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Free things to do in NYC with children this fall

Get excited for no-cost autumn events like Halloween parties, awesome outdoor festivals and more free things to do in NYC with kids this fall.


1. Atlantic Antic
The busy Brooklyn artery closes down for New York City’s largest street fair, featuring over 600 vendors, ten stages and an entire block dedicated to kids. Visitors can expect a lineup of activities about as long as the avenue itself, including music performances, pony rides, a bouncy house, face painting, tattoos, puppet and magic shows, a singalong and small carnival rides. Sat Sept 29 at noon on Atlantic Ave between Fourth Ave and Hicks St, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hlll and Brooklyn Heights (atlanticave.org).



2. BAMboo!
This annual outdoor bash is one of Brooklyn's hippest Halloween hangs. Costumed cuties can take in street performances, jump in a bouncy castle and compete for the most creative attire. Thu Oct 31 at 4pm at the BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building.





3. Battery Park City Block Party
The 11-year-old annual fest began one year after 9/11 as a tradition that would bring joy back to the neighborhood. This year, the fun continues with boat rides from the marina, musical performances, small rides for kids, local foodie vendors and more. Sat Sept 28 at 11:30am at the North Cove Marina.



4. Battery Urban Farm Harvest Festival
At this annual fall fest, city kids can get a taste of farm life in just about the most unlikely locale, where down-home delights like potato sack races, veggie trivia, tours of the farm, bobbing for apples, scavenger hunts and garden-themed art projects, all of which are free, turn the Financial District into an agrarian escape. Sat Oct 19 at 11:30am at the Battery Urban Farm (thebattery.org).

 (Courtesy American Folk Art Museum)
Courtesy American Folk Art Museum

5. Bill Traylor Family Day
Explore the Folk Art Museum's exhibit devoted to the 20th-century self-taught artist Bill Traylor, then complete a workshop inspired by his drawings. Sat Sept 21 at 1pm at the American Folk Art Museum (folkartmuseum.org).

 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

6. Brooklyn Book Festival
The eighth annual kid-lit fest returns to Brooklyn Heights armed with dozens of local authors and illustrators, plus a Draw-Off, in which kids yell out topics to famed illustrators and watch their ideas go down on paper. Sun Sept 22 at 10am at Brooklyn Borough Hall and Columbus Park (brooklynbookfestival.org).


 (Photograph: Etienne Frossard)
Photograph: Etienne Frossard

7. Brooklyn Kite Festival
Kite enthusiasts are invited to catch a breeze from the river during this high-flying event. Kids who are new to the craft can purchase them on-site. Sat Sept 14 at 10am at Brooklyn Bridge Park.


 (Photograph: Dominic Perri)
Photograph: Dominic Perri

8. Carroll Park Family Fun Day
This outdoor concert and fall fair is made of more than seasonal treats and face painting—here, families can get down outdoors at a disco dance party (there'll be lessons for those less light on their feet). Meanwhile, take advantage of craft projects, a DJ, live music, games and munchies courtesy of the Moxie Spot (you’ll want to bring a few bucks). Sun Sept 22 at 2pm in Carroll Park.

 (Photograph: Ethan Ries)
Photograph: Ethan Ries

9. DayLife and LES Pickle Day
Lower East Side outfits look back on the past with traditional pushcarts (and their modern offspring, food trucks) pedaling briny delights of all shapes and sizes, from the immigration-era Guss’ Pickles to the fanciful, futuristic Asia Dog. The Astro-turfed occasion also celebrates the newer names in the neighb, with over thirty fashion and food vendors and all-day DJ entertainment at the Tammany Hall stage, plus a kid’s costume contest, face painting, badminton and croquet. Sun Oct 27 at noon on Orchard St between Delancey and Houston Sts.


