My family had the chance to spend 3 full days in New York City. I consider that a limited amount of time considering how big New York City is and how much variety there is for things-to-do. Our summer vacation was split into a number of cities including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston, and the beach. So my kids helped make a list of things they wanted to do which were not too costly and gave us room to explore the city as we stumbled upon unexpected sites.
Now that several streets have been blocked off from automobile traffic it is a less hectic place than before. There are chairs, tables, and bleachers set up for tourists to people watch which is one of the most fun and entertaining *free* things you can do in NYC. The bright lights are on 24/7 so no matter what time of day you are there you will experience the neon and LED excitement. At night the place is so bright it doesn't even feel like night time. There are a number of MUST SEE stores including Toys 'R Us (complete with an indoor Ferris wheel), Forever 21 (okay, maybe not for the guys), and M&M World. There are also a bunch of street vendors with fun wares to bargain for. Also for you folks who are interested in discount Broadway tickets, there is a TKTS booth where you can find great bargains for same-day shows. We got our tickets there at 50% off.
Best Pizza in the World
Some of the best slices of pizza are on nearly every block of the city. Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration but there are PLENTY of places to get generous slices for just a few bucks that can sustain you for lunch and dinner. Lucky for us, our whole family can live off of pizza if we had to. Just be sure when you enter a pizza joint that the pizza is hot out of the oven and that locals seem to enter the joint.
Top of the Rock
While the Empire State Building may be one of the most famous buildings in the world, it is not, in our opinion, the best place to view the city from high above. Our choice? Top of the Rock, as in Top of the Rockerfeller Center. You can get tickets a couple of ways including online or by purchasing a City Pass that includes a bunch of other tours and things-to-do while in NYC. Why do we prefer TOTR over the Empire State Building? For one, the line is a lot shorter. Thus the crowds are not so pushy. Then, there are 3 tiers to observe a complete 360 degree view of the city. The very top of which is unobstructed by the plexiglass that you have at the Empire State Building.
NBC Studio Tour
My kids are into a couple of shows that are created by NBC (which includes channels such as USA Network). So we opted to take the full blown tour which was a fun experience for them. But if you do not have a budget for the $24 tickets, then just pop in for a free peek in the NBC store to check out unique shirts or gadgets that you cannot find elsewhere except online. For our crew the tour was worth it, complete with a view into the SNL stage and a walk down the hallway that the actors go before hitting the opening act. Again you can purchase the tickets direct or through the NY City Pass.
It may not be the largest urban park in the world (that distinction goes to Fairmont Park in Philadelphia) but it is one of the most famous. Walking through Central Park is free but if you are willing to splurge you can take a horse drawn carriage ride throughout the park which is enormously fun and romantic. But maybe not if you're with kids. You can also go fishing in Harlem Meer, play checkers in the park, or have a picnic while celebrity watching as many celebs cut through the park or go for a stroll with their families. And check out FAO Schwarz at the SE corner of the park.
American Museum of Natural History
If you've seen the movie "Night at the Museum" it supposedly takes place in NYC. However you will never find some of the displays portrayed in the movie but there are some characters such as President Roosevelt and "Dum Dum" that are there for you to see. A "suggested" donation is asked for at the entrance, but if you don't have much moolah you can get in for whatever price you want to pay. We enjoyed the Ocean exhibit and we visited "Dum Dum" because the last time we were in town it was under restoration.
Books of Wonder
If your kids are book-aholics like mine are, they will LOVE Books of Wonder bookstore. There are tons of books you children will treasure and best of all many of the books are signed *at no extra charge* by the authors. There are also rare books and hard-to-find books which made it a treat for my young book collectors. I fully support them buying books for their personal library and enjoying them for years to come.
Staten Island Ferry
One of the best free things to do in NYC is the Staten Island Ferry. Folks line up to take this ferry to go from NYC to Staten Island. Pick up the ferry in lower Manhattan and be sure to stand on the right side of the ferry as you head toward the island to get the best view of the Statue of Liberty. You also want to be sure to capture photos of the skyline of lower Manhattan as you leave the dock.