Finding a non-membership, drop-in play spot for your toddler or preschooler in your neighborhood is like gold to New York City parents—almost as good as scoring a deal on rent. Because when it gets too cold for the city's many playgrounds, and another playdate at home seems dull (or, let's be honest, stressful), taking your kid to a cool indoor kiddie gym or other play space, where everything seems new to them and someone else will do the cleaning up, is a relief to the whole family.
While outer boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn dominate the indoor play space market, Manhattan has some of the more creative kid spaces. Some of the 11 awesome spots we rounded up allow families to drop in while others ask that you make reservations, but none require any kind of long-term financial commitment. And if you've got a child under the age of 5 to entertain, you might also check out our roundup of a dozen indoor play spaces perfect for the pint-sized set.
From traditional preschooler play spaces like Chelsea Piers' Toddler Gym to more offbeat romping spots like the animal-centric Art Farm in the City, here's the scoop on the best places to play indoors in Manhattan.
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14th Street Y – East Village
344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
Open play: Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:30-4pm and Sundays 9:30am-12:30pm; not offered during the summer.
$17 per child, $80 for five-class punch card
Ages 6 months-3 years
The padded playroom on the top floor of the 14th Street Y was one of my son’s favorite haunts when he was young. The no-frills classroom-sized space is clean, with soft climbing and sliding structures for the toddler set. Occasionally staff will bring out large toys, bubbles, or giant balls. No membership required. The Y doesn’t offer programming when school is out, so call ahead to confirm hours.
ACT Indoor Playstation is one of the best deals in Manhattan.
ACT Indoor Playstation – Morningside Heights
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 111th Street
Open play: December-March: Monday-Thursday noon-3pm.
$6 per child, 6 months & under free
During fall and winter afternoons, this early childhood education program opens its spacious gymnasium to the public. The child-size equipment includes slides, balls, and places to crawl, all on a safe mat area. At $6, it's the cheapest indoor play option in the borough! The center closes during school breaks, summer, and holidays, so it's best to call ahead to confirm it is open.
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The Art Farm in the City offers kids a chance to get up close with some unique friends.
The Art Farm in The City – Upper East Side
419 East 91st Street between First and York Avenues
Open play: Monday-Thursday 12:30-3:30pm.
$20 per child, discounts for weekly or monthly packages
Ages 6 months and up
Don't have a pet of your own? Kids can get up close and personal with the animals at The Art Farm, while also enjoying art projects and a well-appointed playroom. For a different kind of fun, drop by on Saturday or Sunday mornings from 8-10am, when children can help feed the animals ($15 for kids, $5 for adults).
Chelsea Piers' Toddler Gym – Chelsea
Field House at Chelsea Piers, 23rd Street and the Hudson River
Open play: Schedule varies. Please call 212-336-6500, ext. 0 to confirm daily hours.
$12 per session, discounts for multiple sessions
Ages 6 months-4 years
I cried when my son aged out of this awesome play space (back then it was called the Toddler Adventure Center.) He enjoyed sliding, climbing, and crawling through the big play structure, but he especially loved dive-bombing into the ball pit. The center also has interactives on the wall, additional slides, soft playthings, and a tiny rock climbing area.
Chinatown YMCA – Chinatown
Chinatown YMCA, 273 Bowery between Houston and Stanton Streets
Open play: Monday-Friday 9am-noon
$20 per visit for non-members, $140 for 10 visits
On weekday mornings, kids can drop in for some indoor fun at the 3,200-square-foot gym at the Chinatown branch of the YMCA. Let them run, jump, climb, and balance freely—there's plenty of space!
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City Treehouse has one of the best water tables around!
City Treehouse – Chelsea
129A West 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Open play: Daily 10am-5pm. Reservations required. Call 212-255-2050.
$20 per hour, discounts for multiple hour packages
Ages 2 months-8 years
Formerly a members-only facility, this boutique play space now offers open play daily, though reservations are required. The beautiful, nature-themed play area features a two-story treehouse complete with a slide, and a multilevel water table and stream. Bonus: First-time visitors can check the place out for only $10 per hour.
Elliott's Gymnastics – Upper West Side
131 West 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
Times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Reservations required: 917-517-8721.
$15 per child
One of our bloggers raved about the classes at this Upper West Side spot. But even if your kids aren't enrolled in the gymnastics program here, they can still enjoy the developmental gymnasium's facilities on select weekday afternoons.
The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center – Midtown East
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street
Open play: Saturday noon-5pm
$15 per child
Ages 1 and up (children must be walking independently to be admitted)
Scandinavia House's awesome indoor play spot was my son’s second home before he started school. This is where he was introduced to Brio trains, Legos, Pippi Longstocking, and the adorable Moominvalley. The center was completely redesigned in 2011 and we were absolutely blown away. Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, the space features a reading room full of English and Scandinavian-language books connected to a softly lit sensory room by a kid-sized tunnel. This isn't a place for wild romping (and believe me, the staff will chastise you and your child if that happens.) Instead, it's a great spot for relaxing and imaginative play. Open play hours are offered Saturdays only.
The Playroom NYC – Upper East Side
1439 First Avenue at 75th Street
Open play: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday, 9am-5pm; Thursday, 9am-3:30pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8:30am-11:30am.
$30 per child, discounts for multiple sessions
Ages 6 months to 5 years
True to its name, this Upper East Side spot really focuses on playtime and offers open play hours seven days a week. If the facility is at capacity, your playtime will be limited to two hours; if there's space, you're free to stay longer. If you play in the morning, and want to come back after naptime, the play space will charge a discounted admission for a same-day return.
Play Space at The Ballet Club – Upper East Side
328 East 61st Street between First and Second Avenues, second floor
Open play: Monday-Friday 10am-3pm from mid-September to end of May (closed summers and holidays)
$15 per hour
This dance school opens its cozy playroom to the public on weekdays during the school year. Attractions skew toward the preschool set, like a puppet theater, play kitchen, pop-up tent, doll house, manipulatives, and pictures books. It offers a great place for imaginative play on rainy or cold days. Families should arrive on the hour or half past. Reservations are recommended Tuesday through Friday and are required on Monday. Call 917-281-1030 or email email@example.com.
TLB Music Playroom – Upper East Side
266 East 78th Street between Second and Third Avenues
Open play: Monday, Wednesday, & Friday 9:30am-5pm; Tuesday & Thursday 12:30pm-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 9:30am-1:30pm
$25 per hour, discounts for multi-session packages
Ages 6 months-6 years
This music education program has a cozy playroom featuring slides, a play kitchen and market, a soft block area, a short rock climbing mountain, a train table, and lots of puzzles, books, and toys. The small space can only accommodate 15 children, so reservations are recommended.
Top photo: Playroom NYC offers a bright, modern play area and daily drop-in play sessions. Photos courtesy of the venues.
A version of this article first published in December 2009, but it is regularly updated.