Hong Kong Moms love the kid-friendly, informative and interactive travel books Leap & Hop. We’ve followed the unique guidance through Southeast Asia (like Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar among them), Paris, even Hong Kong — and they never fail to provide fun and cultural experience for the whole family. Next stop? New York City! With the release of the latest guidebook, we’ve asked global guru Isabelle Demenge, the writer behind it all, to give us her unique (think main sites mixed with hidden gems), top tips for the Big Apple.
There is no trip to New York without a visit to the observatory on top of the Empire State Building. The views of the city are endless and on a clear day you can see up to five states. Of course, in the summer there are giant lines, so the best is to get the tickets in advance (you won’t have to get on that line) and to start early in the morning (it opens at 8). If you want to splurge and skip all the lines, you can opt for the VIP Express Pass online (kids under 6 get in for free). The tickets are not date specific but valid for one year so you have all the flexibility you need. We have a game in Leap & Hop New York with fun facts about the Empire State Building but you can also get the audio tour.
The Chrysler Building, a few blocks north from the Empire State Building, is very interesting for its lobby (with an amazing I-Spy game in Leap & Hop New York) but you can’t go up so if you’re in a hurry you can just take a quick look.
A few blocks south (10 short ones) from the Empire State Building is a very nice playground in Madison Square Park (not Garden). A perfect spot to let the smaller kids run around (they have sprinklers in the summer so bring a change of clothes). The famous Shake Shack is also there for a quick bite (delicious kid-size burgers among other things).
And then, to wrap it up with some brain stimulation, the math museum is just around the corner. It’s much better than it sounds. It’s a really cool place with all sorts of fun interactive stations for the kids.
Central Park: Sun Grazing, Story Telling and Bat Watching
If you’ve never been, you need to know that Central Park is a big park with tons of things to do. Like any park, there are many playgrounds, a carousel, a zoo (OK not every park has a zoo, but this is New York), a lake where you can row a boat, a smaller one for kid’s miniature sailboats, horse carriage rides and kids throwing and kicking balls everywhere.
What you might not know, is that there are also some pretty unique things about Central Park – and I’m not talking about the Quiz Walk in Leap & Hop New York:
In the summer, every Saturday between 11 and 12 noon in front of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen next to the Conservatory Water (East 72nd street) you can listen to stories (from Andersen and others) told by talented storytellers.
Another interesting activity is organized by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Forget star-gazing – actually no, you can do that as well with these guys – you can now observe the sun thanks to their super telescope equipped with all proper filters to protect your eyes against the bad rays. Once a month on Sundays, budding astronomers can join the group and try peaking at the sun for sunspots. It’s fun, it’s free and it’s unusual.
Lastly, if your kids are more interested in bats than in birds, the Audubon Society organizes bat watching tours at dusk in Central Park on Tuesdays starting July 19, 2016. It’s US$28 for non-members and you need to sign up in advance. You’ll have a chance to see bats in flight and get an explanation as to how they navigate at night with their echolocation system.
If you decide to take your children to the World Trade Center Memorial, you might want to make it an opportunity to talk about why we need memorials and why it’s important not to forget what happened (the good but also the bad). A few blocks away in Battery Park you’ll find a city block dedicated to the Irish Hunger that crippled Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It’s a little meadow with the remains of a typical Irish cottage and the plaques commemorating Irish families. There are many ways to commemorate something no one wants to forget and the Irish Hunger Memorial talk about current hunger issues around the world.
To relax and unwind after these heavy visits you can let the kids loose in the Elevated Acre, a public park located on a rooftop at 55 Water Street. Great vistas of the East River as bonus.
Street Art in the East Village
The East Village is famous for its street art. The scenery is constantly changing with new artists emerging all the time, even though you can still see a lot of work from Chico. You’ll find a street art scavenger hunt in Leap & Hop New York. If you want to explore more street art and feel adventurous you can take a street art guided tour in Brooklyn in Williamsburg or Bushwick with Street Art Walk.
Time capsule at the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side and Merchant’s House Museum in the East Village
The Tenement Museum is a jewel of a museum in the Lower East Side. A guided tour will take you and the kids back in time. This building was rediscovered in the 80s after being walled up for nearly 50 years. Book in advance one of their themed tours (this is the only way to see this place, you can’t visit the apartments on your own) and you’ll get a glimpse of the life of an immigrant family at the turn of the century. The apartments have been reconstructed with the help of archives and surviving relatives of the tenants and the guides tell you the story of the families who shared these walls. Every New York kid takes a tour in the museum at some point with the school. Generally the visit takes place during the same unit as the visit to Ellis Island.
While you are in the neighbourhood make sure to have a bite at Katz Delicatessen for some pastrami and corned beef. The deli has been in its present location since 1917!
If you’re in a time-traveling mood, you might also enjoy the Merchant’s House in the East Village. The townhouse, also preserved for almost a 100 years, used to be the home of a wealthy merchant at the end of the 19th century. There, you are free to walk around the rooms and you might even meet the ghost that is rumoured to haunt the place. Be sure to checkout the kitchen.
Obviously we’ve only scratched the surface of what New York has to offer to kids and their family. For more ideas and interactive games see our Leap & Hop New York.
Hong Kong Moms get a 20% discount on this new guide (until June 19th), with the code NYHKMOMS. And check out the 15% off Special Offer deal for the other Leap & Hop guide books.
Isabelle Demenge is Hong Kong-based, Paris-native, who has lived many lives: mother of three boys, banking and finance lawyer in a major international firm, world traveler, amateur photographer and writer. She enjoys family trips, photography, and travel writing. Facing the difficulties of traveling with small children in Cambodia, she decided to write for her kids the book that she was looking for.