Kids Can Play for Free at These New York City Stores
If you're looking for an indoor destination to play this winter, there's no shortage of New York City stores and indoor places where kids can play for free. You'll find options ranging from building Lego Friends to playing the latest Nintendo games to rambunctious indoor playgrounds and mild-mannered train tables. Spend enough time playing, and your 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.
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CAMP Store – Multiple Locations
Visit the website for locations
The first CAMP store opened in 2018 in Flatiron, featuring a giant, interactive play zone full of wonder and fun. The space reinvents itself every season to keep things fresh and has since been joined by outposts at Brooklyn's City Point, Hudson Yards, and Columbus Circle. Part cool, curated toy store, part interactive play zone, peek behind a secret door to find interactive experiences, a dedicated space for crafts and "maker" projects, and more. The stores occasionally put on performances and special events, so check the calendar to see what's happening at your local outpost. Some experiences, like Cosmic CAMP come at a cost, but there's plenty of free fun to be had, too. Take note: As of January 28, 2022, full vaccination for children ages 5 and up will be required for all ticketed events, seated craft activities, and birthday parties.
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 colorful candies, and a 21-foot Miss Green M&M Statue of Liberty. You can spend money quite quickly, 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. Plus, the staff is happy to let kids play, so let them unleash all that sugar energy before you get home.
Take your favorite doll in for a check up at the doll at American Girl Place Hospital. Photo courtesy of the store
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 store is sure to be a destination for lovers of these iconic dolls for years to come. The store serves lots of 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. If you're planning to eat in or attend an in-store event, all guests who are 5 to 11 years old must show proof of one dose of COVID-19 vaccination. Guests 12 and older must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination.
Harry Potter New York – Flatiron
We were pleasantly surprised to stride right through the doors of this uber-popular Wizarding World attraction earlier this week, no lengthy line or QR code is required now that the holiday tourists have departed. Once inside, spend your time spotting cool props from the wildly popular movies, peruse a wall of wands that rivals Olivanders, stage a duel, step into Hagrid's shoes, apparate to the Ministry of Magic via an old-school phone booth, shop for Chocolate Frogs, and more! There's plenty of eye candy and even a butterbeer bar!
RELATED: NYC's Best Toy Stores
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. Go on a quest to find many Mickey and Minnie displays throughout the store or visit the Imagination Theater for some hands-on fun. Star Wars fans can take pictures with a full-size stormtrooper. The store also hosts free events—check the website for further details. Due to limited capacity, there may be longer wait times to enter the store.
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. This particular chain carries an impressive selection of toys, games, and educational kits as part of its "science center." Though in-person storytimes are on hold for now, there are lots of virtual kids' events happening online.
The dazzling FAO Schwarz is a mind-blowing toy store experience. Photo by Jody Mercier
FAO Schwarz – Midtown West
767 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center
This 20,000-square-foot store opened in 2018 reinventing the iconic brand and bringing back some of our favorite features, including the dance-on piano, the iconic clock tower, and the life-sized toy soldiers guarding the doors. They're a perfect picture opportunity! 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, a pretend grocery store, and more—encourage families to enjoy some playtime together.
Queens Center – Flushing, Queens
90-15 Queens Boulevard
Queens parents don't have to venture into the city to find the best toy stores. They're all conveniently located in one place at the Queens Center in Flushing. The Disney Store is perfect for little ones who can spend some time in an interactive area with a movie screen. Build-A-Bear-Workshop is also a few steps away, where hundreds of (un)stuffed animals await. Beware: They may want to take a special one home.
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
636 Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets
200 Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street
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 several Lego-themed books to read on the cushy sofas. It's also much easier to navigate with a stroller. Currently, in-person events, play tables, building demos, and Pick A Brick walls are unavailable; so, check your nearest location for updated information before visiting.
The Apple Store – Various locations
Visit the website for locations
Though Apple is limiting visitors and some stores are open for pick-up orders only, it's worth keeping in mind the tech giant's futuristic stores for later. Check out Apple's latest products and play computer games from the comfort of cozy bean bag chairs. There is definitely a lot of shameless playing going on, and some of it is even educational! 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—all for FREE.
The Nintendo Store offers consoles with free gaming. Photo by Sara Marentette
Nintendo New York – Midtown West
10 Rockefeller Plaza, 48th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Nintendo's flagship store got a revamp in 2016 with a fresh name and fresh features. A 15-foot gaming screen is the centerpiece of the store, and there's plenty of play space with multiple Nintendo Switch and 3DS stations throughout the two-floor, 10,000-square-foot Mario mecca. In-store gaming is currently on hiatus, however, and shopping sessions are limited to 20 minutes.
Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. – Park Slope, Brooklyn
372 5th Avenue
Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. is a unique place that doubles as a store and a learning center. Walking inside, you can feel like a real superhero. The storefront sells all the superhero essentials like capes and masks (which everyone is invited to try on), as well as novelty items like detection kits and invisible paint for those top-secret missions. It's a place where imagination comes to life, sure to make even adults feel like kids again. The back of the store houses a volunteer-run organization that offers free writing classes and tutoring for kids. Proceeds from the store support the learning center. The store is currently open on weekends only.
Originally published in 2012; this post is updated annually.