Going to New York City is an expensive proposition for anyone. Add in three perpetually hungry, shopping obsessed teenagers and you might as well mortgage your home before you arrive. In this blog, I am NOT going to list 10 of the best ways to to take your kids to New York City on a tight budget. Quite frankly, those three concepts – New York City, teenagers, and a budget – should never be spoken out loud again. However, I am going to list 10 fantastic New York City attractions that we did with our teens. Some of them were cheap, and some of them were just plain plug your nose expensive. Regardless they were all fantastic experiences that captured the essence of New York City and the attention of our kids.
New York City Attractions
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1. Stay At The Knickerbocker Hotel
We stayed at the Knickerbocker which was a gorgeous hotel just steps from Times Square. It was expensive, but worth it!
First of all, the rooms were huge and very luxurious. More importantly, it was one of the few hotels in New York City that offered two queen beds in a standard room. In my experience, most hotel rooms in New York City are small and barely fit one bed. Rollaways are illegal and not offered.
The location was amazing with easy access to all New York City attractions. The service was exceptional. Finally, the hotel had a killer roof top bar that we seemed to end up most nights happily hiding from our kids.
If you are interested in staying at the Knickerbocker Hotel or other lodging in New York City, I’d recommend exploring Booking.com and the interactive map below to find the best accommodation for the best prices.
2. Times Square
Times’ Square is an assault on your senses. It is precisely for this reason that my kids loved it. For me, this is one of my favourite New York City attractions because it is FREE! Of course, it also helps that it is one of the ultimate symbols of New York City and unmatched by any other place on earth!
It is blocks and blocks of multi-story jumbo-trons advertising every cool product or new movie around. It is PACKED with people, with lots of outdoor free seating to people watch. There was a huge police presence when we were there. It was easy for my kids to access and they ended up wandering around it on their own whenever we had downtime.
3. The Ride
The Ride is a bus tour unlike any other bus tour that you have ever or will ever take. Out of all the New York attractions that we did, I would say that this one was, by far, the most popular for every one in my family.
At first, it seemed like any normal bus tour as we waited to climb aboard. But, as soon as we took two steps inside, we realized we were greatly mistaken. First of all, there are two hosts at each end of the bus interacting with the passengers, cracking jokes, and grooving with the music playing. Second of all, we sat down in theatre like seats all facing floor to ceiling windows that made the streets of New York centre stage. Then, the bus pulled away from the curb and the real fun began.
For 75 minutes, the two hosts cracked joke after joke based upon what was unfolding in front of us. Interspersed with some factual information about sites that we passed and unscripted jokes about the people or events that we saw, seemingly random street performers amazed us. We had a ballet dancer, a rapper, a hip hop dancer among others come out of nowhere to perform for us all over the streets of New York. You never knew who it was going to be or what they were going to do, and it was truly UNBELIEVABLE.
This was an expensive activity at $75 a ticket, but well worth it.
Purchase tickets for the Ride or any New York City attractions
For tickets to the Ride and other amazing New York City attractions, please explore the thousands of tours and activities offered through Get Your Guide.
4. New York Subway
As crazy as this might seem, taking the New York subway is a pretty interesting, inexpensive and adventurous experience. First of all, at least in the summer, no train seems to actually go or stop where the map tells you it’s going. Every time we hopped on the subway car, we seemed to be heading to a subway station that was not in service for some reason or another. Not that we knew that prior to getting on the train! Accordingly, we ended up getting off somewhere else entirely and then, wandering the streets of New York trying to find our way back. Sounds frustrating, but it was actually fun and a great way to see different parts of the city.
The New York subway is over 150 years old. Most subway stations looked and felt like they were 150 years old! In other words, they felt gritty – a little dirty, dark and cramped. Nevertheless, we never felt unsafe, so the grittiness was kind of cool.
Riding the subway felt more like a “real” New York city experience versus a tourist one. There were lots of awesome street performers in the stations, and some that hopped on and performed on the train in between stops. It goes without saying that the people watching was awesome. It was an excellent way to get around the city and to reach all our New York City attractions.
5. A Broadway Show
.There are few New York City attractions that are more symbolic of what New York City represents than Broadway! The talent of the actors and quality of the shows are simply unbelievable. However, it is a very expensive activity. You will be hard pressed to find tickets to a show for less than $75 each (taxes and service charges included). Ticket costs for popular Broadway shows will more likely average $120 each or more.
You can find cheaper tickets. However, you will need to be more flexible about which show that you go to see. TKTS offer a selection of same day Broadway tickets for 20%-50% off the original price. There are various TKTS booths throughout the city and you will need to purchase them in person.
Broadway Box is a website that lists discounted Broadway shows and offers a means to purchase them weeks in advance. You can subscribe and also receive weekly notifications of new discounted shows.
