101 Free Things To Do in NYC with Kids

There's always a cool new piece of public art to see and interact with in NYC. Photo by Jody Mercier
There's always a cool new piece of public art to see and interact with in NYC. Photo by Jody Mercier
1/7/24 - By Jody Mercier

When it comes to free things to do in NYC, we're here to remind you that while raising kids in NYC can cost a pretty penny, it doesn't always have to. From free times to visit NYC's top museums and cultural institutions to restaurants where kids eat for free and stores where they can play for free, it's not too hard to find free things to do in NYC—you just need to know where to look. We do and we're sharing our secrets with you in this list of 101 free things to do in NYC with kids.

Be sure to bookmark our Guide to Free Things To Do in NYC and our Family Activity Calendar for more all-seasons entertainment on the cheap.


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Best Free Things To Do in NYC with Kids

1. Free Bike Mornings

Our love affair with Governors Island is no secret, and this is one of our favorite perks: Visit on a weekday morning and enjoy free bike rental from Blazing Saddles for an hour. That's plenty of time to circle the isle a few times!

2. Staten Island Ferry

All aboard the big, orange boat for a 25-minute cruise across the harbor. While onboard, enjoy a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline.

3. Alley Pond Adventure Course

Challenge your fear of heights and fuel your sense of adventure at the Alley Pond Adventure Course. Its seasonal programs are free, though advance registration is required.

4. Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Flotilla

For a Halloween celebration that's more sweet than scary, we love this annual event at The Harlem Meer, where hand-carved pumpkins are sent floating on its waters.

5. Movies Under the Stars

Summer—and even fall—is prime-time viewing in NYC's parks and gardens. Tons of free flicks are screened all season long, including the ever-popular Bryant Park Movie Nights.

6. Lunar New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival

While the annual Lunar New Year Parade is a captivating sight, it's also crowded. Plan to visit Chinatown on Lunar New Year proper for this more intimate celebration, which involves setting off thousands of firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

Free things to do in NYC: Visit the beach
With 14 miles of sandy, admission-free shoreline, it's not hard to find a little solace at NYC's beaches.

7. A Day at the Beach

New York City's 14 miles of sandy shoreline are open to water lovers from Memorial Day through Labor Day (and sometimes a week beyond!). The best part, of course, is that, unlike their Jersey Shore counterparts, NYC beaches are free.

8. Macy's 4th of July Fireworks

Another big bang and an annual rite of summer—Macy's fireworks are always presented free of charge.

9. Brooklyn Children's Museum

This beloved kids spot presents admission-free hours on Thursdays from 2pm-5pm thanks to a new partnership with Amazon.

10. Mahayana Temple

Step inside this Chinatown temple to pay your respects to the larger-than-life Buddha who towers over all at 16 feet tall.

11. Free Kayaking and Rowing

Row, row, row your boat, canoe, or kayak at myriad locations across all five boroughs to enjoy stunning views, fresh saltwater air, and a little exercise.

12. Urban Park Rangers Camping Trips

Pitch your tent under the stars in a city park with help from the Urban Park Rangers during this seasonal, lottery-based camping program. All gear and food are provided! Lotteries generally open in late spring for camping trips in the summer and fall at popular parks including Central Park, Orchard Beach, Inwood Hill Park, and more.

RELATED: 100 Things To Do in NYC With Kids Before They Grow Up

Free things to do in NYC: Socrates Sculpture Park
Quirky sculptures and beautiful landscaping make Socrates Sculpture Park a fun, free destination.

13. Socrates Sculpture Park

This funky waterfront park in LIC offers a rotating array of large-scale public art to enjoy, and there's always something new to see. We give it bonus points for its waterfront views and proximity to MoMA PS1, which also offers free entry to NYC residents.

14. Little Island

OK, it's no secret NYC's parks are free and open to the public, but Little Island is extra special with its vast array of programming, including plenty of free shows and kid-friendly entertainment.

15. Staten Island Greenbelt

At 2,800 acres of open space, it's easy to get lost in this Staten Island green space, which houses NYC's largest forest preserve. There are miles of trails to explore and plenty of programming to enjoy.

