Best Free Things to Do in New York City with Kids in All 5 Boroughs

Judy Antell Avatar

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Have lunch at a gorgeous NYC park. Photo credit: Mary Moore

Visitors to New York City are often scared by high prices. But so much of the city can be enjoyed for free. You just have to where – and when – to look. You won’t feel like you are missing out. But you will feel like a New York insider.

This list breaks down the free things to do in the five boroughs and gives you special seasonal options. There is fun stuff to do in NYC with kids and their adults throughout the city. if you don’t have friends with an extra room, check out our 21 favorite NYC hotels for families. There are budget hotel options along with choices for large families.

Best Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids: Manhattan

Free things to do in NYC - visit the New York Public Library.
Free things to do in NYC – visit the New York Public Library. Photo credit: Pixabay

1. Go to the Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library, at 476 5th Avenue in midtown, has free exhibits on the main floor. The lions guarding the entrance, Patience and Fortitude, are attractions all on their own.

I remember climbing these lions as a kid and my young daughters had fun climbing on them too.

2. Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Yep. It’s free. AND the best way to get a great close-up view of the Statue of Liberty. Catch it from Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan. The ferry is also a free ride to great shopping — the terminal on Staten Island is next door to NYC’s first outlet mall, Empire Outlets.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The ferry is used by commuters and tourists, so steer clear of rush hour. 

3. Go to Church

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at 5th Avenue and 51st Street in midtown, is always free and open to the public. You can take a guided tour, with a $5 suggested donation.

Photo credit: Luciano Mortula – LGM / Shutterstock

4. Take in Times Square

Times Square is the place for people watching, even in a city where there are always people worth watching. Sit on the huge red staircase that anchors the discount TKTS Broadway ticket booth, see the giant billboards and watch the world — and weirdness — pass by.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Broadway shows aren’t free, of course, but these tips will help you score cheap Broadway tickets. And here is advice on what to wear to a Broadway show.

5. Admire the Art

The Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Avenue is free for ages 19 and under. And the $20 admission for adults is suggested (if you buy tickets at the door). The museum explores the city through art and history.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The 1920’s dollhouses should not be missed.

Read More: Fly into Newark for Cheap and Get to NYC in Less than 1 Hour for !

6. Dig the Dinos

The American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West & 79th Street has dinosaurs, a giant blue whale overlooking ocean exhibits, meteorites, fossils and more. Admission to permanent exhibits is by a suggested amount for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents.

SheBuysTravel Tip: In cold or rainy weather, you can enter the museum right from the 81st St. subway stop on the B or C. No need to go outside. And the subway tiles reflect what you see in the museum!

free in NYC
Little Island, as seen from the Hudson River Greenway. Photo credit: Judy Antell

7. Island Hop

Little Island has free arts programming for families daily. There is an art cart for DIY crafts, workshops and performances. The unique park, part of Hudson River Park, between 13th and 14th Streets, is built on the remains of the former Pier 54.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a great place to catch the sunset.

8. Shop an Upscale Mall, NYC Style

Brookfield Place, an upscale shopping and food mall at 230 Vesey St. in lower Manhattan, has year-round indoor and outdoor programming. There are concerts, fitness classes and exhibits. And it’s all indoors, which makes it a destination during the cold weather and on rainy days.

9. Go Green

The Union Square Greenmarket at East 17th Street &, Union Square West is the largest NYC farmers market. It runs year-round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Many stalls offer free samples and musicians often perform at the perimeter.

SheBuysTravel Tip: There is also a huge playground in Union Square, so make a day of it.

10. Go Back in Time

Cobblestone streets and historic brick buildings at South Street Seaport. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Wander the South Street Seaport’s Historic District. The lively cobblestone area is great for strolling (though not so much for pushing strollers!). The South Street Seaport Museum is pay-what-you-wish (and you can pay nothing) for its three exhibits plus the 1885 tall ship Wavertree.

11. Swing in Lower Manhattan

Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City has great playgrounds, including a “Big Swing” park for older kids. You can borrow games and sports equipment from May through October.

