20 Indoor Places to Go for Free Fun with NYC Kids
Winter can be a challenging time for children—and even more stressful for us parents. The kids start to go stir crazy if they're stuck at home all day, but due to the freezing temperatures, you can only spend so much time playing outside. Then you do the math: How much will it cost to entertain my child at the movies/theater/museum/play space for a couple of hours, and is it worth the price? And the number you come up with usually confirms why you hate math.
But luckily, this is New York City where some of the best things in life are FREE (really). If your kids are bouncing off the walls and your wallet is screaming for a break, we've got you covered. Check out one of these 100% FREE indoor destinations for fun, games or just a much-needed change of scenery.
Note: All of the destinations listed below have different open hours so please check the official websites before heading out.
- Hit up your local library for no-cost fun—but remember, not all branches are created equal. The Children's Center at 42nd Street at the main branch of the New York Public Library, the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Heights and the Children’s Library Discovery Center in Jamaica, Queens are all destination worthy, with wonderful children's sections and frequent family programming. Want to stay close to home? Find out what's going on at all of the branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
- Visit an amenity-filled public atrium. Our favorites include the Ford Foundation’s garden lobby on East 42nd Street and the Winter Garden in the Financial District (the latter is open but is undergoing renovations).
- Enjoy FREE storytimes every day of the week at bookstores and other kid spots.
- Or see what else is going on at some of our favorite independent bookshops including author readings, crafts activities and even puppet shows
- Check out amazing recreations of NYC landmarks like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center at the Lego Store in Midtown West. The shop also hosts occasional FREE building events.
- While you're near Rock Center, stop by the FDNY Fire Zone to learn all about fire safety from a real fireman. General admission is FREE.
- Explore the always FREE National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the historic U.S. Custom House. Programming includes family-friendly films, workshops and other no-cost fun.
- Head to Grand Central Terminal to train watch, try out the whispering gallery or take in one of the other kid-friendly activities.
- See what's going on at one of the NYC Parks Department's many Nature Centers. Enjoy fun hands-on activities like tours, crafts and face time with the animals.
- Get your geek on at the FREE Sony Wonder Technology Lab, which has a slew of cool high-tech stations for all ages, plus frequent family film screenings.
- Leave your credit card at home (to be safe) and hit one of NYC's interactive megastores to gawk at a roaring T.rex (Toys R Us Times Square), activate magic mirrors (Disney Store Times Square) and make music on a BIG Piano (FAO Schwarz).
- Watch the bakers in action, read a story in the children's section of Posman Books or grab a bite at Chelsea Market.
- Head to the nearest Apple Store (there are five in Manhattan) to check out the latest gadgets and apps, or register for FREE youth programs.
- Don’t forget Central Park! There are a handful of FREE indoor destination in the 840-acre green space like Belvedere Castle and the Chess & Checkers House.
- Take in a FREE flick at MoMA or one of these other no-cost cinema spots.
- Enjoy all genres of music at Carnegie Kids FREE neighborhood concerts, which take place at various venues throughout the city.
- Register for a FREE creative workshop at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Center, which offers hands-on programs for children of all ages from toddlers to teens.
- Get crafty with the kids at no cost at the Scholastic Store, Michaels or one of these other spots.
- Introduce the kids to contemporary art at the always FREE Bronx Museum of the Arts.
- And don’t forget: Many NYC museums offer free hours on a weekly or monthly basis.
This post was originally published in January 2010.
- Destination Library: The Children's Center at 42nd Street
- Destination Library: Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch - Grand Fun for NYC Kids
- Children's Library Discovery Center: A New Interactive Tot Spot Opens at Queens Library's Central Branch
- A Winter Garden: 16 Indoor Public Places to Get in Out of the Cold in New York City