Best Children's Museums in NYC for Families to Visit

The American Museum of Natural History's blue whale is an NYC icon, and the entire museum is one of the best children's museums in NYC. Photo by R. Mickens/courtesy of AMNH
The American Museum of Natural History's blue whale is an NYC icon, and the entire museum is one of the best children's museums in NYC. Photo by R. Mickens/courtesy of AMNH

New York City doesn't lack for world-class museums, so when it comes to rooting out the best children's museums in NYC, there are plenty of options! While I've been to MoMA more times than I can count and can while away an afternoon at The Whitney no problem, sometimes my kids need something with a little more action.

That's where these family-friendly children's museums in NYC come in. We've rounded up a dozen of our favorites, ranging from those with totally interactive playspaces to spots for making art, studying history, and much more. All of these children's museums in NYC provide plenty of fun things to do and are great indoor activities whether you're beating the summer heat or escaping winter's chill. Stay up to date on all of our favorite culture spots and exhibits by bookmarking our Guide to Museums, Galleries, and Exhibits in NYC.

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1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Upper East Side

What to see: Arms and Armor, The Met Costume Institute, Cantor Rooftop Garden
Best for: Ages 5+
Plan to: Spend a half-day

It's easy to lose yourself in this NYC institution, but at more than 2 million square feet, there's too much to see in one day—or 10! There's really no wrong way to visit The Met, and your picks for favorite kid-friendly galleries may look different than ours. There are masterful paintings and ancient sculptures worth seeing, too, of course, but no matter what you see, we suggest pacing yourself. While you could easily spend the day here, your kids might not be so keen. Take in a gallery or two and call it a day. Head to the nearby (and museum-inspired) Ancient Playground and leave with your kids wanting more to guarantee yourself a return visit! Beyond the galleries, be sure to see what events are on tap. We're pleased to see story times and family-focused tours returning here. Save time to toss some coins into the fountains on the plaza out front or grab a snack from a nearby food cart, then lounge on the steps for some excellent people watching.

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See dinosaurs and more at the American Musem of Natural History, one of the best children's museums in NYC
Walking through The Hall of Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History is an awe-inspiring experience. Photo by Marley White for NYCgo

2. American Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side

What to see: Dinosaurs, dioramas, rotating exhibits, the blue whale
Best for: Ages 3+
Plan to: Spend the day

Sometimes it's easy to take the amazing, world-class AMNH for granted, but it's truly one of the city's gems and houses plenty for kids of all ages (including older kids) to check out. The preschool set appreciates the Hall of Dinosaurs and the never-ending dioramas. My kids have always loved the Hall of North American Mammals, where they reacquaint themselves with the moose we meet during our summer visits to Grammy and Papa's Colorado cabin. No NYC upbringing is complete without gazing at the big, blue whale hanging in the Hall of Ocean Life, either. We also love the rotating exhibitions and were wowed by the current Sharks exhibit. Its Rose Center for Earth and Space landed AMNH on our list of the best space museums near NYC, and a planetarium show is a treat! Last but not least, the annual Butterfly Conservatory is a must-see. Residents pay what they wish at all times at the ticket counters on-site, though if you want to see special exhibitions, you'll have to pay full price.

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The Brooklyn Children's Museum's Color Lab offers hands-on artmaking at one of the best children's museums in NYC
Hands-on art-making inspires kids to get creative at the Brooklyn Children's Museum's new ColorLab. Photo by Carolina Cabanillas

3. Brooklyn Children's Museum – Crown Heights, Brooklyn

What to see: Everything!
Best for: Ages newborn-10
Plan to: Spend the day

The Brooklyn Children's Museum is the self-proclaimed first of the children's museums in NYC—and everywhere else—having opened its doors in 1899. Cross the threshold and you'll enter an all-ages kid haven. The Totally Tots exhibit is a must-visit for the youngest museum-goers. The padded play space includes tons of sensory fun. Graduate from that exhibit and the World Brooklyn awaits; a pint-sized replica of the borough allows guests to play baker, pizza maker, shopper, shopkeeper, and more. We're forever smitten with its ColorLab, which allows for hands-on art-making, sensory experiences, and interactive story times. The Brooklyn Children's Museum offers pay-what-you-wish admission on Thursdays from 2pm-5pm.

