The Coolest New Stuff for Families in NYC Metro Area – Our 2023 Review

The American Museum of Natural History debuted the Gilder Center last spring. Photo by Jody Mercier
The American Museum of Natural History debuted the Gilder Center last spring. Photo by Jody Mercier
12/24/23 - By Jody Mercier

'Tis the season for celebrations and year-in-review stories, and the Mommy Poppins team is toasting these 17 family-friendly 2023 openings. From a wet-and-wild playground at Legoland New York to AMNH's expansive museum expansion with the Gilder Center and plenty more fun places for family playtime, 2023 brought a ton of new kid-friendly attractions for our readers to enjoy in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester and the Hudson Valley, and beyond.

We can't wait to see what 2024 has in store—and thank you, our dear readers, for following along this year. Cheers to you—and another year of bringing you the best things to do with kids.


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Best 2023 Openings in NYC for Families

1. 81st Street Studio – Upper East Side

The Met debuted this new art-and-play space to much fanfare in the fall. The 3,500-square-foot space offers multiple play stations aimed at engaging kids ages 3-11. It's a great addition to a Met visit, but equally fun to enjoy on its own. The best part: It's completely FREE.

2. Gilder Center – Upper West Side

Forget a new gallery, the American Museum of Natural History debuted an entire new wing this spring, which brought with it more than 230,000 square feet of exhibit space. The beloved seasonal butterfly exhibit gets a year-round home here, plus there's an entire gallery dedicated to other insects that includes one very active leaf-cutter ant colony. We also can't get enough of the immersive Invisible Worlds exhibit, which presents a 360-degree art-and-science show about Earth's interconnectivity.

RELATED: Top Children's Museums and Family-Friendly Museums in NYC

Best 2023 openings near NYC: Bronx Zoo's Budgie Landing
Budgies are free to eat from guests' food-covered popsicle sticks in this new Bronx Zoo exhibit. Photo by Jody Mercier

3. Budgie Landing – Bronx Park, the Bronx

We're huge fans of the Bronx Zoo and this new, seasonal interactive exhibit is a kid-pleaser. It transports visitors to the woodlands of Australia as 1,000 budgies—small, colorful, social parrots—fly freely. Each ticket comes with a feed stick; hold still and the birds will land on it to eat. It's a great addition to the action-packed zoo, particularly if your kids can't get enough of up-close animal encounters!

4. Genius Gems – Chelsea

If your kids are crazed for Magna-Tiles, this STEM-inspired play space is the place to be. A New Jersey favorite since 2018, Genius Gems opened a flagship NYC location that houses more than 100,000 magnetic tiles spread across two floors of fun. Kids can build to their hearts' content with Magna-Tiles and more or visit the Design Bar to customize a tile to take home or craft a DIY slime. There's also a 3D printer and Ozobots. Beyond open play, enjoy camps, classes, and even birthday parties at this kid-pleaser.

5. Luna Park Expansion – Coney Island, Brooklyn

NYC's favorite summertime amusement park got some major upgrades in 2023, with the opening of a family-friendly roller coaster, a wet-and-wild log fume ride, and a new ropes course adding to its attractions. Not satisfied to stop there, though, the park has extended its operating season into the holidays too by adding a brand new seasonal Frost Fest with select rides and attractions open, plus holiday lights to see, pictures with Santa, holiday shopping options, and even an ice skating rink.

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Best 2023 openings near NYC: Glide ice skating rink
Ice skate at Glide in Dumbo for an incredible NYC winter experience. Photo courtesy of Glide

6. Glide – Dumbo, Brooklyn

Just when you thought Brooklyn Bridge Park was bursting with family-friendly activities, along came Glide. This outdoor ice skating rink brings the sport to Brooklyn Bridge for the first time and the backdrop is nothing short of stunning. Situated under the Brooklyn Bridge, you'll twirl, spin, and glide with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

7. Upgraded Science Playground at NYSCI – Flushing, Queens

We love a new playground, and when it's attached to one of our favorite kid-friendly museums, it's even better. The New York Hall of Science reopened its long-under-construction Science Playground—the largest science playground in the US. We visited and loved all the fun and educational playthings for kids to discover at this 30,000 square-foot-play area, which is open seasonally.

RELATED: 23 Secret Spots NYC Kids Love

Best 2023 openings near NYC: Astra Lumina
Walk through larger-than-life luminarias during your visit to Astra Lumina at the Queens Botanical Garden. Photo by Jody Mercier

8. Astra Lumina – Flushing, Queens

The Queens Botanical Garden's first foray into the after-dark light show trend left us seriously impressed. This mile-long walk-through, a collaboration with Moment Factory, invites visitors to take a walk among the stars. Through a collection of light and sound installations, visitors are transported to an ethereal, other-worldly experience. It's open through early February 2024. Book your tickets online before visiting.

