8 Free (or cheap) things to do in NYC with Kids

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Looking for tips on things to do in NYC with kids?

New York is not a city you’d usually associate with being a holiday destination for young children.

When I moved to the city, four months pregnant, I was similarly unsure of whether having and raising a kid in a busy place like New York City was a good idea.

It came as a happy surprise to discover how an entirely different side of the city opened up to its smallest residents and tiny visitors alike.

The once big bad New York City is now home to many young families, which has made it a wonderful destination to travel to with kids of any age.

I’ve put together some tips to help you get around town, gathered from the adventures my daughter and I had while living in NYC. Check out this post on 13 magical things to do in New York at Christmas with kids.

8 Free (or cheap) 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.

1. Governor’s Island

Things to do in New York City with kids

This peaceful oasis 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. Museums and Galleries for kids in New York City

Things to do in New York City with kids

Some of the museums in New York, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have a “suggested donation” for entry, but you can actually pay anything you like.

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.

Things to do in New York City with kids

3. New York Playgrounds for kids

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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. The High Line

The High Line - Things to do in New York City with kids
The High Line – Things to do in New York City with kids

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 activities for kids.

5. Staten Island Ferry

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?

6. Central Park

Central park Zoo - Things to do in New York City with kids

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.

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.

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For $15/hour you can hire a row boat for the whole family. My daughter enjoys climbing the rocks for hours at a time or kicking a ball around the Sheep’s Meadow.

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7. Brooklyn Bridge

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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.

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8. Coney Island

Catch a train for some swimming and people watching.

For additional fun, ride the roller coasters at the Luna Park in Coney Island, visit the New York Aquarium (it was partially destroyed during Hurricane Sandy so is in the process of being renovated) and grab a slice of what is often called the best pizza in New York at Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana.

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Kid-focused attractions in NYC

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You can take kids to any attraction in NYC and they will be welcomed.

If you want to take the kids to places that are specifically geared towards them, however, try this list:

  • Children’s Museum of Manhattan
  • Children’s Museum of the Arts
  • Central Park Zoo with its Tisch Children’s Zoo
  • Bronx Zoo (they have a newly refurbished Children’s Zoo)
  • Brooklyn Children’s Museum
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Sony Wonder Technology Lab
  • New York Hall of Science
  • 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).
You can save money on your museum and city attractions with an NYC Museum Pass or NYC City pass booklet 

What to wear in NY

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.

Read More – 11 Ways to Enjoy a New York Summer

Where to eat in NYC with kids

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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).

Read More – Number 1 Tip for Eating Out With Kids

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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.

NYC travel Video Playlist:

Getting around NYC with kids

Use the subway.

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!

An excellent resource to engage you kids in their trip to New York City is the Leap & Hop New York travel book They are my favourite kid’s books filled with quizzes, guides, and ways for your kids to engage and interact with their experiences in New York. Kalyra loves it – Caz editors note

Where to stay in NYC with kids

I prefer to stay in a sublet (or you can try an AirBnB) so we have a kitchen and separate bedrooms.

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.

For more information on where to stay in New York with kids, check our partner Booking.com. Choose from the largest range of accommodation with free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.

Plan Your Trip to New York City

We’ve been traveling 20 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners. If you book through these links, we do receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Booking accommodation in NYC

  • Booking.com has 626 properties in NYC from hotels to apartments and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Book flights to NYC

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Tours in New York City

Do you have any tips on things to do in New York City with kids? Share in the comments.

7 thoughts on “8 Free (or cheap) things to do in NYC with Kids”

  1. Great list. thanks. We are visiting NYC in a few weeks and I look forward to doing the Staten Ferry, Brooklyn Bridge, and Central Park. I love that you can do all of these for free. Thanks for a great list.

  2. Great article! We took a three-generation trip to NYC when my grandson was 10, and Coney Island was on his list of favorites too. He also loved the South Street Seaport and the ships.

  3. CONEY ISLAND AND SARABETH IS NOT CHEAP . SARABETH IN MY OPINION IS OVERPRICED FOR THEIR QUALITY OF FOOD. FOR CONEY ISLAND YOU SHOULD BE MORE DETAILED IT IS FREE TO OBSERVE , FRIDAY NIGHT FIRE WORKS AND TYPICALLY DAILY RATE PER RIDE BCAUSE $40 IS NOT CHEAP NOR FREE. WEDNESDAYS ALL NYC MUSEUMS AND AQUARIUMS ARE FREE . CONEY ISLAND AQARIUM IS ABOUT $13 AN ADULT SO THAT IS LESS EXPENSIVE THAN THE AMUSEMENT PARK ITSELF.

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