A trip to New York with teens is one of those holidays that requires a lot of planning! We spent a fabulous five days in the Big Apple over Christmas with our three tween/teen daughters. So, to save you a bit of time, here are my 10 things to do in New York with teens at Christmas – just in case you are planning your own trip!
Why take teens to New York at all?
Taking three teens to New York is not a cheap option but there are some compelling reasons for delaying your New York trip until your kids are a bit older.
- They want to go. Older teens do not have to go on holiday, they could feasibly be left at home. However, ours actively wanted to visit New York. They’d seen it in films, looked at pictures of it on social media and it is generally regarded as a cool destination for a short break by IG influencers. Job done!
- They like the shopping. New York is not the bargain-hunter’s paradise that it was when the pound was stronger against the dollar but there are still iconic stores to visit and some good deals to be had.
- They appreciate the sights. Young children are not going to be so interested in the 9/11 memorial or care very much about the view from the Empire State Building.
- It looks good on IG. If you can’t take an IG worthy picture in New York at Christmas then you have lost the right to call yourself an adolescent.
- They can cope with the walking. We walked everywhere and clocked up loads of steps. There are several advantages to this. Firstly, it is free. Secondly, you get to experience being out and about in New York and you get to see more than you do on the subway or in a cab.
- They will remember they’ve been there! I’m unlikely to ever visit New York again with all my kids so they’d better damn well remember it! It took a lot of effort to arrange.
10 Things to do in New York with teens at Christmas
We visited New York between 22nd and 27th December and so we experienced the height of the Christmas festivities. The advantage of visiting at this time of year is that the tourist sites and the roads are quiet for much of your stay and the accommodation is reasonably priced.
The airfares, however, may be more expensive because it is a popular time to travel and obviously the shops can get very crowded. As for the weather…well we were fortunate that it was not too cold during our stay. When it gets cold in New York it gets VERY cold and we escaped the major freeze that took place in early January 2018.
Nevertheless, it was very chilly and I was glad of my hat, scarf, boots and thermals. Teens are notorious for being under-dressed and unwilling to wear a coat as my fellow blogger Everyone’s Buck Stops Here pointed out in this hilarious post which I thought about many times when I was there!
If they dress like that in New York they will actually get hypothermia so on this one occasion you have the right to over rule their opinions and dictate what clothes they take. They will thank you for it when you get there!
So, here’s our top 10 things to do in New York with teens at Christmas
#1 Stay in a mid-range hotel in Midtown Manhattan
Going on holidays with teens is not cheap and so compromises have to be made. We opted for a mid-range hotel that was close to all of the things that we wanted to visit. It was called the Tryp by Wyndham. We could get to most things on foot and only resorted to the subway once. The hotel was clean and lovely and warm. There are 5 of us and we booked a large family room which had two bathrooms. Very useful when you have three daughters.
#2 Day 1 – Hop on Hop off bus
I opted to buy us New York Explorer Passes from Attraction Tickets (https://www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk/new-york-attraction-tickets/new-york-multi-attraction-passes/explorer-pass) which gives you 5 attractions for £95 (£68 for our 12 year old) and I used one of my credits for the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus New York: Classic Tour 1-Day Tour which took us downtown to the 9/11 museum and memorial.
This proved a cost-effective way of seeing the main attractions and I avoided a few (albeit small) queues which is vital when you are on a tight schedule. I can imagine that at the height of the tourist season they would be invaluable. Spending your first day on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus is a good way to familiarise yourself with the layout of the streets and get a mental picture of where everything is.
The grid layout of avenues and streets is easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. There are seats upstairs and downstairs and you get a free waterproof poncho if it rains and ear phones so that you can listen to the commentary which is excellent.
#3 Day 1 – 9/11 memorial and museum
Day 1 was spent in a reflective mood as we visited the 9/11 museum and then went outside to the memorial which is close by. This is both upsetting and interesting. Our teens are too young to remember the event taking place but the tragedy has shaped the world that they live in and they specifically asked to see it. It is an important part of the things to do in New York with teens at Christmas.
There is a lot to see. You need to set aside several hours and I recommend that you take a break for a coffee (or lunch) in the middle of your visit. I also recommend starting off with the information film ‘Facing Crisis: A Changed World’. This gives the background about what happened and lasts about 20 minutes. It sets the scene for the rest of the museum and memorial.
