15 Free Things To Do in NYC With Kids Over Holiday Break

An evening walk through Midtown doesn't cost a thing, and the holiday windows are a stunning seasonal sight. Photo by Jody Mercier
An evening walk through Midtown doesn't cost a thing, and the holiday windows are a stunning seasonal sight. Photo by Jody Mercier

NYC kids are officially on holiday break from Friday, December 24, 2021, through Sunday, January 2, 2022, and as your family gears up for a week of gleeful abandon, we've pulled together some fun ideas for FREE things to do with kids over the holiday break providing welcome relief in the aftermath of the year's spendiest holidays.

Our list of 15 FREE things to do with the kids during the holiday break means you can enjoy the school vacation without further denting your budget, and you might even discover some new favorite NYC locations while you're at it. For more fun things to do over holiday break, bookmark this list of 35 more fun things to do while school's out, plus our Family Activity Guide for fun any day of the week.

Need more local NYC inspiration? Check out our day trip guide, best indoor entertainment spots for rainy or chilly days, or explore a new-to-you neighborhood.

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1. Sing in the Holidays

Join carolers under the Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village on Christmas Eve. The Washington Square Association even hands out songbooks, in case you don't know all the lyrics.

2. Shrug Off the Cold at a Public Atrium

Explore some of the city's indoor public spaces. Our favorites include the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center and the Winter Garden in the Financial District.

The Dyker Lights are a fabulous, FREE sight in Brooklyn
It just wouldn't be Christmas in Brooklyn without the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights.

3. Lighten Up!

Gawk at the incredible light displays NYC residents create at their homes, like the Dyker Heights lights in Brooklyn. Other spectacular displays include the Little North Pole in the Rockaways and the DiMartino house on Staten Island.

4. Take a ferry to Governors Island

This winter, Governors Island is setting up its own little Winter Village, complete with a 5,000-square-foot outdoor ice skating rink, fire pits, and seasonal activities. On Fridays, access to the rink is FREE!

RELATED: What's Open on Christmas Day in NYC: 14 Things To Do With Kids

See cool public art for a free thing to do
Interwoven celebrates human connection in the Flatiron District. Photo courtesy of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership

5. Weave Some Memories in the Flatiron District

Explore Flatiron's interactive art installation, Interwoven, by Atelier Cho Thompson. Its got a bunch of cool features, including a hammock and color sensors that celebrate when two people pass through sensors of the same color with a music and light show.

6. Get Yourselves Back to the Garden

On Wednesdays, the New York Botanical Garden offers FREE grounds passes to NYC residents. Proof of residency is required, and tickets can only be purchased on-site. Note this is for outdoor exhibits only, but there's a lot to see, even in the winter.

RELATED: 10 Best Christmas Cookie Recipes To Bake with Kids

Luminaries make a fun, free thing to do over holiday break
The awe-inspiring Luminaries are a cheerful sight to see on a holiday outing. Photo courtesy of Brookfield Place

7. Make a Wish

Walk beneath a dazzling canopy of glowing lanterns—and make a holiday wish—at Brookfield Place's Luminaries exhibit. New this year: visitors can "conduct" a mini-symphony using a gesture-controlled instrument.

8. Visit a Nature Center

Learn something new at one of the NYC Parks Department's many nature centers. Visitors can pick up trail maps and an Urban Park Rangers quarterly calendar. Plus, the Urban Park Rangers are offering a bunch of Kids Week activities in parks all over town, including campfire fun in Queens and the Bronx, a wintry hike in Central Park, owl pellet exploration on Staten Island, and birdfeeder construction in Brooklyn.

RELATED: Best Kids' Christmas Movies to Watch This Holiday Season

Wander the South Street Seaport to see the stunning sights for free this holiday break
Bundle up and head to the festive South Street Seaport district. Photo courtesy of The Seaport

9. See the Trees

Go on a giant illuminated Christmas tree crawl (once the crowds have slightly subsided). Rockefeller Center isn't the only go-to spot. You can find lovely Christmas trees in Bryant Park and at South Street Seaport, plus a flotilla of illuminated firs on Central Park's Harlem Meer.

10. Hike the Women's Heritage Trail

Get some fresh air in Central Park and visit all the sites dedicated to pioneering women.

11. Do Some Window Shopping

Stroll around town and enjoy the dazzling department store holiday windows before they're dismantled for the season.

RELATED: 101 Christmas Activities for Kids: Christmas Crafts, Christmas Decorations, and More

Hands-on interactive learning exhibits are just part of the fun at the Children's Library Discovery Center in Queens. Photo by Michael Moran/Otto Archive, LLC

12. Bag Some Books

Hit up your local library for no-cost fun. The newly renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown is particularly kid-friendly. We also love the Greenpoint Public Libray and Environmental Center and Adam Street Library in Brooklyn, plus the Children's Library Discovery Center in Jamaica, Queens. All are destination-worthy.

13. Talk to the Animals

You can score FREE limited admission tickets every Wednesday at the Bronx Zoo. Note that it doesn't include special exhibits, like the Congo Gorilla Forest, but you can see a lot without spending a dime. The Wednesdays Ticket Store opens the Monday before at 5pm, and timed-entry tickets are required. For a totally FREE Wednesday zoo experience, head to the Staten Island Zoo between 2pm and 4pm. And don't forget the New York Aquarium admission is FREE on Wednesday afternoons from 3pm to last entry (grab tickets on the website in advance).

RELATED: Inexpensive Winter Getaways for NYC Families

Tote along your skates and hit the ice at Winter Village at Bryant Park. Photo by Angelito Jusay/courtesy of Winter Village.

14. Bring Your Own Skates

Skip shelling out for rental skates and hit the ice at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park for FREE.

15. Round up the Wreaths

Warm up inside after a walk in Central Park at the Annual Wreath Interpretations Exhibit where you'll find some imaginative and unusual wreaths created by nearly 40 artists and designers.

Bonus: Still got energy to burn?

Try one of these 50 tried-and-true indoor games and activities to keep kids busy all winter, plus 64 science experiments.

A version of this post was published in 2017; it is updated annually.

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Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides