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New York: 24 hours in the Big Apple

The problem is there's almost too much to do. Helen Truszkowski hits the city's far from mean streets

Perched in Norma's in the heart of Midtown, you ask your kids how breakfast is. But they're struck dumb by a caramelised chocolate banana waffle Napoleon.Norma's is a rare find: a spot where the speciality is breakfast, and nothing but. Norma's at Le Parker Meridien, 118 W 57th St and 6th Ave (001 212 708-7460; www.parkermeridien.com).

Going up to touch the sky

The Chrysler Building, Trump Tower, Brooklyn Bridge - New York offers larger-than-life encounters with extraordinary skyscrapers. At the Empire State Building an elevator straight out of a Roald Dahl novel zooms you to the 86th floor, where you can peer at ant-size jaywalkers.

Touchy, feely fun learning

Manhattan's museums are falling over themselves to please youngsters. The American Museum of Natural History, 79th St at Central Park West (001 212 769-5100; www.amnh.org), the Children's Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd St between Broadway and Amsterdam (001 212 721 1234; www.cmom.org), andMoMA, 11 West 53 St

(001 212 708-9400; www.moma.org) all urge you to go ahead and please touch. Had enough culture? See New York's Bravest and climb on a fire truck at the Midtown FDNY Fire Zone, 34 W 51st St (001 212 698-4520; www.fdnyfirezone.com).

Hot dog! Life is really sweet

Wow them with a foot-long hot dog and frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, 225 East 60th St between 2nd & 3rd Ave, (001 212 838-3531; www.serendipity3.com), and then to Dylan's Candy Bar, 1011 Third Ave (001 646 735 0078; www.dylanscandybar.com).

Whirring bird's eye view

Take to the skies in a helicopter for an aerial view of the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium and sprawling Central Park. Downtown Manhattan Heliport, Pier 6, and the East River VIP Heliport, 12th Ave and West 30th St (0845 130 3876; www.attractionticketsdirect.com). A 10-12 minute trip costs £49. For a free tour, jump on the Staten Island Ferry at the St George Ferry Terminal (www.nyc.gov). The 50-minute round trip takes you past the Statue of Liberty and gives great views of Manhattan.

Do the twist on the piers

Enough with the sightseeing, we want some action. Grab a pretzel from one of the city's ubiquitous stalls, then head to Chelsea Piers, which has been regenerated as a 30-acre sports city where kids can rollerskate, rockclimb, ice-skate, bowl, skateboard and shoot hoops. Chelsea Piers, 59 through to 62, 23rd St and the Hudson River (001 212 336-6666; www.chelsea piers.com).

Make room for kids' heaven

Your hotel for the night, The Four Seasons, 57 East 57th St (001 212 758-5700; www.fourseasons.com) has many child-friendly touches - a toy on the bed, and a glass of warm milk at bedtime. You leave your youngest in the hands of the capable babysitter, who's kitted-out with the in-room dining menu, the hotel's spare goose-down pillows, a cosy mini-bath robe, and a selection of Disney DVDs. Your 16-year-old straggles along with you to the ESPN Zone, 1472 Broadway (001 212 921-3776; www.espnzone.com), a bold family recreation centre that is studded with sports bars, restaurants and sport arcade games. You fill-up on classic American grill. Give up trying to chat - it's loud, really loud - which will probably suit your teenager.

Go back in time - park and ride

Drop your eldest at the hotel and stroll along to the oldest tourist cliché in the (guide) book: a turn round the city's beloved green labyrinth, Central Park, on a horse-drawn carriage. Start from Central Park South, 59th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, at the southern end of Central Park, across from the Plaza Hotel. $34 (£19) for the first 30 minutes.

A nightcap and time to reflect

Back at the hotel you order room service (it runs 24 hours) - champagne, strawberries and chocolate mousse. New York is gritty, it's garish, it's strictly for grown-ups? Truth is the red carpets are rolled out for junior guests as readily as for the beautiful people.