Looking for a new winter play destination? With a shiny new FAO Schwarz filled with delights and an American Girl mega-store, there's no shortage of stores in New York City where kids can play for free. You'll find options as varied as building Lego friends, exercising on the Wii Fit, or getting their train fix for the day, and the kids will be so exhausted by day's end, they might not even whine about leaving the Nintendo system behind (fingers crossed).
For more indoor play options, check out our guide to Indoor Play Spaces and Fun Zones in NYC.
Cuddle, accessorize, and show off your favorite doll at American Girl Place. Photo by Jody Mercier
American Girl Place – Midtown West
75 Rockefeller Plaza
This Rockefeller Center spot is an American Girl fan’s dream come true. The 38,000-square-foot, two-story store opened in 2017, replacing its old digs on Fifth Avenue, and is sure to be a destination for lovers of these iconic dolls for years to come. While the original location offered shopping, dining, and salon services, the upgraded store serves up, even more, treats for kids (matching makeovers!) and adults (plush benches!) alike. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to cuddle, accessorize, and show off the doll of their choice.
The Apple Store — Various locations
Visit the website for locations
Check out Apple's latest products and play computer games from the comfort of cozy bean bag chairs. For a store filled with so many electronic devices, there is definitely a lot of shameless playing going on. While you're discovering your new favorite gadget, your little gamer can sample some educational apps, too. In addition to in-store games, Apple provides free hands-on workshops and youth programs for kids ages 6 and up. They'll learn to compose songs, create photo albums, and produce movies—and all for FREE.
Barnes & Noble — Union Square
33 East 17th Street
The Union Square branch of this chain bookstore has a children's area on the second floor with an ever-popular train table, as well as kiddie chairs and tables. The store also has regular storytimes and other children's programs. Check the website for details.
CAMP Store — Flatiron
110 5th Avenue
Step through the "secret" door in this stylish new toy store into a giant, interactive play zone full of wonder and fun. The space reinvents itself every season, but in its current summer-camp-themed incarnation, kids can explore cabins with a bunk bed slide and a light-up dance floor, walk over a musical bridge, climb into the back of a station wagon, and experiment with sound and flavored bubbles. A classroom at the back offers crafting workshops and "maker" projects. We raved about this store when it opened in 2018; see our full review for details and photos.
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There are a handful of small play areas in the Times Square Disney store. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Disney Store — Times Square
1540 Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets
We visited the Disney Store when it first opened and, despite the intense merchandising, we were impressed. It's certainly cheaper than a trip to Orlando! If you've got a princess or Cars fan on your hands, you won't want to miss this one. Check out the giant castle on the second floor or visit the Imagination Theater for some hands-on fun. Star Wars fans can take pictures with the two full-size stormtroopers. The store also hosts free daily events—check the website for further details.
The dazzling new FAO Schwarz is a mind-blowing toy store experience. Photo by Richard Cadan
FAO Schwarz – Midtown West
767 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center
We were all saddened when the original FAO Schwarz closed their doors in 2015, but luckily FAO is back and better than ever at a new location. The 20,000-square-foot store has returned to the Midtown family shopping scene. Aside from the dance-on piano, the iconic clock tower returns, and of course, you'll be able to pose with the life-sized toy soldiers guarding the doors. While there will be plenty of toys to purchase, the focus here goes beyond stacks of toys on the shelves. In-store experiences, like magic shows and a pretend grocery store, encourage families to stay and play.
Ikea — Red Hook
1 Beard Street at Halleck Street
Småland, Ikea's drop-off supervised play area, has a ball pit and other kid-friendly attractions. The space is open to potty-trained children 37 to 54 inches tall. Parents with Ikea cards can leave their kids for up to an hour while they shop. Don't have an Ikea card? You can still leave your kids for up to 30 minutes.
Kidding Around welcomes kids to hang out and play. Photo courtesy of the store
Kidding Around — Chelsea
60 West 15th Street
This extremely kid-friendly indie toy store welcomes its tiniest customers to hang out, play with toys, and make new friends. There's a carpeted area in the back with a marble maze and interactive train display, which provides a great space for kids to explore and be creative. Kidding Around also has a smaller location at Grand Central Terminal, but it doesn't have a designated play space.
RELATED: Free Times to Visit NYC Museums, Gardens, and the Zoos
Kids can build while you shop, or just take a breather, at the NYC Lego stores. Photo by Mommy Poppins
The Lego Store — Rockefeller Center & Flatiron
620 Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets
200 Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street
Though we raved about the Rockefeller Center location when it opened, it's more of a tourist destination than a neighborhood spot to linger. The newer spot on 23rd Street seems built with local families in mind. While both locations have the popular Mini Master Builder Bar and a wall of bricks where you can find that long-ago lost piece, the Flatiron location also has a Lego Lounge, with seating surrounding a model of the Flatiron District and a number of Lego-themed books to curl up with on the cushy sofas. It's also much easier to navigate with a stroller.
Lulu's Cuts and Toys — Park Slope
48 5th Avenue
This indie toy store and kids' hair salon has an interactive train display in the front of the store, where kids can play while they wait for a haircut, or while their parents shop for toys. Lulu's also has a baby store just down the block.
M&M's World — Midtown West
1600 Broadway between 48th and 49th Streets
Kids and chocolate lovers alike won’t have an easy time leaving this store. There is M&M merchandise galore, a two-story wall of the colorful candies, and a 21-foot Miss Green M&M Statue of Liberty. You can spend money quite quickly and easily here, but you can also wander around without feeling the pressure to purchase one single M&M (though kudos if you can resist). Stop to take some photos with M&M mascots Yellow and Red, Miss Green, and the whole M&M gang. Plus, the staff is happy to let kids play and run around, so go ahead and let them unleash all that sugar energy before you get home.
RELATED: 20 Indoor Spots Offering FREE Play for NYC Kids
The Nintendo Store offers hours of free gaming. Photo by Sara Marentette
Nintendo New York — Midtown West
10 Rockefeller Plaza, 48th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Nintendo's flagship revamped its store in 2016 with a fresh name and fresh features. A 15-foot gaming screen is the centerpiece of the store, but there's still plenty of play space with multiple 3DS stations throughout the two-floor Mario Mecca.
Pizzazzz Toyz — Cobble Hill
281 Court Street
Not to be confused with the baby store just down the block, Pizzazzz Toyz is a cute indie toy store with a train display in the back that's popular with local preschoolers. Staff are friendly and happy for kids to hang out and play. Get a balloon for a cheap treat and explore the neighborhood for more family fun.
A version of this article first published in January 2012, but it has since been updated. Katie Nave Freeman contributed additional reporting.