Five Tips for Visiting New York With A Toddler

February 3, 2015

You may not know this, but visiting New York with a toddler can be a lot of fun! Most folks will say that New York City is a tough place to be. It's gritty, rough, loud, and busy. But in my opinion, it's also a great city to visit with little kids.

Whether you are a traveler or a local, there is definitely a draw to New York City. There's a sort of energy that is hard to find in any other place in America. This is where things happen, where decisions are made, where money is created and spent. This is the center of the world. Anyone who wants to understand America needs to visit New York City at least once in their life.

But as many families know, New York is definitely not an easy place to visit when you have little kids. With the traffic, the noise, the unnecessarily long city blocks, coming to New York with a toddler takes some careful planning, especially if you're trying to avoid a midday meltdown in the middle of Times Square.

This post was updated on March 20, 2020.

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New York with a toddler
The Statue of Liberty (July 2014)

Visiting New York with a toddler

This past summer, my family and I spent a week in New York. With a teenager, a three year old, and an eleven month old in tow, my husband and I definitely had our hands full. But, surprisingly, we were able to have a great time. And there was minimal stress (and minimal meltdowns)!

As we learned from our trip, New York City can be an excellent place to visit with your family. If you're planning a trip of your own, grab a copy of your New York City guide book, and then check out my five tips to help make your travel to New York with a toddler a breeze.

Chelsea Market, a great option for visiting New York with a toddler
Walking through Chelsea Market (July 2014)

Rent an apartment

Hotels are not necessarily the best option for family lodging in New York City. Especially for families with more than two kids. Sure, there is the benefit of a free breakfast if your hotel offers it. But for a family of five, it can be difficult to find an affordable hotel in the city.

Luckily, sites like AirBnB and VRBO offer the opportunity to rent out apartments within Manhattan and its environs for affordable prices. For under $200 a night, we were able to rent out a two bedroom apartment in Spanish Harlem through AirBnb.

It ended up being the perfect location for us.  We were only a few blocks away from restaurants, a grocery store, and the subway.  Each morning, we would have our leisurely breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs or sausages bought from the nearby grocery store. Then we would head to the subway to explore the city.

Staying at the apartment allowed us a chance to experience what living in the city was like. It also made traveling in New York with a toddler a bit more relaxing. There was even a playground down the street from our apartment for our kids to play.

The kids playing at a playground near our Airbnb (July 2014)

Take it slow and plan plenty of down time

It's definitely possible to see New York City in one or two days. During our first visit to New York as a family, we visited an incredible amount of places, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island Ferry, Wall St, Central Park, the Empire State Building, Katz' Deli, Grand Central Station, and Times Square. We did this all in a matter of two days!

But we were exhausted! With two young kids this time around, we knew that wouldn't be possible to do again. So for this trip, instead of two days, we decided to spend a week in New York City.  This gave us enough time to explore a neighborhood each day without feeling rushed.

When planning your trip to New York with a toddler, think about how much time you'll realistically have to explore.  Plan your visit with the expectation that you'll probably only have about eight hours at the most of actual sight-seeing that you can do. You should also plan plenty of down time throughout the day.  

Our favorite park to take a rest was The High Line. We also enjoyed visiting Chelsea Market. Cafes and markets can also serve the dual purpose of providing bathroom breaks or diaper changes.

A building on Ellis Island in New York, an option for exploring New York with a toddler
Ellis Island in New York City (July 2014)

Pick activities that don't require a schdule

Our most stressful day in New York with a toddler was when we visited The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This was mainly due to us having a set time that we needed to arrive at Battery Park in order to catch the boat to get us to the Statue of Liberty.

We almost didn't make it. And we arrived so late in the day, we really didn't have much time to relax and enjoy the sights. For families who are trying to avoid the stress of rushing around, it's best to avoid activities that require you to be at a specific location at a specific time. But if it's unavoidable, try and allot more time than you think you need to get there.

My daughter enjoying her visit to the New York (July 2014)

Buy a cheap umbrella stroller to get around New York with a toddler

Before we left for New York City, we bought a cheap stroller at Walmart, even though we already had two perfectly good strollers at home. Having been to New York before, we knew that trying to lug around a stroller up and down subway entrances would be a hassle.  And we also knew that trying to get a three year old to walk through New York without a stroller would be a nightmare.  

The umbrella stroller we purchased was under $15, and it made walking around New York with a toddler so much easier.  Our three year old enjoyed being pushed around, and it gave her a place to take a nap if she needed it without us having to stop walking (our eleven month old spent most of his time hanging out in his Ergo baby carrier).  Additionally, the cheap strollers are so easy to fold up and carry, making going in and out of the subway a breeze.

The Wonder Wheel in Coney Island, a popular spot for visiting New York with a toddler
The Wonder Wheel at Coney Island (July 2014)

Get an unlimited subway pass

Speaking of subways, my final tip for families visiting New York with a toddler is to buy the Unlimited MetroCard. While it may not be as convenient as taking a taxi, it's definitely the most economical option for families visiting the city.  

For the 7-day Unlimited MetroCard, we paid a total of $90 for three adults, with our two young kids being free.  The MTA has other options available for the MetroCard, but considering the number of days we were spending in New York, the unlimited pass seemed the most value for our money.

With the MetroCard, we had access to pretty much anywhere in the city, so we were able to visit Coney Island, Brooklyn, Uptown, or Downtown without racking up a lot of money in taxi fare.  The subway rides were also fun for the kids, who enjoyed the novelty of riding through tunnels underground.  My eleven month old especially loved people watching on the subway.

An old train car from the Transit Museum (October 2018)

Planning your trip to New York with a toddler

Consider these tips as the encouragement you need to plan your next family trip to New York with a toddler. For a family with young kids, planning a trip may seem like a daunting task, but in the end, it is absolutely worth it.  

After our week in New York, we realized that we can tackle any city in the world as a family.  All it takes is just some planning, and a few helpful travel tips.

Have you visited New York with a toddler? Share your experiences in the comments!

Five Tips For Visiting New York With A Toddler | The Wandering Daughter

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