Empire State Building at dusk, New York City

Explore New York City: A Beginner’s Guide to NYC

Ready to explore New York City? Having lived in New York City for over ten years, I’ve compiled everything you need to know in this Beginner’s Guide to NYC. Thinking of visiting New York City? Just moved there? We’ll cover transportation, neighborhoods, landmarks, and how to get around without angering the locals.

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At the bottom of this post, download a free game of Would You Rather: World Edition to play on your next family trip!

How Big is New York City?

New York City consists of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The city has a population of about 8.5 million New Yorkers living in these boroughs, with just 1.5 million people living in Manhattan. Of course when you include everyone commuting into the city every day, and it adds up to a lot of people.

Street Scene showing flowers for sale, NYC
Flowers for sale on the sidewalk in New York City

Why do People Live in New York City?

New York City is expensive, loud, crowded, and dirty. It also has amazing energy, and more culture packed into a small space than anywhere else in the world (in my personal opinion of course).

There are lines for everything- getting a sandwich in Midtown at lunchtime, waiting for the bus, getting a cup of coffee. Want tickets to Shakespeare in the Park? Get in line before the ticket office opens. Free movie in Bryant Park? Put a blanket down to hold your space two hours before the movie starts. Brunch on Sunday? Chat with your friends while you wait in line.

However, world-class theater? Multiple ballet companies? Amazing museums and galleries? Craving Turkish food, or maybe Ethiopian? It’s all here. Want to learn to ice skate, or stay out until 4 am at bars that never close? It’s all here for you to explore.

Checkout: New York City With Kids in 2021: 1-Day Summer Itinerary

Oh, and some of our Favorite Restaurants are here!

Is New York City Safe?

Generally, New York City is quite safe. All the areas on the standard tourist track have very low crime rates. However, as with any large city- as you explore New York City, make sure to use your head. Don’t be afraid to cross the street in the middle of a (quiet) block if someone is creeping you out. If it’s dark and a side street looks deserted consider another route.

Keep your purse zipped and don’t advertise expensive gear. New York has been incredibly safe the last few years but the pandemic has started to change that. Use basic street smarts and you should be fine.

Can I Drink the Water in New York City?

Yes, the water in New York City is very safe to drink. A lot of times the taste of the water is directly related to the pipes in the specific building. Many people choose to filter their water due to the taste, rather than for safety.

How Do I Get Into the City?

New York City has three major airports- JFK (technically located in Queens but closer to Brooklyn), La Guardia in Queens, and Newark in New Jersey. All are served by public transportation, though we recommend taking a taxi from the official taxi line.

New York City is also connected via Amtrak trains coming into Pennsylvania Station, and regional MetroNorth trains coming into Grand Central Station.


How Do I Get Around NYC?

There are several ways to move easily around NYC- walking, bus, subway, taxi, ferry, and even driving. Let’s look at each of them.

Walking

Your own two feet are often the best way to explore New York City. Walking is the best way to people-watch while you explore New York City. You never know what you’ll see!

Tips for Walking Around New York City

  1. Do Not Block the Sidewalk. Single file or a max of 2 wide, please! The fastest way to make a New Yorker grouchy is to meander four people wide down the sidewalk. We don’t mind that you want to look in every window, but we’ve got a limited lunch break, an errand to run and the line at the sandwich shop will be 20 people deep. Keep it moving or stay to the side!

  2. Stay to the Right on stairs and escalators. That leaves the left for those descending stairs or those who are walking up the escalator.

  3. Wear good shoes. We aren’t judging your fashion, we really don’t care. Chances are you look like a tourist anyway. We walk to work in good shoes and then change into nicer shoes kept under our desks. Your feet with thank you!

  4. Don’t stare. You’ll see all kinds of people in all kinds of outfits. This is NYC, anything goes!

Buses

The same MetroCard you’ll use on the subway works on buses as well. These are most useful when crossing from the East Side to the West Side through Central Park. Schedules and routes are posted at bus stops on the street.

