These awesome summer activities for kids will keep your family active and engaged throughout the city's sunniest season. You and the little ones can visit NYC parks and even explore delicious eats at our favorite family restaurants, plus you can see our top family attractions (think epic amusement parks, institutions like Discovery Times Square and more)! Oh, and don't forget to check out our favorite 21 ways to have the best summer ever and our top free summer activities for kids!
Summer activities for kids
It’s not just a thing of the movies—your kiddos can rent and sail awesome tiny boats in the Conservatory Water in Central Park. It’s a tradition that’s over 130 years old! There’s a booth that will rent the boats out for a specific period of time, plus, while you’re there, you can visit the Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Anderson statues.
No need to pay big bucks for a show! If you want to sample snippets of the best, stop by Bryant Park and give your kids a taste of hit Broadway and Off Broadway shows. Previous offerings include Wicked, Chicago, Matilda and Something Rotten! P.S.: This is perfect for squirmy kids who can’t handle a full performance.
New Yorkers don't often end up with a naked scoop on a sugar cone, and that's because we expect the works from our favorite ice cream shops. Melty, drippy, sprinkle-clad cones are one of the best ways to celebrate hot weather in the city. Head to one of these sweet spots for a popsicle, cone or sundae (and if you’re near the High Line, check out Ample Hills’ new shop inside Bubby’s)!
When we think of NYC landmarks, we might first think of Lady Liberty or the Empire State Building—for kids, sweet playgrounds are as much (if not equally) a warm weather priority. We’ve rounded up our favorite kids' playgrounds and ranked them in order of excellence...can you visit them all?
The Jazz Age Lawn Party celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with some Prohibition–era delights. Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra headline the old-timey affair, which also features a Charleston dance contest, a 1920s motorcar expo, tug-of-war, vintage portraits, dance lessons, carnival games and prizes in the Kidland area, plus a ten-girl tribute to the Ziegfeld Follies. Families, who are encouraged to dress in their finest 20s garb, can pack their own picnic lunch or buy treats like lemonade sodas and ice cream. All ages.
Zooming down terrifying (and mild) slides is a dream for most when the heat hits the sidewalks. Treat your brood to their pick of lazy rivers, water rides, water slides and more at our favorite water parks for families. Many even have dedicated spots for the very little ones so your older kids can tire themselves out as you chill with your tots.
Get in on fun stuff like the Puppetry Arts Festival, Museum Mile Festival, Big Apple Barbecue, City of Water Day and more this summer so the kids can enjoy a ton of exciting free fun. No summer should be without delicious barbecue and free museum hours.
The Museum of Natural History’s new-ish exhibit “Dinosaurs Among Us” offers visitors a sweet inside look into the lives of dinosaurs (even displaying some cool never-before-seen fossils), plus you can check out the Titanosaur nearby. Yep, it’s true—he even dwarfs the museum’s iconic T. Rex. All ages.
Summer activities for kids
Trek the Museum Mile on one very special day every summer. Usually occurring in June, this free popular festival happens rain or shine and incorporates amazing NYC institutions like The Jewish Museum, Museum of the City of New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, to name a few. You’ll get free access to the museums during certain evening hours, plus there are fun outdoor activities for kids like chalk drawing, face painting and crafts. All ages.
Musicians flood NYC's public spaces during this daylong, citywide, entirely free festival. Little ones can join free song and movement sessions and big kids can pick up harmonicas, recorders and more to join in on group jam sessions alongside the pros. Visit makemusicny.org for the full lineup of events and happenings spanning the five boroughs. All ages.
Who can say no to free movie screenings? Bring tots, kids and tweens to check out a movie on an amazing outdoor screen (and let’s be real—the entire family can’t actually fit on your teeny apartment’s couch, anyway). Some screenings even provide free popcorn. Woohoo!
For one night only, New York families will have four hours to explore 15 lower-Manhattan museums for free! You could participate in events held by venues like The South Street Seaport (live printing press demos!) or the China Institute (ice cream and calligraphy demos)! Maybe you'll even discover an old relative at the National Archives. Make sure to pick up your museum passport at any one of the participating institutions before roaming. All ages.
With plenty of amazing beaches near NYC, there’s little to no excuse for not getting out there at least once this summer. All you need to do is pack a picnic, slather on some sunscreen and head out to favorites like Coney Island Beach and Jones Beach for an amazing time with the kids. Who says childhood in NYC can’t be a nature-filled experience?
See the spectacular Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks on the East River (they’ll be set off from barges located between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge, and you can watch them from Brooklyn Bridge Park and Brooklyn Heights Promenade starting around 9:20pm.
The Island is one of NYC’s most underrated wonders, and it’s about time you took advantage of it. Grab a quick ride over on the ferry, then enjoy a full day of biking (there are even Citibike kiosks now!), picnicking and exploring as a family.
