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DoNotKnow's avatar

How can a family experience NYC in 2 days?

Asked by DoNotKnow (3002points) October 3rd, 2015

Ok, nobody can tackle this huge city in such a short time. Despite having grown up in Boston area my whole life, I’ve never been to NYC. I’ve never been interested in cities, so it’s never been a priority. Whenever I have found myself with a couple days off, I have always headed to the mountains.

My wife and I have decided that we need to stop avoiding NYC, and have decided that a free weekend in October may be a chance to go. We have low expectations, but are likely going to be going as a family (+ 3 kids). Our (overwhelming) goal right now is to just find some place to stay and a couple of things to see. We love to eat, so staying and being near good food would be important.

Any thoughts for a city-phobic NYC newbie and family? Any suggestions would be welcome.

If you were to go to only one museum, what would it be? Other sites? General areas to stay?

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20 Answers

jca's avatar

I can tell you that if you are not into the city, a great idea would be to stay outside the city and take Metro North into the city each day. It’s about a 40 minute ride from either White Plains or Tarrytown. If you stay in one of the area hotels, you can either walk to the station or the hotels will undoubtedly have a shuttle (or you can take a taxi to station for a few dollars).

There are so many restaurants in NYC that to recommend one would probably hinder you, because you’ll probably be choosing based upon where you are at the time that your busy, traveling family decides is the time to eat. NYC has every type of ethnic cuisine and prices range from food truck hot dogs to the best of the best, world famous, Daniel Boulud and stuff like that.

What do you like to do? Do you like museums? The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a great one. You can spend a week there or do it in a day. I believe it’s the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere. Everything from Tiffany glass to knights of armor to oil paintings you’ve only seen in art books. They have a Costume Institute that regularly has exhibits on famous designers or themes like rock clothing worn by Janis Joplin and similar stars.

Do you like cruising? You can take one of the boats for a cruise around Manhattan for a few hours. Great photo ops.

There’s a great free museum on 5th Avenue – The Forbes Museum. Small and charming but a little insight into the life and childhood of a very rich individual.

I used to live right outside NYC and now, a bit farther north. A lot of what I do when I visit is not regular touristy stuff, but quirky stuff, like offbeat museums or Canal Street for shopping.

A lot of what you do will depend on the weather. It will hopefully be beautiful. Right now it’s cold and rainy but is supposed to improve. I’m about an hour north and the whole region is rainy and crappy this weekend.

filmfann's avatar

My family had 24 hours in the City. We stayed at the Waldorf, and went to Ground Zero, Battery Park (we could see the Statue of Liberty, but didn’t go there), a quick walk through Times Square, took the subway to Greenwich Village for lunch, walked through Grand Central Station, visited St. Michael’s Church, and ended the day at the top of the Empire State Building. We certainly didn’t do everything we wanted, but it gave the kids a taste of the Big Apple.

janbb's avatar

All of @jca‘s suggestions are good except that I would recommend staying in the city. You’ll be able to do and see so much more if you can walk out immediately and be there. I would spend an afternoon in Central Park – go to the zoo, see the boat pond, get a feel for how New Yorkers recreate. A carriage ride through the park might be fun for your kids. You will also be near the Met Museum of Art there. If you do go to the Met, I would plan on only spending an hour or two – find out what it has (the Egyptian mummies, the Medieval armor?) that your kids are interested in and zero in on those exhibits. Another museum that is great for kids is the Museum of Natural History – the dinosaurs, dioramas and blue whale are awesome.

You might want to spend a morning or afternoon in Greenwich Village, the narrow windy streets like Jane and 12th are charming. If you go there and your kids are old enough, looking for a walking tour (the Big Onion is one company) would let you see and learn a lot more.

The Guggenheim Museum on Fifth is pretty amazing for its architecture inside.

If the weather is good, @jca‘s suggestion of the Circle Line around Manhattan is a great one . It is narrated and you’ll see a lot.

I would not recommend Ground Zero unless you have a burning desire to see it. I was underwhelmed, it took a lot of time and there are more positive sites to see.

