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Ask our teen and tween their favorite place in the USA, and they’ll answer New York City! But their last visit was a few years ago before they hit their teenage years, so we decided to bring them back to see if it’s still their number one city.
And it was.
As it turns out, there are so many things to do in New York City with teens, it can kind of get overwhelming trying to narrow down what to do.
Kalyra, now 15 and in tenth grade, is starting to think about colleges and NYU is on her list for their film school. So, our top priority on our list of things to do in NYC with our teens was to walk around the campus surrounding Washington Square.
We’re so glad we did.
Kalyra spent the three days in New York saying, “I’m so happy we’re here. I love this city so much!” At least she’ll be closer to me, then USC, the other college on her list!
After that, it was time to explore the city and some of the other top NYC attractions for teens. Here were some of our favourites!
- What to do in New York City with Teens?
- 1. Take a Walking Tour of Greenwich Village (with Cupcakes)
- 2. Go To Broadway To See Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
- 3. Bike Around Central Park
- 4. Visit the MET: Metropolitan Museum of Art
- 5. Visit MOMA: The Museum of Modern Art
- 6. Take in the Views at the Edge
- 7. Check Out Top of the Rock Views
- 8. Admire Views from Empire State Building
- 9. Soak up the Times Square Vibes
- 10. Walk the High Line
- 11. Eat in Chelsea Market
- 12. Walk Brooklyn Bridge over to DUMBO
- 13. Brooklyn Bridge Park
- 14. Take 'The Ride'
- 15. Check Out SpyScape
- 16. Shopping on Lower Broadway in Soho
- 17. Have Dinner in Little Italy
- 18. The Tenement Museum (Immigration Museum) on Ellis Island
- 19. Bronx Zoo's Treetop Adventure
- 20. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
- 21. Luna Park on Coney Island
- Where to stay in New York City?
- Video: Top 5 Things to do with Teens in New York
- Getting to and from the airport
- New York City Videos
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in NYC with Teens
What to do in New York City with Teens?
New York City can be daunting to plan, as it’s an iconic city with countless attractions and landmarks to see, such as The Empire State Building, the One World Observatory and World Trade Center Monument, and of course the Statue of Liberty, as well as many historic sites, and unique museums.
But anyone visiting NYC will have already added those to their list.
This is not one of those overwhelming lists of 101 things to do in NYC with teens, but a highly curated list based upon the real-life experience of our family, and why our older kids liked them.
We mostly did all of these on our winter weekend getaway to New York, but I threw in a couple more we’ve done before that I know teens and tweens will love.
Here are our favourite teen-friendly attractions in NYC and a few hidden gems for those families who like to discover something new.
1. Take a Walking Tour of Greenwich Village (with Cupcakes)
Our walking tour of Greenwich Village was one of our teen’s favorite things to do in New York City.
We spent six hours in the great Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle getting tickets for the Philadelphia show, so you can imagine the delight on Kalyra’s face when our guide directed her to look up at the street sign pointing the way to our next stop.
Yep – Cornelia Street.
We walked down it and then stood in front of the 1870 carriage house that Taylor Swift rented for 38K a month while her house in Tribeca was undergoing renovations.
Our guide Vince was excellent at making sure our kids were entertained on the tour and adapted it to suit. (We were lucky to just have us on the tour on this quieter winter getaway).
The two-hour walking street took us through the vibrant neighborhood of Greenwich Village, the home of poets, artists, musicians, and hippies for decades.
We saw the homes where Bob Dylan lived, the Mamas and Papas wrote California Dreaming (on a winter’s Day) where Louisa May Alcott completed Little Woman (another wide opening check for our teen), and the renovated historic firehouse that is now the home of Anderson Cooper – with firepole still intact!
While it’s known as a cupcake tour, I was relieved it wasn’t too heavy on the cupcakes – that would have been a burden too hard to carry. And really, I only needed one. A stop at Molly’s Cupcakes for my most favorite cupcake EVER – a gluten-free chocolate cupcake with lava oozing out of it.
