By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Enough sightseeing! Even in a city like New York there is a limit to how many great sites, performances and museums you and the kids — and your budget — can take.

The good news is whatever season you visit, there are more free (nearly free and discounted) options than you might have thought. Working on the fourth edition of my Kid’s Guide to NYC, I certainly found plenty.

American Museum of Natural History — Cast of Easter Island maoi figure in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
American Museum of Natural History — Cast of Easter Island maoi figure in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.

Save on hotels on weekends when the business people are gone. For example, the deluxe Kimberly Hotel is offering a fourth night free through August; The recently redesigned Kimpton Muse Hotel, is offering a “Little Apples in the Big Apple” through Sept. 5 that includes a C3 CityPass for two children with admission to three top Big Apple attractions. And the Loews NYC is offering a room upgrade until Labor Day.

If you plan to take in a Broadway show, you can score big savings at the Theatre Development Fund TKTS discount booths, as long as you don’t have your heart set on a particular production. And if top sites are on your itinerary, CityPASS New York can save you 40 percent at five attractions, including The Empire State Building, the Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the American Museum of Natural History. And you can bypass the lines.

But let’s explore what’s free — and meet some local families. Got comfortable shoes? Let’s go!

Get out of Manhattan for a while. Wander around Queens and you’ll feel like you’ve visited India or Asia. Budding hipsters will want to head to Williamsburg in Brooklyn while everyone will enjoy Coney Island and Prospect Park.

Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Hit a playground. Ancient Playground, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is inspired by the Museum’s Egyptian art and was designed to evoke an ancient city, complete with a pyramid climbing structure, an obelisk and a sundial. The Imagination Playground at Burling Slip, designed by architect David Rockwell, features giant foam blocks, fabric, and crates. There is a carousel and skatepark at Pier 62 on the Hudson River, part of a 9-acre park. The Skatepark has 15,000 square feet of whorls, turns and dives. Central Park alone has 21 playgrounds ( can steer you to all the city’s play lots)!

Celebrate at a festival. (The Feast of San Gennaro runs from Sept. 15 to 25 in Little Italy with a parade, music, plenty of Italian eats and eating contests. (How many meatballs can you eat?)

Join locals and visitors in Central Park, which stretches for 50 city blocks between the Upper East and West sides. Stop in at The Dairy (it’s at the south end of the park). The Victorian building is where children once came for fresh milk, but it’s now the Park Visitor Center and Gift Shop Center. Pick up a map, borrow chess or checkers and play at tables just west of the Dairy or ask to borrow a free Central Park Conservancy Discovery Kit, complete with a complimentary Discovery Journal.

Empire State Building (exterior at dusk).
Empire State Building (exterior at dusk).

Bring binoculars and bird watch in the Ramble, one of the best bird-watching spots in the city. Bring a ball and play beach volleyball.

Strawberry Fields, in the middle of the park at West 72nd Street, is one of the park’s most visited spots and was named to honor John Lennon, who lived nearby. It’s an international peace garden with plants from every country in the world and the iconic Imagine Mosaic.

Don’t miss the latest addition — the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. When it was finished in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Brooklyn Bridge Park is a great place whether you want to fish, play ping-pong, basketball or pickleball, kayak or hit a playground — there are 10 to choose from, including Sandbox Village with little wooden houses in the sand and Slide Mountain.

Explore the High Line on the West Side of Manhattan. It’s built on a historic elevated rail line where today you can walk through gardens (there are 110,000 plants), view public art, enjoy a performance, have a snack or join a free program. (Check to see if there is one for families.)

Big Apple Greeter Tour on the Brooklyn Bridge
Big Apple Greeter Tour on the Brooklyn Bridge

Take a free (or pay what you like) tour from Free Tours by Foot offered in different neighborhoods. Locals offer free tours to visitors in different areas of the city through Big Apple Greeter. Just book several weeks in advance.

Visit the 9/11 Memorial (Free Admission Monday tickets are available for the 9/11 museum on the website each Monday beginning at 7 a.m. on a first come, first served basis.)

The "Survivor Staircase" at the 911 Memorial Museum
The “Survivor Staircase” at the 911 Memorial Museum

Score free admission to other museums on certain days. For example, young fashionistas will enjoy the always free Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology; The Bronx Zoo has free Wednesdays while the popular Brooklyn Children’s Museum is free Thursday afternoons. The Museum of Modern Art is free Friday evenings and the Jewish Museum on Saturdays.

Stop in at Grand Central Terminal while you’re nearby (42nd Street at Park Avenue). It’s been a landmark since 1913. Check out the blue ceiling. It’s a painting of over 2,500 stars. How many constellations can you find? Tip: little lights pinpoint them.

Head to Chinatown’s Columbus Park to watch scores of locals playing Chinese chess. Come early and join tai chi or get your fortune told.

Enjoy free music in the subway or places like Washington Square Park where a lot of local musicians come and play. The NYC orchestras, operas and dance companies often offer public rehearsals and special programs for families. Check their websites to see what will be offered when you visit.

Get bragging rights to Kayaking in NYC. The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking trips and instruction on the Hudson River from Pier 26 and Pier 64.

Young woman sitting on the Imagine mosaic in the Strawberry Fields in Central Park.
Young woman sitting on the Imagine mosaic in the Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

Who says you can’t enjoy The Big Apple on a budget?

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia and The Kid’s Guide to Camping are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2022 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.