image of things to do in nyc with kids

Visiting parks is one of many great things to do in NYC with kids. (Katrin Sauerwein / EyeEm/Getty Images)

New York City is an amazing place to raise (or take!) a family. Almost anything you might want can be found around the corner. Want to visit the setting of your child’s favorite book? You can do that. Want to introduce your family to art, history, archaeology, cultures and practically everything else under the stars? You can do that, too. There’s a huge selection of activities, but in this list, we’ve gathered 20 great things to do in NYC with kids — some lesser-known, some essential. Most of the items here are free, and all are relatively cheap.

Free Events for Families in NYC

You don’t have to go far to enjoy kid-friendly activities in NYC for free or for cheap. Some options are always available in nearly every neighborhood:

  • Libraries and bookshops: Visit your local library for storytime, special events, arts and crafts, game time and so much more. Head out to the NYC Central Library to see the original toys that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Many bookstores also have storytime and sing-alongs, and some provide outdoor readings in good weather.
  • Free museum hours: We mentioned the tons of museums in NYC, but we left out the best part — many museums, including child-specific ones, have free hours of admission. Check out a full list of all the free museum times on NYC-Arts.
  • Amazing parks: You probable have a nice local park in your neighborhood — in fact, the city has recently undertaken a massive park-revamp project, so you might even have a shiny new park nearby. Some other parks are worth the travel time: Check out some of our favorites in the list below.

Besides these, there’s always something happening in the city. Between pop-up events, festivals, singalongs and outdoor yoga for tots, you can always find something to do that’s fun for everyone in the family!

20 Things to Do in NYC With Kids

Visit Amazing Parks

Have you met your friendly neighborhood Urban Rangers? These city park workers are often hosting events for kids to get them in touch with nature, teach them something about the world around them, get them moving, and generally have lots of fun! There are almost always special events specifically during school days off, perfect for those days when the kids are home and bouncing off the walls.

Keep an eye on the official NYC Parks website for upcoming events.

All the city’s parks are great, but some stand out as extraordinary. You may already be aware of the Splash Pad in Prospect Park and the perfect combo of sandpit/waterpark in Manhattan’s Pier 26.

Here are some of our favorite parks you might not have heard of that are worth a visit:

  • Imagination Playground: Designed by famed architect David Rockwell, this park is created for kids, by kids. Children can use large pieces of foam, mats, wagons, crates, fabrics, and other kid-friendly materials to build their own structures and play areas — encouraging creative play and some out-of-the-box thinking. South Street Seaport, Manhattan. Free.
  • Socrates Sculpture Park: Part park, part outdoor museum, the Socrates Sculpture Park has sculptures and exhibits you can — and are encouraged — to touch. It’s a great place to introduce kids to functional but beautiful art, and there are often family-friendly events, festivals, and outdoor fitness sessions. Stop by any Saturday between May and September for free drop-in art workshops for kids. Astoria, Queens. Free.
  • Nelson Rockefeller State Park: Don’t let the impressive name fool you: this little park is adorably tiny. But it’s absolutely chock-full of whimsical sculptures by Tom Otterness, the same artist that made the 14th Street train station figures which you may have seen on your commute. This little hidden gem of a park is a favorite with kids, who love to explore the many scenes depicted by the statues — from little men rolling giant pennies around to a group of figures abducting a cat — and climb all over them (only the large central statue is off-limits to clambering tots). Battery Park City, Manhattan. Free.
  • Freshkills Park: Can you imagine a park in NYC that’s three times the size of Central Park? Soon, there will be one! Freshkills Park is currently undergoing a transformation from notorious Staten Island landfill to major attraction in the city’s least-visited borough. This massive 2,200-acre park project already has some parts open to the public, and hosts discovery and nature events for families. Visit to learn about the history or to enjoy a picnic in an oasis from the city. Staten Island. Free.

