May is beloved in NYC for warming temperatures, impromptu dinner at the city's sidewalk tables and parks and family-centric holidays: Mother's Day and Memorial Day. Memorial Day weekend, of course, marks the unofficial start of summer as beaches and water parks and amusement parks often open for the season.
But you don't have to wait for the last weekend of the month to enjoy wonderful family outings. There are fairs and festivals everywhere you turn in May, and our GoList includes the top 15 things to do with kids in New York City this month, including FREE annual favorites such as Governors Island family fun day and Lincoln Center's Spring Fling. There are some debut fests this month, too, including Astoria's New York On Location television and movie-themed event and an outdoor Kids Fair at the Children's Museum of the Arts. Also debuting is Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World at the American Museum of Natural History, and the musical, You're A Good Man Charlie Brown.
But if that wasn't enough, we've even thrown in a bonus spring day trip to Hudson Valley for Lightscapes.
Now get your calendars ready. Here are the top things happening this May in NYC, seven of which are FREE.
As always, if an event piques your interest, be sure to click through to our listing for the details, including addressees and times. And remember, in NYC really cool things to do with kids often sell out in advance or fill up quickly, especially when they're free. So buy your tickets ASAP or arrive early whenever possible.
Join in on the family fun at The Big Family Quiz Thing. Photo by Filip Wolak/courtesy of the production.
The Big Family Quiz Thing – Upper West Side
Sunday, May 1
Perhaps you've seen Noah Tarnow's grown-up trivia competition The Big Quiz Thing on TV, or at one of the many NYC venues where he hosts live shows. Well, did you know there is a similar game specifically for children and families? Now in its fourth year, The Big Family Quiz Thing is at Symphony Space with six fast and funny rounds of multimedia trivia. Questions run from sports to pop culture and history. Last year's prizes were sweet and included Broadway tickets. But it's really not about winning; it's about how much fun you have playing.
RELATED: Best Children's Theater in NYC This Spring
NoFit State will perform its sophisticated circus act in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Sigrid Spinnox/courtesy of the venue.
St. Ann's Warehouse and NoFit State: BIANCO — Dumbo
Tuesday, May 3-Sunday, May 29
A top pick for the entire year! International circus troupe NoFit State sets up its spaceship-shaped tent in Brooklyn Bridge Park for a month of alfresco performances in an inaugural summer session for the park. This sophisticated circus is accompanied by a live band and is definitely for the experienced theatergoer or older kids. Look for our review shortly after opening day.
Identification Day – Upper West Side
Saturday, May 7
Got any unidentified feathers, rocks, shells, bones or other natural artifacts sitting around your house? Bring them to the American Museum of Natural History and scientists will attempt to figure out what they are. Past identified items include a whale jawbone and a 5,000-year-old stone spear point. (There are some rules, including no gemstones or live or dead animals, so check the website to make sure your items qualify.) Staff will make complimentary 3D scans of all identified objects (when possible), so kids can take home a special 3D-printed souvenir. While at the museum, be sure to explore the recently opened mega titanosaur and Dinosaurs Among Us exhibit. Identification Day is free with suggested admission.
The World Science Festival: City of Science – the Bronx
Saturday, May 7
The World Science Festival is switching things up this year. While we still look forward to the amazing family street fair in Washington Square Park in June, organizers have added mini festivals to each borough this year. The first "City of Science" event kicks off May 7 in the Bronx. At the inaugural event, kids will explore STEM concepts through a seismic accelerator launch, attempts to walk on water, playing with various sizes of dominos and checking out other puzzles and contraptions. FREE
RELATED: Best NYC Family Festivals and Fairs This May
Test a new instrument at Lincoln Center's Kids Spring Fling. Photo by David Flores/courtesy of Lincoln Center.
Lincoln Center Kids Spring Fling – Upper West Side
Saturday, May 14
NYC's preeminent cultural institution is hosting a FREE fete spotlighting the best of its offerings for families this season. A highlight is a concert by rockers The Verve Pipe. There will also be live music from Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Chamber Music Society, photo-ops with ballerinas from the American Ballet Theater, interactive storytime with kid lit author Todd Parr, a scavenger hunt, giveaways and more sponsored by the New York Philharmonic and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. FREE
TREE/BOOM/UMTHI — Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Saturday, May 14-Sunday, May 15 and Tuesday, May 17-Sunday, May 22
Another one of our top picks for the entire year! South African physical performance troupe Magnet Theatre mounts an interactive production for preschoolers that explores the relationship humans have with nature through movement. It is presented in English, Afrikaans, and isiXhosa languages, exposing those developing brains to new cultures.
Kings County Fair – Marine Park, Brooklyn
Thursday, May 19-Monday, May 30
If you've been hankering to hit an old-fashioned country fair with a massive Ferris wheel, cool kiddie rides, carnival games, cotton candy and live entertainment, you don't have to leave the city. Brooklyn athletic complex Aviator Sports & Events Center again hosts the Kings County Fair. While there's enough fun to last several days, check out the pricing before you go. Some days are less expensive than others.
It's dancing in the street at the annual Dance Parade New York. Photo by Josef Pinlac/courtesy of the parade.
Dance Parade New York – Flatiron & the East Village
Saturday, May 21
This annual dance procession is on our list of the best NYC parades for kids. It kicks off near Madison Square Park and ends in the East Village. Along the route, 10,000 movers and shakers shimmy down Broadway in elaborate costumes doing more than 75 dances, including the salsa, tango, waltz, hula, break dancing and more. To participate, register in advance and join a group. Otherwise, go and cheer them on, and hit the after-party in Tompkins Square Park for dance workshops and five stages of dance performances. FREE
Kids Fair — Hudson Square
Sunday, May 22
The Children's Museum of the Arts is hosting a new outdoor family fest in conjunction with its annual benefit. Expect a bounce house, bubble making, face-painting, performances and a variety of hands-on arts projects outside the museum on Charlton Street. Only those with tickets to the benefit are allowed inside the museum. FREE
New York On Location – Astoria, Queens
Sunday, May 22
Lights, camera, access! Plenty of popular TV shows are filmed at Queens' Kaufman Astoria Studios (including Sesame Street). For one day, families can explore the new gated backlot and go inside more than 20 trailers and trucks—all from productions currently shooting in NYC—to chat with TV and movie pros. Check out stars' dressing rooms; tech, prop, hair and makeup, wardrobe and special-effects trucks; and other cool behind-the-scenes locales. Stunt experts will demo high falls, street fighting and stunt driving. Once you tire of the spotlight, head to the adjacent Museum of the Moving Image, which is offering complimentary admission. FREE
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown — Midtown East
Tuesday, May 24-Sunday, June 26
Peanuts mania seemed to reach a fever pitch last year with the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas and the release of the gang's first 3D feature. But fans of the charming cartoon characters should be thrilled to hear that the York Theatre Company is reviving the Broadway musical based on Charles M. Schulz's strip. A staple of high school and college campuses, the show, which is a series of vignettes and songs, hasn't enjoyed a major NYC mounting in 17 years. This one includes material from both Broadway iterations (like the awesome songs "Suppertime" and "Happiness") plus new material, and is performed by Broadway "babies," working kid actors from the casts of Matilda, Finding Neverland and Newsies.
The big ships roll in during Fleet Week. Photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/courtesy of Marine Corps.
Fleet Week New York – Citywide
Wednesday, May 25-Tuesday, May 31
Our country's brave sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen cruise into town Memorial Day weekend. Salute the servicemen and women, who you'll spy in uniform all over town, much to kids' delight. There are plenty of events going on throughout the five boroughs. However, highlights for families include the New York Parade of Ships, sailing into New York Harbor on May 25, and the no-cost ship tours throughout the week at Piers 88 and 92 and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and Sullivans Pier on Staten Island. Expect super-long lines (that may be capped by mid-afternoon). Most events are FREE
Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World — Upper West Side
Saturday, May 28–Monday, January 2, 2017
Another one of our top picks for the entire year! We have been looking forward to the Memorial Day Weekend opening of AMNH's new live-creature exhibit, which focuses on crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials. Learn all about these ferocious reptiles and even get a chance to gawk at an African dwarf crocodile, a Siamese crocodile and American alligator hatchlings in the flesh.
Welcome in summer at Governors Island Family Fun Day. Photo by Raven Snook.
Governors Island Family Fun Day – Governors Island
Sunday, May 29
As always, the activity-packed isle opens for the season on Memorial Day weekend. This year organizers have changed the name of the opening weekend festivities to Family Fun Day, so expect it to be a blast. The historic area will be packed with live music, from local and Grammy Award-winning artists Tim Kubart and the Space Cadets and the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band and performances by the Story Pirates. Expect puppet-making, creative projects with CMA, composting and bird house painting. The interactive sculpture garden and mini-golf course traditionally open later in the season but the promenade ringing the island will be complete for walking and cycling. FREE except for cost of ferry
Bonus Day Trip Pick:
Lightscapes – Croton-on-Hudson
Friday, April 29-Sunday, May 29 and Monday, May 30
In nearby Westchester, experience Lightscapes, historic Hudson Valley's walk-through, land-art exhibit, from the producers of our favorite Halloween event Blaze. We raved about this last year and are excited the dazzling displays return to illuminate Van Cortlandt Manor with flora and fauna artistically crafted from recycled materials. New this year: the Bubble Tunnel. Advance ticket purchase is a must.
NYC has so many amazing things going on, it's often difficult to choose. So here are a few more cool events worth considering for your May calendar. Be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can get our weekend picks delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.
Immerse yourself in all things Gaelic at the annual Irish Dance Festival in Riverside Park South on Sunday, May 1. FREE
Hatched: Life on the Farm, a sweet theater show for babies, toddlers and little kids returns for a brief run.
Complete your geek week by wishing everyone a Happy Star Wars Day on Wednesday, May 4 (May the Fourth be with you... get it?).
Scour the skies for our feathered friends and meet live bats, butterflies and birds of prey at Central Park's annual On a Wing: Family Festival on Saturday, May 7. FREE
Snag a FREE comic book at participating shops on Saturday, May 7. FREE
Watch canoes paddle through the Bronx as part of the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla on Saturday, May 7. FREE
Participate in swim races and soccer competitions at Asphalt Green's Big Swim Big Kick Saturday May 7. FREE
Celebrate an old-fashioned Mother's Day at the New York Botanical Garden's weekend-long Garden Party on Saturday, May 7-Sunday, May 8.
Gaze at gorgeous blooms and enjoy spring activities at Randall's Island's Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, May 14. FREE
Get a preview of the 2,200-acre landfill that will be Freshkills Park in Staten Island during the green space's Discovery Day on Sunday, May 15. FREE
Tour offbeat and opulent sacred sites throughout the five boroughs Saturday, May 21-Sunday, May 22. FREE
Central Park's pint-sized amusement park, Victorian Gardens, opens for the season on Saturday, May 28.