New Yorkers often dismiss Times Square as too crowded, touristy and overpriced, but if you look a little closer, there is plenty of kid fun to be found around this NYC hub—even for the most jaded urban dwellers.
We're not talking about expensive tourist attractions such as Madame Tussauds, the Hard Rock Cafe, Ripley's Believe It Or Not! or even Discovery Times Square, the latter of which actually has a couple of cool exhibits right now (Star Wars and The Hunger Games). Instead, we've got the scoop on 14 cool, mostly inexpensive things to do with kids near Times Square whether you're killing time before a Broadway show, entertaining out-of-towners or just find yourself in this NYC neighborhood.
1. Browse Midtown Comics
200 West 40th Street near Seventh Avenue
Initially, I was hesitant to enter this shop with my preschooler, but we were welcomed by all, and the staff was friendly and helpful. Located at the top of a narrow (and easy-to-miss) set of stairs, the Times Square location of this Manhattan comic book shop chain has a great selection of titles for young readers, including The Incredibles, Archie and Tiny Titans. Comic books are pricier now than when I was younger and never seem to last long in the hands of preschoolers. So ask for "back issue blowouts," old issues that go for as little as 50 cents.
RELATED: Best Kid Eats Near Times Square and Rockefeller Center
2. Hit a local playground
Believe it or not, there are a handful of playgrounds near Times Square. One favorite is on 42nd Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, where you'll find a play structure called "Playground" designed by artist Tom Otterness. Youngsters find this bronze reclining creature — with slides for legs and arms — awe-inspiring. The spot also has benches, a small patch of grass, an enclosed dog run and a toddler play area. This public park is tucked between the Silver Towers skyscrapers and can be hard to spot. Other popular neighborhood playgrounds include Hell's Kitchen Park on 10th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, and Manhattan Plaza's on 43rd Street near Ninth Avenue. The newly opened Hudson Yards playground is farther south, but if you hop on the 7 train for one stop you can check out this new romping spot and Manhattan's newest subway station.
3. Bryant Park
40th to 42nd Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
There is so much to recommend at this green space, even if it is lacking a playground. There's the lovely European-style merry-go-round, Le Carrousel, which is open year-round and costs $3 per ride. Nearby is the Reading Room, an outdoor space stocked with well-worn children's books and kid-sized tables and chairs. The park frequently hosts family performances, including its summertime Word for Word Kids and Le Carrousel Magique series. Other popular series include the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and Broadway in Bryant Park. While not specifically targeted at families, many offerings are great for kids. In late fall and winter, you'll find NYC's only free ice skating rink, Winter Village at Bryant Park, and around the holidays the annual market sets up shop. Plus there are clean bathrooms and tables and chairs throughout, so bring your own picnic or grab a meal at one of the restaurants bordering the park.
4. Main branch of the New York Public Library
42nd Street and Fifth Avenue
A visit to any library makes for great free entertainment. But the main branch of NYPL boasts extra-special attractions, including Patience and Fortitude, a pair of stoic marble lions guarding the entrance; the awesome flight of stairs leading up to the ornate Beaux-Arts building and the Children's Center at 42nd Street, which is home to more than 50,000 books, hundreds of DVDs and CDs and the original Winnie the Pooh. The center frequently hosts family events and performances. Check the schedule to see what's happening before you visit, or the Mommy Poppins Event Calendar for other nearby happenings.
5. The Intrepid
Pier 86, West 46th Street at 12th Avenue
The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is like no other Manhattan museum. Military history buffs will be awed by the stories this World War II-era aircraft carrier tells. The ship—a National Historic Landmark—survived multiple kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike, then went on to serve in the Cold War and Vietnam War and as a recovery vessel during the space race. It's one of only four places where you can get close to one of NASA's retired space shuttles, as the Enterprise is housed on the flight deck in its own pavilion. There are more than two dozen other restored historical aircraft to check out as well as a Concorde jet, submarine and multiple decks full of artifacts.
RELATED: 13 Fun Things to Do at Rockefeller Center
6. Have an urban picnic
People regularly ask us to recommend cheap, kid-friendly places to eat in NYC, especially near popular destinations such as Times Square. One great way to avoid overpaying is to have a picnic, assuming the weather cooperates. Grab something to go at Amy's Bread and enjoy it in the Times Square pedestrian plaza, on the red steps of the TKTS booth or in the plentiful chairs dotting the plazas. Several food trucks have also now set up shop along the pedestrian areas of the Square, including Nuchas serving $3 empanadas (vegetarian and meat options available).
