Adventure Town: Where to Find Thrills in NYC

The only thing that matches the daredevil pace of NYC is a child on holiday in NYC.

Be they preschool or high school, kids want action. For them, a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art can’t compare with flying above it. Zipping around New York Harbor in a speedboat is more fun than sitting in a Fifth Avenue traffic jam. And when it comes to upward trajectory, rock climbing beats high-rise elevators every time. For family vacationers with daring, active kids, here is a sampling of destinations that should fill the need for adventure. 

Helicopter over New York City

Helicopter Tours 

Few man-made views are more breathtaking than a city skyline from above. Liberty Helicopters is one of several companies offering spectacular yet educational helicopter tours, with the pilot providing detailed commentary on numerous points of interest. Learn about the city while high in the sky. 

Taking off from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and flying over the Hudson River, Liberty’s Big Apple tour lasts 12-15 minutes before heading back. The New York, New York tour is 18-20 minutes and goes farther north, to the George Washington Bridge. Children under 2, or under 35 pounds, can ride for free on an adult’s lap at the pilot’s discretion. Liberty is a founding member of TOPS (Tour Operators Program of Safety). 

Wings Air, which operates from nearby Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York,—roughly 45 minutes from Manhattan by car or cab—offers tours seven days a week over New York City—weather permitting—personally narrated by its pilots. Cool side note: Wings Air provides services for filming movies over NYC as well. Wyvern, a global aviation safety auditing firm, recognizes the company.

Rock climbing wall

Rock Climbing and Ziplining

Who needs the cliffs of Hawaii to scale when there are The Cliffs at LIC in Long Island City, Queens, in addition to a Harlem branch. Participants receive orientation, learning the different types of climbs before starting. Staff members also assist first-time climbers 14 years or older with a 90-minute beginner class after which climbers can get started scaling a wall. 

The Cliffs feature 127 top-rope stations ranging from 30- to 45-feet tall and a bouldering section with 16-foot-high walls. Each wall varies in difficulty, and the “routes” set on the walls determine a specific level of difficulty. You can purchase a one-day pass and rent climbing shoes, harness and a chalk bag. 

Another option is Chelsea Piers Sports Center at Manhattan’s Pier 60, which features one of the most challenging rock walls in the country. There are over 11,000 square feet of sculpted, three-dimensional climbing surfaces between the main wall, bouldering wall and bouldering cave. One-time lessons are available for both novices and experts, and all will be challenged by continually changing routes. 

Also worth checking out is Brooklyn Boulders in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The facility features 22,000 square feet of state-of-the-art walls and offers a 45-minute intro climbing class to nonmembers. All first-time visitors must sign a waiver and take a facility orientation. Experienced climbers and novices alike can head to Governors Island and tackle the Climbing Challenge for just $6. They can scale one of three, 25-foot walls that suit their ability, and then just begin at their own pace. Climbers must weigh between 40 and 250 pounds and a safety harness must be worn.  

Finally, feel like Superman by trying out the Flywire Zip Line on Governors Island—one of the most thrilling summer attractions this year. It allows two people to fly side-by-side down a 300-foot-long cable. Peaking at 35-feet, the Flywire accommodates both experienced daredevils and beginners, who, as a bonus, receive magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Riders must be at least 40 inches tall and weigh between 45 and 250 pounds. 

Roller coaster

The Cyclone 

What is New York’s wildest ride that doesn’t take place in a taxicab?

Celebrating its 90th year, The Cyclone remains one of the country’s most exhilarating two-minute journeys. Housed in Coney Island’s Luna Park, the mother of American roller coasters is an amusement park icon which visitors from around the world come to test their bravery. Only the most courageous will want the front seat, as the Cyclone has 12 drops and 27 elevation changes. The anticipation and suspense heightens as the cars tantalizingly elevate to panoramic heights. Suddenly …whooosh! A 60-degree plunge on an 85-foot drop accelerates up to speeds of 60 mph as the screams can be heard by sunbathers on the beach.  

Speedboat near the Statue of Liberty

Speedboat Sightseeing

Welcome to tourism done fast. The Beast, a 70-foot speedboat, offers a 30-minute sightseeing tour of Manhattan, leaving from Pier 83. A similar option is The Shark, which departs from Pier 16 at South Street Seaport.

The Beast flies down the Hudson River at up to 45 mph. With music rocking and a captain and crew livening up the mood, the trip provides panoramic views of Midtown and Lower Manhattan while a guide points out features and landmarks. Passengers must be 40 inches tall and able to sit in their own seat.