100 Things To Do in NYC With Kids Before They Grow Up
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's play spaces, events, and cool DIY opportunities like ice cream and chocolate making.
Yet, every year, our kids 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 the damp, dirty rag that is New York City.
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If you want to take the fun with you, take note: 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 idea.
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1. See the Dinos at AMNH
2. Kayak on the Hudson
Go kayaking on the Hudson, in the Harbor, on the East River, and more—most trips are FREE.
Little Island is an innovative green space with tons of FREE programming. Photo by Liz Ligon
3. Visit the Little Island
New York's floating park brings a small, action-packed footprint and plenty of entertainment.
4. Get Into Showbiz
Go on an audition just for the heck of it.
5. See Lady Liberty
6. Visit the Little Red Lighthouse
NYC's lone lighthouse, the Little Red Lighthouse, is even the star of a children's book.
7. Dance on the Piano
Spend the day on Governors Island and visit Slide Hill. Photo courtesy of Governor's Island
8. Hit The Hills
Ride the longest slide in the city on Governors Island.
9. Go for a Spin
Climb on the enchanting Le Carrousel in Bryant Park.
10. Raise Your Pinkys
Indulge in a rawther fancy tea at the Plaza.
11. Set Sail
Ride the Staten Island Ferry for FREE.
12. Get Yourself on TV
Wave to the cameras on The Today Show.
With a trip on the NYC Ferry, the adventures are endless. Photo by Sara Marentette
13. Explore Another Ferry Landing
NYC's waterfront abounds with more kid-friendly ferry rides to beaches, playgrounds, and more.
14. Visit the Brooklyn's Children's Museum
Founded in 1899, the Brooklyn Children's Museum is the oldest children's museum in the U.S., but it constantly reinvents itself to entertain generations of NYC kids.
15. Be an Urban Farmer
Get a taste of country life at the Queens County Farm Museum.
16. Get Cultured
17. Embrace Aviation History
See a WWll-era aircraft carrier, a NASA space shuttle, and more at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
The Mermaid Parade is an annual delight for all ages. Photo by Raven Snook
18. March in the Mermaid Parade
An annual rite of summer, it takes over Coney Island for a seafaring day of fun.
19. Learn at MoMath
Head to the Museum of Mathematics for a crazy ride on the square-wheeled tricycle and other mind-blowing, math-inspired fun.
20. Explore the Great White Way
We know Broadway's coming back with a vengeance, so book your tickets for its top shows soon.
21. Climb the Castle Steps
Central Park's Belvedere Castle is a worthy spot to explore in any season, though we love visiting the nearby Turtle Pond in warm weather.
Visit Connected Worlds at the New York Hall of Science. Photo courtesy of NYSCI
22. Get Educated at NYSCI
There's plenty of geeky fun to enjoy at the NY Hall of Science.
23. Listen to an Aria
Catch a FREE summer concert by the Metropolitan Opera in an NYC park.
24. Glide Through Central Park
Ride the rowboats in Central Park or let a gondolier row for you!
25. Sweet View, Sweet Treat
Bike across the Brooklyn Bridge and get ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery.
Queens' new splash pad is a must-visit.Photo by Jody Mercier
26. Frolic in the Fountain of the Fairs
This newly remodeled and reopened splash pad at the foot of The Unisphere is cooling on a hot summer day.
27. Hit the Sky-High Roosevelt Island Tram
A MetroCard swipe is all you need to board the Roosevelt Island Tram.
28. Scream on the Cyclone
Luna Park's Cyclone roller coaster is about as classic as an amusement park ride gets.
29. Take in the View
Visit the top of the Empire State Building.
30. Dress in Your Sunday Best
Show off your hat at the annual Midtown Manhattan Easter Parade.
Scale the 12-foot high climbing walls at The Cliffs Dumbo. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
31. Climb the Walls
Scale the outdoor climbing wall in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
32. See the Living Nativity
Get up early to see the living nativity animals arrive for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
33. Go Crazy at CMOM
Play at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.
34. Visit All. The. Playgrounds.
We've visited enough to rank our favorites. Will your rankings match ours?
35. Step Into The Met
Spend a day exploring and sketching the treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
See the night sky at the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Photo courtesy of AMNH
36. Go Stargazing at the Hayden Planetarium
Peep the planetarium shows at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
37. Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park
This action-packed waterfront park is ripe for exploring from end to end.
38. Step Into the Clouds
Marvel at the breathtaking view from One World Observatory.
39. Explore the Modern Masters
There's plenty to explore beyond the galleries at MoMA.
40. See Snug Harbor
A cultural gem in Staten Island, a visit to the Chinese Scholar's Garden in Snug Harbor is well worth your time.
Stroll through the grass and see the beautiful cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy of BBG
41. Peep the Cherry Blossoms at BBG
An annual rite of spring, the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a must-visit.
42. Visit the Prospect Park Zoo
Home to the ice age-looking Pallas' Cat, playful baboons, and much more, the Prospect Park Zoo is little-kid friendly.
43. Strap on Some Ice Skates
If you're there in the winter, go ice skating in Prospect Park.
44. Indulge in a Scoop
Try all the flavors at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
45. See a Movie Under the Stars
A new summertime tradition, tons of flicks are streamed in city parks.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanic Garden is a must in NYC! Photo courtesy for NYBG
46. See a Miniature NYC at the NYBG Train Show
An annual holiday tradition, the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is worth visiting again and again.
47. Be Awed by the Dyker Lights
Walk through the eye-popping holiday lights in Dyker Heights.
48. See the Nutcracker
Whether you opt for the classic at Lincoln Center or a smaller production, the ballet abounds during the holiday season.
