Lincoln Center, the grand performing arts mecca on Manhattan's Upper West Side may seem out of reach to many. Prices for the fancy, high-culture shows are beyond family budgets, but that shouldn't keep you away. From watching the iconic fountain dance to rooting out hidden gem performances which cost little-to-nothing, Lincoln Center is a rich cultural destination you don't need to be rich to enjoy. Here are our top 10 FREE and cheap things to do with kids at Lincoln Center.
1. Marvel at the Lincoln Center Revson Fountain
Regardless of whether you're a native or a tourist, everyone should pose for a pic in front of this landmark. There are five-minute choreographed "water ballets" throughout the day, conceived by the firm behind Las Vegas' famous Bellagio fountain. Visit between 7-8pm as there are six shows during the hour and the ever-changing lights, most visible in the evening, lend a spectacular aura to the action.
2. Catch a Family Performance
The David Rubenstein Atrium is one of our favorite places to hang out. Located just off the main Lincoln Center campus on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets, this lovely public atrium is a great place for families to chill out. There's plenty of seating, gigantic live plant walls, a mesmerizing projection screen, soothing water features, a cafe, free Wi-Fi, bathrooms and space for little ones to wander, but what really sells us on the location is the free, family-friendly LC Kids entertainment, with interactive performances for families on the first Saturday of the month. Genres run the gamut from music to dance to theater to opera, and there's always a post-show Q&A with the artists.
3. Examine the Architecture
Gawk at the stately facades of the David H. Koch Theater (home of New York City Ballet) and David Geffen Hall, formerly Avery Fisher Hall. Around showtime, you can even pop inside the lobby with the crowds (though without tickets you can't go further than that.) Ask your kids which building they like best, and compare and contrast them. Want to take a closer look? Download the FREE Lincoln Center app for a do-it-yourself tour or pay for one of the guided tours Lincoln Center offers, including an Art and Architecture tour.
4. See What's Going on in Damrosch Park
This green space is tucked away just southwest of the David H. Koch Theater. Every October to January, it's home to the financially-troubled Big Apple Circus. Twice a year it holds eclectic craft fairs. In summer, it's got an open-air stage that hosts lots of FREE performances.
5. Take in the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Fest
Every year from mid-July to mid-August, this fest offers FREE alfresco entertainment throughout the Lincoln Center grounds, including Damrosch Park. While there's always a designated family day, a lot of the "grown-up" performances are kid-friendly. Enjoy circus arts, avant-garde theater, cultural spectacles, cool concerts, and much more. It's worth perusing the entire schedule online.
6. Explore Hearst Plaza
The open space that's east of the Met is worth checking out, too. Walk around the Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace and admire Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" sculpture, see the reflections of the buildings ripple and watch how the water slips over the edge. Climb the Illumination Lawn, an elevated and slanted grass lawn where you can take in the view, sit and catch some rays or roll down the hill.
7. Check out the New York Library for the Performing Arts
This special branch of the NYPL has a nice gallery space that hosts temporary exhibits, usually about famous performing arts figures. If your child is an aspiring singer or actor, this is a great place to photocopy sheet music and monologues. And like all NYPL branches, there are frequent FREE performances and talks.
8. Romp on the Stairs Outside Alice Tully Hall
Children love climbing the giant steps to nowhere that end in a small triangle that juts out over the sidewalk. Often you'll find a street performer or special event going on in the slightly sunken space below, and you can sit on the stairs and watch.
9. See Cheap or FREE Performances
Splurging on the opera at the Met or the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall is great...but not something you can do every day. That's why it's good to know that the dance, drama and music students at the celebrated Juilliard School offer frequent performances, many of which are FREE. These short shows are a great way to test whether your kid is ready to sit through a full symphony or ballet. The Film Society of Lincoln Center offers lots of great foreign, classic and indie movies which are FREE-to-low cost and best for tweens to teens.
10. Check the Calendar for Must-see One-offs
Lincoln Center hosts a lot of one-off annual events that are great for families, like the FREE activity-packed Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square at the start of the holiday season and the FREE Midsummer Night's Swing Kids' Day in summer. There are also lots of special enriching performances aimed at kids like Jazz at Lincoln Center's Jazz for Young People, Family Saturdays at New York City Ballet and a short opera in English around the holidays at the Met but all of those cost money. Make sure you browse Lincoln Center's comprehensive calendar to find out what's going on. You can even filter so you just see family events.
Lincoln Center is located between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues from 62nd to 65th Streets. If you're hungry after all the exploring, be sure to check out our post about kid-friendly restaurants near Lincoln Center.
This post originally published in March 2014.