Fun Things To Do with Preschoolers in NYC: 5 Itineraries for Little Kid Fun
New York can be a big, intimidating place for anyone, and that's especially true when you're looking for fun things to do in NYC with preschoolers. Thankfully, pint-sized visitors and residents alike can enjoy plenty of fun activities for preschoolers. While NYC has preschool-friendly zoos and gardens, and a top-notch collection of children's museums, we wanted to provide something a little out of the ordinary. So, we've crafted five itineraries perfect for preschoolers. Whether you're looking for activities for preschoolers as a visitor, or you're a local who wants to check out a new-to-you neighborhood, we've rounded up five mom-tested outings meant to give you and your kid a glimpse of the city without totally wearing everyone down.
Find more fun things to do in New York City in our Guide to NYC's Best Preschool Activities, and bookmark our Family Activity Calendar, where you can search for fun things to do by age or neighborhood.
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The Doughnuttery's mini donuts are the perfect size for preschoolers. Photo by the author
Itineraries for Fun Preschooler Activities in Manhattan
1. Midtown West to Chelsea
Head to Manhattan's far-west side to sneak a peek at Hudson Yards. Snap a photo in front of the Vessel before heading further north to play in its shadow at the Hudson Yards Playground. Preschoolers can climb ladders, lounge in rope hammocks, or just run amok on the playground's padded, rolling hills.
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Next, check out the northern edge of The High Line, a former freight rail line turned inventive outdoor park. Wander the elevated tracks to find the Pershing Square Beams, where the park's support beams are exposed, coated in silicone, and open for climbing up, over, under, and inside.
Your next stop depends on how far those little legs can walk before they tire. If you've worn yourself out on the play equipment, duck into the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, where you can find treats both sweet (hello, Dylan's Candy Bar) and savory (try the fried chicken from David Chang's Fuku). If you've got a few more blocks in you, try exiting the park at 26th Street and heading east to Hill Country Barbecue where you'll fill your plate from one station to the next, meaning no waiting for table service. If smoked meats don't appeal to your kid, the mac n' cheese and giant chocolate chip cookies will!
If your kid can handle a bit more walking, the Chelsea Market, between 15th and 16th Streets at Ninth Avenue, offers culinary delights for every taste type with plenty of casual fare and seating indoors and out. The Doughnuttery's freshly-fried, mini donuts might be all the bribery you need to keep your kid moving to this foodie paradise. Make sure you treat yourself, too!
For more neighborhood recommendations, see our list of the best kid-friendly eats in Chelsea plus 50 things to do with kids in the 'hood.
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Take a spin on Le Carrousel in Bryant Park. Photo by Angelito Jusay for Bryant Park
2. Times Square to Bryant Park
Going to be in the Times Square area? Let your preschooler grab a new frock or cape at the Disney Store to kick off a Midtown Manhattan outing. Then, head back into the square to climb the TKTS red steps for fantastic people-watching. Before sensory overload kicks in exit southeast, picking up West 42nd Street, and wander over to Bryant Park, just one long avenue block away.
Picnic here with a packed lunch or grab something from a food kiosk. You can even test out the very fancy public restrooms for a potty break. Walk to the Fifth Avenue side of the park to ogle the massive lions (Patience and Fortitude) on the steps of the Stephen A. Schwarzman New York Public Library building, the Beaux-Arts historic building was completed in 1911, when the public library system was first created. Across the street, find the newly renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, which houses the Children's Center and has a cool rooftop reading room that's open to the public. You can also circle back to the south end of Bryant Park to twirl on Le Carrousel. Depending on the season, there may be performances, shops, games, movies, or other family-friendly activities taking place—most of them are completely FREE. Check the park calendar for the latest.
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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Playground has something for all ages. Photo by Mommy Poppins
3. Lower Manhattan
Battery Park City has to rival the Upper West Side and Brooklyn's Park Slope in the quest to be the most family-friendly neighborhood in the city. Start your day here with a visit to the local Shake Shack. Whether you opt for a full meal or just an extra-creamy frozen custard treat, take your meal to go, because there's lots to see!
Head west to Rockefeller Park, where you can picnic on the grass or at one of the pergola-covered tables inside the spectacular Nelson A. Rockefeller Playground, one of our favorites in all of NYC and the next destination on your list. While there are towering big-kid jungle gyms, preschoolers have plenty of smaller climbing structures and sand to occupy them, and will surely delight in playing in the water with a pair of friendly pachyderm statues.
Once you've had your fill at the playground, head due north to The Parkhouse. The staff keeps the area filled with kid-friendly activities. On our recent visit, my preschooler made and painted a cardboard cat from up-cycled, pre-cut pieces. As a bonus, be sure to stop by Teardrop Park for a quick trip down the spectacular, speedy slide before you leave the 'hood.
