100 Free Things To Do in NYC this Summer with Kids

Frolic in the Fountain of the Fairs, one of our 100 favorite free things to do this summer in NYC.
Frolic in the Fountain of the Fairs, one of our 100 favorite free things to do this summer in NYC.

Summer is the season of free things to do in NYC, and the sunny fun is already upon us. There are plenty of free things to do in NYC this summer everywhere you look, from summer festivals and concerts, to no-cost sports, kayaking on the waterways, free outdoor movies, and even free summer camps. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 100 free things to do in NYC this summer with kids.

Some of our picks take place on specific days, while others are season-long activities and summer-only destinations. If you’re looking for more free things to do in NYC with kids, be sure to bookmark our list of 100 free things to do in NYC in all year long and our Free in NYC Guide, which is jam-packed with fun, no-cost activities.

Still searching for a summer camp for a week or two? Check out our NYC Summer Camp Guide.

Many of these free things to do in NYC this summer occur on multiple dates, so be sure to click through to our listings for more information. Whatever you end up doing in the city this summer, there's only one rule: Have fun out there.

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Free Things To Do in NYC Parks This Summer

1. Walk the High Line

See NYC from an elevated angle as you stroll the High Line.

2. Get Totally Soaked

These play fountains are guaranteed to be more cooling than your local playground sprinkler.

RELATED: Summer Fun Guide for New York City Kids

Hit the waves at NYC beaches one of top free things to do in NYC this summer
After a day of rides, take a free dip in the waves at Coney Island.

3. Frolic at Coney Island

The action-packed Coney Island is always a fun place to while away a summer day. Hit the beach, walk the boardwalk, enjoy awesome people-watching, and more.

4. Romp at the South Street Seaport

Explore the amazing Imagination Playground and the rest of this waterfront neighborhood.

5. Build Brain Power

Play chess or checkers in Central Park.

6. Pitch a Tent

Register for FREE camping in local parks, sponsored by the Urban Park Rangers. Programs include gear, a campfire, and s'mores, but check the calendar to ensure you don't miss the lottery registration.

7. Brooklyn Bridge Park

Plan a day-cation to this waterfront park, which offers 1.3 miles of riverfront to explore with spectacular playgrounds and so many more fun things to do.

8. Hit Another Destination Playground

We’ve played on plenty of playgrounds and deemed these 21 playgrounds the best romping spots in all of NYC.

Hop on the free ferry to Governors Island during the summer in NYC
Taking the ferry to Governors Island is just as much fun as playing on the island! Photo by Matt Nighswander

9. Hop a Ferry to Governors Island

Explore all of the attractions on Governors Island, including Slide Hill, the amazing adventure playground, Hammock Grove, a play lawn, climbing structures, and more.

10. Cast a Line

Enjoy free fishing at various Hudson River Park piers and Central Park's Harlem Meer.

11. Hit the Seashore

Did you know NYC has 14 miles of beachfront—and it’s all free. Hit one of our favorite NYC beaches. All you need is a MetroCard (and your beach gear, of course).

12. Hit the Trails

The Staten Island Greenbelt offers destination-worthy trails to explore—and lots of them!

RELATED: 10 Waterfront Playgrounds in NYC

NYC's floating park, Little Island, is home to tons of free things to do in NYC during the summer months
Explore New York City's floating park, aka Little Island, which offers tons of free summer activities.

13. Explore Little Island

NYC’s floating park has been open for a little more than a year. If you haven’t been, now’s the time!

14. Take a Dip

Swim at one of NYC's many public pools, which are open daily—free of charge—from Tuesday, June 28-Sunday, September 11.

15. Hit a Splash Pad

Mini New Yorkers are lucky to have so many sprinkler parks to explore; we’ve rounded up the 25 coolest splash pads in NYC.

16. Visit the Yard

This adventure playground on Governors Island is unlike any other playground in NYC and is free to visit on weekends. One caveat: Mom and dad will be stuck on the sidelines.

The Pier 57 rooftop park is free to explore
Climb to new heights at the Pier 57 rooftop park.

