Best Drop-in Play Spaces and Indoor Playgrounds in Manhattan

The Art Farm in The City offers tons of ways to enjoy its space during a drop-in play session.
The Art Farm in The City offers tons of ways to enjoy its space during a drop-in play session.
12/19/23 - By Stephanie Ogozalek

Finding non-membership, drop-in play spaces for your toddler or preschooler is like gold to New York City parents—almost as good as scoring a deal on rent. When it gets too cold to explore New York City's best playgrounds, and another playdate at home seems dull (or, let's be honest, stressful), taking your kid to a cool indoor play gym or indoor playground, where everything seems new, and someone else does the cleaning up is a relief to the whole family.

Read on for our top picks for indoor play spaces in Manhattan and find more places to play on our lists of the best indoor playgrounds in Brooklyn and Queens' top indoor play spaces, plus our NYC Kids' Guide to Indoor Play Spaces and Fun Zones.


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Note: Some of these awesome spots allow families to drop in, while others ask that you make reservations, but none require any long-term financial commitment.

Best Indoor Playgrounds on Manhattan's East Side

1. The Art Farm in The City – Upper East Side

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 3 months-8 years
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, storytime, and a well-appointed play space. The Art Farm also offers a variety of classes for ages 3 months and up. In addition to open play time, there are regularly scheduled programs like Fun Fridays that offer fun in the petting zoo, plus a sing-along, arts and crafts, and cooking.

2. The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center – Midtown East

Visit the website for a complete schedule and reservations.
Ages 1-5 (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, and Pippi Longstocking. The center was completely redesigned in 2011, and we were blown away. Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, it 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 enforces calm cooperative play). Instead, it's a great spot for relaxing and imaginative play.

3. 81st Street Studio – Upper East Side

Open 10am-5pm every day but Wednesday; last admission at 4pm.
Ages 3-11
The only thing better than a drop-in play space is a FREE drop-in play space, and that's exactly what you'll find at the 81st Street Studio, the brand-new art-and-play space housed on the ground level of the family-friendly Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were blown away by this spot, which caters to kids ages 3-11 with all kinds of creative play from art projects and music making, courtesy of a custom-designed instrument collection from Yamaha, to a block-building area, and plenty of books to read in a cozy corner. Visit as a jumping-off spot to your Met adventure, or grab a field guide to-go and hit up NYC's ultimate playground, Central Park—if the weather cooperates. While kids always enter The Met for FREE, everyone can visit the play space free of charge, and admission to the museum is pay-what-you-wish for tri-state area adults, too. 

4. Milk & Cookies Kids Spa and Salon – Kips Bay

Visit the website for a complete schedule and reservations.
Ages 0-4
This well-known kids' salon offers plenty of ways to pamper and party with little ones, but a new supersized space means it's also got room for playtime too: Bring a little sib along for a play date while big kids enjoy a haircut or a mani-pedi. Play sessions in the small but mighty soft playroom can be booked for half-hour or hour-long sessions with or without spa services and are very affordable!

RELATED: 43 Things To Do on a Rainy Day Indoors in NYC

Best Drop-in Play Spaces and Indoor Playgrounds in Manhattan: Elliott's Classes
Elliot's Gymnastics has a full slate of classes, but it is often open for drop-in play.

Best Indoor Play Spaces on Manhattan's West Side

5. Elliott's Classes – Upper West Side

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
All ages
We're longtime fans of the gymnastics 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.

6. Play Street Museum – Upper West Side

Visit the website to reserve a 90-minute play session in advance.
Ages 1-8
This indoor play space franchise has come to Manhattan! With play as the top priority, you can book a time for you and your child to explore through creative and free play. Admission is $35 per child and $10 for an adult. Older and younger children may come along for FREE with a paid sibling provided they abide by the rules of the play space. Drop-ins are possible, but reservations are encouraged so that you are guaranteed a play time.

7. JCC Harlem – Harlem

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-12
The JCC in Harlem offers programs and classes for children of many age groups, including morning programming for infants and toddlers and after-school programs for kids up to age 12. Afternoon open-play Mondays are $10 and begin in January. Be sure to visit the website for all the family-friendly options.

8. FunFit Kids – Morningside Heights

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-8
A multi-sport spot, FunFit Kids was founded with the mission to help kids build confidence through sports, so you'll find plenty of specialized equipment and classes here. During drop-in hours, kids have free run of the 2,700-square-foot play space and can climb the walls (literally), propel themselves around a scooter raceway, clamber up playground equipment, play with soft balls and sports equipment, and more. Sound too wild for your brood? There's also a book and music nook.

9. The YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood – Washington Heights

Sundays 9:15-10:00am; visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages young walkers-5 years old
The Kids' Gym Indoor Play Space at this Y is such a great find for indoor action. Families can bring young toddlers (they must be walking) or preschoolers up to age 5 for some indoor romping. The YM & YWHA provide gross-motor activities and free-play experiences to help burn off all that little kid energy.

10. Uptown Amigos – Washington Heights

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-3
Another terrific pop-up indoor play space in the Heights is Uptown Amigos. Currently, its classes take place at the Northend Food Hall. Stay up to date on the website or contact Uptown Amigos for drop-in play space times and info.

RELATED: The Top Indoor Play Spaces in New York City

Best Drop-in Play Spaces and Indoor Playgrounds in Manhattan: ACT Indoor Playstation
ACT Indoor Playstation is one of the best deals in Manhattan.

11. ACT Indoor Playstation – Morningside Heights

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-4
During the winter months, this early childhood education program opens its spacious gymnasium to the public. The child-size equipment at this play gym includes slides, balls, and places to crawl, all on a safe mat area. The center closes during school breaks, summer, and holidays, so it's best to call ahead to confirm it's open. However, if you enjoy visiting ACT Indoor Playstation, check its website for information about camps, toddler classes, and special programming when the Indoor Playstation is unavailable.

Best Indoor Playgrounds in Lower Manhattan

12. 14th Street Y – East Village

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-3 years
The padded playroom on the top floor of the 14th Street Y was one of my son’s favorite play spaces when he was young. The no-frills classroom-sized space is clean, with soft climbing and sliding structures for the toddler set. Occasionally the staff brings out large toys, bubbles, or giant balls. The Y typically doesn’t offer programs when school is out, so call ahead to confirm hours. Also, check its website for weekly drop-in classes like Baby and Me Fitness, Toddler and Me Yoga, Little Builders, and more.

13. Chelsea Piers Toddler Gym – Chelsea

Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Ages 0-4 years
I cried when my son aged out of this awesome indoor playground. 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 manipulatives on the wall, additional slides, soft playthings, and a tiny rock-climbing area.

14. Union Square Play – Union Square, Upper East Side

Visit the website for the current schedule.
Ages 0-6
This three-location (one in New Jersey) indoor play space offers music, play, and movement for children in various class formats. Some class reservations are for open-ended play, while others are more structured, but most are offered on a drop-in basis. Enjoy all these locations have to offer for little ones to learn music, socialize, and play to their heart's content.

Photos courtesy of the venues

A version of this article first published in December 2009, but it is regularly updated.

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