12. Art at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd St., is free on the first Friday evening of the month for NYC residents. But anyone 16 or under always gets in free. My kids always liked the architecture and design galleries, where there is a helicopter, a car and ordinary objects like silverware and furniture.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Pick up a “Hey Kids!” activity guide on Floor 1 for movement, writing and drawing activities to do in front of artworks at the Museum.

Looking up through The Vessel. Photo credit: Judy Antell

13. The Vessel

Climbing the 154 flights of stairs at The Vessel, 20 Hudson Yards is temporarily closed. But the base is open and you can take photos looking up and out. Hudson Yards includes an upscale mall and Spanish food court. Visiting NYC during the holidays? Don’t miss the awesome light display.

14. Gallery Hop

Art galleries in Chelsea, the Meatpacking District and Soho are all open to the public. Yes, the artwork is for sale, but these are like mini art museums, often focusing on a single artist. Be sure to sign in and pick up an information sheet. My family’s favorites include the Dia Art Foundation, SVA Chelsea Gallery and Blank Space.

15. Get Hands-On

The National Museum of American Indian, 1 Bowling Green, is part of the Smithsonian Institute. It has a hands-on activity center, imagiNATIONS Activity Center, where you can explore scientific principles behind Native innovations.

Walking north on The High Line. Photo credit: Judy Antell

16. Walk the High Line

The High Line, a 1.5-mile elevated park, has public art throughout its span. The High Line runs from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards. There are places to sit, lounge, splash in the water and people watch. There are also free family programs.

My friend’s son was upset to learn that he couldn’t run, throw a ball or play on the High Line. But another child we brought was fascinated by the elevated view of the cars below.

17. Be Quiet

The Conservatory Garden, a six-acre formal garden in Central Park, is an officially designated Quiet Zone. Bring teens to admire the greenery and exercise decorum. The main entrance is through the Vanderbilt Gate, on Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets.

Want more gardens? Look for the rooftop gardens from the Top of the Rock observation deck. Seeing them is one of NYC’s hidden gems.

18. See the Money at the Federal Reserve

The NY Federal Reserve, 33 Liberty St., offers guided tours Monday through Friday, 1 pm and 2 pm by reservation only. Reserve free tours up to 30 days in advance.

19. Get in Free on Saturdays

The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Ave., doesn’t charge admission on Saturdays and select Jewish holidays. Note that only permanent exhibits are open; the hands-on children’s exhibition and the excellent Kosher restaurant are closed on the free days. Children 18 and under are always free.

Guggenheim Museum
The famous Guggenheim Museum is “pay what you wish” on Saturdays Add it to your free things to do in NYC with kids list. Photo credit: Pixabay

20. Pay What You Wish at the Guggenheim

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave., is particularly appealing to kids because of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building with the spiral rotunda. Look for the Picassos. Pay what you wish, Saturdays from 5–8 p.m.

21. Never Forget

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, 180 Greenwich St., has a free outdoor memorial, although you have to pay to get into the museum. The memorial, on the site of the World Trade Center, has deep waterfalls and reflecting pools. The names of all the victims of the terrorist attacks of February 26, 1993, and September 11, 2001, are inscribed.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Let kids know what they will see before you go. It may not be a ‘fun’ experience, but it is important to see.

22. Have A Grand Time at Grand Central

Grand Central Terminal has a zodiac ceiling with constellations painted in gold leaf. You can visit any time, although we don’t recommend going at rush hour. The indoor location is particularly welcome in winter. There is also a whispering gallery downstairs. The New York Transit Museum has a great train display around the holidays.

Read More: Fun Free Things to Do with Kids at Grand Central Terminal

Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids in Summer: Manhattan

Bring a book or just relax in a hammock on Governors Island. Photo credit: Judy Antell

23. Visit Governor’s Island

Governors Island, an island paradise between Manhattan and Brooklyn, has ferry service daily year round. Weekend ferries from Manhattan are free at 10 am, 11 am and 11:30 am and free from Brooklyn at 11 am and 11:30 am. Return trips are free.