Taxis

Taxis are an expensive way to get around New York City, but they can be invaluable in certain situations. For example, getting to JFK airport by Taxi is a fixed rate from Manhattan. You can also get to JFK via subway (and LGA via subway and bus) but it will take twice as long.

I’ve missed planes because I was trying to save a few bucks by getting to JFK via the subway, only to find that the Airtrain connecting the subway to the airport was shut down.

Taking a taxi from Manhattan to Brooklyn late at night can be faster and safer than taking the subway. As a single girl living in Brooklyn, I often factored the extra cost of a cab into my plans for late nights out at bars in Manhattan.

Please note, it is impossible to get a cab when it is raining. Really, don’t even try.

If you plan to take a taxi (or rideshare) with kids you’ll need a car seat. We love our Mifold Comfort Travel Car Seat- it folds up and weighs about 1 1/2 pounds. It meets all federal guidelines and is approved for kids 4 and up, and 40+ pounds.

Check Prices: Mifold Comfort Travel Car Seat

Why are NYC Cabs Two Different Colors?

New York City has two kinds of official taxicabs- Yellow Cabs and Green Apple Cabs.

  1. Yellow Cabs are your traditional taxi- they pick you up anywhere and take you where you ask them to (most of the time- I’ve had cab drivers refuse to take me to certain places).

  2. Green Apple Cabs were created in 2012 because Yellow Cabs were only servicing the busier, more affluent areas. When we lived in upper Manhattan (Inwood), on 217th street, we rarely saw yellow cabs, and would never expect to be able to hail one on the street.

    Green Apple Cabs are not allowed to pick up passengers below 110th street on the West side of Manhattan, or below 96th Street on the East side. They can take you to any place you request, but then have to return to the outer areas to pick up their next passenger.

Both types of cabs charge the same rates and are required to take credit cards. It is customary to tip.

Ferry

Ferries connect Staten Island to Manhattan (and are a fantastic way to see the Statue of Liberty). They also connect Manhattan to Governors Island, and parts of Brooklyn (Hello Red Hook Ikea!). These are generally a fun way to get around, but not the most efficient.

What Should I Know About the NYC Subway?

The NYC subway system is very expansive, generally safe, and easy to use. The subway is a great way to explore New York City. Use your street smarts late at night if a station is deserted. There is safety in crowds.

Subway lines have a color and a number. For example, the 4, 5, and 6 trains all run on the green Lexington Avenue line. Check the map to see which trains stop at your destination. In this case, the 6 is local (stops at every stop), while the 4 and 5 are express until they get to the Bronx.

Stations will be marked with train letters and a general direction, for example, “Uptown & the Bronx” or “Downtown & Brooklyn” to designate which way the trains are running.

How Much Does the Subway Cost?

MetroCards can be bought and filled at most stations. It’s priced per ride (not by distance traveled) and includes bus transfers. Each ride is $2.75 on your MetroCard (single ride cards are $3). Most stations also have a place you can swipe your MetroCard to check your balance.

You can buy a 7-day unlimited pass, which is a great deal if you plan to ride a lot. At $33 dollars, that’s 12 rides, or 6 round trips in 7 days to break even.

Keep in mind if you get unlimited cards, you’ll need one for each person. Unlimited cards can only be swiped once every 18 minutes. Kids under 44″ tall ride free, they can either duck under the turnstile, or go through with you.

NYC Subway Map

Tips for Riding the NYC Subway

  1. Always let people exit the subway BEFORE you get on. This is basic subway etiquette and applies to busses as well. People squeezed into the middle of the car need time to get to the door and exit before you push your way in.

  2. Move to the middle. All the Way. You will have time to get to the exit when your stop comes (see above). People will keep pressing in from the door until the car is truly full.

  3. Subways get crowded. Bodies pressed together are common during rush hour. Grab a pole if you can, or press your hand to the ceiling. Make sure your purse/wallet is secure. I never travel with a purse that doesn’t zip and I keep it pressed under my arm.

  4. Give up your seat to elderly, pregnant, or disabled people. When in doubt, offer your seat.

  5. Stick your arm/purse/head in the closing door at your own peril. Most of the time it will open for you, but it’s a bit tricky and people have lost at this game.