We ended the tour at Pasticceria Rocco with a cabinet full of the most delicious-looking Southern Italian pastries with recipes that date back to the late 1800s. It’s been noted many times as having the best cannoli in NYC and so Craig and the girls tucked into pecan and chocolate cannoli.
Looking for dinner in Greenwich Village? Kalyra was even more thrilled when we chose to eat tacos at Tacombi, on the corner of Cornelia Street! You’ll find a variety of delicious tacos and tostadas at decent prices.
Video: Greenwich Walking Tour
2. Go To Broadway To See Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
One of our favorite things to do in New York with kids is to see a show on Broadway. It’s no different with teens.
When it comes to choosing a Broadway show for teens, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the winner. Many of us as adults, and teenagers today, grew up reading the books and watching the movies, so it’s not just something the kids will love but mom and dad too.
It’s been on Kalyra’s bucket list for years to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so we booked it for this trip. It’s expensive, but it was the girls’ bonus for all the hard work they do with our travel blog.
It was incredible. At times, I was a little put off by the squeaky voices of the two main characters, but the magic of the show soon helped me forget that. The special effects are incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it and some of those tricks have me believing in true magic. I just don’t know how they did it!
I love how Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brings back many of your favorite characters in the Harry Potter series within the tale of Harry Potter’s son at Hogwarts.
There was magic to see on the walls and ceiling of the Lyric Theater as well.
Don’t worry if the magic of Harry Potter is not your thing. It’s New York, and there’s a play or show for all interests and ages. We’ve previously seen the Lion King and Wicked on Broadway and loved both.
Don’t make this mistake. Only hours after purchasing our tickets for Harry Potter, I learned from a friend about Broadway Week, which was happening from January 17 – February 12, the time of our visit.
It happens twice a year and it’s when you can get 2-for-1 Broadway tickets. If I had known, I would have saved $250. They say it happens twice a year, but at the time of writing, I cannot find any information on when the next time will be for 2023.
Holders of a CityPass can also get Broadway Show ticket discounts.
3. Bike Around Central Park
Yes, you can walk through Central Park (a great free activity in NYC) and I highly recommend you spend time here. To experience it in a different way that older kids should love, rent bikes and cycle the full loop of the 6-mile path.
There are plenty of points of interest in Central Park to stop and enjoy like the Mall, Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is why it’s one of the best parks in NYC.
This fun activity is catching on as there were significantly more bikes cruising around than when we did it a few years ago during the Holidays.
Unlimited Biking has bikes for rent in various locations around Central Park and NYC. They provide different options for the whole family, including helmets, kids’ bikes, baby seats, children’s trailer’s baskets or bike bags, bike locks, and a map of the park! We rented from them when cycling the National Mall in Washington DC. They also have guided bike tours in NYC.
4. Visit the MET: Metropolitan Museum of Art
As teens grow a more cultured personality, a visit to the MET is sure to grant their limited attention. Especially since they’ve now learned much about the ages through history in school.
Savannah was enthralled by many of the ancient Greek sculptures as that’s her current course of study in history.
I think kids of all ages also love the opportunity to explore the mummified world of Ancient Egypt. They even have an exhibition set up where you can walk through a narrow tunnel of a tomb to discover the art and hieroglyphs on the wall.
The Met was founded in 1870 and has a vast collection of over 2 million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from ancient times to the contemporary era. The museum covers a wide range of art forms, including painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, arms and armor, costumes, and much more.
I love family trips like this that helped me get to know my children. I was surprised to see my daughter wandering around the European paintings on her own, claiming that modern art was just not interesting enough – because anyone can just splash paint on a canvas.
While sometimes I think I can also create a masterpiece worthy of the Met with that kind of approach, I do enjoy seeing modern art. The Met has a few drip painting pieces by legendary American Artist Jackson Pollock
I also enjoyed seeing Van Gogh and Monet pieces in the European art section.
There are two locations: The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan.
