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20 things to do indoors in NYC with kids during winter 2014

Stay warm this winter with awesome new exhibits, hot chocolate destinations, cool craft spots and other things to do indoors in NYC with kids.

Sometimes a stroll through the cold and snow is fun, but even the most bundled-up kid has his limits and we’ve already seen some historically cold days this year in NYC. When it doesn’t seem like the barometer’s going to budge anytime soon, it takes a little creativity to keep little ones entertained. Thankfully, New York City is a playground for families looking for warmer outings. Click through our slide show to see our favorite things to do indoors with kids, including new exhibits, shows, funky classes from cooking to rock-climbing, and even swimming!

RECOMMENDED: 50 things to do this winter

  • Photograph: Alex Strada

    1. Peruse new exhibitions
    Everybody needs some artistic inspiration now and then—kids included. We love “The Little Prince: A New York Story” at the Morgan, which tells the story behind Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic tale, written in NYC during World War II. At CMOM, get the blood flowing with “You Make the Call: Learn to Be an NFL Official,” complete with a football-themed obstacle course. Young art aficionados should appreciate MCNY’s “City as Canvas,” an ode to street art history. 


  • Photograph: Victoria Jackson Pho

    2. Let off some steam
    The boroughs are teeming with places to play, like Art Farm in the City which—yes—houses live animals in addition to jungle gyms (drop-in prices vary); BounceU, where jumping, indoor dodgeball and arcade games are standard entertainment (open-bounce sessions $15, adults free); Staten Island’s Chelsea Playground, where they’ll navigate tubes, tunnels and a rock-climbing wall ($5, children $10); and the 16,000-square-foot Uptown Sports Complex in the Bronx, packed with sports-centric classes and open play (prices vary by activity).  

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    3. Go for a swim
    It’s hard to imagine pool weather is only a few months away. Make it a reality even sooner by packing a suit and hightailing it to one of the city’s indoor pools. Astoria Sports Complex has an Olympic-size one ($15 for one hour). Sportspark on Roosevelt Island is another popular option; it's got a special area for kids to play in, plus kickboards to borrow (families $10 per day). To get the most laps for your dollar, the city’s many recreation center pools are free for kids under 18.


  • 4. Visit some animals
    Some animals have fur to keep them warm (like the Central Park Zoo’s new snow leopard cubs), but others would rather stay indoors when it’s cold. There are plenty of exhibits away from the elements, like CPZ's Rainforest exhibit; meerkats, frogs and a slow loris (plus a free drawing station for kids on Wednesday afternoons) at the Prospect Park Zoo; and the Bronx Zoo’s JungleWorld, where sea turtles, tropical fish, scorpions and otters frolic in a decidedly tropical environment. 


  • Courtesy The Gazillion

    5. Catch an Off Broadway show
    Off Broadway productions aren’t just a bargain compared to Broadway picks, they’re often more kid-friendly, too. Snag seats to one of our favorites, like a stage adaptation of a storybook classic, The Berenstain Bears in Family Matters, the Musical (at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, $40–$65), the over-the-top antics of Blue Man Group (Astor Place Theatre, $82–$106) or Gazillion Bubble Show, which proves there’s such a thing as artistic bubble-making (New World Stages, $55–$75). 



  • Photograph: Noah Fecks

    6. Take in classic interiors
    Duck into Rockefeller Center, where you’ll find a multitude of oil-on-canvas murals among the shops and eateries of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, each spanning 25 feet tall and 17 feet in width. And there’s more to Grand Central Terminal’s impressive architecture than it’s ultra-cool Whispering Gallery. Little ones can practice telling time at the iconic clock in the main concourse or tilt their heads upwards to see a mural of stars in the Mediterranean-blue sky. When someone gets hungry, you needn't panic: The food court downstairs has everything from snacks like ice cream to salads, soups, sushi and sandwiches.


  • Photograph: Muriel Weinerman

    7. Visit a botanical garden
    Take shelter inside the NYBG conservatory and learn about fauna that thrives in higher temps at the new show “Tropical Discoveries and Wintertime Wonders.” Or, head over to QBG (free through Mar 31), which showcases a rotating roster of artists inside its gallery building for the Art in the Garden series. Warmth also abounds at the BBG (free Tue–Fri through Feb 28), where visitors can peruse a bonsai house, an aquatic house and a desert pavilion packed with cacti, succulents and flowers from around the globe. 


  • 8. Scale the wall at a rock-climbing gym
    This vertical sport is gaining popularity, and it’s obvious why: It's perfect for littler adventurers. Climb into a harness and reach new heights at Brooklyn Boulders ($25 for a day pass, students $19), which has plenty of classes and events for the five-and-over set. Or, head over to the Field House at Chelsea Piers ($30 per participant; climbing shoes and harness provided), which boasts towering walls perfect for young daredevils. Aviator Sports and Events Center ($10 for two climbs) is a top pick for beginners. Its 35-foot wall will have kids five and up towering over the complex—with the assistance of a belayer, of course. 


  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

    9. Create a hot chocolate tour
    Stay toasty by making stops at the city’s top cocoa locales (be sure to spread out those visits to avoid a serious sugar rush). We love the inventive creations at Upper East Side Dylan’s Candy Bar, infused with flavors like mint and cookie dough.  For a classic with a twist, sip on the marshmallow hot chocolate at Max Brenner in Union Square. And the most inventive concoctions appear during City Bakery’s Hot Chocolate Festival. Banana peel, anyone? 


