Looking for a new rainy-day play destination? With Toys "R" Us back in Times Square for the holidays and a brand-new American Girl store opening soon, 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.
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.
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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, new for 2017. The store also hosts free daily events—check the website for further details.
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 — 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.
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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.
Nintendo New York — Midtown West
10 Rockefeller Plaza, 48th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Nintendo's flagship revamped its store in February 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, or feed a few quarters to the ride-on toys on the sidewalk.
Toys "R" Us — Times Square
1466 Broadway at 42nd Street
Despite bankruptcy news, Toys "R" Us is back in Times Square—at least for the holidays! This three-story pop-up store, which opened on August 26 and will be open seven days a week though the 2017 holiday season, has a dedicated kids' Play Lab on the second floor, where kids can try out toys, get demos, and take part in events. There are also mini Lego building stations and other interactive stations throughout the store, such as a dance game that even teens seem to enjoy.
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The new American Girl store promises multiple interactive stations, though it remains to be seen how many will be FREE.
American Girl — Midtown East
75 Rockefeller Plaza
A brand-new American Girl store is coming to Rockefeller Center this fall! Due to open November 11, 2017, this 38,000-square-foot store promises to be an irresistible destination for doll-lovers, with plenty of interactive features, including a salon for dolls and kids, a studio where kids can create their own designs for their dolls, and a media studio with a range of classes and activities. Many of these activities will come with a fee, but it sounds like there will also be some open play sections. We'll update you as soon as we can!
Top photo: The temporary Toys "R" Us store in Times Square offers a dedicated Play Lab for kids. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the stores.
A version of this article first published in January 2012, but it has since been updated.