10 Best Things To Do in Manhattan with Teens

I’m Nicole Hunter, and I’m passionate about authentic adventure travel. I believe that people and relationships grow through unique, authentic travel that digs deeper and goes further. Find out more

Planning a holiday with teenagers can be tricky. They have their own interests that don’t always align with yours. In addition, they normally have very strong opinions about things when they don’t like or want to do something. Thankfully, Manhattan is one of the few places in the world where, without much effort, you can easily find many activities, attractions, excursions, food and award winning shows that will satisfy everyone. Quite honestly, it will not be “Is there anything that we can do?” but “How in the world do we choose?”

Unfortunately, New York is an expensive destination, although there are lots of free things to do. If you plan things right, you might be able to save a few dollars here and there, splash out on a few memorable experiences, and become a pretty cool parent in the process. 

Here are 10 of the best things to do in Manhattan with teens. They include an excellent mixture of fun, interesting, and inspiring activities. Some are free, while others are very much worth the cost. By the time you leave New York City, you will feel that you saw both the most popular and significant sites, but also had a few unique and off-the-beaten-path experiences. 

Table of Contents

See New York From Above From The Empire State Building

Empire State Building, NYC
Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is one of the most significant symbols of New York. Built in 1930, this art deco skyscraper was intended to be the world’s first 100 story building. Today, it is a functional office building until you reach the 86th and 102nd floors where you will find exhibits and observation decks with unbelievable views of New York City.

Way To Save Money: Purchase tickets for the 86th floor and skip the lines. You might be tempted to purchase tickets that also include the 102nd floor. However, the cost of the tickets are almost double in price and the views are not that much better. There are better ways to spend your money in Manhattan.

Explore Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, NYC
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

There is something otherworldly about seeing the Statue of Liberty in person. This magnificent statue sits on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Nearby is Ellis Island and the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Both are part of the National Park System and are accessed by ferry.

Purchase a tour of Liberty and Ellis Islands, and their museums, and skip what are normally enormous lines at Battery Park for the ferries to them. 

Please be aware, if you want to climb up to the Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, you must purchase separate tickets from Statue City Cruises, the only official vendor. Be aware that the tickets are very limited and sell out months in advance. 

Way To Save Money: Take a free ferry to Staten Island where you will pass the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Although you won’t step onto the islands, seeing them and the New York City skyline from a different vantage point is fantastic. However, avoid this ferry during rush hour when residents of Staten Island are leaving or returning from work. 

Bike Around Central Park

Central Park, NYC
Central Park

Central Park is a 843 acres park in Manhattan. If you visit in late spring, summer or early fall, one of the most moderately priced and best things you can do is rent a bike and explore. Cars are no longer allowed in the Park, so the paved roadway is an inviting path that easily allows you to explore the whole park at your leisure.

Make sure you hop off and see Strawberry Fields, the mosaic honoring John Lennon and Bethesda Fountain, one of the most iconic fountains in the world, featured in countless movies and TV shows based in New York City.

Way to Spend Money: Take a private horse drawn carriage ride. This is an extravagant experience but a very special one. A horse drawn carriage ride is a fairy tale experience no matter what age you are. Your teenager will remember it forever.

Go To The Museum Of Illusions 

Located in the West Village is the Museum of Illusions. This small museum will confuse and amaze you with its interactive exhibits challenging your sense of sight and balance. It teaches you how the human brain perceives reality all the while entertaining you. With tons of instagrammable moments, your teen will delight in snapping those optical illusions. Make sure you purchase your online time-stamped ticket far in advance. Family rates are offered which makes this a reasonably priced activity in Manhattan.

Take The Subway

New York city Subway
New York city Subway

The New York City subway is 150 years old and goes almost everywhere. It is an inexpensive, safe and quick way to get across Manhattan to see all the attractions. It is also where you are going to see real New York City residents living their real life. 

This experience is gritty. The subways and subway stations are old and often dirty. Most of the time, you will share the subway with everyday people living their life, but you will also see tons of street performers in the stations, and even some that will hop onto your subway car to perform for a stop or two. It is amazing people watching and your teenagers will love it.

Become A Spy

Spy Museum, NYC
Spy Museum

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be a spy, then look no further than the fantastic interactive Spyscape Museum. This adventure puts you into the world of secrets where you will dodge lasers, break codes, and catch liars. It is a great indoor option for those days when it is too cold or hot to explore outside. Purchase online time-stamped tickets and see which of you could lead a double life.

Go To Times Square

Times Square, NYC
Times Square

Times Square is another landmark that symbolizes New York. Located over 5 blocks in Midtown Manhattan, this urban mecca of shops, jumbo-trons, lights, noise, outdoor sculptures, art installations, and masses and masses of people screams New York. It is busy, chaotic, loud and bright. You step outside into the streets and are immediately enveloped by it all. It is free and crazy, and your teen will love it. Broadway shows and theaters are located nearby so in addition to visiting Times Square during the day, swing by at night before or after a show to get the full experience.

Pay Your Respects At The 911 Memorial And Museum

9/11 Memorial, NYC
9/11 Memorial

On September 11, 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City collapsed after terrorists deliberately flew planes into each of them. Almost 3,000 people were killed as a result of these and other attacks across the country on that day. Today, a memorial comprising two enormous pools sit exactly where each tower once stood — the names of each victim etched into the bronze surrounds — surrounded by eight acres with trees, benches and other public spaces open to everyone.

The Museum sits next to the Memorial. This stunning building is filled with captivating exhibits that take visitors through the events of the attack. It is a fascinating and somber experience.

The Memorial is free but make sure you purchase your online time-stamped entry ticket to the Museum far in advance. For the amount of time that you will spend at the Museum and Memorial, and the experiences that you and your teen will have, this is a very well priced activity. 

Walk The Highline

The Highline, NYC
The Highline

The Highline is a 1.45 mile long elevated park and greenway developed on a former New York Central Railroad spur located in Manhattan’s West side. It offers beautiful gardens, funky art installations, food stands and cool views along the way. There are several access points in case you don’t want to walk the whole line. Make sure you check out the website for upcoming events, free tours, and stargazing, among other things.

This is a free activity. However, the tempting food stands and the fantastic shopping available near the Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District (at one end of the High Line) and in the new Hudson Mall in Hudson Yards, may make this “free” attraction very expensive.

Climb Up “The Vessel”

The Vessel, NYC
The Vessel

The Vessel is an interactive piece of artwork comprising 154 interconnected open flights of stairs with 80 landings. It is located in Hudson Yards at the end of the Highline. Visitors climb and gain “new perspectives of the city and one another from different heights, angles and vantage points.” It offers astonishing views of the city and the river. 

Teens love this experience. You walk up the stairs without a clear sense of the “right direction”, feeling suspended above the ground within the structure. It is thrilling but not for anyone that is afraid of heights. 

It is free, but tickets are required. They are issued on a first come first serve basis. Accordingly, to avoid a long wait, arrive before noon.

Last Word

There are an extraordinary number of amazing activities to do with teens in Manhattan. With little effort, you can create an itinerary filled with exciting events that will capture your teen’s attention. Some attractions are free while others are reasonably priced in light of the experience that is offered. A visit to New York with your teen will be an amazing time for both of you.

I’m Nicole Hunter, and I’m passionate about authentic adventure travel. I believe that people and relationships grow through unique, authentic travel that digs deeper and goes further. I hope to ignite fearless discovery and heart-opening exploration, while at the same time, encouraging respect for the world, leaving a small footprint. Follow my adventures on Go Far Grow Close.

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