The Met Cloisters is dedicated to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, with a focus on monastic life and spirituality. The museum building is designed to resemble a medieval European monastery, with architectural elements and garden spaces evoking the tranquil world of the Middle Ages.
We struggled to find a place to eat after our morning at the MET. There is not a lot in the Upper East Side area. In hindsight, I probably would have just eaten at the many cafes and restaurants in the MET. Prices are actually pretty good and I’m even more annoyed at our mistake now!
Top Tip: In the summer season, the Met has a rooftop garden bar with extraordinary views of New York. Sunset is meant to be magical. It’s on our list to add to our itinerary for our next visit to New York.
5. Visit MOMA: The Museum of Modern Art
In keeping with great art galleries for teens in NYC, I highly suggest MOMA: the Museum of Modern Art, located in Midtown Manhattan.
MOMA has a collection of over 200,000 works of modern and temporary art including painting, sculpture, photography, film, design, and new media, among other forms of artistic expression, including some of the most famous and significant works of the 20th and 21st centuries.
I visited on my own before Craig and the girls joined me in New York. I wanted to include this in our things to do in NYC with teens’ posts as my well-trained eye knows this is an ideal attraction for them.
Especially for any animation fans. They currently have an excellent exhibit, “Guillermo del Toro: Crafting Pinocchio.” I found it fascinating to see how they created scenes with the stop-motion filming technique.
The exhibition also includes production art, props, and a look at the various phases of puppet-making and working film sets from Del Toro’s movie. (Only on until April 15, 2023)
Booking your timed entry tickets in advance is highly recommended. And mornings are meant to be the busiest times.
6. Take in the Views at the Edge
What makes the Edge different from other NYC viewpoints is that it’s the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. It is suspended in mid-air which makes you feel like you’re floating in the sky.
Up the thrill by walking across (or sitting down on) the glass floor and looking 100 stories down!
You can lean over the city by peering out the angled glass walls, and ultimate thrill seekers will want to scale the outside of the skyscraper and then lean out over the building on the City Climb attraction. Maybe next time.
Video: Views from the Edge
7. Check Out Top of the Rock Views
Another great viewpoint of New York is from Top of the Rock at the top of Rockefeller Center. The views of Central Park here are wide open and beautiful – especially in the morning when the sun is shining on them.
You can get close-up views of the Empire State building, the former tallest building in NYC before it was replaced by Freedom Tower, which was a bit washed out in the sunlight on my visit.
For a different experience visit during sunset. It is the most popular time of the day to visit. So you’ll want to book your timed visit in advance. The lines will be long.
It’s nice to see the twinkling of the Manhattan lights after the sun has gone down as well.
8. Admire Views from Empire State Building
I prefer the views from the Edge and Top of the Rock more than the Empire State Building. They have a better, and larger, open-air space.
But, when I asked Kalyra if I should include it in this teen’s guide to NYC, she said, “Well yeah, It’s the Empire State Building. That is New York.”
It is also very different from the previous NYC viewpoints.
As you are in the middle of Manhattan Island, you get great views of the entire island from the observation deck.
TOP TIP. Get here right on opening. You’ll have very few lines. Because they sure do build up quickly.
9. Soak up the Times Square Vibes
I try to avoid it, but my girls drag me down Broadway to the “Crossroads of the World” to see the Flashing lights, streaming news, gigantic billboard ads, and a mixture of locals and visitors from all corners of the globe.
This was the first thing the girls and Craig did when they arrived in New York while I was at a conference party. They were excited to tell me the next morning about all the crazy antics they witnessed in Times Square followed by “I love New York so much!
So yes, you should take your teen to Times Square. Apart from restaurants, retail stores, and flashing lights, you’ll see street performances, heavy crowds, traffic congestion, and costumed characters who are happy to pose with you for photos but expect to be paid.
We returned on our final morning for a bit of shopping – an activity both our teen and tween loved.
10. Walk the High Line
One of the most popular free things to do in NYC with teens is to walk The High Line in Chelsea.