Macy’s or Saks are fun to see if you don’t have many grand department stores where you

For reasonable food, the ethnic places can be cheap – pizza but also felafel joints, Indian restaurants, etc.

NYC is constantly changing so many of the places I loved when a kid like the automat and Schraffts are gone now.

I would try for a bargain rate at a midtown museum if you can get one. Or check into and see if you can rent a whole apartment for the five of you.

kevbo's avatar

I’ve only been once, but I enjoyed the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and taking the elevator up to the top of Rockefeller Plaza (“Top of the Rock”). Central Park was really confusing for me in that you can’t just walk across it or get from on place to another as the crow flies in certain areas because of fences and other boundaries. Ray’s Famous pizza is mushy and a bit of a disappointment. The Guggenheim is open on Mondays when most other museums are closed.

marinelife's avatar

You are lucky. New York City is very lovely in the fall.

With kids, if I was only going to do one museum, it would be the Museum of Natural History (and the planetarium).

In New York, you can literally get anything in the world to eat at any time of the day or night (if you want, delivered). Some must have items: a slice (New York pizza is phenomenal), bagels (they taste better in NYC than anywhere else). A visit to a famous NY deli (like the Stage) for a hot pastrami sandwich. Go see the ceiling in Grand Central Station which has been restored.

If you like music, you can hear some great jazz in New York.

David_Achilles's avatar

Check out this deal.

One of the challenges will be to find a family friendly room on such short notice. This is one of the few places that had the option of sofa bed and 2 kids under 11 stay free.

It’s close to some great attractions and in a neighborhood that will let you experience some of the beauty New York neighborhoods can have.
Read the description on the hotel page and you will see many things listed such as Central Park’s-Shakespeare Garden, Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum of Natural History. All are nearby.

Greenwich Village is a must see also.

Battery Park is great because you can stroll along the waterfront and see the Statue of Liberty. It takes too much waiting in line to visit the statue and it wouldn’t be on my top ten list. Seeing it from afar is actually more impressive.
Haven’t been to the Seaglass Carousel there but it looks kinda cool.

If you have time check out the Highline, another good place to stroll and take in the city skyline and water views.

Hope you have a great time! Plan well, pack umbrellas, make sure you get a subway map on your phone in case you need it.

longgone's avatar

I’ve said it before, I will now say it again:

Take Sandemann’s walking tour. You should do this because,

1. The guides are comedians, but not the silly kind. I’ve done the tour several times.

2. There is a lot of information presented, but it’s delivered in narratives. Easy on kids.

3. The guides manage to catch the vibe of a city extraordinarily well.

4. Taking a walking tour will give you ideas of what to look at, as well as a basic overview.

5. It’s free You can pay if you liked it.

JLeslie's avatar

I would stay in the city if your goal is to see the city. North of the city in the Hudson Valley near @jca is beautiful, with wonderful things to see, but that is a different vacation, although I recommend it highly.

With kids I would go to see the statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Nice boat ride out to both and especially if your family came through Ellis island it’s very meaningful.

Another boat ride is to go up the Hudson from NYC, same direction @jca was talking about and see the fall foliage along the river. There might be day cruises that stop off at sites to see like West Point, The Vanderbilt Mansion, Culinary Institute or the FDR home and Museum, but I don’t know for sure if such cruises exist. All those sights are along the Hudson. That again is leaving the city though.

American Museum of Natural History and the Planetarium is a kid favorite, and adults enjoy it too.

Central Park if the weather is good. If you like art museums the Metropolitan Museum of Art is right on Central Park. During the warm part of the year their outside terrace is open with a view of the park, I don’t know what date it closes. The Met museum has a suggested entry price, so you can just tell them you want to pay $30 for 5 people, or whatever you feel is fair, and if you just last an hour walking through the museum you won’t feel like you spent a fortune.

I’ve always wanted to do one of the tours in Central Park, but I never have.

If you like to shop I suggest Bloomingdale’s. Although, Macy’s obviously is famous too. Macy’s tends to be more of a mob scene.

