25 Free Things To Do in NYC This Winter
New Yorkers just experienced their first significant snowfall to jumpstart the new year, and we have an entire season of cold weather days ahead of us. With temperatures hitting single digits and the luster of awesome holiday gifts wearing off, you're probably thinking about ways to keep your kids busy from now until spring without breaking the bank or losing your sanity. Fortunately, whether you're a resident or just visiting the city that never sleeps, there's no shortage of free things to do in NYC this winter.
In fact, we've found 25 free things to do in NYC, and there's truly something for everyone on our list of freebies, from exploring nature and outdoor family fun while kick-starting healthier habits to festive celebrations of the Lunar New Year, interactive and creative art installations, and activities that encourage future activists and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. These engaging experiences don't cost a thing, and we've even found a collection of cool things to do indoors, too!
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Be sure to check with each venue for its COVID guidelines and requirements before heading out to any event, and read more about local public safety protocols here; some events are getting canceled or postponed at the last minute due to the latest COVID surge, so always confirm details before departing.
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1. Passage Art Installation
Your next trip to the Garment District is going to be lit! Passage is a new interactive light experience with 20 illuminated circles forming a rainbow tunnel for pedestrians to walk through from now until Sunday, February 13. Each ring radiates light and emits sounds as visitors pass, making it an installation that will surely be an Instagram-worthy experience.
2. Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts
The Met's first exhibition exploring the work of Walt Disney features a collection of hand-drawn illustrations from Walt Disney Animation Studios displayed side-by-side with European decorative arts that inspired many of the motifs. On display through Sunday, March 6, the exhibition is included with museum admission, which is pay-what-you-wish for New York residents, and New Jersey and Connecticut students.
Chill out with the animals at the Bronx Zoo, which offers pay-what-you-wish general admission on Wednesdays. Photo by Jody Mercier
3. Take Advantage of the Free Hours at the Zoos and Aquarium
As a New Yorker born and raised and raising a soon-to-be toddler, tween, and teen in this pricey city, admission fees add up quickly. So, bookmark this list of venues, including museums, zoos, and gardens, with free hours so you can watch your kiddos and out-of-towners get excited over their favorite exotic creatures.
4. Visit the Museum of the City of New York
Always free to guests ages 20 and under, be sure to pop by the museum to see the Puppets of New York exhibit, which features some of the city's quirkiest residents like Oscar the Grouch, Lambchop, and those included in the Thanksgiving parade and beyond. Other excellent exhibits of interest include the 12-room Stettheimer dollhouse, the beautiful Starlight installation, and Timescapes, a short multimedia documentary highlighting 400 years of Big Apple history.
5. Tour an Interactive Ice Cream Museum
It's never too cold for ice cream, so why not head to the Ample Hills factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, for a free visit? This 15,000-square-foot factory allows guests to learn all about the frozen, tasty treat, and watch its production—500,000 gallons of ice cream are churned out yearly—yum!
6. Check Out a Solar Powered Statue of Queens Hip Hop Legend
Gen Z music-loving kids are likely unfamiliar with rapper LL Cool J's first album, "Radio," which inspired this new work by Astoria-based artist Sherwin Banfield. Take a trip back in time by heading to David Dinkin's Circle in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for a close-up look at the monument of the music legend holding a solar-powered boombox. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's popular hits can be heard playing from noon-5pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until November 2022.
Hit the ice at Governors Island's new Winter Village, which is free on Fridays. Photo by author
7. Ice Skating at Governor's Island
Hop the ferry to Governors Island—complimentary rides on weekends before noon, for NYCHA residents and IDNYC holders—to enjoy ice skating for free every Friday at the new Winter Village, which is open through Sunday, January 30.
8. 10th Annual Black Comic Books Festival
Celebrate the rich traditions of Black comix with a three-day virtual festival at the Schomburg Center. The lineup includes panel discussions, workshops, cosplay, and highlighted works from creators across the country. If you miss the fest, be sure to stop by The Schomburg Center to see the Boundless: 10 Years of Seeding Black Comic Futures in-person exhibition.
9. Viva Chinese Opera: An Afternoon of Chinese Theater
Celebrate the Lunar New Year, and welcome the Year of the Tiger with an afternoon of culture, music, and the arts at Flushing's Town Hall in Queens on Sunday, January 16. A virtual option is also available via FTH's YouTube Channel.
