Getting to New York as a family
We flew to New York as a family from Heathrow Terminal 3. There are a few airlines that fly non-stop from there to New York. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Air France and KLM. We flew outbound with American Airlines and inbound with British Airways after checking Skyscanner for the best current deals on flights.
We try to book flights which depart early in the morning to make the most of the day at the other end. For this reason we usually stay at an airport hotel the night before our flights. This way, we start our travels a day early and make sure we are close to the terminal for departure.
The night before our flight we stayed at the Holiday Inn M4 J4. Just off the motorway, the hotel is very convenient. We booked through Holiday Extras and paid £96 including 7 days parking and return Hoppa Tickets to the airport. We liked the fact that you park your car yourself and keep your keys. Breakfast wasn’t available to pre-book but we were able to pay at the hotel and it cost £24 for all four of us.
In our experience Holiday Extras offer unbeatable value for pre-flight accommodation, parking and transfers. We have no hesitation using them and you can also book extras such as airport lounges.
Timing can make a huge difference when you book with Holiday Extras. We have found prices changing significantly over a six week period, sometimes saving as much as 33%.
Transfer to Terminal
We used the Heathrow Hoppa bus for our transfer to the Airport as we usually do. The buses can get quite full, but it is an efficient service which runs regularly from outside the hotel.
You can get a taxi to and from the terminal which cost approximately £12-£15 each way. The Hoppa cost £11 per adult for a return ticket (when bought in advance) with children under 15 travelling free.
From the Holiday Inn to Terminal 3 you need to get Bus H1. It takes approximately 20 – 30 minutes and runs from 4.42 a.m. to 11.47 p.m. Buses run every 20- 30 minutes to Terminal 3. Remember to ask your driver where your bus departs from for your return journey as signs for the buses/stops have been an issue for us in the past.
The flight to New York takes 7 hours 55 minutes. We hadn’t flown with American Airlines before but found the flight to New York as a family comfortable and the crew good. There was plenty of entertainment to choose from and we enjoyed the food and drink. We found that security was extremely robust on this flight. We had checked in online but one of us was unable to print off a boarding card at home. Although there was no issue doing this at the airport, we were asked some security questions at that time. Prior to boarding we saw many passengers being searched again. We found this to be different than other airlines we have flown with but also quite reassuring.
Transfer from Airport
We flew into John F Kennedy airport in New York. There are two other airports serving New York City. Newark and La Guardia. John F Kennedy airport is approximately 26 km from New York City Centre. Transfer time to the city centre depends on which way you choose to travel to your Hotel. In normal traffic it will take 45 minutes by car. A yellow cab will cost around £50. You can also use the subway which you can get to by using the AirTrain at JFK. A cheaper option is to travel by bus but will take longer.
As we travelled to New York as a family of four we decided to transfer by the iconic yellow cab. The cabs charge a flat fee before tip and tolls of $52.
We always transfer by cab. They are easy to find and the journey to the city centre allows you to take in the Manhattan skyline. You also get dropped at the door of your hotel.
Where we stayed in New York as a family
Before we went, we did a fair bit of research on where to stay in New York as a family. We wanted to be close Central Park and Fifth Avenue, but somewhere quieter than Times Square.
Fairly early on we decided we wanted to stay at the Intercontinental New York Barclay for a number of reasons. It ticked the boxes in relation to the location, being close to Fifth Avenue and Grand Central Station. The hotel also has great heritage and history and was the residence of Ernest Hemmingway when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. We were not disappointed with our choice.
The Barclay has an opulent feel throughout. The lobby and rooms are very well designed and decorated and staff were friendly and informative. Our room had two double beds and both were very comfortable. We booked the hotel through booking.com
When we went to New York as a family
A year-round destination we chose to visit New York as a family in February. It’s one of the cheapest times to visit but can be cold although we had great weather. Temperatures reached 21 degrees on one of the days. It was dry and mild to warm except for one day which was misty. We didn’t find any need for the thermals we had brought!
How we got around
Where we could, we explored New York as a family by foot. We think this is the best way to see most cities. Especially where they are compact enough to do so. This guidebook helped with the planning.
In our opinion New York City is one of the easiest in the world to navigate. This is because it’s streets and avenues are built on a grid system. Streets run East-West from 1st to 228th and Avenues run North-South 1 to 11 although some are named instead of numbered.
