Do you love free activities for kids? Of course you do! Your suburban friends might question why we think NYC is the best place to raise a family, especially because things can get pretty pricey when you're living it up (or really just living!) in The Big Apple. The truth is...no one can really deny that New York life is expensive, which is why we've decided to give you some ammo against the naysayers: your ultimate guide to keeping family time fun-filled and free for all! These free things to do for kids will keep 'em busy through every season, and you won't mind partaking, either. This stuff is awesome!
Free activities for kids in NYC: Top 10
No need to pay during the A Closer Look For Kids family program at MoMA—individual families of up to two adults and up to three kids can participate in a variety of activities on Saturdays and Sundays—and what's better than that? Mini movie buffs will also rejoice: Family Films are also free. For scheduled activities and screenings, be sure to get a ticket, distributed on a first-come first-served basis at the Education and Research Building reception desk starting 10am.
From the famed Haunted High Line Halloween to exciting outdoor summer programming for kids, the High Line is really the place to be year-round. Commit to a long loop to check out the sights, plants and cool public art and explore three fun programs for kids in July and August. In those months, visit Lawn Time (ages 0-3), where families can hear readings by different storytellers each week, Wild Wednesday (ages 4+), featuring nature-related crafts and activities, and Arty Hours, where kids explore their creativity through hands-on art projects.
Bring your budding builders to the LEGO megastore on the first Tuesday of each month for a free workshop. They’ll build cool LEGO creations, like robots and space rockets, that they can take home afterwards. The workshops are geared toward kids aged 6 to 14, and quantities are limited. Can’t make it to the store? Download assembly instructions online.
25 amazing city playgrounds are right at your doorstep—why not check 'em out during spring, summer and fall? You'll have the chance to dig into your new book and they'll tire themselves out ripping down slides and mastering the monkey bars...what's not to love? Click above for our list of favorites.
Toddler Storytime, Family Read Aloud and Book Buddies! Book Discussion Group are just a few of the weekly and monthly bonuses for visiting NYPL. During Toddler Storytime, little ones from 18mos–3 years can enjoy interactive stories and songs, while librarians read children’s books with children ages 3–8 at Family Read Aloud. At Book Buddies!, older kids (7–9) can read and discuss awesome children’s books in a fun, informal setting.
Whether ambling along snowy paths in the winter or rowing on the lake in the summer heat, nothing beats the welcome sight of grass, trees and water in our bustling metropolis and, as far as we’re concerned, it’s just not possible to tire of Central Park. Tackling the massive expanse, however, is a feat that’s not easily accomplished, which is where guided tours come in. The Central Park Conservancy offers gratis, guided walks through smaller areas of the park, including a Northern Welcome Tour—traipsing from the Conservatory Garden along the Harlem Meer and past the North Woods—and a Heart of the Park Tour, visiting the famous Bethesda Terrace, Samuel F.B. Morse statue and more. Just check the schedule and meeting place, then lace up your walking shoes and grab the kids. They’ll love learning about the landmarks sitting (essentially) in their backyard.
Visit the former home of the 1964 World’s Fair on Friday afternoons (2pm–5pm) and Sunday mornings (10am–11am) to experience this amazing museum for free. Kids will have so much fun discovering NYSCI’s many interactive exhibits that bring science, math, engineering and technology to life. Watch an eye–popping film in the 3D theater, take in an educational demonstration or explore exhibits about robots, light and outer space.
Bryant Park has plenty to offer your family year-round. In warmer weather, take a trip to the Art Cart in front of the NYPL to borrow crayons, colored pencils, stencils and other art supplies so the kids can make their next masterpiece nearby (there are professional-quality supplies available for adults, too)! If you’re more in the mood for a relaxing read, check out the Reading Room (no I.D. or library card required), where there are a wide variety of books available to use for free, plus kid’s furniture and books to keep little ones occupied. There are also fun free performances like Broadway in Bryant Park and magic shows for kids, and if you can score a spot on the lawn, there are always summer film screenings to look forward to. In wintertime, don’t miss the Winter Village pop-up shops and free skating (ice-skate rentals are available for a fee).