17. See a Stunning Rooftop View

Head one pier north of Little Island to explore the new Pier 57 rooftop park. Stunning Hudson River and city views await, plus a bird’s-eye look at Little Island!

18. Catch an Alfresco Flick

Free summer movies abound in NYC parks during the summer months. Bookmark this roundup to see what’s playing near you.

19. Frolic at Rockefeller Center

Go all in at 30 Rock's Changing Spaces, an interactive sprinkler installation from Jeppe Heins, that'll get visitors totally soaked. 

20. Visit Bryant Park

This Midtown green space is a breath of fresh air, and while there’s no traditional playground, there are plenty of places to play. We love the free summer activities including the open-air reading room, the game cart, and the plentiful free programming.

21. Hit the Trails

Despite living in an urban jungle, there are plenty of fun hiking trails to tackle in NYC.

22. Tackle an Outdoor Adventure

We’ve found 25 fun, family-friendly things to do all over NYC parks during the summer months.

RELATED: 25 Top Sprinkler Parks and Splash Pads in NYC for Kids

Boating on NYC's waterways is one of 100 free things to do in NYC this summer with kids
Go boating free in one of NYC's waterways. Photo courtesy of the Red Hook Boat House

23. Row Your Own Boat

We’ve found tons of free places to hit the water with a free kayak, rowboat, or sailboat ride on NYC’s waterways.

24. Visit the Battery Playscape

This inventive new playground is fun anytime you want to play, but you can also plan your visit around the new free Playscape Performs series.

25. Fountain of the Fairs

When the heat gets to be too much, this mega splash pad at Queens Flushing Meadows Park is the perfect, mist-filled cure.

26. Van Cortlandt Park

This Bronx green space offers plenty of free summer programming, including a pool, a nature center, hiking trails, and more.

27. Charybdis Playground

We loved this newly renovated Astoria playground when we visited last fall, and have a feeling it’s going to be even better with the sprinklers turned on this summer.

The Alley Pond Park Adventure Course is one of our favorite free things to do in NYC during the summer
Alley Pond Park's Adventure Course brings back its popular free Sunday family programming in August. Photo courtesy of the NYC Parks Department

28. Alley Pond Park

Another Queens gem, Alley Pond Park has multiple playgrounds, a nature center, hiking, and an adventure course, which families can conquer for free on Sunday mornings in August, September, and October.

29. PuppetMobile

See a puppet performance in your local playground with the mobile CityParks Puppet Mobile, which pops up across the boroughs all summer long.

30. Imagination Playground

Catch a cool sea breeze as you watch the kids tinker and create with the trademark blue blocks at this water-centric playground in the South Street Seaport.

31. Central Park

Think you know this iconic green space? How many of these hidden fun things to do have you checked off? One of our favorite free summer activities is visiting the Chess and Checkers house!

32. Hit up a Destination Sand Box

You’ll be surprised how much time a toddler can kill with a few sand toys and a trip to one of these eight sandboxes.

33. Toddler-Friendly Beaches

Prefer your sandbox with a side of wet-and-wild fun? These toddler-friendly beaches fit the bill.

34. Orchard Beach

For a beach day with plenty more to explore, head to the Bronx Rivera. When you’re done in the surf, explore the rest of NYC’s largest green space.

RELATED: NYC Playgrounds With Shade: Play It Cool at These Shady Parks in NYC

Macy's fireworks are a top free summer activity in NYC
The nation’s largest Independence Day celebration takes place in the East River each Fourth of July in New York City. Photo by Kent Miller for Macy's

Free Annual Summer Events in NYC

35. Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks

There's no place better to celebrate Independence Day than standing shoulder to shoulder with other New Yorkers watching the Macy's 4th of July fireworks.

36. City of Water Day

Hit the city shoreline and the water beyond for one of our favorite annual fests, City of Water Day.

37. Bryant Park Movie Nights

There are plenty of free outdoor movie nights in NYC, but nothing beats the OG series, Bryant Park Movie Nights!

38. Mermaid Parade

Returning after a two-year hiatus, this only-in-NYC affair takes to Coney Island’s sand-swept streets on Saturday, June 18.

39. Make Music New York

This annual summer solstice concert brings a joyful noise to city streets, parks, stoops, and more Tuesday, June 21.

