Not Just Trains: Family-Friendly Things to Do in New York's Grand Central Terminal
If you're like me, Grand Central Terminal is probably someplace you have been at least once in your life en route to someplace else, but never has it been your ultimate destination. Back in my stroller-pushing days, I realized that Grand Central Terminal had a lot to offer and could be a great indoor outing for cold or rainy days. It became my go-to multitasking spot for shopping, eating and even entertaining my son. Next time you are shuttling through the corridors, stop and have a look around and you'll see for yourself that Grand Central Terminal is a perfect destination for you and your kids, too–especially during the holidays. Read on to find out why.
Full of free entertainment
I probably shouldn’t admit this to anyone, but on super cold days when we were getting stir crazy in our apartment, I would bundle up my toddler and walk the few blocks to Grand Central Terminal to let him toddle (well, run) on the ramps leading down to the dining concourse. They are long, wide and usually not very crowded if you plan your visit at off-peak times.
Give your kids a hands-on science lesson on parabolic dishes and acoustics at the "whispering gallery." Located right off the ramps outside the Oyster Bar is an acoustical phenomenon, one of those cool secrets of NYC that you can show off to tourists. Your kids will love it! Basically two people stand at opposite corners of the arches and have a whispered conversation into the wall. It is amazing–it sounds like you are standing right next to one another.
Who cares if you look like a rube glancing up at the fantastic astronomical mural painted on the ceiling of the Main Concourse? In 1994 the ceiling underwent massive restorations, returning it to its original glory, but if you look closely you will see one tiny spot they left untouched. We call it the “dirt spot” and it can be found on the northwest corner, right under the crab. Be sure to point it out to your kids!
If you walk to the north side of the terminal, where the Metro North trains are, you can walk the entire length of the platform watching the trains as they arrive and depart the station. This is a perfect activity for any train-loving child. My son could spend hours here. Me? Not so much. So I send him with my husband.
More trains can be found at the NY Transit Museum Gallery and Store. During the year they offer free art exhibits relating to the MTA and during the holidays there's an elaborate train show that kids just adore. At the store, you can pick up special presents for the train buff in your life (young or old).
For additional fun, you can print out your own self-guided walking tour of the terminal. Turn it into a scavenger hunt with your kids and look together for various landmarks in the terminal.
Plenty of shopping
Grand Central Terminal has a ton of options for shopping. Once you realize this, you'll wonder why you never thought of it before. After entertaining your kids, prepare to hit the stores. Posman Books has a shop here, as does Aveda, Kidding Around Toys, Swatch, Pylones and LittleMissMatched. There's something for everyone on your shopping list!
The terminal is also home to The Holiday Fair, which is fantastic. Vanderbilt Hall (enter on 42nd Street) is transformed into a shopping mecca with over 70 unique vendors selling their wares. The market includes hand-crafted jewelry, specialty holiday items, handmade sweaters for kids and lots more.
Grand Central Market (enter on Lexington Avenue or through terminal) is a food lover's paradise, decorated brilliantly for the holidays, and offering everything you need for your holiday cooking, baking and gifting. Everything from caviar to carrots can be found here, plus gourmet coffee, baked goods, fresh flowers, cheese, charcuterie, spices, chocolates, meats and fish. Financier Patisserie, Grande Harvest Wines and Oliviers and Co. are just inside the terminal when you exit the market.
Grab a bite to eat
My favorite part of the whole terminal is the dining concourse. To me, it evokes the glamour of old NYC and the early days of train travel. There are some bona fide restaurants with seating, menus and waiters here and the service is generally fast–perfect for dining with little kids. Our favorites are Junior's Restaurant and Two Boots Pizzeria. There are also food counters and stalls ringing the perimeter of the dining area where you can get nearly anything you want to eat. Kids will love watching the Magnolia Bakery decorators in action through the window at the edge of the counter, plus they have special train-themed cupcakes!
Planning your visit
Keep in mind that the passageways and corridors are packed during rush hour, so plan your visit accordingly. If you're looking for other kid-friendly places in the area, check out Grand Central Library located at 135 East 46th Street. They have a great children’s room and offer special activities throughout the week.
Find more inside activities in our Indoor Activity Guide.
This post was originally published on November 23, 2010