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The Children's Museum of Manhattan offers plenty of hands-on fun as one of the best children's museums in NYC
Go inside the art at the Children's Museum of Manhattan's interactive exhibit. Photo by the author

4. Children's Museum of Manhattan – Upper West Side

What to see: Everything!
Best for: Ages 1-8
Plan to: Spend a half-day

Feeding Alphie the Dragon letters is a rite of passage for Manhattan tots who visit CMOM, one of our favorite children's museums in NYC. Keeping him company are the ever-popular Dora and Diego characters whose long-standing gallery dominates the second floor, and the gaggles of bus drivers and firefighters who visit the galleries daily. Though the space is on the small side (soon to be much bigger), CMOM keeps things fresh with rotating exhibitions. Past favorites have included Hello from Japan, and the ongoing Superpowered Metropolis offers plenty of preschool fun. The seasonal, outdoor Dynamic H2O is a perfect spot to cool off on a hot summer day and its Inside Art exhibit is about to get a brand new look just in time for summer vacation visits.

5. Jewish Children's Museum – Crown Heights, Brooklyn

What to see: Everything!
Best for: Ages 3-12
Plan to: Spend a half-day

The hands-on galleries here teach kids about Jewish life and history. Begin with the story of creation, wind your way to the day of rest, Shabbat, and then learn about daily Jewish customs by shopping in a kosher market and cooking in a kosher kitchen. Play a game of mini golf that revolves around the Jewish customs from a bris to Bar Mitzvah and a wedding. You can also take an interactive journey through Jewish history in the fourth-floor gallery, learning about the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Holocaust, and modern-day Israel. The history is all delivered with a kid-friendly bent, making this spot one of our favorite children's museums in NYC.

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The Museum of the City of New York has plenty of programming and is one of the best children's museums in NYC
Celebrate "Herstory" day each March at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo by Filip Wolak/courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

6. Museum of the City of New York – East Harlem

What to see: New York at its Core, Timescapes, special children's programming
Best for: Ages 5+
Plan to: Spend a couple of hours

The Museum of the City of New York is among my favorite under-the-radar children's museums in NYC. My kids know the halls like the backs of their hands and always beg to see the New York at its Core exhibit; particularly the Future City Lab, where they can create cityscapes that are then projected on a wall of LED screens for all to see. For a completely off-line experience, consider the brand new Analog City, which takes an in-depth look at NYC before computers. The Timescapes video plays on a loop in the ground-floor theater and gives a wonderful, condensed overview of the city's history. Beyond that, the education team at the museum is top-notch, always coming up with timely, inventive one-off programs that we can't get enough of. Case in point: My daughters and I spent a "Herstory Day" here celebrating with Misty Copeland and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani before decorating our own activist tote bags. Check out the events calendar to see what they've got planned. Bonus: All family programs are included in admission and come with a snack for participants! Admission is always suggested and neighbors enter for FREE.

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See Miss Piggy and more Muppets at the Museum of the Moving Image one of the best children's museums in NYC
Miss Piggy gets married at the Museum of the Moving Image. Photo courtesy of the museum

7. Museum of the Moving Image – Astoria, Queens

What to see: Jim Henson Exhibit, Behind the Screen, included-with-admission screenings
Best for: Ages 5+
Plan to: Spend a half-day

The Museum of Moving Image is home to a spectacular Jim Henson exhibition, but it's just a fraction of the fun here for families. Besides visiting the creative genius' famous Muppets, take your kids to Behind the Scenes, where you can make interactive film clips and see some famous movie memorabilia. Make sure you pose for a picture with Jedi master Yoda! The on-site theater screens movies related to current exhibitions, as well as popular recent kid hits. School vacations generally mean you can attend a screening and participate in a related workshop. FREE admission is offered on Thursday afternoons from 2pm-6pm.

