New York City with Little Kids

Vacations are not what they used to be. I spent the July 4th weekend in New York City, my first trip there with kids in tow, and it really hit home for me: I’m a parent.

If I weren’t a parent traveling with my kids, I’d be in New York seeing back-to-back Broadway shows, zipping around town to catch sample sales, heading out to Brooklyn to eat at my favorite Filipino restaurant (Purple Yam in Ditmas Park), and mooning over the Vermeers at the Frick Collection.

Instead, I spent the long weekend dancing on the Big Piano at FAO Schwarz, going up and down escalators with a giggling toddler, and pushing swings at various playgrounds.

And yet, I had a blast! Maybe this is because New York is so jam-packed with life that even the mundane becomes marvelous. Maybe it’s partly because I let go of the hyper-scheduled itinerary I had planned and tried being in the moment, even if that meant just hanging out in the hotel room jumping up and down on the bed.

Kids will love the view from "Top of the Rock" (Marion Cain/My Shot)

We splurged on a night at the historic yet family-friendly New York Palace Hotel in Midtown so we could easily walk to FAO Schwarz (though I think Hamley’s in London has a better variety of toys), Top of the Rock, and Central Park. My kids liked Heckscher Playground, but they loved the rock landscapes throughout the park even more. They ran from one outcropping to another, climbing up like mountain goats while I watched with partly concealed anxiety.

Then we moved downtown for two nights to the very southern tip of Manhattan. Lower Manhattan has been undergoing rapid change: New hotels and restaurants are sprouting, the East River Ferry has launched to provide breezy access to Brooklyn, and the 9/11 Memorial is nearing completion, due to open this year on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

Of course we didn’t experience any of that.

We did have a lovely sunset walk along the leafy Battery Park Esplanade, passing Asian fishermen casting lines into the Hudson River. We paused at public sculptures like Louise Bourgeois’s Eyes—until my toddler needed a diaper change and I realized I’d forgotten the diaper bag.

Our hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, was just across the street from the terminal for the Statue of Liberty ferry cruises. On July 4th, we boarded one of the first boats of the morning and paid our respects to Lady Liberty.

The ferry also stops at Ellis Island. At the Ellis Island Immigration Museum my five-year-old said within a few minutes of landing, “This is boring.” I averted disaster by making a game of hunting for any mention of Hungary (where we have friends and family) in the exhibits. We found a trove of items–Hungary was a major source of immigrants to Ellis Island–including an oversize photo of a “Magyar immigrant” (last photo on right, above), an embroidered cloth, and an oral history recording. Being on Ellis Island on the 4th of July and learning some of the stories of the 12 million immigrants who passed through the building was an incredibly moving experience. As I blinked back a tear, my daughter declared, “I’m hungry. Can we get a hotdog?”

Amy Alipio is an associate editor for National Geographic Traveler.

[Best Family Trips]

[New York City Guide]


  1. thepinaysolobackpacker
    August 27, 2011, 8:24 am

    Hi Amy! My apologies, my comment is not about your article. I’m just ecstatic to accidentally discover that a (half it) Filipina works for the National Geographic! :) I got some searches on my travel blog about a Filipina in National Geographic so I got curious and I Googled it and I found you. Wow! I wish I can be like you someday! :) Kudos and cheers to more travels! Astig ang Pinay! :)

  2. walkingontravels
    July 17, 2011, 5:25 pm

    Traveling with my son has changed our travels in so many amazing ways. Very slowly I’m learning to relax the itinerary and just see where our wanders take us. It’s thrilling and always shows us the unexpected. I am so glad you got to have a new perspective of NYC. Now there is a city that you could see 100 different ways and still never discover all it has to offer. Can’t wait to hear about your future travels with your kids!

  3. Mack Reynolds
    July 15, 2011, 2:38 pm

    very awesome account of your independence day in new york. I have never been to NY myself, but my dad’s from there, and he and other people are always telling me how great it is. i’d like to go and see for myself one of these days.

    as for my fourth, i was in opa locka on the roof of a condo, and i got an awesome 360 view of fireworks all over south florida.

    lastly, i’d love to eat at purple yams. i’m half filipino so i’m curious if their chicken adobo is as good as my moms.

  4. alex
    July 15, 2011, 12:51 pm

    Isn’t visiting the city so different with kids?!? I am always looking for kid friendly things to do and this new site City Maps is perfect! I have found so many events happening at museums and parks, so it is still entertaing for me and my husband. Hope it helps you too!