T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History, New York City (asterix611/Flickr)
New York City is the perennial king of worldwide tourist destinations. It's the place of 1,001 different experiences, tastes, sights, sounds, and perspectives. In fact, there's so much to see and do in the Big Apple, that planning a trip there can seem downright bewildering (and hey, urban lore holds that there are some New Yorkers who've never stepped foot off Manhattan). To add to that Tower of Babel stew of opinions about this great city, here are my three favorite travel experiences with kids in tow in New York City. Don't agree? Got more to add? Tell us in the comments section!
Best Place to Learn: American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side
The American Museum of Natural History is an impressive space that lays out the world and its wonders for ages young and old. As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York's vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you're not overwhelmed once you arrive. Among the museum's various hands-on kids' installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away an hour or more with children ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree. The museum's website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you've had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.
Best Place to See: Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center
Nobody said visiting New York City with families was going to be cheap, not least when it comes to gaining access to the city's premium skyscraping real estate. But if my kids were anything to go by, spending time inside, and on top of, a real skyscraper is like winning a trip to the moon for little minds. The Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center may not be the tallest address in town, but it surely has one of its best views—an 850-foot-high perch gazing out over Central Park to the north and the Empire State Building to the south. The place gets busier as the day goes on, so try to get there first thing in the morning to avoid long lines and crowded sightlines. Acrophobics will appreciate the glass-enclosed observation decks on the 67th and 69th floors of "the Rock" (aka, 30 Rockefeller Center, home to NBC, among other clientele). The 70th-floor deck is a breezy, open-air affair with excellent 360-degree panoramas of Manhattan and beyond (not to mention, room to cruise around as if you're at your own private cocktail party—try that at the packed-to-the-gills Empire State).
Best Place to Play: Imagination Playground Park, Lower Manhattan
It might be an urban jungle, but there's no shortage of good playgrounds in which to let little ones run wild. Central Park, Madison Square Park, and Washington Square Park are just some of the local favorites (New York magazine lists some other good local picks here.) My family's vote goes to the Imagination Playground Park, which opened in Lower Manhattan's Burling Slip neighborhood in summer 2010. Offering an innovative and immersive playground "experience" that includes masts, pulleys, buckets, blocks, and other hands-on equipment for free-form play, this park might even make you forget some of those other New York City must-sees on your list.
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