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 firdge 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.
3. Explore Belvedere Castle in Central Park.
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.
8. Ride the longest slide in the city on Governors Island.
9. Get geeky at the NY Hall of Science.
10. Ride the Staten Island Ferry.
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 three-wheel trike at the Museum of Mathematics.
16. Have dim sum in Brooklyn's Chinatown.
17. Take a helicopter ride.
18. Catch a free concert by the Metropolitan Opera in a NYC park.
19. See the money train 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. Visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
24. Ride the row boats in Central Park.
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.
31. Sketch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
32. Stargaze at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
33. Explore the rest of the American Museum of Natural History after the dinosaurs and mammals.
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.
38. Hit the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
39. Marvel at the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.
40. Check out the Queens Zoo.
41. See the ice age looking Pallas's Cat at the Prospect Park Zoo.
42. Watch a movie under the stars.
43. Ride the Cyclone.
44. Show off your hat at the 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.
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. Ride 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. Ride the Shark Boat.
57. Go fishing in the East River.
58. Catch a fishing boat from Sheepshead Bay.
59. Go to a Brooklyn Cyclones game.
60. Spend your wad at Dave & Buster's Arcade.
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.
66. Go sledding in Central Park.
67. See the unicorns at the Cloisters.
68. Go horseback riding.
69. Pitch a tent within NYC's limits.
70. Visit Manhattan's first underground park and garden.
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.
76. Go colonial at the Fraunces Tavern Museum.
77. Hang at the Billy Johnson Rustic Playground in Central Park.
78. Hang at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
79. Watch the Dance Skaters perform in Central Park.
80. Fly a kite in Sheep Meadow.
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. Cook our own food at a Korean restaurant.
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.
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.
98. Check out the National Museum of the American Indian.
99. Test out the "whispering gallery" at Grand Central Terminal.
100. Catch a free kids' concert in Madison Square Park then eat at Shake Shack.
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.