  6. Know where you want to go. Apps can help you with this, and alert you to station closures or re-routes. I use the app New York Subway for a zoomable map (though it’s gotten a bit ad-heavy lately). It also has a trip planner and lists planned service changes.
  7. Listen to announcements. Some trains will change from local to express, follow a different line, or simply go out of service. Pay attention. When in doubt, if everyone suddenly exits the train, you should probably follow.

  8. Trains run differently and less frequently during “off-peak” hours and weekends. Some stations have signs telling you when the next train will arrive, many do not.

  9. If you are waiting for a specific train, and two trains go by that are Not yours, plan to get on the third train. It will either be your train, or your train is not coming, and you need to move forward and reroute.

  10. If a subway car is empty (on an otherwise crowded train), Do Not get in that car. There is a reason it is empty- most likely either the A/C is not working on a hot day, or there is a hideous smell.

  11. Look around! There are often beautiful mosaics or temporary art installations in the subway stations. In larger stations like Times Square, you will often hear musicians playing.
Glittery concentric circles and purple rays; Art in the Subway Station, Hudson Yards, New York City
Art in the Hudson Yards Subway Station

Driving

Some people love to drive around New York City, others find the prospect daunting. Many people choose to rent a car for specific purposes- either to drive out of the city (hello Hamptons!) or to drive larger purchases into the city (hello IKEA!).

If you decide to rent a car in New York City, we recommend checking rental prices at Discover Cars, and then pre-booking parking via SpotHero.

Street parking can be very difficult to find in most neighborhoods, and hotels often do not provide parking. SpotHero lets you check prices for the area you are interested in, and then book a spot ahead of time by the hour or day. It will save you a lot of stress circling the block trying to decide which garage to use.

Check Parking Prices via SpotHero

Exploring Manhattan

Manhattan is what people think of when they hear “New York City” and where most visitors spend a lot of their time, so let’s talk about how it’s set up.

Manhattan is built on a grid (except for the oldest part of the city below 1st street, but let’s ignore that for now). Avenues go North/South, Streets go East/West. The blocks between streets are much shorter than between avenues.

Central Park starts at 59th Street, and goes up to 110th street, cutting the city into the traditional “Upper East” and “Upper West” Sides. Roads cut across the park at 65th, 79th, 86th, and 97th streets.

Addresses are considered “East” if they are on 5th avenue or East of 5th, and “West”, if they are West of 5th Avenue. For example, the address of MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) is 11 West 53rd Street. That means the entrance is on 53rd street, to the West of 5th avenue.

Famous Areas of Manhattan

There are many parts of Manhattan that are famous from movies, books, or general lore. Let’s talk about a few of the most popular stops on the tourist track that you won’t want to miss as you explore New York City:

Times Square

Times Square is famous for being where the New Year’s Eve ball drops. Locals avoid the madness here unless they are trying to get cheap broadway tickets at the TKTS Booth. But if you are visiting, the madness can be fun.

The middle of Times Square is filled with costumed characters who will pull you in for a photo (and then demand money), people drumming up business for tours or comedy shows, and of course, the buildings are covered in moving flashing billboards.

S(4) loved going here with her grandparents to get a photo taken with Anna and Elsa of Frozen fame.

Times Square billboards in New York City
Times Square

Rockefeller Center

Known for its very large Christmas tree, skating rink, and lots of decorations during the holiday season, this is a year-round destination. Rockefeller Plaza is full of stores- from Anthropologie to the LEGO Store. It’s also home to NBC Broadcasting- you can watch NBC shows tape here.

You’ll also find a newly reimagined FAO Schwartz Toy Store (opened Nov 2018), and it’s not far from the American Girl Store. You can ascend to the “Top of the Rock” for views of the city.

During the holiday the crowds here are insane. Try to visit just before the tree lighting (first week in December) if you can to avoid the worst of the crowds.

Union Square

This large plaza bordering 14th street is an informal meeting place. Home to a Farmer’s Market on weekends, and a large holiday market in the winter, it also has a terrific playground in one corner.