9. Harry Potter: The Exhibition – Herald Square

With a trio of Harry Potter fans in my household, we were anticipating this opening for a long time! Guests step into the Wizarding World for an interactive adventure that takes you through some of the most iconic scenes from the franchise's movies and includes special props to see, spells to cast, and photo-ops to enjoy. Originally slated to close in the fall, it's been extended through early April 2024, so book your tickets now to get in on the action.

RELATEDStep Inside the New Harry Potter Store in the Flatiron District

Best 2023 openings near NYC: The Strong Museum of Play expansion
The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester got a major upgrade in 2023. Photo courtesy of the museum

Top Kid-Friendly 2023 Openings in the Tri-State Area

10. Strong Museum of Play – Rochester, New York

One of our favorite upstate destinations for family travel, Rochester overflows with family-friendly activities. Chief among them a a trip to the Strong Museum of Play, which got a supersized upgrade in 2023. More than 90,000 square feet of play space was added, including a Hasbro-inspired outdoor Game Park, where you can step into a larger-than-life board game world and play among pieces from your favorite games.

11. Great Wolf Lodge Poconos Expansion – Scotrun, Pennsylvania

This mega Poconos resort added some fun perks for families in 2023, including a new family-friendly eatery, Fireside, plus a whole new building, The Mountain Tower, packed with suite-style accommodations. The Woodland Villas, also opened offering elevated free-standing accommodations with design touches from Nate Berkus and private outdoor living areas. Of course, what would a trip to Great Wolf Lodge be without a visit to the water park, which expanded by 40,000 square feet and added seven new water slides. For warm weather days, a new outdoor pool was also added.

12. New Long Island Playgrounds – Multiple Locations

Long Island's playground landscape got a major upgrade in 2023. From brand-new greenspaces like Patriots Preserve in Shirley to the Marina Park playground in Sayville, and a huge overhaul of Alfred J. Walker Park in Huntington Station, there are plenty of new places to play. We also loved the Magnolia Park Playground, with its whimsical design right on the boardwalk in Long Beach, an already action-packed waterfront destination.

13. Island Waterpark – Atlantic City, New Jersey

Experience sun and fun on the Jersey Shore all year round thanks to the addition of the Island Waterpark at the Showboat. There are 11 waterslides, four restaurants, and an indoor boardwalk with a jumbo arcade. In short, you won't hear any "I'm bored," complaints when you book a day or a stay here.

RELATED100 Things To Do in New York State with Kids

The Coolest New Stuff for Families in NYC Metro Area:  Legoland New York's Water Playground
Legoland New York''s Water Playground is a brand-new cool treat on a hot summer day. Photo courtesy of Legoland

14. Legoland New York's Water Playground – Goshen, New York

The long-awaited Water Playground at Legoland New York debuted just in time for summer fun at this mega Hudson Valley resort. The all-new attraction includes multiple slides, a tipping bucket that checks in at a whopping 318 gallons, and a wet-and-wild playground situated in a zero-entry pool. We also loved Legoland's recognition as a Certified Autism Center, making a day here more inclusive.

15. The Park at UBS Arena – Elmont, New York

OK, so you caught us: This new spot hasn't opened just yet, but it's set an opening day of Wednesday, December 27, and we couldn't be more excited. This new attraction aims to make UBS Arena a hub of activities for New York Islanders fans and families alike. Two new ice skating rinks will debut, plus igloo dining, a BYOB beer garden, and plenty of pre-game fun, including live pre-game show broadcasts. It's sure to add to the fanfare of attending an event at this beautiful arena.

16. RPM Raceway Expansion – Jersey City, New Jersey

If you have a need for speed, RPM Raceway in Jersey City is a perfect spot to put it to the test. Though a longstanding spot for family playtime, 2023 brought with it the opening of its MegaTrack, a 2,200-foot-long track with three levels of elevation, spiraling ramps, 90-degree hairpin turns, and straightaways that allow kart drivers to reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. When you've finished with the MegaTrack, enjoy arcade games and carnival-style eats. It's an easy, fun day out for big kids!

17. Mommy Poppins NJ on Instagram

It might be a wee bit self-serving, but we're pretty excited to be covering the Garden State on social media, and we hope you'll join us there, too. Find all the best events and activities in New Jersey on our new Instagram page. For even more fun from Mommy Poppins, make sure you're using our new app which provides notifications every time we publish!