing with things to do for every age, stage and interest. Tourist attractions, museums, Broadway shows, galleries … Even playgrounds. If you’re new to the city, a great place to begin is with the CityPASS, which provides tickets to some of the city’s top attractions, including the Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 9/11 Memorial. We used ours to also visit the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaurs and animal displays kept our youngest amused for much longer than we intended to stay. Depending on the ages and interests of your children, other hits will undoubtedly be the Central Park Zoo, The Highline, the musicals on Broadway, The Children’s Museum of Manhattan and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
WHERE TO EAT
If you are travelling to New York City and your trip is not centred around food, you are doing something wrong. This is a city where every cuisine, every dietary requirement, and every culinary craving can be satisfied. That is, except for children. Kid’s menus can be hard to come by, but if you’re of the same sentimentality as the Hahn family, that won’t deter you. Our children dined on Vietnamese pho on the Lower East Side, Shake Shack burgers in Tribeca (okay, perhaps that does classify as kid food), and traditional Jewish meatballs in midtown. The list of restaurants to try in New York City is too long to even begin to attempt, so when the children are down for the night, dedicate some time to looking into nearby eateries, and whatever you do, make sure Levain is on that list.
WHERE TO SHOP
If you have children who enjoy shopping, will you please stop reading this article and email me your tips? Sadly, my two would rather subject their fellow shoppers to incessant screaming and whingeing than spend three minutes in Barney’s. It’s a sad fact that has become a reality of my life, which meant my shopping time in NYC was limited. But that doesn’t mean I gave up – I just stayed remarkably focused. There may not have been time (nor the appetite) for meandering through Fifth Avenue, but I made my shopping moments count, with a handful of selected brands that aren’t available outside of the USA. Top picks? Glossier (whose store was so pink and heavenly that my sons managed to stay quiet in awe for a solid 8 minutes), Outdoor Voices (the workout pants worn by the stars, which are still sadly yet to hit Australian shores), & Other Stories (for high street fashion that still feels luxe) and Sezane (whose dresses and boots made me reconsider my entire style philosophy). Unsurprisingly, my children’s distaste for shopping doesn’t extend to stores that are packed full of coloured plastic, and so there were a few retail hits on their behalf. The Lego Store in Rockefeller Plaza was a feast for their eyes, FAO Schwartz (directly opposite Lego) was a dream come true, and the kid’s section in Bergdorf Goodman gave me a chance to peruse the rest of the store while they hugged every large stuffed animal.
OTHER TIPS TO MANAGE
If there is one thing about New York that stands out against other big cities, it’s the immense accessibility to every possible convenience. My tip here? Make the most of it. Nappies delivered to your room at 11pm? There’s a service for that. Bagel craving at 4:30am? There’s an app for that. Parenting can be hard. Make it easier by embracing these conveniences. A few of my favourites included a 7am blow dry at Drybar every three days (a luxury, yes, but not having to lug around my own shampoo and manage my own hair? It was worth it), two eco-friendly manicures (why haven’t these made their way to our shores?) while completing a guided meditation, and trialling some of the world’s most coveted exercise classes (or at the very least, buying the merch). SoulCycle and Y7 Yoga, I’m looking at you.
New York City is the type of place that gets under your skin and seeps into your bones.
As a parent, it can exhaust you past the point of no return. As a person, it can fill up your every ounce of inspiration and excitement. Wherever you land, one thing is for certain. You’ll be planning your next trip back in no time. 2020, we’re coming for you. Imagery via hotels and NYC & Company. Pizza by Joe Buglewicz. Header image and Natural History Museum by Marley White. Highline by Tagger Yancey IV. Train by Wes Tarca. Soho shopping by Brittany Petronella. Brooklyn by Julienne Schaer.