Free Things to Do in NYC for Families

Mother with daughter and son rowing on a small boat on a summer day at the central Park lake.
Guillermo Murcia/Getty Images

New York City has a wealth of fun things to do that don't cost a thing -- you just have to know where to look. If you're traveling with children, check out this list of free things to do around the city and see how many family-friendly free activities New York City has to offer.

01 of 07

Central Park

Sheep Meadow at Central Park
Ingfbruno/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0
Center Drive, New York, NY 10019, USA
Phone +1 212-794-4064

Central Park is something many travelers find surprising, yet wonderful -- many folks say it's their favorite thing in New York City. The enormous park offers visitors (& locals) a contrast to and escape from the bustling city that surrounds it. If your kids need to burn off steam (particularly after visiting the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art or American Museum of Natural History), head to Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn, with wide expanses perfect for running free (or having a picnic!). Kids are also sure to enjoy a visit to Belvedere Castle, catch-and-release fishing or spending some time at one of the park's 21 wonderful playgrounds. There are also a number of inexpensive activities that kids enjoy: renting model boats to sail in the Conservancy Water, taking a spin on the Central Park Carousel or rowing a boat across the Lake.

02 of 07

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal main Lobby
Sracer357/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0
89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, USA
Phone +1 212-340-2583

If your kids (or their parents) like trains or architecture, Grand Central is a great stop to add to your itinerary. Take your kids to the whisper gallery outside of the Oyster Bar and they can experience some of the building's interesting architectural "secrets" first hand. Grand Central is also a wonderful place for people-watching, but avoid rush hours if you want to make it easier to keep an eye on your children.

03 of 07

Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry, which takes 25 minutes one way to travel between Battery Park in Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island, is probably the greatest bargain in New York City, as it offers some of the best views of the harbor and the world-famous skyline, for free. Each of the distinctive double-ended ferries carries a name. This particular one, heading for Staten Island, is named Spirit of America. I am heading for Manhattan on the John F. Kennedy. In the background, there are a few cranes around the Statue of Liberty; due to security upgrades and renovations, the Statue has been closed since October 2011, and will remain closed through summer 2012.
InSapphoWeTrust/Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/CC-BY-SA-2.0
Staten Island Ferry, United States

Don't want to fork over a lot of cash, but you want to see the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor? Look no further than New York City's famously free boat "tour" -- the Staten Island Ferry. Although the view of the Statue of Liberty won't be as good as you'd get on a sightseeing boat cruise, the price is right, and you'll get a great view of the New York Harbor and the working waterfront of NYC.

04 of 07

Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Pier 6 kids playing summertime
Michael Pick/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The playgrounds here are simply spectacular, and the views are great as well. Kids will love the opportunity to run around various areas, including Slide Mountain and a water area that's practically a mini-water park (bring a towel!) Parents will love the fact that it's well situated for walking around historic Brooklyn Heights and that there are numerous vendors selling delicious eats.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Governors Island

View from Governor's Island
Nestor Rivera Jr/Flickr CC 2.0
Ferry Line Rd, New York, NY 10004, USA
Phone +1 212-513-9300

On weekends from late May through the end of September, you can explore Governors Island with your kids. Take a free ferry ride from Manhattan (adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal) or from Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park to get your adventure started. Governors Island hosts a variety of events throughout the season, including many that are great for kids like pop-up games, free kayaking, and arts & crafts. It's completely car-free, making it a great place to go bike riding and one-hour bike rentals are free for up to one hour every weekday between 10 a.m. and noon.

06 of 07

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge
Jet Lowe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Brooklyn Bridge Blvd, New York, NY 10038, USA

Taking a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge will cost you nothing (except the energy that it takes to make the 1.1-mile walk). One fun way to incorporate a Brooklyn Bridge walk into your trip is to take the subway to Brooklyn, visit Brooklyn Heights or Brooklyn Bridge Park and walk back to Manhattan along the pedestrian walkway. It's really amazing to see the Manhattan skyline "appear" as you approach the mid-point of the bridge. If you plan to walk one direction of the bridge, it will probably take you about an hour, maybe longer if you have kids walking with you (as opposed to in a stroller or carrier).

07 of 07

Free NYC Museums

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Arad/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Museum admission for a family can add up to be quite a bit, which is why take advantage of free and pay-what-you-can days at NYC Museums, especially free days and times at NYC Children's Museums when traveling with kids. With a little planning, you could save enough to afford another trip to New York City!

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Free Things to Do in NYC for Families