Summer in NYC is a welcomed season for New Yorkers—not only can we finally bask in the sunshine, but a slew of free things to do in NYC means there's something to do every day. Summer activities for all ages include museum exhibits, swimming, festivals, movie screenings and other outdoor activities for kids—and many are free. Check out our list of the best free things to do in NYC this season and squeeze every last drop of warm weather days.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to summer activities for kids in NYC
Free things to do in NYC with kids
If you want to escape the bustle of the city without straying too far, Governors Island is waiting for you. The island features wide open lawns for kids to run through and trees to provide shade should you bring a picnic instead of turning to the food vendors stationed there. The tots can speed down Slide Hill, interact with art installations, explore adventure park Play:ground, bike on the car-free roads or swing around in Hammock Grove. Enjoy the view of lower Manhattan from afar while enjoying the calmer setting. Tip: children 12 and under ride free on the Governors Island ferry, and if you hop on the ferry before 11:30am on weekends, you’ll all cross the harbor for free.
Museums in NYC are filled with awesome exhibits for kids, but the cost of visiting them all can start to add up if you’ve got the whole troop in tow. This is why NYC families are lucky that many museums open their doors for free on select days. Expose the little ones to as much arts and culture as possible without having to shell out money for admission and note which ones deserve a return visit.
In summertime, outdoor movies (all free!) are a great new twist on your usual living room movie nights! Pack a picnic and your folding chairs and head for these amazing parks, piers and rooftops to see family favorites from our 50 best kids' movies or the best new kids' movies on Netflix under the stars!
Situated behind the New York Public Library is Bryant Park, a well-cultivated retreat that hosts a dizzying schedule of free entertainment during the summer, including the popular Monday night outdoor movies. The park hosts weekly kid-friendly programming such as storytime in the Reading Room and game socials in the 40th Street Plaza. Little ones with an interest in the circus can learn to juggle at juggling lessons held on weekdays in the Lawn or the 42nd Street Plaza. Additionally, on Saturdays over the summer, the park offers the Word for Word Kids series that presents special children's events, plus there's Broadway in Bryant Park and fun magic shows to look forward to. Check their site for more details.
Posting up at NYC beaches and swimming pools is a great way to spend summer days as a family, but sometimes you and the kids are looking for a quick and easy way to cool off. These low-key splash parks and water playgrounds let little ones romp through fountains and sprinklers without packing up the beach bag or waiting in line at a crowded pool.
Habana Outpost is a favorite for families during the summer months (and that’s no surprise, especially since it offers delicious food and even free outdoor movies during the summer). On Saturdays and Sundays from 11am–3pm, the Outpost offers free craft-making activities for the kiddos (food is not free, but it’s available for purchase). Don't forget to visit our other favorite spots for outdoor dining and fun outdoor activities for kids too!
Waterholes in all five boroughs open for the season on June, giving kids plenty of spots to splash around at no cost. Some of the best swimming pools for kids happen to be in NYC parks or right by the best playgrounds, making it easy to draw up an itinerary for some family summer day trips near the pool of your choice. Taking a dip is one of our favorite free things to do with kids, so pack up the suits and towels, slather the tots with sunscreen and dive in!
New York's plentiful swimming pools for kids are great and all, but it's doesn't truly feel like summer until there's sand between your toes. Many NYC beaches are an easy subway ride away, making them great destinations for summer day trips. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you and the kids can while away the hours at these eight family-friendly spots splashing around in the waves, building a masterpiece for the Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest and soaking up some rays. If you want to make a day out of it without spending money eating out, pack a picnic on the go and take it with you!
New York City has great museums with exhibits for all ages, but sometimes strolling around the streets is all you need for a dose of arts and culture. Use our list of the coolest outdoor art for families and take a tour of free sculptures, murals and interactive installations with the kiddos. When the sun is shining, it’s a great way to learn about and appreciate art while enjoying amazing weather.
We've kept you plenty busy with our list of 101 things to do with kids in NYC, fun indoor activities for kids and even events at our favorite book stores—but have you attended a story time with the kids yet this season? If you haven't (or if you just can't get enough of them like us), these are the ones you really need to see; they're available year-round and are a great excuse to cool off in the AC during summer months.
When the sweltering summer heat calls for a calming paddle on the water, you'll be glad to know that your family can get afloat right in New York City. Instead of hightailing it out of town on summer day trips or shipping the kids off to outdoorsy summer camps, enjoy the easily-accessible, free kayaking NYC boathouses offer throughout the season. With kid-sized vessels, paddles and life jackets on loan, youngsters can practice their strokes and even catch a glimpse of NYC at sunset from the waves.
Enjoy more exciting activities for kids
There are plenty of outdoor activities for kids in New York City—many you'll even love doing as a family! Explore the coolest skating rinks, parks, family attractions, and campgrounds in cooler weather, and check out our favorite NYC beaches, swimming pools and berry-picking hotspots when it's toasty.