There’s lots of space to sit on low steps and watch the world go by. You’re likely to see artists and a few performers here. Whole Foods is across the street, making it easy to get lunch at their buffet and then find a seat in the park.

SOHO

“South of Houston” (pronounced HOWsten) is a great area for cafes and shopping. Broadway has a lot of national chain stores, the side streets have more upscale boutiques.

Greenwich Village

“The Village” is a neighborhood on the West side from approx. 14th street down to Houston. The streets here are named, not numbered, and the odd angles, making it easy to get lost.

Known for a bohemian vibe in the 1950s, and the center of LGBT life in the 1970s, it’s lost a bit of its edge in the current day. Still, it has great restaurants and bars. We often head down here for brunch with friends.

Harlem

Harlem is an uptown neighborhood stretching from the top of Central Park to 155th street in the middle of Manhattan. Harlem is best known for the “Harlem Renaissance” during the 1920s and 1930s. It was during this time that the famous Apollo Theatre opened. The neighborhood is known for its jazz clubs and soul food restaurants.


Central Park

Central Park is so large and so fundamental to the identity of Manhattan it deserves its own section. Within the park there are many well-visited areas, there is never a fee to enter the park.

The park starts at 59th Street and 5th Avenue, with the famous Plaza Hotel just below it. It is there that “Hansom Cabs” or horse-drawn carriages, can be hired for a ride around the park.

The park is a rectangle, ending at 110th Street. From the entrance on the West side at 59th Street/Columbus Circle, you can hire a pedicab driver to give you a tour of the park.

Runners love to run the full outside loop of the park, which is just over six miles. This outer path accommodates walkers, runners, bikers, and occasionally cars.

Map of Central Park

Is Central Park Safe?

Yes, during the day Central Park is very safe. Even if you are wandering through the wooded area known as the Rambles, I would have no concerns during daylight. I would avoid the park after dark unless going to a well-attended event.

Where to Go in Central Park

Sheep Meadow

Just North of the entrance from Columbus Circle (W. 59th Street) is this flat plot of land where people congregate on nice days. Sunbathing on blankets, throwing frisbees, and having picnics with friends are all common activities here.

Central Park Zoo

A small zoo, which has snow leopards, penguins, and more. Currently using timed tickets. Enter at 64th and 5th Ave.

Bethesda Terrace

The Bethesda Fountain is the centerpiece of a two-level plaza in the “lower-middle” of Central Park. Walk under the arches to check out the mosaics, and possibly hear musicians. Approx. 72nd Street.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, NYC
The Angel at Bethesda Fountain


Conservatory Water

Inspired by the model boat pond in Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens. You can rent toy sailboats here to sail in the shallow water. You’ll also find statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Cristian Anderson nearby. East side, 72nd street.

The Boathouse

An upscale restaurant and a place to rent rowboats. Row your way around the lake and under bridges. There’s usually a line on nice days but it does move quickly. Max of 4 to a boat.

We did this last summer, and I’m so glad we did. I’m a terrible rower, if the rowing was up to me we would have been stuck on the rocks in minutes. The kids enjoyed exploring the lake, seeing birds, and going under bridges. It’s also fun to watch everyone else around you.

Strawberry Fields

This is a popular area that pays tribute to John Lennon of Beatles fame. Near Central Park West between 71 and 74th streets.

The Great Lawn

This is where major concerts and Shakespeare in the Park take place.

The Reservoir

Technically the Jacquline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, this huge body of water that extends approx. between 86th and 97th street. Runners love to circle the reservoir.

Conservatory Garden

These are the only formal gardens in Central Park. Enter through Vanderbilt Gate (which once led to the Vanderbilt Estate) at 5th Ave and 105th Street. Covering six manicured acres, these gardens are stunning in Spring and Summer. You’ll often see bridal parties here with their photographers.

Famous Landmarks in Manhattan

Exploring Manhattan can get expensive quickly. If you plan on visiting a few of the top attractions, consider getting a New York CityPASS. The CityPASS includes 6 major attractions and can be used for 9 consecutive days, saving you over 40% on each attraction.

