There are certain New York City celebrations we love so much, my daughter and I go every year, like the interactive art-filled Figment on Governors Island, the incredible (and educational) World Maker Faire New York, and Street Games, the Parks Department's tribute to old-school pastimes.
I know I'm not the only mom out there who likes to plan ahead, and since the festival season kicks into high gear this month, we figured it was a great time to round up our top annual festivals for families. Every single pick on our list is either an event my family or one of our writers has been to personally, or an annual favorite endorsed by our friends and readers. In other words, they're really worth your time and money—even better, in many cases they don't cost a penny.
Check out our Annual GoList for even more great happenings and new openings for NYC families in 2017.
Children's Carnival – Glen Oaks
Queens County Farm Museum, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Saturday, April 1-Sunday, April 2; Saturday, April 9-Sunday, April 10, 2017
The 47-acre Queens County Farm Museum is a historic working farm with crops in the fields and all sorts of animals for kids to feed. While the agricultural spot hosts lots of great events throughout the year, this two-weekend long Children's Carnival is the best time to visit. It's a huge, old-time affair with an authentic midway complete with kiddie rides, games, and family entertainment. The best part? All rides are included with admission.
Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival — Midtown East
Fifth Avenue between 49th and 57th Streets
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Happy Easter! This April GoList pick is one of our 50 favorite things to do over spring break, and we also rank it as one fo the 100 things to do in NYC with kids before they grow up. Almost 10 blocks close to traffic and open to beautiful bonnets, snappy hats, and jaw-dropping headdresses. Show off your craziest hat, or just come and take photos and enjoy the family-friendly revelry, which usually includes great people watching, of course, but also some performances. FREE
RELATED: April GoList: Best Things to Do this Month with NYC Kids
The popular Sakura Matsuri includes pretty blooms, performances, and a celebration of Japanese culture. Photo by Julie Markes/courtesy of BBG.
Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival – Crown Heights
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue
Saturday, April 29-Sunday, April 30, 2017
This weekend-long celebration of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture is set in and around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's beautiful blooming Cherry Esplanade. The lineup usually includes Taiko drumming performances, flower-arranging workshops, martial arts displays, Japanese pop bands, tea ceremonies, cooking demos, and kids' workshops like manga drawing, origami, crafts, and drumming. While the colorful flowers are certainly eye-catching, they're rivaled by the many revelers who come dressed in their best anime outfits. Tip: This fest seems to get more popular every year, so it's best to buy tickets in advance otherwise you'll end up waiting on a long line.
Street Games – East Harlem
Thomas Jefferson Park, 114th Street and First Avenue
Saturday, April 29, 2017
My daughter and I love this event so much, I wrote an entire post about it. Leave your iPads and iPhones at home; this fest is dedicated to the kinds of analog amusements kids grew up with in the '60s and '70s. Encourage your kids to try out classics like pogo sticks, hula hoops, yo-yos, hippity hops, and double Dutch (and see if you remember how to do them). Other fun includes cycling and skateboarding clinics, arts and crafts, a soap-box derby race, DJs and performances by local cultural institutions like the Dance Theatre of Harlem. FREE
Street Science – Greenwich Village
Washington Square Park
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Every year the World Science Festival, a massive multi-day celebration of science, culminates in this amazing family festival—formerly known as the Ultimate Science Street Fair—featuring tons of hands-on activities and experiments. There are live animal demos, a carnival-style math midway, and shows by the traveling scientists from the Franklin Institute—they're awesome and keep kids on the edge of their seats as they play with fire and homemade cannons. Warning: It's always super-crowded so you may need to wait at popular booths. FREE
Figment NYC – Governors Island
Saturday, June 3-Sunday, June 4, 2017
This über-creative festival invites all island visitors to make, participate or collaborate in various art projects. The members of the Figment arts collective (who also design Governors Island's annual mini-golf course and interactive sculpture garden) say they offer "art and activities in every medium available," and they're not exaggerating. In years past, projects have included cookie making, splashing around in big buckets of colored water, fashioning fairy wings, playing limbo, frolicking in a tent filled with rose petals, plus traditional creative activities like mural painting and sculpture making. This one my daughter and I never miss! FREE
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert – Prospect Park Bandshell
June. The 2017 date is TBD.
