The Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design have annual teen nights. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney host more frequent teen activities, often organized by peers.
It's worth checking the museums' respective calendars since they all offer regular programs for teens, like sketching, open art studios, and movie nights; most are FREE.
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ArtsConnection offers discounted tickets to a variety of performance spaces and cultural institutions. Photo courtesy of the organization
2. Enjoy Live Culture on the Cheap
For teens who have an artistic bent, ArtsConnection offers a diverse array of programming specifically for teens, including opportunities to attend art and theater shows, meet artists and professionals, workshops, internships, and teen nights. All programs are FREE for NYC teens.
If your teen wants Broadway tickets, high schoolers can apply for a Theatre Development Fund membership, which comes with access to deeply discounted seats for theater, music, and dance performances.
It's also worth knowing about the rush policy for Broadway shows, where kids with time on their hands can score last-minute seats.
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Firebird Youth Theater is an award-winning theater company that's entirely teen-run and teen-directed. Photo courtesy of the theater
3. Star in Theater for Teens, by Teens
If your teen is more interested in getting on stage than watching from the audience, check out the Firebird Youth Theater. Founded in 2013 by a committed group of talented NYC teens, the award-winning company presents one full-fledged, off-Broadway production a year, starring and directed by youngsters. Register now for the summer intensive or film and acting workshops.
4. Attend an All-Ages Open Mic Night
Little Island is a cool place to hang, but select summer Fridays are Teen Night, where big kids take over The Glade to showcase their talents.
For a wider audience consider letting your kid register for one of the shows at the venerable Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village. All are open to all ages, which means, of course, plenty of adult language but probably nothing that scares a teen. There are virtual and in-person options on the calendar.
Get a bird's eye view at The Bronx Zoo's Treetop Adventure. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher
5. Soar on the Bronx Zoo's Treetop Adventure
The Bronx Zoo's Treetop Adventure is an ultra-fun destination, letting a duo of BFFs race on its side-by-side zip lines—50 feet in the air spanning 400 feet across the Bronx River and back. Seven suspended ropes courses challenge you to swing from tree to tree, encountering obstacles and chills along the way. The one downside: While teens can tackle these thrilling activities on their own, an adult must be present on-site at all times to supervise and sign the necessary waivers, so don't send the kids alone!
6. Chill at a YMCA Teen Center
Families already know the city's many YMCAs offer classes and programs for all ages. But did you know that approximately 30 local branches have Teen Centers where high schoolers can go to play pool, pingpong, video games, a variety of sports, make art, learn computer coding, get homework help and college application assistance, or hang out with their peers under the watchful eye of understanding adults? Well, it's true, and it's FREE, too. Contact your local branch to find out about specific Teen Center hours and offerings, as they vary by location. Registration usually has to be done in person with a parent or guardian present.
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Teens dig the old-school vibe of the Chinatown Fair arcade. Photo courtesy of Chinatown Fair
7. Play Old-School Video Games at an Arcade
Back when I was a teen, there were arcades all over the city where I could play Pac-Man. These days, there seem to be more gaming bars, and teens can't go to those. However, there are a few old-school video game havens that are great for minors, so tell them to skip Times Square's touristy Dave & Buster's and head down to Chinatown Fair. Overhauled in 2012, this longtime arcade bursts with teens who seem to love its slightly seedy vibe and games like Ultra Street Fighter, Dance Dance Revolution, and pop-a-shot.
8. Go Bowling and Beyond
There are a lot of bowling alleys in NYC that welcome teens. But the state-of-the-art Bowlero Chelsea Piers offers so much more, including a 3,000-square-foot, NYC-themed laser tag arena featuring replicas of landmarks like the Washington Square Park Arch and the Statue of Liberty, plus pingpong and arcade games. Teens are welcome until 8pm when it becomes 21 and over. Warning: They'll most likely blow an entire month's allowance here.
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Beat the Bomb offers a fun mash-up of escape room fun with modern tech for a unique outing. Photo courtesy of Beat the Bomb
9. Conquer Escape Rooms
Escape rooms offer the chance for teens to gather with their friends and embark on exciting and fun challenges. There are several escape rooms in NYC with different themed rooms, puzzles, and obstacles. At Beat the Bomb, where escape rooms are integrated with gaming technology, participants wear hazmat suits and try to defuse a bomb—and if they fail, they get blasted with paint.
