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Free museums? We're in! Many assume that free things to do with kids in NYC are few and far between but, truthfully, all you need to do is a little bit of research before embarking on an outing. These fabulous NYC musums offer pay-what-you-wish days, free entry hours/days and other great stuff for local families—you just need to read the fine print. Basically, it's an excellent way to explore the best family attractions in NYC without paying through the nose.
Want to check out cool new exhibits like "Superpowered Metropolis" (until Dec 31)? Are your kiddos anxious to get their hands on permanent exhibits at the engaging and interactive New York Hall of Science? Stick with us and we'll let you know how to get the most bang for your buck!
RECOMMENDED: More children's museums for families
Free museums for kids
One of our favorite family attractions revealed last year a super-cool perk, and we're totally on board. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum now offers a Free Fridays series, where on the last Friday of each month from April to September visitors can get in for free, 5-8pm. (General admission is $33 for adults and $24 for children ages 5–12.)
Home to the largest and arguably most fabulous collection of dinosaur fossils in the world, AMNH’s fourth-floor dino halls have been blowing kids' minds for decades. Roughly 80 percent of the bones on display were actually dug out of the ground; the rest are casts. The thrills begin when you cross the threshold of the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, where you’re confronted with a towering barosaurus rearing up on its hind legs to protect its young from an attacking allosaurus—an impressive welcome to the world’s largest museum of its kind.
Pay-what-you-wish available at ticket counters only.
The Brooklyn Children's Museum allows budding art lovers and curious tykes to revel in a play space dedicated to fostering kids' creativity. Interactive experiences such as the Color Lab, after-school programs and birthday party packages make the Kings County hotspot a favorite amongst little ones.
Pay-as-you-wish on Thursdays, 2–6pm and Sundays, 4–7pm.
Escape the concrete jungle and enjoy the blooms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The venue is home to some of the best kid-friendly happenings in the city: regular drop-in classes and activities, plus Ghouls and Ghourds, their festival that focuses on all-things autumn and Halloween.
Free Friday mornings Mar–Nov, 8am–noon; free Tue-Fri Dec-Feb; under-12s always free.
There are plenty of creatures who call NYC home—the Staten Island Zoo is proof. Once you've finished learning about the wildlife in the animal nursery, reptile wing, horse barn and other areas of the attraction, make sure to mark your calendars for fun seasonal happenings, such as the Easter Eggstravaganza and the creepy, kooky Halloween Spooktacular.
Free on Wednesdays after 2pm (and Tuesdays from Nov-Feb); children aged two and under always free.
The Children's Museum of the Arts welcomes 135,000 little visitors each year through its doors. Once inside, the whole family can enjoy interactive programs, exhibitions and events that celebrate the transformative power of the arts on youngters and grown-ups alike.
Pay-as-you-wish Thursdays, 3-6pm.
This portion of the New-York Historical Society is dedicated to all things kids. Drop-in play times, birthday parties with historical twists and summer camps all make little ones feel like the stars of the show.
Pay-what-you-wish on Fridays, 6–8pm; ages four and under always free.
From the Historical Museum to the Third County Courthouse, Historic Richmond Town living museum offers a glimpse of life in the fifth borough before it was the fifth borough. Little 'uns can enjoy offerings such as the acting school, apprentice program and more.
Entry on Wednesdays is by suggested donation.
Everyone needs a few hours of calm now and then—kids included—and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more serene spot within city limits than Wave Hill. A few stops on the Metro-North Hudson line brings you to the sprawling grounds perched above the river, boasting 28 acres of public gardens, plus woodlands and lawns to wander. Jump in on nature walks, story times and family art projects – often led by local artists and free with general admission.
Free entry Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9am-noon.
Naturally, kids love when the New York Hall of Science wows them with neat exhibits and fun hands-on activities. The museum’s playground just makes a trip to the Queens attraction all the more delightful. A tube slide will give little ones the 411 on science topics, while the climbing area mirrors a giant spider web (no arachnids in sight, so don’t stress). There are also wind pipes, metal drums, sandboxes and much more. What better way to make the most out of science?
Free entry Sep-Jun on Fridays, 2–5pm, and Sundays, 10–11am.
Set in a lovely park overlooking the Hudson River, The Cloisters houses the Met’s medieval art and architecture collections. A path winds through the peaceful grounds to a castle that seems to have survived the Middle Ages (though it was built less than 100 years ago using material from five medieval French cloisters). Be sure to check out the famous Unicorn Tapestries, the twelfth-century Fuentidueña Chapel and the Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin.
