10 Best Free New York City Activities for Families

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)

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1. 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, gears, and pulleys.

2. Play at 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.

Favorite New York City Playgrounds for Kids

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 in Coney Island and 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 lawns, gardens, fountains, ponds, sculptures, and gigantic rocks begging to be climbed. The Ancient Playground near the Met is not to be missed. Bring your sneakers and outdoor toys like kites, frisbees, and balls.

Other 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. There are also PopFit classes, free concerts, and Story Time Yoga in Union Square. Look for gardening and art classes in Madison Square, too.

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. Great options include 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. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is free on the First Friday of every month. MoMA is free in the early evening on Fridays and there’s never a charge for kids under age 16.

In addition, it’s not widely advertised, but some museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History have “suggested” pricing, which means you can pay what you want (or not).

7. Take young artists to the Museum of Modern Art.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) charges a pretty penny for adults, but their weekend Family Gallery Talks are completely complimentary for two adults and up to three kids. Families are free to explore the museum afterward, making this a great option for art-loving families.

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. Meanwhile, the Tours for Teens (ages 11-14) program requires advance reservations.

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. Set sail on the 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. On this breezy ride, families will love seeing the downtown sights and views of the Statue of Liberty. Bring your camera and avoid rush hour crowds (mornings and evenings).

9. Hit the beach in Coney Island.

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. Listen to free music performances.

Look for free music performances for all tastes in New York City. My favorite options for kids are Summer in the Square in Union Square and concerts at Hudson River Park.

11 Cool Things to Experience at MoMath in New York City.
MoMath Museum in New York City

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!

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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!

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  1. 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. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.