In our first part of our blog on visiting New York, we wrote about the more practical things to do with your family in terms of getting to the city, choosing a hotel with a central location and making sure you stock up on your energy levels before a day of sightseeing and people watching! The second part of our blog is more about suggested places to visit with your teens, and what we found really worked with ours when we took them to the bright lights of Manhattan on a city break last summer. This post will hopefully take a slightly different slant to the more “typical” guides to travelling to New York, in that we are focusing solely on the experiences you can have with older children, and therefore it doesn’t necessarily refer to the more famous sights of the city.
You can of course spend your time doing the really touristy bits of New York which make it so iconic – the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, The Empire State Building, Times Square, Grand Central Station etc. Whilst they are all worth visiting with your tribe of teens, there are arguably other things to do which will give your little ones the New York experiences (which of course is why you are visiting there – to get the vibe of this great city) but without the fast paced and sometimes stressful run around. We found our teenagers were happy to walk around Liberty Island for example, and enjoyed the boat ride across, but they certainly didn’t enjoy the hour long wait in the queue for tickets on a very hot summer afternoon. The Empire State building was also good for some of our group, but there were a couple of our children who didn’t want to go up to the highest viewing platform, weren’t massively keen on the heights, and began to feel quite claustrophobic in the lift journey going up. Now this might not be the case with your families, but with hindsight we think that those two particular experiences were generally OK, but not brilliant for us, and we probably wouldn’t go again for a while. It cost a fair amount too, probably in the region of $100 a piece for family tickets and passes. That’s also not including the obligatory gift shop which you end up in at the end of your trip, nor the Empire State Building photograph which we had to pay for separately – it was about $30. We’re not saying for one minute not to go to the Empire State or Statue of Liberty, clearly for many visiting New York for the first time they are some of the main landmarks to visit, but looking back we can now see that there were other things our teens did during our time in New York which they clearly enjoyed a lot more, which also cost a lot less, and they didn’t feel as though they were going through the motions of having to enjoy them because they were such famous landmarks and therefore had to be loved.
Which leads us on to those 2 things which our teenagers did love. Central Park, and the 9/11 Monument at the site of the World Trade Centre – Twin Towers. A half day visit to the site of the 9/11 attacks in September 2001 was moving, poignant and relevant to our teenagers – neither of which were alive in 2001, but knew about that fateful day from our own accounts of where we were when we heard about those terrible atrocities upon New York. We caught the subway from just outside of our hotel on 54th Street to the WTC station (World Trade Center Station – renamed the World Trade Center Transportation Hub when it reopened in 2016). This $2billion station was rebuilt after the 9/11 attacks, and even before you get to the site of where the North and South towers stood you can see how out of this terrible tragedy the strength and faith of the New York people hasn’t been destroyed. The subway station is more than just a hub to get you to and from the site of where 9/11 happened, it is a symbol of hope, modernity and progress……and it also has a real “Wow” factor when you walk through it! Glass everywhere, beautiful little shops and units selling smart clothes and chocolates, crisp and clean architectural lines which lead up to an incredible roof – you feel as though you are in an airport departure lounge! After spending quite a long time in the subway station (!) we walked out to a very quiet and calm scene, it is incredible how a city which is famous for it’s noise of people rushing around the street to find what they are looking for, can be almost silent. It felt eerily quiet, and yet completely appropriate considering where we were and what we were about to see. Within the World Trade Centre complex, there are 7 buildings which have replaced the buildings destroyed in the 2001 attacks, and our main priority was to pay our respects to those killed on 9/11, and to visit the sites of the North and South towers. To describe how we all felt while we were stood there with our own thoughts is very difficult, what we can say however is that what happened on that day becomes very clear when you read the names of all of those people who lost their lives, and see the flowers which have been laid next to their names. In the New York sunshine, those names shined in the sun and the water fountains in each tower are a perfect commemoration of remembrance to those people. Following on from that, we could have visited the 9/11 Museum, but we chose not to as we had been happy with our thoughts at the monuments, and the boys were happier talking about what they’d seen, aswell as having their photo taken with a couple of unsuspecting NYPD policemen who were very polite and friendly and happy to oblige with our boys request – even to the point that the police officers decided not to smile so they looked really serious!!!! As Thomas Wolfe said “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years”, and we certainly felt that way there, in solidarity with the native New Yorkers!
