Help me plan my stay in NYC this summer with kids (Please)
May 12, 2019 1:42 PM   Subscribe

What area of NYC should we stay in? What's the best way to get from the airport to the hotel? Is there anything I should consider about where to rent a car from? (That last one seems like an odd question but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Our plan is to get a car and leave the evening of the last day, drive south for 3 or so hours and get a hotel and then do the rest of the trip.)

We go back to visit my family every other summer and now the kids are old enough to want to see some other places in the US so we decided to fly to NYC, stay for 4 days and then rent a car and drive to Carolina.

The kids are between 7 and 10 and I think we'll do some of of the "standard" stuff recommended in other older NYC tourist threads.

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the options.
posted by Spumante to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on what airport you’re flying into, and what day you’re arriving/leaving.
posted by lyssabee at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2019

What's the best way to get from the airport to the hotel?

Are you looking to do it cheaply or easily? And which airport are you flying into?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2019

Response by poster: The airport is JFK on a late Friday evening.
I guess whatever the appropriate balance of safe easy and cheap-ish is.
posted by Spumante at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2019

Best answer: I'm not sure how familiar you are with NYC. If you don't already know your way around, I would suggest a weekly Metrocard for each person. If you take three trips on each of your four days, you'll break even. And note that if you don't know your way around, you'll waste at least a few swipes by going into the uptown instead of downtown side or getting off at the wrong stop or something.

Once you commit to taking public transit around, you can look up the subway stops nearest the places you want to visit, figure out which lines you'll take most often, and pick a hotel near a stop on one of those lines near your destinations.

As for getting from the airport, strongly recommend the subway. It's a hot mess right now, but driving in NYC on Friday night is incomparably worse.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:26 PM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: How familiar I am with NYC = what I’ve seen in the movies...
posted by Spumante at 2:30 PM on May 12, 2019

+1 for subway! I second everything meaty shoe puppet says.
posted by ferret branca at 2:31 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

In that case, you might even consider a car from somewhere outside the city, like Newark airport, and take the train out to the rental lot. I know a few people who drive in other places (Seattle, Chicago, Ohio, even upstate New York) who refuse to drive in New York because apparently New York drivers are somehow uniquely aggressive and stressful. Bonus: you'll probably save enough on the rental to make up for the extra train tickets.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:50 PM on May 12, 2019

amtrak has direct trains from penn station to several cities in the Carolinas
posted by brujita at 2:55 PM on May 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

Agreeing with the above about not renting a car for your NYC part of the trip, save that until you depart to drive down to the Carolinas.

Can you clarify: For the second part of the trip, are you flying back home from the Carolinas? If so, then your car rental is one way, so your drop off location would be wherever you're flying home.

PS: Since you'll be driving south through New Jersey to get there, might I suggest you avoid the Turnpike (fast, but boring) and take your car down through NJ to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry? It takes you from NJ's southern tip over the Delaware River to a town in the southern part of Delaware, and from there it's only a 30 minute ride to the Virginia border. That way half your ride's already done and you get a nice ferry voyage out of it. It won't save you driving time (I've done the trip myself using the ferry and not using the ferry, same length) but it means that you and the family can relax for some of the journey.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 3:10 PM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My usual advice for visitors who've never been to NYC is to stay in Manhattan, but there are areas in other boroughs (and across the river in Jersey City) that are perfectly fine, with easy transport links and possibly less expensive lodging.

For solo travelers arriving at JFK I usually recommend taking the train into Manhattan, but for families with kids just after a long flight it might be easier to take a taxi or rideshare. Taxis from JFK to any destination in Manhattan charge a flat fare of $52 plus tip and there's an additional $4.50 surcharge during peak hours. The flat rate does not apply if your destination is in a different borough and doesn't apply at all to Uber or other rideshares.

For getting around town, I strongly endorse taking the subway (or the bus! - it's not hard to figure out with Google Maps or an app like Citymapper). You may also find that - depending on where you're staying - you'll be able to walk to many places quite easily. I know young kids can complicate things, but since it seems like you're coming from Amsterdam I'd guess that walking isn't an alien concept.

