The number of family-friendly happenings in New York City on any given day is enough to overwhelm most parents. Our city plays host to top-notch museums and art, creative play spaces, amazing parks and playgrounds, and even amusement parks, all of which pump out fun children's programming year-round. Even NYC restaurants get into the game, hosting dedicated kid play spaces, events, and cool DIY opportunities like ice-cream and chocolate making.
Yet every year, our kids suddenly grow up on us a little more. They age out of one activity after another, whether it's storytime at the library, the carousel, or just needing to hold our hand as they cross the street. That's why we're focused on finding ways to take advantage of all the amazing things to do in New York City with kids, creating meaningful memories as we go. I created this "life list" of all the things I want to experience with my kids before they grow up. It's not just the stuff that is fun to do, but also the stuff that I think will be important to do with them—things that will shape them and be formative in their experience as little New Yorkers. We're also big fans of FREE fun, so we included as much of that as possible!
So enjoy this list of 100 things to do in NYC, whether you're a local or a visitor trying to experience the very best of our city. Now, off I go to wring every drop of goodness from that damp, dirty rag that is New York City.
NEW: We have a free printable version with the best anytime NYC activities from this list. Print it out and stick it on your fridge to inspire you any time you need an activity idea.
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1. See the 122-foot-long titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History.
2. Go kayaking on the Hudson.
Immerse yourself in a world of miniatures at Gulliver's Gate. Photo courtesy of Gulliver's Gate
3. Turn yourself into a mini 3-D figurine at Gulliver's Gate.
4. Go on an audition just for the heck of it.
5. Climb the Statue of Liberty.
6. Visit the Little Red Lighthouse.
7. Sleep over at the Bronx Zoo or Museum of Natural History.
Spend the day on Governor's Island and visit Slide Hill. Photo courtesy of Governor's Island
8. Ride the longest slide in the city on Governors Island.
Visit Connected Worlds at the New York Hall of Science. Photo courtesy of NYSCI
9. Get geeky at the NY Hall of Science.
10. Ride the Staten Island Ferry for FREE.
11. Or one of NYC's many other ferries to kid-friendly isles.
12. Have tea at the Plaza.
13. Wave to the cameras on The Today Show.
The Mermaid Parade is an annual delight for all ages. Photo by Ben via Flickr.
14. March in the Mermaid Parade.
15. Ride the crazy square-wheeled trike at the Museum of Mathematics.
Dig into Dim Sum at Pacificana in Brooklyn's Chinatown. Photo by Kate Glicksberg for NYCGo
16. Have dim sum in Brooklyn's Chinatown.
17. Explore Belvedere Castle in Central Park. (NOTE: The castle is undergoing renovations for a year! It will reopen in 2019.)
18. Catch a free summer concert by the Metropolitan Opera in a NYC park.
19. Sit in turn-of-the-century trains at the Transit Museum.
20. Build, act, and splash at the Brooklyn Children's Museum.
21. Get a taste of country life at the Queens County Farm Museum.
22. Take the Bronx Culture Trolley.
23. See a WWll aircraft carrier and NASA space shuttle Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
24. Ride the row boats in Central Park.
Cool off with a treat from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
25. Bike across the Brooklyn Bridge and get ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
26. Take the Roosevelt Island Tram.
Scale the 12-foot high climbing walls at Dumbo Boulders. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
27. Scale the outdoor climbing wall in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
28. See a Broadway show.
29. Play at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.
30. Get creative at the Children's Museum of the Arts' clay bar.
31. Sketch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
See the night Night Sky at the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Photo courtesy of AMNH
32. Stargaze at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
33. Stroll from one end of Brooklyn Bridge Park to the next.
34. Visit the top of the Empire State Building.
35. Marvel at the breathtaking view from One World Observatory.
36. Take an art class at MoMA.
37. Visit the Chinese Scholar's Garden in Snug Harbor.
Stroll through the grass and see the beautiful Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy of BBG
38. Hit the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanic Garden is a must in NYC! Photo courtesy fo NYBG
39. Marvel at the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.
40. Check out the bears at the Queens Zoo.
41. See the ice age looking Pallas's Cat at the Prospect Park Zoo.
42. Watch a movie under the stars in a city park.
43. Ride the Cyclone.
44. Show off your hat at the annual Midtown Manhattan Easter Parade.
45. Go ice skating in Prospect Park.
46. Marvel at the kid-designed carousel in Riverbank State Park.
47. See the holiday lights in Dyker Heights.
Soar through the air with a little help from trapeze lessons. Photo courtesy of Trapeze School New York.
