Free activities for kids in NYC
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!
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 fun programs for kids in July and August such as Lawn Time story telling or crafts during Wild Wednesdays.
How are you supposed to celebrate each season accordingly without attending NYC's best kids' festivals? You simply can't! Head to these recurring fairs throughout the boroughs. With great food, fun activities and unique entertainment, there's no excuse to miss out. Even better? Most of the events are free of charge.
Kids are reaping the benefits of living in the five boroughs. Now, NYC residents as young as 10 years old will be eligible for municipal IDNYC identification card, The Daily News reports. Previously, residents as young as 14 years old were able to obtain the card. Now that this change has gone into effect, up to 300,000 more youngsters can apply for the i.d., which provides discounts to attractions, movies and free one-year-memberships to various NYC hotspots.
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. 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. Added bonus? Parents won't have to shell out the big bucks for an epic experience.
Don't miss NYC Parks' (much coveted) free after-school program signups! Since most ongoing after-school programs cost anywhere between hundreds and thousands of dollars, we thought you might want a quick reminder. Every year, NYC Parks offers after-school classes (Mon–Fri 3–6pm) for kids ages 6–13, which includes supervised computer use, a healthy snack, academic support, sports and arts programming and even fun field trips around the city. Parents or guardians must visit the location of their choice with completed paperwork (application, program agreement, photo release and updated medical form) to sign children up for the program, and the program is first come, first served.
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.
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.
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.
Bring your budding builders to LEGO at the start of each month for a chance to work on a masterpiece. They’ll build cool creations such as robots and space rockets that they'll be able to take home afterward. Make sure you sign up online. Can’t make it to the store? Download assembly instructions online.
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.
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.
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!
We're so excited! Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day (previously known as Museum Day Live!) is a time for all New Yorkers to rejoice. Starting August 15, 2018 at midnight, folks can download two free tickets to be used for entry to NYC museums on the event day, Sept 22, 2018. (Psst...this means you'll save your precious dollars for things like a fresh NYC pizza.) The event extends to plenty of other cities too, so even if you're not in NYC, be sure to check the Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day website for even more details. SO. Drumroll please. There are many great NYC and NYC-area museums participating... Here are just a few of our favorites (see the site for the full lineup): Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Museum of Arts and Design American Folk Art Museum New York City Fire Museum Museum of Chinese in America Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden Alley Pond Environmental Center.
Surely you’ve admired the stunning Gothic Revival exterior of this NYC landmark—now, venture inside for a free educational tour. Check the Cathedral’s website for specific tour guide 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.
When it comes to literary events, NYC is an open book. From talks and signings to sales and festivals, the city appreciates the power of a good story—and so do its littlest residents. These storytimes for children introduce them to new books and authors while socializing with other children in their age group. If you're looking to turn your youngster into a mini bookworm (or perhaps even a writer down the road) these storytimes in NYC need a spot on your list.
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.
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.
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.
NYC is full of free activities for kids, including plenty of free classes for kids like NYC Parks' Learn to Swim sessions for all ages (even adults). If you have a recreation center membership ($25–$150), you're eligible to sign up for the swim sessions and mandatory water test.
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.
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. (The museum offers a suggested $3 admission fee.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
Long-standing family event Summer Streets (a project of the New York City Department of Transportation sponsored by Citi) spans nearly seven miles of NYC streets in total and creates safe places where your kiddos can bike and play without the dangers of city traffic. During select summer mornings and afternoons, specific city streets are blocked off for open play—after all, NYC is your kids’ ultimate playground—why not treat it like one? Summer Streets also hosts fun activities for kids (all free of charge). This year’s activity schedule is TBA! NYCDOT will also be be hosting a “shared streets” area in historic lower Manhattan on Saturday, August 13 from 11am–4pm from Broadway to Water Street and Park Row to State Street—here, vehicles will be encouraged to follow a speed limit of 5mph. When is Summer Streets taking place? Summer Streets will take place on Saturday, August 6, 13 and 20 between 7am and 1pm in 2016. Where is Summer Streets held? Summer Steets extends from Central Park to Brooklyn Bridge Park along Park Ave and several connecting streets, with easy access from all points in NYC. For more information visit nyc.gov and Summer Streets’ Facebook page. To keep busy until Summer Streets NYC rolls in, check out our favorite free activities for kids, cool summer activities for kids and the best free outdoor movies.
