As you plan your big trip to NYC you are no doubt wondering if the city will be welcoming and accommodating toward your little ones. Millions of kiddos are being raised in NYC but to an outsider finding the BEST and cheap kid-friendly activities will take a little digging. Being from the Midwest and raising three kids in the city we are bringing the honest info you need to make this a great trip. Here in this top 15 list, we have included the usual suspects with added kid-specific visiting tips and included a few lesser-known spots where actual New Yorkers entertain their kids! All of these events are cheap or free and we have indicated the best age for your enjoyment.
Central Park + Alice in Wonderland Statue (ages 0+)
Grab a few pastries or sandwiches and a coffee at Bel Ami Cafe before heading into Central Park to enjoy a picnic brunch or lunch on a bench near the Alice in Wonderland Statue. Once you have snapped your photos near the iconic bronze monument, venture to the north or the south to let the kids run around a central park playground or head south and then west to check out Strawberry Fields. Really you could spend an entire day in Central Park and still not see it all! Also, New York playgrounds are a great place to sneak in a bathroom break.
Cost: Free (excluding croissant and cafe americano from Bel Ami!)
American Museum of Natural History (ages 3+)
We love museums and especially during colder months when we can’t live outside in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, we find ourselves venturing into the city for a day of art, culture or history. Not surprisingly, the American Museum of Natural History is our kid’s favorite by a long shot. We even scooped up an annual membership! For your best most enjoyable trip, get there right at opening on a weekday during the school year and plan to spend a few hours exploring with a mid-day break for food. There are several cafes in the museum which decent but very expensive fare. We prefer a home-packed lunch or grabbing something at a nearby deli.
For a complete guide to visiting the American Museum of Natural History, check out the post we wrote for Babyquip!
Cost: Pay as you wish + food if eating on-site.
Pier 25 – Mini Golf (ages 4+)
Pier 25 is one of our favorite lesser-known cheap kid friendly activities in NYC. With great views of lower Manhattan on the pier, a really cool destination playground, decent food, and a nice open space grassy area that is perfect for picnics right around the corner, Pier 25 a great place to spend an afternoon. For just $7.00 per adult and $5.00 per child, you can play putt-putt with the world trade center in the background.
Cost: $7.00 per adult / $5.00 per child
Children’s Museum of the Arts (ages 10 months to 15 years, leaning towards the younger crowd)
Take a break from the Instagram backdrops and let the kids enjoy an educational experience at the Children’s Museum of the Arts. CMA’s programming includes abstract daily painting and very cool kid friendly art exhibitions. This is a great cheap activity for the kids in NYC.
Cost: $13 per person
Free fishing in the Hudson River (ages 5+)
Nope, this is not a typo. New York City happens to be surrounded by excellent fishing opportunities. Rods, reels, bait, and instruction is provided at multiple locations throughout the summer. Just show up
Hop-on hop-off ferry around Manhattan (ages 0+)
If you don’t actually feel the need to go on to Ellis Island or walk around the Statue of Liberty, City Sites Boat Tours offers hop-on hop-off boat tours around Manhattan. This is the same company that operates a lot of those bus tours as well, although the buses tend to get stuck in traffic so we tend to avoid those. The boat cruises, however, tend to be less crowded. Inside you can pick a seat at a round table and order lunch or you can hit the deck, catch some fresh air, and nab some great photo opportunities with the attractions in the backdrop. The Lower Manhattan stop off happens to be near El Vez, which is one of our favorite kid friendly restaurants in Manhattan.
Cost: $20.00/per person
Staten Island Ferry (ages 0+)
If a paid boat tour doesn’t make the itinerary and you are still looking for a chance to get out on the water, look no further than the Staten Island Ferry. This free boat ride to Staten Island and back is a great way to catch great views and experience some time on the Hudson for little kids. If you don’t want to wander around Staten Island waiting for the next ferry (they come every 15-45 minutes depending on the time of day), zip right back through the waiting area after you debark to re-board the ferry heading back. Do be a good tourist and avoid riding during rush-hour when commuters are heading to or from work, views will also be better in late morning and mid-day when the ferry is less crowded. Note this option also does not get you on to the island with the statue.
Jane’s Carousel @ Brooklyn Bridge Park (ages 18 months-10)
A gorgeous glass carousel with views of lower Manhattan a great experience for kids and parents alike. To get there you can take the subway, or walk the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. Next, if your legs aren’t too tired, take a quick walk to Pier 6 (next!).
Cost: $2/ride with discount packages available.
Pier 6 Playground in Brooklyn (ages 18 months-10)
Here you discover five incredible playgrounds on the pier with fun for all ages. Our kids love the splash park in the summer, and the swing park all year round!
Brooklyn Botanic Garden (ages 0+)
The BBG is a local favorite for letting kids explore nature across the 52 acres of lush plants and trails. Check-in at the Washington Avenue entrance (parking is available), meander past the Cherry Esplanade and around the Japanese water garden. Then wind up toward the iconic greenhouses for your photo ops. This is also a great chance to visit the bathrooms if you didn’t’ catch them on the way in. Once you are squared away make your way to the Children’s Discovery Garden. This children’s garden is an oasis where the thoughtfully curated gardens are specifically tailored for young kids to touch, smell, and explore. Next, head out in the neighborhood for great food at Cheryl’s Soul, Lincoln Station, or Amorino.
Cost: Admission is free on Fridays if you arrive before noon & kids under 12 are always free!
Rock and Roll Playhouse (ages 2+)
Enjoy pretty decent kid friendly rock cover bands. Come see cover bands ranging from Bob Marley to David Bowie and let your kids rock out to some of the most iconic musicians in history as they develop an appreciation for live music. There are two locations in New York City, each with its own perks. The Industry City location is free, and the Brooklyn Bowl location is located in a bowling alley/concert venue that happens to be directly next door to the Brooklyn Brewery, which operates free tours every Saturday and Sunday.
Cost: Free, or about $12/person depending on location.
New York Transit Museum (ages 2-10)
Another cheap activity with kids in NYC is the New York Transit Museum. Riding the subway with small kids is an adventure, taking them underground to really explore and learn about the train system is a can’t be missed adventure at this sweet museum tucked underground in Downtown Brooklyn.
Cost: Adults are $10 and kids 2-17 are $5.
Brooklyn Cyclones at Coney Island (ages 3+)
Taking kids to a Yankees or Mets game can get expensive, but the Brooklyn Cyclones are an easy train ride to Coney Island and are always running specials. Plan to make a day of it by eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, rinse your feet on the beach, do some people watching, and let the kids ride a few rides before heading home. We usually leave with a healthy level of exhaustion and have yet to return home without having the kids fall asleep on the way back.
Rockaway Beach (ages 0+)
Who doesn’t love the beach? If you are visiting during the summer months and have an extra day in your itinerary, head to Rockaway. We have a full-post about visiting Rockaway to help you plan your trip!
The Bronx Zoo (ages 0+)
Every Wednesday is “suggested donation day” at the zoo, meaning the world class zoo is completely free if you wish. With over 7,000 animals over 265 acres, the Bronx zoo is one of the best the United States has to offer. The petting zoo was recently renovated and is one of our family favorites. Free certainly qualifies as a cheap activity for kids in NYC.
Cost: Free on Wednesdays!