10. Go Beyond the Stacks at the Library
Many branches in NYC's three library systems—the New York Public Library in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island; the Queens Library; and the Brooklyn Public Library—host FREE classes and programs just for teens regularly. They range from the casual, like movie screenings, clubs, and homework help, to big special events like NYPL's popular and FREE Anti-Prom every June, which always has a wild lit theme and edgy entertainment. Even if your teen hasn't been to the library in years, it's worth perusing the calendar of your local branch to see what it offers for adolescents. All three systems have teen-centric info pages on their respective websites.
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Meet new people, think, strategize, and...interact through board games! Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Strategist
11. Go Analog at a Board Game Cafe
Want to make the teens ditch the screens altogether? Send them to a board game cafe. There are tons of board game cafes within the five boroughs, and the list is growing all the time.
The Brooklyn Strategist hosts workshops in everything from chess to Dungeons & Dragons, as well as drop-in open-play sessions for an hourly fee. Gamestoria boasts a full calendar of collaborative games, too. The Uncommons cafe in Greenwich Village lets you choose from a vast on-site collection. Hex & Co now has a trio of locations.
There's also Brooklyn Game Lab, which offers afterschool games, summer sessions, and Saturday Night hangouts, where middle and high school kids can play Dungeons & Dragons with a master.
12. Embark on an Adventure
Send your teens and their crew to Area 53 NYC, a pair of action-packed entertainment centers, that are great for a group and offers tons of activities to choose from. With locations in Williamsburg and Dumbo, teens can tackle everything from ropes courses to laser tag, paintball, mazes, climbing walls, air hockey, and more. Teens must bring a signed waiver and copy of their parent's driver's license to play sans supervision.
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Get active outdoors with The Movement Creative. Photo courtesy of the Movement Creative
13. Get Physical With Parkour
If your teen has ever wanted to try parkour, in which participants treat our city like one big obstacle course, NY Parkour Academy offers outdoor beginner sessions for ages 15 and up. It's challenging, exhilarating, and admittedly dangerous to try on your own (just Google "parkour fails," and you'll see what we mean), but the pros at NY Parkour put safety first in their classes, which are held on Sunday afternoons in the East River Amphitheater on the Lower East Side. No long-term commitment is necessary. Just show up at the specified time with $20 for two hours of training. Also check out The Movement Creative, which offers parkour classes in Central Park and other locations all over NYC.
14. Cruise a Serious Skatepark
Teens can hang out in any of NYC's myriad parks and maybe even a big-kid-friendly playground. But for teens who like to Rollerblade or skateboard, NYC's many outdoor skateparks are a great option. They're all FREE and filled with teens and young adults—you rarely see anyone under 10 or over 30. Note that, officially, all public skateparks require a signed parental waiver, plus protective gear like helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards for anyone under age 18. That said, we've seen many New York City teens skating without any of that, so make sure you go over your own rules with your kids before they head out.
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The Cliffs Gowanus offers supersized walls that teens will be thrilled to climb. Photo by Diana Kim
15. Go Rock Climbing
If your kid would prefer to climb walls instead of hopping over them, consider sending them to one of these kid-friendly rock-climbing spots. Those that are particularly teen-friendly include Brooklyn Boulders Teen Academy and the summer teen program at The Cliffs Gowanus. You can also climb at one of The Cliffs' other locations, including the seasonal, outdoor wall in Dumbo.
16. Explore a New Neighborhood
Chinatown, the East Village, Dumbo, and more—NYC is filled with fascinating neighborhoods to explore. But if we have to pick the best area for teens to check out, it's Coney Island. Its warm-weather attractions are adolescent catnip—the beach, the thrilling amusement park rides, and the glorious junk food. But it's an intriguing destination even in the off-season, especially if you add the nearby Russian enclave of Brighton Beach to your itinerary. It's like taking a trip to another country for the price of a MetroCard swipe.
Originally published in March 2016. Diana Kim contributed additional reporting.