One of the city's premier summer performance fests, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival always has an eclectic lineup of live acts and films mostly aimed at grown-ups. But every year, the series hosts an Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert, which usually includes a well-known family band plus fun activities like face painting and crafts. FREE
Egg Rolls, Egg Creams & Empanadas – Lower East Side
Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street between Canal and Division Streets
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Every June, the Lower East Side celebrates its multicultural roots at this old-school fest. Visitors can tour the historic synagogue-turned-museum, learn words in Yiddish, Chinese, and Spanish, catch live Chinese opera, klezmer, salsa, and plena performances, and enjoy arts and crafts, and mahjong. Of course the title noshes—all kosher—are available. FREE
Museum Mile Festival – Upper East Side
82nd to 105th Streets on Fifth Avenue
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Museum Mile is closed to traffic and turned into a massive art party. Everywhere you look, people are making art, plus Fifth Avenue cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim, El Museo del Barrio and the Cooper Hewitt offer FREE admission. Get there early as the lines are always long. On the street, check out chalk drawings, live music, theater and dance performances, jugglers, and art activities for kids. FREE
Adventures NYC – Central Park
June. The 2017 date is TBD.
Enjoy a day of athletic outdoor fun at this fest, which is co-presented by the NYC Parks Department and Backpacker Magazine. Families can give activities like rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, and yoga a try. Plus there are usually bike helmet giveaways, live music, and other entertainment. FREE
Make Music New York – Citywide
June 21, 2017
Celebrate the first day of summer by hearing (or making) beautiful music. From morning to night, hundreds of no-cost concerts take place in public spaces like parks and plazas throughout the five boroughs. Every genre is represented, even kids' bands, and some events encourage you to join in. You can check the schedule of performances on the website, or just wander the city with your ears open. If you enjoy it, take note: The smaller Make Music Winter takes place every December 21. FREE
SummerStage Family Days – Citywide
Various locations and dates in June, July, and August.
While the City Parks Foundation's annual summer concert series is primarily aimed at adults, there are always four free Family Days in Central Park, Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park, and green spaces in Brooklyn and Queens. The main stage lineup usually includes a few big-name kindie bands, DJs, and circus or puppet performances, plus there are roaming entertainers, interactive activity stations, face painting, and tons of giveaways. FREE
City of Water Day – Governors Island & Hoboken
Saturday, July 15, 2017
The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance sponsors this fantastic celebration of our local waterfront. The festivities take place on Governors Island, in Hoboken's Maxwell Place Park and on the water in between. Enjoy kayaking and canoeing, historic boat tours, and live entertainment. Kids can also get up close and personal with reptiles and aquatic creatures, take fishing lessons, and enjoy landlubber favorites like arts and crafts, and bouncy castles. Plus, there's a FREE ferry between the two locations, so you can hit the fun on both banks. Note: Some of the best activities require advance registration! Be sure to check the website in June so you can sign up for some of the special offerings. FREE
Lincoln Center Out of Doors Family Day – Upper West Side
July. The 2017 date is TBD.
In addition to more than 100 music, dance, and other live performances, there's always a Family Day when kids can enjoy a variety of funky arts activities and performances. In years past, we've seen Chinese acrobats, circus performers, and walked through a massive art installation. FREE
RELATED: Parks & Playgrounds Guide for NYC Kids
Registration to the FREE water slide at Summer Streets is always a hot summer ticket. Photo courtesy of the event.
Summer Streets – Midtown to Lower Manhattan
Saturdays August 5, 12, & 19, 2017
We're big fans of this fest that shuts down a significant portion of Park Avenue and Lafayette Streets to traffic to make way for a giant party in the streets. Residents are invited to walk, run, bike, skate, and scoot down this vast stretch street and enjoy activity-filled "rest stops" along the way. There are always fun activities, free giveaways, and the past two years, one REALLY big water slide awaits at the end! FREE
Hong Kong Boat Festival – Corona
Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Saturday, August 12-Sunday, August 13, 2017
Over two thrilling days, more than 100 Dragon Boat teams race across Meadow Lake. Other activities include a food court, Chinese music, folk arts and craft demos, and martial arts displays. Afterward, you can check out all the fun Flushing Meadows Corona Park has to offer, including a carousel, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Zoo.
Little makers can gawk at, but also gets hands-on with many creations at the STEM-fueled creative fest that is the World Maker Faire. Photo courtesy the fair.
World Maker Faire New York – Corona
New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street
Saturday, September 23-Sunday, September 24, 2017
Maker Faire is a true Mommy Poppins favorite. Founded in California, Maker Faire debuted in NYC in 2010, and my family and I have attended every year. The grounds of the New York Hall of Science explode with all kinds of inventions and creations, everything from knitting to robotics, circus to interactive sculptures, computers to crafts. The Young Makers area is particularly inspiring, with students from all over NYC showing off their cutting-edge projects. Check out our highlight reel, and then buy tickets for this year's edition.