 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

10. Dumbo Arts Festival
The oversize installations at the über-stylish ’hood’s annual summoning of more than 400 international artists will have little ones immediately in thrall of arts’ interactive powers. One especially inspiring piece is The Ship of Tolerance, a global project whose sails are made of paintings by 500 NYC students, that's docking in the U.S. for the first time. All weekend long, drop by local studios, see performance art and works-in-progress in the streets, or take a spin on Jane's Carousel. Fri Sept 27–Sun Sept 29 at various Dumbo locations.

 (Photograph: Joshua Bright)
Photograph: Joshua Bright

11. Enchanted Wave Hill Weekend
Wave Hill fetes New York’s most magical season with fairies and woodland creatures on a special edition of its Target Free Weekends. Amidst the grounds’ spectacular autumn foliage, children are invited to create their own tiny abodes using natural found materials, listen to stories from once Uupon a time and listen to the tunes of yore. Plus, don't forget your wings—little ones are encouraged to don their daintiest fairy wear. Sat Oct 26, Sun Oct 27 at 10am at Wave Hill.


 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

12. Fall Kids Fest
Once again, we're partnering with our friends at Madison Square Park to present an annual celebration of all things autumn. Families are invited to work on crafts with the New Victory Theater, Taro's Origami, Apple Seeds and the Little Orchestra Society, catch live performances by two of our favorite birthday party entertainers (the Little Rockers and the Amazing Max), participate in a costume walk led by a Big Apple Circus clown, snack on goodies from the Treats Truck and even choose a take-home pumpkin from our patch; they can also scope out the park's fall installation, Ideas of Stone. We'll see you there! Sat Oct 19 at 11am in Madison Square Park.


 (Photographer: Filip Wolak)
Photographer: Filip Wolak

13. Feast of San Gennaro
Little Italy’s 87th annual street party salutes the patron saint of Naples in a series of raucous celebrations. For eleven days, Mulberry Street succumbs to food vendors, live music and carnival-sque games and rides in between the festival’s main events: the 12th Annual Cannoli Eating Competition, the Grand Procession, a huge parade complete with floats and marching bands, and the traditional religious processio,n in which the statue of San Gennaro is carried through the streets. Thu Sept 12–Sun Sept 22 on Mulberry St between Canal and Houston Sts.


 (Photograph: Courtesy BPCPC)
Photograph: Courtesy BPCPC

14. Go Fish Festival
Three scaly Saturdays make up this catch-and-release festival in Battery Park City, where families can use barbless hooks (causing less harm to both animals and slippery-fingered children) to get a closer look at the Hudson’s gilled residents before setting them back into the wild. Even if you’re crew isn’t the fishing type, kids can head out on a naturalist-led bird walk, drop in on aquatic art projects and catch a special stage show each week. Sat Sept 21, Oct 5, 19 at 10am in Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park.



15. Halloween Costume Workshop at McNally Jackson
Pint-size procrastinators can get a little help from the staff of the Soho bookstore at this workshop, which not only assists in designing cool costumes but choosing what to be! Sat Oct 19 at 11:30am at McNally Jackson Books.



16. Halloween Harvest Festival
Kids are invited to craft costumes with park artists, participate in art-making workshops, get their faces painted by pros, listen to live music and sample local harvest foods. Creative pet owners can enter their pups into the annual Canine Costume Contest before spending the rest of the afternoon enjoying the gorgeous outdoor installation “FOLLY: tree wood.” Sat Oct 19 at 11am in Socrates Sculpture Park.


17. Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Sail
Of all the Halloween festivals in the city, Central Park’s is the only one that involves sending your homemade jack-o’-lanterns afloat into the Harlem Meer, an annual tradition that’s back after a Sandy-induced hiatus in 2012. Before the main event at dusk, kids are invited to show off their most creative costumes in a parade, dance to the Monster Mash and other Halloween songs by live musicians or work on creepy crafts. Sun Oct 27 at 4pm at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.


