Have you been thinking about taking your kids to a city destination, but you aren’t sure which one is best? I am here to help! I’ve had the opportunity to take my boys to both Washington, DC and New York City twice now, and I have tons of tips and recommendations. Both cities are truly remarkable in their own way, so keep reading to learn more about which city is best for you to visit with kids!
I have always wanted to take my boys to New York City, but my husband wasn’t really sure it would be a great idea when they were younger. We decided to try Washington, DC with them first, just to see how they’d handle long days of walking and riding public transportation. We had traveled to DC together, just the two of us, so we had a good idea of the city layout and points of interest before venturing there with our boys.
I truly feel that Washington, DC is a great “starter city” to try out with your children, especially if they are younger. My boys were six and nine on our first family trip to DC.
We have visited Washington, DC over our fall break in November and also over our spring break in March. We loved the fall colors, but there’s also something magical about the cherry blossoms in the spring! The weather was awesome during both of our visits. We did spend more time in DC over our fall break than we did in the spring. The city is less crowded over the week of Thanksgiving, as businesses usually close for the holiday and people leave to visit their families. The downside is that the White House is closed for tours this week because it’s being decorated for Christmas.
Washington, DC Highlights
- World class museums
- Historical monuments and statues
- Theatre and shows
- Amazing outdoor parks
- Nearby day trips
- More affordable
What We’ve Done in DC
You’ll never run out of things to do in Washington, DC! My boys were so excited to learn more about the Presidents and early American history since they were also studying these things in school. And I will admit, it is really cool seeing the things that I grew up learning about in person. I mean, I got to see the actual Declaration of Independence, the original US flag, the bed that Lincoln died in, plus so much more!
Visit the National Mall
Monument Tour at Night
White House Tour
Ford’s Theatre & Petersen House Tour
Day at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s House)
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
National Archives Museum
Went to the Top of the Washington Monument
Capital Building Tour
Click here for my complete guide to visiting Washington, DC!
Click here for tips on securing a White House tour!
New York City
We also visited New York City over our fall break this past November and in the summer, too. We absolutely loved our fall visit because we got to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and we got to see all of the amazing holiday décor around the city! The only downside to visiting during this week is that it’s crowded! So many people are here to either watch the parade or be in the parade. The Rockefeller tree is also not complete, so that is one of thing that I will have to return to see in person! This city does the holidays BIG and that was our favorite part! We even witnessed Elton John perform outside of Macy’s, right in the middle of the street, for their holiday light display. This was an experience that I will never, ever forget!
New York City Highlights
- World class museums
- Excellent nightlife
- Fantastic shopping
- Amazing playgrounds
- Theatre and shows
- Holiday décor/events
What We’ve Done in NYC
It is true, you will never be able to do all of the amazing things you have on your New York City bucket list in one visit! My boys thought it was so fun to see those famous landmarks and the NYC skyline that are often featured on television and in the movies! I was so excited to go inside of the Statue of the Liberty for the first time on our past visit. There are still several things on our list that we just didn’t have the time for. I hope we’re able to return soon to knock those things off the list!
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty Museum
Empire State Building
9/11 Museum & Memorial
Top of the Rock
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats Inflation
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (from hotel)
American Museum of Natural History
Christmas Outside Radio City Music Hall
Click here for my complete guide to visiting NYC with kids!
Click here for my complete guide on visiting NYC over Thanksgiving break!
Our Take Away
There are several factors involved when planning your trip besides just all of the touristy things that your family will want to explore. Along with activities and experiences, you need to consider costs for lodging, food, and transportation. Also, the ease of maneuvering around each city is also a factor. Below, I’ve broken down our biggest considerations that we discussed when deciding the best time to visit both Washington, DC and New York City!
In our experience, visiting DC has been a little more budget friendly than our trips to New York City. This goes for flights, hotels, dining, and activities!
Lodging – We stayed in a great place in Washington Circle in DC that had once been an apartment complex that was converted into hotel rooms. (I’m not linking this property because it’s undergoing renovations right now, but will update soon.) Here, we had a living room, bedroom, two bathrooms, and a kitchen for the same rate as a traditional hotel room. Lodging in NYC is often older, smaller, and pricier depending on what time of year you’re visiting and what area you’re staying in.
Transportation – I will say that both cities are both walkable and you do not need to rent a car to experience either destination. We found that we mostly walked everywhere in DC. Occasionally, we would use an uber, mostly at the end of a long day when our youngest would get tired. In New York, we also mostly walked, but did use the subway several times, too. It was a little quicker to venture around NYC using the subway system and much cheaper than taxis or ubers.
Activities – Both cities are jam packed with amazing activities that anyone can enjoy! We never ran out of ideas on things to do. In fact, we usually found ourselves running out of time to get everything accomplished that we wanted to see and do in both places. I love both DC and NYC, but in my experience, we found that most of the touristy things we decided to do in DC were free!
Speaking of those free activities, DC has tons of free things to do and see! The Smithsonian Museums are free and so are all of the historical memorials and monuments. We enjoyed walking around the National Mall and taking in the historical sites, both during the day and at nighttime. And of course, touring the White House is also free and a must do activity if you’re in the city!
Click here for a list of the best free things to do in DC!
You can also enjoy free activities in NYC. Times Square is one of my boys’ favorite places in the city and it’s free to walk around and take in the lights and different street performers. Central Park is another free location in NYC. And on Monday afternoons, you can visit the 9/11 Museum for free as well, if you request tickets the same day and early in the morning. The Staten Island Ferry is free and you can take in the Statue of Liberty from the boat ride. And there are also other free museum days here, too!
Click here for a list of the best free things to do in NYC!
Again, you can visit both cities without needing to rent a car. In fact, I have actually driven in both cities and I don’t recommend it! We did a lot of walking in both destinations, I am talking about eight to ten miles each day. So, I highly recommend making sure that your kids can handle that. We did find that walking around DC was less crowded and easier for us to maneuver. There just didn’t seem to be the same amount of people or vehicles to watch out for in DC as there is in New York.
Both DC and New York have so many amazing restaurants to choose from! We had no problem finding places to eat at either destination. We didn’t particularly enjoy everywhere we ate, you know kids can be kind of picky. I do think we saw more fast food places in New York than I remember seeing in DC, which came in handy for us with the boys. We also found ourselves grabbing donuts and random snacks in NYC, even pretty late at night!
- Travel during the slow season.
- Find hotels that offer free breakfast.
- Hotel rates are more expensive on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Have a plan for both destinations – some places will need reservations ahead of time.
- You can visit both cities over a weekend or for a whole entire week.
- Read travel blogs (like roadtripqueens.blog) for inspiration.
- Make sure to plan for the right weather, check the forecasts ahead of time & pack accordingly.
- Allow some down time during a visit to the city. Kids (and adults) can experience some sensory overload in all the hustle and bustle.
- Expect some crowds and wait times.
- Keep a positive attitude & have fun!
I truly feel that you cannot go wrong with either destination. Both cities are extremely family-friendly and you’re guaranteed to make memories that will last a lifetime! I asked my boys which city that liked the best, and they both said New York City! I am not sure if this because we visited just a few months ago and it has been a few years since we’ve traveled to DC. They both agreed that they love both cities, they just really had a great time in NYC!
If I were traveling with my kids to a new city, I would probably choose Washington, DC first and wait until my kids were a little older for New York City. If this is a once in a lifetime trip for your family, then I would probably choose to visit New York City, there’s just no other place like it!
I hope you find these tips and personal experiences helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!