While general admission to this sprawling museum is by suggested donation ($22 for adults and $12.50 for kids), youngsters ages 5–12 and their families can get a free, behind–the–scenes look at its various scientific exhibits in the Discovery Room, which features displays, artifacts and hands–on activities. Track earthquakes in real time with a seismograph, peer into a tiny world through a microscope, touch real fossils and minerals or explore a two–story replica of the African baobab tree. Grab passes for free 40–minute timed sessions at the entrance. Heads up—the Discovery Room is closed on Fridays during the school year! (Oh, and if you did want to splurge on museum entry, it's definitely worth seeing the museum's new Titanosaur and corresponding dino exhibit).
Unlike the rest of the week, Wednesday admission at the Zoo is a suggested donation. That being said, these Wednesdays can be a little crazy (ok, a LOT crazy)—but if you’re looking for a free afternoon with the family, it’s worth considering...just get there early and map out what you'd like to visit!) While exploring the Bronx Zoo, New Yorkers may spot such exotic creatures as the fossa (a predatory, tree-climbing mammal) and snow leopards. More common favorites, including gorillas, also reside at the Bronx Zoo. Keep an eye out for the daily penguin and sea lion feedings! If you have a little cash to spare, check out the site’s suggested donation amounts to make a feel-good contribution to the Zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts.
Free activities for kids in NYC: 11–20
Explore the 25 gardens of this serene green space for free on Wednesdays from 3pm to 6pm and Sundays from 4pm to 6pm. The Garden also hosts free, nature–inspired Family Storytime & Craft events for kids throughout the year, though be advised that space and supplies are limited.
Few things are more iconic than New York's Grand Central Terminal. Families can gaze at it's incredible ceiling (the constellations on the Main Concourse ceiling are drawn in reverse, as if seen from heaven), plus there's actually a free guide for things to check out here. Be sure to also explore the Transit Museum Gallery Annex (another amazing free thing to do—find the info below!)
With its many restaurants and shops, Grand Central Terminal is as much a destination as it is a transit hub. Here’s one more reason to visit even if you don’t have a train to catch. Kids with an interest in construction and engineering will enjoy learning about the complexities of the city’s century–old subway system at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex, a smaller offshoot of the main museum in Brooklyn. Admission to the museum, which is located just off the main concourse in the Shuttle Passage, is free, so you can save your cash for a burger and fries at Shake Shack or a slice of Junior’s cheesecake.
Surely you’ve admired the stunning Gothic Revival exterior of this NYC landmark—now, venture inside for a free educational tour. Guided tours begin at 10am and are held throughout the week; check the Cathedral’s website for specific schedule information. Additionally, if you want to go it alone, you can download The Story of America's Parish Church: St. Patrick's Cathedral, a self–guided audio tour app that’s also available on handheld devices at the church. There’s even a version specifically designed for children.
There’s tons of free fun for kids in this verdant sliver of Manhattan. Mad. Sq. Kids—Madison Square Park Conservancy’s free program for little ones—offers a packed calendar of family-friendly events throughout the year. One is the Summer Concert Series, which brings acts like Bari Koral, The Okee Dokee Brothers and Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band to the park’s Oval Lawn. Families flock to the biannual Kids Fest for live music, arts & crafts, storytelling, face painting and games in the spring and fall. Other free programs include Reading Rangers, Art in the Park and the M.U.C.K. gardening workshop series.
One of the city's largest and most beloved independent children's bookstores, Books of Wonder features titles both new and old (rare and out-of-print editions), plus foreign-language and reference titles, and a special collection of Oz books. Used as inspiration for the children's bookstore in the film You've Got Mail, the quaint and cozy shop boasts a spacious retail floor, a gallery and café space. Youngsters are treated to weekly storytimes on Saturdays (11am) and Sundays (11:30am)—including a bilingual edition each month—when top-notch authors and illustrators come by to share their tomes. Book launch events, picture book bonanzas and teen book clubs also frequent the space.
