Once the final bell rings, summer vacation is your child's oyster. And what better place to celebrate two months of freedom than NYC? The list of activities is seemingly endless.
Believe it or not, there are also plenty of free things to do with kids in NYC, so you don't have to worry about hefty pricetags when embarking on an afternoon out. Whether it's a day trip or a pool visit, your favorite city has lots to offer on the cheap.
So grab the sunscreen and start making plans—these free activities for kids are going to keep you busy!
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to summer activities for kids in NYC
Looking for more ways to spend a summer in the city? Visit these kids playgrounds, grab the whole crew for a trip to one of these adventurous water parks near NYC or peruse our list of the best summer activities for kids if you're looking for inspiration.
Best free things to do with kids in NYC
NYC really does have it all—even one-on-one time with nature. Thanks to fantastic free kayaking and canoeing offerings, a trip out of town to feel at one with your surroundings is no longer necessary. You can feel adventurous and nautical, all while taking in gorgeous scenes as you paddle throughout the boroughs. If you are searching for a family outing, this is one great way to take advantage of fun activities and save some dough (talk about a win-win situation).
Let your kids rocket through the sky on a zip line or brave an elevated adventure course (all for free) on Sundays with the help of this exciting offering from Alley Pond Park. This year, the Adventure Course Sunday series runs from May 6–Oct 18, and each event is free and available to kids ages 8 and up.
Manhattan's westside waterfront park is taking its 20th anniversary bash seriously by offering a slew of free activities for New Yorkers big and small. Families have a lot to look forward to, particularly with the new addition to the lineup, "Science Saturdays." On June 2 (at Pier 45), July 14 (at Pier 84) and Aug 11 (at Pier 25) from noon–4pm, families are invited to experiment with in hands-on activities in the coolest classroom in NYC. What better place to participate in nature DIYs and examine microscopic findings than the great outdoors? Hudson River Park’s Estuary Lab backs the programming, so prepare for an ecological-focused itinerary such as touch tanks, performances from Mad Science and even catch and release fishing, among other activities.
If you want to escape the bustle of the city without straying too far, Governors Island is waiting for you. The island features open lawns for kids to run through and trees to provide shade, should you need a little relief when you picnic. The tots can speed down Slide Hill, interact with art installations, explore adventure park The Yard, bike on the car-free roads or swing around in Hammock Grove. Don't forget to take in that gorgeous view of lower Manhattan!
Museums in NYC are filled with awesome exhibits, but the cost of visiting them 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 and times (the Brooklyn Children's Museum on Thursdays, MoMA on Fridays). Expose the little ones to as much arts and culture as possible without having to shell out money for admission.
Get in on the action with annual events such as the Museum Mile Festival (June 12), the New York City Poetry Festival (July 28–29) and other exciting community gatherings that pack in the fun and leave your wallet feeling heavy.
NYC is your theater this time of year. Head to a local park with a folding chair or picnic blanket and enjoy classics and new releases while the city serves as your backdrop. Moana is showing on May 25 at 8:30pm on Randall's Island and Thor on June 1 at 8pm at Willowbrook Park, to name a few
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. Le Carousel is not only a great place to take the kids for a ride, but the serene, inviting attraction beckons visitors to stay for a fun magic show, of which there are plenty. Cali Co Cat and her carousel friends are ready to entertain their little guests with an exciting story time on Saturdays. Check out the park's schedule for a full list of activitites.
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. We can't resist the sweet offerings at Brooklyn Bridge Park!
Waterholes in all five boroughs provide kids plenty of spots to splash around at no cost. Some of the best swimming pools for kids happen to be in parks or right by the best playgrounds, making it super easy to draw up an itinerary for a few family summer day trips! Why not follow up a trip to the pool with a picnic on the park's lawns?
It 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 family-friendly spots splashing around in the waves, building a masterpiece for the Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest and soaking up some rays.
NYC is home to magnificent museums, but sometimes strolling around the streets is all you need for a dose of 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 (there's quite a few in Central Park). This year, NYC Parks and UNIQLO teamed up once again to choose 10 recipients of Art in the Parks: UNIQLO Park Expressions Grant. Thanks to this initiative, fun, creative installations from local artists will make their way to spots across the five boroughs, so be on the lookout!
What's better than a good book? Head to fun venues such as your local park or public library to take advantage of a fun reading. Not only will your kiddo be exposed to new authors, but he or she will also make a few fellow bibliophile friends along the way.
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.