Pay-what-you-wish for New York state residents and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut students; children under-12 free.
Examine America's past and present in a space with over 7,000 artifacts, some of which date back to the eighteenth century.
Always free entry.
The Liberty Science Center, which was totally refurbished in 2007, succeeds beautifully in its stated aim to reinvent the science-museum-going experience. An interactive, heat-sensitive "cave painting" allows tykes to add their handprints to the mural like real Cro-Magnons. Then there's the giant blue nose that sneezes spray at visitors. And let's not forget the I-beam, suspended 18 feet in the air, which lets kids "walk the steel" just like a construction worker building a skyscraper (with a safety harness, of course).
Free admission days vary; check website for details.
The Museum of the Moving Image is one of the city’s most dynamic institutions for film buffs and gamers. Rubbing elbows with Kaufman Astoria Studios, the revamped space features a state-of-the-art 264-seat cinema and expanded galleries. The museum examines every step of the filmmaking process, what goes into creating video games and much more.
Free admission on Fridays, 4–8pm; under-3s always free.
Not only is the Morris-Jumel Mansion a great example of the city's past, but the oldest home in Manhattan actually has roots dating back to the American Revolution. Can you believe this gem is hidden in upper Manhattan?
History buffs and maritime enthusiasts will enjoy learning about NYC’s coastal defense systems at this Fort Hamilton institution.
With a focus on both historic and modern design, Cooper Hewitt is likely to hook children's attention with its hands-on family programs that allow little creatives to show their stuff. The venue amps up the fun with games of bingo, story time and more.
Pay-what-you-wish on Tuesdays, 6–8pm; ages 18 and under always free.
Bridging the gap between Asia and the US, this cultural space welcomes visitors to learn more about Asia through various areas—arts, education, business and so on. Kids will especially enjoy the annual Lunar New Year celebration and family day craft workshops held throughout the year.
Free admission on Fridays (except Jul-Aug), 6-9pm; under-16s always free.
Visitors can embrace Latino culture and allow children to familiarize themselves with a new language thanks to the bilingual program offerings at El Museo del Barrio.
Explore film, dance, exhibits, business ideas and more—all with a focus on Japanese culture. Bring kids to the annual Sakura Matsuri celebrations for a chance to welcome spring and the beautiful cherry blossom trees that go along with it.
Free on Fridays, 6–9pm, under-16s always free.
Lessons in history and religion get a major upgrade thanks to the interactive features at the Jewish Children's Museum, which includes a game show studio, audiovisual theater, minigolf and more.
MOCA occupies an airy former machine shop designed by prominent Chinese-American architect Maya Lin. In an interior loosely inspired by a traditional Chinese house—with rooms radiating off a central courtyard and areas defined by screens—MOCA’s core exhibit traces the development of Chinese communities on these shores from the 1850s to the present day through objects, images and video.
Pay-what-you-wish for Manhattan Chinatown and Two Bridge residents; plus Free Admission Day in Jan (date varies).
The Jewish Museum was established in 1904 when Judge Mayer Sulzberger gave 26 ceremonial objects to the Jewish Theological Seminary as the core of a museum collection. Since then, the museum's offerings have include more than 30,000 works of art, artifacts and media installations.
Free on Saturdays; under-18s always free.
Occupying 13 acres of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened in 1880, is impressive in terms both of quality and scale. Kids will most love the collection of Egyptian art and the glass-walled atrium housing the Temple of Dendur, moved en masse from its original Nile-side setting and now overlooking a reflective pool.
Pay-what-you-wish for New York State residents; under-12s free.
For its first 50 years, the 1887 synagogue had a congregation of thousands and doubled as a mutual-aid society for new arrivals in need of financial assistance, health care and employment. But as Jews left the area and the congregation dwindled, the building fell into disrepair. A recently completed 20-year, $18.5 million face-lift has restored the splendor of the soaring main sanctuary, which features hand-stenciled walls and gorgeous stained glass: an original rose window and a new design by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. Downstairs, touch-screen displays highlight the synagogue’s architecture, aspects of worship and local history.
Pay-what-you-wish on Mondays, under-18s always free.
Outfitted as a Prospect Park destination for kids, Lefferts House depicts Brooklyn family life in the 1820s to the present. From April to autumn, Lefferts hosts weekend birthday celebrations that teach kids about the people who once lived in the beautiful mansion. They'll be able to partake in the games the children of yesteryear loved, such as potato-sack racing.
Suggested $3 donation.