You’ve likely explored the halls of the Met with the kids more than once, but have they been to see the museum’s medieval art and architecture collections, tucked away at The Cloisters? The peaceful grounds, nestled in Fort Tyron Park, are open seven days a week, year-round, and children under 12 always get in free (adults have suggested admission). The grounds have a medieval feel themselves and are the perfect spot for a serene stroll, whether in sun or snow—be sure to peek at the famous Unicorn Tapestries! Last, in warmer temps, we'd recommend packing a picnic. If you bring food with you to enjoy in the gardens pre-museum visit (food is not allowed inside the museum), you'll leave without spending anything at all!
Experience the natural beauty of this 635–acre hidden gem in Queens without paying a dime—entrance to the grounds is free. Once there, you can take a stroll on a forest trail, explore wetlands and marshes or simply enjoy the peace and quiet. More than 300 species of wildlife call Alley Pond home, so keep your eyes peeled for birds and other creatures. The center also offers a number of educational programs for kids and adults; see their website for information on schedules.
Little cinephiles and junior gamers will be blown away by this interactive museum, which is free for all visitors on Friday evenings from 4pm until 8pm (and always free for kids under 3). Families can go behind the scenes of the filmmaking process, browse the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts (including puppets, cameras, costumes and photos), attend a kid–friendly movie screening or play one of 14 classic video games.
In addition to year–round Target Free Days, held Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9am until noon, this nature center in the Bronx offers free family programming each weekend. Admission on Saturdays is free from 9am–noon, giving families gratis access to Family Art Projects (held both Saturday and Sunday from 10am–1pm) inspired by Wave Hill’s gardens and grounds. Build a bird feeder out of recycled materials, make a mandala that mimics the rings of a tree trunk or sculpt mythological creatures out of wash–away clay. Check Wave Hill’s website for a detailed schedule.
Free activities for kids in NYC: 21–30
And you thought there were no video rental places left! This Williamsburg shop holds free screenings of classic kid flicks at 1pm on the first Saturday of every month. Movies like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Goonies and The Princess Bride appeal to youngsters and their parents alike. Come an hour early for a pre–show featuring classic cartoons.
Stroll to this mini museum in the heart of Park Slope to learn about Brooklyn’s past. Housed in a reconstructed 17th–century Dutch farmhouse, the museum’s permanent exhibit tells the story of the Battle of Brooklyn through clothing, artifacts and documents from the Revolutionary War. Visit the Old Stone House on weekends from 11am until 4pm (admission is by suggested $3 donation). Additionally, Washington Park is home to J.J. Byrne playground; in warm weather, your little ones will love playing with the Colonial–themed water features, including the enviable spray cannons. There are also gardens, basketball and handball courts and a dog run to enjoy, and there's a great bagel place across the street when you're done with free fun!
Hit up this multicultural art museum for special First Friday bashes where special guests might include musical groups like Grammy-winning Latin band La Santa Cecilia or performers like Habana enTRANCE. Kid-centric art workshops are often on the menu, and families can get in on guided gallery tours to peruse the museum’s collection of work from 20th-or 21st-century artists who are Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino descent.
This awesome historic harbor is home to plenty of stores, restaurants and free programming. The South Street Seaport Community Cube hosts activities like sing-alongs and language immersion classes for kids year-round—there are even dance, gym, art and music classes for little ones, too! Be sure to check the schedule for this month’s event roster.
There’s a fun, free family event going on at this cultural institution every Saturday at 11am from October through May. On the first Saturday of the month, join local kiddie musician Lloyd H. Miller for a lively singalong. On the second and third Saturdays, reserve your spot for Handmade History, in which you’ll make a craft inspired by one of the Historical Society’s galleries. And on the fourth Saturday, team up with Together In Dance to express yourself through creative movement. All BHS family programming is aimed at teaching little ones and their families about Brooklyn’s rich history. While these programs are free, you should reserve your spot in advance.
It wouldn’t be summer in New York without a trip to Coney Island, and there are few better ways to spend a hot summer night than by strolling the boardwalk while fireworks light up the sky. You can watch the explosive (free) show every Friday night at 9:30pm from late June through Labor Day. Best of all, you can save your cash for a Nathan’s hot dog or one of Totonno’s storied pizza pies (or pack a picnic and spend no dough at all!)