7. Broadway Walking Tour
The Actor’s Chapel, 239 West 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Perfect for Broadway buffs, the Broadway Walking Tour will take you into the heart of the Theater District with aspiring Broadway stars leading the way. You'll use a personal headset to block out the noise around you and focus on interviews with famous Great White Way stars while singing along to show tunes.
8. Eat at Junior's
45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
If you must have an indoor sit-down meal, try the Times Square location of this famous Brooklyn restaurant, one of our favorite family-friendly Times Square restaurants. The legendary cheesecake is great, but so are the potato pancakes, burgers, brisket and even the salads. The wait can be long, and reservations aren't accepted for small parties. If you need just a snack, hit Junior's bakery next door, which sells desserts and has limited outdoor seating.
9. Dave & Buster's
234 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Dave and Buster's is not the most family-friendly scene—its bar tends to cater to the after-work crowd—but if you go with children during the day things are more manageable. Classics games like Frogger, Pac-Man and Skeeball join new obsessions like Fruit Ninja. A complete list of games can be found on the website. Plus, kids win tickets that can be redeemed for plastic prizes.
10. Romp in a megastore
We wrote an entire post about NYC stores where you can play indoors for free. Two of our top picks are in Times Square. M&M's World at 48th Street is a chocolate lovers' paradise, with M&M's furniture, a 17-foot-tall Miss Green M&M’s Statue of Liberty and plenty of candy. The Disney Store at 45th Street also has interactive elements, including magic mirrors with animated characters and a small theater area where kids can screen their favorite Disney clips.
11. Go bowling
There are three swanky bowling alleys in the Times Square area. Frames Bowling Lounge is in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Lucky Strike is on 42nd Street and 12th Avenue and Bowlmor is on 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. None are cheap and all cater more to adults than kids. However, Bowlmor is the most family friendly and has incredible decor. Other less expensive alleys are nearby.
12. Interactive ads and marketing events
Big-name brands often host interactive marketing events in Times Square. Yes, they're commercial but you can snag a freebie or two while enjoying free video game demos and other fun. Look for an "augmented reality ad," with an interactive billboard in which you stand in a spot and see yourself projected. Forever 21 and the Disney Store have sponsored these types of advertisements and kids certainly get a kick out of seeing themselves on a massive screen. Visit Times Square's official website for a list of all upcoming special events.
13. Laugh at the Story Pirates
Davenport Theater, 354 West 45th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
This group of energetic comedians transforms children's stories into mini-musicals. This is no ordinary improv troupe: Comedian Kristen Schaal was a founding member and Jon Stewart is a big fan. On Saturdays at noon the group performs an original show at the Davenport Theater near Times Square. If your kids have stories to share, they can submit them in advance or even try to contribute one on the spot. The show lasts about an hour and tickets are $35.
14. The New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Broadway show tickets are so expensive that most families can't afford to do it often—even when they can buy seats at a deep discount. Tickets for productions at the New Victory Theater start at $14. We've written many reviews of kids' shows at this family theater over the years. Not all offerings are for little kids; the New Vic offers shows for all age ranges—circus, neo-vaudeville, dance and more traditional page-to-stage adaptations—and also hosts related performance workshops.
More Tips for Seeing Times Square with Kids
The Naked Cowboy isn't the only "celebrity" you'll run into; Mickey and Minnie, Elmo and the Cookie Monster and other kids' characters (as well as topless, painted women in warmer months) line the streets hoping for tips in exchange for pictures with your children and you. They've caused such a ruckus lately that the city is examining how to improve the newly created pedestrian areas and cut down on the harassment.
When possible, avoid walking on Broadway or Seventh Avenue as those streets are always crowded. Eighth Avenue is better, but your best bet is to navigate the pedestrian alleys between Broadway and Eighth Avenues, such as Shubert Alley between 44th and 45th Streets; and the walkway at the Marriott Hotel between 45th and 46th Streets. You'll find similar walkways between 47th and 48th, 48th and 49th, and 50th and 51st Streets.
Leave the stroller at home if possible. It's hard enough to navigate a packed street without worrying about rolling into tourists.
Top photo of Times Square via StockSnapio. All other photos by Mommy Poppins.
This article was first published in December 2011.