18. Halloween Party at Le Carrousel
Get spooked by an illusionist's tricks and scary stories courtesy of Flaubert Frog before getting your face painted, decorating pumpkins and trick-or-treating. Sat Oct 26 at 1pm in Bryant Park.

 (Photograph: Clay Williams)
Photograph: Clay Williams

19. Harvest Fest
While usually the site of high-heeled fashionistas, the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District beckon to the sneakered set with activities like applesauce making, face painting, photo booths, live music, pumpkin decorating, pizza making, nail art and hair styling. Plus, local vendor fare will be available for purchase—which, in this neighborhood, means gourmet eats from the likes of the Standard Hotel and Bakehouse. Sat Oct 26 at 10am in Gansevoort Plaza.

 (Photograph: Marielle Solan)
Photograph: Marielle Solan

20. Hip Tot Family Day
The last of three affairs at beer garden Greenwood Park invites kids to get down and boogie at a disco-themed soiree. Author Betsy Bird will be on hand to read her newest, Giant Dance Party, and DJ Misbehaviour will give lessons to future table-turners. Sun Sept 29 at noon at Greenwood Park.

 (Photograph: Courtesy NYRR)
Photograph: Courtesy NYRR

21. ING New York City Marathon
On the first Sunday in November, kids can learn the meaning of endurance as they watch thousands of runners compete in the annual race—last year's marathon was historically cancelled in the aftermath of Sandy. Stake out a spot on the route (we recommend standing along Fourth Avenue in Park Slope or First Avenue on the Upper East Side) and bring water to hand out to weary runners. Sun Nov 3 at 10am at various city locations (ingnycmarathon.org). 

 (Photograph: Photo Bureau)
Photograph: Photo Bureau

22. Kite Flight
Kite flying may recall scenes of pastoral landscapes and beachside scenery, but at this annual workshop, youngsters can take on the wind New York City style—on the rooftop of the Port Authority. Artists will be on hand to help kids create their own gliders, while seasoned pros will assist with the flying. If they’d rather stick closer to the ground, participants can work on craft projects, play games, nosh on snacks and take in live entertainment. Sun Sept 22 at 1pm at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

 (Photograph: courtesy Shinnyo-en)
Photograph: courtesy Shinnyo-en

23. Lantern Floating for Peace
Kids of all backgrounds can take part in a modern Shinnyo-en Buddhist lantern ceremony by building, decorating and floating their own creations on a pond inside Trump Rink. While similar ceremonies are held annually in places like Japan and Hawaii, it’s the first for NYC, where the theme “Be a Light for Peace” honors peacemakers one day after the United Nation’s International Day of Peace (Sept 21). All afternoon long, enjoy live performances by taiko drummers and local musicians. Sun Sept 22 at 1pm at Trump Rink.

 (Photograph: Richard Blum)
Photograph: Richard Blum

24. Little Neck Bay Festival
After teaching the kids what an estuary is (hint: it’s a semi-salty body of water connected to both a freshwater river and the open sea), celebrate National Estuaries Day with the folks at Alley Pond, who’ll be toting tots on free boat rides, leading demos, crafts, games and providing live entertainment all day long. Sat Sept 28 at 11am at the Alley Pond Environmental Center.

 (Photograph: Filip Wolak)
Photograph: Filip Wolak

25. Little Red Lighthouse Festival
Manhattan’s last remaining (and most adorable) lighthouse celebrates its special day with free tours, live music, theatrical performances, arts and crafts, fishing clinics along the Hudson and, as always, a reading of the 1942 children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift (the “gray bridge” refers to the George Washington Bridge, built six years after Little Red in 1927, although it’s never actually named in the story!) Families can head to Washington Heights and climb up to the top of its beacon, just in time for fall foliage. Sat Oct 12 at noon in Fort Washington Park.


