We're on the cusp of another long Northeast winter, and entertaining the kids during this long, chilly season isn't easy, or cheap. Throw in a cramped New York City apartment and a shortage of vitamin D and of course, everyone is eyeing the exit. Luckily, in NYC some of the best things in life are FREE (really).
If your kids are bouncing off the walls and your wallet is screaming for a break after all the holidays, we've got you covered. Check out our list of 20 FREE indoor destinations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and elsewhere in NYC for fun, games, or just a much-needed change of scenery.
For more great indoor places, check out our Indoor Family Fun Guide, which is loaded with all-ages drop-in spots like bowling!
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Make sure to check venue hours before heading out.
1. Head to your local library for no-cost fun. Not all branches are created equally, but the Children's Center at 42nd Street at the main branch of the New York Public Library; the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Heights; and the Children’s Library Discovery Center in Jamaica, Queens are all destination-worthy, with wonderful children's sections and frequent family programming. Prefer to stay closer to home? Discover what's going on at all branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
2. Visit an amenity-filled public atrium. Our favorites include the Ford Foundation’s garden lobby on East 43rd Street and the Winter Garden in the Financial District.
3. Enjoy FREE storytimes every day of the week at bookstores and other kid spots.
4. See what else is going on at some of our favorite independent bookshops, including author readings, crafts activities, and even puppet shows.
5. Stop by the FDNY Fire Zone in Rockefeller Center to learn about fire safety from a real firefighter. General admission is FREE.
6. While in the neighborhood, check out amazing re-creations of NYC landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center at the Lego Store in Midtown West. The shop also hosts occasional FREE maker-building events. Live farther south? Visit the Flatiron Lego Store and rest in its lounge while your child admires the re-creation of the neighborhood.
RELATED: Drop-In Play Spaces Around Manhattan
Explore the magical world of The Oculus, the new multipurpose destination at the World Trade Center. Photo by Billie Grace Ward via Flickr.
7. Gawk at the architectural wonder of The Oculus, the train station/shopping destination that debuted at the World Trade Center this fall. More than 100 stores and eateries occupy the soaring, subterranean space.
8. Head to Grand Central Terminal to train-watch, try out the whispering gallery, or take in one of the other kid-friendly activities.
9. 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.
10. Get your game on at the revamped Nintendo NY, where kids can gawk at the giant Donkey Kong and test out not-yet-released tech and video games.
11. Hit one of NYC's other interactive megastores, while they still exist, like the magic mirrors and giant castle at the Disney Store Times Square, or independent favorite Kidding Around in Grand Central or Flatiron.
12. 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 at the market.
13. Register for a FREE youth program at your nearest Apple Store (there are several in Manhattan, as well as a location in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island). Check out the latest gadgets and apps.
14. Don’t forget Central Park! There are a handful of FREE indoor destinations in the 840-acre green space, including Belvedere Castle and the Chess & Checkers House.
15. Take in a FREE flick at the Museum of Modern Art, or your local library. (Movies are often included in the admission at the Museum of the Moving Image.)
16. Enjoy all genres of music at Carnegie Kids FREE neighborhood concerts, which take place throughout the city.
RELATED: 50 Indoor Activities for a Rainy Day with the Kids
The National Museum of the American Indian is a charming bit of multicultural New York. Photo by Joshua Voda/courtesy of NMAI.
17. 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.
18. Kids play for FREE at these Brooklyn cafes — well you'll need to spring for a coffee, but hey, you were gonna do that anyway.
19. Introduce kids to contemporary art at the always FREE Bronx Museum of the Arts.
20. And don’t forget: Many NYC museums (and zoos and the aquarium) offer free hours on a weekly or monthly basis.
Top photo: Indoor maker spaces such as the city's multiple Lego stores are a great way to keep kids busy and engaged all winter. Photo by Shira Kronzon.
This article, originally published in January 2010, is updated annually.