10 Things to Do on Thanksgiving Day With NYC Kids

See gorgeous displays of light at the Luminocity Festival on Randall's Island. Photo by Janet Bloom
See gorgeous displays of light at the Luminocity Festival on Randall's Island. Photo by Janet Bloom

Other than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, is there really anything else to do in New York City on Thursday, November 28? You bet! We found fun ways to spend Thanksgiving Day in NYC with kids that don't involve eating turkey or watching giant balloons. Many of these events are FREE, and some of them occur only this year. Some, like the public art exhibit City in the Grass are both free and here only in 2019.

Read on for our picks, from zoos to bowling alleys to movies, plus two brilliant festivals of light at the Luminocity Festival on Randall's Island and the Winter Lantern Festival on Staten Island. Got a car? Loads of events right outside New York City are open on Thanksgiving. See our guide to 10 picture-perfect holiday day-trips near NYC. In town for the whole holiday weekend? Here are 22 fun things to do in NYC over Thanksgiving break.

And finally, a very Happy Thanksgiving to your family from everyone at Mommy Poppins NYC. Here's to a festive holiday season.

For more events happening over Thanksgiving weekend, check out our Event Calendar and November GoList.

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Anna and Elsa are back as strong and sweet as ever in Frozen 2. Photo courtesy of Disney

1. See a flick.

Many movie theaters are open on Thanksgiving Day, and this year it's all about the continuing adventures of everyone's favorite ice queen in Frozen 2, which opened on November 22. (Parents beware: apparently the songs in the sequel are even catchier than "Let it Go".) There's also the PG-rated family comedy Playing With Fire, which opened November 8. If you want to stay in and cozy up at home with a festive flick, check out Netflix's first original animated feature Klaus (streaming from November 15).

Bring your skates and you can hit the ice for free at Bryant Park. Photo by Colin Miller for the Winter Village

2. Go ice skating.

Thanksgiving is a great day to try out the ice rinks before or after your big feast. The rinks at Winter Village in Bryant Park, Brookfield Place, Wollman in Central Park, and Rockefeller Center are open for skating on Thanksgiving, weather permitting. Note: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade marches down Sixth Avenue, so it's best to head to Bryant Park after the parade passes. You can even do some holiday shopping at its Winter Village market. Too cold for you out there? Check out these indoor skating options.

3. Take a stroll.

Walk off dinner with the awesome department store holiday windows—by Thanksgiving they'll all be revealed, including Macy'sBloomingdale's, Saks, Tiffany & Co., and Barneys. You could also hit Randall's Island after dark for the Luminocity Festival, with brilliant light displays and a holiday market, or see Staten Island's Winter Lantern Festival featuring over 1,000 lanterns sculpted into dazzling figures of luminescent art. Or just take a ramble in Central Park, Prospect Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Long Island City waterfront, or one of these lesser known NYC parks. If you're near Madison Square Park, check out the FREE public art installation Leonardo Drew: City in the Grass.

4. Get a workout before you feast.

Beak a sweat in the Thanksgiving Day 5K, 10K & Kids Race in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, or hit the park for family touch football or freeze tag. When you finally do feast, and if you don't feel like cooking, see our guide to 25 NYC restaurants serving family Thanksgiving dinner (fair warning: many of the reservations may be snapped up by now).

RELATED: NYC Holiday Event and Activity Guide for Families

The Big Apple Circus is in full force on T-Day. Photo by Juliana Crawford

5. See a show.

The Rockettes always dance on Thanksgiving in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This year there are three shows at 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm. The Big Apple Circus is in town, and does a 1pm show on Thanksgiving. Broadway shows, including The Phantom of the Opera and Waitress, are playing on the holiday, and plenty more play the following day.

6. Hang with the animals.

The New York AquariumProspect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Central Park Zoo are all open on Thanksgiving. Sadly, the Bronx Zoo is closed on Thanksgiving Day.

7. Play indoors.

Balls roll at the Times Square and Chelsea Piers Bowlmor Lanes; check the website for times. If you'd rather play video games, local gaming stalwarts Modern Pinball and Chinatown Fair are open, and there's always arcade restaurant Dave & Buster's.  

Gulliver's Gate's version of the parade is far less chaotic. Photo by William Warby/Flickr 

8. Explore a museum. 

Many NYC cultural institutions close for the holiday, but several big exhibits are open, including the underwater-themed National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Catch a miniaturized version of the Thanksgiving Day parade, and more, at the astounding Gulliver's Gate in Times Square. The no-cost National Museum of the American Indian is open, as is Brooklyn's Jewish Children's Museum where kids can visit the Craft Room, do some rock climbing, and explore the Gallery of Games. You can also hit Midtown West tourist spots such as Madame Tussauds or Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, both open on Thanksgiving every year.

9. Play tourist. 

If you're entertaining out-of-towners, One World Observatory, the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are open and might not be as crowded as usual. You can also take a sail on the Circle Line, or visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

10. Help others.

Although most Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities are filled, a few still have room—but you'll need to act quickly. The volunteer slots for the Church of the Intercession's Gobble Gobble Give NYC are filled by this time, but the church still accepts food donations on Thanksgiving morning. The slots to deliver turkey dinners to homebound New Yorkers through Gods Love We Deliver on Thanksgiving Day are filled, but there are plenty of slots open for volunteering in the group's kitchen or on its delivery teams on other days. You can also donate online to FeedingNYC's effort, which packs and supplies meals to thousands each Thanksgiving, including local shelters, such as Win, which focuses on homeless women and children, or give $40 to the NYC Common Pantry to supply a full Thanksgiving meal to a family in need. Kids also can help you round up your old coats (ask the neighbors across the hall, too!) and drop them off at one of the many New York Cares Coat Drive locations. Use your zip code to find the location nearest you.

This article originally published in November 2009; it is updated annually.

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