48. Take a trapeze lesson.
49. Take selfies with the tourists while walking the length of the High Line, NYC's elevated greenway.
50. Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons get inflated.
51. Get up early to see the living nativity animals arrive for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
52. Swim in the floating barge pool.
53. Spin around on Le Carrousel in Bryant Park.
54. Pick up old-time treats at the historic Economy Candy.
55. Take the ferry to Sandy Hook beach.
56. Get soaked on the Shark Boat.
57. Go fishing in the East River.
Delve to the depths of the ocean in National Geographic's Ocean Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Photo courtesy of National Geographic
58. Take a virtual underwater tour of the ocean and all its creatures at the National Geographic Ocean Encounter: Ocean Odyssey.
59. Root for the home team at a Brooklyn Cyclones game.
60. Spend your wad at Dave & Buster's Arcade, or put each other to the test at Modern Pinball.
61. Fulfill a child's wish through Operation Santa Claus.
62. Roller skate outdoors.
63. Get soaked in the Washington Square Park fountain.
64. See the Nutcracker.
65. Sail on the historic schooner Pioneer, or explore more ships at the South Street Seaport museum.
66. Go sledding in Central Park.
Gaze at a unicorn at the Cloisters. Photo by Debra via Flickr
67. See the unicorns at the Cloisters.
68. Go horseback riding.
69. Pitch a tent within NYC's limits.
70. Pretend you're 007 as you explore Spyscape.
71. Cross-country ski down a city street.
72. Pose with a wax celebrity at Madame Tussauds.
73. Try all the flavors at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
74. Look up relatives on Ellis Island.
75. Splash around the Chelsea Waterside Playground. (Note: This playground is getting ready for a big upgrade!)
76. Dare to soar side-by-side above the Bronx River on the zip line at the Treetop Adventure Park in the Bronx Zoo.
Hit up Billy Johnston Rustic Playground in Central Park. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
77. Hang at the Billy Johnson Rustic Playground in Central Park.
78. Dive into city history at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
79. Watch the Dance Skaters perform in Central Park.
80. Fly a kite in Sheep Meadow.
Buy some blooms in the Flower District. Photo by Alex Lopez for NYCGo
81. Pick up buds in the Flower District.
82. See the Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum.
83. Go hiking in the Staten Island Greenbelt.
84. Stroll through City Island.
85. Take your pets to the Blessing of the Animals.
86. Nosh on samosa under the festive, year-round Christmas lights at Milon in the East Village.
Take in the views at Gantry Park in Long Island City. Photo by Will Steacy for NYCGo
87. Walk the Long Island City waterfront, hitting playgrounds along the way.
88. Ride a fish at the sea-themed SeaGlass Carousel.
89. See the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Watch the beautiful model boats set sail. Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservatory.
90. Sail model boats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park.
91. See Shakespeare in the Park.
92. Find the secret Downing Street Playground.
93. Explore Battery Park City Parks from the South Cove to Penny Park.
Yohah Schimmel's serves up knishes, kugel and other Jewish comfort food classics. Photo courtesy fo Yonah Schimmel's
94. Have knishes and egg creams at Yonah Schimmel's.
95. See the giant Buddha in the Mahayana Temple.
96. Visit the Skyscraper Museum.
97. Play vintage video games at the Museum of the Moving Image before getting a Muppets fix at the Jim Henson exhibit.
98. Enjoy free crafts, storytimes, and music at the National Museum of the American Indian.
99. Test out the "whispering gallery" at Grand Central Terminal.
100. Bike the West Side Greenway on Manhattan's west side all the way to the George Washington Bridge.
This article first published in January 2008, but is regularly updated to reflect the changing landscape of NYC.
Top image: Riding the Sea Glass Carousel. Photo by Anna Afanaseva via Flickr.