Go to Notable Museums

We love museums in New York. Here are some especially good for kids:

  • The NY Hall of Science: Touching something in a typical museum will get you booted out of there. At the NY Hall of Science, everything is meant to be touched! Kids are encouraged to interact and play with every exhibit as they learn about science and technology in a fun and tactile way. We guarantee the playful nature of the museum will bring the child out in adults, too! Visit the museum any day for a great learning experience, but definitely drop by during the museum’s yearly Maker Faire, which merges science and technology into a festival celebrating DIY and creativity. Corona, Queens. $16/adult, $13/child ages 2-17, free Fridays 2–5 and Sundays 10–11.
  • Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling: This under-the-radar children’s museum introduces kids to art and literature without over-simplifying it. Exhibits are not works for children, but rather full-fledged artworks with a focus on teaching kids to appreciate and explore real art in a mature way. Kids can explore the galleries, read books or participate in interactive storytime, and even create their own art. The museum hosts activities and special events often and most are free with admission, which is much more affordable than most museums. (Note: the Museum is closed for an installation and reopens Thursday, Oct. 18.)  Sugar Hill, Manhattan. Free for kids 8 and under, $7/adult, $4/young adult ages 9-17.
  • Queens County Farm Museum: This isn’t your traditional museum! Located on historic farmland from 1697, visitors to this farm-turned-community-museum get to meet some barn animals, go on hay rides, stroll around in the gardens, and much more. Introduce your kids to an environment they aren’t likely to see elsewhere in NYC. This is a bit out of the way (it’s just barely within NYC) but it’s well-worth the trip! Glen Oaks, NY. Free except during special events.
image of things to do with kids in nyc

The city has some amazing smaller playgrounds. (Miguel Sanz/Getty Images)

Check Out Super-Fun Stores and Indoor Spots

You wouldn’t think a trip to a store is something fun for kids, but many of NYC’s stores are more like kiddie playgrounds! Some stores, like Party City and the Disney Store, are just plain fun to browse, while others, like the Lego and Nintendo stores often have special events and play sessions for kids (and adults!).

If you can handle all the pleading to buy stuff, NYC also has a great selection of candy stores that are an absolute feast to all the senses. And, of course, don’t forget to take a trip to the famous enormous Macy’s at Herald Square for a ride on their retro wood-paneled escalators (or to view their spectacular annual flower show) and Grand Central Terminal’s magical whispering gallery.

Here are some more of our favorite stores and indoor locations that are fun for kids to explore:

  • Flying Tiger Copenhagen: This whimsical little store is like a tiny adorable IKEA for toys, small housewares, and some really weird and silly things like llama notebooks, pineapple lamps, quirky erasers and notebooks, and so much more. Wares change monthly so you’ll always find something new, and even if you and the kids find something you just have to have, prices are super affordable — usually under $5 and rarely over $15. Citypoint, Brooklyn; Flatiron, Upper East and West Side, Manhattan.
  • Home Depot: Yes, really! Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think of taking the kids to Home Depot, but their free children’s workshops are educational and fun. Workshops allow kids to learn how to safely use tools, and hone STEM skills by planning and building a special craft. They work on their engineering skills and get to keep the item they build. Check your local Home Depot for upcoming workshops. Various locations (link is to 40 W. 23rd St. in Manhattan). Free.
  • The Fire Zone: Located inside Rockefeller Center, this little fire-info station is made especially for kids. Learn about fire safety, try on bunker gear, and even do a fire simulation exercise (for a small fee). Midtown, Manhattan. Free, $6 for fire simulation exercise.
  • Meow Parlour: Enjoy some play time with cats! Meow Parlour is one of three NYC cat cafes (the others being Koneko and the Brooklyn Cat Cafe), where visitors can play with cats and kittens. Special times for kids ensure cats aren’t tired out and it doesn’t get crowded, and if you fall in love with a furry friend, all cats are up for adoption. Lower East Side, $8/person; reservations required; children’s hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 4–5; first and third Sundays of the month 11–12.

