So, this half-term Flea and I took a trip to visit friends in New York.
New York is one of my favourite cities in the world, and it's always exciting to be there – but last time we visited Flea was in a pushchair, and was dragged along wherever I wanted to go. This time, as an opinionated six-year-old, I did wonder how much Flea would enjoy the city.
I needn't have worried. Flea adored Manhattan, and it turns out there are loads of things there that are just perfect for little people. If you're considering a trip to New York with children, our top recommendations from this week are as follows:
Take in a Broadway show. We went to see Spiderman: on Broadway and it was AMAZING – complete with a score by Bono and U2, flying good guys and bad guys, awesome special effects, lots of good jokes, and all for around $80 a head, thanks to a discount tickets website.
Dine on hot hogs in Central Park. No matter what restaurant you’ve been to, not much in life tastes better than a hot dog with the works, eaten on the grass in Central Park. If you're with kids, the best playground of the 20+ in the park is probably the Heckscher Playground which covers 3 acres from 61st to 63rd Street. Don't miss the Central Park Zoo and Children's Zoo at 64th Street, both of which are small and perfect for kids, then the Alice in Wonderland Statue, up near 74th Street. Finally, don't miss the Boathouse at 72nd Street, which has gorgeous views over the Lake.
Go to the Top of the Rock. Since 9/11, the Empire State Building has been the tallest building in Manhattan, and the queues to get to the top of THAT building are unbelievably long and soul-destroying. A much better bet is to head to 50th Street and Sixth Avenue, for the Rockefeller Center. For around $35, you can ride to the top of the building where you get amazing views of Manhattan and (for my money) much safer, and better views, thanks to the open glazed observation decks. And when you come back down, take a few minutes to test out the skating rink in the plaza – great fun.
Make a Muppet. FAO Schwarz on 5th is a must-see destination for anyone visiting New York if only because of the walk on piano on the first floor, as seen in Big. Kids can take a turn and if the attendant is feeling friendly, grown-ups get to go on it, too. But the best fun at the moment is the What Not Workshop on the ground floor, where you can make your very own customised Muppet for $99. Choose a body then get creative with noses, hair, eyes, teeth and other accessories, and the team behind the counter will make your Muppet in just 20 minutes. Brilliant fun.
Have lunch at Serendipity3. This little gem isn’t great for parents of little ones (buggies and pushchairs aren’t allowed) but if you have older kids, they’ll love the sundaes, and you’ll love pretending you’re on a date with John Cusack (this might just be me). The frozen hot chocolate is worth a visit all on its own. You can reserve in advance if you’re eating a full meal here, which I recommend – it always seems to be packed when we go here.
The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is an absolutely wonderful place to spend the day with under 8s. It’s packed with hands-on science, natural history and creative exhibits, including a crocodile you can feed letters to, a massive drawing space, climbing frames, a replica fire engine and bikes kids can ride around the museum. In the summer, there’s also an outside area with fountains where kids can splash around. The museum is up on West 83rd Street.
After the museum, go retro at Lexington Candy Store on the corner of Lexington and 83rd. This 1925 diner is about as authentic as it gets – it hasn’t been refurbished since the 1940s, and still serves some of the best cheeseburgers, malted shakes and sundaes in the city. It’s added entertainment trying to name all the stars on the walls that have eaten here, and posed for photos with the owner. The food’s great value too – lunch for three, including coffee, came out at around $35.
Take the 1 train down to South Ferry and hop on the Staten Island Ferry. There are loads of proper boat tours of Manhattan lasting from one to three hours, which show you all the historic sites. Meh. The Staten Island Ferry takes you over the river to Staten Island, providing a great view of the city and the Statue of Liberty, and it's completely free! At Staten Island, you just go through the turnstile and jump back on the ferry, making it a one-hour round trip. It’s worth hanging out for a while to get one of the ferries that has open sides, though, for the best views. On the other ferries, head right to the back of the boat and sneak onto the 'weather deck' for a great view.
The Liberty Science Center is a brilliant museum just over the river in Jersey, and home to the biggest IMAX screen in the US. There are fantastic hands-on workshops for kids, and the discovery center on the 4th floor will keep over 5s occupied all day, with experiments, tunnels, stop-motion animation studios and loads more. To get there, just hop on the PATH train from mid-town and it’s a 5 minute ride on the Jersey Light Railway. Free to get in, plus around $10 for IMAX tickets.
Shop. I know it's a cliche but henever we’re in the US, we stock up on cheap clothes at Old Navy Gap and LL Bean, plus toiletries from Bath and Body Works. If you’re buying lots of clothes, it’s worth considering hopping across to Jersey, where there’s no sales tax on clothes (sales tax in Manhattan can be 8% on some items). The Newport and Garden State malls are both excellent, and if you're driving check out the Jersey Garden outlet for amazing bargains.
The big thing I'd say is to give kids time to acclimatise to New York City – it's big and noisy, and when you're three feet tall, those skyscrapers can seem enormous. And as Flea said of my friend: "People from New York walk really fast, don't they, Mummy?"
Some of the best fun to be had in Manhattan just comes from being in Manhattan – Flea loved riding in yellow taxis, exploring the subway, counting how many skyscrapers she could see, and looking at the different sorts of candy and cereals in the grocery stores.