A former elevated train track has been transformed into a 20-block-long pedestrian walkway, offering a respite from the bustling city streets below. The walkway features impressive architecture, vibrant sculptures, and stunning street views.
When we did this walk in January it wasn’t as colorful as it would be in the spring, and if you do it on a weekend, it can get crazy busy – consider doing it on a weekday!
For a bite to eat along the way check out the popular Artichoke Pizza, said to be one of the best slices in NYC (be prepared to wait) or the Chelsea Markets (very busy on weekends also).
Video: Highline to Chelsea Market
11. Eat in Chelsea Market
We love a variety of choices when eating out as a family on our travels. With a gluten-free eater (myself) and the world’s fussiest eater (Savannah) it’s important we find options.
Chelsea Market is that! It’s known as one of the best food halls in New York. From Thai to tacos to doughnuts, cheese, acai bowls and gelato, you can have delicious servings of any favored cuisine. It’s simply one of the best places to eat in NYC.
It’s located in a former (dilapidated) Nabisco factory, so has that warm, charming warehouse vibe with fun spaces inside.
In addition to food, Chelsea Market also features clothing, home goods, and gift shops. Check the colorful and aromatic flower shop while there – our teen drew us all in there. Apparently, flowers are her latest interest.
You can easily combine it with your High Line walk as it’s at the end of it (or beginning depending on your direction.)
12. Walk Brooklyn Bridge over to DUMBO
I wasn’t sure whether to put this on the list of teen attractions in NYC, but when I asked Kalyra, she said “yeah sure!” And it was a “No, that was boring for the Statue of Liberty, and a no for the 911 Museum as it was too depressing.” I totally understand both of those which is why I double-checked with her.
We do all three on previous visits to New York. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge must have been a highlight.
From Wall Street, you can walk up to the beginning of The Brooklyn Bridge over to Brooklyn.
Take your time walking across from Wall Street and watch out for bikes doing their best to zig-zag between the pedestrians.
They do have a separate lane for cyclists and pedestrians, but popularity means that lane can easily be swallowed up but the crowds.
Brooklyn is a fascinating borough with many neighborhoods to explore, from the family-friendly Park Slope to trendy Williamsburg (whose cafes feature heavily in our list of best cafes in NYC).
The neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is at the end of the bridge and is where you’ll get some great views looking back at the Manhattan skyline.
There’s also this iconic photo opportunity from the cobblestone intersection on Water Street.
Consider getting ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and eating pizza at the famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria which was seriously good pizza and a pretty decent prize (Go Early!)
13. Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge is perhaps one of the most iconic sites in all of NYC and no doubt your teens and tweens will want an iconic photo to upload to their social media (or worse, a backdrop for a TikTok video).
But why not combine that with a fun activity for the whole family to enjoy? Brooklyn Bridge Park offers so many things to do, from roller-skating to kayaking to bouldering and pickleball!
After snapping some pics of the bridge, head over to the park and pick your family activity.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park stretches 1.3-mile (2.1 km) Atlantic Avenue in the south, under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and past the Brooklyn Bridge, to Jay Street north of the Manhattan Bridge.
14. Take ‘The Ride’
For a unique New York attraction with teens consider going on The Ride. It’s a multi-million-dollar bus with theater-style seats facing sideways towards the sidewalk with pop-up street performers entertaining you as you drive around the city.
The Ride is included in the New York Sightseeing Pass, or you can grab a ticket directly here. As it was included in our Sightseeing Pass, I thought it was great value. I’m not too sure if I would have paid for it otherwise.
15. Check Out SpyScape
SpyScape is one of the few additions to this list of things to do with teens in New York that we have not personally done.
I’m adding it as it sounds very similar to the one in Washington DC that we did on our last Thanksgiving trip. Our girls absolutely loved it! So, I feel safe in saying (and after reading reviews) that your teen will love learning how to be a spy.