There’s plenty to do on the island. You can bring bikes for free (and enjoy car-free biking), picnic, hang out in a hammock or hit the adventure playground, play:groundNYC. Ride down giant slides, take out a kayak for free or take a free walking tour.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a safe place to cycle without cars. And kids love the idea of being able to bike the ENTIRE (2.5 mile) island.

24. Watch Shakespeare in the Park

Every summer, The Public Theater has two productions at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. People line up early to be guaranteed tickets. There is also an online lottery and last minute tickets just before showtime.

Note: the theater is undergoing renovations and will reopen in 2025.

25. Go Fish

The Catch and Release fishing program at the Harlem Meer includes free instruction, poles and bait. This activity is geared toward children ages 5 and up.

26. Kayak at Pier 26

May through October, you can kayak for free on the Hudson River. If you have a big family, note that you can only take one child per boat.

27. Catch a Movie

On Monday nights, June through August, bring a blanket and a picnic to Bryant Park and watch a movie. Some movies are not quite family friendly, though young children might fall asleep before the main event.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Arrive early!!

28. Listen to Some Tunes

Get street cred with your teens by taking them to SummerStage. The outdoor music festival at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park has big name artists they will know, and you may not. Most performances are free, with the exception of a few benefit concerts.

29. Free Movies and Popcorn

Hudson River Park, on the west side of Manhattan, has free family movies with free popcorn. Riverflicks is on Friday nights at Pier 46 in July and August.

30. Go Swimming

Outdoor swimming pools around the city offer a free way to cool off in the heat of summer. Don’t expect many amenities, but pools are clean and lifeguards are attentive.

SheBuysTravel Tip: There are outdoor pools in all five boroughs — important to know since NYC hotels often don’t have swimming pools.

Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids in Winter: Manhattan

There are free things to do in NYC all year round
The free ice skating rink at Bryant Park. Photo credit: Judy Antell

31. Ice Ice Baby

An outdoor skating rink pops up every fall and winter in Bryant Park. Free ice skating does not include rentals, but you can bring your own skates. Ice Rink at The Seaport also offers free skating, with a fee for rentals.

32. Have Holiday Fun

Get in the holiday spirit at the Bryant Park Holiday Market. The shops open in late October and close in early January. If you visit in November, check out our tips for viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

33. Warm Up to the Holidays

The Union Square Holiday Market has a warming station where you can – you guessed it – warm up. There is also live music. This market closes Christmas Eve.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check out these other free things to do in NYC in the winter.

Best Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids: Brooklyn

Free things to do and see in NYC
A typical day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo credit: Judy Antell

34. Stop and Smell the Flowers: Free Things to Do in Brooklyn with Kids

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 990 Washington Ave., is pay what you wish Tuesday–Friday, December–February. It is also free at all times for children under 12. In winter, visit the indoor desert and tropical rainforest in the Conservatory. My girls loved the discovery garden, where they could pump water, touch and smell herbs and see butterflies.

Coney Island, one of the things to do for free in NYC
Have you been to Coney Island, Brooklyn? Photo credit: Judy Antell

35. Spend the Night at the Beach

Coney Island Flicks on the Beach shows movies every other Monday at 12th Street Beach in July and August. Bring blankets or chairs and a light jacket in case of cool ocean breezes.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Coney Island also has rides and an aquarium, which cost money. If you are resolved not to spend, get to the beach close to movie time so that becomes the main (or only) attraction.

Read More: Best Beaches Near NYC for Families

36. Party at the Museum

First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, is a big party on the first Saturday each month, 5-11 pm. Though there are activities geared towards all ages, crowds and the hour make it best for tweens and teens.

37. Paddle the River

There is free kayaking at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 2. From June to August, paddle for free. Beginners are given basic instruction.

Enjoy free concerts, dance and movies at Celebrate Brooklyn. Photo credit: Judy Antell

38. Celebrate Summer

Celebrate Brooklyn, at the Bandshell in Prospect Park, has dozens of free music, movies and dance performances every summer. There is also a family-friendly afternoon event each season. You are asked to donate but don’t have to give anything to get in.

