They say nothing in life is free, but we beg to differ. These free activities for kids will keep you and your ultra-busy squad out and about, and there's plenty of fun to be had! Use our list of 50 sweet ideas (some seasonal and some year-long) to make sure you're having the most fun humanly possible. After all, NYC is the best place to raise a family.
Searching for even more exciting ideas? We have you covered! You'll want to check out our top outdoor activities for kids, indoor activities for kids and our events calendar for kids. If you're in for a low-key day, search our roundup of the best kids' movies and family movies on Netflix as well.
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.
Here in NYC, playgrounds are the backyard our urban kids will never have. They offer a safe place for children to explore, climb, play games and even escape to faraway lands for an imaginative adventure. They’re more than just play structures, slides and swings: they’re a great place for kids and parents to make new friends, and for families to congregate most of the year! Visit Billy Johnson Playground to zoom down an iconic stone slide on a piece of cardboard, or Tom Otterness Playground to scale a massive art piece. For an even more imaginative experience, head to Play:ground at Governors Island, where kids can build with real hammers and nails (supervised, of course!) and play with recycled objects.
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.
Undoubtedly one of the cutest bookstores in NYC, Books of Wonder offers amazing an amazing children’s selection that’ll encourage your little ones to pick story and start reading right then and there. Fun fact: It was also the inspiration for the children’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail! On the shelves, you’ll find everything from classic books, bilingual books, new releases and even rare/out-of-print books. On Saturdays (11am) and Sundays (11:30am), you’ll want to stop by for story time hosted by bookstore staff and plenty of visiting artists and authors.
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.
This interactive museum devoted to film, gaming and all other kinds of moving media will not only keep your kids on their toes but encourage them to take interest in new mediums. By visiting, you’ll get a chance to browse everything from nineteenth-century optical toys to classic arcade games and T.V. or movie-specific exhibits. In 2017, the museum’s biggest highlight is the crowdfunded opening of the Jim Henson Exhibit (July 22 2017), which will feature puppets and other Jim Henson artifacts. Don’t miss out on ongoing screenings, temporary exhibits or a visit to the video arcade, which offers favorites like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat. Games are swapped for preservation purposes, so you’ll have a good chance of seeing different games each time you visit.
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’.
Need a quick escape from city life? Get outta town by hopping a ferry to Governors Island (formerly free, now $2...but Island activities are free, and rides for kids under 13 are free, too). Your family 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, now finally open, rise high above the island, and they provide views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. One of the biggest draws for kids is Slide Hill, which contains four large slides—one of which is the longest slide in NYC! Yippee!
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.
Turn to your fridge for free fun! These popsicle recipes are sure to cool off adults and kids alike when the sun is shining and temps are rising. The best part is that these are all popsicle recipes you can make in the comfort of your own home, and there's no need for any fancy gadgets (many you can even make in a Dixie cup)! Homemade popsicles for the win! You can also go the healthy route with real fruit popsicles or banana popsicles (or go all out and pile on the sweet with some ice pops).
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.
Sunny days are finally upon us, and while we might not have the luxury of a backyard pool like our suburban friends, we still have a long list of awesome swimming pools for kids at our fingertips. Whether you're looking to do some laps around the pool or simply take in the scene, there’s truly a perfect watering hole that’ll cater to all tastes. And with all the free outdoor pools, splash parks and free summer activities for kids, boredom won’t have a chance to squeeze into your schedule. Check out our top NYC public swimming pools that’ll help the whole family beat the summer heat.
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.
Finding easy recipes for kids just got even easier thanks to these food bloggers. Yummy dishes from Heather Christo, Foodie with Family, The Lean Green Bean and others will have kids and grownups coming back up for second helpings. If you’re lucky enough to have any leftovers at the end of the day, just pop ‘em in the freezer for a quick heat-and-serve meal the next time around.
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! When you come to celebrate, be prepared to party in a way that celebrates Latino culture—whether through art-making workshops, concerts or story hours. Holidays also get incorporated too, like Dia De Los Muertos! The event is super popular, so be sure to get there early!
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.
Attention bookworms! Brooklyn Public Library's Park Slope branch just unveiled a brand new reading circle and storytelling garden, and it's a little slice of heaven! You'll now find lush grass, a small podium or speaker area and eight curved stone benches encircled by beautiful trees and flowering bushes. It's all safely located within a 3,700-square-foot gated area adjacent to the library so your crew can run and play freely! Enjoy free multilingual story time events, gardening and other how-to–type classes, kids' concerts, stargazing meetups, art programs, author talks and even quiet reading hours for patrons (yes, truly heaven!).
Looking for the best beaches near NYC? Try these stellar local spots (and a handful just a bit farther away) to spend a day splashing in the water and building sandcastles to your heart's desire! Many of the spectacular picks on our list are accessible by Metro North or LIRR so you don’t need a car to get there, making it one of our favorite free activities for kids.
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.
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.
There are so many great playdate ideas for kids in NYC, from visiting an awesome children's museum to taking hands-on cooking classes. Every now and then, we set up local youngsters for fun-filled outings to see if they hit it off. Check out some of the brave pairs we've introduced and see if they became friends after spending time together in NYC! Want to get set up? Email us at email@example.com with "PLAYDATE" in the subject line. Please include your child's name, age, borough and a little bit about them! Kids must be a NYC resident (and ideally 6 and up) to participate.
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.
Browse our guide to the best parks for kids to make the most of your sunny afternoon! There's no need to wonder, "Where are the best parks for kids near me?" when cool spots that include climbable structures, perfect picnicking areas and free programming are right under your nose! While this is by no means an exhaustive list (there are so many pretty parks to choose from!), we particularly love these spots for socializing, tossing a frisbee and simply hanging out. We hope you'll make the most of the best parks near you.
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 ages 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.