A relatively new museum attraction but hitting heights at being one of the most popular, SPYSCAPE is an immersive interactive adventure into your secret powers. Explore your skills and potential, dodge lasers, make and break codes, run surveillance, li, and spot liars!
Like the DC Spy Museum, you get to explore your own spy skills and attributes by completing challenges and, in the debriefing room, discover your spy role.
16. Shopping on Lower Broadway in Soho
After searching for the best places for teens to go shopping in New York City, we decided to hop on the subway down to the corner of Canal Street and Lower Broadway.
I’m so glad we did. With stores like Brandy Melville, Gap, H & M, & smaller boutique and vintage stores this was a teen shopper’s paradise. (We saw plenty of teens shopping with friends)
While wandering around the streets of Soho check out its amazing cast-iron architecture, which it’s well known for. The cast-iron fire escape staircases give the neighborhood its unique look. You’ve certainly seen them in film & TV!
While we did not get to visit the Museum of Ice Cream in Soho due to the long lines that I won’t do, I’ve heard it’s quite the fun thing to do in Soho for people of all ages. It has interactive art installations and ice cream sampling across 25,000 square feet over 3 floors.
I really enjoyed this area and wish we had more time to wander the streets and explore more of the artistic and alternative vibe of Soho.
17. Have Dinner in Little Italy
I mean what teen wouldn’t like an Italian meal on Mulberry St – the well-known restaurant row running through Little Italy. Lights holding Italian words string across the street, cozy tables line the sidewalks, and people are milling about everywhere. It has a fun NYC neighborhood vibe.
If you have a decision phobia you may struggle to choose a place to eat. Hosts will be standing outside each restaurant enticing you to come in and menus are all available for previewing.
If you’re not fussy, you’re sure to find a table at any of the restaurants without a reservation.
We loved the look of Gelso & Grand on the corner of Mulberry & Grand Street. Established in 2015 at the former Italian Food Center, it has a modern twist on Italian favorites, featuring house-made pasta, fresh organic produce, and locally sourced goods.
The food was sensational and not too badly priced, and they are famous for their wood fire pizza and cannoli. The brussels sprouts, local honey, Thai chili, ricotta salata were some of the best I’ve had, and my Braised Lamb Campanelle was simple Italian done flavorful.
We didn’t have a reservation, but thankfully they had a table on the sidewalk under some warm heaters. You’ll need to book for the dimly lit and cozy inside, especially on weekends.
Hold the dessert. Cross over to the gelato stand across the road to end a great NYC day with teens.
Now across the road was a very long line snaking out of Ferrara Bakery & Café, a famous Italian Bakery since 1892 known for its delicious cannoli and lobster tails (the pastry kind). I can’t vouch for it, but it could be a good sign you want to eat your dessert there. Me? I only do long lines for Lenny Kravitz concert tickets.
18. The Tenement Museum (Immigration Museum) on Ellis Island
While many people take the ferry to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty, if you have already done that and want to do something a little different, add a ferry trip over to Ellis Island to your to-do list as well.
While some teens are not exactly history buffs, it’s important to show them the history of their country that they may have learned about in school and found interesting.
The Tenement Museum is a place that really encourages teens and tweens to think deeply about their nation’s history. It focuses on the lives of immigrants in the early 19th century New York City, who fled their countries and came to live in the Lower East Side of NYC.
The museum is set inside a restored tenement building and also offers walking tours of the neighborhood, where you can really see history come to life.
19. Bronx Zoo’s Treetop Adventure
If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in NYC with teens, then you might want to check out the Bronx Zoo’s Treetop Adventure.
You can climb and zip over heights of 50 meters on this treetop obstacle course. There are over 90 obstacles, 10 zip lines, and one epic leap of faith.
This is a family activity in NYC not for the faint hearted. But if you think your teens will enjoy zip lining over the Bronx River, then this is an activity to create lasting memories.
We have not done this one ourselves, but zipline adventures are something we do regularly so can verify teens and tweens love them.
20. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Another museum that teens will love in NYC is the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a military and maritime history museum made up of retired military ships.
