With the 9/11 Museum now open at the World Trade Center, many families are thinking about making a visit to the museum the centerpiece of a Labor Day or early fall getaway to New York.
But nobody (okay, no sane body) then wants to slog uptown and brave the crowds and chaos of Times Square in search of family fun.
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Instead, parents can take advantage of all the family-friendly surprises that Lower Manhattan offers. There’s stuff for every taste, from educational to outdoorsy, all within walking distance, and much of it budget-friendly – even free.
First, check out the latest listings at TimeOut Kids, covering all of New York City, and FiDi Families, which focuses on Lower Manhattan. Then explore these 11 tips for a family trip centered on a visit to the 9/11 Museum:
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1. LEARN ABOUT 9/11. A visit to the 9/11 Museum should be the centerpiece of any trip to the Financial District. Reservations for the outdoor Memorial are no longer necessary, but the Museum requires a timed-entry ticket, so plan ahead. Extended summer hours through September 21; free admission Tuesday evenings. Before you go, download a copy of the Museum Guide for Families with Children. You may also want to check out my 8 Tips on How to Talk to Your Kids About 9-11.
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2. REACH FOR THE SKY. Budding young architects can admire the soaring lines of the new One World Trade Center Freedom Tower, rising 1,776 feet above the 9/11 Memorial. The nearby Skyscraper Museum celebrates tall buildings and hosts twice-monthly family programs with hands-on activities for kids.
3. GO ON SAFARI…IN NEW YORK CITY? Head a few blocks north for Sunday morning nature hikes at Hudson River Park WILD. No one expects to find a wildlife habitat in Manhattan. Nature guides will help you spot birds, butterflies, and critters that live in this oasis by the river.
4. GEORGE WASHINGTON SWORE HERE. Little history buffs will love exploring the original New Amsterdam. Prowl the cobbled alleys of the Stone Street Historic District. Stop by Federal Hall, where George Washington took the first oath of office as President. Pause for a breather at St. Paul’s Chapel (George Washington prayed here), the oldest church in Manhattan. Visit the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian (always free). Cap off the day at the Fraunces Tavern and Museum, a hotbed of intrigue during the American Revolution.
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5. GOT ANTS IN THE PANTS? Catch the ferry from Battery Park (just $2, and free on weekend mornings) to Governors Island. There you’ll find mini-golf, bike rentals, climbable sculptures, and just plain room to run. Moms and Dads will appreciate the 50 swinging hammocks in Hammock Grove.
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6. HIT THE HIGH SEAS. Cast off from the South Street Seaport and Museum and set sail on the Pioneer, an iron-hulled schooner from 1885. Landlubbers can still get the shipboard experience dockside at the Street of Ships. FiDi Families hosts free, fun activities for kids at the Front/Row Stage through August 28.
7. GET CREATIVE. The New Amsterdam branch of the New York Public Library holds Story Time for kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy hosts outdoor jams, art, storytelling, fishing days, chess for kids, and the popular “Play Outside” program.
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8. GO ISLAND HOPPING. Feel the wind in your hair on the Staten Island Ferry and take in amazing views of the Statue of Liberty without the crowds. Once across, a quick bus or cab ride brings you to the charming Staten Island Zoo, with pony rides, a petting zoo, and live animal demonstrations–perfect for families with small kids.
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9. THE BUCK STOPS HERE, HERE, AND HERE. Got a tycoon tyke in your brood? Then the Museum of American Finance is a must-see. Or take a guided Wall Street Walk through the greatest financial center in the world. The Downtown Culture Pass offers discounted admission to most of the top attractions in the Financial District.
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10. TAKE A TASTE OF THE ‘TOWN. They say an army moves on its stomach. Feed your army with a side trip to Chinatown. Try the soup dumplings at legendary Joe’s Shanghai, slurp down tapioca pearls at Vivi Bubble Tea, and top off the day with a scoop of black sesame or red bean ice cream at The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (where they also serve “exotic” flavors like vanilla and chocolate chip).
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11. CROSS OVER THE BRIDGE. Stroll across the majestic Brooklyn Bridge on the pedestrian promenade–or take the East River Ferry from Pier 11 (one stop to DUMBO). In Brooklyn Bridge Park, kids will love the Water Lab and Sandbox Village, while parents can enjoy spectacular waterfront views back to Manhattan. When you’ve built up an appetite, head for pizza at Grimaldi’s or splurge on the world famous chocolate at Jacques Torres.
There’s no reason a family trip to New York has to be defined by the Three Cs: chaos, crowds, and crying. A visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum can be the centerpiece of a Lower Manhattan getaway that’s meaningful, tasty, and fun.