These awesome summer activities for kids will keep your family active and engaged throughout the city's sunniest season. There's so much to do when it's warm in New York—including picnics at your favorite parks for kids, checking out top-notch fairs and festivals and even exploring the best indoor playgrounds for kids.
Dealing with less-than-perfect weather? Check out our top rainy day activities for kids, our favorite indoor activities for kids and our roundup of cool indoor swimming pools. Some of our favorite family attractions are indoors, too!
Summer activities for kids
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?
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.
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)!
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.
With sunny days finally here to stay, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. Summer in the Square returns to Union Square Park with a line-up of free family-friendly activities and entertainment. Head on over every Thursday for children’s shows, books to read, coloring activities, games, kids yoga and fitness classes, sing-a-longs, and dancing with kids bands like Hot Peas n’ Butter, story Pirates, Josh & The Jamtones and more.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
For this mother of all pyrotechnic displays, Macy's will explode more than 60,000 fireworks along the East River. Stake out a nice spot along Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Promenade or the South Street Seaport to watch, and bring your own picnic basket with beverages to toast our country's birthday. All ages. RECOMMENDED: 4th of July events and where to watch the fireworks
Chihuly's magical glasswork will be displayed from April 22 through October 29, and pieces will be found around spots like the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the conservatory's pools, the Leon Levy Visitor Center, the Lillian and Amy Goldman Fountain of Life, the Native Plant Garden and the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum. Additionally, Chihuly's drawings will also be on display in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery, and the Everett Children's Garden will host regular children's programs that are influenced by his work. "Chihuly Nights" will be held for adults throughout the run of Chihuly's show and will include performance art, cocktails and shopping opportunities. Date night, anyone?
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!
The Waterfront Alliance celebrates NYC’s best natural resource with events throughout the city. On Governors Island, get free tours and enjoy the water (on vehicles that include paddleboards and tugboats!) or compete in the annual kayak race. 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 to enjoy the live music. Admission is free but food prices vary. All ages.
Summer activities for kids
New Jersey’s iconic state fair is back for its 31st year! As always, the giant event offers more than 150 rides and attractions, plus tons of free entertainment, an open-air circus, a petting zoo and plenty of live music. More specifics will be announced in the coming months, but mark your calendar for June 27—when kids under 12 get free admission—and for July 3 and 4, when the fair will put on a fireworks extravaganza at 11pm. Check the website for the full schedule.
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 with work from 21 artists on May 13, 2017 and be accessible noon–7pm through September, plus October weekends noon–7pm. Murals located at 3050 Stillwell Ave.
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.
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.
Kids can sharpen their explorer (and imagination) skills as they roam through a landscape filled with lurking dinosaurs. They’re not real, of course, but the 32 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs might have you forget this fact when they react to your movements thanks to sensors and face-recognition technology. Brace yourselves when the 15-foot-tall T.rex roars at you! If the kids are too young to find this fun instead of terrifying, then let them play the dinosaur quiz show Raptor Feud or head to the Paleontologists’ Laboratory where they’ll play through an archeological site.
It’s no mystery that kids go nuts when it comes to all things dinosaurs—and can you blame them? These mega creatures came in so many shapes and sizes, were absolutely ginormous, and, frankly, it’s still hard to believe that they once roamed this earth. If your kids are as enthralled by these prehistoric being as we are, then these dinosaur-themed activities are a must.
Summer activities for kids
Looking to make the most of a nice day? These outdoor restaurants and restaurants with outdoor seating mean you can enjoy some fresh air while you chow down on the city's best food. While some of the kid-friendly restaurants on our list have ample outdoor seating, others may be a little more competitive. Call before you go or try your luck if you're in the neighborhood!
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.
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 exhibition, “The World is Sound,” with activities and performances inspired by the exhibit. Make sure to spend some time wandering around inside the Rubin, which has free admission all day.
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.
Kids will get to experience a traditional high tea of their own this summer. Taking place at the McKittrick Hotel’s rooftop Gallow Green, little ones and their parents will be treated to a traditional British high tea platter and pink lemonade. They’ll even get to bring a plus one for free—dolls and teddy will get their own mini seat and personalized bib. While there, families will make their own potions and receive lessons in planting. Everyone goes home with mini flower press, plant soil and seeds.
Hot summer days means the beach will soon be calling. While NYC beaches offers up a variety of sandy locations, sometimes a mini weekend getaway is just what the doctor ordered. Here are our best beach vacations that are not far from home but feel like a world away—the perfect pick for folks with kids in tow. See our list for great spots in NY, NJ, RI and more!
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.
Head into Times Square to check out the newest interactive experience, Gulliver’s Gate. The installation is nearly 50,000 square feet and features miniature replicas of various sites around the world—some are even fictional places that have existed solely in books, films and our imaginations! These locations are connected by various modes of transportation, including almost 10,000 tiny cars, 1,000 trains, animals of all kinds and more. Kids will love the moving vehicles and the functioning airport with planes that land and take off the runway.
Whether you're exploring with your children or awesome family friends, these 101 things to do with kids in NYC are a surefire way to have the best afternoon ever! We're lucky enough to live in a city where spectacular fun is around every corner (including our favorite family attractions), and—like most NYC kids—we don't want to miss a thing! This list makes sure you'll see it all. Picking our top 101 things to do with kids in NYC wasn't easy, but we've made sure to include classic favorites like the Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Bridge.
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).