Affordable Activities for Families Visiting New York City

Sep 15, 2018

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You’ll never run out of fun things to do for the entire family in New York City and, believe it or not, a trip to the Big Apple doesn’t have to drain your savings account.

There are plenty of affordable ways to keep children engaged and entertained in New York City all year round. While Manhattan can be very expensive, especially for lodging and parking, families on a budget will find it surprisingly easy to enjoy classic New York activities at a reasonable price.

Here are three of our favorite ways to hack an affordable New York City vacation with kids in tow.

See a Broadway show

No, that’s not a typo. Experiencing the magic of a Broadway show is a surefire win with the entire family, and there are a number of ways to save big on tickets.

Before your New York vacation, you can start browsing the discount and special offer codes on Or, if you have time and patience to spare during your trip, you can even wait in line at a TKTS booth in Times Square, near Lincoln Center or at the South Street Seaport. Here, you could score tickets as much as half-off for select same day and next day shows. I’m also a huge fan of the TodayTix app (if you have a specific show in mind).

If you’d rather buy tickets ahead of time, the new Broadway Roulette ticketing marketplace is perfect for flexible families.

With Broadway Roulette, you’ll pay between $49 and $59 per ticket and can book seats up to three months in advance — but you can’t choose the show you’re going to see. You can, however, eliminate up to four shows you definitely don’t want to watch, and indicate a preference for a musical. Parents can even play a game of “family-friendly roulette,” which guarantees that all the performances are suitable for little ones. Current shows available on Broadway Roulette include Aladdin, Frozen, Spongebob Squarepants, The Lion King and even “jackpot” hits like Hamilton.

Whether you’re spinning the roulette wheel or selecting from discounted, last-minute tickets, use a credit card that pays a bonus on entertainment spending when you’re ready to buy.

Just be aware that most theaters, even the family-friendly ones, have a minimum age of four to attend. And the recommended age for most productions (even Disney musicals) is six or older.

Photo by Mike Appel/Flickr

Play in the park 

On the densely populated island of Manhattan, there are more than 1,000 parks, playgrounds and urban green spaces for families to enjoy when they need a break from the concrete jungle. It’s no surprise that New York City does parks so well: most people live in high-rise apartments and use city parks as their backyards.

In general, you’ll find small playgrounds scattered across the city every few blocks, but don’t limit yourself to whatever you stumble upon. Some of the parks of especially beautiful, are filled with local history and will keep both parents as well as children entertained.

These are four of our favorite New York City parks — and they all have free public restrooms, too.

Central Park

There’s a reason why Central Park is iconic. Not only is it the city’s best known and biggest green space, it’s downright beautiful every season, and large enough for a full day’s worth of entertainment. Spending time in Central Park’s 834-acres is a way to enjoy unstructured fun away from traffic.

Come here with your kids to take a nature walk, climb the rocks and check out the various playgrounds. There’s also the Tisch Childrens’ Zoo, an amusement park with rides (it becomes a skating rink in the winter), and rowboats your family can take on the lake for $15 per hour (cash only)

The High Line

The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park that opened in 2009 as an effort to preserve the abandoned, elevated railroad track that spans the Chelsea neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line is a great place to admire the city from above (sans stress and traffic) while checking out art installations, food and drink vendors and even splashing around in the water feature on hot, sticky New York Days — with the children, of course.

Photo by Boogich via Getty Images.
Photo by Boogich via Getty Images.

Pier 51 Playground

Another example of repurposing a formal industrial areas is Pier 51, part of the Hudson River Park. Now hailed as one of the best playgrounds in New York City, the jungle-gym design pays tribute to a military fort that was once located nearby. The giant water gushers and spill buckets are the main attraction for kids at this playground — especially on a hot, balmy day.

Domino Park

Located in hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Domino Park is one of New York City’s newest parks, which just opened this summer. The former sugar factory is now a five-acre public park that preserves much of the factory’s original layout. Domino park features a playground, sweeping lawn and fountain courtyard. Need another reason to get your family to Brooklyn? There’s no better way to get a Manhattan skyline view.

Photo by simplethrill/Flickr

Visit a museum

New York City is home to a dizzying array of museums that are fun, educational and cater to virtually every interest. The best part is that many of New York’s most prominent museums (including children-focused institutions) offer free days or “pay as you wish” admission.

Additionally, Bank of America’s “Museums On Us” program grants cardmembers free access to over 175 museums across the country: including several not-to-miss New York City museums including the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the American Museum of Natural History.

These are just a few of our favorite New York City museums for families.

Photo courtesy of the Intrepid Air and Space Museum
Photo courtesy of the Intrepid Air and Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

This Hell’s Kitchen museum offers free admission for children ages four and under, and Bank of America cardholders get free admission on the first full weekend of every month.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Located in Central Park, children 12 and under can access The Met for free, while New York State residents and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut students can pay what they wish. Free admission for Bank of America cardholders is available during the first full weekend of every month.

Museum of Modern Art

Also known as the MoMA, children 16 and under get free entrance to this Midtown West museum, and free general admission is available every Friday from 4:00pm to 8:00pm.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Admission to the memorial is free, and admission to the museum is free every Tuesday from 5:00pm until close, and children six and under are always free. Pair your visit to the museum and memorial with a trip to the top of One World Trade. This is not free, but the views are exceptional, and the enter experience is not unlike a mini-museum. While children are admitted, this activity may best appreciated by older children and teens.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Head to this striking Upper East Side museum to see one of the finest displays of contemporary and modern art. Pay what you wish every Saturday from 5:00pm until 7:45pm. All children 12 and under are free.

Parents looking for a museum specifically designed with children in mind are spoiled for choice in New York City.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum 

Visitors can pay as they wish on Thursdays from 2:00pm until 6:00pm at the world’s first children’s museum, which opened at the close of the 19th century.

Children’s Museum of the Arts

At this West Village institution, which has fun exhibitions as well as a series of classes, workshops and activities, you can pay as you wish every Thursday from 4:00pm until 6:00pm.

DiMenna Children’s History Museum 

Located on the Upper West Side, children under four are free and visitors can pay as they wish on Fridays between 6:00 and 8:00pm. In October, a Harry Potter “History of Magic” exhibit will arrive.

Museum of Mathematics

Your kids could learn to love numbers at MoMath, a Flatiron museum offering free admission and interactive activities for families on Fridays.

Photo courtesy of the Children's Museum of the Arts
Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of the Arts

The bottom line

New York City is a gateway to the arts, has incredible history and there’s no shortage of affordable attractions for the entire family. During your visit, the most important thing to remember is to skip the tourist traps and chain restaurants.

Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash
Photo by Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

Instead, do as the locals do: Grab a dollar-slice of New York City pizza, pack a picnic and head to the park, or spend an afternoon perusing one of the city’s spectacular museums. Even tickets to a top Broadway show can be more affordable than you’d think.

When in doubt, hop on a commuter ferry — seriously — and take a tour of New York City from the East River. Tickets are just $2.75 per adult (children under 44″ cruise for free) and it’s an unexpected, cheap way to see the City That Never Sleeps.

Angelina Aucello covers family travel for TPG and blogs at Angelina Travels. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured photo by Matteo Colombo/ Getty Images

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