As far as picking up a car on your last evening, there are rental locations all over the city. Once you've determined where you'll be staying I recommend checking out booking sites like or and specifying your search area based on the address of your lodging. A lot of those booking sites default to airport pickups, so make sure you're seeing city locations as well. Driving out of the city between 4pm and 8pm will take a long time, but at least you don't have to pay a toll going through one of the Hudson River tunnels heading out of Manhattan. Have you considered taking Amtrak to wherever you're going in the Carolinas?

[on preview: I agree with meaty shoe puppet that it's often sensible logistics-wise to pick up a car outside Manhattan, especially if you're driving west or south. A lot of people take the PATH train over to Jersey City or Newark to get a rental.]

I love helping visitors with travel advice (I've received so much help from others in my travels), so feel free to send me a MeMail if you have more detailed questions!
posted by theory at 3:14 PM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If your schedule allows for it, consider taking the bus/train (Amtrak's Northeast Corridor or Megabus) from NYC to DC and spending a day or so there (DC's Union Station is within walking distance of the Capitol building and several Smithsonian museums) before picking up the car and driving farther south. The NJ Turnpike and 95-South are hellscapes and taking transit would allow you to miss most of the terrible drive. It will still be awful between DC and Fredericksburg, but that's only about an hour of sitting in traffic instead of five.
posted by basalganglia at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

If it's your first visit, I'd say just stay in Midtown.

The drive from NYC to DC isn't anything special unless you like potholes and fast food. I-95 from DC down to the Carolinas is just flat and boring (and more potholes). If you're going to western NC, the trip down I-81 parallels Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, there's some nice scenery. But there are a lot of trucks and it's not exactly relaxing, either.

You could take a Boltbus/Megabus to Wilmington DE, rent a car and go down the Cape May route, as Pluto Gangsta recommended. Probably a little out of the way, but more interesting than the I-95 slugfest.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:31 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've investigated the one way car rental to the Carolinas and it was very expensive - so make sure that works in the context of your budget.

How to get from the airport to where you are staying is a function of where you are, what time you need to travel, and what your kids will be like. Summer Fridays are pretty hellish tho, so mass transit is best if you will be leaving the airport before 8 or so unless your kids are really bad travellers. Mass transit will take two forms - airtrain + Subway or airtrain + LIRR - which one is best for you again is a function of location.
posted by JPD at 4:35 PM on May 12, 2019

Taxis from JFK to any destination in Manhattan charge a flat fare of $52 plus tip and there's an additional $4.50 surcharge during peak hours.

Note that most trips into Manhattan will also involve the use of a tolled bridge, adding a little over $6 to your fare. Nonetheless, with younger kids I'd be more inclined to get a cab than take the train, which involves a little transfer early on and can take quite a while.

Wherever you stay, please remember that the vast majority of AirBNB rentals in Manhattan are illegal and do not contribute to the housing crisis in this city during your visit.
posted by praemunire at 4:56 PM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: By default I recommend visitors stay around Union Square. It's centrally-located transit-wise, and it's bustling but not crazy like Times Square. It's also more human-scaled, IMO - there are sidewalk patios, the streets are smaller, and the buildings are more eclectic. You'll also be close to all the great food options in West and East Village, LES, and Chinatown. Do take an evening to just get an ice cream cone and stroll around.

When renting the car to go to the Carolinas, consider renting from NJ (Hoboken and Jersey City are both just a PATH stop away) instead of Manhattan. This way, you can avoid the tunnels (I've spent literally an hour waiting to get into the Holland Tunnel before).
posted by airmail at 5:02 PM on May 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

Definitely hit up the museum of the moving image in queens. The Jim Henson exhibit is spectacular
posted by wowenthusiast at 5:41 PM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you can manage it the airtrain from JFK to the LIRR is the absolute fastest way into Manhattan although for a family of four you'd be shelling out about the same amount of money as for a cab. The LIRR Jamaica to Penn Station will only take you 30 minutes compared to an 1.5 hour subway or if you catch traffic cab ride. There is some unintuitive weirdness with having to by a 5 dollar airtrain ticket to swipe out of the airport and then a separate ticket for the LIRR, but in my opinion it's the fastest most reliable way to get from midtown to JFK and it's what I use for all my business travel.
posted by edbles at 5:41 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

A tip about the MetroCard machines: if you pay by card, it'll ask you for your zip code. If you're not using an American card, just enter 00000.