16. Bronx Zoo

The gem of the Wildlife Conservation Society parks in NYC, the Bronx Zoo offers admission-free days on Wednesdays. Tickets must be booked online in advance and the Wednesday ticket store opens Mondays at 5pm.

17. New York Aquarium

If you prefer your animals with more scales than fluff, the New York Aquarium offers a free Wednesday admission deal after 3pm. Advance tickets are required and can be booked on Mondays beginning at 3pm.

18. Open House New York

Celebrate the architecture of NYC with this free annual festival, which gives visitors behind-the-scenes tours at a variety of architectural and cultural gems during its annual October open house weekend.

Free things to do in NYC: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's takes to the streets and skies for an annual parade every Thanksgiving Day. Photo courtesy of Macy's

19. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Everyone loves a parade, and this one is the granddaddy of them all! See giant balloons, hundreds of clowns, top-notch entertainers, and over-the-top floats wind their way through Manhattan every Thanksgiving Day. The only thing it will cost you is a little sleep because you must stake out your spot early!

20. play:groundNYC

Governors Island's expansive adventure playground is not only free to visit, but it's also free of parents. That's right: You'll stay on the sidelines while kids enjoy ultimate freedom, hammering, building, and using their imagination in NYC's most unique playground.

21. New York Botanical Garden

NYC residents can book a grounds-only pass for free visits on Wednesdays. Tickets allow you to roam the garden's 250 acres and take in its stunning flora and fauna, but some indoor attractions and special exhibitions cost extra. Book your tickets in advance.

22. Brookfield Place

One of our favorite, amenity-filled public atriums, Brookfield Place is a hub of art and culture. There's always something new to see and do here from summer's US Open Experience to Canstruction in the fall, and Luminaries come the holiday season.

23. Go Fishing

Northeastern Central Park is undoubtedly my favorite corner of the park, and the programming at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center is part of its allure. Nestled on the shores of the Harlem Meer, this building lends fishing poles for free catch-and-release fishing, plus lawn games to enjoy nearby. The rocking East 110th Street Playground completes the fun.

24. Queens Botanical Garden

Stop and smell the roses—or whatever is blooming—with free offseason admission at the Queens Botanical Garden daily from mid-December through March.

RELATED: Free Times to Visit NYC Museums, Gardens, and Zoos

Free things to do in NYC: FAO Schwarz
There's plenty to see and play with at FAO Schwarz, but you might have a hard time convincing your kid to leave empty-handed.

25. FAO Schwarz

A visit to this toy emporium provides plenty of free eye candy. We can't guarantee you'll leave empty-handed, but we can guarantee you'll have fun. Dance on the giant piano, see a toy demo, indulge in a little pretend play in the Melissa & Doug section, and pose for a photo with one of the soldiers guarding the door.

26. CAMP

This growing chain of retail-tainment shops has multiple city locations. While some are pay to play—others are completely free. Dance in the sequin disco room, climb aboard a kitschy vehicle, zoom down a slide, and hope the kids don't see the tempting rows of super-cool toys surrounding them.

27. Staten Island Zoo

Visit famed groundhog Staten Island Chuck and all his friends on Wednesdays after 2pm with free admission to this wildlife park.

28. Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Season-long winter weekday admission is pay-what-you-wish at this Brooklyn gem, where its series of conservatories overflowing with life is a perfect cure for the winter blues.

39. Nintendo NY

Get your game on at this video game mecca, where you can pose with cool characters, collect memorabilia, and test your skills against other gamers on a larger-than-life screen.

30. Play Soccer, Tennis, Golf, and More

We're huge fans of CityParks Play, the CityParks Foundation's annual summer sports program, which brings track and field, golf, and tennis to city kids in a fun, no-pressure atmosphere. Other local orgs offer free hoops, tennis, soccer, swimming, and more.

Free things to do in NYC: Grand Central's Whispering Wall
The Whispering Wall is but one of the fun, free things to see at Grand Central Terminal.

31. Grand Central Terminal

Take an off-hour trip to this commuter hub to test out the Whispering Wall, indulge in some excellent people-watching, see the trains at the New York Transit Museum Annex, gaze at the stars in Vanderbilt Hall, and snap a selfie under the famed clock.

