Free activities for a family in New York City.

New York City is an exciting, but very expensive, destination for families. It is one of the most expensive cities in the world. In an effort to help you save money, we have compiled a list of free, family friendly activities that both kids and adults will enjoy.

The city offers residents, tourists, and visitors a wealth of interesting venues, sights, shops, and restaurants. Fortunately, visiting the city doesn't have to break the bank. New York City boasts numerous free (or very affordable) family-friendly activities that kids as well as their parents can adore. These free activities are fantastic options for families looking to see New York City in a fun, affordable way.

1. Get a bird's eye view at the High Line. This unique west Manhattan outdoor space is a fantastic way to enjoy the city's skyline as well as be able to find the beauty of nature and exquisite artwork while still being in the city itself. Each portion of the historic railroad trestle has been transformed into gorgeous public gardens boasting numerous flowers, shrubs, grasses, and trees.

Several gorgeous passages, which are free to use and open to the public, overlook feature stunning views of iconic New York City venues as well as interesting sculptures and paintings. Little ones will love strolling through the Chelsea Thicket pathway surrounded by majestic roses, vibrant holly, and bright dogwoods. The Pershing Square Beams allow children the opportunity to play safely within the original framework of the trestle.




The High Line offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities and great spots for kids to hang out and enjoy nature. In the warm weather, guests are invited to lounge around on the Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck and cool their toes in the inviting water feature. The fall brings the exciting, yet free, Haunted High Line festival featuring face painting, photo booths, dancing, music, and spooky activities. Each month, families can enjoy being a part of the Make It! festival, which includes themed arts, crafts, stories, and music to spark imaginations. Downloadable family activity guides for the Chelsea Grasslands and the Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck are available online, making exploring even more fun.





2. Volunteer - While this is great for residents to do, visitors can also give back as wel by volunteering at a church or charity for an afternoon. As many organizations encourage tourists to donate and give back to places they visit. Whether you live in NYC or are visiting, is free to do, great for developing and setting an example for kids, and it helps struggling families too. One place to donate too, that always needs volunteers, is the Salvation Army in New York City.

3. Enjoy a wild and free Wednesday at the Bronx Zoo. Wednesday means free general admission to the Bronx Zoo. 265-acres of furry, scaly, feathered, all-around fantastic wildlife awaits your family at this incredible zoo. Curious kiddos (as well as adults as well!) will love spending the day with an impressive variety of animals, from mighty lions to gentle gorillas to playful sea lions. Keep in mind that general admission tickets do not cover extra attractions--JungleWorld, 4-D Theater, Bug Carousel, Congo Gorilla Forest, Butterfly Garden, Wild Asia Monorail, and the Zoo Shuttle will cost an additional $6 per person. Since admission is free to the public on Wednesdays, the zoo appreciates donations of all sizes--even a small donation can help the zoo continue to provide exceptional care for its animals and a positive experience for guests.

4. Relax for free under the stars (and twinkling city lights) with outdoor movie nights. After a long and often exhausting day spent running around this very expensive city, little ones will definitely need a break. Relax with your family at a delightful outdoor movie. The city of New York hosts a wide variety of outdoor movie nights throughout the summer, all of which are free to anyone who wants to watch

The movies are located at numerous different parks and piers, finding the perfect spot is simple. Riverside Park, Fort Greene's Habana Outpost, and Randall's Island Park are just a few of the places to catch a fun family flick under the stars. Sometimes their may be showing in Central Park as well. Bring a big blanket and pack a tasty picnic to make the most of the experience.

5. Run, jump, and slide at fantastically fun playgrounds. In a city where many people live in apartment buildings and big tall skyscrapers, and most kids don't have a backyard, playgrounds have become incredibly important. New York City is home to numerous unique and innovative play areas for kids of all ages.There are several places for kids of all income levels to go play. They include:

  • The stellar 45-foot granite slide of the beloved Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park is simply breathtaking.
  • The Queens Playground for All Children boasts a 12-foot long suspension bridge that will have kids imagining they're crossing a giant canyon.
  • The Tom Otterness playground combines art and fun with a whimsical play area crafted from a giant sculpture of a charming person.
  • The city also offers many splash parks complete with sprinklers, water slides, and water guns for those hot summer days.