Visit Top Nature Spots

While the city is an urban jungle, there are tons of spots to get in touch with nature. Here are our favorite family getaways from the hustle and bustle of the city:

  • Governors Island: Open only from early May to late October, this wonderful spot is a car-free center for relaxation, art, history, and some seriously giant slides (like “three stories high” giant). There are bike rentals, a free weekend farm complete with chickens and two goats (where kids can dig for worms and learn about compost), a free-play style playground, food trucks, small indie stores, hammocks, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t been there yet, grab the kids and go, first chance you get! Governors Island. Ferry leaves from Manhattan and Brooklyn. $3 round trip ferry tickets, free for kids 13 and under, free 10–11:30 on weekends.
  • Jamaica Bay Wildlife Sanctuary: Visit one of the best nature hiking spots for both kids and adults right in your very own backyard. The easy trails wind around two ponds and create a wonderful spot to see some unique birds and wildlife. Stop by the visitors’ center for maps and more information about the trail and wildlife you’re likely to see. Broad Channel, Queens. Free.
  • Wave Hill: You might have already been to the botanical gardens in NYC, but here’s a lesser-known gem of a garden. Wave Hill is a quiet place to appreciate nature, full of flowers, plants, and butterflies. The garden also holds family art days and many other kid-friendly and family-oriented events, often themed around nature and usually free with admission. Riverdale, Bronx. $8/adult, $2/child, kids under 6 are free.
  • Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safaris: Did you know there are wild parrots in NYC? No one is sure how they got here (though they probably escaped from a shipment a long time ago) but colonies of bright green quaker parrots (also known as monk parakeets) have made their homes in various spots around the city. To see some nests and find out more about these unusual immigrants, go on a monthly parrot safari, which visits the birds in two of the parrot colonies by Brooklyn College and Green-Wood Cemetery. Midwood and Green-Wood Heights. Free

Other Fun Family Outings

NYC has plenty of other cool spots to visit (like the Ghostbusters Fire Station!) Here are some more fun activities the whole family will love:

  • The Puppetmobile: Watch a performance on the Puppetmobile, the show that comes to you! This colorful puppet show travels around the boroughs and puts on shows for families. Check the website to find out where the next show will be. Various locations. Free.
  • Roosevelt Island Tram: See the city from above by hopping on the tram, which runs on cables suspended in the air between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island. For the price of two MetroCard fares (one for each way), this is one short trip the kids will find exciting! Once you’re there, visit the Roosevelt Island cat sanctuary or do some family yoga before you head back. Runs from Midtown East to Roosevelt Island. MetroCard fare each way, kids under 44 inches tall ride free.
  • Staten Island Ferry: Here’s another trip worth making as much for the journey as for the destination! The Staten Island Ferry is a safe but exciting trip for kids, so if you’re heading in that direction, opt for this method of travel. It’ll be worth it just for the two amazing aquariums located in the Staten Island terminal. (Please be aware that at the time of this writing, the aquariums are closed while they get a makeover and will reopen in 2019). Financial District, Manhattan. Free.
  • Bronx Equestrian Center: You don’t have to wait for the next street carnival to come around to your neighborhood — just head out to the Bronx Equestrian Center for cheap pony rides year-long. While lessons and trails are on the more expensive side, $5 will get your child three pony rides as long as the center is open. Pelham Bay Park, Bronx. $5 per 3 rides; 9–dusk
  • Seaglass Carousel: If you think carousels are just for horses, you have to pay this beauty a visit. This carousel uses fish for your rides, and is absolutely magical when it gets dark. Everyone in the family will love feeling like they’re swimming through a colorful underwater world! Battery Park, Manhattan. $5/person per ride; 10–10

The 20 amazing things to do with kids in NYC we listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s always something to do in this bustling city, whether your kid loves building, meeting new people, or finding patches of nature in the city. Explore the city and make it your own!

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