Stargazing in New York City is more likely to mean a celebrity sighting than watching actual celestial bodies. I grew up in the suburbs and have fond memories of standing in my yard with my dad and my telescope, talking about constellations. Even if you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space here, the light pollution precludes seeing anything but the brightest stars. If you can’t book a trip to some remote, rural location, the next best thing is a planetarium—especially since you also get expert guidance as to what you’re seeing.
While the next solar eclipse isn't due till 2024 (on April 8, if you want to really plan ahead), we will have a lovely lunar eclipse on July 4, 2020, and meteor showers happen quite frequently. The constellations are great story-telling vehicles, and discovering how to use the stars to navigate is a fun (if not necessarily practical) life skill to develop. If your child is fascinated by the night sky, we've rounded up some excellent options to help them explore the universe, and beyond!
Get in a good museum-visiting rhythm and hit all the best spots with our Museums, Galleries & Exhibits Guide for NYC Kids.
The current show at the Hayden Planetarium, World's Beyond Earth, takes viewers on an exhilarating expedition through the solar system. Courtesy of AMNH
Hayden Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History — Upper West Side
This is the most well-known planetarium, and with good reason—it’s located in one of the best museums in the world, and offers a wide variety of shows. You can witness everything from the birth and death of a star and cosmic collisions to the search for extraterrestrial life in its state-of-the-art facility. Much of the programming was developed in conjunction with NASA, so it's both fun and educational.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum— Upper West Side
While it's not, technically, a planetarium, the Intrepid does offer planetarium shows on weekdays and holidays, along with special Astronomy Family Night programs. Check the calendar for the current schedule.
NYC Urban Park Rangers— Citywide
All five boroughs benefit from the wonderful Urban Park Rangers programs, which include special astronomy programs and family camping overnights in city parks (watch our Free Family Camping page for updates when spring finally arrives).
JetBlue Sky Theater Planetarium in the Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center — Garden City, Long Island
This full-dome theater features a real-time digital planetarium and also shows movies on the highest-quality large-format film. Special educational space labs teach “everything we know” about the universe. Films run the gamut, featuring fascinating topics from pre-historic sea monsters to space junk and galactic journeys.
RELATED: Science and Natural History Museum Day Trips Near NYC
Audiences can visit planets, moons, stars, exoplanets, black holes, stellar nurseries, galaxies, and even the entire universe itself from the farthest vantage points known at the Vanderbilt Planetarium on Long Island. Photo courtesy of the museum
Charles and Helen Reichart Planetarium at the Vanderbilt Museum — Centerport, Long Island
The Vanderbilt Planetarium is unique in that it offers shows in the recently remodeled planetarium as well as rooftop observatory viewings every Friday night (if weather allows). Shows are developed at the planetarium and are led by trained astronomy educators, who can answer almost any question about the universe.
Hudson River Museum offers shows for younger audiences. Photo courtesy of the museum
Hudson River Museum Planetarium — Yonkers
The Hudson River Museum Planetarium offers three shows each weekend day. The 12:30pm show is geared toward younger children, the 2pm show is designed for all ages and reveals what the sky will look like later that night, and the 3:30pm show is best for ages 8 and up. Planetarium shows are also offered on select holidays and during school break periods, so it's a great day trip option.
Alice and Leonard Dreyfuss Planetarium in the Newark Museum — Newark, New Jersey
This planetarium offers a variety of family programming, with suggested age ranges that will help make sure your kids stay engaged. (Programs are not recommended for children under 4.)
Observatory and Planetarium at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center — Stamford, Connecticut
While Stamford's planetarium is only open for special events, scout groups and school groups, the observatory is open to the public on select Friday nights (usually the third Friday of the month).
Want more space-themed family fun? We recently visited NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the kids. Read our review!