Visiting New York can be quite the challenge when you are on a tight budget and have children in tow. All those expensive hotels, restaurants, attractions and stores threaten your wallet with their high prices and upscale services. Nonetheless, we took the chance this last Christmas and flew to the Big Apple with three teenagers and a extremely thrifty allocation.
And we couldn’t be happier! We had a great time and the kiddos are already planning to go back to this great city once mom and dad recover their financial health (maybe it is time for me to get a second job? Ha!).
Time to plan!
Once you have figured out the plane tickets and hotel expenses (there are many offers and sales to go to NY), it is time to think about the places you want to explore. You will need to find a good combo of entertainment and price to keep your family excited and to add some cultural value to your traveling experience. We focused on points of interest, culture, uniqueness and cost. After much needed discussions we agreed to visit the following crowd-pleasers:
Macy’s 34th Street.
Even thought this is a shopping place, we love Macy’s because of their magical Christmas decorations, ambience (hello LIVE music) and “Believe” motto. We spend approximately 45 minutes walking around the store while my children took pictures of the festive displays. After that, we explored Herald Square and drank hot cocoa.
2. Times Square.
The most popular commercial intersection of the world is the perfect background for holiday pictures with teenage children. Yes, it was crowded. Yes, many consider Times Square to be a tourist trap. But I can assure you that if you avoid eating in this area and stick to enjoy the lights, the multicultural environment and make some good family photographs, you will have fun without spending a dime. Remeber that Times Square stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets, so take the time to check the little souvenir stores in the area. Also, if your kids are into comics, there are a couple of cool places that sell limited edition issues and memorabilia to go with it.
3. The Oculus.
This impressive train station designed by Santiago Calatrava is perfect to warm shivering children after exploring the World Trade Center memorial site. The Oculus futuristic design left my boys speechless! Stroll around this beautiful structure and talk to your children about the power of hope and resilience. The Oculus is a statement to celebrate life and the willingness of human kind to overcome tragedy.
4. Federal Hall National Memorial.
Pay a visit to George Washington in front of Federal Hall and discover the history behind this neoclassical building. Federal Hall became the first Capitol of the United States in 1789 and it was here where George Washington was inaugurated as first President of the United States on the balcony on April 30th, 1789. Visitors can take a look at the Bible used to swear Washington’s oath of office and the Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger. Entry is free.
5. Fearless Girl.
I felt so excited to bring my daughter to get her picture taken with Fearless Girl. This bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal depicts a girl facing Wall Street and it was commissioned to advertise an index fund that comprises gender-diverse companies that have relative high percentage of women among their senior leadership. Remeber to take advantage of such an opportunity to encourage your children to think about gender-equality and women rights.
6. Ellis Island.
Before our arrival in New York City, we agreed on paying for just one attraction during our four day stay. The winner was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise (Sorry Mr. Empire State and Top of the Rock). For us was a matter of cultural and historical traditions, and the possibility of having a place that our children could explore on their own.
I must say that Ellis Island didn’t disappoint.
This getaway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States is the perfect place to promote diversity among children and young adults. The exhibits include real artifacts, newspapers, videos, and plenty of photographs of immigrants from around the world. Our children read with special interest the information about medical inspections and English courses for Eastern Europeans.
We also felt moved by the wall of Naturalization Certicates, since I am a naturalized US-citizen myself. Be aware that you must allocate around 2 hours to explore the facilities, this could be somehow demanding for younger children. Our kids are 12, 13, and 14. You can read about the history of Eliis Island here.
7. Rockefeller Center.
If you are visiting the Big Apple during the Christmas holidays you cannot miss the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. We strolled around the center, took pictures, drank coffee and enjoyed the lights displays of the stores along 5th Avenue. There is nothing more magical than the Christmas ambience in this part of the city.
We also shared with our kids the story of the very first Tree at Rockefeller Center, that was erected in 1931 during the Great Depression Era. Back then the tree was 6 meters tall and was decorated with austerity by workers of the area. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has always been a gathering place and reflection for locals and tourist alike.
8. Samsung 837.
Located in the heart of the Meatpacking District, this digital playground is the place to visit when anxious teenagers start to complain about too much walking and too many historical facts. Samsung 837 is an impressive display of technology and culture where your family can try different virtual reality gadgets and rides. The attractions are free and there is even a nice area for mom to seat down while dad and the kiddos enjoy the extravagant show of futuristic equipment.
9. Brooklyn Bridge.
Young teenage legs will enjoy strolling across the elevated pedestrian walkway to experience unique views of New York City. The iconic Brooklyn Bridge is a free of cost attraction that has been featured in many movies and television shows around the world. It is a great place for family portraits and provides an opportunity to stretch tired muscles and get some fresh air.
We searched online resources to enhance our visit to this renowned landmark and to have some conversation starters during lunch after crossing the bridge. Use the Internet to discover many interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge, many sorted out by age and theme.
10. Imagine Mosaic-Central Park.
One of the focal points of Central Park is the Imagine mosaic, a tribute to John Lennon. My children read online that this mosaic was done by Italian artists and was a gift from the city of Naples. Since we are huge Lennon and The Beatles fans, visiting this are of the Park was one of our bucket list items. Please remember, that the Imagine mosaic is located inside the Strawberry Fields Memorial, a designated quiet zone that doesn’t allow biking, rollerblading and loud music. The ambience was that of reflection and peace.
These are our top ten recommendations to enjoy New York City on a budget. There is still so much to do and see in the Big Apple! These are just an overview of what you can accomplish with your children in approximately 3 days without going broke. New York City is a place where we would love to come back since we felt absolutely in love with the many things to do. From museums to landmarks, to shows and even cafes, it is impossible to ignore the cultural value of this place for you and your family.
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