26. McNally Jackson Storytime: John Lithgow
The 3rd Rock from the Sun vet (kids may know him better as the voice of Lord Farquaad in Shrek) stops by McNally Jackson to celebrate the newest addition to his lengthy children’s book repertoire, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo. The book, which is composed of lyrics to his song of the same name, includes a CD, but kiddos can hear the real thing live and in person at this book store party after a signing and reading. Sat Oct 26 at 11:30am at McNally Jackson Books.

 (Courtesy National Museum of the )
Courtesy National Museum of the

27. "Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison"
The National Museum of the American Indian may not seem a likely place to see colorful, abstract work by a 20th-century modernist, but that’s just what lies in store for families there this fall. “Modern Spirit,” which originated at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, is a retrospective of work by the Minnesota-born artist George Morrison: paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures that reveal a fascination with landscape and horizon and resonate with a distinctive combination of calm intimacy and the energy of the Abstract Expressionists. Kids will especially love Morrison’s exuberant use of color and light. Sat Oct 5–Sun Feb 23 at the National Museum of the American Indian.

 (Photograph: Jonathan Aprea)
Photograph: Jonathan Aprea

28. Morningside Lights
The second (and now annual) event organized by Columbia University’s Miller Theatre delivers a week’s worth of all-ages creative workshops in which families can design and craft their own lanterns, then showcase their work in a twilight procession through Morningside Park. The result? A glowing, somewhat eerie (but nonetheless beautiful) mass of handmade art. This year’s theme, “The Luminous Deep,” calls for ocean-inspired works, so we’re expecting to see some really, really cool jellyfish. Workshops Sat Sept 14–Fri Sept 20 at the Miller Theatre. Parade Sat Sept 21 at 8pm in Morningside Park.

 (Photograph: Richard Patterson)
Photograph: Richard Patterson

29. National Design Week
While families will have to wait until early next year to revisit the Cooper-Hewitt Naitonal Design Museum, its Harlem outpost, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Center hosts a weeklong series of drop-in programs for families, like hands-on workshops with fashion designer, publisher and television personality Todd Oldham or an interactive storytime with cool design books geared toward the preschool set. Be sure to reserve a spot online well in advance, as workshops are likely to fill up faster than parents will pull out their Tim Gunn impressions. Sat Oct 12–Sun Oct 20 at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Center.

 (Photograph: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)
Photograph: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

30. Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play
Since 2004, Nickelodeon has suspended programming from noon to 3pm once a year to promote, well, anything other than watching television. But for the event's tenth anniversary, Nickelodeon is upping the ante with a huge festival in Prospect Park. Organizations like the NFL and Zumba supply the activities, while a TBA musical guest will rock the stage. Tickets, while free, will be distributed through Web registration at nick.com/play. Sat Sept 21 at 10am in Prospect Park, Nethermead.

 (Photograph: courtesy of 92Y)
Photograph: courtesy of 92Y

31. 92Y Street Fest
All of the diverse offerings at one of the Upper East Side’s most beloved institutions go alfresco at the 19th annual block party on Lexington Avenue. Besides stage performances and healthy resources for families, check out street-side sculpture, potter, painting and jewelry classes at the Kid Central Zone, which also includes a special play area for the under-five set, a gaga pit and an obstacle course for the tiniest tumblers. Sun Sept 15 at noon on Lexington Ave between 79th and 94th Sts.

 (Photograph: Filip Wolak)
Photograph: Filip Wolak

32. Open House New York
At this annual event, institutions around the city open their doors for free tours and programs. Kids can choose from a variety of offerings, including a city skyline workshop at the Children's Museum of the Arts, a family festival at the Center for Architecture, exhibition tours and building design at the Skyscraper Museum, shapes and pattern study at the Eldridge Street Synagoge and more. Sat Oct 12, Sun Oct 13 at various city locations (ohny.org).

