Young and Free NYC

Kids

by Alyssa Grossman, 10/09/2012

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It's no secret that New York City is a great place for families. But all that exploring can cost you a pretty penny—unless you know where to look. You won't have to wander far to find museums with free-admission days, gratis concerts and stage productions, complimentary story sessions with top children's book authors and exciting events that let you leave your wallet tucked happily away. Forget staying at home to save money. Here, we've rounded up the best free ways for young New Yorkers (and young visitors) to get out on the town. 

Museums
Zoos and Gardens
Entertainment
Reading Series
Events

Kid-Friendly Museums with Free Admission
For culturally curious kids and their moms and dads on a budget, these family- and wallet-friendly institutions provide the perfect educational outing. 

Brooklyn Children's Museum 
Free every third Thursday of the month, 4–7pm, and the first full weekend of every month, 2–5pm.
Spend a few hours at this Crown Heights institution, home to almost 30,000 artifacts and objects (plus fish and a 20-foot python) with an emphasis on hands-on learning. There's even a special exhibition for children under 5—a testament to the museum's education-for-all-ages mentality. 

Children's Museum of Manhattan 
Free every first Friday of the month, 5–8pm.
Little museumgoers dance, run, solve problems, design and make music at this Upper West Side spot. Find workshops and special events all week long that give even the youngest visitors a chance to go beyond the exhibitions. 

Museum of the Moving Image
Free for kids under 3 and free Fridays, 4–8pm.
Budding cinematographers can head to Astoria for the country's biggest collection of moving-image artifacts. This interactive institution pays tribute to all aspects of movies, television shows and digital media, from technology to social impact. 

New York Hall of Science 
Free Fridays, 2–5pm, and Sundays, 10–11am, September–June.
Kids get hands-on with science and technology at this Queens institution featuring more than 450 exhibitions. Should you choose to spend a little during your visit, the museum also lets kids play a round of Rocket Park Mini Golf, explore the 60,000-square-foot Science Playground and settle in for a screening inside the 3-D theater.

Free Times at Zoos and Gardens
Explore NYC's animal kingdom and plant habitats without spending a dime. Many of the City's nature spots offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission. Get close to the creatures at the Staten Island Zoo, gaze at fish at the New York Aquarium or wander through Wave Hill's colorful grounds—all without breaking the bank. 

Bronx Zoo 
Suggested donation on Wednesdays.

Queens Botanical Garden
Free November 1–March 30; free Wednesdays, 3–6pm, and Sundays, 4–6pm, March 30–October 31.

Staten Island Zoo 
Free Wednesdays after 2pm.

Wave Hill 
Free Saturdays, 9am–noon; free Tuesdays, November–April, July and August; free Tuesdays, 9am–noon, May, June, September and October; free for kids under 6.

Free Entertainment
In a city where a night at the movies totals upward of $13 per person (before the kids start begging for a tub of popcorn and a soda), these cost-free options are a welcome escape from pricey outings. Settle in for a screening or catch a stage show at these family-friendly venues. 

Theater at The Museum of Modern Art 
Free film tickets Fridays, 4–8pm; screenings always free for kids under 16.
It pays to be a kid at MoMA. Check moma.org for a schedule of screenings, taking place throughout the week, to see which family-friendly films are on tap. 

Theatreworks 
Free summer theater. 
When the weather warms up, the stage shows become free. This nonprofit theater believes everyone should have access to the arts—so from mid-July to mid-August, you can line up one hour before each performance for the chance to see a gratis show. Performances take place at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. For up-to-date production information, visit theatreworksusa.org.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab 
Screenings always free.
Moviegoers of all ages should find something worth watching at this high-tech Madison Avenue center. The youngest viewers can settle in for episodes of Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Elmo's World, but there's also a calendar packed with G- and PG-rated old favorites, plus newer releases. Just remember to reserve tickets beginning two weeks prior to each screening. Any remaining tickets will be available half an hour before the starting time. 

