Midtown East with Kids: Top 35 Things to Do for Families Beyond the Usual Tourist Attractions
Like its neighbor Midtown West, Midtown East is sometimes dismissed by native New Yorkers as tourist central. And yes, thanks to world-famous attractions like the Empire State Building, high-end Fifth Avenue retailers, the lion-flanked New York Public Library, the United Nations, and Rockefeller Center with its ice rink, Christmas tree and observation deck, the nabe is often packed with out-of-towners. However, hidden inside some high-rise office buildings are gems for families such as the Ford Foundation Building's indoor garden. Midtown East is also home to cultural institutions like the Morgan Library & Museum, Scandinavia House and the Japan Society, plus perennial kid-pleasers American Girl Place and Build-A-Bear.
As you head further east, you'll find more residential enclaves like Turtle Bay, Sutton Place, Tudor City and Murray Hill, where I've lived for two decades. Well maintained apartment complexes sit side-by-side with townhouses, and there's a wealth of casual family-friendly restaurants, small shops, and parks and playgrounds. While the neighborhoods aren't identical—Tudor City is certainly the toniest—they all share a reputation for being safe and convenient, with excellent (if overcrowded) public schools, so they're popular with families.
Throughout September, we'll be writing about everything Midtown East has to offer families, including our favorite places to eat, play and experience with kids. For the purposes of our posts, our geographical boundaries are 34th to 58th Streets, Fifth Avenue to the East River. We kick off our coverage with a list of the top 35 things for families to do in Midtown East.
- Get in on the food hall trend with a visit to Urban Space Vanderbilt, an artisanal market near Grand Central.
- Wander the plant-and-tree-lined paths in the Ford Foundation Building's serene public atrium, a great place to get out of the cold or rain
- Romp in the playground, or play basketball or baseball in Murray Hill's cozy St. Vartan Park
- Enjoy storytime or live children's performances, and meet the original Winnie the Pooh at the main branch of the New York Public Library's Children's Center at 42nd Street
- On your way out, be sure to pose for a pic with Patience and Fortitude, the branch's famous marble lions who have been guarding the staris since opening day in 1911
- Check out ever-changing public art displays or shop in the Wednesday farmers market at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza
- Shop for graphic novels, action figures and other pop-culture items at Midtown Comics
- Visiting over the holidays? Take a twirl on the Rockefeller Center's famous ice rink for optimum views of the Christmas tree
- But don't forget about all of the other Midtown East seasonal sights, like the incredible Fifth Avenue department store holiday windows, Park Avenue Plaza's animatronic Teddy Bear and Penguin Village and Grand Central Terminal's light show
- Got a train-obsessed tot? Take the kid to the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store in Grand Central Terminal for a small gift or to see its annual Holiday Train Display, which is on view from Thanksgiving through February
- Also at Grand Central Terminal: Enjoy a lesson in wacky acoustics at the Whispering Gallery
- Afterward, try to spy the "dirt spot" on Grand Central's constellation ceiling in the Main Concourse; hint: It's on the northwest corner under the crab
- Stock up on plastic bricks at the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center and gawk at detailed recreations of NYC landmarks
- Got a high schooler? Check out the Grand Central Library, home to Teen Central featuring events and lit geared toward young adults
- Explore Tudor City's two playgrounds, which are across the street from one another on 42nd: Tudor Grove featuring a small tot lot and Mary O'Connor with big-kid swings and a large play structure
- Hop on the East River Ferry at the recently renovated pier at East 34th Street and journey to the waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens
- Drop a line in the East River and see what bites—fishing is allowed on the East River Esplanade between 36th and 38th Streets
- Shop for a remote-control helicopter or old-school model kits at Pilotage Fun & Hobby
- Get a new perspective on NYC by heading to the Top of the Rock or the observation deck of the Empire State Building
- Head to MacArthur Park on the north side of the United Nations to hit the play structure, sand pits and, if needed, public bathrooms
- Or play basketball or handball in nearby Robert Moses Playground just south of the UN
- Keep your eyes peeled for public art on Park Avenue between 52nd and 66th Streets
- Stock up on Japanese snacks such as Mochi and Pocky, and cute knickknacks like erasers at Sunrise Mart
- Try the latest Nintendo and Wii video games at Nintendo NYC in Rockefeller Center; don't forget to check the calendar for special in-store events
- Explore the exhibits and gorgeous architecture in the Morgan Library & Museum, and check the calendar for frequent family programs like the annual Winter Family Day and Spring Family Fair
- Enjoy storytelling and other children's programs at Scandinavia House and then romp in the Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center, which is only open to the public on Saturday afternoons
- Take a tour of the United Nations, or visit the lower concourse to mail something from the post office to get your item postmarked in international territory
- Make a customized lovey at Build-A-Bear Workshop's largest store
- Celebrate a birthday or other special occasion with a lavish meal at the American Girl Cafe
- Put on your most outrageous headgear for NYC's annual Easter Bonnet Parade on Fifth Avenue
- Celebrate Oshogatsu or another Japanese holiday at the Japan Society
- Drop in for a kids' circus class at Aerial Arts NYC
- Make reservations at Measure at Langham Place and indulge in the Tunes with Tina interactive children's musical brunch
- Peek inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, which dates from 1879
- Who needs an agent to get on TV? Just stand outside Today in Rock Center; if you go in summer, you can even catch FREE concerts by big name artists, assuming you're cool with crowds
Read all of our posts about exploring Midtown East with kids.