How to tell if a yellow cab is available (image)
posted by airmail at 6:02 PM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's worth taking a taxi from the airport and staying in Manhattan somewhere between Union Square and Midtown. With kids that age, I find it nice to be able to stop back into my hotel readily for a break during the day. If you go with somewhere far flung, you'll either be out all day and exhausted or get home early and not want to go out again. There are some budget-ish hotels in NYC in that general area - e.g., your standard Hilton Garden Inn chains - and sometimes you can get lucky on price. I'd start searching on Kayak and Hotwire and see what you find if you search geographically limiting yourself to that area. Do look at reviews - there are some dive hotels in the area as well that you want to avoid, but that should be pretty clear.

I reiterate the advice to look into the one-way car rental price in advance. If you're coming from Europe where the price is reasonable, it can be SHOCKING in the U.S. And car rentals out of NYC are particularly insane. If the drive itself is not important to you, a train or even a plane could be cheaper for your family than the one way car rental - I'm not kidding.

While you didn't ask, I recently took a friend and his family with kids around the same age as yours to the Ninja restaurant in Tribeca and they LOVED it. Highly recommend for kids. They also loved seeing a broadway show - I believe they saw Frozen, but there are a lot of great options for kids that age that adults will enjoy too. Both are pricey recs, I'll admit. They also loved renting bikes and cycling around the main path in Central Park and picnicking in the grass.
posted by slide at 7:04 PM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

They also loved renting bikes

Another FYI, Citibike is technically only for 16+. Now no one's monitoring that when you rent, and I've never seen anyone actually enforcing it, but you might care.
posted by praemunire at 8:03 PM on May 12, 2019

Oh! If you're coming from Amsterdam, note that biking in New York is measurably more dangerous. Our streets are not designed for cyclists, motorists and police will be actively hostile, and emergency medical care can be literally ruinous. Which is not to say that you can't ride a bike here (I did daily for years) but I would hate for you to think you were engaging in something with comparable risk/reward profile to Amsterdam cycling.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:52 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, this is all very helpful. I'm happy to drive in cities but I didn't really consider traffic jams.

We're flying back from DC so the idea of taking the train there and then getting a car is really nice.

When I looked, the one way rental only seemed to add 100 to the price....i'll look a bit closer.

Yeah, no way I'm biking around with the kids in NYC :)
posted by Spumante at 2:53 AM on May 13, 2019

Although if you wanted to bike, Central Park is car free and so is the bike path all the way up the West Side of Manhattan along the Hudson, and you could rent bikes either place.
posted by LizardBreath at 3:12 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Notes on trains to DC: they come in two varieties. The Acela is the closest thing to a modern train that we have in the US. It's faster, and has newer rolling stock, though it's coming to the end of it's useful life. The alternate are the "regional" trains which are slower and cheaper. The rolling stock is.. not new. The point of my comment is that the regional trains are totally doable. Mostly they just take an extra hour.

These trains leave from Penn Station.

In most places, the sightseeing value is negligible. There are some good views along the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not saying you need to stay in Midtown, but if you do, a couple hotels that I've heard are good for families are TRYP by Wyndham Times Square South and EVEN Hotel New York Times Square South. I think some of the rooms at TRYP have bunkbeds for the kids. Both hotels are on the same block of 35th Street and are not actually in Times Square (fortunately).

That area isn't the most attractive or interesting part of the city, but nowhere in Midtown really is. There are a ton of hotels around there, though, which is why so many people end up staying there. It does have the benefit of being just a few minutes walk from Penn Station if you do end up taking Amtrak to D.C. You'd also have easy access to several major subway lines.

I hope you are able to enjoy the food in many other areas of the city, but if you have to eat in Midtown some of your best options will be in Korea Town, which is roughly 31st-33rd Streets between Broadway and Madison Avenue. I was just at Dons Bogam for a birthday dinner and it's very family friendly.
posted by theory at 1:02 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi all, I thought I'd reply with what we went with and how it turned out.