32. Brooklyn Children’s Book Fair

The annual Brooklyn Book Festival is one of the largest free literary events nationwide, and its annual children's day brings plenty of family-friendly fun, storytimes, and meet-and-greets with contemporary authors, never mind tons of books to build your library (fee, unfortunately, required).

33. FDNY Fire Zone

Climb aboard a real FDNY firetruck and learn fire safety tips from a firefighter at this Rockefeller Center storefront. Children ages 5+ can participate in a fire simulator to learn real-life survival skills.

34. The Mermaid Parade

This Coney Island original sends stunning vintage cars rolling down the street alongside marching bands, gleefully glamorous floats, and all the wild and wacky mermaids, pirates, Neptunes, and other sea creatures NYC's creative community can muster.

35. Bronx Children's Museum

This long-awaited kiddie culture spot is open just three days a week, and advanced, pay-what-you-wish tickets can be booked online in advance. It's a much-needed addition to the South Bronx neighborhood and a perfect spot to explore with kids under age 10.

RELATED: Free and Cheap After-School Programs for NYC Kids

Free things to do in NYC: Bryant Park's Bank of America Winter Village ice rink
If you bring your own skates, it's free to glide at all times on the ice rink at Bank of America Winter Village.

36. Bank of America Winter Village

There's no better way to spend a crisp winter day than on the ice, and this rink in the lovely Bryant Park offers free admission, so you can skate gratis, provided you have your own skates. Look for its seasonal appearance from October through March.

37. Queens County Farm Museum

We're smitten with this working farm on the outskirts of Queens and the fact it offers free admission most days adds to its allure. You will pay a fee to enter the gates during popular annual events like its annual Queens County Fair.

38. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library

Aside from enjoying all the programming inside its walls, you can take in spectacular views outside, thanks to the rooftop terrace reading room at this Midtown library. It offers fresh air and awesome city views. The branch is home to the relocated Children's Center, which offers an array of programming and free storytimes.

39. Urban Park Rangers Programming

There's more to NYC's parks and green spaces than playgrounds, and the Urban Park Rangers are happy to help visitors explore. Free programming includes everything from archery and astronomy to survival skills and historical tours.

40. Tour Central Park

While the Central Park Conservancy offers tons of guided tours, many of which are low-cost, if you want a truly free option, download one of its guides for a DIY tour.

41. The Museum at FIT

Budding fashionistas can appreciate a free trip to this museum, which showcases a rotating display of exhibitions dedicated to the art of fashion.

nyc 101 free things: Lego store
The Fifth Avenue Lego superstore is free to explore!

42. Lego Store

There are multiple Lego Stores in the five boroughs, but we're pretty smitten with the two-floor flagship shop on Fifth Avenue. Pose for a picture in a Lego taxi or with a variety of other bricktastic characters. You can even craft a customized Minifigure or pose for a Lego Mosaic.

43. Queens Museum

See if you can spot your family's home on the giant Panorama of the City of New York at this Queens-centric culture spot, which offers free admission; just book your tickets in advance.

44. Swimming Pools

During the summer months, NYC's public swimming pools are open daily and completely free, just make sure you heed the lengthy list of rules. If you're there around mealtime, there's a good chance your kids will be offered a free lunch, too, as summer meals are often handed out at local pools and recreation centers.

45. Pop-Up Audobon

Prospect Park's Audubon Center is a treasure trove of free, nature-inspired educational programming. Enjoy nature games, birdwatching, and help care for the park during these programs, or check out a kit to explore nature on your own.

46. CityParks PuppetMobile

Track down a seasonal show featuring the puppets of the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre during its summer-long tours of the five boroughs with pop-up performances in local parks and playgrounds.

47. Village Halloween Parade

Once your kids have aged out of kiddie parades, the Village Halloween Parade is a definite must-do, at least once!

48. Winter Jam

See Central Park turned into a winter wonderland for this annual Parks Department celebration of the season. Enjoy an urban snowfield and plenty of wintertime sports.