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Stop in the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling where kids under 8 are free! Photo by Janet Bloom
Start your outing at the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling, which showcases the neighborhood's rich artistic history and offers a pair of studios for kids to get their hands dirty. There are interactive storytimes on weekends (the only days this gem is open). A collection of galleries showcases art old, new, and in-progress, but the space offers plenty of room to get your kid's wiggles out and is small enough to enjoy in a couple of hours, depending on how much art your little Picasso can create. A major perk: Kids ages 8 and younger enter for FREE.
Follow your visit to the museum with a walk across the street to the Wright Brothers Playground, which has plenty of aviation-inspired jungle gyms to play on, toadstools to traverse, a small sprinkler area, and a well-maintained restroom on-site.
Finish your uptown adventure with a stroll along Edgecombe Avenue to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan's oldest house, which once served as George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. A few blocks west, you'll find Carrot Top Pastries: Stop in for a look at the dazzling pastry case and a quick snack before you leave the 'hood. The carrot muffins are out of this world.
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Walk the slightly wobbly Squibb Bridge up to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Photo by Sara Marentette
Fun Itineraries for Things To Do with Preschoolers in Brooklyn
4. Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn has a lot to offer preschoolers, from mega parks and a zoo to great children's museums and the most indoor play spaces of any borough. For a low-key, but super fun day with a preschooler, we recommend heading to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Enter at the Main Street Playground in Dumbo. This nautical-themed playground offers a little bit of everything for this age group and sits almost right under the Manhattan Bridge, so kids can watch the trains as they hit the slide.
After they tire of the playground (or you do), walk along the water's edge for views of Manhattan and the harbor. Go for a spin on the famed Jane's Carousel, which juts into the harbor on its little peninsula.
Take bikes, a stroller, or the kids' scooters to wind your way through the paved path of the park toward the largest playground, sprayground, and sandbox at Pier 6 (Atlantic Avenue at the border of Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights). Along the way, you'll pass ice cream kiosks, grassy parklands where you can stop for a picnic and a roller skating rink in the summer, temporary art exhibits, and even sports fields, plus more playgrounds.
It's a lengthy walk for grown-ups, but definitely doable, and you can stop and turn around whenever you've all had your fill. Perhaps make the slightly bouncy Squibb Bridge your early exit if you don't want to go the whole way. Take it up to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights for one last view.
If the day is drizzly, hot, or too cold, you could pop into the small but FREE, interactive Environmental Education Center instead of the playground. Grab lunch at one of the many nearby family-friendly eateries before returning to the train or car.
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Take in the foliage as you walk among the brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange enveloping the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy of the BBG
5. Prospect Heights
Though Prospect Heights is a relatively small neighborhood by NYC standards, it packs a punch when it comes to things to do with preschoolers. Start your day off at the Brooklyn Museum, which offers lots of big spaces for little kids to explore without adults having to worry about damaging a priceless piece of art. Kids may even end up enjoying the outside spaces the best, with the timed water fountains, plenty of steps to climb, and a sculpture garden in the back—a perfect spot for a snack break. Be sure to check the museum's calendar for a list of kid-friendly events before heading out.
After the museum, take a short walk to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where kids can roam to their heart's content. Wander through the garden passing the Cranford Rose Garden and the Cherry Esplanade until you reach the Children's Discovery Garden, which is filled with nature-themed activities and hands-on exhibits. There are always lots of family-friendly programs, so check the calendar ahead of your visit. Stop for lunch at the full-service Yellow Magnolia Café or at the more casual seasonal outdoor eatery, Yellow Magnolia Canteen. You can also grab sandwiches, snacks, and drinks at the Coffee Bar. Bonus: Admission to the garden is always FREE for kids under 12.
Once everyone is refueled, head toward Grand Army Plaza where you'll find the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Branch and the impressive Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. If you happen to be there on a Saturday morning, swing by the year-round Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket where you can browse fresh, local produce, including a delicious selection of baked goods, cheese, fish, and meat.
Grab a sweet treat to-go at the tasty Emma's Torch Cafe in the library and head to your last stop–the jewel of the neighborhood–Prospect Park. Depending on the energy of your group, you can take a short stroll or a longer trek through the park. If you'd rather take it easy, head for the Long Meadow, which offers beautiful views of the park and plenty of space to run, walk, or just relax under a tree. If you're up for a longer walk, make your last stop the Children's Corner where you'll find the Prospect Park Zoo, the carousel, and Lefferts Historic House.
A version of this post was published in 2017; it has been updated. Additional reporting by Rose Gordon Sala and Jody Mercier.