The 53rd Street Library has a beautiful, well-stocked children's section. Photo by Janet Bloom
The 53rd Street Library has a beautiful, well-stocked children's section. Photo by Janet Bloom

20 Indoor Places to Play for Free in NYC

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 cool indoor places to play for FREE fueled by our desire to escape our cramped New York City apartments. Luckily, some of the best things in life are FREE if you know where to look.

If your kids 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 20 indoor places to play for FREE in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island for culture, fun, games, or just a much-needed change of scenery.

For more great indoor places to play for free, check out our Free in NYC Guide, which is loaded with more ideas, outings and parent-tested tips to save a buck.

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Make sure to check venue hours before heading out.

1. Head to your local library

Not all branches are created equal, 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; the highly-anticipated Hunters Point Library in Long Island City; 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 David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center and the Winter Garden in the Financial District. If you've worked up an appetite, the Brookfield Place food court is not to be missed. 

Pint-sized visitors love trying out the whispering gallery at Grand Central. Photo by Jody Mercier

3. Head to Grand Central Terminal 

Train-watch, try out the whispering gallery or take in one of the other kid-friendly activities.

4. Enjoy FREE storytimes every day of the week 

Don't forget to see what else is going on at some of our favorite independent bookshops, including author readings, craft activities, and even puppet shows.

5. Visit the Brooklyn Bridge Park Environmental Education Center

Get up close and personal with critters from the East River. Check out the reading corner, a model of the Brooklyn Bridge, and stay for craft time.

6. Stop by the FDNY Fire Zone

Kids can learn about fire safety from a real firefighter at this Rockefeller Center stop. General admission is FREE.

7. 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.

RELATED: Drop-In Play Spaces Around Manhattan

The Oculus is worth a visit for the eye candy alone. Photo by Jody Mercier

8. Get an eyeful of 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, subterranean space.

9. 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. We're big fans of the Prospect Park Audubon Center's free programs. 

Try out new games or old favorites at the Nintendo Store. Photo by Sara Marentette

10. Get your game on

At Nintendo NY, kids can gawk at the giant Donkey Kong and test not-yet-released tech and video games.

11. Sample a bit of retail-tainment

Hit one of NYC's other interactive stores. We love the magic mirrors and giant castles at the Disney Store Times Square, and the amazing, engaging CAMP store, which has two new locations in Brooklyn and the Hudson Yards. Kidding Around has outposts in Grand Central and the Flatiron District and is one of our favorite independent toy stores.

Kids have space to play or read at Posman Books. Photo courtesy of Posman Books

12. 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.

13. Check out the latest gadgets and apps.

Register for a FREE youth program at your nearest Apple Store (there are several in Manhattan, as well as locations in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island). 

14. Don’t forget Central Park!

There are a handful of FREE indoor destinations in the 840-acre green space, including the Chess & Checkers House, the newly-renovated Belvedere Castle, and the Dana Discovery Center in the lovely northeastern edge of the park.

15. See a movie

Take in a FREE flick at the Museum of Modern Art or your local library. (Movies are often included in the admission price at the Museum of the Moving Image, too.)

16. Catch a concert

Enjoy all genres of music at a FREE Carnegie Kids neighborhood concert, 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 multicultural New York at its best. Photo by Joshua Voda courtesy of NMAI.

17. 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.

18. Hit a play cafe

Kids play for FREE at some of these Brooklyn cafes—well, you'll need to spring for a coffee, but hey, you were going to do that anyway.

19. Get some culture

Introduce kids to contemporary art at the always FREE Bronx Museum of the Arts.

20. Take advantage of FREE hours

Don't forget: Many NYC museums, zoos, and the aquarium offer free hours on a weekly or monthly basis.

This article, originally published in January 2010, is updated annually.

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