RELATED: What Ages Get in Free to NYC Museums, Zoos, Amusement Parks

Free things to do in NYC: Essex Street Market offers plenty of free programs
There's plenty to see, smell, and taste at the Essex Street Market, which also offers plenty of free programs.

49. Essex Street Market

Not only is this a destination shopping spot for a wide array of specialty foods, but it's also a bona fide food hall and event space. We're particularly fond of its cooking classes—presented in a trio of languages—and most are free.

50. National Museum of the American Indian

A Smithsonian institution right in the heart of Lower Manhattan, this cultural gem offers always-free admission.

51. American Girl NYC

There's plenty of window shopping to do at this megastore, and plenty of photo-ops, too, plus tons of interactive displays to play with. Just set some ground rules before you enter!

52. Grant's Tomb

Answer the question of "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb" like a pro after a visit to this national memorial on the northern edge of Riverside Park. For an extra special treat, time your visit to coincide with a Jazz Mobile performance.

53. Summer Streets

There's something special about riding, walking, or biking down the car-free streets during this annual August event. Action-packed "rest stops" dot the route, and in the past have included all kinds of fun from water slides to zip lines, and plenty of free entertainment.

54. Harry Potter NY

Keep your pocketbook in your bag and treat an outing here like a scavenger hunt. Download the interactive Harry Potter Fan Club app before you go and have fun scanning QR codes of the movie props inside, stage a wand duel, and pose for pictures without spending a dime.

55. Brooklyn Grange

This community org is bringing its green thumb to rooftops across NYC, and it'll let you in on the action, allowing you to roll up your sleeves to help a farmer out and learn about the art of urban farming in the process. When you're done, peruse the market for some take-home goodies, and bring a new meaning to eating local.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Most of NYC's spectacular holiday decorations can be seen for free, including the stunning Rockefeller Center tree.

56. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

An iconic photo-op in front of this towering fir is always free. Plan your visit to coincide with the annual light show at Saks for a magical evening during the holiday season.

57. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

This Harlem branch of the NYPL is far more than a standard library. Think of it as a mini-museum dedicated to the Black experience in NYC and beyond. While it's got a research library within, visit for its rotating exhibitions and to peruse the Schomburg Shop.

58. The High Line

New York City's most unique park space is a joy in any season. Beyond enjoying stunning, unique views from this elevated rail trail, you can also peep public art and join in a public program.

59. Shakespeare in the Park

The Public Theater takes over Central Park's Delacorte Theater annually and tickets are distributed gratis, but that's far from the only free summertime sonnet. You can also catch Shakespeare in Marcus Garvey Park and Riverside Park each summer.

60. Stories at the Statue

Gather 'round the Hans Christian Andersen Statue for a weekly Saturday morning storytime courtesy of The HC Andersen Storytellers.

61. Public Art Tour

There's always something new to see in NYC's parks and green spaces, and we love this guide to walkable art in Lower Manhattan, which introduces the area's large-scale pieces to anyone who takes the time to make the trek.

RELATED30+ Free Ways to Celebrate Your Kid's Birthday at Home

Sledding in Central Park is one of our favorite free things to do in NYC
We love to hit the local sledding hills when the flakes fly.

62. Sledding Hills

When the flakes fly, NYC's parks provide a perfect setting for a sledding adventure. We've found our favorite spots across all five boroughs, and have the intel on the spots where the Parks Department doles out free hot cocoa to boot.

63. Macy's Flower Show

Stop and smell the roses at this annual installation in Macy's flagship Herald Square store. We love to see what sort of theme the creative team comes up with and can't get enough of the beautiful blooms when it makes its annual springtime appearance.

64. Brooklyn Bridge

Take a stroll over this iconic NYC site and enjoy the scenic views of Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn waterfront, and the busy shipping channel in the harbor.

65. The Elevated Acre

We love a good secret, off-the-beaten-path find and that's exactly what this public space at 55 Water Street is. Enjoy panoramic views from this lushly landscaped plaza overlooking the East River.

66. Belvedere Castle

Play princesses and knights with a visit to this Central Park landmark poised atop an outcropping overlooking the Turtle Pond. Its architectural beauty might be lost on little ones, but it's an inviting place to climb, explore, and enjoy the view.