Hit Summer Streets in August, one of our favorite free things to do in NYC
Summer Streets brings a bevy of free entertainment to a seven-mile stretch of Manhattan's streets each August. Photo courtesy of the NYCDOT

40. Summer Streets

This annual street festival shuts down seven miles of Manhattan avenues allowing bikers, runners, walkers, and skaters to enjoy car-free fun and tons of family-friendly activities, performances, and giveaways. We’re still waiting for confirmation on the 2022 dates, but it’s traditionally the first few Saturdays in August.

41. BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

This annual summer concert series at the Prospect Park Bandshell kicks off in early June and runs a full two months, bringing tons of diverse artists to the stage, all free of charge.

42. Museum Mile Festival

Stroll down Fifth Avenue when it's closed for this annual fest Tuesday, June 14, which allows visitors entry to some of Museum Mile’s most fabulous culture spots free of charge, plus family-friendly entertainment and art-making activities in the streets.

43. Movie With a View

Head to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum to spread your blanket on its flight deck and take in one of its free summer movies on select Friday nights.

44. Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival

Flushing Meadows Park is the backdrop for this annual multicultural Asian celebration. Enjoy races on the water, plus traditional dance performances and foods for sale from Saturday, July 30-Sunday, July 31.

45. Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas

This Lower East Side fest celebrates the cultures that gave it birth with this action-packed fete on Saturday, June 26.

46. Adventures NYC

Head to Central Park for this Parks Department-sponsored celebration of adventure sports. Test your skills at rock climbing, zip-lining, stand-up paddleboarding, and more on Saturday, June 18.

47. SummerStage

Catch this season-long performance festival with tons of free, live concerts on stages throughout the five boroughs. Find the full calendar here.

RELATED: Best Beaches Near NYC: A Guide for Families

See the free Coney Island fireworks on Fridays all summer long
See the sparklers fly for free on Fridays all season long from the Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo courtesy of Coney Island

48. Coney Island Fireworks

See the sparklers fly every Friday night on the boardwalk from late June through Labor Day courtesy of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.

49. Summer on the Hudson

From Playdates in Harlem to movies on the Upper West Side, there are free things to do all summer in Hudson River Park.

50. Hudson River Kids

Head further downtown to enjoy fun performance series in Tribeca and Chelsea, plus visit the Pier 40 Wet Lab for some eco-educational fun.

51. Figment Festival

Engage with the art at this hands-on festival, which moves to Snug Harbor for its run from Saturday, June 4-Sunday, June 5.

52. Movies With a View

Head to Brooklyn Bridge Park after dark for this special summer movie series on Thursdays in July and August.

53. New Victory at Little Island

For the second summer in a row, the well-known children’s theater brings its programming to the stages in Little Island all for free, presenting a Russian folk tale and Upstream, music-heavy storytelling concert on select dates.

54. Hindu Lamp Ceremony

Spend the evening of Saturday, August 6 on the banks of the East River releasing palm leaf lamps into the sky in this annual Hindu ceremony.

55. Battery Dance Festival

Enjoy an entire week of pop-up dance performances during this annual dance festival running from Saturday, August 13-Friday, August 19.

Free Summer Camps, Classes, and Enrichment in NYC

56. Book a Free Summer Camp

Yes, they do exist and yes, we have the details here.

57. Free Classes at Local Shops

Bookmark this list of local spots offering free classes and enrichment in topics ranging from arts and crafts to nature activities.

58. Join a Free Summer Sports Program

From CityParks Play to New York Junior Tennis, we’ve got intel on all the places you can play sports for free this summer in NYC parks.

59. Swimming Lessons

Keep your eye on the Parks Department website to see when the lottery opens for its popular free summer swimming lessons. We’ve got details on past programs here.

60. Story Time

Find a story time at some of our favorite independent bookstores, libraries, Lincoln Center, and even in city parks.

The always-free National Museum of the American Indian is one of our favorite free things to do in NYC
The National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green is one of our favorite, always-free places to explore. Photo courtesy of the museum

How to Experience Culture for Free This Summer in NYC

61. See Native American Artifacts

Visit the always-free National Museum of the American Indian.