We did buy tickets for the Big Bus Tour, choosing the 2-day Deluxe ticket online before we went. This included a night tour, entry to the Museum of the City of New York, 1-hour free bike hire from Blazing Saddles and tickets for the Empire State Building. This did turn out to be good value for money and cost $284.40 (£214.12) for four. Entry to the Empire State Building alone would have cost us $142.
You have to visit the Big Bus Tour office in Times Square to collect the tickets and validate the 48 hour pass. We arrived at the office just before 3 p.m. and had our tickets validated. Unfortunately had we got there after 3 p.m. the tickets would have been valid for a whole 48 hours but the tickets only provided us with transport for the rest of that first day and the following day.
We used the subway to travel to Battery Park and tickets were easy to buy at the station. It was a tight squeeze on the subway station as we had to travel at rush hour. However, it offered the chance to interact with some of New York’s commuters who we found very friendly and helpful.
We found the subway easy to navigate, straightforward and not dissimilar to the London Underground system. For us it was another opportunity to get a real sense of how this city works. It was also efficient and well-maintained.
We have used the Staten Island Ferry in the past. It’s warm, free and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty without going to Liberty Island.
Money in New York
The currency of New York is the US Dollar. At the time of our travel the exchange rate was $1.35 to 1GBP and we got ours from the Post Office. We found that cards and cash were widely accepted.
New York may be a little more expensive than the UK but we like to sample as much street food as we can and this option turned out to be quite good value. We got breakfast for $5 each. A three course meal at Trump Towers came to $28 per adult which we thought was very reasonable.
Entry to the Empire State Building was $37 for an adult and $31 for a child. Ferry and entry tickets to the Crown of the State of Liberty (and also Ellis Island) for 3 adults and one child totalled £104.50 which we thought was amazing value for such an iconic and interesting place.
We got in to the Natural History Musuem for free as we arrived after 4.30 in the afternoon. Admission to the Musuem is $23 for an adult, seniors and students $3 and children 2 – 12 $13. There are loads of things to do for free in New York as a family such as strolling through China Town, Little Italy or Central Park.
Food and Drink in New York
We enjoyed everything we ate in New York. Trying as much of the local cuisine as we can is a big part of the experience for us. We wanted to sample hot dogs on the street, Pizza and Doughnuts.
Having opted to stay on 48th Street we were really fortunate to come across Mama Jo’s Breakfast Cart. Serving breakfast from about 4.30 a.m. for New York commuters, the breakfast special deal was an egg roll (which could include bacon or sausage), a doughnut (or pastry for a little extra) and a coffee or orange juice all for just $5. We’d grab a few of these and take them back to the hotel room. As well as the money it also saved us a lot of time which is pretty important when visiting NYC.
There are small street vendors, coffee shops and bakeries all over the city. As this a tourist hot-spot some can be quite expensive and sometimes do not list their prices so take heed.
We did see a very disgruntled American lady buy an ice-cream cone from a vendor at Central Park who was charging $10. She was not happy. We got ice-cream for $5 each further along the Park.
We had Pizza from 2 Bros Pizza, a small independent chain of take out pizzerias. There’s no frills here but the deals were amazing and the pizza was delicious. Many construction and office workers as well as Police Officers eat here so you know it’s going to be good. You can buy pizza by the slice or as a whole.
We went to Little Italy with the intention of having lunch but Instead had coffee and cake from a Patisserie. This was, we thought, overpriced but very nice just the same.
We had a table service meal at Trump Towers Grill and really enjoyed the whole experience here. From the security at the main door, to the restaurant staff to the Trump Campaign Store.
The restaurant served a set menu (with a choice of three starters and mains) for $28 per adult. A kids pasta dish was $12. We plumped for Brownies as our desert. All in all our meal and drinks came to $108.29 excluding gratuity. We though this was a great price for a 3-course meal for 4 on 5th Ave.
What we did in New York as a family
Manhattan is fairly compact and we got around locally several times during our visit. Our favourite spots in New York were around the Rockefeller Centre, Fifth Avenue and Central Park.
Empire State Building
Arriving in New York at lunch time we checked into our hotel and got ourselves straight over to Times Square to collect our Big Bus Tour Tickets. Directly from here we made our way straight to the Empire State Building where we were delighted to find no queue! It took us less than 15 minutes from the sidewalk, through security and admission gate, to reach the top in the elevator. It’s a great time to go to get the views in day light, at sunset and at night. We can highly recommend this.
