NEW YORK CITY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE a chaos-inducing, wallet-draining experience for a family. Go beyond the Empire State Building and the Toys ‘R Us Ferris Wheel with these tips for having a blast with your fam in the Big Apple.

Encourage creativity

When traveling as a family, think beyond flashy Broadway shows that break the bank. The New Victory Theater has lots of kid-friendly offerings, including select performances for children with autism. Let kids explore their theatrical side with workshops at La MaMa, one of the oldest experimental theater companies in the city.

Hang with other NYC families.

Kids raised in NYC have a different take on the world than kids raised elsewhere. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, but we’re raised with a certain sense of “street smarts” that can be cool to experience in person. Groups like Brooklyn Queer + Progressive Parents, NYC Third Culture Kids, or Cobble Hill Chill Parents, offer traveling families the chance to interact with and learn first-hand what family is like in the big city.

Learning NYC history

Walk among NYC’s oldest natural forest and look for Native American rock shelters at Inwood Hill Park. Learn why Alexander Hamilton was the OG New Yorker at Hamilton Grange. Experience what immigrant life was like first-hand at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Pause for reflection at the 9/11 Memorial.

Beyond picnics in the park

Check out the Urban Park Rangers programs, which happen year-round, and are usually free. Kids will go bonkers over the Creepy Insects and Crafts workshop at Fort Totten, or take pride in becoming a Conservation Ranger during some of the week-long programs designed for families traveling to NYC on school breaks.

Zoos

There are six zoos and wildlife centers across NYC’s five boroughs. The Central Park Zoo with its penguin feedings is an easy daytime activity, but head to the Queens Zoo for interactive evening tours or exclusive zoo campouts.

Chill zones

For some free play (and taking in awesome views), walk along the Highline or hang out in Bryant Park. For indoor quiet time, explore the New York Public Library or the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho.

Cheap family eats

Grab four dumplings for $1.25 at Vanessa’s Dumpling House in Chinatown. Let kids sample legit hot dog combos at Papaya King on the Upper West Side. Count how many Famous Original Ray’s Pizza shops you can find and then share a slice and soda. Watch rainbow bagels get made at The Bagel Store in Williamsburg.

When in doubt, find a museum.

Culture shouldn’t cost much, and thankfully almost every NYC museum offers free admission for kids under 12; some, like MoMa and the Museum of the City of New York, go as far as anyone under 18. Celebrate diversity at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan with their rotating schedule of culture-specific exhibits, as well as the Jewish Museum.

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