13 Free (Or Cheap) Things To Do In NYC With Kids
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New York City is not a city you’d usually associate with being a holiday destination for young children. But that’s an unfair assumption to make, since we learned that there are so many things to do in NYC with kids that parents can enjoy too!
When I moved to the city, four months pregnant, I was unsure of whether having and raising a kid in a busy place like The Big Apple was a good idea.
It came as a happy surprise to discover how an entirely different the city felt being a parent with small children.
The once big bad New York City is now home to many young families, which has sparked a huge wave in family-friendly tourist attractions in NYC opening up, making it a wonderful destination to travel to with kids of any age.
To help you plan your family trip to New York City, I’ve listed my favorite NYC attractions with kids as well as shared some tips to help you get around town, know what to wear and where to stay, so you can travel to NYC with ease.
Best Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids
For one of the most expensive cities in the world, there are a lot of things to do in New York, particularly with kids, for nothing. Read more tips on saving money in New York City here.
1. Visit Governor’s Island
This peaceful neighborhood in Upper New York Bay is free to explore, with a ferry ride the only cost for your day out.
Catch the ferry from lower Manhattan or Brooklyn and take a picnic lunch (there are also food trucks on the Island), then spend the day discovering family art installations, including a giant tree house, and admiring the stunning view of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
2. Visit the Art Museums in New York City
Jackson Pollack at the MET
Some of the museums in New York, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have a “suggested donation” for entry for any New York State residents as well as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut students, but you can actually pay anything you like. Otherwise, it is a fee for anyone else.
A few of the smaller ones are free all the time, such as the Bronx Museum of the Arts or the American Folk Art Museum.
All of the major museums and galleries have free days or hours – usually every Friday afternoon/evening.
The Children’s Museum of the Arts is free admission every Thursdays from 4.00pm to 6.00pm, which is perfect for a couple of hours play time before dinner.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) also has discounts for Sightseeing Pass holders and military families. It’s open late on Fridays, so is the perfect place to take the kids on a Friday night.
CityPass Holders also get discounts to MOMA.
3. Take Your Kids to the New York City Playgrounds
New York does playgrounds for kids well. When most people live in apartments, their backyard is the city itself. You’ll find playgrounds every few blocks, mostly enclosed and with rubbery surface under the play equipment.
All of the major parks also have playgrounds with bathrooms, including Central Park, which has many. Some of the best playgrounds include:
Moira Ann Smith Playground in Madison Square Park
Washington Market Park
Hudson River Park’s Pier 51 Playground
Ancient Playground outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
4. Visit The High Line
The High Line
The old, elevated railway track that runs through Chelsea was converted into a linear park that gives great city and street art views, as well as being full of plants and sculptures.
In the warmer months, The High Line holds lots of free activities for kids.
5. Take the Staten Island Ferry to Ellis Island
Why line up and pay to see the Statue of Liberty when you can catch the Staten Island Ferry and see Lady Liberty and a spectacular view of Manhattan for free?
Don’t bother getting off the ferry, just take your photos from the boat and continue on to Ellis Island, where you can go to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and learn about the communities who moved to NYC.
This is particularly interesting for older kids who may be learning about American history at school.
Another great way to see the Manhattan Skyline on the cheap is to take the East River ferry to Roosevelt Island and back.
6. Walk Around Central Park
Central Park is famous for a reason – it’s absolutely beautiful in every season, and a place where you could easily entertain kids for days.
With 800 acres of land, the park has everything from places to kick a ball around, to places to rent bikes or skates, or just go for a long walk together as a family.
While a visit to the Central Park Zoo does cost money, most other things are free to discover, such as the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, Belvedere Castle (look for the turtles below in the pond) and the Bethesda fountain with the talented buskers in the Bethesda Terrace Arcade.
For $15/hour you can hire a rowboat for the whole family. My daughter enjoys climbing the rocks for hours at a time or kicking a ball around the Sheep’s Meadow.
If you’re visiting NYC in the winter, you can also find several ice skating rinks in Central Park.
While many people visit the Wollman rink, if you have your own skates, you can skate for free at Conservatory Water when the water is at least 6-inches thick.
7. Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge
New York City dreaming
Stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge into DUMBO for the day.
The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park has several playgrounds right on the waterfront, as well as lawns for kids to run around, plus the beautiful Jane’s Carousel (take a spin for $2 a child. Adults ride for free with small kids).
Try authentic New York-style pizza at Juliana’s while you’re there.
8. Visit Coney Island
Catch a train for some swimming and people watching on Coney Island. This is one of the best places to visit in NYC for amusement parks, which are free to enter, you just pay for tickets for the ride you want to ride on.
The roller coasters at the Luna Park are iconic, and you can save money by purchasing an all-day wristband if there’s more than a few rides you want to go on.
You can also visit the New York Aquarium and grab a slice of what is often called the best pizza in New York at Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana.
You can also see free Open Air Shows at The Ford Amphitheater in the summer. To find the free shows, you will need to walk to the other end of the boardwalk on the other side to Luna Park.
9. Visit The Bronx Zoo on Wednesdays
The Bronx Zoo is one of the top attractions in NYC and every Wednesday it’s free to enter all day! But there is a catch, you must reserve your ticket online in advance, as there is only a small number of free tickets each week.
The Bronx Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the U.S. and covers a whopping 265 acres. It has more than 17,000 animals in the zoo, from mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and more.
You should definitely plan for a full day here.
10. Watch A Free Movie at Bryant Park
Tourists visiting NYC with their family who have found themselves spending a lot of money on attractions, will be pleased to know there are free movies at Bryant Park every Monday night in the summer.
