Experience NYC in true princess style at the Lotte New York Palace. Photo by Jody Mercier
Experience NYC in true princess style at the Lotte New York Palace. Photo by Jody Mercier

12 Unforgettable Experience Gifts for Kids in and around NYC

It's no secret that little kids mean lots of gear, clothes, and toys—and the stuff only multiplies as your children and family grow. So, rather than going for broke buying all the latest toys and tech, consider gifting your kids with an unforgettable only-in-New York experience for the holidays (or a big milestone birthday).

Whether you've got tough-to-impress teens, or preschoolers with more toys than they know what to do with, we've got a dozen ideas for experience gifts for kids in and around NYC. 

Give your kids the gift of some of the best theater in the world, like the dazzling Frozen on Broadway. Photo by Deen Van Meer

See a Splurge-Worthy Stage Show

All three of my little New Yorkers have already ventured to Broadway for their first show—and each has been magical in its own way. Though I saw The Lion King, Annie, and Frozen from some pretty excellent seats, my eyes were more drawn to each of their little faces, watching their eyes dance as they took in the spectacle unfolding on stage. It was as much a gift to myself as to them. While kids as young as kindergarten can take in some shows on the Great White Way, parents of preschoolers aren't out of luck. Consider tickets to one of the stunning productions at the New Victory Theater. The theater is sized just right for little ones, so there's never a bad seat (although there are also boosters aplenty), and you can pre-order your intermission snacks for pickup if you're seeing a long show! Another fun NYC theater pick: Pip's Island, an interactive show that makes kids the stars of the story—no sitting still here! 

Have an Up-Close Animal Encounter

Animal Planet's series The Zoo, which goes behind the scenes at NYC's beloved wildlife conservation institution the Bronx Zoo, is must-see TV in our house—it's hard not to fall in love with the animal ambassadors. Consider gifting your kid with a Wild Encounter of their own. Ranging in price from $49.95 to $199.95, there's an animal encounter for almost every age and preference, or you can opt for a surprise visitor. Experiences are available for kids as young as 2, though the minimum age for most Wild Encounters is 6. Whether you opt for a penguin connection, or book the Animal Ambassador Tour, which includes a hosted cart tour of the grounds, magic awaits. Make sure your camera is ready for all the memorable moments.

RELATED: 10 Worth-the-Money Experiences for NYC Kids

Camelback Resort is a perfect weekend getaway! Photo by Matt Nighswander

Book an Overnight Getaway

You may not be able to jet off for the holiday season, but a night or two at a nearby hotel might be well within your budget. We've got tons of ideas on our family travel page, including picks for the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley, Poconos, and more East Coast destinations. Even better if your hotel comes with extra perks, like indoor water parks or quirky attractions.

Enjoy a Staycation in the City

An overnight in an NYC hotel can feel pretty special, especially if you order room service! Consider booking a special package with perks that cater to your kid's interests, like the Little Royals package at the Lotte New York Palace, where you'll be properly pampered. We have many more family-friendly hotel picks with serious kid perks if the princess treatment doesn't fit your kiddo's style, from indoor campouts to heated rooftop pools.

RELATED: 21 NYC Holiday Activities Every Kid Should Get to Try Once

Explore the newly-opened American Dream Mall. Photo courtesy of BFA for American Dream

Explore American Dream

The newly-opened American Dream Mall across the river from NYC brings with it a slew of kid-friendly attractions. Spend your morning exploring the Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park with 35 rides and attractions, plus plenty of familiar characters like Dora. You can skate on the NHL-sized indoor rink, and even hit the (indoor) slopes. Bonus: You can get there without a car.

Photo courtesy of Legoland

Nab a Legoland Season Pass

Legoland Resort is set to open next summer and season passes are a splurge-worthy gift for the Lego lover in your life. It's also the gift that keeps on giving, guaranteeing you access to all the happenings in the resort's first 12 months.

Cirque du Soleil's T'was The Night Before playing at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater is a thrilling experience. Photo by Erricsson Lawrence​

Join the Circus

Or at least cheer the performers on from the comfort of your seat! My family's recent visit to the beloved Big Apple Circus—with three generations in tow!—was a wonder-filled event. My gaze ping-ponged from the performers, to Grandpa, to my teenager, my 6-year-old, and back again. Though I'd argue it's impossible to outgrow this trip to the big top, a more mature option is Cirque du Soleil's T'was The Night Before, now playing at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater.

Sleep Under the Big Blue Whale

Book a sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History, or at a number of unique city locations that host special overnight slumber parties year-round. You can go on a Family Overnight Safari at the Bronx Zoo, sleep with the sharks at the New York Aquarium, or sleep over at NYSCI or The Intrepid. What you might lose in sleep on one of these group outings, you'll make up for in memories.

Hit a Homer with a Baseball Lover's Tour

Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field offer behind-the-scenes tours of NYC's biggest baseball shrines. You'll get to glimpse the locker rooms, sit in the press box, pose like a Major Leaguer in the dugout, and more. Each stadium has its own self-contained museum, too, and you'll get plenty of time to peruse the memorabilia, whether your little slugger goes crazy for pinstripes or bleeds orange and blue. It's also a good way to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report. Tickets are relatively reasonable, so perhaps you can pair this gift with some tickets to a game come spring.

Hit the Slopes

Gift an outing to a nearby ski resort for some quality snow time: Many of our favorite ski spots are open for the season or will be soon. Many spots offer snow tubing or sledding, too, and some ski resorts near NYC are even reachable without a car.

Bounce Sky High

While the big indoor fun zones within city limits are much heavier on bounce houses than trampoline parks, there are several spots nearby where kids can spend the day jumping off their candy cane high. Consider a visit to Ridge Hill's Rockin' Jump, or one of several other high-flying spots in New Jersey, Westchester, and the Hudson Valley.

Book a Class

The gift that keeps on giving, classes for kids are the perfect way to invest in your child's passions. For my daughter's 10th birthday, we gave her a week of cooking classes. She came away with a binder of recipes, a newfound kitchen confidence, and a killer knack for making roasted potatoes. The help at dinnertime has been appreciated! If your kid is more at home in the studio than the kitchen, consider art classes. Other options include riding lessons, gymnastics classes, and countless other options in our Classes Guide.

Annual Pirates Day Treasure Hunt
Lisman Landing Marina - 9:30 AM Pick
Access to Science
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University - 9:00 AM Pick
Fishing at Orchard Lake
Linvilla Orchard - 9:00 AM Pick
Donahue Park - 11:00 AM Pick
Black Lives Matter Family March
Prospect Park - 9th St. entrance - 4:30 PM Pick
Activity Guides