8. DiMenna Children's History Museum at the New-York Historical Society – Upper West Side

What to see: DiMenna Children's History Museum, rotating exhibits, seasonal train display
Best for: Ages 3+
Plan to: Spend a half-day

I've heard about the many interesting exhibitions the New-York Historical Society has for grown-ups, but my kids always herd me straight toward the children's museum located within. They love to read about the orphan trains, play an interactive table-top baseball game, and scream like newsies of years past. The on-site library offers plenty of New York-centric books to dive into, and regular story times dot the calendar. Many of the traveling exhibitions upstairs are kid-appropriate, too, including a stunning exhibition detailing the civil rights movement through picture books and an in-depth look at Title IX. Another kid draw here is the seasonal train show every winter. Admission is pay what you wish on Fridays from 6pm-8pm.

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Rocket Park Mini Golf at the New York Hall of Science lets kids explore scientific concepts. Photo courtesy of the museum

9. New York Hall of Science – Flushing, Queens

What to see: Everything!
Best for: All ages
Plan to: Spend the whole day

The New York Hall of Science is packed with hands-on fun for kids of all ages (and the adults accompanying them!). The smallest museum visitors will have plenty of interactive, science-inspired fun in the Preschool Place with its pulleys and wheel-barrows, as well as soft padded surfaces to crawl on and explore. The Maker Space always has cool projects, while Connected Worlds is a larger-than-life touchscreen where you can manipulate an environment to keep it healthy and thriving. In the summer, the outdoor Rocket Park Mini Golf and Science Playground (currently undergoing renovations) are so cool, kids don't even realize the lessons they're learning. At this children's museum in NYC, free general admission is offered Fridays from 2pm-5pm.

RELATED: Top Children's Science Museums Across the US for Families

One of the top children's museums in NYC is, in fact, in a Brooklyn subway station
Trains, buses, a kid-friendly history of the Brooklyn Bridge—it's all at The New York Transit Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum

10. New York Transit Museum – Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

What to see: A museum in a subway stop, what could be better!?!
Best for: Ages 3+
Plan to: Spend half a day

No train-obsessed tot can turn down a visit to the New York Transit Museum, housed in an old subway stop below street level in Brooklyn Heights. Old-school subway cars beg to be climbed aboard and explored; old-school ads entertain mom and dad. There are buses and trolleys to test-drive, too, and all manner of turnstiles to investigate. Regularly scheduled programming includes rides on its vintage fleet, tours of abandoned stations suitable for tweens and up, and currently, plenty of virtual options. Catch its vintage fleet of buses at special annual events like Atlantic Antic. If you're in Grand Central, make sure to check out this museum's annex there.

11. Staten Island Children's Museum – Snug Harbor, Staten Island

What to see: Everything!
Best for: Ages newborn-10
Plan to: Spend half a day

Catch a ride on the Staten Island Ferry to get to this off-the-beaten-path gem among children's museums in NYC. Located on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, there's plenty to do at this Staten Island's kid mecca. Play larger-than-life games in the Big Games gallery, get a close-up look at insects in the exhibit dedicated to them, or take the stage in Portia's Playhouse. The seasonal Sea of Boats is a summertime draw, too. Keep an eye out for occasional FREE admission dates.

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Hands-on art projects make the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling one of the best children's museums in NYC
Kids can create their art at the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling. Photo by the author

12. Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling – Harlem

What to see: Everything!
Best for: Ages 2+
Plan to: Spend half a day

This uptown culture spot is part gallery, part kid-friendly creative studio, which adds up to make it one of our favorite children's museums in NYC. Located in a David Adjaye-designed building, this below-ground space is still flooded with light. Soaring ceilings encompass three galleries: The main space, dubbed The Living Room, houses a site-specific installation rotated annually. Two smaller galleries showcase works by the artist-in-residence and past artists who have called the arts-centric surrounding neighborhoods home. A pair of studios are open for creating. Sometimes projects are inspired by what's on view; other times by the teaching artists, or the available materials. We always seem to leave with armloads full of fresh art. Interactive story times are a must-see, too: Audience participation is encouraged, whether the storytellers read from a book or perform a piece from memory. Best of all, admission is always FREE for kids ages 8 and under.

Originally published in 2019.

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