Day 1: Uptown
See Manhattan's own version of the Enchanted Forest: Central Park.
9 a.m.: Treat the kids to a sweet breakfast. Get your engines going with French toast ($11) at Alice's Tea Cup (102 W. 73rd St., nr. Columbus Ave.; 212-799-3006) on the Upper West Side. A few homemade scones ($4 each) later, you’re ready to hit the streets.
10 a.m.: Pick your pleasure: puppets or prehistorics? Walk one block east and three blocks north to the 79th Street entrance of Central Park. Continue east to the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre where hour-long puppet shows revive your favorite fairy tales. (Reserve in advance, and see site for details: adults $10; kids $7). Not feeling the pull of puppetry? Swing by the American Museum of Natural History two blocks farther north. Open daily at 10 a.m. (suggested admission for adults $22; kids $12.50), the museum is guaranteed to capture even the shortest attention span via a T. rex skeleton, a 94-foot-long blue whale, and a 34-ton meteorite.
Noon: Pedal the park. Carry on eastward through Central Park and rent bikes ($9 to $15 per hour for adults; $6 per hour for kids) near the Central Park Boathouse (March through October only). The park’s six-mile loop is arguably the safest stretch of asphalt in the city since vehicles are only permitted for four hours on weekdays and not at all on weekends.
3 p.m.: Take in some art or talk to the animals. On the eastern side of the park is another of New York’s unmissable attractions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art (suggested admission for adults $25; free for kids). Medieval swords and daggers make a forceful impression inside the Arms and Armor wing, while the Egyptian Temple of Dendur is housed in a spectacular, glass-sided room. If you’re in the mood for something fuzzier, stroll south to the Central Park Zoo (adults $12; kids $7; open daily), where you can gawk at swimming polar bears and sea lions—in separate tanks, of course—or bring the 6-and-under set to the Tisch Children’s Zoo for up close and personal interactions with rabbits, penguins, and pigs.
5:30 p.m.: Watch a roller derby erupt. Unleash any unspent energy by skipping over to Skate Circle; every weekend draws a city full of eccentrics and roller groupies to the roadway between the Mall and Sheep Meadow. Or rent ice skates yourself ($8; cash only) and pirouette in Wollman Rink (near Central Park S. and Sixth Ave.)—open until at least 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, during the winter.
7 p.m.: Do dinner, Shake Shack style. After burgers, flat-top hot dogs, and fries at the city-favorite Shake Shack at Columbus and 77th Street, finish the day on a high note with one of their famous concretes (frozen custard with your choice of mix-in) or a slice of cake from Cafe Lalo ($8.50), nearby on Amsterdam and 83rd.