MoMath's 30-plus interactive exhibits are what truly sets it apart. Like the Wall of Fire – a laser "wall" that shows visitors that cross-sections aren't always what they seem. Or Math Square, a Jumbotron on the floor that connects each person standing on it by the shortest path possible, changing the moment anyone moves. And a design studio where participants create a 3D design on a screen for a chance to have it "printed" into an actual sculpture via a 3D printer. For a place to stop for a moment, head to Enigma Café, where families can sit at tables to work on digital puzzles.
Pilgrims to the two-story house where the great Satchmo lived from 1943 until his death in 1971 will find a shrine to the revolutionary trumpet player—as well as his wife’s passion for wallpaper. Her decorative attentions extended to the interiors of cupboards, closets, even bathroom cabinets. The 45-minute tour is enhanced by audiotapes of Amstrong that give much insight into the tranquil domesticity he sought in the then-suburban neighborhood.
After a two-year redesign by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, MoMA reopened in 2004 with almost double the space to display some of the most impressive artworks from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Outside, the Philip Johnson–designed Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, which houses works by Calder, Rodin and Moore. The MoMA has a great deal of free family programming for all ages.
Free on Fridays, 5.30–9pm; ages 16 and under always free.
Pay what you wish on Thursdays from 7–9pm with a $2 suggested minimum; children 18 and under, free
See a living re-creation of the Pacific coastline, and catch sight of various East River species. There's also a lively sea lion show, plus some truly awesome sharks and sea jellies. Fantasize about upcoming summer months as you visit Glover's Reef, a 150,000-gallon tank stocked with 35 species—give or take—of marine life from the coast of Belize, including jawfish and moray eels. At the Explore the Shore exhibit, kids can learn facts about the ocean and the animals that in and on it; the salt-marsh area mirrors the Jamaica Bay wetlands, allowing an underwater view of sheepshead minnows and hermit crabs.
Children 2 and under, free
Give city kids a chance to get their hands dirty and explore lush landscapes on this 250-acre expanse. Family programs educate kids (and adults) on our connection to nature, while the Edible Academy teaches children about gardening and healthy living through workshops, scavenger hunts and crafts in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden.
Free grounds admission all day on Wednesdays and on Saturdays from 9–10am; children 2 and under, free
New York’s oldest museum, founded in 1804, was one of America’s first cultural and educational institutions. Highlights in the vast Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture include George Washington’s Valley Forge camp cot, a complete series of the extant watercolors from Audubon’s The Birds of America and the world’s largest collection of Tiffany lamps.
Pay what you wish on Fridays from 6–8pm; children 4 and under, free
The serene space consists of 25 gardens where yoga is allowed but biking and blading are strictly forbidden.
Free admission on Wednesdays from 3–6pm and Sundays from 4–6pm
Located on the grounds of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, the QMA holds one of the area’s most amazing sights: a 9,335sq ft scale model of New York City's five boroughs, featuring Lilliputian Gotham landmarks, created for the 1964 event. In early 2007, a long-overdue upgrade was unveiled: an updated lighting system now mimics the arc of the sun as it passes over NYC, while a 13-minute multimedia presentation explores the Panorama’s construction and spotlights various NYC attractions.
Suggested admission; children 18 and under, free
The oldest continually farmed land in NYC, the now 47-acre stretch offers a petting zoo for kids, who do most of the visiting. But a recent expansion of the growing fields means everyone can benefit from the vegetables, wine and meat that the farm cultivates, sold on-site and on Fridays at the Union Square Greenmarket. In the fall, pick your own pumpkins here, and test your navigation skills in the corn maze.
General admission is free, except during public events
This six-story museum houses Donald and Shelley Rubin’s impressive collection of Himalayan art and artifacts, as well as large-scale temporary exhibitions. Family Sundays and teen coding are among the venue's youth offerings.
Free admission on Fridays from 6–10pm; children 12 and under, free
Many learning facilities throughout the city allow kids to look but not touch, but this expansive cultural center and botanical garden encourages youngsters to interact with their surroundings for the full experience. Enroll in Little Yogis for a peaceful nature escape in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden or explore the botanical garden grounds by getting crafty in Autumn Leaves sessions or taking an ecological tour in the science-focused Wetlands Creatures program. For the first time in 2018, Snug Harbor hosted the wildly popular holiday event, Winter Latern Festival. Fingers crossed for a return in 2019!
Free for main campus access
Taken over by Mark DiSuvero in 1986, this is one of the few locations in the city specifically designated for artists to create outdoor works. The splendid Queens space looks out over the Manhattan skyline and is open 365 days a year. Kids are guaranteed to "ooh" and "ahh" at the surroundings.
