The best free things to do with kids in NYC

Free things to do with kids? NYC has plenty, including festivals, fireworks and even summer camp programs!

Photograph: Courtesy Alley Pond Environmental Center

You heard that right: NYC's best free things to do with kids will keep the whole crew entertained (and wallets full)!

As you embark on 2019's summer bucket list, take advantage of great outdoor activities for kids at no charge! From swimming and kayaking to nifty kids' playgrounds and water playgrounds, you'll realize there's no shortage of adventure! 

Plus, we round up our favorite free museum days, festivals and family attractions that you can enjoy without a hefty ticket. Don't be fooled: There are plenty of free things to do with kids in NYC, you just need to do a little bit of research. (But don't sweat it—we've got that covered for you!)

Free activities for kids

Bloomingdales holiday windows 2011
Photograph: Lindsay Taylor

Holiday windows

Ready to ogle some gorgeous Christmas window displays? We know, searching for the best NYC gifts can be nightmarish at times—especially if your list forces you to combat the inevitably tourist-packed realm that is Fifth Ave. But there’s an upside to navigating these painfully busy streets at this time of year: You get to peep department stores’ ornate window displays and pretty Christmas lights. In fact, some of them are so impressive, they might be reason enough to stroll through midtown.

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

Best free classes for kids in NYC

Looking for ways to keep your brood active? NYC's best free programs for kids examine different fields in a fun, relaxing enviornment where youngsters can conquer unchartered territory and meet other little New Yorkers in the process. Added bonus? Parents won't have to shell out the big bucks for an epic experience.  No matter the area of interest—art, sports, tech, the environment—these free classes for kids cover a ride array of subjects that will spice up any day of the week. Visit your local park or library to see some of the offerings. Don't wait too long to snag a spot for your crew!  While you're making plans, don't forget to make a list of the most epic things to do with kids in NYC, explore the greatest kids' classes that are $50 or less and let little master chefs take over the kitchen with these cooking classes. 

Photograph: Courtesy Books Are Magic
Things to do, Literary events

Storytime for kids in NYC

Storytime for kids will allow your child's love for literature blossom one picture book at a time. Make your way to the best bookstores, most engaging libraries for kids and charming toy stores in NYC for fun read-alouds and interactive activities. Children will meet new friends and explore a wide variety of tales, from the latest bestseller to classic stories.  

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock
Things to do, Literary events

Book clubs for kids in NYC

Like a well-stocked shelf, NYC's best book clubs for kids offer plenty of options for little bibliophiles. Yes, Mom and Dad, this activity just might cause the kiddos to stay up past their bedtime (we apologize in advance). New genres, authors and series are at the ready for young readers, so stop by your local indie to see what options are available for your tiny Rory Gilmore. Happy reading!

Photograph: Courtesy
Things to do, Concerts

Rock & Roll Playhouse Kids Concert Series

This is one event parents might enjoy just as much as the kids...maybe even more so. Rock & Roll Playhouse is a family-friendly concert series that introduces littles to the greats—The Beatles, Queen, U2, to name a few—as the house band plays some of the most popular tunes. The weekend happening adds a few kid-friendly elements such as stories and crafts to make the program extra epic. All events in Industry City (Saturdays at 12:30pm) are free, but tickets are required. Shows at Brooklyn Bowl (Sundays at noon) are $12. Head to the event's website for a full lineup and more details. 

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

NYC restaurants where kids eat free

When kids eat free, moms and dads everywhere are totally satisfied—and so are their wallets. NYC does boast some hefty price tags, particularly within the dining scene, but all you need to do is a little research to uncover perks at fun restaurants and family restaurants. Fortunately for busy parents, we've rounded up those sweet deals for you!

Photograph: Courtesy World Science Festival/Greg Kessler

City of Science

For those youngsters who are too intimidated to test their hypotheses, this traveling science festival offers hands-on experiences that’ll engage, entertain and make kids rethink their favorite subject in school. The interactive event, the brainchild of the World Science Festival and Con Edison, offers demonstrations and activities in a wide range of areas, including astronomy, biology and more. The festivities pop up several times a year throughout the five boroughs, so be on the lookout!