49. Watch the Macy's Balloons Take Shape
Sure, you can see the parade, but real New Yorkers know the fun starts hours earlier on the side streets.
50. See Kid Art IRL
Marvel at the kid-designed carousel in Riverbank State Park.
51. Go on a Culinary Tour at the Queens Night Market
This food fest lets you feast your way around the world, noshing on bites from more than 100 vendors each week during its summer and fall run.
52. Explore Battery Park City
This family-friendly enclave is packed with parks from the South Cove to Penny Park.
Take a dip in the floating pool in the Bronx. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
53. Dive in for a Dip
Swim in the floating barge pool.
54. Wander Through the Queens Zoo
The Andean bears are always a playful distraction at this gem of a zoo.
55. Hike The High Line
Take selfies with the tourists while walking the length of the High Line, NYC's elevated greenway.
56. Indulge a Sweet Tooth
Pick up old-time treats at the historic Economy Candy.
57. Train for the Circus
Take a trapeze lesson.
58. Hit the Beach
59. See Free Shakespeare
Enter the lottery, wait in line, or do whatever you can to nab a coveted ticket to Shakespeare in the Park.
60. Search for a Secret Playground
Locating the hole-in-the-wall Downing Street Playground is half the fun.
Gaze at a unicorn at the Cloisters. Photo by Debra via Flickr
61. Find the Unicorns at the Cloisters
62. Fulfill a Need for Speed
Get soaked during a speedboat ride on The Beast.
63. Drop a Line
Did you know you can go fishing in the East River?
64. Play in the (Summer) Streets
August brings the annual car-free celebration extending down Manhattan's east side from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, with plenty of room to roam, ride, walk, scoot, and play.
65. Head Out to The Old Ballgame
Hit up Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
66. Speed Down the Slides at Billy Johnson
This playground's iconic granite slide is so popular that a recent renovation added a tot-sized one.
67. See Masterpieces in Miniature
The kid-friendly Museum of the City of New York is home to the Stettheimer Doll House with its intricately styled decor and replicas of art by Marcel Duchamp and others.
68. Celebrate Lunar New Year
Whether you mark the occasion with firecrackers, lion dancing, or one of several parades, there's plenty of ways to celebrate.
69. Strap on Some Roller Skates
From Prospect Park to Central Park and all the way north to Harlem, there are plenty of outdoor roller rinks to explore.
70. Play in the Spray
Get soaked in the Washington Square Park fountain.
71. Indulge in Seaside Charm
The Bronx's City Island is a little slice of New England in city limits.
72. See at Ticker Tape Parade
Everyone loves a parade, and they're even better if they come with a shower of confetti in the Canyon of Heroes.
Buy some blooms in the Flower District. Photo by Alex Lopez for NYCGo
73. Buy a Bouquet
Pick up buds in the Flower District.
74. See the Sharks
You never know what lurks off the shores of Coney Island, but you can get a clear view of the sharks at the nearby New York Aquarium.
75. Hit the Sledding Hills
Nothing beats a snowy day in Central Park.
76. Go Horseback Riding
Saddle up and learn to ride at a variety of stables throughout the five boroughs.
77. Go Camping
78. Engage in Spy Games
Pretend you're 007 as you explore Spyscape, a museum dedicated to spying.
79. Take a Trip to the Tenements
Dive into city history at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
80. See a Rolling Show
Watch the Dance Skaters perform in Central Park.
Take in the views at Gantry Park in Long Island City. Photo by Will Steacy for NYCGo
81. Explore the LIC Waterfront
Walk the this neighborhood's length, hitting playgrounds along the way.
82. Go Skiing
Cross-country ski down a city street or at one of these more traditional venues.
83. Snap a Celebrity Selfie
Pose with a wax celebrity at Madame Tussauds.
84. Research Your Family Tree
Look up relatives on a visit to Ellis Island.
85. See the Rainbow Pipefish
This colorful Hudson River character makes its home at the recently remodeled Chelsea Waterside Playground.
86. Test Your Sense of Adventure
Watch the beautiful model boats set sail. Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservatory.
87. Earn Your Captain's License
Sail model boats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park.
88. Fly a Kite
Central Park's Sheep Meadow is a perfect breezy backdrop.
89. Find Your Home on the Panorama
This famed attraction is the centerpiece of the Queens Museum.
90. Hit the Trails
Go hiking in the Staten Island Greenbelt.
91. Climb the Vessel
The centerpiece to Hudson Yards, this honeycomb-shaped piece of public art introduces you to stunning new vantage points and photo ops.
92. Go Under-the-Sea
Ride a fish at the stunning, sea-themed SeaGlass Carousel.
93. See Santa
No matter what you celebrate, a trip to the iconic Macy's Santaland is a holiday treat.
Dig into dim sum at Pacificana in Brooklyn's Chinatown. Photo by Kate Glicksberg for NYCGo
94. Sample Dim Sum
Brooklyn's Chinatown, aka Sunset Park, offers some tasty options.
95. Explore Jewish Specialties
Have knishes and egg creams at Yonah Schimmel's.
96. See the Giant Buddha
You'll find it at the Mahayana Temple.
97. Visit the Skyscraper Museum
Here, you'll learn about the city's towering architectural feats.
98. Meet the Muppets
The Museum of the Moving Image is home to Jim Henson's furry friends and more hands-on, kid-friendly, pop-culture-inspired fun.
99. Share a Secret at the Whispering Wall
Grand Central Terminal's architecture allows you to share secrets and scientific knowledge at this spot.
100. Go for a Bike Ride
This article, first published in January 2008, is regularly updated to reflect the changing landscape of NYC.
Top image: Riding the SeaGlass Carousel in downtown Manhattan. Photo by Anna Afanaseva via Flickr.