48 Hours On the Upper East Side of Manhattan: A Family Travel Itinerary

Lavish houses, charming restaurants, chic boutiques, and proximity to Central Park all add to the refined peacefulness of the Upper East Side (59th to 96th Streets between Fifth Avenue and the East River) in Manhattan. On a nice day, it’s within walking distance to Rockefeller Center and Radio City yet meandering the tranquil streets of the UES is far from the chaotic folly of Midtown. The Upper East Side is ideal for art enthusiasts who may want to stroll down Museum Mile as well as people of all ages who are looking for distinctive spaces, independent stores or enjoyable afternoon tea. We recently spent two days in Manhattan and fell in love with the cosmopolitan yet serene scene of the Upper East Side.

Day 1:
Art, Tea and Playground Fun!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

upper east side with kids
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Karel Miragaya

The Upper East Side is home to Museum Mile. Getting kids to visit museums can be daunting for many families but these New York City museums are stunning and many offer children’s programs.

We started our Upper East Side trip with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met is massive yet exquisite. Because we were traveling with both children and seniors, we did a little planning ahead so as to accommodate interests and attention spans. The Met has fabulous resources for children, teens and visitors with disabilities.

The first thing we did when we walked in, was go to the information desk and grab family maps for the kids. Kids love paper maps and this one shows everything the museum has to offer them. It makes them feel special and like they belong at the Met, which is the main goal.

The museum has dozens of family guides to choose from so you can curate your visit depending on your child’s interests. We opted to look for the stained glass windows! Whatever your child’s interests are, the Met has something for everyone, including classes and interactive programs.

Top Flight Family Tip: You can save up to 40% on admission to The Met and other popular NYC attractions with CityPass.

Alice’s Tea Cup

upper east side with kids
Alice’s Tea Cup. Photo Credit; Alice’s Tea Cup

After a few hours at the Met, we all needed a treat so we put on a pair of fairy wings, got a sprinkling of fairy dust and had tea and snacks at Alice’s Tea Cup. This whimsical tea house has two locations on the Upper East Side and provides a fun, yummy break from the traditional formal tea house.

Adults can munch on fun snacks like Alice’s s’mores or banana Nutella cake while kids admire their “menu for the small” with everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to puréed baby food.

St. Catherine’s Park

No more sightseeing was planned the rest of the day since museuming can take a lot out of you! We opted to let off some steam and visit the playground at St. Catherine’s Park after a quick rest at the hotel and before dinner.

St. Catherine’s design is rich with history as the layout of the park mirrors that of the magnificent Roman church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva. My family is from Rome so we have a great fascination with anything Roman! The park is great for adults and teenagers as well since it has a running track, tennis wall, handball courts, and basketball court.

Day 2:
Central Park, Frozen Hot Chocolate and Ice Skating

Central Park

upper east side with kids
Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park. Photo: Central Park Conservatory

When in Manhattan with kids, paying a visit to Central Park is key and our second day was all about CP! Not only is it gorgeous but it’s also a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest cities in the world.

Home to potbellied pigs, sheep, goats and the only cow in Manhattan, we started our day with a quick visit to the Tisch Children’s Zoo before heading to the Central Park Zoo’s main grounds to see the new grizzly bear, snow leopard and most importantly, catch the morning penguin feeding!

From feedings to pharaohs, we hit the Egypt-themed Ancient Playground, the Billy Johnson Playground with the granite slide and the oldest playground in the park, which also has water spraying in summer, Heckscher.

For sure, the highlight for the kids was listening to the nursery rhymes and watching the animals of the Delacorte Musical Clock turn round on the half hour. We also paid homage to one of our literary idols and climbed the Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

Serendipity 3

upper east side with kids
The famous frozen hot chocolate at New York’s Serendipity 3. Photo: Serendipity 3

Our day long adventures in Central Park left us exhausted and hungry yearning for even more fanciful delicacies so off we went to Serendipity 3 for burgers and an infamous, immense frozen hot chocolate.

Wollman Rink

upper east side with kids
People ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park Photo: Dan Henson

While ice skating in Rockefeller Center is all the rage, we opted to stay in our neck of the woods, and take a whirl in Central Park’s Wollman Rink. While we took many falls, seeing the twinkling lights of the NYC skyline when you get up, makes the bumps and bruises worth it!

Where to Stay

upper east side with kids
Affinia Junior Program at Affinia Hotels. Photo: Affinia Hotels

We stayed at Gardens NYC and absolutely loved it. Our trip was multigenerational as we went with both sets of grandparents. Located on East 64th between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, the hotel sits on a pleasant, tree-lined street at the entrance of the Upper East Side.

Their suites are ideal for family travel. The ample rooms and living area offered independence and space. We had a fully appointed, modern kitchen with appliances and a dining area which I find essential when traveling with children. Especially if you have teens or grandparents who can babysit, it’s nice to have the option to cook for kids and eat in your hotel.

One thing I really appreciated was that they even have grocery delivery service from FreshDirect. Days before your stay, you can order groceries that you’ll find the moment you check in. When traveling with small children that might be picky eaters or require special foods, this service makes life a lot easier.

As part of the Affinia Hotel Collection, they even offer Affinia’s Starry Night Camp-In experience where kids can play make-believe with in a Land of Nod teepee and read “Good Night New York City” as a bedtime story. We still read the book every night!

Gardens NYC is genuine Upper East Side living at its finest.

The author received complimentary accommodations. All opinions are her own.

About Guiomar Ochoa

Guiomar Ochoa works in the arts and is a freelance travel writer. She has called both Rome and Paris home but is settled, for now, in her hometown of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two young children. Fluent in Spanish, Italian and French, she is adamant about passing down her love of languages, travel and cultures to her kids.. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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