Photograph: Joan Marcus

Kids' Night on Broadway

Kids' Night on Broadway is one of our favorite events of the year. It means one fully-paying adult can have one child 18 and under attend a Broadway performance with them for free! The annual promotion is a must for theater buffs. Learn more here

Photograph: Courtesy Domino Park/Daniel Levin
Things to do

Kids’ playgrounds in NYC

When the coolest kids’ playgrounds in NYC are available at your fingertips, you’re in for a fabulous adventure From the newly opened Domino Park to the ever-popular Central Park green spaces, Gotham’s best playgrounds offer classic features such as splash pads and jungle gyms, but they also take recreation to a whole new level. Where else can pint-sized park-goers construct their own playground, play on a pipefish or hang out with dinosaurs? Of course, this is all up for grabs in NYC.

American Museum of Natural History
Museums, Science and technology

Museum of Natural History's Discovery Room

Upper West Side

Though this famous New York museum offers suggested donation admission year round (and you’re inclined to pay at least a little something—because dinosaurs), its lesser-known Discovery Room offers totally free access for families. Get your 40-minute access passes at the Discovery Room entrance! Inside, your kids can explore their way through various scientific exhibits that include 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.

Museums, Special interest

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex

Midtown East

At this smaller offshoot of the museum's Brooklyn headquarters, visitors can learn about the complex engineering and construction feats that helped establish the city’s century-old subway system.

Photograph: Courtesy Wave Hill

Family Art Projects at Wave Hill

Wave Hill offers a chance for tiny tots (typically ages 3 and up) to get their creative juices flowing while using nature as their inspiration. During the weekend family art projects (Saturdays and Sundays from 10am–1pm), kiddos get to piece together a masterpiece of their own, some of which focus on plants, others focus on animals, seasons and so on. Although the venue typically charges general admission prices for entrance, visitors can head to Wave Hill on Saturdays from 10am–noon for free. After the class wraps up, stay on the grounds and admire the gorgeous scenery.

Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse

Midtown East
4 out of 5 stars

Few things are more iconic than New York's Grand Central Terminal. The 1913 Beaux Arts train station is the city’s most spectacular point of arrival. The attraction played an important role in the nation’s historic preservation movement, after a series of legal battles that culminated in the 1978 Supreme Court decision affirming NYC’s landmark laws. One notable oddity: The constellations on the Main Concourse ceiling are drawn in reverse, as if seen from heaven. 

Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Midtown West
4 out of 5 stars

Head to NYPL for Toddler Storytime, Family Storytime and other offerings! During Toddler Storytime (free tickets required), 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 Storytime. There are plenty of other offerings too—including craft and LEGO workshops!

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock
Things to do

Beaches for kids in NYC (and beyond)

Pack the SPF! Trips to the best beaches for kids in NYC and beyond guarantee a fun summer afternoon for the whole family.  Not only will the kids love to search for shells and splash in the waves, but there are plenty of other cool amenities to enjoy. When in Coney Island, you're within striking distance of awesome amusement parks for kids. Other locales boast some of the best picnic spots in NYC and fun water playgrounds for kids. There are plenty of beaches within the five boroughs that are perfect for days when you're craving the smell of salt water and sand between your toes. 

McCarren Park Pool
Photograph: Marielle Solan
Things to do

Swimming pools for kids in NYC

Cool off at New York's best swimming pools for kids this summer! Apart from being one of our favorite summer activities for kids, it's also a great way to meet families from all over the city. Choose from our favorite picks around town, including Astoria Park Pool, John Jay Pool and more. NYC free outdoor pools reopen on June 27, 2019. Just be sure to read through the NYC pool rules before you head on out there.

Photograph: Courtesy Etienne Frossard
Things to do

Free kayaking in NYC

This summer, explore the best free kayaking NYC has on its roster. The season wouldn't be complete without a few rowing sessions across the East River. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to enroll the kiddos in sleepaway camps or pack up for family weekend getaways to enjoy a taste of nature. Even the greatest city in the world is home to some of the best outdoor activities for kids! All you need to do is grab a lifevest and hit the water. Venture to your local park or volunteer-run organizations for a chance to kayak (or canoe) on a grand voyage with your little ones.

Photograph: Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust
Things to do

Free summer movies for families in NYC

Are your blankets ready? The season of free summer movies is upon us, and we're anxiously awaiting screenings of classic films, great cartoons and those live-action remakes that Disney does so well.  As we usher in the warm weather, it's only fitting to add these events to our list of outdoor activities for kids. The FREE screenings are a quintessential start to the summer for New Yorkers of all ages. Where else are you going to catch your favorite Disney princess movies and movies for tweens on the big screen? No theater or ticket required—just a lawn chair and some popcorn! 

