Our first family trip to New York City combined hanging out with old friends who now live there with seeing the sights – there’s no half-term holiday in North America, so my children’s friends were in school in the daytime, while the big attractions were relatively quiet. It was also Halloween, and where better to celebrate that evil eve than in the States?!
We opted to rent an apartment in a fashionable, upscale part of Brooklyn – Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill – and by the end of the holiday we felt we could have spent a whole week simply discovering our lovely neighbourhood with all its parks, restaurants, bars and quirky shops. But armed with our money-saving Explorer Pass, we set out to discover all that New York has to offer by day, and to catch up with our friends in the evenings.
First up was a stroll from our apartment to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, offering full-on views of that iconic Lower Manhattan skyline across the water as well as play areas and a covered carousel. At the end of it lie plenty of places to refuel, including branches of Shake Shack and the iconic pizzeria Grimaldi’s, before you set out to cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan – a must-do and a prime selfie spot if the number of people with telescopic camera sticks is to be believed.
"Just about all New York neighbourhoods have fabulous, fantastical decorations,
including our own in Brooklyn, where entire brownstone facades were covered with elaborate spiders’ webs, full-size skeletons and scenes including elaborately carved pumpkins."
The Bridge takes you into the heart of lower Manhattan, not far from the 9/11 site. We didn’t visit the museum, but we spent some time at the memorial, which we found very moving and also a good opportunity to talk to the kids about events and issues they’d dimly heard about but couldn’t fully compute. From there it’s a short walk to the Staten Island Ferry – a famously free way to enjoy views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.
Other days out were just as busy. On one, we took the Roosevelt Tramway of Spiderman fame over the East River to Roosevelt Island and back, were squarely beaten by the ludicrously huge ice-cream sundaes in nearby Serendipity 3, and spent the afternoon in Central Park with its zoo, carousel, boating lake and ice rink, before refuelling on burritos in the East Village.
Another, we climbed the Empire State Building for more iconic views and then walked the length of the High Line, a plant-lined walkway on a former elevated railway track, before enjoying classic American dishes at Bubby’s Diner. The next day, we feasted on some of the all-day breakfast pancakes at the institution that is Sarabeth’s Central Park South then spent several hours exploring new technology at the free Sony Wonder Lab nearby. Afterwards, we hunted out the incredible Evolution Store of natural history collectables in SoHo, leaving with treasures including a mink’s skull.
Which brings us to Halloween – a big, big deal in NYC. Just about everyone dresses up and the subway and streets are filled with children and adults in the most outrageous of outfits. We decided against the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, having heard that it gets very wild and even out of hand, in favour of trick or treating in the East Village where our friends live. Just about all New York neighbourhoods have fabulous, fantastical decorations, including our own in Brooklyn, where entire brownstone facades were covered with elaborate spiders’ webs, full-size skeletons and scenes including elaborately carved pumpkins. Many also have haunted houses in old warehouses and other disused spaces.
We headed out to the Bronx from the sublime Grand Central Station and used our Explorer Passes to visit the New York Botanical Garden. This is a splendid day out at any time of year, with its Everett Children's Adventure Garden, Thain Family Forest and mini-train. At Halloween it’s also the setting for the wonderful Haunted Pumpkin Garden, where you can follow a trail of spooky gourds half-hidden amidst the plant life, play in a puppet theatre, clamber on giant specimens and ogle the likes of zombies created from outsize pumpkins by ‘master carver’ Ray Villafan.
Read more on things to do with kids in New York City.