New York City Beach
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The best free things to do with kids in NYC

Looking for family fun that doesn't a cent? Check out our list of the best free things to do with kids.

By Danielle Valente, Allie Early and Oliver Strand
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NOTE: RULES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING PARKS, BEACHES, BUSINESS AND ATTRACTIONS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. BE SURE TO CHECK THE LATEST UPDATE OF WHAT FAMILIES CAN AND CANNOT DO IN NEW YORK CITY RIGHT NOW

NYC might be famous for its sticker shock (that upgraded soft-serve costs how much?), but this is also a city that knows the best things in life are free. Here are places and activities that will entertain the crew—and that let you keep your credit card in your pocket.

Now that summer's here, take advantage of great outdoor activities for kids at no charge! From swimming and kayaking to creative kids' playgrounds and water playgrounds, you'll see there's no shortage of adventure! 

There are plenty of free things to do with kids in NYC as long as you do a little looking around—or let us do the research for you.

Free activities for kids

Cheesequake State Park
Cheesequake State Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Hiking trails for families

Things to do

Just because you live in the Big Apple doesn't mean you can't spend time in the great outdoors. There are amazing family-friendly hikes close to NYC—in fact, the Bronx River Greenway and Inwood Hill Park are right in the middle of the city. Check your weather app, pack a picnic and make plans to visit mother nature with the fam. Our list of the best hiking trails has picks for children of all ages, from toddlers out for a stroll to bigger kids looking to go for a scramble. All ages.

kid bike
kid bike
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Family-friendly bike trails

Things to do Games and hobbies

New York is a good biking town. From protected bike paths on the Bronx waterfront to the low-key cycling in Battery Park City, the best bike trails will turn NYC into a playland. The key? Pick the right bike path. Brooklyn Bridge bike trail? It has one of the best views in the world, but it's steeper than you think—and might be too much for tiny legs. Prospect Park? Glorious setting—but the loop is dominated by super-pumped peletons zooming at top speed. Our curated list points you to places like the semi-secret bike paths in Central Park, Erie Basin in Red Hook, and Governor's Island, a car-free paradise with 7 miles of bike paths and breezy skyline views. Ages 4 and up.

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Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

3. Beaches for kids in NYC (and beyond)

Things to do

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. 

Domino Park Playground
Domino Park Playground
Photograph: Courtesy Daniel Levin

4. Kids’ playgrounds in NYC

Things to do

This is a golden age of parks in NYC, and our updated list of the 50 most epic playgrounds has something for everyone. From the stunning Sweetwater Playground at Domino Park, to the classic Ancient Playground in Central Park, to the splashy water features at Beach 30th Street, you can guarantee your kid will have a great time. All ages.

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FunikiJam show
FunikiJam show
Photograph: Courtesy Leonardo Mascaro

5. Virtual performances for kids

News City Life

When locall kids' museums, artists, shops and businesses shifted gears and made their services available digitally, it made life that much more fun for NYC kids. Check out our list of go-to classes, performances and other amazing online happenings! All ages

60socratessculpturepark01
60socratessculpturepark01
Photograph: Bilyana Dimitrova

6. Socrates Sculpture Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Astoria

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. All ages.

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Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

7. Best free classes for kids in NYC

Kids

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. All ages.

8. Green-Wood Cemetery

4 out of 5 stars
Things to do Walks and tours Greenwood

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. All ages.

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lion NYPL
lion NYPL
Photograph: Courtesy New York Public Library

9.  Download free books from the NYPL

News City Life

The New York Public Library makes it possible for anyone with a library card and an iOS or Android device to read any of the 300,000 e-books in the library's virtual collection. All you need to do is download the SimplyE reader from the NYPL, and use your library card to gain full access.

No library card? No problem: Any person who lives, works, attends school or pays property taxes in New York State can get a card online for free in just a couple of minutes.

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11. Central Park, Belvedere Castle

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Central Park

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. All ages.

ISS
ISS
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Tour the International Space Station

News Weird & Wonderful

Ready for a spacewalk? Kiddos curious about the cosmos can log onto Google Earth for a tour of the International Space Station. This offering from Google Earth is fairly comprehensive: Within the table of contents, you'll find facts and stats about different areas of the ISS: the Columbus Research Laboratory, the Copula Observation Module, docking compartments and so on. To accompany the text, viewers will actually be able to (digitally) step inside astronauts' offices—consider it a Google Street View from space. Ages 5 and up.

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Photograph: Jeffrey Gurwin

13. Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Historic buildings and sites Midtown East

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. All ages.

Elephants
Elephants
Photograph: Graham Jones

14. Turn your home into a zoo

News City Life

Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are taking their elephants, cheetahs, sharks and other magnificent beasts online! Simply go to the AZA's Zoo and Aquarium Videos and Activities page and you will get a calendar with links to hundreds of events going on at zoos and aquariums all around the United States and Canada.  Watch zookeeper talks, catch storytime with animals, go on tours and take part in animal meet-and-greets with just a couple of clicks. It's like having all the creatures of the world in your living room! All ages.

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Photograph: Courtesy J.K. Rowling
Photograph: Courtesy J.K. Rowling
Photograph: Courtesy J.K. Rowling

15. Read J.K. Rowling's unpublished book

News Art

Years ago, J. K. Rowling wrote The Ickabog, a story she read to her children at night. Rather than finish the book and send it to her publisher as planned, she set it aside—until now. She rewrote pieces of the book and decided to share it with us. The book will be published in November, and that's where your little reader comes in: Rowling decided The Ickabog will be illustrated by a child. Children ages 7–12 can enter a drawing contest, and winners will be included in the book.

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

16. Book clubs for kids in NYC

Things to do Literary events

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!

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Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

17. NYC restaurants where kids eat free

Restaurants

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 Books Are Magic

18. Storytime for kids in NYC

Things to do Literary events

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.  

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Photograph: Courtesy Angelito Jusay

19. Free Bryant Park activities for kids

News City Life

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! 

20. St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Attractions Religious buildings and sites 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.

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Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. 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.

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