Photograph: Courtesy Naixin Xu/Courtesy of City Parks Foundation
News, City Life

City Parks' free summer athletic programs

School is out and it’s time for kiddos to scratch items off their summer bucket list. There are countless outdoor activities and day camps in NYC, but if you’ve got an aspiring athlete on your hands, check out the FREE fun-filled adventure with City Parks! Young athletes will have the opportunity to participate in three different youth programs: City Parks Track & Field (Jul 1–Aug 8), City Parks Tennis (Jul 1–Aug 21) and City Parks Golf (Jul 1–Aug 16). Little sports stars can pick and choose their favorites or opt for all three! The programs are geared for those ages 5–17, and they provide all equipment participants need (minus sneakers). Kids will learn the fundamentals of each sport and master cool tricks of the trade thanks to guidance from the pros. It doesn’t matter how much experience or time participants have committed to each sport, everyone will learn something and be able to take their skills to new levels. The Track & Field program (Jul 1–Aug 8) will take place at Corporal Thompson (Staten Island), Macombs Dam (Bronx), East River Park (LES, Manhattan) and Detective Keith Williams (Jamaica, Queens). It will culminate in a citywide track for all runners who are game for some competition. The City Parks Tennis program includes lessons with pros at 36 citywide parks. The City Parks Golf program will take place at local public golf courses and, specifically at the City Parks Junior Golf Center in Brooklyn and the Golf Center Annex in Queens.

Photograph courtesy Randall’s Island Park Alliance
Things to do

Street fairs and festivals in NYC

It's time to embrace the sunshine with fun street fairs in NYC!  Now that winter is in the rearview mirror, New Yorkers are ready to take advantage of neat outdoor activities, and these festivals are a great way to enjoy quality time with loved ones on the cheap. Sample some of the city's best family restaurants, gain entrance to the most beloved family attractions and enjoy free fun all courtesy of these NYC street fairs. The festivities will kick off on June 11 with the Museum Mile Festival, a creative celebration of some of Gotham's most well-known institutions along Fifth Ave.

American Museum of Natural History Rose Center for Earth and Space
Photograph: AMNH\C. Chesek

Free museums for kids in New York City

Free museums for kids? We're in! Many assume that free things to do with kids in NYC are few and far between, but truthfully, all you need to do is a little bit of research before embarking on an outing. These fabulous NYC musums offer pay-what-you-wish days, free museum days/hours and other great stuff for local families—you just need to read the fine print. Basically, it's an excellent way to explore the best family attractions in NYC without large fees! 

Photograph: Courtesy Angelito Jusay
News, City Life

Free Bryant Park activities for kids

The Midtown green space is home to our favorite outdoor activities for kids, and it comes as no surprise that its 2019 lineup is packed with great things to do. We can picture ourselves soaking up the fun already! Have a look at the *FREE* events for youngsters that are slated for this season. 

Le Carrousel Puppet Shows

For those who appreciate a flair for the dramatics and love taking in a show at the best puppet theaters in NYC, stop by the park on Saturdays from June 8–July 6 from 2–3pm for a grand presentation from WonderSpark Puppets. Goldilocks & The Three Bears, The Lion & The Mouse and other fun performances are on the roster this season.

Le Carrousel Magique

Now you see it, now you don't! If you little ones have a burning curiosity to uncover what's hiding in the magician's hat, take them to the park's weekly magic shows for kids on Sundays from June 9–Aug 4 from 2–3pm. Loonie Louie, Silly Billy and other tricksters are on the list of performers! 

Le Carrousel Story Time

NYC is a literary hub for so many writers and readers—even pint-size Shakespeares. One of our go-to storytime for kids series returns on Saturdays from July 13–Aug 10 from 2–3pm. Cali Co Cat will get some help from her carousel pals and spice up story hour with a few games. Count us in! 

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Bob Jagendorf

Coney Island fireworks

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. The festivities kick off June 21, 2019. Enjoy! 

Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Midtown East

This legendary house of worship counts presidents and movie stars among past and present attendees. While its intricate marble towers are a marvel of Gothic Revival architecture, St. Pat’s interior—including the Louis Tiffany–designed altar and spectacular rose window—is tremendous as both a feat of master craftsmanship and a source of spiritual inspiration.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

The High Line

4 out of 5 stars

From gorgeous views to exciting outdoor summer programming for kids, the High Line is really the place to be. Commit to a long loop to check out the sights, plants and cool public art and explore fun programs for kids in July and August. 

Central Park's Belvedere Castle
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Central Park, Belvedere Castle

Central Park

Note: Belvedere Castle will reopen on June 28, 2019 after being closed for renovations. 

Take in a sweeping view of the Great Lawn, the Ramble and Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, a folly built on one of the highest points in the park. Inside they'll find the Henry Luce Nature Observatory, where they can peer into microscopes and telescopes, look at skeletons and papier mâché birds, or borrow a free discovery kit (requires two forms of ID, one of which is kept as a deposit) from inside the castle, which includes binoculars, a map, sketch paper and a field guide for exploring the Ramble's woods. 

South Street Seaport
Photograph: Michael Kirby

Seaport District

The historic district is home to gorgeous scenery, a taste of NYC’s past and fun things to do. Walk through the cobblestone streets to admire the old ships that are docked at Pier 17 and the gorgeous NYC skyline. Make sure you peruse the Seaport’s website to keep up-to-date on free happenings, such as classes and performances.

Alley Pond
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Alley Pond Environmental Center


This nonprofit is an environmental education center, which means you'll find nature trails, along with family and school programs like an annual square dance and a BBQ. Kids will love exploring the amazing landscape via after-school programs like Nature Club (ages 3–4) and Junior Nature Kids (ages 5–8), where they’ll get an up close encounter with nature once per week. Sessions for preschoolers might involve children’s books, crafts, games, nature walks and even interact with live animals. The older set will dig more into scientific and ecological topics through hands-on demos and discussion with the instructors. After a snack and a good dose of fresh air, they’ll be ready to head back to their urban habitat. All ages.  

Photograph: Courtesy Alley Pond Adventure Course and Daniel Avila
News, City Life

Adventure course's free Sundays

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 sweet NYC program. This year, the Adventure Course Sunday series runs from May 5–Oct 27, and each event is free and available to kids ages 8 and up. The Adventure Course offerings include a Nitro Swing (teams work together to problem-solve and get all teammates from one "island" to another), a climbing wall, the Human Swing Shot (where you'll be hoisted above the ground and let go on a big swing) and a 40-foot-high zip line that runs 100 yards. Between May 5 and June 30, 2019, this Sunday program is first-come, first-served and does not require registration, so arrive at least a half hour before the start time (9:30am or 1pm) to secure a spot. For Sunday programming from July 7 to Aug 25, 2019, pre-registration for this program is required and tickets are given on a lottery system. Online registration will occur the Monday before each program date, beginning on July 1. 

Things to do

Hiking trails for families in NYC

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC Ditch the sidewalks and subways! It’s time to pack a light picnic and set out on one of NYC’s coolest hiking trails with the kids for an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones will love checking out birds, frogs and other creatures that might be hiding around the paths, and while you’re at it, you might even want to stop by one of the city’s best playgrounds.  If you simply can’t get enough of all the fresh air, it might be time to pay a visit to one of these awesome carousels as well. Last, in cooler weather, these trails are an excellent place for leaf peeping—they’ll have some pretty fall foliage in September and October.

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/ChameleonsEye
News, City Life

Registration is now open for NYC Parks' free Learn to Swim classes

Summer's inching closer, and it's time to take a dip.  Free outdoor pools across NYC re-open on June 27, but sometimes kiddos need a little extra attention before they start splashing around with friends. NYC Parks' free Learn to Swim program registration has just opened, and the lottery system is something you can't miss—especially if your young'un needs to perfect his or her strokes. Sessions are offered for toddlers (1 1/2–5 year olds), children (6–17) and even adults (18 and up) throughout the five boroughs' free pools. The first session is July 6–19, followed by July 23–Aug 3 and Aug 7–17. An advanced session will take place from Aug 20–24.  If you're interested in securing a spot at your neighborhood venue (check out the participating pools here), then there are a few things to note. Registration for Session 1 will end at 11:59 pm on June 24; registration for Session 2 will end at noon on July 9; registration for Session 3 will end at noon on July 30 and registration for Advanced Learn to Swim classes will end at noon on Aug 13. Make sure you mark your calendars accordingly!  Due to the free online lottery, those interested must sign up with a valid e-mail address. Winners will be chosen randomly for particular sessions, but if you're not one of the lucky ones selected, you'll be placed on a waiting list, so fear not. You can sign up for up to three sessions, but you'll need to verify your child's age on the first day of the lessons so he or she can be grouped accor

