Grand Central Terminal with Kids: Things to Do and Tips for Navigating the Station
The typical New Yorker probably passes through Grand Central Terminal now and again, heading off on a family getaway, but there's plenty of fun inside the cavernous space to make the commuter hot spot the destination in itself. Grand Central Terminal has tons to offer from restaurants to hot shopping spots (hello, Apple Store), and even seasonal toy train displays. Whether you're on your way to a car-free getaway or exploring the station in its own right, we've got tips that will help you save time or to spend more time enjoyably in this iconic train station.
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Getting Around Grand Central
Elevators to Metro-North trains are located just north of the main concourse, by tracks 23 and 30. An elevator to the subway is located just inside the main entrance. Ramps are located at the south end of the terminal.
Grand Central Terminal Bathrooms
A family restroom with a changing table is located in the Station Master's Office at the west end of the terminal. Additional restrooms are located on the lower level.
Grand Central Terminal Lactation Room
There is a lactation room available by track 37. To access it, guests must request the key from the Station Master's Office.
Things to Do in Grand Central Terminal
See the Trains
Let's start with the obvious. More than 750,000 daily commuters pass through the station, heading to/from communities in the Bronx, Westchester, and beyond. Tiny vehicle enthusiasts delight in seeing the trains chug to-and-fro on the station's 67 tracks. Head toward the north side of the terminal where you can walk the entire length of the platform watching them come and go.
The free Holiday Train Show at Grand Central is small, but a treat for kids. Photo courtesy of the New York Transit Museum
Once kids have had their fill of watching the big trains, head to the New York Transit Museum's Gallery Annex & Store. Here you'll find rows and rows of subway-centric merchandise, so you can buy a T-shirt or replica subway car to rep the line you'll take home. There are also rotating micro museum displays. On a recent visit, we marveled at a model of the still-in-construction Hudson Yards and read up on the subway lines that run through Queens. During the holiday season the store mounts a holiday train display right at kids' eye level.
The cavernous passageways offer cool places to play. Photo courtesy of Grand Central
Get a Science Lesson
Ever hurried by and wondered what makes terminal-goers stand facing the corners just outside the Oyster Bar? Welcome to the "Whispering Gallery." Give your kids a lesson on parabolic dishes and acoustics by having them stand at opposite corners of the arches and engaging in a whispering conversation into the wall. They'll be amazed to realize it sounds like their counterpart is standing right next to them and it's a cool trick to show to out-of-town visitors, too.
Look up for a free art show. Photo courtesy of Alastair Bennett
Gaze at the Stars
Can you name all the constellations in 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. Though originally thought to be tarnished by the soot from the trains, the spot is actually remnants of nicotine from the bygone era when indoor smoking was allowed.
Take a Tour
If you're crazy about architecture, history, the city's hidden treasures, consider a tour. Prices range from $4.99 for an app downloaded to your phone, to $25 for a docent-led journey. You'll learn about the art and architecture of the beaux-arts landmark, and also the terminal's little-known secrets.
NYC is a people-watching paradise. While your young kids may not appreciate the splendor of this past time, big kids and out-of-town guests might. We've seen full-on models mid-photo shoot in front of the iconic clock, happy couples taking wedding photos on the grand staircases, and many colorful characters dotting the passageways.
Go on a Scavenger Hunt
"From a little acorn a mighty oak shall grow," or so goes the Vanderbilt family's motto. That's why acorns and oak leaves are sprinkled throughout the terminal's ornate decorations. If you never noticed them before, you'll start to see they're everywhere once you're on to the secret. How many can you find?
The Kidding Around Grand Central location is, of course, loaded with creative playthings.
Shopping at Grand Central Terminal
Beyond the Transit Museum Shop and holiday market, there are more than 65 stores spread throughout the sprawling terminal. Some kid-friendly favorites: PiQ for quirky, colorful gifts and Kidding Around's outpost overflows with high-quality toys. If you have time to kill, try the Apple store, as the screens are plentiful, loaded with kid-friendly games, and free!
The transit hub is hands-down one of the best people-watching spots in the city. Photo courtesy of Richard Schneider
Besides plenty of retail shops, food options abound here. Head to Grand Central Market to pick up specialty ingredients for your next meal. You'll find high-quality, local fare from the likes of Murray's Cheese, Eli Zabar's Bread and Pastry, Spices and Tease, Oren's Daily Roast, and more. More grab-and-go spots line the terminal, too!
Scoop up treats at Magnolia Bakery and more spots. Photo courtesy the bakery
Eating at Grand Central Terminal
If you need to take a load off during your adventure, Grand Central Terminal offers a wide variety of spots from sit-down restaurants to sweet treats. The subterranean Dining Concourse evokes an old-NYC glamour. You'll find kid-friendly favorites here like Shake Shack and Magnolia Bakery, where curious sugar fiends can watch cake decorators work, and also sit-down, table-service spots like Prova Pizza Bar and the aforementioned Oyster Bar, which is perhaps more well-suited to your date night than family meal. Pick up a discount booklet at the information desk for offers like free treats with purchase.
A final tip: 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 NYPL Library located at 135 East 46th Street. It has a great children’s room and offers special activities throughout the week. We've got tons of other great ideas for family-friendly destinations in Midtown East, too.
A previous version of this post was published on November 23, 2010, but it has since been updated.
Top photo by Frank English/courtesy of MTA