6. See the heart of the city at Madison Square Park. This urban park boasts seven acres of gorgeous gardens, a variety of entertaining street performers and stunning artwork. Innovative works of art that highlight a variety of mediums can be found throughout the park, and beautifully tended plants, shrubs, and trees make the park an inspiring place to visit. The Madison Square Kids Series sponsors numerous events throughout the year for children and their families. Kids can enjoy art activities, scavenger hunts, live music, storytelling, and face painting, among other festivities.

7. Travel back in time at The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. Take the kids on a magical escape to medieval Europe at The Cloisters, which is free and does not require any admission tickets. This part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is tucked away in pretty Fort Tryon Park, which overlooks the Hudson River. The Cloisters is specifically dedicated to the breathtaking and historical art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe.




Children's imaginations will soar as they stroll through the quiet cloisters and take in the beautiful blooms along the whimsical garden paths. They're sure to love the mystical Unicorn Tapestries located in Gallery 17. Although adults do have to pay an admission fee, kids under 12 are always free (adults who are New York residents enjoy a "suggested" admission fee).

8. Catch fireworks at Coney Island. Between rides and snacks, a trip to Coney Island can get quite expensive. There is one part of the experience that families can enjoy for free, however--the awesome fireworks display. The infamous boardwalk is home to a delightful fireworks show that runs every Friday night from late June through Labor Day. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and the little ones will be dazzled.

9. Take the free Staten Island Ferry. It launches every 30 minutes from the tip of Manhattan. The ferry crosses the Hudson River and Bay to Staten Island, where it disembarks all of the passengers. But then you and your family get right back on the return ride right back to Manhattan. The ferry is free to use and it provides a great way to view the waterfront as well as skyline of NYC from the water. You also pass right by the Statue of Liberty! The Staten Island Ferry may provide families one of the most scenic, free views in the entire city.

10. Play the day away on Governors Island. This island getaway is only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan. The 172-acres that make up Governors Island are chock full of family fun. The island is home to Slide Hill, which boasts the longest slide in New York City. When kids reach the top of this 57-foot slide, they are able to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty before enjoying a thrilling ride to the bottom. They'll also enjoy playgrounds, fountains, hammocks, and a special play area where they can build with recycled items. The fee to take the ferry to Governors Island is $2 for adults, and children 13 and under are free.

11. Embrace technology at the Museum of the Moving Image. Families can enjoy a free visit to this fantastic museum on Friday evenings from 4-8 p.m. Museum of the Moving Image is an interactive fun zone with a variety of exhibits based on the history and technology of the moving image. Find out how simple 19th-century optical toys evolved into the beloved television shows, movies, and video games of today. Highly interactive exhibits will engage kids and parents alike. Don't miss the Jim Henson exhibit, which showcases over 40 beloved Muppets.

12. Stroll through Central Park. This gorgeous, 843-acre park is an incredible escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Families can spend an entire day taking in the sights and sounds of the park, from the charming English blooms in the Shakespeare Garden to the cascading waterfall in The Loch. They can also get some peace and quiet, as well as fresh air, which is always beneficial when in NYC.





Stroll by the Conservatory Water to catch model boats floating along in the pond (boats are available for rental so kids can join in on the fun). Don't miss a fantastic photo opportunity at the Alice in Wonderland statue and have a family chess tournament at the Chess & Checkers House. Climb to the top of Belvedere Castle for an awesome view of the park and wrap up the day with a picnic on the Great Lawn.

Whether you live there or visit, New York City is a place unlike any other. The sights, sounds, and wonders are fascinating to children of all ages. A trip to the city is feasible for any family, even those with a tight budge and that have a low income--it just takes some careful planning. These 10 venues and activities are a fantastic way to see the city and enjoy what it has to offer without spending big bucks.


By Jon McNamara

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