Family Travel: Kid-Friendly Holidays in New York City

Associate Editor Susan O’Keefe is just back from a holiday visit to New York with her family.

Are you in the holiday spirit? If you’re like me, it usually takes a fresh sprinkle of snow, a festive party, and a tree trimming. This year, I attempted to get a head start on the feelings of comfort and joy with a trip to New York City the morning after Thanksgiving. With three kids in tow, our ambitious itinerary included several of the city’s top attractions sprinkled with kid-friendly stops to keep it fun.  

Lady Liberty

After being in the car for a few hours driving up I-95, we made our first stop the Statue of Liberty, where we could walk around and get a dose of history (we try and sneak it in any chance we get with the kids). The ferry ride is exhilarating and the cityscape views with Lady Liberty in the distance were sights to behold. Ellis Island was our next stop to view exhibits that shed light on the millions of immigrants who traveled to America. The kids searched for their ancestors in a database and listened to an audio tour that provides the experience of being a “new arrival.”

Duck and Dragons

For lunch and souvenirs, we headed to Chinatown,

a busy hive of activity, sights, and sounds. We parked on Mott Street and walked along the narrow sidewalks, stopping at small shops to pick up inexpensive red lanterns (said to provide luck in the New Year) and dragon puppets. The Peking Duck House restaurant is a tranquil retreat amid the cacophony of the busy streets. The duck is brought to your table cooked whole, and then carved into thin slices with golden crispy pieces of skin, and served with sliced scallions and cucumbers, tangy hoisin sauce, and delicate pancakes. We filled in the meal with kid-pleasers, including beef and broccoli and homemade noodles.

Top of the Rock

We checked into the Renaissance New York Hotel 57 on Lexington and 57th Street and parked the car to head out on foot for the duration of our stay. The convenient midtown location enabled us to walk to attractions like Rockefeller Center, where we listened a string quartet in the plaza and snapped pictures of mimes dressed as Nutcracker soldiers. At dusk we took the elevator (enjoying the historic photos that flash on the ceiling during the ride up) 30 floors to the Top of the Rock for 360-degree views of the city from an observation deck some 850 feet above the street. Clear glass windows from floor to ceiling make it easy for little kids to see the glowing skyscrapers, including the art deco Chrysler Buidling and the Empire State Building, illuminated with orange and crimson lights for Thanksgiving. (Children under the age of six are free with a paid adult.) A quick walk through Times Square brought squeals of delight when the kids spotted themselves on an enormous digital billboard amid the bright neon signs.

Steak Frites, Oui Oui

La Relais de Venise, an offshoot of the 50-year-old Paris original, opened on 52nd and Lexington last year to a lot of buzz. Often referred to as “L’Entrecôte,” the restaurant mirrors the one in Paris with its painted murals, banquettes, saffron and maroon tablecloths, dark wood wait stations, and steak frites,

the only dish available. There are no menus; a waitress asks how you’d like your steak prepared and the meal begins. (Parents note: L’Entrecote will split the steak frite

portions for small kids and the best part, no ordering off of a menu means no decisions to make or long waits for dinner). First course is a house salad dressed with a mustard-walnut vinaigrette, followed by perfectly-cooked slices of beef served with a secret herbal sauce (fans have tried to get the recipe for decades) and a heap of crispy, golden frites. A second serving of the steak frites, and even a third if you’re still hungry, are offered when your plate is empty. Just make sure you save an ounce of room for the luscious profiteroles.  

A Day in the Park

Bryant Park turns into a winter wonderland during the cold months, with its picturesque Citi Pond skating rink (pictured, above), and more than 100 holiday vendors selling everything from artwork to handmade chocolates. The Celsius restaurant (a temporary building erected during the winter months)

overlooks the rink, and its vibe is pure fun. After skating with locals and visitors alike, warm up at one of its heated outdoor lounge sectionals with a cup of frothy hot chocolate or a Bloody Mary. Inside the bright white (bring your sunglasses), glass-enclosed restaurant, you can dine on comfort food, such as chicken pot pie, chili, and macaroni and cheese served in a skillet. After lunch, meander down Park or 5th Avenues to view the festive Christmas windows, pop into Dylan’s Candy Bar to dunk Rice Krispy treats and marshmallows into a chocolate fountain, and take in the festive energy around you. A blast of New York City during the winter months is sure to alleviate any holiday blues.

Have a favorite kid-friendly holiday activity in New York City? Tell us in the comments below!

Photo: Bryant Park