Many people were giving us the advice not to go to NYC with our kids. Too busy, too big and non child friendly for a family with small kids, they said. Here´s our verdict.
I have always dreamt of going to the Big Apple. Ever since I was a teenie I´ve pictured the first encounter with this world city in my head. Still, it wasn’t before I was almost 38 and had a whole lovely, lively family in tow that I actually seized the moment and went.
You know what they say, too many expectations often leave you with the feeling of disappointment in the end. But in my case my dream city was exactly how I´d imagined it. A fabulous cocktail of energy, design, architecture and people. Naturally the cocktail has to taste slightly different when you are enjoying it together with your kids.
Easy living in Hoboken
The first conscious choice we made was actually to find an accommodation away from the city pulse. This way we could choose when to be part of the melting pot and when we wanted to get out of it. This ended up being one of the best choices we made. We found a lovely little apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, that lies only 20 minutes away with the train, bus or ferry from the pulsating Manhattan. It was cheaper than apartments in Manhattan and even Brooklyn or Long Island City. Instead of paying somewhat 200 dollars per night we ended up paying half of the amount and instead of having a single room we got a whole apartment.
Whenever we got tired of the Manhattan busyness we could withdraw to the small city of Hoboken, cook something for ourselves or buy delicious Italian food from one of the many Delis in town. Hoboken is a great spot if you want a cheaper, quieter and less touristic alternative to Manhattan. Still you have a better overview of Manhattan than when you are in the middle of it all. Taking a stroll down the Waterfront Walkway in Hoboken is like having the Manhattan skyline in front of your feet. It is absolutely gorgeous and I could spend hours just studying the different curves and pikes of this artistic and architectural masterpiece of a city.
Hoboken is a small city (approximately 50 000 inhabitants) with a history of being an important harbor in the New York region. Today it is a blooming living and commercial area that however still have pretty fair prices and lies comfortably away from the big tourist paths. To put a little cream on the coffee for all off you jazz enthusiasts Hoboken is actually the birth city of Frank Sinatra. There is even a playground named after him (which our kids and we of course tried out) just by the waterfront.
Be a traveler, not a tourist
Even though our base were in Hoboken we spent most of our time on the other side of the Hudson River, exploring Manhattan. Our six days in this metropole we´ve spent mostly walking, looking and hanging out. Looking at people, at buildings, walking the famous train track of the High Line, shooting ball and sipping coffee on a blanket in Central Park, trying out public transport and eating our way through the Manhattan kitchen. Simple things, that might seem trivial when you go to a big city such as NYC, but that in the end actually gives you the most genuine picture of one of the number one touristic places on this planet.
A kidfriendly concrete jungle?
I must say that the experience of being a family with small kids in New York was so much better than I´d imagined. Sure people are less patient, some of them look down on you when your kids are rolling around on the floor of a brand new mall (which by the way only seem to be built for men and women in suits, who anyway hardly have time to look left and right for a shop) and there are big streets with lots of cars that drive like they were the only ones on this earth. But in the end, this is adult problems. When you look at New York from the eyes of a child it is Disney World. All the different public transport you get to try (trains, buses, ferrys), the many helicopters or airplanes that are always circulating the airspace of the city, the amazing buildings, the people, the colorful signs, the fantastic parks and last but not least all the hundreds of hundreds of hot dog carts you pass buy on your way through the city. The kids slept so good every night. And we as well.
Look at your world with your kids eyes
I think what I am trying to say is that don´t be afraid of showing your kids your world. Today we are so caught up in finding child friendly alternatives that we forget to introduce our children to our own universe. If you do you´ll find that they will show much more interest in it than you thought. And they will learn how things work apart from the sheltered daily life that they are brought up in today. If you are willing to discover the city from their perspective you can be sure that you will see a whole different New York than you can imagine. And a cheaper one as well.
So, I guess this is a yay to our initial question. If you are willing to step aside from your general expectations of what a New York visit would contain and open your eyes for a less glamorous but more genuine way of exploring the city then you´ll have a blast with your kids.
Our five best tips for a family friendly NYC trip
- Choose your accommodation wisely. Find a base in a calm area that you can emerge to when you´ve had enough of the intense city pulse. We really enjoyed Hoboken, but if you are looking for something more on the east wing of New York try out Long Island City or Brooklyn.
- Walk the streets and find your amusement on the way. Choose an area for the day and go into discover mode. The High Line is a safe and neat way of passing through a big part of Manhattan without having to face cars. Just be sure that your kids stay on the path and don´t jump on the tracks ;-). And beware of all the tourists. It is pretty crammed here. We´ve also spent a whole day in Central Park watching ball games, hanging out on a blanket, talking to the balloon man at the skate rink and watching all the talented roller skaters.
- Eat one or two meals at home. Find a place with a kitchen and make breakfast, lunch or dinner in your apartment. Besides being economical this is also a way of making your apartment into your home ground. Airbnb has a lot of great options (often cheaper than hotels). If you feel social and want to use this as a way of getting to know the locals you can choose to stay with other people. Otherwise there´s also plenty of alternatives where people rent out whole apartments that you get for yourself. Just make sure you are a bit ahead of time to have more options open for you.
- Try out the different commuting alternatives as a way of exploring the city. Trains, buses and subway cost about almost nothing. There´s also a number of ferrys in the city that will take you around to explore the Big Apple from the waterfront.
- Look for cafés with play areas. This is a great alternative on a rainy day. Let your kids try out all the new toys while you lean back with your coffee and just enjoy the surroundings.