Keeping your youngsters entertained all summer is no easy feat—especially in the stifling heat—but families can always count NYC's public swimming pools for a cool escape. Waterholes in all five boroughs open for the season on June 27, 2015, giving kids plenty of spots to splash around at no cost. Some of the best swimming pools for kids happen to be in NYC parks or right by Gotham's best playgrounds, making it easy to draw up an itinerary for some family summer day trips near the pool of your choice. Taking a dip is one of our favorite free things to do with kids, so pack up the suits and towels, slather the tots with sunscreen and dive in! Tip: Many city pools require visitors to bring a sturdy combination lock and may forbid items including food, glass bottles and electronics. Visit the NYC Parks website for details before you make the trip!
This annual fest celebrates the natural resources of the New York harbor with a host of aquatic-based highlights. Sail to Governors Island or Maxwell Place Park in Hoboken for a kids' fair featuring ecology-themed games and activities. Families can also get gratis access to a plethora of watergoing vessels, including canoes, kayaks and rowboats; or fish, bike or kick back with food and music on dry land. Check cityofwaterday.org for events taking place throughout the five boroughs. All ages.
Embrace your inner kid with the best finger foods around! Sauce-slathered ribs, crispy wings and out-of-this-world pulled pork are just a few of the tasty nom-noms on offer at Madison Square Park’s coolest event of the summer. Stop by stands manned by top-notch chefs, pit masters and restaurant owners to try all kinds of delicious offerings before taking your ’cue (and kids) to a nearby park bench. Admission is free but food prices vary. All ages.
Summer activities for kids
The giant fair offers more than 150 rides and attractions, plus tons of free entertainment, including master hypnotist Steve Bayner, racing pigs, an open-air circus, a petting zoo, live bands and a brand new high dive act! In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the fair is kicking off with a "Throwback Thursday" night on June 23 (6pm), offering admission plus ride handstamp for $19.86 (hint: that's the fair's inaugural year). Be sure to mark your calendar for June 29, when kids under 12 get free admission. Check the website for the full schedule. All ages.
Even the most energetic kids will meet their match at these trampoline park hotspots for families! They’ll bounce to their heart’s desire on trampolines big and small, even getting in on age-specific playtimes and glow-in-the-dark games! Plus, if you haven’t considered a trampoline park as a spot for your kid’s upcoming birthday party, you definitely should—most have plenty of space for large groups!
Coney Island is most well-known for being home to some top-notch amusement parks, but there's plenty more family-friendly entertainment to be found near the expansive boardwalk. In addition to squeal-inducing carnival rides, kids can also enjoy a day sprawled on one of our favorite NYC beaches, chow down on Nathan's Famous hotdogs and even catch a baseball game.
This temporary outdoor museum of street art is back for the summer! This year, it’ll open on May 27th 2016 and will run through October. You’ll find work from Lady Aiko, Ron English, Mister Cartoon, Buff Monster, Nina Chanel Abney, John Ahearn and more. Kiddos will love checking out the murals as they are painted (all to be completed by June 18th for the Mermaid Day Parade). Murals located at 3050 Stillwell Ave. All ages.
Set in a lovely park overlooking the Hudson River, the Cloisters houses the Met’s medieval art and architecture collections. A path winds through the peaceful grounds to a castle that seems to have survived from the Middle Ages. (It was built less than 100 years ago, using material from five medieval French cloisters.) Be sure to check out the famous Unicorn Tapestries, the 12th-century Fuentidueña Chapel and the Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin.
Catch family concerts, storytelling, art activities and more on Sundays at Pier 6 throughout the summer. Each week features performances from kid-friendly bands, dance troupes and puppet companies, plus an outdoor pop-up reading room from the Uni Project and art projects from Private Picassos. Pier Kids kicks off in June with Suzi Shelton (6/19) and Wildlife Theater (6/26). July features A Royal Shindig and Brooklyn Beanstalk (7/3), Arm-of-the-Sea Theater (7/10), Hot Peas ‘N Butter (7/17), You Must Be This Tall (7/24) and Meet the Animals (7/31). The series closes with Shira & Friends (8/7). All ages.
Um, HELLO. Is there a better way to get competitive with the kids? We think not. Challenge your brood to a game at Rocket Park Mini Golf, Brooklyn Crab (*ahem* boozy slushies for Mom and Dad *ahem*) or one of these other super cool offerings to enjoy a cheap afternoon out in the sun.
Thanks to the fantastic zoos in NYC, most of which are backed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, families have the opportunity to see animals from across the globe without ever leaving the city. From the massive Bronx Zoo (one of the biggest in North America) to the petite Central Park Zoo, these family attractions invite kids to learn about numerous species through storytimes, art activities and hands-on interactions with nature. A few NYC zoos are even outfitted with petting zoos and critter-themed carousels to keep your gang entertained all day.