SheBuysTravel Tip: There is a huge playground just steps from the stage.

39. Watch Movies with a View

This movie series in Brooklyn Bridge Park has a DJ set followed by a movie. Thursday nights, July and August.

40. Stretch Outdoors

Prospect Park has free yoga on Thursday evenings, June through August. Bring your own mat to the Long Meadow. This is a fun way to exercise with your kids.

41. Naval Cemetery events

The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative at the Naval Cemetery Landscape, 63 Williamsburg St. West, has bird and ecology walks on Saturdays and story times for kids in July and August.

42. Industrious Children

Industry City, in Sunset Park, has kids’ movies weekly. The Saturday Cinema Club in the Factory Floor, produced with Rooftop Films, also offers a hands-on craft activity.

43. Open Air Shows

The Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island, a covered outdoor music venue, has some free concerts (along with ticketed) all summer.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The free shows are at the other end of the boardwalk, away from the amusement parks, but the parks may lure you in and they definitely are not free.

One of dozens free things to do in NYC
Green-wood Cemetery, on the National Registry of Historic Place. Photo credit: Judy Antell

44. Read the Headstones

Green-Wood Cemetery was one of the top tourist attractions in the United States in the 1800s and is still a popular field trip for Brooklyn school children. There is nothing scary about the lush grounds and killer NYC skyline views. You can find gravestones of many famous people. Pick up a self-guided tour brochure at the main entrance. Green-Wood Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places. 500 25th Street.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Challenge the kids to look for the resident green parrots here.

45. Play Old Fashioned Games

Lefferts Historic House, 452 Flatbush Ave., is a children’s history museum. The popular Brooklyn spot has old fashioned games, period rooms and a working garden. Be aware that it is within sight of the carousel, so you may have to pony up for a spin.

46. A Birdhouse Grows in Brooklyn

The Audubon Center at the Boathouse in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, has hands-on exhibits. It also loans free Discovery Packs to families, with binoculars, magnifying glasses and games.

47. Watch Movies Under the Stars

Prospect Park, Brooklyn has free movies on Wednesday nights. There is music first, then a family friendly movie.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Evenings here, even in summer, can be quite cool. Bring a jacket.

Best Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids: The Bronx

48. Smell the Flowers

Wave Hill, a lush public garden in The Bronx at 675 W 252nd St., has free admission on Thursdays. Free shuttle buses run from the 1 train and MetroNorth Thursdays through Sundays. This was one of our favorite destinations when our kids were little. They collected bits of bark and leaves from the ground and loved to roll down the grassy hills.

49. Free for All

The Bronx Museum of the Arts, a contemporary art museum at 1040 Grand Concourse, reflects its diverse community. It offers walking tours of The Grand Concourse, teen nights and family programs on Saturdays, all free.

The Best Free Things to Do in NYC: Queens

Socrates Sculpture Park. Photo credit: Judy Antell

50. Stroll Among the Art

Socrates Sculpture Park, in Long Island City, Queens, has outdoor public art. The park is open daily, and also offers performances, festivals and nighttime movies on Wednesdays in summer.

51. The Place to Bee

The Queens Botanical Garden has free admission  Wednesdays from 3 to 6pm and Sundays from 9 to 11am. It is also free from December 16 through March. There is a pollinator garden, an herb garden and a meadow with perennials.

The Best Free Things to Do in NYC with Kids: Staten Island

52. Bring the Dog

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, 1000 Richmond Terrace, is free, but there is a fee for the Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the art museum. And it’s dog-friendly! Be sure to check out the Florentine Tuscan Garden and the Woodland Healing Garden.If your child was a fan of the Frances Hodgson Burnett book The Secret Garden, visit the magical walled Connie Gretz Secret Garden

53. Check out a New Place to Play

Freshkills Park is a new public park in Staten Island that is opening in sections. It has free kayaking tours and family nature walks. There is also a Greenway where you can walk or cycle.

Read More: How to See the Best of NYC in Just 3 Days

Judy Antell Avatar
Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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