The Guggenheim is as famous for its landmark building—designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—as it is for its impressive collection and daring temporary shows. Second Sunday Family Tours and workshops are available for budding artists who want to make their own masterpiece.
Pay what you wish on Saturdays from 5–8pm (cash only) and the last ticket is issued at 7:30pm; children 12 and under, free
Suggested admission; free admission every Sunday; children 12 and under, free
Visitors can check out giant murals, get hands-on with cool sculptures and create their own art at this Uptown hotspot. The museum focuses on storytelling as well as visual art, music, dance and film, encouraging little ones to learn and express themselves through various media.
Children 8 and under, free
Little landlubbers can tour one of the last surviving railway barges in the country. They’ll see the captain’s quarters and catch some showboat entertainment courtesy of the museum’s president—he’s also a professional clown and juggler..
Free on Saturdays from 1-5pm (year–round) and Thursdays from 4–8 beginning in the spring
Planted at the foot of the Highline along Ganesvoort Street, the new Whitney building boasts some 63, 000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor exhibition space. Founded in 1931 by sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt, the Whitney is dedicated to presenting the work of American artists.
Pay what you wish on Fridays from 7–9:30pm; children 18 and under, free
Kiddos can tag alongside mom and dad as they venture through the galleries of this popular destination. "Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving" is on display through May 12, 2019 and includes kid-friendly programming.
Vistors 19 and under, free
This Queens art mecca is devoted entirely to contemporary works within a variety of media. Museum-goers have the opportunity to enjoy exhibits, film screenings, performances and much more at MoMA PS 1.
Suggested donations: $10 adults, children 16 and under, free
Part of a 40,000-square-foot complex operated by BRIC Arts Media, the presenter behind Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Prospect Park Bandshell, the BRIC House hosts regular concerts, monthly dance parties and the occasional sneak peek at a musical-theater work-in-progress.
This small museum, located on the Queens College campus in Flushing, hosts a number of exhibits each year. Though its permanent collection is relatively small—comprising about 3,500 items total—the museum's exhibitions are varied, and have included shows on Salvador Dalí, the Works Progress Administration and Andean textiles. "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers: Art of the Natural World" opens Apr 11, 2019.
The Hispanic Society boasts the largest assemblage of Spanish art and manuscripts outside Spain. On display are decorative art objects and thousands of black-and-white photographs that document life in Spain and Latin America from the mid 19th century to the present
Photojournalism remains an important part of the center’s program, which also includes contemporary photos and video. The two floors of exhibition space often showcase retrospectives devoted to single artists
Pay what you wish on Thursdays beginning at 6pm
The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society. Fashionistas in the making will love taking a look at the impressive display!
Built by a rich merchant-farmer family in 1748, this fieldstone mansion housed both British and American armies during the Revolutionary War and gave George Washington a place to rest his head. This place has the distinction of being the city’s first historic house museum, opened in 1896, and offers both self-guided and volunteer docent-led tours of the collection of colonial furniture and decorative objects.
Suggested donations on Wednesdays
The history of this beautiful estate dates back to the 17th Century, when Thomas Pell signed a treaty with the Siwanoy Indians to purchase what is now the Bronx borough. Located within today’s Pelham Bay Park, the current house was built between 1836 and 1842, and was sold to the City of New York in 1888. Re-opened as a museum in 1946, it now offers tours of its furnishings, carriage house and formal gardens.
Mansion and Carriage House free for kids 6 and under
Founded in 1863, the society is located in a landmark four-story Queen Anne–style building and houses numerous permanent and ongoing exhibits, including "It Happened in Brooklyn," highlighting local links to crucial moments in American history. A major photo and research library—featuring historic maps and newspapers, notable family histories and archives from the area’s prominent abolitionist movement—is accessible by appointment. The institution offers weekend and after-school programs for children.
Suggested admission; children under 12, free
Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 800 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sporadically offers family programming.
Museum-goers learn about Jewish culture before, during and after the Holocaust at this venue.
Free for NYC public school students and educators with i.d.
The National September 11 Memorial pays homage to those who lost their lives in the terror attacks. Two square waterfall-sided reflecting pools, each built within the footprints of the fallen towers, are the memorial’s centerpiece. Around them, bronze panels inscribed with the names of the victims invite reflection, while a grove of swamp white oaks embodies the rebirth of the neighborhood.
Free museum admission on Tuesdays from 5pm—close; Memorial admission, free