We’re fortunate to live a short drive from Manhattan and try and get to “The City” as often as we can. I enjoy visiting each season, although the holiday season is definitely my favorite! Read our list of holiday traditions in New York City here. Recently, several readers and followers have asked about indoor activities (since it was still winter at the time) for kids and I thought I would compile a list of all the indoor places we have explored and our favorite activity at each spot.
Traveling with Kids:
If possible, I recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time and online. You’ll avoid long line (like Ellis Island ferry) and risk the chance that activities or tours are filled up (like the library).
Many places offer discounts on tickets online. There are several New York tourism promotions that have multiple locations on one ticket, such as the CityPASS. Check here for a comprehensive list of various passes.
Several places listed will ask visitors to check coats and strollers. I suggest bringing an inexpensive umbrella stroller that collapses easily and does not have a large monetary value.
10 Things to Do in New York City on a Rainy Day
1. New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in Bryant Park offers free, public tours twice a day and include visits to reading rooms and exhibit halls. Tour are definitely more engaging for older children.
Our favorite activity: The Children’s Library, where the stuffed animals that inspired the original Winnie the Pooh characters are on display.
2. Gulliver’s Gate makes any visitor feel like a GIANT. The block long exhibit includes miniatures replicas of dozens of different cities and over a hundred famous landmarks.
Our favorite activity: The magical key each visitor receives which will make elements of each exhibit come alive, like flying helicopters and musical theaters.
3. FAO Schwarz reopened in its (current) new location at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in November of 2018 after being closed for three years. Visitors will want to go shopping, but there are also plenty of hands on things to do at the 20,000 square foot, three floor store. Test “fly” a miniature plane or drone, create samples of arts and crafts projects, or experiment with various science experiments. Check in with one of the soldiers to see what’s on display each day.
Our favorite activity: “Dancing” on the piano, a la Tom Hanks in BIG.
4. National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey transports visitors down under to the south Pacific Ocean. Visitors travel through 12 different immersion exhibits that engage all five senses. You’ll have sea lions mimicking your every move and watch as a massive whale attacks a school of anchovies.
Our favorite activity: Navigating through the Kelp Forest maze of mirrors.
5. Art Museums, such as the Guggenheim: Most people think art museums are too formal and quiet a place for young children, but art museums are actually wonderful ways for children to learn about art. In fact, I recognized at least ten ways kids can learn at an art museum. The Guggenheim is especially fun for kids, with Activity Stations, scavenger hunts, and art kids available for loan.
Our favorite activity: My kids loved completing the scavenger hunt and sketching their own version of displayed pieces of art (exhibits change approximately every six months at the Guggenheim).
6. American Girl doll is definitely considered a must stop (over and over again!) when you’re in New York City (although there are also outposts in about a dozen cities in America). Bring your doll with you and visit the salon (one for dolls and one for visitors), hospital (if the doll needs a repair) and the restaurant. Of course, you can also shop to your heart’s content for anything in the catalog and even create your own doll.
Our favorite activity: Celebrating a special birthday or milestone in the restaurant with special treats and gifts.
7. Ellis Island, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, was the first stop for over 12 million immigrants when they arrived in America. Visitors can retrace their steps in the Baggage Room and walk through several exhibits filled with artifacts donated by families, including Bibles, wedding gowns, and journals. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge for completing a workbook. **Visitors must take a ferry boat from either Battery Park in New York or Liberty State Park in New Jersey, but two of the three levels of the ferry are enclosed. I strongly recommend booking this in advance.
Our favorite activity: Research your own ancestors in the American Family Immigration History Center, where you can see digitized ship manifests and photos.
8. Cooking Classes at Eataly are definitely the most delicious spot on this list and one spot we like to visit no matter the weather! The Italian food lovers mecca has two locations in New York City: Downtown and Flatiron District. Inside there are three full service restaurants as well as eight counters that each focus on specific foods. Eataly offers a variety of hands on classes.
Our favorite activity: Eating what we made, of course!
9. Gazillion Bubble Show was one of the first things we did with our kids when they were younger and they LOVED it! (truth be told, I saw quite a few adults just as mesmerized by the literally gazillion bubbles as the children). The 90 minute show (most of the year, shows are only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) includes several experiments and “magic” set to music and light installations.
Our favorite activity: Our daughter was called on stage and had a massive balloon created all around her. She still talk about that experience 7 years later. There are multiple opportunities for guests to be chosen and assist in an experiment or part of the show.
10. Get a sweet treat from one of several outposts in Manhattan. Dylan’s Candy Bar, M&M’s World, and Hershey’s Chocolate World all have spots in town where you can purchase just about any imaginable candy- and bonus, visitors can also choose any quantity. Stores also sell apparel and other gifts.
Our favorite activity: Each member of the family chooses his or her favorite candy and everyone “test tastes” each one to vote for the ultimate winner for best candy.
Bonus Splurge: Take the kids to a Broadway show. Most Broadway shows have matinees on Wednesday and Saturday and offer booster seats to make it easier for children to see. There are also promotional weeks when kids can attend shows for free- check here for more information. The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is a great first experience!