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Socrates Sculpture Park


Taken over by Mark DiSuvero in 1986, this is one of the few locations in the city specifically designated for artists to create outdoor works. The splendid Queens space looks out over the Manhattan skyline and is open 365 days a year.

Museums, Art and design

American Folk Art Museum

Upper West Side

The American Folk Art Museum celebrates traditional craft-based work. Designed by architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, the stunning eight-floor building is four times larger than the original Lincoln Center location (now a branch of the museum) and includes a café. The range of decorative, practical and ceremonial folk art encompasses pottery, trade signs, delicately stitched log-cabin quilts and wind-up toys. Free family guides are available at the admission desk, and on the first Saturday of most months, the museum hosts a family tour and workshop that's free with admission.

bk-old stone house_cred site.jpg
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Old Stone House


Located within Park Slope's Washington Park, this small farmhouse has a storied history. Built in the 17th century, it played an important role in the Battle of Brooklyn, the first Revolutionary War battle fought after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Now it hosts art exhibits and can be toured on the weekends.

Museums, Special interest

El Museo del Barrio

East Harlem

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!

Things to do, Walks and tours

Green-Wood Cemetery

4 out of 5 stars

A century ago, this site vied with Niagara Falls as New York State’s greatest tourist attraction. Filled with Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles, Green-Wood is the resting place of some half-million New Yorkers, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Mae West. The spectacular, soaring arches of the main gate are carved from New Jersey brownstone, and the 1911 chapel was designed by Warren & Wetmore, the firm behind Grand Central Terminal. Battle Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn (offering prime Manhattan skyline views), is on cemetery grounds.

Photograph: Alison Lowenstein
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Lefferts Historic House Museum

Prospect Park

Outfitted as a Prospect Park destination for kids, Lefferts House depicts Brooklyn family life in the 1820s to the present and features great programs for families, including art tours, birthday parties and more. 

67. Spot birds in Brooklyn. Pictured: Prospect Park Audubon Center
Photograph: Courtesy Prospect Park Alliance
Attractions, Ships and boats

Prospect Park Audubon Center

Prospect Park

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.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Fishing at Hudson River Park

4 out of 5 stars

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 5 and up 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. Head to Pier 25 on Sundays from July 7 to Sept 22 from 11am–3pm.

Staten Island Ferry
Photograph: Shutterstock

Staten Island Ferry

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.

Photograph: Joshua Bright
Things to do, Walks and tours

New York fall foliage

Whether they pick them up from the sidewalk, on the way to school or plunge into a pile of them; brightly hued, crunchy leaves can provide hours of amusement for kids. This autumn, take the family for a stroll through these NYC parks, gardens and other locales to see the New York fall foliage at its most brilliant. Along with apple picking and harvest festival events, it's one of our favorite things to do in NYC with kids in the fall. 

Union Square
Photograph: Shutterstock

Earth Day in Union Square

At NYC's annual Earth Day celebration in Union Square, tots (and their parents) can see live performances, participate in family-friendly DIY activities and watch as local environmentally conscious businesses put on various displays. In NYC, this event is an Earth Day tradition.

View of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum Mile Festival

Rain or shine, families can enjoy the annual Museum Mile Festival in early June, gaining free access to some of NYC's coolest family institutions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, The Jewish Museum, Museum of the City of New York and El Museo del Barrio.

Photograph: Courtesy Alley Pond Environmental Center

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day

We're so excited! Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day (previously known as Museum Day Live!) is a great time indeed for New Yorkers big and small. Check the event website regularly for the 2019 ticket release date (usually in August) to score and download two free tickets that can be used for free entry to a variety of participating local museums on Sept 21, 2019. To sum things up: Put those hard-earned dollars back in your wallet and splurge later on some cheesy slices. 


Time Out New York Kids' Playdate Project

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 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.

More fun for kids