62. Explore Socrates Sculpture Park

Queens' Socrates Sculpture Park is filled with funky, outdoor art and its waterfront location is always lovely on a summer day.

63. Hit The Public Theater

Shakespeare in the Park is back in town and Tony Award nominee Robert O’Hara takes center stage in its production of Richard III from Friday, June 17-Sunday, July 17. As You Like It takes over from Wednesday, August 10-Sunday, September 11.

64. See Shakespeare Uptown

Classical Theatre of Harlem puts on its show in Marcus Garvey Park. The title in 2022: Twelfth Night from Tuesday, July 5-Friday, July 29.

65. See The Bard on Staten Island

Shakspeare’s Much Ado About Nothing plays at Alice Austen House on Saturday, July 30 courtesy of Hip to Hip Theatre Co.

RELATED: Central Park's Top Playgrounds Ranked for NYC Kids and Visitors

The New York Botanical Garden offers free admission on Wednesdays to NYC residents
The New York Botanical Garden invites visitors to gather "Around the Table" this summer with season-long programming dedicated to food traditions, edible plants, and the foods we love.

66. Stop and Smell the Roses

The New York Botanical Garden blossoms with family-friendly programming and offers free admission to NYC residents on Wednesdays.

67. See What’s Playing at Lincoln Center

The stunning performing arts complex is bringing its programming outdoors for the second summer in a row, with The Oasis, a huge outdoor dance floor acting as its centerpiece. Check our Family Activity Calendar for a schedule.

68. Picnic Performances in Bryant Park

This free summer-long performance festival brings everything from opera to contemporary dance, Shakespeare, and more to the stages in Bryant Park.

69. New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks

We love this free series of pop-up performances, which brings the world-class orchestra into every borough’s backyard and includes a stunning fireworks finale. It’s truly a spectacular rite of summer passage. Catch the concerts in Van Cortlandt Park on Tuesday, June 14; Central Park on Wednesday, June 15; Cunningham Park on Thursday, June 16; Prospect Park on Friday, June 17; and indoors at Staten Island’s St. George Theater on Sunday, June 19.

70. Summer Concerts at Hudson Yards

This newcomer to the summer music scene brings a weekly live concert series to Hudson Yards’ public square each Wednesday night in June and July.

71. Take Your Pick of Free Museum Admission

We’ve got the low down on all the times you can visit NYC’s top cultural institutions without paying a dime. Got little kids? Here’s where they get in for free, too.

72. Hit up Your Local Library

NYC’s local library branches offer piles of free summer activities, enrichments, and books (of course!) Some of our favorite branches include the Main Branch on 42nd Street and its neighbor, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Branch, Brooklyn’s brand new Greenpoint and Adams Street locations, and the stunning Hunter’s Point waterfront location in Queens.

73. Nab a Library Card

While you’re there, make sure you apply for a free library card, which unlocks the branch services, and so much more from e-book platforms to free tickets to cultural institutions and more.

74. Hot Summer Nights

This live jazz concert series takes over the Kingsborough’s Lighthouse Bandshell on the campus of Kingsborough Community College bringing a range of jazz and swing musicians to the community.

Want to see the Bronx Zoo for free this summer? Visit on a Wednesday
Enjoy an up-close look at the Bronx Zoo's animals during its pay-what-you-wish Wednesdays. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

More Fun, Free Things To Do in NYC This Summer With Kids

75. Bronx Zoo

Head to the Bronx Zoo for its FREE admission day each Wednesday, but plan to book your timed-entry tickets when the site opens Monday at 5pm.

76. Catch the Ferry

We always love a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, with its stunning view of the Statue of Liberty. Make sure to stick around and enjoy all the family-friendly fun the borough has to offer.

77. Ride a Bike

We’ve found lots of family-friendly bike trails in NYC. If you’re feeling brave enough to make a long trek, take to the Empire State Trail.

78. Find a Free Bike Rental

If you don’t have two wheels of your own, don’t fret: Head to Governors Island on a weekday morning to take advantage of Blazing Saddles' free bike rental (and car-free streets!).