While you may have believed the dinos had gone extinct at Field Station: Dinosaurs, you were wrong! The theme park found a new location in New Jersey and is open for business. You’ll get to see animatronic dinosaurs in all their glory (and your kids beaming...or screaming...during their encounter). Ages 3 to 11.
Summer activities for kids
Many meals are best enjoyed under a shady umbrella during New York’s beautiful summer months. These particular restaurants welcome your little ones (yes, even the teeny weenie ones) so your family can eat in peace (and without fear of disturbing the neighbors). Cafe Habana also offers free summer activities and free movie screenings!
Situated behind the New York Public Library is Bryant Park, a well-cultivated retreat that hosts a dizzying schedule of free entertainment during the summer, including the popular Monday night outdoor movies. The park hosts weekly kid-friendly programming such as storytime in the Reading Room and game socials in the 40th Street Plaza. Little ones with an interest in the circus can learn to juggle at juggling lessons held on weekdays in the Lawn or the 42nd Street Plaza. Additionally, on Saturdays over the summer, the park offers the Word for Word Kids series that presents special children's events like entertaining performances and Comic Con Kids. Families can take a spin on the Le Carrousel which features 14 different carousel animals to ride on. In the winter the park transforms into a wonderland where you can find an ice skating rink and pop-up shops for the holidays. The park also boasts free wireless access.
Raise your heart rate and your spirits with some good old-fashioned outdoor recreation at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Family Field Days. Happening once a month from June to August, each event offers a different set of activities tailored to the location. These athletic events have something for every member of your team, including Hula-Hoop races, volleyball clinics, soccer drills and bocce. Family Field Days are free, and all necessary equipment is provided—just bring some good sneakers, a nutritious snack and a whole lot of energy! Between Adams St and Atlantic Ave. All ages.
Each summer, more than 40 Native American nations converge in the apple orchards of the Queens County Farm Museum for an intertribal dance competition. Hosted by the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, this massive event is New York City’s largest and longest-running annual powwow. When kids aren’t marveling at the elaborate traditional dress, booming drums and dynamic performances, they can snack on Native American foods and grab a souvenir from one of the many art, craft and jewelry vendors. Seating is limited, so bring your own chairs or blankets, and be sure to stick around until sunset for the huge bonfire. All ages.
Enjoy an afternoon of arty fun at the Rubin Museum’s annual outdoor fete, where the whole family can watch live music and dance performances, participate in art making and nosh on Van Leeuwen ice cream and Himalayan snacks from Café Serai. This year’s edition gives a nod to the Rubin Museum’s new exhibition, “Nepalese Seasons: Rain and Ritual,” with activities and performances inspired by the art, seasonal festivals and natural environment of Nepal. Make sure to spend some time wandering around inside the Rubin, which has free admission all day. Kids and parents alike are sure to be fascinated by the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, located on the museum’s fourth floor, which is filled with dazzling art and ritual objects. All ages.
When the sweltering summer heat calls for a calming paddle on the water, you'll be glad to know that your family can get afloat right in New York City. Instead of hightailing it out of town on summer day trips or shipping the kids off to outdoorsy summer camps, enjoy the easily-accessible, free kayaking NYC boathouses offer throughout the season. With kid-sized vessels, paddles and life jackets on loan, youngsters can practice their strokes and even catch a glimpse of NYC at sunset from the waves.
Pick your own fruit and veggies with our guide to all the pick your own strawberries, pick your own blueberries, pick your own cherries, apple picking and pumpkin picking you can handle. There are plenty of farms and orchards in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to fill bellies (and your fridges). If you're lucky, you might even find some of this fresh produce at a local farmers' markets and NYC street fairs and festivals—but we'd recommend making the haul out of the city just for the experience.
Have you ever taken the kids to see Discovery Times Square? If not, it's about time! This cool discovery museum offers a large-scale exhibition center that features cool rotating exhibits like "Body Worlds" (not for the faint of heart!) and "Vikings Exhibition" (where you'll have the chance to see more than 500 artifacts from the 8th to 11th centuries).
How much ground has your family covered in this city? We compiled a massive list of 101 things to do with kids in NYC, including everything from visiting iconic museums to eating at the best family restaurants to experiencing top NYC parks. Many born and bred New Yorkers haven't tackled even half of these items, but we know you and the kids are game! Go through our checklist to find out how many you've done, then get back out there in search of more family attractions!
More summer activities
Plan ahead for some great summer reading this year! Our list of summer books offers everything from picks for brand new readers to picks for tweens (ya know, the ones who can't put down the iPhone). These summer books offer a great opportunity for all ages to unwind with a great story, whether told through pictures or shared through chapters. Looking for more great kids' books? Check out our guide to the best kids' books around, books about kindness and these truly wonderful baby books (where you'll be doing the reading)!
No need to trek to the bodega for a rocket popsicle! 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).