 (Photograph: David reinfeld 2009)
Photograph: David reinfeld 2009

33. Smithsonian Magazine's Annual Museum Day
Once a year, more than 800 museums around the country (including New York City's Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Skyscraper Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, the NYC Fire Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design and more) open their doors to the public free of charge. Sat Sept 28 at various locations (smithsonianmag.com).

 (Photograph: Courtesy the JCC in Manhattan)
Photograph: Courtesy the JCC in Manhattan

34. Sol LeWitt Family Art Day
Families can check out the JCC in Manhattan’s fall exhibition dedicated to the late Sol LeWitt, which centers around the conceptual artist’s 1989 installation Wall Drawing #599. Along with guided tours of “Sol LeWitt: Shaping Ideas,” kids can get artsy themselves with craft workshops, games and music. Sun Oct 20 at 10am at the JCC in Manhattan.

 (Courtesy El Museo del Barrio)
Courtesy El Museo del Barrio

35. Super Sábado!
El Museo del Barrio's free family programming every third Saturday of the Month is back for the school year, bringing with it gallery tours and art workshops centered around a different theme each month. September celebrates the DIY spirit by taking inspiration from artists featured in the current exhibition "La Bienal 2013: Here Is Where We Jump," while October's takes place in honor of the 3,000-year-old Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead. Sat Sept 21, Sat Oct 19 at 11am at El Museo del Barrio.


36. TOON Comics Extravaganza
Celebrate the release of Latin American comic artist Liniers's newest book, The Big Wet Balloon, with a multimedia presentation that includes live painting and music (fans can also catch him at Sunday's Brooklyn Book Festival). Other cartoonists will be in attendance as well, including Art Spigelman, Gary Panter, Jeff Smith, Rutu Modan, Dean Haspiel, Trade Loeffler; New Yorker artist Barry Blitt's band will play live music. Thu Sept 19 at 7pm at BookCourt.

 (Photograph: Leah Reddy)
Photograph: Leah Reddy

37. Trick or Treat at Trinity Wall Street
Spend a spooky Halloween night inside Trinity Church's graveyard while enjoying all the sugary seasonal traditions. Thu Oct 31 at 5pm at Trinity Church.

 (Photograph: Virginia Rollison)
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

38. Village Halloween Parade
With a theme this year of "the 'i' of the beholder" the city's largest Halloween extravaganza focuses what we see and how we see it. A spooky cloud of floating eyes will lead the parade up Sixth Avenue, and eyeball images sent in by spectators will be projected onto the "Great Eyeball" high above the parade. Make sure your tots are comfortable with crowds before setting out: Typical attendance tops 2 million revelers. Thu Oct 31 at 6:30pm on Sixth Ave from Spring St to 15th St (halloween-nyc.com).


39. Westbeth Kids Groove Festival
The West Village’s annual Westbeth Music Festival gets a kiddie counterpart for the first time. Over the course of the day, expect performances by orchestras, school bands, solo artists and choirs made up entirely of talented kids, plus a show by the Penny Jones Puppets & Company, storytelling, drumming and song-writing workshops and raffle prizes like music lessons, instruments and other swanky swag. Sun Sept 22 at 11am at Westbeth Artists Housing (westbeth.org).


40. Westerleigh Folk Festival
See 19 musical acts from Staten Island (and beyond) perform in an all-day outdoor concert, including Leila Hegazy, Patrick Rafferty of Music with Patrick and 12-year-old Catherin Michetti. In between shows, which are separated in three stages, kids can get their faces painted, play with balloons, make origami and take a free spin on a pony. Sat Sept 21 at 11:30am in Westerleigh Park.

RECOMMENDED: More things to do in the fall with kids

This season, save your cash for something warm (and preferably pumpkin-flavored!) and instead, take to the city’s leaf-covered streets for one of these free things to do in NYC during the fall. Scroll through our slide show for the best outdoor block parties, Halloween festivals, new art exhibits and tons more. Know of other great free things to do in NYC with kids? Let us know on Twitter at @TimeOutKids!