See Details: New York CityPASS


Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Museum

Very few locals venture out to the Statue of Liberty, but if you are visiting, you can’t miss Lady Liberty! Currently, the inside of the statue is closed. You’ll purchase a ferry pass and access to the lady’s crown if you wish- it’s just a few extra dollars. To climb to the crown children must be 4 or older. The last set of steps is spiral and it gets quite steep and narrow.

Ferries go from Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, then to Ellis Island, then back to Manhattan. Please note that ferries also return to New Jersey, so be sure to get on the correct ferry when you leave. Audio tours are included in the fee, book tickets in advance.

Ellis Island was the primary immigration entry point into the United States from 1862 until 1924. During this time more than 12 million immigrants arrived here, each taking 3-5 hours to process through the system.

From 1924 until its closure in 1952 it was used for various purposes including processing war refugees, and as a detention center during World War II. If your ancestors may have come through here, you can search passenger databases online.

The Ellis Island Museum takes visitors through the Great Hall, baggage room, and even restored dormitories to get a sense of the immigrant journey.

For a great view of the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry (there and back). It’s free and takes about 20 minutes each way, plus loading and unloading time.

Take the R, or W Subway to Whitehall Street and the ferry terminal will be across the street. Alternately take the 5 to Bowling Green, then walk South on Whitehall Street or meander through the park with the water on your right to get to the terminal. There’s also a fantastic carousel in the park.

The Empire State Building

An icon of the New York skyline, the Empire State Building is lit up a night with a changing rotation of colors. Green for St. Patrick’s Day; Red, White, and Blue for the 4th of July, etc. You can view the full calendar of lights to see what any particular day’s colors symbolize.

Most of the Empire State Building is corporate offices (we used a lawyer based here), but you can visit the observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors.

To visit both decks will cost you (in 2021) $75 per adult, and $69 per child. Prices increase as you opt for the premium or express options. This makes the Top of the Rock (see below) feel like a bargain! 34th street and 5th ave.

Empire State Building at dusk, New York City
The Empire State Building at dusk as seen from The Top of the Rock


Top of the Rock

The observation decks at 30 Rockefeller Plaza have amazing 360-degree outdoor views from 70 stories up. It’s a lot cheaper than the Empire State Building, and instead, you get great views of the Empire State Building!

In 2021 adult tickets are $38, while children under 12 are free with an adult. Sunset is amazing, but you’ll pay extra. Enter at 50th street, between 5th and 6th Ave (look for the red carpet). Buy timed tickets in advance.

Chrysler Building

The Art Deco darling of New York City, you’ll see its triangular lights and stainless steel spire from midtown and below. Personally my favorite building in New York. Lex/42nd.

Grand Central Station

A hub of activity, MetroNorth trains come in and out of Grand Central Station, as do subway lines. The information booth clock in the center of the main concourse is a famous symbol of New York.

Don’t forget to look up- the ceiling is a zodiac featuring 12 constellations.

Grand Central Station from above, New York City
The Main Concourse of Grand Central Station


The High Line

The High Line is an old elevated freight train line on the West side that has been transformed into a walking path, public space, and garden. This is a little bit of “wild” right in the middle of the city.

With entrances and exits several blocks apart, you can meander along the path or sit and watch the world go by.

We love to get coffee and donuts from Doughnut Plant in the morning and bring them up to The High Line to enjoy. The High Line is a great place to bring kids- they can explore, are safely away from traffic, and with limited exits, can’t ever get too far away from you.

There is no fee, but timed tickets are currently required. Extends from Gansevoort to 34th Street. Entrances on Gansevoort and Washington, 23rd, and 30th Streets.

The High Line, as seen from above, New York City
The High Line from Above; The high Line from on the Ground.


Apollo Theatre

The Apollo Theatre helped launch the careers of such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown. Watch up-and-coming acts at Amateur Night, or take a tour of the Theatre.

