When you tell the kids they’re going to a theme park, their eyes should light up. When you say they’re headed to New York City? Their little heads should just about explode. And that’s because this urban metropolis is the ultimate kid fantasy: There’s fab food, intriguing history and sky-high buildings, along with a ton of hidden treasures squeezed into block after block of eye-popping wonder. Sure, bringing the family can be a little daunting. That’s why we’ve zeroed in on eight tours that are sure to satisfy everyone, from the youngest to the older ones (and the kid inside all of us).
The name says it all: The Beast is a high-energy boat ride down the Hudson River that provides 30 action-packed minutes of sightseeing and thrills. Operated by Circle Line and offered during the warmer months only (May through September), this tour happens on a specially designed, jet-powered, open-air boat that hits speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. You’ll depart from a berth near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Manhattan’s west side. From the beginning, you’re in for a wild ride down to the Statue of Liberty and back. There’s heart-pumping music to accompany the journey. There’s a hilarious guide to lead the way. And there’s a captain who makes sure you zig and zag as you zoom past the Manhattan skyline, which includes an incredible river view of the new One World Trade Center. Riders must be 40 inches or taller, so this tour isn’t for the tiniest tots. But the slightly older kiddos will love the fast-paced fun.
DETAILS: Daily during the season (get tickets!); departs from Pier 83, W. 42nd Street and 12th Avenue
Superhero Tour of New York
Kids and superheroes are a potent mix, and this tour offers all kinds of ways for them to see the big-screen faves where they live, breath and fly. Celebrity Planet’s excursion is a 90-minute walking tour that takes kids and their families all around the city to experience the sites where the big guys did their best to save the planet. You’ll see the Flatiron Building (which served as the offices of the Daily Bugle in Spider-Man), go past the United Nations (where Batman and Robin saved the Security Council) and stroll through the streets where the Men in Black warded off freaky creatures. Bring your walking shoes, because this is quite the excursion. Kids 12 and under go free, so that’s extra super.
DETAILS: Fri.-Sun. 2pm; from $37 pp; 32 E. 32nd St; thecelebrityplanet.com
High Line Tour
It’s an urban-renewal tale with the happiest of endings. Originally opened in 2009, the High Line is New York City’s newest must-see destination. A former elevated rail line that transported goods up and down the lower west side of Manhattan, the High Line was a long-abandoned eyesore in danger of being demolished until a non-profit organization formed to repurpose the tracks — and a gorgeously landscaped park took bloom. The park itself is open seven days a week for those who want an unguided stroll and a several-stories-up view of lower Manhattan. But you can also take advantage of free, twice-weekly tours led by volunteer docents who will talk about the structure’s history, redevelopment and future growth. For kids, this is a no-brainer: It’s just plain cool, and at about a mile from Gansevoort Street to 29th Street, it isn’t a taxing trek (plus, there are lots of points where you can hop down to street level if the juniors get cranky).
DETAILS: Tue. 6:30pm, Sat. 10am (arrive 15 minutes early, tours are capped at 20 people per docent); meet on the west side of the 14th Street Passage, on the High Line, just south of the elevator door; thehighline.org
A Slice of Pizza Brooklyn Tour
Kids and pizza. What’s not to love? For four and a half hours, you and the kids will climb aboard a bus and head into Brooklyn for the some of the most authentic pies the city has to offer. Led by Tony Muia, a true pizza connoisseur and Brooklyn-bred fanatic, you’ll experience all kinds of delish experiences, from classic Neapolitan (at Grimaldi’s) to Sicilian (at L&B Spumoni Gardens). All along the way, you’ll skip the lines and hear about the rich history of this borough, both through its belly and through its depiction in clips from films like Saturday Night Fever and Goodfellas, screened on the bus. This is a longish excursion, so it’s not for the youngest, but the older ones will eat it up.
DETAILS: Fri.-Sun. 11am; from $80 (get tickets!); E. 13th Street and Fourth Avenue, Manhattan
Take a live theatrical experience, mix in a guided bus excursion, and add astonishing city views. The result: The Ride. Launched in 2010, The Ride takes place aboard a specially designed mega-bus with three rows of stadium seating that stretch lengthwise. Think of it as a moving theater, complete with surround sound and plasma screens. As you cruise past landmark sites, like Grand Central Station and 42nd Street, your guide will fill you in on the city’s history. You’ll hear fascinating stories. You’ll gaze out on street performers who are incorporated into your journey, from a ballerina to a couple recreating the famed WWII kiss in Times Square. The whole thing lasts about 75 minutes, and it’s great for kids ages 6 and up.
DETAILS: Daily except Tues. (daily June through August); from $61 (get tickets!); 42nd Street at 8th Avenue, in front of Chevys Mexican Restaurant
Bronx Zoo Guided Tours
With roughly 6,000 animals on 265 acres, the Bronx Zoo is the nation’s largest metropolitan zoo, a modern-day marvel with gorgeous habitats that recreate the species’ natural lairs. It can all be a little overwhelming once you walk through the gates. How do you make the most of a particular exhibit? What’s the back story here? How do the animals live back home? That’s where the zoo’s private guided tours come in handy. Highly knowledgeable guides from the Friends of the Zoo lead the way, giving 90-minute tours of popular exhibits like the Congo Gorilla Forest Tour (where you’ll see monkeys and okapis) and Aquatic Bird House Tour (where penguins and puffins are on view, adorably). You can also choose environmental walks, like the Endangered Species Tour, where even the youngest in your clan can begin to learn about conservation. General admission is included in your ticket price.
This is one way to see the city that kids will jump into with both feet: Stray Boots New York’s scavenger hunts. You decide what and where you want to explore, whether it’s serious treats in the East Village or dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. Then, using your cell phone, you head to the tour’s starting point and begin receiving clues. You’ll visit local shops and historic sites, perform challenges, take fun photos and interact with residents and store owners to get the answers you need to keep going. The whole thing takes two to three hours depending on your hunting skills. And this is a walking tour, so keep that in mind for the younger kids. It’s not, however, a race. So there’s plenty of time for breaks. Ready, set, explore!
DETAILS: Daily; from $12 pp; each tour has a specific starting location; strayboots.com
Want to explore New York City’s green spaces with a man who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty? Then join one of “Wildman” Steve Brill’s foraging tours, where you’ll head to area parks (from Manhattan’s Central Park to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and even further afield) to learn all about medicinal wild plants and mushrooms, renewable eats and seasonal delicacies that are growing right in the middle of Manhattan. You’ll get to collect some of these yummy plants to take home. And in this roughly four-hour tour, you’ll hear all about preserving and renewing nature’s wonders. How wild is that?
DETAILS: Weekends; $20 suggested donation/$10 for kids 12 and under; times and locations vary; call 914-835-2153 24 hours in advance for reservations; wildmanstevebrill.com
Want more tips on touring? Check out How to Get the Most Out of Your Tour with Kids.