We ended up ordering/pre-paying for a taxi (it was a big minivan) to pick us up and bring us to the hotel. With the time of night and the 3 kids I figured a traffic jam would be better than the metro. Turns out there was NO traffic. Would do this again. (as an aside, yeah, it was was a Friday but, really, it was quiet. It was also supposed to be a super busy day (there were warnings on the news) at Amsterdam/Schiphol airport but it was also pretty quiet there). The way the car worked is we ordered it a few weeks ahead of time (probably not needed) and the day before we called and confirmed. Then when we landed and got our luggage we called a number said we were there. They told us where to wait and 10 minutes later the guy showed up. Paid the toll and tip separately.

We got a hotel on Broadway about halfway down central park. It was half a block from the metro. This turned out to be perfect. It was way cheaper than the brand name hotels in Midtown but half the price. The room was small (but the 5 of us fit :), it was clean, safe and friendly. Free wifi and the AC was fine :)

We ended up getting four 7 day metro passes (youngest kid rode free). This was great advice. The kids loved the metro and it was great not to have to worry about worrying/spending time buying individual cards. When getting the card, I talked to the Metro person in the ticket office....she couldn't sell me the cards and told me I had to use the machine...but I could only buy two cards with one credit card. Luckily my wife and I both had one. Weird. Also, the MTA website said to use 99999 for the zip code. (we considered the get on/off tour buses but in the end it seemed to expensive/slow)

On the 1st metro ride down to Times Square the local couple next to us mentioned the app "TodayTix" for buying tickets to musicals. We walked up to look at the Tickets Booth and got roped into talking to someone selling tickets who brought us across the street to a vendor. We left and downloaded the app. It's low pressure, you can take your time and worked great. You show up to the show and someone is outside waiting with your tickets (we saw Beetlejuice, it was fun. This was our big splurge. We didn't go up to any Observation areas.)

There's a big T-Mobile store on time square, we bought two 3 week sim cards with 10 gigs of data. (everything seemed closed when we left the hotel)

The Staten Island ferry was also great (and FREE!). I was also glad I read their webpage...which confirmed that it's free. As you are walking up there's all these people selling "tickets". It would have been very confusing if you didn't KNOW the ferry was free.
We got Carvel Ice Cream in Staten Island. Kids loved it but it's just softserve. It must have been better in the good ol' days.

Battery Park was relaxing. There's a Nederlands Monument there :) This is where we discovered that there are water fountains for the kids to play in at most of the playgrounds. The next day we brought swimming trunks with us for the kids. (We ended up stopping and taking breaks at the playgrounds multiple times a day....)

On the day we left we took the metro to Brooklyn, ate breakfast at a deli and just walked around the shorefront and then walked back on the Brooklyn bridge. That was a nice experience.

The suggestion to take the train out of NYC was perfect. After 4 days of walking around we were pretty tired. 30 minutes into the ride we all fell asleep. Penn station is weird though. We took the metro there and sorta got lost finding it. It doesn't look like a train station. Then we were waiting around looking at the screens.....eventually we asked someone and they said, "oh amtrack, they have their own area." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We spent a night in Arlington, took the hotel shuttle to Reagan to pick up a car, did the rest of our trip in NC, came back to Arlington and saw DC for a couple of nights. We flew out of Dulles so saw the Chantilly Air and Space Museum (which is down the road). That was incredible. There are free guided tours at 10:30 and 1!. Dropping the car off at a different airport didn't seem any more expensive.

In conclusion.

Thanks for all of the advice!

Check the web pages of things before hand...they're oddly informative :)

Central Park is awesome. ( The Met is great but show up at 10am, it got busy. The view from the Roof Cafe was nice but they were just selling ice cream(no food) so that was disappointing.)

I love NYC bagels.

We went to the Manhatten Diner twice. (it was next to our hotel). Once for breakfast and once for dessert. That was a hit. Cheese cake, Chocolate cake and milk shakes. The place and people and felt like a stereotypical experience.

Oh, not NYC but Washington DC your congressperson and ask for a tour of the US Capital. (I thought it would be a big tour group but it was just us going to his office and then an intern showing the 5 of us around. Sure, they do it a lot but it felt special.)
posted by Spumante at 4:56 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

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