New York City is a great place for families. One thing that helps: free-admission days at museums, gratis concerts and films, complimentary story sessions and exciting events that make local entertainment more affordable than you might expect. We've rounded up the best free ways for visiting and resident families to get out and about.
For culturally curious kids and their moms and dads on a budget, these family-friendly institutions—all of which offer specific days or hours of free entrance—provide inspiring educational outings.
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Free Thursdays, 2–6pm
Spend a few hours at this Crown Heights institution, home to around 30,000 artifacts and objects (plus a few live creatures) with an emphasis on hands-on learning. There's even a special section, Totally Tots, for children 6 and under—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. Exhibitions focus on health, diversity and just plain fun things like cartoons, while workshops and special events help fill the days.
Museum of the Moving Image
Free for kids under 3 and free Fridays, 4–8pm
Budding cinephiles 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
Kids get hands-on with science and technology at this Queens institution that features more than 450 exhibitions. There are a few worthwhile things to spend money on during your visit: a round of Rocket Park Mini Golf, a turn in the 60,000-square-foot Science Playground and a screening inside the 3-D theater.
Queens County Farm Museum
Grounds free daily (check to see if a ticketed public event is occurring)
Take the kids to this working farm and check out goats, hens and pigs; the orchard (from which you can purchase apples on October weekends); and old farm buildings.
Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge
Free Thursdays, 4–8pm, and Saturdays, 1–5pm
Come tour this history wooden barge that is moored down in Brooklyn's Red Hook, not far from the Fairway Market. Check to see if a performance is taking place—perhaps a magic-, music- or history-related event that may cost money.
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.
Suggested donation on Wednesdays
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Free weekdays December 1–February 28; free Fridays, 10am–noon, March 1–November 30
New York Botanical Garden
Grounds only: free Wednesdays, 10am–6pm, and Saturdays, 9–10am. Note that you'll still need to pay admission to access the areas that generally appeal most to families, including the children's garden and the conservatory.
Queens Botanical Garden
Free November 1–March 31; free Wednesdays, 3–6pm, and Sundays, 9am–11am, April 1–October 31
Staten Island Zoo
Free Wednesdays (and some winter Tuesdays), 2–4:45pm
Always free for kids under 6; free Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9am–noon
Movies are pricey (and that's before you start counting in the tubs of popcorn and buckets of soda); concerts even moreso. These options avoid the cost but not the fun. Settle in for a libscreening or catch a stage show at a family-friendly venue or event.
This old coffee barge docked on the Brooklyn side of the East River has been converted into a classical music venue. On weekends throughout the year you can pay to see performances in its confines; on Saturdays at 4pm, however, there’s usually a free one-hour recital (including a Q&A) that’s geared toward drawing in kids.
LC Kids Artists at David Rubenstein Atrium
First Saturdays, 11am
Looking for a way to get the kids excited about music and other arts, without a pricey class? Bring them here, where they can engage with the performer and get introduced to all kinds of culture.
Public Libraries (citywide)
Free screenings, author talks, concerts, theater and more, most days
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, science experiments, spelling bees and Lego clubs. Check your local branch for a full list of offerings.
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 (note: a free family-film program also takes place one Saturday a month).
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.
Nooks, Kindles and iPads have their place, but nothing compares with hearing a story told live—sometimes 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. Here is a handful of spots that hold regular events; note too that many of the City's public libraries are reliable venues for readings.
Story times on Saturdays, 11am, Tuesdays at 11am and Wednesdays at 3pm (Columbus Avenue location). Story times on Saturdays at 3:30pm (Broadway location). For more information, visit bookculture.com.
Karma Kids Yoga
Story time Wednesdays, 11:30am. This one's a little different from the rest, as the instructor combines storytelling with yoga poses to engage kids of all ages. For more info, visit karmakidsyoga.com.
Powerhouse on 8th
Story time select Sundays, 11:30am. For more information, visit powerhouseon8th.com.
Story time select Sundays, 11am, sometimes with milk and cookies from next door’s Brunswick Café.
Free seasonal events geared toward kids crop up all the time across the City. Good places to look for them are in the many public parks; you’ll find free events like bird-watching, stargazing and plenty else. The nycgovparks.org site is a good place to start.
Free Art Island Outpost Program on Governors Island
Saturdays and Sundays, late May through September
The Children’s Museum of the Arts sponsors this summerlong program on Governors Island; kids can immerse themselves in themed workshops, in which teaching artists will instruct on painting, collage making, theater activities and the like. For more information, visit govisland.com.
Kids Events at the High Line
To be scheduled
Art projects, music performances, nature explorations and stargazing are among the activities to lure families to this elevated park during the warmer months (the park is free to visit at all times). For more information, visit highline.org.