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10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families

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New York City has a reputation for being super expensive but did you know there are dozens of free family friendly activities throughout the city? As a New Yorker and a mom, I know the place to go to keep kids content on the cheap. Check out these ten best free New York City activities for families planning a trip to the Big Apple.

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families - The HighLine

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families – The HighLine (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

1. Escape the traffic and explore NYC from above at The High Line.

The High Line has quickly become one of the best free NYC attractions for visitors of all ages. The open air pedestrian park spans from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues with elevator and stairs entrances throughout. During summer, there are several drop-in High Line Kids programs like Artsy Hours (Saturdays), Lawn Time (Thursday mornings), and Wild Wednesdays (featuring live critters). In addition, mini architects can create their own constructions with the High Line's Workyard kit featuring wood, wheels, ropes and gears and pulleys.

2. Play at the best New York City playgrounds.

New York City’s playgrounds are among the best in the world. From interactive water features to unique climbing structures, famed statues and swings with a view, the city offers hundreds of free public playgrounds. Some of my favorites include: Hippo Playground on the Upper West Side, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park near Battery Park City, Brooklyn Bridge Park (playgrounds, courts and more with amazing Manhattan views), Union Square Playground, and the flagship Imagination Playground near South Street Seaport.

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families - Union Square Playground is one of New York City's numerous playgrounds worth exploring

Union Square Playground is one of New York City's numerous playgrounds worth exploring (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

3. Watch free movies under the stars.

Manhattan may not have drive-in movies but we do have great options for movies under the stars. The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival is very well known but families can also check out some other kid friendly options like Coney Island Flicks on the Beach and Hudson RiverFlicks in the West Village.

4. Check out NYC's famous Central Park.

Central Park is Manhattan’s “backyard” making it one of the best spots for a family visit. After hours of sightseeing, little (and big) feet need to rest so pack a picnic and head over. Families can explore 843 acres of lawn, gardens, fountains, ponds, playgrounds (try the Ancient Playground near the Met), sculptures and gigantic rocks begging to be climbed. Bring your sneakers and outdoor toys (think kites, frisbees and balls). Other free New York City family friendly activities include a zoo, carousel, puppet theater, ice rink and amusement park (fees apply).

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families - Central Park offers many free and fabulous options for families visiting New York City

Central Park offers many free and fabulous options for families visiting New York City (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

5. Enjoy free New York City entertainment options for the whole family.

From street performers to the CityParks PuppetMobile, New York City features a variety of free entertainment options for families. Kids can watch juggling and Broadway performances in Bryant Park, attend PopFit classes, concerts and Story Time Yoga in Union Square, and take gardening and art classes in Madison Square.

6. Explore NYC museums for free.

Museums are a great option for family vacations, especially on hot or rainy days. Several New York City museums offer free admission year-round like the National Museum of the American Indian near Battery Park, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America. Other museums offer free admission on certain days like the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (free the First Friday of every month) and MoMA (free on Friday between 4-8pm and kids under 16 are always free). In addition, it's not widely advertised but some museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art (kids under 12 are always free) and the American Museum of Natural History have “suggested” pricing which means you can pay what you want.

7. Take your little artists to the Museum of Modern Art.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) charges a pretty penny for adults ($25 each!) but their weekend Family Gallery Talks are completely complimentary for two adults and up to three kids. Tickets are distributed at 10 am on a first-come, first-served basis for the Tours For Fours and A Closer Look for Kids (ages 5-10) programming while The Tours for Teens (ages 11-14) program requires advance reservations. Families are free to explore the museum afterwards making this is a great option for art-loving families.

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families - The Staten Island Ferry offers free sea views of the Statue of Liberty

The Staten Island Ferry offers free sea views of the Statue of Liberty (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

8. Step aboard the famed Staten Island Ferry.

Since New York City is an island, one of the best ways to take it all in is by sea. If you don’t want to shell out big bucks for a sightseeing cruise, check out the free Staten Island Ferry. The ferry offers daily rides between NYC’s southern tip and Staten Island's St. George Ferry Terminal. Families will love seeing the downtown sights and Statue of Liberty views on this breezy ride. Bring your camera and avoid rush hour crowds (morning and evening).

9. Hit the beach for seaside family fun.

If you’re looking to score some free family beach time, head to nearby Coney Island. When you’re done, check out the famed boardwalk which is full of restaurants and amusement rides. In the summer, there are free fireworks every Friday and free outdoor movies on Mondays.

10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families - Hit up the beach and other fun on Coney Island

Hit up the beach and other fun on Coney Island (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

10. Get everyone moving and grooving with free music performances.

Kids love to dance and there are free music performances for all tastes in New York City. My favorite options for kids are the Madison Square Kids Concerts, Summer in the SquareSummerStage Kids and Sunset on the Hudson.

With so many free New York City activities and things to see, your family might complain of tired feet but they certainly won’t complain of boredom!

Do you know of any other fabulous free New York City activities for kids and families? Want to share more free NYC attractions? Let us know in the comments below!

About Lyla Gleason, The Globetrotting Travel Mama

Long before the glamorous world of marriage, motherhood and travel blogging, Lyla Gleason had an exciting career as a travel publicist representing hotels and destinations across the globe. She spent her childhood on Long Island and then attended college and grad school in Boston and lived abroad in Rome. Some of her favorite vacation spots include the Caribbean, India and Turkey. She is currently a downtown NYC mom who can be found chasing after her daughter, cooking dinner, mingling at blogger events, and exploring near and far with a camera in hand. She is the author of, a lifestyle blog dedicated to travel, family fun and fabulous finds. Connect with Lyla on Twitter at @travelmommy.

  1. James Lowell says

    Love it, We are hoping to go to NYC soon. We tried to go a few years ago but stuff came up. Now we have a Family Travel Blog and want to go to NYC. Great site. 🙂 Hope mine can one day get as much attention as yours 🙂

  2. I wish we’d had more time to visit the High Line when we were in NYC last summer. I keep hearing good things about it! Definitely pinning this post.

  3. My family and I are due for a return trip to NYC! Thanks for tips.

  4. I just walked the High Line for the first time last week and I’ll definitely bring my daughter the next time we are in the city. Thanks for the great playground suggestions too!

    • Lyla G - Globetrotting Mommy says

      Glad you liked the playground suggestions! Your daughter would love the High Line and there are lots of fun things she would like at Chelsea Market too.

  5. myra naseem says

    Great to know about all these options. Fun to see and do even without a child. Wonderful options.
    I very much enjoyed walking high line and seeing all the action below.

    • Lyla G - Globetrotting Mommy says

      The High Line is great for visitors of all ages! Next time you come we’ll walk the whole thing. Get ready!!

  6. Lyla G - Globetrotting Mommy says

    Thanks Ellen. New York can definitely be overwhelming but I hope these suggestions come in useful on your next visit.

  7. Ellen Lanin says

    Knowledge, such as the information you provided, is essential to making the best of a major city. I found your recommendations made me take notes so I can feel more confident when I visit NYC.

  8. Stephen Mueller says

    Thanks for the amazing recommendations! Lovely photos too! Glad to know that your daughter and you had a great time.
    How I love the 1st one! Since the roads there are pretty crowded, take a look from above sounds like a fantastic way to relax and enjoy the city’s view. And I love the free options too.

    • Lyla G - Globetrotting Mommy says

      So glad you liked my recommendations! The Highline is always a big hit with visitors. There are so many great restaurants and museums along the way you could make a day of it.

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