79. Stay In

Have a lazy day and entertain your family with one of these 100-plus classic summer play ideas like catching fireflies and telling ghost stories.

80. Queens County Farm Museum

Spend a day at this Floral Park gem, the only working farm in NYC, which offers a bounty of fun all summer long.

81. Grand Central

Get lost in this commuter hub, which offers tons of family-friendly fun and nooks and crannies to explore.

RELATED: Visiting Governors Island: 20 Secrets for Things To Do and See

Enjoy free admission to the New York Aquarium on Wednesdays
The only safe way to see sharks at Coney Island is at the New York Aquarium, which offers free entry on Wednesday afternoons.

82. New York Aquarium

See sea lions, sharks, and more at this Coney Island aquarium, where you can visit on Wednesday afternoons for free; just set a reminder to book your free tickets when the store opens each Monday at 3pm.

83. Staten Island Zoo

This zoo is a Staten Island treasure, and visits are free on Wednesdays after 2pm. Use the cash you saved for a ride on the Conservation Carousel.

84. FAO Schwarz

OK, we admit, a visit here can get pricey in a hurry, but if you set ground rules in advance, you can kill some time watching toy demos and dancing on the grand piano at the only-in-NYC toy wonderland.

85. Harry Potter NYC

Likewise, Harry Potter NYC offers plenty of eye candy and props to play with. Challenge your little one to a wand duel!

86. Play for Free

If FAO or Harry Potter seems too risky, might we suggest one of these other stores where kids can play for free.

87. Essex Street Market

Go on a Lower East Side food tour with a visit to Essex Street Market. Taste some samples and enjoy free, on-site, all-ages cooking classes.

88. South Street Seaport

There are plenty of free fun things to do in this plucked-from-the-18th century enclave.

89. Brooklyn Bridge

When’s the last time you strolled across this iconic bridge? Pick a cool summer morning to make the trek, then stick around to explore all the fun things to do in Dumbo when you reach the other side.

90. Roosevelt Island Tram

OK, so it’s not exactly free to climb aboard this amusement-park-like form of public transit, but if you’ve already got an unlimited ride MetroCard, it won’t cost a dime. In return, you get million-dollar views and a whole new isle to explore.

91. Times Square

While much of the Crossroads of the World comes with a tourist-inflated price tag, the people-watching is always entertaining and free. Looking for something else to do while you’re there? Here are our top picks.

Hit up the local fire hydrant for one of our favorite free summer activities in NYC
What's more quintessentially New York than playing in the neighborhood hydrant when the heat and humidity soar?

92. Frolic in a Fire Hydrant

When the temperatures soar, you don’t have to go far to find a local fire hydrant that’s been opened for kids—and adults—to play in.

93. Rockefeller Center

Only visit this complex during the holiday season? It’s time to re-visit. There are fun stores to play in, cool art to see, a brand new elevated park with fun family concerts, a stunning cathedral, and so many more fun free things to do.

94. CAMP

With locations in the Flatiron, Hudson Yards, Brooklyn’s City Point, and Columbus Circle, this chain of toy stores always has something fun to do and interactive experiences to play with. Most are free.

95. Manhattanhenge

Stake out your viewing spot for this sunset phenomenon, when the sunset aligns perfectly with Manhattan’s grid. In 2022, the remaining Manhattanhenge dates are Saturday, July 11-Sunday, July 12.

96. Strike a Pose

Fill your days with adventure and your Instagram feed with cool pictures by visiting these 13 cool spots for a family photo in NYC.

97. Bushwick Collective

See stunning, larger-than-life art in this Brooklyn neighborhood that's been transformed into a street art gallery.

98. Celebrate a Summer Baby

If you’ve got a milestone to mark, bookmark this list of birthday freebies so you cash in! We’ve also got a list of parks that are perfect for a summer party.

99. While Away a Rainy Day

If summer thunderstorms leave you sidelined, bookmark this list of 65 fun things to do indoors on a rainy day.

100. Check our Bucket List

Done all of the above? See what you can cross off on this list of 100 things to do with NYC kids before they grow up. Many are free.

Originally published in 2014Unless noted, photos by the author

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