The USS Intrepid is an aircraft carrier is the largest vessel in the museum and offers an immersive and enriching educational experience for teens and tweens.
The Intrepid was used in WWII, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and was then used as a NASA recovery vessel in the 60s, where you can still see the Space Shuttle “Enterprise” onboard.
Learn about historic military battles and see submarines up-close – your teen boys, especially, will love it! As we have girls, we skipped this.
21. Luna Park on Coney Island
Luna Park is the most iconic amusement park in NYC, if not the whole of the United States. It is attached to the site of Astroland, which has been in operation since the early 60s.
Ride the rollercoasters, enjoy the fairground rides, play fun games and eat way too much cotton candy – a trip to the fairground is sure to be a winner no matter how old you are.
Where to stay in New York City?
We typically always stay in Times Square or the Midtown Manhattan area when looking for NYC accommodation. We find it’s the best location to easily get around the city. Most attractions are within walking distance and subway stations are nearby.
You can sometimes get great deals on hotels near Time square, especially in January. However, on this trip in 2023, I noticed a significant markup in prices.
Note that In New York, your hotel really is just a place to sleep, which is great as the rooms are going to be small. So, you may want to find a hotel that has pretty and spacious common areas like the voco in the image below.
On this trip, we stayed at voco Times Square South New York located within easy walking distance to Times Square and Hudson Yards.
It was our first experience with this brand from IHG and found them to be modern, clean, and good enough for our stay. You can book your stay here.
I also stayed around the corner at the Hyatt Place Times Square. Similarly, it was a more affordable option, had everything I needed, and was in easy walking distance of most attractions.
The breakfast here must have been good as there were long lines each morning. I think it’s your typical US hotel breakfast, which is why I kept walking out the door to the Aussie-owned InCommon Cafe around the corner.
Here are more NYC hotel accommodation options and you can also scroll through the list below.
Video: Top 5 Things to do with Teens in New York
Watch our short video below showcasing our favorite teen experiences in NYC.
Getting to and from the airport
New York has three airports: LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark (actually in New Jersey).
Where you fly into will depend on your budget, time, your choice of airline, and also consider the location of where you are staying in New York.
If you stay on the west side of Manhattan, then Newark airport may be the better option.
The AirTrain is the cheapest way to get into Manhattan from JFK and Newark airports:
- From JFK it’s $8 which includes your entry into the subway to continue to your Manhattan address
- From Newark to Penn Station, it’s $15 and it takes about 40 minutes – way cheaper than taking a taxi. Be aware that taking cabs from the airports into New York does involve tolls. The toll is $15 coming in from New Jersey.
You get the bus Q70 Limited to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave Subway Station and then take the subway for a cost of $2.75. It will take about 2 hours.
Also, check out shared transport shuttle services. You prepay for your spot in a van that shuttles you to the door of your hotel (Manhattan only). It may involve some wait time but at prices starting at $19 it might be worth it. Learn more here.
If there are a few of you traveling, it might be cheaper to catch an Uber or check out Dial7 which was recommended to me as an excellent limousine pick-up service to get to and from the airport.
Rates start at:
- JFK $48
- LaGuardia $34
- Newark $44
You will still have to pay toll fees and gratuities, however. There are coupon codes available from $5 – $14. check out more here.
The Sightseeing Pass includes a free one-way shared ride to the airport from your hotel, which I think is an incredible inclusion and another reason why they are such a great deal for saving money on your trip to NYC.
Find out more about the shuttle service inclusion here.
New York City Videos
Click play on the Video playlist below to see more of New York City in our videos.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in NYC with Teens
New York City is one of those destinations where every time you visit you can do something different, and it still feels like the first time you visit.
The bright lights, the buzzing atmosphere, the street food and huge array of teen-friendly attractions, make New York City an inspiring place for teens and tweens.
For a family vacation, there simply is no better place to visit, and hopefully this guide to the top things to do in NYC with teens has provided you with some inspiration for attractions to add to your list.