10. Astronomy: Phases of the Moon
On Sunday, January 16, inspire future astronomers with an evening visit to the Prospect Park Parade Grounds to join the Urban Park Rangers, who discuss the universe's science and history. Observe the nearly-full moon and learn how the movements of the moon and sun appear to us as we watch from Earth.
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CAMP is packed with cool toys and cool hands-on experiences. Photo by Jody Mercier
11. Get Your Play on at a Local Toy Store
Gone are the days of the "look, don't touch because we aren't buying" visits to the toy store when so many now encourage interactive fun for kids of all ages. Pop by FAO Schwarz and dance on the iconic piano. Other spots for interactive fun include CAMP, Lego Stores, and Harry Potter New York. No matter where you go, be prepared to stay awhile.
12. Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, January 17, pay tribute to MLK during a free celebration of life hosted by BAM that brings civic leaders and artists together. The 36th edition features inspirational performances, a recording of King, and a powerful solo dance piece set to King's final speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop." RSVP is required and does not guarantee admission, which is first come, first served.
13. MLK Day of Service
Honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a family-friendly day of service by packing hygiene and self-care kits, crafting origami hearts and doves to decorate a local hospital or firehouse, and enjoying a storytime. Adults in the group can also donate blood. Family-friendly projects are held at the Commonpoint Queens Sam Field Center in Little Neck and Central Queens site in Forest Hills on Monday, January 17, though there are options to participate in some projects from home.
14. Twilight Winter Bird Stroll
Grab your walking shoes and binoculars to see if you'll find any of the 220 bird species that inhabit Governors Island on Monday, January 17. Register online in advance for specific location info. Space is limited.
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Catch a stunning ice theater performance on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Bryant Park. Photo courtesy of Bryant Park
15. Ice Theatre of New York City Skate Pop-Up Concerts
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon through Thursday, February 17, Bryant Park visitors can stop by the Rink at Bank of America Winter Village, where they'll enjoy pop-up concerts presented by the Ice Theater of New York.
16. Free Entrance Days in the National Parks
Bundle up and get outside to explore nature and discover the history of our National Parks, which offer gratis admission in honor of MLK Day. Don't stress if you can't experience them on those dates; out of the 400 parks across the nation, 264 of them never charge a fee to enter.
17. Explore The Learn. Play. Grow. Center
Young children and their families can avoid the chillier temperatures with indoor fun at the Corlears School. Take advantage of the free programming, which includes free play, movement, theater class, and STEAM activities every other Saturday beginning Saturday, January 22.
18. Maple Tap Fest
Head to the 265-acre Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve to help tap its collection of maple trees for sugaring season. Two sessions are held, and each includes a 1-mile hike on Saturday, January 22. Registration is required.
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Help maintain the beautiful Shirley Chisholm State Park during a service project. Photo by Suzy Q
19. Penn Shoreline Clean-Up at Shirley Chisholm State Park
Layer up and volunteer to help clean marine debris and litter off the shoreline at this state park on Saturday, January 22. All materials provided. Make a day of it, and arrive an hour or two earlier to hike and explore the state park.
20. Maple Syrup Saturdays at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve
Adventure to Staten Island and learn the process of making maple syrup from tap to table! Participants watch a tapping demonstration and then collect sap before heading to the Nature Center for a tasting. This programming runs from Saturday, January 29-Saturday, February 26.
21. Rock and Roll Playhouse Residency at Rockefeller Center
Saturday, January 29, kicks off a new season-long series from Rock and Roll Playhouse. Catch an ode to The Beatles in the first performance of this new monthly must do.
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Celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Queens Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of the garden
22. Lunar New Year at the Queens Botanical Garden
On Saturday, February 5, Welcome the Year of the Tiger with fun outdoor activities to celebrate. Enjoy lion dance performances, a scavenger hunt, Chinese zodiac storytime, community art projects, and more!
23. Patterns of Thought: Artwork by Wendy Letven
Take your art lovers downtown to Brookfield Place to observe its first exhibition of the year. On display from Tuesday, February 1-Monday, April 4, Letven's bold, colorful wall sculptures are poetic representations of the mind translated through thought-provoking patterns.
24. Celebrate the Year of the Tiger at Brookfield Place
From Thursday, February 3-Saturday, February 5, families can ring in the Lunar New Year with live ice carvings, DIY paper lantern craft kits, and more.
25. Winter Jam
Snow lovers of all ages enjoy Winter Jam, a free winter sports festival Saturday, February 5, that lets visitors learn to ski, go sledding, snowshoeing, bowling, curling, or play dodge ball and flag football all in Central Park!