Families can explore this 175–year–old cemetery at their own pace with a handy digital app serving as a tour guide. Green-Wood Discover directs you to the best views, points out landmark monuments and tells the stories of the notable historic figures behind certain gravestones. There are specific guided tours for a variety of interests, including Gardens and Trees, Architecture and The Civil War, plus songs and poems related to the cemetery. Admission to the cemetery is free.
During Families & Folk Art workshops on the first Saturday of each month, kids and parents are invited to take a guided, discussion-peppered tour through the galleries at the American Folk Art Museum before working on their own piece, inspired by the works they’ve seen, ranging from architecture to textiles to sculpture. Families will first browse one of the museum’s latest exhibitions, then set to work creating a masterpiece with a variety of materials, imitating techniques similar to the artists’.
In warm weather, get outta town by hopping a ferry to Governor’s Island (formerly free, now $2...but Island activities are free!). Kids will love exploring 30 acres of perfectly grassy park and community space—you can cozy up with a book in the hammock grove, play a game of catch or browse impressive art installations to your heart’s desire. The Hills (when they open) will rise 25 to 80 feet above the island, and its summit will provide views of the Statue of Liberty.
When the weather is nice, pack a picnic and head to this enchanting outdoor museum, where the views are as stunning as the sculptures and multimedia art installations. In addition to edgy exhibitions from sculptors and other visual artists, Socrates showcases up–and–coming talent in their annual Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition. While it’s open 365 days a year, port-o-potties are only available at the park from April through September, so plan accordingly. Plus, during spring and summer weekends, you can hop on the LIC Art Bus, a free shuttle that provides transportation to Socrates and several other nearby museums.
Free activities for kids in NYC: 31–40
This free branch of the Smithsonian Institution displays the life and culture of Native Americans in rotating exhibitions and even makes the content digestible for little ones in daily Especially for Kids screenings. Each morning at 10:30am and 11:45am, families can take in a selection of live-action shorts, animated flicks and documentaries covering topics such as growing up and cultural identity.
The Lowline is an innovative city project that uses solar technology to illuminate a historic Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal beneath the streets of NYC. Eventually, the Lowline will be developed into an underground park capable of becoming home to trees, plants and the work of talented architects and engineers; it's projected to fully open in 2020. For now, the Lowline Lab is open to the public and serves as an education and community space! Check their website for more details on how to visit.
There’s nothing quite like the mystery of New York’s Federal Reserve Bank—good thing you and the kids (ages 16+) can check it out for yourselves during a free one-hour tour. Families will learn about the role of the New York Fed, the wider Federal Reserve System and the institution’s gold custody. Who wouldn’t be interested in learning about a vault containing hundreds of thousands of gold bars? Registration for public tours open 30 days prior to the requested date.
Get a taste of what life was like for families during the 18th century during your next trip to Prospect Park. The homestead, located near the park’s Willink entrance at Flatbush Avenue and Empire Boulevard, features period rooms that offer a glimpse into the past, a working garden and hands–on activities for kids like candle–making, butter–churning and sewing. You can also explore the museum’s collection of traditional tools, toys and artifacts. Admission to the Lefferts Historic House is by suggested donation ($3). Hours depend on the season, so check the Prospect Park website for specific details.
With a wealth of programming covering everything from sports and cooking to swimming and science, this venerable UWS institution is known as a go-to spot for creative kids’ classes. If you’re in the mood for free fun, visit on Saturdays for R&R: Shabbat to share in free activities for all ages. Try out some Restorative Yoga and Meditation while the kids play in the game room or get their faces painted.
Get a whole new view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty from a kayak on the East River. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse offers free, 20–minute kayaking trips on Thursdays and Saturdays from June through August. Just show up and they’ll outfit you with a life vest, give you a kayaking crash course and send you on your way. All paddling is done in a protected embayment under supervision of the boathouse staff. Single kayaks are available for adults and teens ages 14 and up with a parent or guardian present; younger kids can ride along with an adult in a double. It’s a first come, first served system and lines can get long, so show up early. The Park's public pool is also open June through Labor Day weekend for splashy fun.
