Fun, free indoor places to play in NYC are always a welcome diversion in our book, particularly when we're staring down another long Northeast winter, and entertaining the kids during this extended, chilly season isn't easy or cheap. We went hunting for free indoor places to play fueled by our desire to escape our cramped New York City apartments.
If your kids—like ours!—are bouncing off the walls and your wallet is screaming for a break after a holiday spending spree, we've got you covered. Check out our list of 22 free indoor places to play in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx for culture, fun, games, or just a much-needed change of scenery.
For more great free indoor places to play, check out our Free in NYC Guide, which is loaded with more ideas, outings, and parent-tested tips to save a buck.
Don't forget to sign up for our FREE newsletters to get posts like this delivered to your inbox. If you're looking for outdoor play destinations, we've got plenty of picks in our Guide to Parks and Playgrounds and our Winter Fun Guide.
The Adams Street Library boasts kid-sized seating and plenty of storybooks. Photo by Diana Kim
Best Free Indoor Places to Play in NYC
1. Head to your Local Library
Not all branches are created equal, but there are plenty of cool, free indoor places to play throughout the city's library systems. We're particularly impressed with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown; the Adams Street Library and Greenpoint Public Library and Environmental Center in Brooklyn, plus Queens' Hunters Point Library. Find even more options on our list of libraries with great kid-friendly play spaces, and discover what's going on at all the branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
2. Head to Grand Central Terminal
Train-watch, try out the whispering gallery or take in one of the other kid-friendly activities.
3. Explore the Stacks
Pick up a new read and see what else is going on at some of our favorite independent bookshops, including author readings, craft activities, and even puppet shows.
4. Stop by the FDNY Fire Zone
Kids can learn about fire safety from a real firefighter at this Rockefeller Center stop.
RELATED: 100 Free Things To Do in NYC with Kids
Play under the trees at the Brookfield Place Atrium. Photo by Janet Bloom
5. Visit an Amenity-Filled Public Atrium
Our list of favorites includes the Winter Garden Atrium in Battery Park City. If you've worked up an appetite, Hudson Eats is not to be missed.
6. Get an Eyeful at The Oculus
Gawk at the architectural wonder of The Oculus, the train station, and shopping destination at the World Trade Center. More than 100 stores and eateries occupy the soaring, yet subterranean, space.
7. Sample Retail-tainment
Hit one of NYC's interactive stores. We love the magic mirrors and giant castles at the Disney Store Times Square, and the amazing, engaging Camp store, which has locations in the Flatiron District, Brooklyn, Hudson Yards, and Columbus Circle. Kidding Around has outposts in Grand Central and the Flatiron District and is one of our favorite independent toy stores.
8. Don’t Forget Central Park!
There are a handful of FREE indoor destinations in the 840-acre green space, including Belvedere Castle and the Dana Discovery Center at the lovely northeastern edge of the park.
RELATED: NYC's Best Playgrounds: 21 Parks Worthy of a Subway Schlep
There are plenty of stuffed animals to snuggle at FAO Schwarz—and don't forget to dance on the piano!
9. Play in a Toy Store
Kids play for FREE at the mega-stores American Girl Place and FAO Schwarz. Check out amazing re-creations of NYC landmarks at the Lego Store nearby. Live farther south? Visit the Flatiron Lego Store and rest in its lounge while your child admires the re-creation of the neighborhood.
10. Have a Sweet Time at the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
This Harlem children's museum is housed in a David Adjaye-designed building on 155th Street and offers plenty of room to create and explore, plus weekly performative storytelling events. Kids under age 9 are always FREE and adults enter for just $7.
11. Visit the Museum of the City of New York
MCNY is always FREE for children under 20 and has rotating exhibits highlighting New York's development and history.
RELATED: 30 Days of Indoor Activities for Kids
Pose for a magical photo-op in an authentic London phone booth at Harry Potter New York. Photo by Jody Mercier
12. Take Flight in the Wizarding World
Harry Potter New York is brimming with wands, magical creatures, and plenty of nostalgia for fans of the series.
13. Eat Your Way Through the Essex Street Market
This Lower East Side food hall and market pays homage to its neighborhood's multicultural roots with a diverse mix of eats, plus fun, FREE programming, and cooking classes.
14. Hit a Play Cafe
Kids can play for FREE at some of these Brooklyn and Queens cafes—well, you'll need to spring for a coffee, but hey, you were going to do that anyway.
RELATED: 50 Indoor Activities for a Rainy Day with the Kids
Try out new games or old favorites at Nintendo New York. Photo by Sara Marentette
15. Get Your Game On
At the 10,000-square-foot Nintendo NY, kids can gawk at the giant Donkey Kong and test not-yet-released tech and video games.
16. Seek out Nature in the City
See what's going on at one of the NYC Parks Department's many nature centers. Enjoy hands-on activities such as tours, crafts, and face time with animals.
17. Take Advantage of FREE Hours
Don't forget: Many NYC museums, zoos, and the aquarium offer free hours on a weekly or monthly basis.
RELATED: NYC Winter Fun List: 40 Things To Do with Kids
The National Museum of the American Indian is multicultural New York at its best. Photo by Joshua Voda courtesy of NMAI.
18. Explore the Smithsonian
Explore the always FREE National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the historic U.S. Custom House. Programming includes family-friendly films, workshops, and other no-cost fun.
19. Immerse Yourself in Art
Introduce kids to contemporary art at the always FREE Bronx Museum of the Arts.
RELATED: Where to Find Free Classes for Kids in NYC at Stores and Public Spaces
Kids have space to play or read at Posman Books. Photo courtesy of Posman Books
20. Head to Chelsea Market
Watch the bakers in action at Chelsea Market, where a number of the city's best bakeries are rolling out dough, or read a story in the children's section of Posman Books after grabbing a bite to eat.
21. Hit Up the Bronx Children's Museum
This brand-new dedicated kids' space is offering FREE admission to all visitors during its grand opening period, but be sure to book your tickets online in advance!
22. Mingle with Geoffrey
Head to the seventh floor at Macy's Herald Square where Toys R Us has opened an on-site toy shop. You'll have to usher kids past aisles of goodies to find the play space nestled against the back wall.
This article, originally published in 2014, is updated annually.