The following day we decided to spend enjoying the delights and offerings of the famous Central Park – not Perk (although if that had been open somewhere, we would have jumped at the chance to have coffee with Gunther and co!) Our day at Central Park goes down as one of the best days we had with our kids throughout our whole 3 weeks, including Walt Disney World, mainly because the kids were free to roam around the park’s sheer massiveness, but we really didn’t figure beforehand that there was so much we could do there. Although we spent a whole day just walking around Central Park, we think you could easily spend longer because you really have no idea before you go how big it really is! There were many highlights for us on that day, we started from Central Park South and the first thing our teens decided to do was – yes we tell no lies here! – the Central Park Carousel! Having had 17 days of rides in Walt Disney World, you would have thought they’d been all ridden out, but no, a $1 ride had to be done! There is something quite romantic about the carousel, it is a nostalgic reminder of past days, and it was just lovely to see our kids enjoying being kids, which they don’t get much chance to be these days with everything they have to deal with.
We then moved on to Belvedere Castle (as History teachers we particularly like looking at castles!) which is the official weather station for Central Park, although you’re really going up all of those steps to get to the top in order to have the great view of the green space and it’s surrounding areas rather than checking if it’s going to rain later! After that, we dodged the roller skaters and carriage rides to make a wish at Bethesda Fountain, it is so beautiful there and again so quiet that you almost forget for a moment that you are in the middle of the modern metropolis which is New York, and you have to snap yourself back into New York time to get back to where you are! The real highlight for us though was the hiring of Gondola boats at Loeb’s Boathouse, for $15 for an hour we were able to use our navigational and sailing skills – or not depending on the opinions of those on the boat! – to sail around the lake and take in all of the wonderful surroundings and atmosphere of Central Park. We are so glad we did this with our kids as they absolutely loved it, they took turns to steer the boat and gave instructions, but other times just enjoyed sitting there and taking it all in. There are few times these days that our teenagers have the opportunity to truly wind down and relax, but this was certainly one of them, but it was also so much fun that we know in years to come we will still be laughing and talking about our afternoon spent on a boat in Central Park with lovely people and feeling completely chilled out. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Afterwards, we simply sat down on the bank next to the Lakeside restaurant (there was a wedding reception going on so people were dressed smartly and with big smiles on their faces) and ordered some chips from the “Express” part of the restaurant, which we all enjoyed, sat on our blankets and resting our aching arms for those of us who had been rowing! Bliss.
There could have been so many things we could have done in Central Park with our teens, booked to see some Shakespeare in the Park, visited the SummerStage to see what was going on, smelt the beautiful flowers in the Conservatory Garden, contemplated the life of Beatle John Lennon, who’s buried at the Strawberry Fields Monument in the park, or gone to one of the 21 playgrounds dotted around. Lack of time unfortunately played a hand in the time we had and therefore what we did. But out of the 5 days we spent in New York, our day at Central Park was definitely our best.
When we asked our teens what they loved the most about New York after we came home, they simply replied “Just being there…” We think this sums up to us why you and your teens should visit New York, but leave some of the shopping at home. Yes, go to Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s, or any of the designer shops on 5th Avenue, or the more bohemian areas of Little Italy, Chinatown or Brooklyn where you might find some quirkier, less commercial shops to please your teens. But in all honesty, we found that our kids didn’t want to really shop, to them it was about walking around and savouring the atmosphere of being in the Big Apple which was the thing they loved the most. How many times do you really get to do that? New York is a place of dreams, either those fulfilled or those waiting to come true, where the bright lights and brash skyline dominates people’s lives. Everyone who goes there is looking for something different, and we hope our kids had an experience which not only they are grateful for, but will help them to realise that in life they can just be themselves – because in New York, no one judges.
Read here to read our first part – Are you in a New York State of Mind?