The locally-owned haven for lit lovers boasts 300 square feet of picture books, chapter books, and YA selections for children and tweens, as well as an assortment of educational games and toys. Catch free storytime with the latest and greatest children's authors every Saturday (11am), plus singalongs on the third Friday and first Sunday of each month (11am). Greenlight also hosts free Fiction and Nonfiction Book Groups offsite.
El Museo del Barrio offers free family programming every third Saturday of the month centered around a different theme, such as Dia De Los Muertos and Carnaval. Workshops, craft projects, concerts, films, storytelling and gallery tours celebrate Latino art, culture and traditions. RSVPs are recommended.
Every month, Target and the Brooklyn Museum host Target First Saturdays, a free day–long art and entertainment celebration for families. Little ones will love live music, film screenings and exciting art workshops for all ages. Some events during the day require you to pick up free tickets at the Visitor Center, so be sure to browse your favorite activities online before attending.
Located in Prospect Park's early-20th-century Boathouse, the Audubon Center is devoted to wildlife preservation and education and contains the park's visitor's center, a café and an exhibition area. It is the first urban Audubon center in the United States. Catch one of its recurring free events like Introduction to Birdwatching or The Night Sky to really get in touch with nature!
Free activities for kids in NYC: 41–50
What kid wouldn’t be psyched to visit a miniature castle? Perched above Central Park’s Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle is open daily for exploration from 10am–5pm. Little ones can wander around inside and climb up to the landmark’s two balconies imagining that they reign over the green space. In warmer months, check out the nearby Turtle Pond and come by in mid-May for the On A Wing Family Festival, when winged creatures like bats and birds of prey come for a visit.
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 the following free craft-making activities for the kiddos!
Long considered one of the best free things to do in the Big Apple, a ride across the New York Harbor on the Staten Island Ferry is still a great, family–friendly way to take in some stunning views. The hour–long round–trip offers glimpses of Lady Liberty, Governor’s Island, the lower Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge; move from one side of the boat to the other after the first leg of the journey to get the full tour. Making things even easier, the ferry runs frequently enough to pretty much eliminate the need for careful planning. Just show up and hop aboard! Be advised that it gets windy on the water, so bring an extra layer, even on warm days. The Staten Island Ferry departs from the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.
Get in on a bilingual (English/Spanish) workshop on three Saturdays during each new exhibition. Families will love going on an exhibition tour and trying hands-on art projects inspired by the techniques of the exhibiting artist. To make a reservation and find specific dates, contact Hannah Brenner-Leonard (718-960-8732 or email@example.com).
On most days, general admission to the 17th–century Queens County Farm Museum is free, granting families access to 47 acres of land, complete with a greenhouse, livestock, farm vehicles, an orchard and herb garden. You wouldn’t imagine an afternoon on historic farmland to include film screenings, but on select Wednesdays kids can also catch “Farmy Flicks” like Shaun the Sheep showing in the barn at no cost! Hot popcorn is available for purchase and little ones can visit with the cattle, sheep, pigs and goats before showtime.
You can fish in the Hudson River for free during the summer—just don’t try to eat your catch of the day. In addition to formal fishing instruction from Big City Fishing, kids ages five and older will get a lesson in the ecology and biology of the Hudson River and its species from environmental educators. All fishing equipment, including rods, reels and bait, are provided. The program is offered in several locations on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Monday evenings.
Family-oriented yoga studio Karma Kids welcomes the littlest yogis (infant to age 6) to the mat for a special StoryTime edition of the practice that’s absolutely free on Wednesdays at 11:30am. With exciting aspects like puppetry and sing-a-long songs thrown in, it’s easy for little ones to pick up on yoga poses. Throughout the 30-minute reading, the class will stop to do poses inspired by animals of elements of nature in the story.
Gather round as NYC’s favorite raconteurs, The Hans Christian Andersen Storytellers, bring classic tales from Scandinavia and the far North to life. At this free family event, held monthly on Saturdays, kids aged 5 and up will enjoy folk tales featuring giants, trolls, elves and other mythical creatures.
More free things to do with kids
Seemingly kicking off festivities with Spring Break at Le Carrousel on April 2, Bryant Park is gearing up for an exciting spring/summer with fun activities for families.