253 W. 125th St., B,D to 125th Street


Top Museums in Manhattan

This list is subjective, of course, but here are a few of the world-renowned museums located in Manhattan. Several of these are covered by the New York CityPASS.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Met”. A glorious place, just the lobby takes my breath away. Every week there are fresh flower arrangements in the lobby (thanks to a special bequest). I love that someone adored this space enough to ensure that this tradition is continued indefinitely.

The Temple of Dendur from Egypt is a family favorite, they have a terrific Arms & Armor section and of course sculptures and paintings galore: Washington Crossing the Delaware, Monets, and Van Goghs to name a few. During the summer there’s usually a sculpture installation on the roof, which has over-priced cocktails and wonderful views over Central Park.

One of my favorite places in New York, The Met used to be a “suggested donation” for all, making those rooftop cocktails more practical. Unfortunately, they now required full admission unless you have a NY state ID.

The rooftop can be a bit tricky to find- there’s a special elevator from Floor 1- head towards Greek and Roman, and make a right before the skylit hall, you’ll see the elevator near the Faberge display. Don’t be shy about asking for help, it’s really easy to get lost!

1000 5th Ave (at 82nd St). Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Museum of Modern Art

“MoMa” does a lot of wonderful events and temporary exhibits. They also have a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden. The permanent collection is world-class- arranged chronologically, so for example, the 2nd-floor covers the 1970s to the present. They also have a terrific museum store attached.

11 West 53rd Street (5/6 Ave), opens 10:30 am, 7 days.

The Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum features 20th Century and contemporary American art. The permanent collection includes Jasper Johns, Edward Hopper, and Robert Mapplethorpe through contemporary artists. They are most renowned for their edgy Biennial- next occurring in 2022.

99 Gansevoort Street; Closed Tuesday and Wednesday; “Pay what you Wish”, Thursday 1:30-6 pm. 18 and under Free.

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim is known as much for its winding, circular Frank Loyd Wright building as for its contemporary art. Art here spans from the late nineteenth century to the present.

Pre-pandemic they ran “Art after Dark”, where the museum stayed open late (9- midnight) with a live DJ and cash bar. Hopefully, this popular series will resume.

1071 Fifth Avenue (88/89th); Closed Tuesday and Wednesday; Saturday 4-6 is “Pay what you Wish”, timed tickets required.

The Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History is a kid favorite, featuring an iconic Blue Whale hanging over the Hall of Ocean Life. This museum has everything from the Original “Lucy” skeleton to lots of dinosaur bones.

We’ve taken the kids here a lot, sometimes we spend all our time in the glowing Hall of Ocean Life (which has a great open area for little ones to run around), other times we’ve spent most of our time looking at the dinosaur fossils.

200 Central Park West (at 79th st); Closed Monday and Tuesday. “Pay what you Wish” for NY, NJ, and CT residents.

The Other Boroughs

Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island are sometimes referred to as “the Outer Boroughs”. These areas tend to be largely residential, with their own distinctive neighborhoods. Many New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their borough.

Though all the boroughs are connected via public transportation, it can take some time to move between them. When I first moved to New York, I was living in Queens, working in Manhattan, and going to grad school in Brooklyn. I don’t recommend it!

Let’s look at some of the highlights of these boroughs.

The Bronx

This Northern borough is known mostly for two things- Yankee Stadium, and the Bronx Zoo. The Bronx has a lot more to offer- it also has its own delicious, authentic, and less crowded Little Italy on Arthur Avenue, the amazing New York Botanical Garden, and Wave Hill (a 26 acre non-profit Garden).

Queens

Home to MoMa Ps1 (MoMa’s offshoot for experimental art), CitiField (where the Mets play baseball), and the Globes from the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows. Long Island City has become increasingly popular- it’s just one subway stop away from Manhattan with its own restaurant and bar scene.

Staten Island

This borough is literally an island connected to the rest of New York City via ferry. Traditionally this is where a lot of firefighters and police officers live with their families. Taking the ferry over and back gives you great views of the Statue of Liberty.

Exploring Brooklyn

Brooklyn is Manhattan’s hipper, cooler cousin. It’s East of Manhattan and South of Queens. It’s chock full of families and has some of the best public schools in the city.

