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10 Free (or Semi-Free) Kids' Activities in New York City

Maria Adcock
June 25, 2012

Just because you're heading to New York City with the kids doesn't mean you'll have to cash out the family's 529 plan. This place is known for its high cost of living, but insiders -- and great nannies -- know it also offers cheap activities for kids who love adventure. With everything from fun, funky fish markets to history lessons courtesy of Hollywood hits, there's something free for every kid in this city.

"When it comes to free activities, I am always looking at museum websites, which often list not only free or discounted admission days, but also free family friendly activities frequently hosted on weekends," said Carol Cain, founder of NYCityMama, a blog on travel, food and other family adventures.

Beyond museums, Cain suggests exploring the city's parks, which offer free activities including concerts, races and family friendly events that'll keep that pocketbook beefy and let you leave the "I'm bored!" complaints at home. If you're just not up for the research, print this handy guide and hit the town with the whole family for the most free fun those kids will ever have. Don't forget the camera!

1. American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 769-5100

With or without popcorn and PJs, the site of this popular Ben Stiller film, "Night at the Museum," is a guaranteed hit for the whole family. The expansive American Museum of Natural History includes four floors with 45 museum halls, as well as the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Permanent displays will allow kids to explore everything from dinosaurs and human origins to ocean life and meteorites. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., the museum is free but welcomes donations. The suggested donation here is $19 for adults and $10.50 for children ages 2 to 12, though the museum will accept any contribution. Full price is required for special exhibits such as the planetarium show.

2. Brooklyn Bridge
New York, NY
(888) 436-3759

New York City is home to more than 30 bridges, but the Brooklyn Bridge represents one of the most iconic in the world. Its awesomeness won't fail to impress the kids with great views of the East River, so bring the camera for that go-to New York City skyline shot. Built in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension steel wire bridge in the world when it opened. The 1,595.5-foot-long bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn with a walker and kid-friendly path through the center, above the vehicle lanes. Though vehicles crossing the bridge must pay a fee, anyone may use its pedestrian and bike pathways for free. Well-researched parents can easily turn this into a local history and architecture lesson as well!

3. Bryant Park
41 W. 40th St.
New York, NY
(212) 768-4242

Bryant Park isn't just a park, it's a cultural magnet full of fun events for the whole family. Located behind the New York Public Library, it's a hub for annual fashion shows, free concerts and movies in the summer, and an ice skating rink in the winter. Look for Le Carrousel, the $2 carousel ride, sandwich and snack shops, and regular Chess and Backgammon tournaments. Check out its calendar and click here for directions.

4. Central Park
North of 59th Street, south of 110th Street, east of Central Park West, and west of 5th Avenue
Manhattan, NY
(212) 310-6600

Central park offers visitors 843 acres of gardens, open spaces, water and pathways to explore right in the center of New York City. For less-structured family activities, enjoy picnics, hiking and views of exciting area landmarks for free. The Central Park Conservancy provides free walking tours to give first-timers a general overview of the park as well. Central Park also includes playgrounds for kids, and if you don't mind paying a fee, it offers kid-friendly activities such as a carousel, zoo, boat rides, swimming, ice skating (winter only) and theater performances.

5. Children's Museum of the Arts
103 Charlton St.
New York, NY
(212) 274-0986

The Children's Museum of the Arts strives to create a love for visual and performing arts in children, and it definitely knows its stuff! The museum works to honor the inner artist in every child, and boosts self-expression and self esteem by offering kids hands-on art experiences in its interactive museum. It also collects and exhibits children's artwork from around the community. Free or donate any amount on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; $10 any other day. Closed on Tuesdays.

6. Children's Museum of Manhattan
212 W. 83rd St.
New York, NY 10024
(212) 721-1234

Take the kids to the upper west side for a little interactive, hands-on creation. The 38,000-square-foot learning center includes exhibits for all ages, such as PlayWorks, Adventures of Dora and Diego, and City Splash water exploration during the summer months. The museum also offers classes for both parents and children from infant age and up. Free first Fridays of the month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; $11 other days. Closed on Mondays.

7. The High Line
529 W. 20th St., Ste. 8W
New York, NY 10011
(212) 500-6035

What kid doesn't love trains? The High Line, built on old train tracks elevated above-ground in Manhattan's west side, is now a free, public park and a recent addition to New York City. The city has transformed the decrepit tracks into a beautiful walkway and garden, featuring large lawns for families to sprawl out on, art installations, water spot for kids to play in during the warmer months, and amazing views of New York City.

8. Sony Wonder Technology Lab
550 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10022
(212) 833-8100

Technology may not sound exciting to many kids, but robots may be the exception. After all, there's a reason they loved "Transformers." Add virtual surgery and lessons in animation and you'll be shoving the kids out the door at the end of the day. The four-story technology and entertainment museum in Midtown Manhattan boasts interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages. The state-of-the-art, high-tech facility explores everything from how robots work to virtual surgery and animation. It strives to make learning experiential, entertaining and fun. Reservations are highly recommended due to its popularity. Free Tuesday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday.

9. South Street
89 South St.
New York, NY 10038
(212) 732-8257

Looking for a lively farmers' market to teach those kiddos about the importance of local food? South Street Seaport transports visitors to an era when cobblestone streets were the norm and open fish markets filled the area. Beyond the historic buildings lie retail stores, entertainment, boating, biking and restaurants with beautiful views of New York harbor. Don't forget to check out the maritime displays and the historic schooner Pioneer. The museum is free on the third Friday of each month.

10. Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island, NY 10301
(718) 815-2628

Insiders know this is one of the best kept secrets in Manhattan - the Staten Island Ferry provides a one-hour, round-trip tour of some of the most amazing water views in the area for free, including views of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. Leaving from Battery Park's south ferry subway station, in Manhattan, the ferry travels to the borough of Staten Island. Ferry service comes every half hour, with a slightly longer wait between the hours of midnight to 6 a.m. From Manhattan head to Whitehall Street and Water Street; or from Staten Island hit 1 Bay Street. Each leg of the ferry travels for 30 minutes. The ferry rides are free 24/7.

Maria Adcock, proud first-time mom, is a marketer and freelance writer in Long Island, NY. Maria has worked for publications such as InStyle, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work can be found here.

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