17 Things To Do in NYC with Tweens: Terrific Picks for Phone-Free Entertainment

No matter your tweens favorite thing to do, Area 53 provides an action-packed outing with activities like ropes courses, rock climbing, and more. Photo by Diana Kim
No matter your tweens favorite thing to do, Area 53 provides an action-packed outing with activities like ropes courses, rock climbing, and more. Photo by Diana Kim

Finding fun things to do in NYC with tweens can be challenging. Kids in this age group are a bit too old for most playgrounds and a bit too young to wander around NYC alone. That's why this mother of a picky 11-year-old asked her peers and their kids for their top things to do in NYC with tweens that are guaranteed not to prompt one of those infuriating eye rolls.

So, next time you're planning a family outing, try one of these tween-tested-and-approved excursions in NYC—who knows, your tween might even put down their smartphone and crack a smile. Find more fun things to do in NYC with tweens in our Tweens and Teens Guide to NYC, which includes our bucket list of teen activities to enjoy once your tweens age up.

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1. Explore a Grown-up Museum

Now that they've officially outgrown all the children's museums, your tween can better appreciate MoMA, The Met, the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim, and NYC's other world-class art institutions. Of course, your sophisticated tween may have already been going to those culture hubs for years. But they've probably never visited The Frick, which doesn't allow visitors under age 10, or Neue Galerie New York, although you must be at least 12 for that one. Meanwhile, many usual haunts offer drop-in activities perfect for tweens, like monthly Saturday Sketching sessions at The Met and MoMA's Family Films, which often have tween-specific screenings. All of the city's major museums offer creative family activities, and even if they're not tween specific, they're much more sophisticated than arts and crafts, and best appreciated by mature children.

2. Play Mini Golf

While there are multiple miniature golf courses in NYC, many tend to be small (nine holes), easy (to accommodate tots), and not as over-the-top and kitschy as their suburban competitors. One we particularly love for older kids is Shipwrecked Miniature Golf in Red Hook. Its indoor location makes it a year-round destination, too. A bonus: It often offers discounts on its site, and opens early on school holidays. Find more indoor mini golf spots near NYC here.

RELATED: NYC Museum Guide for Kids and Families

Things to do in NYC with tweens adventure playground
There's something Lord of the Flies-ish about Governors Island's adventure playground that tweens will love. Photo by Philipp Klaus/courtesy of play:groundNYC.

3. Hit the Adventure Playground

No swings, no jungle gym, no sandbox, and no pesky toddlers or parents! At play:groundNYC on Governors Island, big kids can craft whatever they want out of wood, nails, saws, hammers, and assorted junk. And since parents and caregivers aren't allowed in (though there are adult playworkers on the premises), it's an exercise in independence, too. NYC's sole adventure playground opened in 2016 and has been a summer fixture ever since. While it welcomes kids as young as 6 to the building area, there are always lots of tweens. It's certainly much more creative and challenging than a typical playground, but it's still FREE. Tweens will also love exploring the island's other attractions, including the massive slides and hammocks.

4. Play Laser Tag

Tell your tween to put down the joystick and jump into a real-life video game with a session of laser tag—where tag meets hide-and-seek, played with infrared laser guns in the dark. Your goal: Take out your opponents before they get you by shooting, running, and hiding. There are a handful of places to play laser tag in NYC, and Area 53, with locations in Dumbo and Williamsburg, is a tween favorite because of added fun features like paintball, water sports, and even an indoor adventure park with a dozen games and activities.

RELATED: A Nerdy Day Out in Japantown NYC Tweens Will Absolutely Love

Things to do in NYC with tweens Brooklyn Bowl
Brooklyn Bowl has enough of an edgy, industrial vibe to appeal to tweens. Photo by Ken Speilman/courtesy of the venue

5. Go Bowling

An oldie but a goodie, there are lots of family-friendly bowling spots in NYC, though the swanky Manhattan ones turn into 21-and-up lounges after dark. Modest outer borough alleys, like Brooklyn's Melody Lanes and Bowl 360 Brooklyn, and Queens' Jib Lanes and Whitestone Lanes, tend to be the cheapest and most kid-centric. But the state-of-the-art Bowlmor Chelsea Piers offers the most things to do in NYC with tweens, 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.

6. Go Old-School: Pinball, Arcade Games, and Slot Cars

While NYC seems to be overrun with 21-and-over barcades, there are a few old-school video game havens that are great for families with tweens. Skip Times Square's touristy Dave & Buster's and head down to Chinatown Fair. Overhauled in 2012, this longtime arcade is bursting with adolescents (many unaccompanied so be forewarned!) and games like Ultra Street Fighter, Dance Dance Revolution, and basketball hoops. Or go big at Funtopia USA, an all-in-one spot that includes a video game arcade (located on the top floor), laser tag, and bumper cars.

7. Try a Virtual Reality

VR World debuted in the shadow of the Empire State Building in 2017, bringing with it a whole new gaming dimension and introducing a spate of virtual reality venues for tweens in NYC. While it may not get your kid away from tech, at least these games are a bit more physical and interactive.