Admission to the Empire State Building was $37 for adults and $31 for children. You can also take in the sights of New York from the Rockefeller Centre and the One World Observatory.
We took the Big Bus from Fifth Avenue down through Greenwich Village and Soho, walked through Little Italy and Chinatown and down through City Hall Park to Brooklyn Bridge. It was very quiet at the City Hall Park and the buildings were very interesting. We also took a stroll along Brooklyn Bridge.
At over 840 acres Central Park is huge. It is open every day at 6 a.m. and closes at 1 a.m.
Whilst we walked a lot through Central Park, having looked at the map we realised that we hadn’t covered a third of it. We saw plenty of people on the Ice Skating Rink, played a game of Checkers in the Chess and Checkers House and visited the Alice in Wonderland statue. There is so much to see in Central Park that you really are spoilt for choice. You need a lot of time to see it all.
American Museum of Natural History
The museum is made up of Halls dedicated to exhibitions on Earth and Space, Fossils, Animals, Environment, Human and Culture and Temporary Exhibitions.
We’d read that during the late afternoon there does appear to be a more relaxed approach to admission charging. It was around 4.30 in the afternoon when we visited and we got in for free.
Even if you do not like shopping, Fifth Avenue is still very interesting. Most of the world’s biggest brands have their flagship store here. We spent several hours in the Microsoft Store alone! There are plenty of interactive experiences here. You can go on a treasure hunt and learn plenty.
Nintendo New York, in Rockefeller Plaza just off Fifth Avenue, was, at the time we visited, the only Nintendo store on the planet. It sells video games and merchandise including clothing exclusive to the store. You have the opportunity of playing games on massive screens and there is also a display of Nintendo game systems from the past. We spent a lot of time here too!
Fifth is home to the original Tiffany’s store. It’s worth a look around, even if just for the history. There’s an Apple Store at the junction of Fifth Avenue and Central Park opposite the Plaza Hotel.
Trump Towers is also on Fifth Avenue. As this was, at the time of our visit, the New York residence of the US President security was tight. There was airport style security at the entrance and armed Police. Within Trump Towers there’s a coffee shop and ice cream parlour, Grill, and souvenir shop.
Central Park, the Plaza Hotel and Rockefeller Centre are all within a stone’s throw from here.
Bryant Park is a small green space near the foot of the Empire State Building just off Fifth Avenue. You can skate, sit or play table tennis here. There’s also a great cafe where you can get a hot drink.
Statue of Liberty
We managed to book tickets for the Statue of Liberty which gave us access to the crown. Visitor numbers are limited so if you are planning on doing this book as soon as possible.
Our tickets included the ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island and entry to the Crown. Adult tickets were $21.40 and Children $12.00. When booking it was necessary to choose a time slot and prior to boarding the ferry there are security checks. All Adults also needed to present Passports for entry. Liberty Island is well maintained (although when we visited there was building work being carried out) and has a café, gift and book store. We weren’t allowed to take any bags in to the Statue but there were lockers available for a fee. Access to the crown is strenuous and children cannot be carried. Inside the statue is a one way metal circular staircase which is quite claustrophobic.
But the memory of standing in Liberty’s crown looking across the Hudson to Manhattan is never forgotten. It’s an amazing experience.
On the way back to Manhattan, the ferry takes you to Ellis Island where you can get off and visit the Museum, if you wish, or continue back to Battery Park.
Ground Zero / 9/11 Memorial
Ground Zero is a quiet, peaceful and poignant place. The memorial is open 24/7 and free to visit but there is an entry charge for the museum. Amongst the things to see here are St. Paul’s Chapel, a memorial to the survivors, the Sphere sculpture that survived 9/11 and One World Observatory.
Probably no visit to New York is complete without a visit to Times Square. It’s usually busy but wasn’t too bad early in the morning. We didn’t spend much time here but passed through on a number of occasions. You will find the TKTS Ticket Booths which sell theatre tickets at discounted prices here. Good Morning America is filmed here and you can see it live through the studio window. If you’re early enough and lucky enough you may get asked if you want in to the studio!
Times Square is worth a visit just to see the big screens and to experience the hustle and bustle.
We loved New York as a family and particularly enjoyed it when we went in February. We think it’s a great time to visit. The weather was much better than we expected and better than the UK at that time! Prices are lower and queues shorter than other times of the year, meaning you get more for your money and the most out of your time.
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