Beyond Trick-or-Treating: Halloween Fun for Kids

Erin O'Hara

There's a lot more going on for Halloween in New York City than the Village Halloween Parade on October 31, especially for the younger set. This season, there are almost too many great family-friendly events to count—there's a dog costume contest, a pumpkin flotilla, haunted houses and hikes, scary movies and stories, even a Mexican Día de los Muertos celebration. All of these events are cheap or free, and there's something to do in every borough. If you want even bigger thrills for your older children (or yourself), see our guide to haunted houses around the City.

Halloween in Central Park
Central Park, in addition to being an excellent place to see bright and beautiful fall colors, offers Halloween events for the whole family. On October 24, the Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Sail kicks off a week of Halloween-themed fun. Beginning at 4pm, families can paint a pumpkin, watch pro carver Hugh McMahon demonstrate his art, hear spine-chilling stories and march in a costume parade. Later, New York's largest pumpkin flotilla will set sail on the Harlem Meer. If you'd like to contribute, bring a carved jack-o'-lantern (between 5 and 10 pounds) and watch it float by with its pumpkin pals at twilight.

On October 30, Central Park's got more great events. The Pumpkin Festival gets going at noon over at the Bandshell. Every child in attendance at the free event gets his or her own pumpkin. Activities include arts and crafts, hayrides, a haunted house, a marionette show, face painting and musical entertainment. Kids and adults alike can enter the festival's Dunkin' Donuts Scarecrow Competition. Visit for details. Meanwhile, across the park at Belvedere Castle, catch the play Halloween at Belvedere: A Monster Musical Adventure. Performances begin every hour on the hour, from noon to 3pm.

Big Green Extreme Halloween at PS 166
On October 24, the whole block of West 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues will be closed to cars and opened up for a full day of festive fall fun. From 10am to 5pm, kids can enjoy a haunted house, arts and crafts (including decorating their own eco-friendly, reusable canvas bag), a magician, a costume contest and more. Bring your own reusable bottle or canteen and receive free water, lemonade or coffee all day.

Halloween StoryTime at Karma Kids Yoga
Broadway star John Tartaglia (Shrek the Musical, Avenue Q) will be reading spooky kids' stories with the help of a few puppet pals at this combination story time and yoga session at 3pm on October 29. The poses will not only exercise kids' bodies but also calm their minds. Best of all, the session is totally free, and Tartaglia and the puppets will all be sticking around for a meet and greet after the class. Costumes are encouraged, so be sure to dress up the little ones.

The Bronx
Howl-o-ween in Van Cortlandt Park
On Halloween, Van Cortlandt Park has a lineup of fun events for kids, adults and dogs alike (costumes are encouraged all day, of course). First, at noon, take your dressed-up pup to the park for the canine costume competition. After your dog wins the prize for spookiest pooch, stick around for some eco-crafts using materials from nature at 1pm. Then, at 2pm, kids from ages 2 to 10 can run the in-costume "wacky races." At 4pm, head to the Van Cortlandt House Museum—if you dare. It's been transformed into a haunted manor for kids from ages 10 to 16.

Crafts at Wave Hill
Visit Wave Hill the weekend of October 23 and 24 for an enchanted autumn day in a gorgeous natural setting. Amid breathtaking fall foliage and Hudson River views, kids can make some festive crafts, including a magic wand and a tiny fairy house, using materials from the gardens. The event runs from 10am to 1pm each day; admission to Wave Hill is free on Saturdays from 9am to noon.

Halloween Weekend in Prospect Park
Over in Brooklyn, Prospect Park is giving Central Park a run for its money with exceptional events all Halloween weekend long. The annual Halloween Haunted Walk & Carnival takes place on October 30. Encounter zombies, wolf men, witches and even a headless horseman (on a real horse) on a hike of Lookout Hill. Then, head to the nearby Nethermead for fun, games, tricks and treats. Boo at the Zoo!, over at the Prospect Park Zoo, is one of the year's most popular events for the younger set. Baboons play with pumpkins; snakes and lizards slither and slide; and there's no shortage of cute, Halloween-themed activities. After touring the (kid-friendly) haunted barn, little ones will get the chance to meet some creepy critters up close (while supervised by professionals, of course), make holiday crafts and have their faces painted. If that's still not enough, take a ride on the Haunted Carousel or hear some scary stories at the Lefferts Historic House.

Monster Mash! and Día de los Muertos at Brooklyn Children's Museum
On October 30, Brooklyn Children's Museum is throwing a Monster Mash, filling the premises with activities and programs for your little monsters. On November 2, observe Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, the Mexican celebration honoring family members and friends who have passed on. It's a chance for kids to learn all about the elements of this cultural tradition, including brightly colored costumes and decorations, lots of playful skull and skeleton imagery, marigold flowers and big processions. They'll also get to see artifacts from the museum's collection and make their own decoration for the holiday. Both events are free with museum admission.

Halloween at Queens County Farm Museum
As it does every year, the Queens County Farm Museum offers an all-ages (but still spooky) experience on Halloween weekend. Its haunted house is recommended for children from ages 4 to 12, but it will probably make grown-ups jump a few times, too. After the frights, enjoy other autumn festivities, including pumpkin picking, a corn maze and hayrides; apple cider and Halloween treats will also be available. On October 31, go early for the Children's Fall Festival, where kids can wear their costumes and enjoy games like sack races and trinkets-in-the-haystack, pony rides and a petting zoo.

Halloween in Fort Totten Park
Halloween weekend is full of scares and surprises in Fort Totten Park. On October 29 and 30, take a Haunted Lantern Tour of the Water Battery at Fort Totten, led by an urban park ranger, who will provide all the historical (and supernatural) facts. On Friday night, you can make your way to the visitor center afterward for Thriller at the Battery, where you'll face ghosts and ghouls from a haunted shipwreck. The festivities begin at 6:30pm each night; don't forget your flashlight.

Staten Island
Theatre of Terror
The day before Halloween, Staten Island's historic St. George Theatre is open for haunting (but kid-friendly) horror movies. First, tour the creepy old theater, and then take a seat in the dark for a Halloween movie. Doors open at 2:30pm for the 4pm showing of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and at 7:30pm for the 9pm showing of Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Admission is $18, and vampire fangs are included.