#4 Day 2 morning (Christmas Eve) – Central Park and The American Museum of Natural History
You can’t go to New York and not visit Central Park. We walked through it to get to the American Museum of Natural History. I have fond memories of watching Night at the Museum with the girls when they were younger and we wanted to approach the museum from the park just like the scenes from the film. The revolving doors are there too! Be warned, the museum opens at 10 but you can’t get a coffee until 11!
#5 Day 2 afternoon (Christmas Eve) Top of the Rock Observatory
Late afternoon on Christmas Eve seemed like the ideal time to go to the Top of the Rock Observatory. From the 70th floor open-air roof deck we watched the sun set over the city and the lights gradually turn on. Then we grabbed a hot chocolate and headed out with the crowds, past the ice-rink and to the huge Christmas tree. By now the city was practically at a standstill. My major challenge was trying not to lose a member of my family. The NYPD (which is represented by numerous officers) did a good job of keeping the traffic flowing but as pedestrians we got pretty squashed.
#6 Day 3 morning (Christmas Day) – Empire State Building
After a quick breakfast we headed to the Empire State Building which has the windiest viewing platform I have ever been on! I actually lost control of my legs as soon as I lifted them up from the floor and we were all in stitches as we struggled to get back inside. While we were there, a young man proposed to his girlfriend on the 102nd floor. This prompted a round of applause from everyone on the viewing platform. Thank goodness she said yes!
#7 Day 3 lunch time (Christmas day) – O’Donoghue’s Irish Bar
This was a tricky one. We were quite keen to have a turkey dinner on Christmas Day. However, that is more widely available in the USA on Thanksgiving than on Christmas Day. The cost of some set menus in the better known restaurants and hotels was prohibitive. As all I had in the room was a coffee making machine (which I was finding a bit complex to use) and an iron, I was unlikely to be able to cook a traditional roast. It was time for some research! I found a reasonably priced offer at a charming Irish bar called O’Donoghue’s.
We were not disappointed. We enjoyed an excellent three course Christmas menu (including roast turkey) for $45 per head. With half a pint of Guinness and a rendition of ‘Fairy-tale of New York’ it was as close to perfect as you can get. It earned its place in my top 10 things to do in New York with teens at Christmas.
#8 Day 3 evening (Christmas Day) School of Rock musical on Broadway
This was absolutely outstanding. It was funny and moving with fantastic songs delivered by hugely talented young musicians. All five of us were spell bound from the moment the curtain lifted until the final actor left the stage. If you ever get the chance to see it – do so! You won’t be disappointed. this is right at the top of the things to do in New York with teens at Christmas.
#9 Day 4 (Boxing day) Cruise around the Statue of Liberty and up the East River
This was the coldest day of our trip and it was very chilly as we waited to embark our ferry on the Hudson river. Once aboard it was lovely and warm with plenty of coffee and hot chocolate to keep us going. We opted to stay below deck and out of the bitter wind so we could hear very little of the commentary. It was a crisp clear day and the views of the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan were breath taking. This is certainly on my list of things to do in New York with teens at Christmas.
We walked back to our hotel past the gorgeous and very Christmassy Bryant Park to see the craft market and skating rink. The highlight of the evening, however, has got to go to the glorious Saks on 5th Avenue and their spectacular light and music show. A glorious way to end Boxing Day!
#10 Day 5 Shopping and departure
Shopping was highly likely to feature in a list of things to do in New York with teens at Christmas. It is not my favourite activity but I could hardly deny them could I? We had lunch at Chef Street in the cellar at Macy’s which was very tasty but a bit confusing. You choose your food and pay before you enter and then queue up at various counters to get your food.
Laden with bags we struggled back to the hotel to await our pick –up. We had organised a private transfer to the airport which I assumed would be the least stressful option. However, thanks to the infamous NY traffic, it turned up three quarters of an hour late. This led to a moderately stressful dash to JFK airport. Thank goodness we made it in time for our flight back to the UK!
So, there are my ideas for things to do in New York with teens at Christmas! Overall, I would highly recommend spending Christmas in NYC with your teens. I felt safe, the people were mostly friendly and there are police officers everywhere. Teens are fantastic company in a city like New York and their enthusiasm and energy is infectious. Be prepared for airport level security at the iconic buildings and loads and loads of walking.
It’s not a restful holiday! But I came home with heart full of wonderful memories that I will always treasure and an empty bank account!
If you are planning a get away with your teens this year you can save £15 on your stay by reserving your stay through Booking.com using this link.*
*This is an affiliate link. When you book using it we get a small percentage at no extra cost to you.
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