  • 10. Get crafty
    A little creativity goes a long way to battle wintertime boredom, and a slew of hands-on spots are ready to accommodate. Check out Make Meaning, where little hands can create everything from soap and candles to cake decorations and ceramics. At Little Shop of Crafts, they’ll dive into woodcraft, plastercraft, mosaics, T-shirt design and more. For something a bit different, head to Taro’s Origami Studio in Park Slope to discover the art of paper-animal making. 


  • Photograph: Courtesy Taste Buds Cook

    11. Cook up something new
    For budding chefs, the Institute for Culinary Education occasionally hosts family-centric offerings like candy-making (Feb 1, $85) and "Pizza! Pizza!" (Mar 1, $85). Meanwhile, Taste Buds Kitchen will have them whipping up colorful confections during Cookie Monster Cupcakes (Feb 8, $45) or a Valentine's Love Shack Workshop (Feb 13–16, $75). And Young Chefs Academy offers themed lessons for kids ages seven to 11 like an upcoming Valentine’s Day workshop in February. 

  • Photograph: Sean Rosenthal

    12. Go bowling
    For the best bowling bargains, head to Brooklyn’s Melody Lanes, where two games and shoes, plus popcorn and soda for kids, costs $17 a person from 5 to 7pm. At Astoria Bowl, kids pay $3 on weekdays before 6pm. And at Jib Lances in Flushing, rent a lane for $30 on Saturdays from 9am to noon. If you must go the fancier route, Lucky Strike in Hell’s Kitchen has ramps and bumpers, but make sure you know when it's open to kids. 

  • Photograph: Courtesy of the Sony Wonder Technology Lab

    13. See a movie in an unconventional setting
    Traditional theaters are great, but a wealth of alternatives you may not know about abound as well. Try Sony Wonder Technology Lab for complimentary screenings of popular flicks like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. In Queens, catch the award-winning 3-D film Flight of the Butterflies at NYSCI. Or, drop into the IMAX theater at AMNH for the new film Mysteries of the Unseen World, which explores things in nature too small to see with the naked eye. For even more cinematic options, check out theaters at the city’s zoos. 


  • Photograph: Etienne Frossard

    14. Settle in for storytime at a bookstore
    Shake up your family’s usual reading routine by dropping into a shop with a free reading series. Bank Street Bookstore has a gratis story hour for toddlers hosted by revered storyteller Andy Laties. Greenlight gets musical on Friday afternoons during a 40-minute sing-along story session and hosts storytimes on Saturdays (for school-age kids) and Sundays (for babies). And powerHouse on 8th brings authors and illustrators of kids' books to the store on Sunday mornings. 


  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    15. Consider the Empire State Building
    It’s easy to brush off major attractions like the Empire State Building as tourist traps, but this popular spot is more than worthy of any city kid’s time. Aside from fantastic views, the ESB impresses with an Art Deco lobby, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the building’s efforts to become greener, and some impressive history (did you know it only took 15 months to build the towering structure?) The NYC-centric gift shop also holds its own. 


  • Photograph: Allison Michael Oren

    16. Plan a meal at Chelsea Market or Eataly
    Resist the urge to order in (again) and make a trip to one of New York’s gourmet markets for a one-of-a-kind feast. At Chelsea Market, pick up local meat from Dickson’s Farmstand and don’t forget to grab some chocolatey brownies from Fat Witch Bakery for dessert. At Eataly’s marketplace, find handmade fresh pasta from across Italy, homemade mozzarella made with New York milk and a selection of sauces sure to impress even the pickiest eaters. 

  • 17. Explore NYC parks' indoor spaces
    Only in NYC can you go to the park and stay inside. In Central Park, take in the Arsenal Gallery’s latest exhibition, explore the interior of Belvedere Castle and see a show at the charming Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. Over in Brooklyn, the Audubon Center at Prospect Park is open during winter holidays and boasts live animals, exhibitions and lakefront views. Also during holidays, kids can get a dose of history at the 18th-century Lefferts Historic House. 

  • 18. Play dress-up
    Bundling up in winter gear isn’t exactly fun. Instead, swap warm layers for garb inspired by Carnaval (at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum) or firefighters (at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan). On the Upper East Side, Let’s Dress Up lets little ones go fashionably wild with a selection of dresses, shoes and jewelry, while the Eloise Shop at the Plaza has any stylish kid’s dream: a fashion room complete with a podium for modeling those looks.   


  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    19. Revisit AMNH
    As you make your way into the warmth of the museum, make sure to spend some time in the institution’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, an ode to its founder. It took three years to renovate the tribute from 1936. Your crew can also get immersed in the fascinating new exhibit “The Power of Poison,” complete live poisonous animals, forensic studies, a section dedicated to the world of poison in fairy tales like “Snow White” and interactive games that get kids thinking strategically about cause and effect to solve mysteries. 


  • Photograph: Tom Stoelker

    20. Time-travel at a historic house
    NYC is packed with historical places, such as the recently reopened Wave Hill House, which the Roosevelt family once called home. The space now hosts family art projects weekly. At Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town, settle in for Saturday evening tavern concerts. The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden has history-themed activities on the third Friday of every month, and in the Bronx, the Morris-Jumel Mansion hosts family workshops and special events like a birthday party for George Washington in February. 

Photograph: Alex Strada

1. Peruse new exhibitions
Everybody needs some artistic inspiration now and then—kids included. We love “The Little Prince: A New York Story” at the Morgan, which tells the story behind Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic tale, written in NYC during World War II. At CMOM, get the blood flowing with “You Make the Call: Learn to Be an NFL Official,” complete with a football-themed obstacle course. Young art aficionados should appreciate MCNY’s “City as Canvas,” an ode to street art history. 


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