Free Entertainment at Public Libraries
Free screenings, author talks, concerts, theater and more.
Books aren't the only free things at the City's public libraries. You'll also find endless entertainment at every branch, like KidsLIVE and TeenLIVE culture and arts programs at the New York Public Library and screenings of top films at the Brooklyn Public Library. At the Queens Public Library, there are game days, Ping-Pong sessions and workshops. Check your local branch for a full list of offerings. 

Free Reading Series
Nooks, Kindles and iPads have their place, but nothing compares with hearing a story told live—often straight from its author's mouth. Young bookworms can drop into readings featuring beloved children's book authors, score signed copies of the latest books and hear expert storytellers share unforgettable tales all around New York City. Get lost in the pages at these kid-friendly spots that fill their schedule with readings all year long. 

Bank Street Bookstore 
Story hour for toddlers every day, 10:30am. For more information, visit bankstreetbooks.com.

Book Culture 
Story times in French, Spanish and English Tuesdays, 4pm, Fridays, 3:30pm, and Saturdays, 3:30pm, respectively. For more information, visit bookculture.com.

Books of Wonder 
Story time Sundays, noon, and Fridays, 4pm. For more information, visit booksofwonder.com.

Greenlight Bookstore 
Musical story time for babies Sundays, 11am, and readings for older children Saturdays, 11am. For more information, visit greenlightbookstore.com.

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Story time, sing-alongs, book launches and author appearances. For more information, visit housingworks.org.

McNally Jackson
Storytelling sessions with sing-alongs and art activities. For more information, visit mcnallyjackson.com.

The Scholastic Store 
Interactive readings and book events, plus story time for babies and toddlers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11am. For more information, visit scholastic.com

Free This Season
Ongoing Wednesdays and Fridays
Yoga Story Time at Karma Kids Yoga 
Ages 6 and under are invited to these twice-weekly sessions where kids play with puppets, sing and practice yoga. For more info, visit karmakidsyoga.com

October 12–13
Special Performance and Backstage Tour: Hansel and Gretel's Halloween Adventure at Morris-Jumel Mansion 
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre's annual Halloween production comes to the Morris-Jumel Mansion for two days, where families will get the chance to see the show for free. The event is part of the Historic House Festival and will feature a behind-the-scenes tour of the show and Swedish snacks after the event. To reserve tickets, email matthew.rizzo@parks.nyc.gov. For more information, visit nyc.gov/parks

October 19
Astronomy Night on Pier 96 at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Head to the waterfront and spend a night under the stars. Families can stop by to gaze into a telescope with some help from area astronomers and learn their way around the night sky. For even more space-centric information, guests can check out talks and demos on the topic. While the event is free, an RSVP is required by emailing educationevents@intrepidmuseum.org EMAIL LINKTK. For more information, visit intrepidmuseum.org

October 19
Fall Kids Fest at Madison Square Park 
Little ones can make their way through the park, stopping at activity stations for arts and crafts activities, pumpkin picking, face painting and more. Big Apple Circus will also lead costume parades, and families can stop by a costume swap to trade in last year's getup. Plus, look out for performances by The Little Rockers Band, The Amazing Max and Songs for Seeds. For more information, visit madisonsquarepark.org

related venues/(9)

  1. 1
    Museum of the Moving Image
    35th Ave. at 37th St.
    Queens – Astoria
    NY 11106
  2. 2
    National Museum of the American Indian—NY
    1 Bowling Green
    Manhattan – Financial District
    NY 10004
  3. 3
    Brooklyn Children's Museum
    145 Brooklyn Ave.
    Brooklyn – Crown Heights
    NY 11213
  1. 4
    Children's Museum of Manhattan
    The Tisch Building, 212 W. 83rd St.
    Manhattan – Upper West Side
    NY 10024
  2. 5
    Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge
    290 Conover St
    Brooklyn – Red Hook
    NY 11231
  3. 6
    New York Hall of Science
    47-01 111th St.
    Queens – Corona
    NY 11368
  1. 7
    Staten Island Zoo
    614 Broadway
    Staten Island
    NY 10310
  2. 8
    New York Aquarium
    602 Surf Ave.
    Brooklyn – Coney Island
    NY 11224
  3. 9
    Bronx Zoo
    2300 Southern Blvd.
    Bronx
    NY 10460

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