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Like most places, nice weather makes it easier to enjoy your time in New York City. Rain, snow, bitter cold, etc. not only seem to be amplified by New York's concrete canyons, but also make getting a cab impossible, cause subways and buses to crowd up, and generally make you wish you anywhere but out and about. And yet New York is also a wonderful place to enjoy yourself even when the weather is bad. So much of the city revolves around in-door activities that bad weather does not have to mean a bad time.
First, despite the fact public transport gets crowded in bad weather, it is still probably the best way to get around. Fighting for a cab in bad weather is not only a losing proposition, but is guaranteed to leave you cold and wet. The unnatural warmth of the subway becomes a comfort when it is storming above ground. The Subway also tends to serve almost anything you are likely to be headed to see.
If you have kids along, you probably want to go to places that minimize your time getting around by providing plenty to do. The American Museum of Natural Historyis a sure fire kid pleaser and definitely has plenty to do. Located on the West Side at 79th Street and Central Park West (there is a stop at 81st street right next to the museum and the 1 train stops two blocks away on 79th), the museum has a famous collection of stuffed animals from around the world, displayed in dioramas that have been a favorite for New Yorkers and visitors alike for decades. The same goes for the dinosaur collection. A more recent addition, Rose Center for Earth & Space with the Hayden Planetarium has been one of the stars of the museum since it first opened in 2000. One word of caution, the Museum of Natural History as a bad weather destination is by no means a secret -- so go early if you want to get a jump on the crowds. And always remember, when you are with your kids even at its most crowded you are still better off than back at the hotel!
Across the Park on the East side is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the top museums in the world, the Met has something for everyone -- kids included. The museum covers 5,000 years of culture. At the Met, art is not just something that hangs on walls. The collection of arms and armor is among the best in the world, with mounted knights on display. The Egyptian galleries not only have a wide range of artifacts -- including a large number of mummies -- as well as an entire temple: the The Temple of Dendur, saved from the rising waters of the Nile by being transported to its new home in Manhattan. American Painting, Greek and Roman art, Islamic Art, Asian Art -- the list goes on and is often set in architectural elements that give the visitor of actually being there. And while the Met is probably New York's most visited attraction, it never feels quite as crowded as the Natural History Museum can get. And if you have a New York Explorer Pass, you can skip the ticket -- I mean "donation" -- line. Any visit to New york should include the Met -- bad weather just gives you an extra excuse to give it the time it deserves. Even the gift shop at the Met is amazing.
If you are looking for something a little less expansive, the Brooklyn Museum of Artis well worth the trip and it has it's own subway stop. Like the Met, it covers a vast sweep of history, but while the Met can sometimes feel overwhelming, the Brooklyn Museum is ideal if you are in the mood for sampling a lot of things vs taking in an enormous breadth for each topic. That said, the BMA is still one of the largest museums in the U.S., so it passes the test of being able to keep you entertained and out of the weather for a good period of time. And if the weather does clear, the adjoining Botanic Garden is highly regarded.
As for Chidren's Museums, New York has multiple options. The Brooklyn Children's Museum was the first of its kind when it opened over 100 years ago. The Children's Museum of Manhattan and the Children's Museum of the Arts (more accruately a place where the kids get to make art) are Manhattan options. If you can make the short trip, the New Jersey Children's Museum gets it right -- just provide a set-up and let the kids take over. If you have little kids they will have so much fun playing in the various role-playing "exhibits" that they will forget you are even there.
Even if you have a string of bad weather days, fear not. Between the Guggenheim, the Cloisters, the Cooper Hewit Museum of Design, the MOMA, the Frick Collection, the Museum of the Moving Image, The Museum for African Art, the Folk Art Museum... you get the idea. New York will keep you busy come rain or shine.