RELATED: 15 NYC Activities Even a Teen Will Call On Point

Things to do in NYC with tweens Alley Pond Adventure Park
Climb among the tree tops at Queens Alley Pond Adventure Course. Photo by Daniel Avila/courtesy of NYC Parks

8. Try Rock Climbing or Zip-Lining

There are lots of family-friendly rock climbing spots in NYC where you can scale the walls with your child. While most are indoors, The Cliffs at Dumbo in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which debuted in 2016 and is only open seasonally, is outdoors and boasts amazing views. But if you really want a heart-pumping alfresco challenge, consider the Alley Pond Park Adventure Course in Queens. A trained professional leads athletes ages 8 and up through a series of team-building challenges, including a low- and high-ropes course, a zip-line, a climbing wall, a trust-fall station, swings, nets, and balance platforms. The course is FREE and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis on Sundays from June through October. Families must register in advance the Monday before the Sunday they want to go. Another option: The Bronx Zoo Treetop Adventure, which takes you on a zip line and ropes course soaring high above the Bronx River but also comes with a hefty price tag. Find more local zip lines and adventure courses nearby here.

9. Try a Board Game Cafe

For less physically demanding play, hit a board game haven. 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 in Queens boasts a full calendar of collaborative games, too. The Uncommons cafe in Greenwich Village lets you rent games from a huge on-site collection. There's also Brooklyn Game Lab with locations in Park Slope and Tribeca and Hex & Company's two locations cater to Upper East and West Side families. Strangely, tweens are less likely to complain they're bored with board games when they play them competitively outside your living room.

10. Jump, Bounce, and Fly

No, the tweens are not too old to hit the bounce house—and neither are you. NYC is home to a handful of awesome trampoline parks where gravity-defying folks can jump, bounce, and fall to their heart's content.

RELATED: Kids' Sports Centers and Indoor Fun Zones

Things to do in NYC with tweens roller skating at Pier 2
Hit the roller rink on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by the author.

11. Twirl Around a Rink

Not too long ago, NYC was home to only one outdoor roller rink in Harlem's Riverbank State Park. But Brooklyn has become a roller rink hotbed with rinks in Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Staten Island's indoor, super-disco RollerJam USA is also destination-worthy. Seasonal summer pop-ups are running at Wollman Rink's DiscOasis in Central Park and Flipper's Roller Boogie Palace in Rockefeller Center. If that's not cool enough for your family, there are plenty of indoor and seasonal outdoor ice skating rinks with regular drop-in hours. But somehow roller-skating seems like a better tween option with its funky, retro appeal.

12. Step up to the Plate

No one in your family needs to be on a team to practice their swing in a batting cage. In Manhattan, you can increase your average at Chelsea Piers or the Baseball Center. Queens has The Cage in Middle Village. There are also outdoor cages at the Turtle Cove Golf Center near City Island in the Bronx and at Staten Island Fun Park.

13. Play Pool and Billiards

While not all NYC pool halls are kid-friendly, we rounded up five that welcome families. Society Billiards + Bar in the Flatiron District is particularly tween-friendly during daytime hours. Amsterdam Billiards in the East Village is also a popular tween choice because of its arcade games and pingpong.

RELATED: Top Tween and Teen Summer Camps in NYC

Things to do in NYC with tweens Beat the Bomb
At Brooklyn's Beat the Bomb, your objective is to disarm the bomb before it splatters you with a wild mixture of colors. Photo courtesy of the venue

14. Unlock Some Fun

If your kid is up for a mental challenge, consider booking an escape room experience. Ranging from fun (Brooklyn's Beat the Bomb sprays you with colorful paint if you can't defuse the paint bomb in time) to spy-themed and escaping a medieval dungeon, there's seemingly an escape room theme for every age and interest. Most require a bit of planning and a large group if you don't want to rely on strangers to assist you.

15. Hit a High-Tech Megastore

Considering how much time your tweens probably spend on screens at home, this may be the last thing you want to do—especially considering everything is for sale. But the fact is, tweens could spend hours in the Nintendo World Store or any of the ever-multiplying Apple Stores messing with games, gadgets, and apps. Just make sure they bring their own wallets. You plan the outing, they make the purchases.

RELATED: Maker Spaces for Drop-in Creator Fun with NYC Kids

Things to do in NYC with tweens SIX
Six packs a girl-powered punch and has plenty of appeal for tweens. Photo by Jody Mercier

16. Catch a Broadway Show

There are always plenty of tween-friendly musicals and plays on and off-Broadway to engage and entertain kids of all ages. For extra fun, stay after the show and hang out by the side door to snag an autograph from one of the actors. (Make sure to pack a pen or marker.) To score discounted tickets, plan to go during Broadway Week which takes place twice a year usually in January/February and August/September. Sign up on the website to get a heads-up on the next release date.

17. Go Thrifting

Gaining in popularity over the past few years, second-hand shopping has become a craze for tweens and teens everywhere. Though it's become more challenging to score a real bargain, there are still some reasonably-priced stores in NYC where going through the racks often reveals a hidden gem. Beacon's Closet has three locations in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan and features color-coded racks for fun browsing. Nonprofits like Housing Works and Out of the Closet offer fashion finds with the bonus of supporting a great cause.

A version of this post was published in 2017; it has been updated for 2022. Jody Mercier contributed additional reporting.

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