I just found this website for suggestion for families visiting NYC.

JLeslie's avatar

I’ll add a girlfriend of mine did the hop on hop off tour bus in NYC and she loved it. In NY the public transportation is excellent though, so it’s not like you really need a tour bus to get around, but she liked all the stuff she learned about the city from the driver, and they spur of the moment would jump off the bus, because the driver said they were passing the first pizza place in NY, and stuff like that.

canidmajor's avatar

If you have a smart phone or tablet, download the HopStop app. It’s easy to navigate, and will help you get from point A to point B either walking, by cab or public transport.
There are a bunch of good suggestions on this thread, my fave thing is still gawping at the ceiling in Hrand Central.
Have a lovely time with the family, and please report back! I’d love to know what you did.
Oh, and about food, I, too, just walk into little storefront restaurants wherever I am when it’s time to eat. I have never been disappointed.
I also like street food, and I’ve never gotten sick from it.

Here2_4's avatar

You want NY, or postcards?
Lie about yourselves and check into a shelter the first night.
Rent a car and just drive around. If you see something cool, stop.
Don’t make plans, you would only feel loss over the things you missed.
With only two days, your best shot is just stumble across whatever, so you can feel excited about what you discovered. The only way plans will make sense, is if you have repeated visits lined up to experience the four million things you missed on the first go around.

jca's avatar

You might want to see Times Square just for the magnanimosity of it (not even sure if that’s a word but Times Square is huge and I’d imagine a tourist would be awed by it). Just be careful not to get into any situations where you’re pulling your wallet out or anything like that.

If you like museums, another great one that is small is the Cooper Hewitt, which is a Smithsonian museum. They have great exhibits.

If you want to travel a bit by subway, The Brooklyn Museum of Art is great and is not far from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. However, my guess is that you’re probably going to be so busy in Manhattan you’ll not be going to an outer borough.

If you like German food, there are some great German restaurants uptown around the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Great German bakeries, too.

If you join a hotel’s site or “club” you might get better deals than a regular guest. Someone in my family got the Waldorf for $169 a night, for a suite, about 5 years ago. Sadly, The Waldorf has been sold to China and there are limited rooms available now, but that’s an example of a deal you can get if you sign up with a hotel and then book directly with the hotel.

The reason I suggested staying in the Hudson Valley was that the OP said he is “city phobic” and so I thought that maybe a non-city stay might be a refreshing reprieve from the hustle and bustle and noise of the city.

janbb's avatar

@jca True but since they are only going to be there for two days…..

JLeslie's avatar

If you go to Grand Central take 20 minutes to go to the transportation (maybe it’s transit?) museum annex inside of the terminal. Some of the history of the subway and a neat souvenir shop.

FYI: you can get a subway map inside the subway stations from the people who work behind the glass booth. The maps are free and very useful in my opinion. I like to be able to state at a paper map of the big picture when I’m planning my itinerary.

jaytkay's avatar

Ride the subway to Brooklyn and walk back on the Brooklyn Bridge. with the skyline in front of you.

Another vote for the free Staten Island Ferry. You get beautiful views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

And another vote for Central Park.

I took those three photos in October.

Get a hotdog from hotdog cart vendor or a hotdog & papaya juice store.
The Empire State Building observation platform is totally worthwhile.

DoNotKnow's avatar

Thanks everyone! Some great stuff here. I am absurdly busy this weekend, but just wanted to duck in here and let you know that I appreciate the suggestions and will be digging through this info later.

jca's avatar

You could see the Batmobile at the NY Historical Society. Exhibition opens Friday:

DoNotKnow's avatar

I’ve saved this thread and hope to use it as a source for some other time. But we’ve decided that we couldn’t pull this off right now, and have decided to go to Maine.

Thanks again.

We’ll make it to NYC some day. Maybe.

marinelife's avatar

@DoNotKnow Do you need any guidance regarding Maine (a lovely state).

jaytkay's avatar

Send us a picture of a moose!!

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