When I lived in Park Slope apartments for sale in the best school districts sold within hours for cash only. People literally showed up to open houses with offer letters ready to go.

Classic Brownstones in Brooklyn, NYC
Classic Brownstones in Brooklyn

Brooklyn is effectively chopped into pieces- Williamsburg is connected via the Williamsburg Bridge and the J, M, Z subway lines. Greenpoint is connected via the L and G lines. Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and the rest of Brooklyn are served by the Brooklyn Bridge and a tangle of other subway lines. Each neighborhood has its own personality and restaurant/bar scene.

Things to Do in Brooklyn

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

This famous bridge connects Brooklyn with Manhattan and makes for a fun stroll on a beautiful day. There are lanes for walking and biking, make sure you stay in the pedestrian lane.

The walk across is just over a mile- a lot of people like to take the subway to Brooklyn, then walk back so that you are looking at the Manhattan skyline as you walk towards it.

My kids refer to this bridge as “the one where daddy dropped your credit card”.

Brooklyn Bridge from partway across, New York City
Iconic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge

To get to the bridge from the Brooklyn Side, you can either take the subway to Borough Hall (2,3, 4,5) or Jay Street/MetroTech (A, C, F), then walk up Adams Street, or for a more scenic entrance, take the subway to High Street (A, C), take the exit marked for High Street, and cross the street to the park.

Follow the paved curved walkway, you will reach an underpass, look for a set of stairs to the bridge on your left side. Stay left in the pedestrian lane.

Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum sits across from Prospect Park, next to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It has a fantastic permanent collection and brings in lots of exciting temporary exhibits. They have strong Asian Art, Indigenous Art, Assyrian, and Ancient Egyptian collections.

They are well known for “First Saturdays” (currently on pause) where the museum offers free programming on the first Saturday evening of the month. These are social events as well as a chance to check out the exhibitions.

200 Eastern Parkway, 2, 3 to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum; Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a stunning 52 acres and includes a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and Cherry Esplanade. I’ve spent many mornings wandering through here. It is peaceful and beautiful and rarely crowded. A real jewel.

990 Washington Avenue; 2, 3 to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum, Closed Mondays; Map

New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum is all about mass transportation. It is located underground in an old subway station from 1936. They have a rotating selection of vintage subway cars, elevated cars, and city buses.

99 Schermerhorn Street, 4,5 to Borough Hall, or A,C,F to Jay Street.

Explore Prospect Park

With its main entrance at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park is generally uncrowded. The running loop around the park is just over 3 miles. This is a quiet place to wander, get away from the city, and meet up with friends. Take the 2,3 to Grand Army Plaza.

Visit Coney Island

Coney Island is a world unto itself at the tip of Brooklyn. It has an aquarium, a boardwalk along a sandy beach, a pier, and an old-school amusement park with rides.

Coney Island also has a minor league baseball park (Go Cyclones!) that we really enjoy. It’s cheaper than a major league game, the stadium is smaller, so you have a better view of the field, and there are fireworks after every game.

You can hang at the beach until 20 minutes before the first pitch, then saunter to your seats and sit in the sun with a beer and a hot dog.

Coney Island beach as seen from the Pier, NYC
Coney Island from the end of the Pier

Coney Island is famous for the Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest and the Mermaid Parade, but it’s fun (and slightly less crowded) on any nice day. Take the D, F, N, or Q subway to Stillwell Avenue.

There You Have It

In a place as complex and exciting as New York City, there’s always more to learn and more to explore. We hope this Explore NYC: A Beginner’s Guide to New York City has you inspired to jump into all that New York City has to offer!

Walking around for the day? Read The Complete Family Packing List for Day Packs or check out 22 Family Travel Tips: Best Tips for Travel with Kids.

Driving to New York City? Check out Road Trip Essentials: What to Pack for the Ultimate Road Trip for gear and supplies, 40+ Easy Road Trip Snacks for Kids & Toddlers to keep everyone fed, and 20+ Tips to Survive and Thrive on a Road Trip with Kids and Toddlers.