NYC really does have it all—even one-on-one time with nature. Thanks to fantastic free kayaking and canoeing offerings, a trip out of town to feel at one with your surroundings is no longer necessary. You can feel adventurous and nautical, all while taking in gorgeous scenes as you paddle throughout the boroughs. If you are searching for a family outing, this is one great way to take advantage of fun activities and save some dough (talk about a win-win situation).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Whoa! You don't say? We heard that kids go free at LEGOLAND Discovery Centers (ahem, there's one in Westchester, Boston and Philly if you're traveling from NYC), as well as LEGOLAND California Resort, LEGOLAND Florida Resort and SEA LIFE Aquarium when you use this secret trick (which is so simple that we can't believe we haven't used it earlier). Simply pick the destination of your choice via this page, go to buy tickets and make sure to enter the Honest Kids promo code 189900 to get your discount (screen shot below shows where to enter the code). The Honest Kids promo code gets you one free child ticket for every adult ticket purchased. We have no idea how long this code will run for, so we'd suggest getting in on the action before it's too late. P.S. Kids under 2 go free no matter what, so that's also awesome.
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.
Several kid-friendly museums are always gratis (or pay-what-you-wish), and tons more offer special free museum days. Exploring cool installations is one of our favorite free things to do with kids, so check out our list and get going!
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. (Note that the attraction is under construction this year.)
Fall is just around the corner, which means it's time to prepare kids for the classroom. Besides shopping for new school supplies and clothes, you can get the whole family back into school mode with an end-of-summer celebration. Check out our list of back-to-school festivities to get the kids excited about returning to school. Mini Jake's Back-to-School Food Frenzy For once, tots are allowed to play with their food by learning how to make edible jewelry. Kids can also get creative with a coloring project while munching on healthy snacks from Plum Organics. Sun Aug 26 noon--6pm. Mini Jake. Free. All ages. Back-to-School JamCrafts, games, snacks, music and giveaways are all part of this back-to-school bash. There will also be a children's fashion show sponsored by Stork and a performance from Brooklyn-based band Rolie Polie Guacamole. Fri Aug 31 at 11am. Brooklyn Children's Museum. Free with admission. All ages.Back-to-School Festival at Forest Park In honor of the first day of public school, families can head to the wooded Queens park for games, crafts and music. Thu Sept 6 3:30--5:30pm. Forest Park. Free. All ages. Free Soft-Serve Yogurt at Chelsea's TableBeat those back-to-school blues with the ideal after-school snack—a free cup of tart, organic soft-serve yogurt at this Chelsea Piers restaurant, founded by Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm. Fri Sept 7 2--6pm. Chelsea's Table. Free. All ages.Back-to-School Circle Line CruiseEnjoy one final summer getaway on this cruise
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.
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.
Our parks in NYC are a treasure in this concrete jungle, and we’re lucky to have a wide-range of options—1,700 within five boroughs, to be exact. Of course, certain green spaces are more peaceful and verdant than others, but all of the parks listed here offer amazing things to do outside. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites featuring stunning, picturesque views of New York and prime picnic spots. Plus, these New York attractions offer seasonal programming and free things to do, some of which include incredible summer concerts, outdoor movie screenings, food festivals and more.
Looking for some free art, culture vultures? Thought so. Which is why we found a bunch of gratis art shows at galleries and museums in NYC that won’t cost you a cent.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
In summertime, outdoor movies (all free!) are a great new twist on your usual living room movie nights! Pack a picnic and your folding chairs and head for these amazing parks, piers and rooftops.
Bringing your family out for dinner in the city can be pricey, to say the least. These NYC restaurants take the big bill out of the equation by offering free (and awesomely tasty) meals for kids in all the best family restaurants. Time to chow down!
Whether it's story times, crafts, games, a putting green or table tennis, Bryant Park is a go-to in the summer season for free family-friendly fun.
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 Avenue. 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.
NYC's favorite amusement park makes this season all the more sweet with a stellar offer. If your kids worked hard all year, it's time to let them reap the benefits. Students in kindergarten through college can earn free ride credits at Luna Park for good grades every year. Learn more here.