The Big Apple is a fantastic city for children — with so much to see and do, this is one place where they’ll have no legitimate reason to say those two dreaded words, “I’m bored.” Of course, one of the best ways to see the city is on a tour, which offers an insider’s view of the best sights — everything from the Statue of Liberty, to the Guggenheim to its food scene. Before you book your tour tickets, however, there are a few things to know about touring with children. These 11 tips from New York City’s top tour providers will ensure that you and your little ones get the most out of your trip. (See our 10 Things to Know Before You Tour for more on this topic.)
1. Get the nod of approval before bringing offspring. With kids, life always runs more smoothly when you’re prepared. If you want to book an outing that isn’t a specific kid-friendly tour, Joyce Weinburg, owner of City Food Tours advises “emailing or calling before you buy the tickets. You’ll be glad you did!” Some tour companies recommend that only children of certain ages attend their tours, while others have age requirements for safety or space reasons. Keep in mind that these guidelines are for the enjoyment of the other tour-takers, as well, who may not be so keen on sharing tour space with tiny humans. As a general rule, anything that involves lots of waiting or standing around is not great for kids. Equally challenging are outdoor tours in cold weather (particularly with toddlers and babies). As Weinburg, a mom herself says, “I can attest to the fact that it’s not wise to take younger kids on a food tour, for example. They simply don’t have the attention span, and they end up being distracting to the other guests and the guide.”
2. Leave the SUV-sized stroller in the parking lot. Before taking a tour, make sure your stroller suits the excursion. In fact, you’ll need to check to see if you can bring a stroller at all, and what size is permitted. Jackie Delamatre, an educator at the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum, says that when it comes to strollers, “The smaller the better. If you can do an umbrella stroller, that’s better than a jumbo one, and if you can get away with just a carrier, that’s even better. Some spaces are small. Some spaces involve stairs or tiny elevators. It’s always better to be more compact.” At the Guggenheim, stroller tours are offered for adults with babies on certain days, but because the tours are run in a small space, side-by-side double strollers are not permitted.
3. Think like a postal worker: Pack for snow, rain, heat and gloom of night.Having kids, particularly young ones, can mean toting around a lot of extra stuff. As well as packing the regular stuff you take everywhere (diapers, wipes, changing mat, extra clothes), Natasha Malinsky of NYC Kids Tours suggests that “it’s also a good idea with kids to always have snacks on hand and some drinks.” Healthy, low-mess snacks that don’t incite sugar highs are best — chewy snack bars that don’t crumble, carrot sticks and raisins all fit the bill. If you run out of nibbles in New York, the good news is that there’s always a handy corner bodega to come to the rescue. “Some tours don’t allow time for stopping,” says Malinsky, “but most will give you a little free time in the middle to regroup and refresh.” It’s not just food and wipes. Since most NYC tours are outside, specific gear like sunscreen, ponchos and umbrellas also come highly recommended by Malinsky.
4. Dress as if for battling a fire-breathing dragon or an ice queen. New York is icy-cold in winter outside (often overheated inside), unbearably hot in summer (often freezing inside) and unpredictable in between. Above all, it’s about layering. Wear weather-appropriate, practical clothing, and always dress for slightly colder weather than the forecast says to expect — after all, you can always take something off but you can’t put on what you didn’t bring. And if you’re taking a boat tour, bring a jacket no matter what as temperatures can drop on the water, even in summer.
5. Bite the bullet and take a kid-specific tour. Parents with small babies and toddlers should look into a stroller tour — it’s an easy way to ensure that all the people on the tour are in the same position as you. “This eliminates the guilt or embarrassment that comes from having to deal with a crying baby,” says museum educator Delamatre. Older children can also benefit from a specifically kid-friendly tour. Some tour groups offer a learning curriculum along with the typical sightseeing aspect. NYC Kids Tours, for instance, gives children activity books, which contain follow-along lessons in math, science, language, poetry and art that relate to what the kids will discover along the tour route. Malinsky explains that “while children sightsee and take in some history, they are also taking part in exciting games, challenges and lessons.” The classroom of New York City is likely some of the more interactive and fun “learning” out there.
6. Adjust your expectations and engage, engage, engage. Taking a tour with children is a very different experience than taking one with an adults-only group. Come expecting to learn a thing or two about the subject but not to absorb a whole history lesson. Kids will always need your attention, no matter how old they are. Sleeping babies wake up and need soothing and diaper changing. Young kids need help engaging in the topics being discussed. And they all require snack breaks. “I would plan to spend some of the time listening to the guide and some of the time talking to your child,” says Delamatre. “No matter the age, kids benefit from hearing you talk to them about what’s happening during the day. At a museum, I would describe what I’m seeing, point to things and generally engage them with language and visuals as well as the touchable objects the guides provide.”