Little Red Lighthouse Festival – Washington Heights
Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park
Late September or early October. The 2017 date is TBD.
This annual shindig features food, fishing, hay rides, tours of the landmark, and a reading of the famous children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Warning: If you want to take the lighthouse tour, arrive early! The FREE tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis and they go fast. FREE
Atlantic Antic – Boerum Hill
Atlantic Avenue between Hicks Street and Fourth Avenue
September. The 2017 date is TBD.
The biggest street fair in Brooklyn boasts several stages of live music (R&B, jazz, rock, country, kids' bands, you name it) and literally hundreds of vendors. There's a whole block dedicated to kids' activities like pony rides, inflatables, face painting, and balloon sculptures. Grown-ups appreciate the eclectic selection of international eats, like grilled sardines, pulled pork, baklava, and carnival favorites. Bonus: In conjunction with the fest, the nearby New York Transit Museum always holds its annual Bus Festival, where you can check out all kinds of retro rides. FREE
Medieval Festival – Washington Heights
Fort Tryon Park
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Party like it's 1399 at this fest along the Hudson River. Watch knights joust and other pageantry of the era, enjoy live strolling musicians, dramatic minstrels, juggling jesters, and browse old-school wares. Make sure you dress up! Velvet and corsets are practically mandatory. If you can't make it to the annual New York Renaissance Faire in Sterling Forest, this is the next best thing. You'll see some of the same booths and performers. FREE
Bring your furry or feathered friend to the Blessing of the Animals. Photo by Helena Kubicka de Bragança/courtesy of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Blessing of the Animals – Morningside Heights
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street
October. The 2017 date is TBD.
The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi is for animal lovers of all faiths. Families can bring their pets to be blessed. You need advance tickets for the 9am service, but in the afternoon clergy bestows blessings on the grounds on a first-come, first-serve basis. My family and I bring our dogs every year and we always see all kinds of animals, cats, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, even pet rocks. Don't have pets? You can still watch the procession of exotic creatures enter the Cathedral, including a hawk, a camel, and bees, then hit the post-blessing fest for live performances, face painting, and a petting zoo.
Open House NY – Citywide
Saturday, October 14-Sunday, October 15, 2017
Enjoy tours of iconic, historic, and even some private buildings and institutions at this weekend-long fest. While there's always specific kids' programming like performances at Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre and Queens' King Manor Museum, a lot of the grown-up tours may be of interest to families, especially a peek at sculptor Tom Otterness' Brooklyn studio. Take note: Many tours sell out in advance so be sure to check the website two weeks prior so you can reserve spots online. There's usually a nominal reservation fee.
The snow-filled Winter Jam in Central Park lets kids test out snow sports usually reserved for the mountains. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks Department.
Winter Jam – Central Park
Late January. The 2017 date was Saturday, January 28
Whether or not Mother Nature cooperates—in 2016 a blizzard forced the event to be canceled, and in 2017 it was too warm to blow snow—you can still have winter fun courtesy of the Parks Department. Enjoy fresh fake snow and try out cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding—there's even a separate snow zone for off-leash dogs. Non-seasonal fun includes Quidditch demos, animal tracking, and live entertainment. FREE
Brooklyn Inventgenuity Festival – Cobble Hill
Late January. The 2017 date was Saturday, January 22.
Fans of the Beam Center will go gaga over this creative fest which brings together makers of all ages to experience hands-on learning, technology-integrated crafts, and build a site-specific, collaborative project. The Inventgenuity Festival has quickly become a winter destination. The fest is FREE, but some projects require a materials fee.
Winter Carnival – Midtown West
Late January. The 2017 dates were Friday, January 24-Saturday, February 4.
Bryant Park's answer to Central Park's Winter Jam offers plenty of different, icy options. Guests can take FREE ice skating and curling lessons on New York City's only no-cost ice rink. Past activities have included a giant, glow-in-the-dark ice castle, frozen fingers juggling lessons, a silent ice disco, and even some winter brew for the grown ups. FREE
Find even more family fun in our Event Calendar.
This article was first in April 2013 but has since been updated.
Top photo: One of the installations form past years' Figment Festival on Governors Island. Photo by Melanie-Cluzel via Flickr.