67. Met Opera

While we don't have tips for scoring tickets at Lincoln Center, you can hear an aria in several city parks each summer thanks to the Met Opera's Summer Recital series. It has also been known to pop up during Bryant Park's Picnic Performances.

68. New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Park

This annual series brings the symphony to some of the city's most iconic green spaces, and each performance ends with a bang! Fireworks fly after the finale.

101 free things nyc:  Pier 6 Water Lab
The Pier 6 WaterLab is worth paying admission for, but luckily, visitors enter for free. Photo by Sara Marentette

69. Brooklyn Bridge Playgrounds

OK, OK, we know all playgrounds in NYC are free, but there's something special about the collection destination playgrounds at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6. We're particularly fond of the WaterLab, which is a mega splash pad we'd easily pay admission to enter!

70. See and Splash at the Unisphere

We've always loved a visit to the only-in-NYC Unisphere. It makes a fun backdrop for photos, and now you can splash in its shadows thanks to a mega splash pad.

71. Museum Mile Festival

One of our favorite annual festivals this celebration of NYC's culture hubs closes Fifth Avenue to traffic as museums ranging from The Met to the Museum of the City of New York fling open their doors offering free admission all evening long.

72. Easter Bonnet Parade

An annual rite of spring, Fifth Avenue comes alive with beautiful blooms and fanciful fascinators as New Yorkers show off bonnets with an informal stroll on Easter Sunday.

73. Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival

Pay homage to the diverse roots of the Lower East Side in this annual summer fest, which celebrates the Jewish, Latin, and Chinese roots of this diverse slice of NYC.

74. 81st Street Studio

You could spend an entire day exploring this free play space on the ground floor of The Met. There's no admission fee needed—just enter the ground floor and start exploring.

RELATED100 Free Things To Do in NYC this Summer with Kids

Splash at Domino Park's splash pad all summer long free of charge
Free fun awaits at NYC's play fountains, like this one in Domino Park.

75. Play Fountains

Splish splash your way around the city in these water features, which take wet-and-wild fun a step above your typical playground sprayground.

76. Holiday Caroling Under the Washington Square Arch

Tune your pipes for this Christmas Eve tradition, which features The Rob Susman Brass Quartet accompanying any crooners who want to sing along.

77. Little Red Lighthouse Festival

Celebrate Manhattan's only remaining lighthouse during this annual fest, where visitors are invited inside for tours and vendors set up on the grounds outside. Of course, there are readings of The Little Red Lighthouse and The Great Gray Bridge.

78. Green-Wood Cemetary

This National Historic Landmark is more than meets the eye. Spread over 478 acres, it overflows with beauty—both natural and manufactured in the form of statues and mausoleums—and it's got a cool historical story, too, as the site of the Revolutionary War's Battle of Long Island.

79. CityParks Summer Stage

The CityParks Foundation brings music to the people with this annual summer concert series, with big-name performances in various parks all season long. Some shows charge an admission fee to benefit the nonprofit namesake, but most are completely free.

80. BAMboo!

BAM knows how to make a big splash on Halloween, flinging its doors open to the community for an all-ages street fair with live performances, carnival-style fun, plenty of candy, and prizes for the best dressed.

The Marcus Garvey Fire Watch Tower offers free admission and views from the top
The swirling stairs to the top of the Marcus Garvey Fire Watch Tower lead to some impressive views.

81. Marcus Garvey Fire Watch Tower

Climb the stairs of this relic of NYC's past—originally one of a series of 19th-century towers used to warn residents of fires across the city, the Marcus Garvey tower is the only watch tower still standing. On select weekends, you can climb the steps to the top, take in the 360-degree views, and give its warning bell a ring.

82. City of Water Day

This annual event celebrates NYC's history as a port city with tons of free events on shores from South Street to Governors Island, and even across the Hudson in Jersey. Free boat rides are often offered, too.

83. Maritime Industry Museum

A must-see for budding historians and maritime buffs, this museum is located on the campus of Maritime College. Its two floors of exhibition space are home to hundreds of model ships and dioramas.

84. Asphalt Screams

This beloved Halloween tradition invites goblins, ghouls, pirates, princesses, and costumed characters of all ages and designs to the grounds of Asphalt Green for a rocking celebration annually.

85. Easter Egg Hunts

What's Easter without a mad dash for candy-filled eggs? NYC hosts dozens of Easter egg hunts every spring and many are completely free.

86. Coney Island Fireworks

Sparklers fly all summer long in Coney Island on Friday nights. Come for a day at the (free) beach and stick around for the show.

87. Outdoor Summer Concerts

Summer is the season of free in NYC, and its eclectic art scene comes to life with alfresco concerts across the boroughs.

RELATEDKids Can Play for Free at these New York City Stores

Dyker Heights Lights
Over-the-top Christmas displays are a trademark of the annual Dyker Lights. Photo courtesy of Dyker Heights Lights

88. Dyker Lights

If you prefer a less commercial holiday experience, a trip to Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood is a must. The neighborhood comes to life with over-the-top displays annually with block after block of Griswold-esque holiday light extravaganzas.

89. Morningside Lights

Morningside Lights is an annual celebration of community, and its interactive, craft-your-own lanterns make it a can't-miss local event for uptown families.

90. Hiking Trails

Step away from the concrete jungle and explore one of these off-the-beaten-path trails within city limits that are sure to make you forget you're surrounded by 8 million neighbors.

91. Macy's Balloon Inflation

While I'm an unabashed fan of the parade, the Macy's Balloon Inflation has become an event in itself, attracting throngs of fans on Thanksgiving's eve to watch the behemoth balloons come to life.

92. Three Kings Day Parade

See live camels and the magic of the magi streaming down the streets of East Harlem during this annual celebration courtesy of the Museo El Barrio.

93. Welling Court Mural Project

A decade-plus-long collaboration between residents and Brooklyn's Ad Hoc Art NYC, the Welling Court Mural Project has transformed one corner of Queens into a contemporary, graffiti-filled, walking art gallery with installations from a huge array of artists.

94. Jackson Heights Halloween Parade

Halloween parades can be found in every enclave of the city, but no kids' parade tops the annual promenade in Jackson Heights. It's NYC's largest children's Halloween parade.

RELATED: Birthday Freebies in NYC: Where Kids Eat Free & Nab Gifts

Free things to do in NYC: Bryant Park's outdoor game room is one of our free fun things to do
Borrow a game and pull up a chair for free fun in Bryant Park.

95. Bryant Park

This glorious Midtown West park is home to all-seasons entertainment beyond its big movie nights. Visit the outdoor reading room or park your crew at a table in the alfresco game room for an impromptu game night. Storytimes, fitness classes, and more fun events populate the kid-friendly calendar.

96. Broadway Under the Stars

Come Christmas season, you can get up close to Broadway stars with this annual concert series at the Shops at Columbus Circle. The annual light installation is its backdrop, adding to the allure of these intimate performances.

97. Hamilton Grange

Once the country home of Alexander Hamilton, this National Park Service site sits at the north end of St. Nicholas Park. The Federal-style house was built in the area in 1802. When it's open, you can step into restored interior rooms while humming The Room Where it Happened, or just enjoy its bucolic grounds. Fun fact: The building has been moved twice to accommodate the changing neighborhood that sprung up around it.

98. Bronx Museum of the Arts

This always-free museum exhibits contemporary art from a culturally diverse selection of artists. Fun, free programs introduce its art to the community.

99. Halloween Haunted Walk + Fair

Prospect Park's Nethermede comes alive with werewolves, witches, and Halloween spirits ready to "greet" visitors during this annual not-too-spooky haunted walk.

100. Times Square

The crossroads of the world has a little something for everyone, but for the best bang for your buck, just spend a little time here people-watching. Explore the frequent public art displays that pop up, revel at the street performers, and just soak in the sights and sounds of the city.

101. Culture Pass

Flex your library card to nab free passes to museums and culture spots through this innovative program that opens the doors to more than 80 institutions cost-free.

Unless noted, all photos by author