7. Take to the water. In general, water tours are a kid-friendly option that will entertain everyone. Before booking tickets, be sure to check with the tour company as to age requirements. The New York Water Taxi and Circle Line Downtown offer tours like the All Access Pass and Statue of Liberty Express that allow the whole family to sit back and relax while watching the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and New York Harbor pass by. Families with kids ages 4 and over should try the Shark speedboat and its 30-minute thrill ride around the harbor. “Kids get so excited to be on the top deck and see the Statue of Liberty,” says Jennifer Jacobs, marketing manager at New York Water Taxi and Circle Line Downtown. “They love to go back to school and tell their friends about it.” The guides on the New York Water Taxi and Circle Line Downtown tours are trained to pay special attention to younger guests, each of whom receive a junior captain pin.
8. Expect something to go wrong in transit. If you have children, you likely have some experience with this phenomenon, but expect it to double on vacation: It will take much, much longer than you think to get around NYC with kids. Malinsky of NYC Kids Tours recommends allowing double the time GPS or Hopstop tells you. “It’s also a good idea to check the NYC DOT page for street fairs, parades and road closures ahead of time,” she says. You should also make sure you’ve booked your ticket ahead of time as tours only have limited spaces. “They do sell out,” says New York Water Taxi and Circle Line Downtown’s Jacobs. You should also plan to arrive 15 minutes prior to your tour start time, or even earlier if you’re with younger kids, who might need a toilet stop, snack break or outfit change.
9. Do your due diligence and prepare kids for the tour you’re taking. Kids love to learn. Make the tour interesting for them by telling them in advance what they’re going to see, and why it’s really cool. “Older children like to hear about current events and celebrity sightings,” says NYC Kids Tours’ Malinsky, “so it’s always a good tactic to preface any ‘boring’ history with ‘this is where so-and-so attended such-and-such and took that Instagram pic this week!’” Younger children enjoy playing games and taking part in activities to keep them engaged. Malinsky explains that while on their tours “kids are given cameras and asked to find and take photos of specific things. It’s an exciting challenge for them!” Books are a great way to get kids excited about a tour (or a trip) before it even happens. This is New York by M. Sasek is a good general NYC primer, and if you’re going to the Met, try Museum ABC, which takes kids on an alphabetical tour. Older children will enjoy books about the city based on interest, perhaps Graffiti New York by artist Eric Felisbret, or a novel like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith to give them a better sense of the city, its history and inhabitants.
10. Once they’re older, New York is your slurp-able oyster. While a food tour may not be a good idea for little ones, they are well-suited for older children. City Food Tours has three tours that are suitable for kids 8 and up: Flavors of NY, Lower East Side Artisanal Food Tasting and NoLita: Eat a Bite of Ethnic NY. “We love having curious and inquisitive kids! We ask a lot of questions on our tours and reward good answers and comments,” says owner Weinburg. She also has tips to ensure everyone in the family enjoys themselves. “Obviously, don’t bring a starving kid to a food tour. Have them eat something before the tour, so they’re not ravenous. Otherwise, pick a food tour company that welcomes kids and caters to them. Some parents think that it’s OK to bring a sleeping toddler in a stroller or a baby in a carryall on a tour. It’s not. They wake up and can get very fussy. Better to get a sitter and come on your own, or wait a few years and then bring the kids.”
11. Don’t despair if a tour doesn’t work out!
If your kids aren’t the right ages for the tours you want to do, there are many other ways to enjoy New York City as a family. Museum educator Delamatre is also a mom of two. Her favorite places in the city to take her toddler and baby include the American Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the New York Transit Museum, the zoos at Prospect Park, in the Bronx, Queens and Central Park, and FAO Schwarz. “New York is filled with options for families,” she says. “Talk to parents about their favorites and gather a list of your own.”
For more on enjoying New York City with children, check out these articles:
The Best Museums for Kids
10 Broadway Musicals that Make the Grade for Kids
14 Fabulous Kid-Friendly Restaurants in New York
New York’s Most Amazing Playgrounds
8 Best Indoor Play Spaces for Kids
Top 10 Family-Friendly Hotels in NYC
10 Things Every Kid Should See Before College