The lawn opens at 5pm every Monday where you can grab your spot and have a picnic, before the film starts at 8pm.
The movies are usually family-friendly classics such as Indiana Jones or Grease, but they do have the occasional horror movie on so do check the line-up before you visit.
11. Visit the New York Public Library
There are several public libraries in New York City and all of them are free to visit. Tourists are welcome to come and enjoy the libraries and read the books, but you will need a library card to enter research rooms or take books out.
If you’re looking for a rainy day thing to do in NYC with kids, then a trip to the library to read some books is the perfect activity.
12. Check out Grand Central Terminal
If it’s your first time visiting NYC with kids, then you should make sure to stop by the iconic Grand Central Terminal and take in the stunning station.
While you may find yourself here without knowing, those who are staying in Midtown Manhatten may not have a need to go here, so be sure to pay it a visit.
You don’t need to pay to enter the station, which makes it one of the best free attractions in NYC for families to check out.
13. Visit Rockefeller Center and Times Square
Two iconic landmarks in NYC are the Rockerfeller Center and Times Square.
Times Square is filled with bright lights, the street artists and dancers, the flashing billboards – it’s a scene that has been seen so many times online, but only a visit there can give you the real experience of “the city that never sleeps.”
Rockerfeller Center is a huge complex surrounded malls, shops and high-rise buildings. It’s one of the most recognized cityscapes in the world.
While it is free to visit these places, remember if you’re visiting around the Christmas Holidays, these places will be packed with tourists so remember to keep an eye on your kids.
Kid-Friendly Attractions in NYC
What were we talking about here?
You can take kids to any attraction in NYC and they will be welcomed, but if you want to take the kids to places that are specifically geared towards them, however, here are some places we recommend.
These are not free things to do in NYC with kids, but if you have the Sightseeing Pass, you can save on many of these attractions.
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Central Park Zoo with its Tisch Children’s Zoo
Bronx Zoo’s Children’s Zoo
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, New York Botanic Garden
American Museum of Natural History
Sony Wonder Technology Lab
New York Hall of Science
Catch a Broadway Show at New Victory Theater
Museum of Mathematics
SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park
LEGO Store in Flatiron (it has a room full of LEGO and DUPLO for kids to play with for free).
What to Wear in NYC with Kids
On the Edge!
Sensible footwear for you and the kids. Comfortable shoes, particularly sneakers as they stop the dirt from the streets getting onto your feet.
If you’re going in summer, take water shoes and swimmers so the kids can play in the splash parks (bare feet are permitted, but shoes are a lot safer).
New Yorkers dress for comfort, so your most stylish clothes aren’t needed if you’re planning on not doing much more than schlepping the kids around.
Where to Eat in NYC with Kids
Don’t miss Molly’s Cupcakes
Avoid hot dog stands unless you have a cast iron stomach – do however, try one of their giant pretzels.
Stock up on food from supermarkets like Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
Trader Joes is a discount supermarket that New Yorkers are obsessed with for their cheap prices but still decent quality produce. You can get basic food here to make meals in your hotel or take to parks.
Whole Foods is a lot pricier but has an amazing salad bar and hot food section where you can put together healthy and delicious salads or meals to take home (also great to grab for a picnic).
If you want to eat at a kid-friendly, reasonably priced restaurant, try Bareburger, Shake Shack, Sarabeth’s or anywhere that serves pizza.
Get your sweet fix at the Big Gay Ice Cream, Magnolia Bakery, Georgetown Cupcakes or Ample Hills Creamery or, our favorite Molly’s cupcakes in Greenwich Village.
Getting Around NYC with Kids
Use the subway to get around NYC with kids, it’s the easiest and most stress-free way.
Buy a Metrocard with $10 or $20 on it and download a subway map to your phone. The New York Subway MTA Map and Route Planner app (iPhone) has wheelchair symbols next to station names to indicate elevator access.
Take a lightweight umbrella stroller (they’re fine to leave open on the subway but need to be folded on buses) or a baby carrier if you’re planning to use stations without elevators.
If you need to get a car somewhere, book one through Uber and request a car with a child seat. Taxis in New York City do not have or require children to be in car seats – it’s not safe, don’t do it!
Where to stay in NYC with kids
If you want to stay around the middle of Manhattan in a hotel, the Homewood Suites by Hilton New York Midtown Manhattan Times Square-South is a bit bigger than most hotels and has a kitchen!
Times Square is where lots of travelers like to stay because it’s walking distance to Central Park and 5th avenue, but it’s also extremely busy and full of people, day and night.
For a quieter stay, I’d suggest Chelsea, Tribeca, Brooklyn, the Financial District or the Upper East or Upper West Sides.
Our favorite place to stay in New York City is the INNSide by Melia in NOMAD. You will need to get interconnecting rooms however, which our girls LOVED! Read our full review of the INNside by Melia NYC here.
Click here for more ideas on where to stay in New York or scroll through the list below
Tours in New York City
Check out some of the most popular tours of New York City.
New York City Videos
Click play on the Video playlist below to see more of New York City in our videos.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in New York City with Kids
So, there you have it, those are the best free things to do in NYC with kids (or at least, very cheap). We hope this guide gave you some inspiration about what to add to your itinerary and helped you plan your trip.
Before you go, I have one final budget-saving tip for families. Check out the NYC Sightseeing Passes.
This will help you save money on those iconic, albeit expensive, attractions, such as the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock Observation Deck, One World Observatory and One World Trade Center.
Each attraction is over $40, but if you have the Sightseeing Pass, they are all included, and you can skip the line.
Do you have any tips on things to do in New York City with kids? Let us know in the comments.