Many shows, including sold out ones, offer online lotteries for discounted tickets one day to one week before the date of the show in which you are interested. Further, many shows offer “rush” tickets which is the ability to purchase same day discounted tickets at the box office of a particular show. Playbill provides a comprehensive list of these shows. Here is the link. – Broadway Rush, Lottery and Standing Room Only Policies.
6. Empire State Building
I think seeing New York City from above is a really cool thing to do. My kids loved going to the Empire State Building and the views were killer. The inside of the building was pretty spectacular with lots of beautiful art deco architectural features and the ride up the elevator was fun.
Having said that, this was an expensive activity. Standard adult tickets to the the main deck (86th floor) was $37. We spent about 20 minutes walking around and gazing out, which was more than enough time.
You can also purchase tickets to the top (102nd floor) but were $20 more per person, or $57.00 total. We did not do that as I didn’t think the view 16 floors higher would be worth the additional price. In the end, I was happy with that decision. The views from the 86th floor were breathtaking and very satisfying. It was easy to spot many New York City attractions.
7. A Guided Bike Tour of Central Park
Central Park is 778 acres and, as the name suggests, found in the centre of New York City. Within that 778 acres, is a zoo, horse stables for horseback riding, lakes and ponds, fountains, dozens of playgrounds and fields, among other things. It was designed to intentionally cause a visitor to lose their way and to immediately insulate you from the hustle and bustle of New York. A highlight – cars are no longer allowed in Central Park! It is easily one of my favourite New York City attractions.
The bike tour allowed us to bike around the whole park to get a feel for all it had to offer, something that is virtually impossible to do on foot during a short trip to New York City. Our guide was full of fun facts about the park which kept the tour relevant for all of us.
***For a handy list of these activities, links to their websites, and helpful hints, please fill out the form
8. Black Tap
Black Tap is a hip restaurant that serves gourmet burgers and fries. However, what makes this one of the New York City attractions that you should visit is the milkshakes.
I have never seen milkshakes like this! The bottom half is completely normal. A glass filled with ice cream, milk and syrup. But then, your eyes reach the top and nothing has prepared you for what you will see. Above the top of the glass is another foot of cake, cookies, chocolate, candy and whip cream, depending on the type of milkshake that you order. It is an indulgence that you absolutely must try when you are in New York City.
At $16 per milkshake, it’s a little expensive for what it is, but totally worth it!
9. Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island
For all the times that I have been to New York City, I had never found my way to the Statute of Liberty or Ellis Island. This time, I was determined to change that.
The Statute of Liberty is 93m or 151 ft tall and sits on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. It is a national monument that symbolizes democracy and freedom. Ellis Island is an adjacent island which houses a museum located in the the former immigration station complex. Until it closed in 1954, 12 million immigrants entered the USA through Ellis Island. Today, the descendants of those immigrants account for almost half of the American population.
We absolutely loved the afternoon that we spent exploring these New York City attractions. Not only was it fun and interesting visiting these iconic sites, but it was very reasonably priced. We also loved spending time on the water and being able to see New York City from a different perspective.
Purchase Advanced Tickets
Anyone can line up to catch the ferry to the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island. The amount of time you wait depends on demand. When we were there this summer, the line up was HUGE. A better way is to purchase advanced tickets. We did that. Not only did we skip the line to get on the ferry faster, but the advanced tickets allowed us to go up the Statue of Liberty. Only a limited number of tickets are available each day to actually go inside the Statute of Liberty.
I purchased our tickets 2 months in advance and we literally got the last advanced tickets offered during our stay. There is a lot to see on each island so give yourself lots of time.
New York wouldn’t be New York without its shopping. This activity could totally bankrupt you depending on your kids. There are hundreds of cool stores that would make you the most popular parent in the world if you took your kids there AND bought them something. It would be impossible for me to identify what those stores are based upon individual taste. However, I can make two recommendations.
First, my kids spent a ton of time at the Foot Locker at Times Square. They offered limited edition running shoes only available in New York or Los Angeles and for in-store purchase.
Second, I would recommend Century 21 Department store which offered top designers at discounted prices. We all had a really good time shopping and finding killer deals there. You might even leave with something!
When you take your teenagers to New York City, you want to make sure that you have found the best New York City attractions to capture their attention. There are a lot of New York City attractions to chose from and not all of them fit this bill. My 3 teenagers loved the 10 that made this list. They were the perfect blend of history and iconic experiences, with current pop culture moments. Be prepared to spend money… New York City is a tough city to visit on a budget.
Disclaimer: The Ride provided complimentary and discounted tickets to us. However, this in no way impacted my experience or my review.
For a completely different two day New York City itinerary that we did with our teens on another visit to New York, please click on A Fantastic 2 Day New York City Itinerary With Teens.
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