This is a guest post by the awesome Sarah Ann Noel who recently left us here in Denver for New York City. – Anna
Well, we have just moved from Denver to New York City with two toddlers. No, seriously. One is three and one is two, and I’m trying to keep straight which way is which on the G train while making sure that both those little wanderers get on the same train as me too. Are we crazy? Perhaps. But we are making our way in our little corner of Brooklyn.
Of course, even though you have the knowledge of the expense of New York, it’s still a shock to come here and try to function in it. I’ll admit to living a little large when we first moved, just trying to take advantage of it all; but that’s just not feasible for every day life. So below are twelve free activities that we use often!
12 Free Family-Friendly Activities in Brooklyn and NYC (& how to find more!)…
1. Library Classes
This is nothing new, right? There are libraries everywhere, and most of them have classes that cater to toddlers. However, I’ve got to say, this is New York. And while some neighborhood libraries just host a regular story time and call it good, others make the most of it. For example, the toddler library class in Red Hook (Thursdays) is actually an art class too. The instructor calls it a “glorified and hands-on story time,” meaning that the kids get to interact with art supplies to create while they hear a story.
2. Free Drop-ins at The Met
When we first moved and my littles had no playmates, I thought the thing to do would be to find some classes. I stopped in countless little kids shops and play places throughout our neighborhood and surrounding ones, and while they all offered classes, they also were about $10/kid. $20 a week was not going to cut it for us. And then someone told me about a music class at The Met. As it turns out, they have a few drop-in classes that are worth checking out, especially for the added excuse of heading to this beautiful place uptown. Sometimes you just need the motivation to make the train trip, you know?
3. Free Days
Speaking of free activities at institutions, like other places in America, I’ve discovered that a lot of big attractions here have free days as well. Except, you know, it’s New York. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are magical—and guess what! Free days. Same for the Zoo. And the Children’s Museum.
4. Granite Slide
There are countless playgrounds in this city. Practically one on every corner. In fact, I included a list of all the parks and playgrounds below. But if you want to spice things up without spending a cent, try out the granite slide at the Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park. It’s not your average playground, and your kid will think you’ve taken them to some sort of dreamy wonderland.
5. Puppet Shows/Park Performances
There are street musicians and performers everywhere, but a lot of the parks will list special programs. We’ve seen multiple puppet shows in the parks, including free productions by Central Park’s Swedish Cottage Marionette Puppetmobile! You can view the Puppetmobile’s schedule here.
6. Prospect Park Farmer’s Market
If you’re in Brooklyn, Prospect Park is a destination in and of itself. Designed by the same man who created Central Park, it is massive and scenic. The mature trees and hidden, wooded paths make it feel like Narnia! There’s a farmer’s market on Wednesdays at the 15th Street entrance; and not only are there abundant treats and produce, there are kids’ performers! They juggle and tell stories to the passersby, and then around 10:30 they assemble a musical group for a big sing-a-long. Definitely a fun, midweek destination for us!
My three-year-old knows when we are heading to DUMBO, even when I don’t tell her. She loves it. The promenade is a gorgeous walk, always bustling; there are playgrounds to stumble upon; and we love to watch the boats come and go on the East River. Jane’s Carousel is a special destination for us, and while not free, the rides are only $2, plus you get to keep the cute little souvenir tickets. (Make sure you check the schedule here.) But if you’re not feeling any sort of costs, it’s still a worthy place to head. On the grassy area underneath the Manhattan Bridge, there is almost always a bubble performer, making the biggest bubbles I’ve ever seen from a rope net. The kids love to run around inside the bubbles (just be warned, they’ll probably be a muddy mess when they’re done).
8. Shakespeare in the Park
If you’re feeling a little cultural and want to be outside, try to catch some Shakespeare in the Park. It’s not that your toddler will understand (I don’t even always understand Shakespeare); it’s that these modern, outdoor renditions are rather fun to watch—for both baby and parent! Sometimes they even include live music, plus lively dancers, costumes, and overall performance.
9. Cinnamon Girl
The thing about New York is, just a walk can be a fun activity. There is always something to see, and you learn that when the city is big, sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. That said, toddlers like plans, and plans to go generally include some sort of destination. If we just need to get out of the house but I don’t feel like braving the playgrounds, I’ll normally pick a coffee shop and declare that our outing for the day. We particularly like to visit Cinnamon Girl in Bedstuy because it’s a good walk for us, and because once we are there, I can treat them to $0.25 lollipops. Half a dollar is all it takes to make their day, and I get in some exercise. I have found that a lot of NYC coffee shops have cute little candies like this, a nod to the olden-days-vibe, perhaps, and also to the desperation that mamas can feel getting around here some days!
10. NYC Water Taxi
For a fun trip between Brooklyn and Manhattan, take a ride on the NYC Water Taxi. Also known as the “Ikea Shuttle,” kids can ride the taxi for free from Red Hook to the city. On weekends, the whole family boards at no cost. My girls are little enough that boats are the best thing in the world, so even if we have no reason to visit the city, it’s a fun outing.
11. The Beach
Having been born in a landlocked state, my girls recently have discovered the ocean and sandy beaches. They love it! We spent many Saturdays this summer on Long Island’s beaches, and it’s always a hit if we want to fill up the day. Technically, you can take the train out to the Rockaways, making the only cost of the day your subway ride out there. But, that can be a big trek for a mom with two toddlers. So if you’re not feeling quite that adventurous but it seems like a nice day to dig in the sand, try hitting the waterfront in Williamsburg! The East River State Park has a sandy beach open now, so you can take in a view of the city while your little one builds a sand castle…though I wouldn’t recommend cooling off in the river.
12. The High Line
Like I said, I’ve linked to all the NYC Parks below, since there are many aside from the obvious Central Park and Prospect Park destinations. However, The High Line deserves its own shoutout because it truly is unique and beautiful. Plus they’ve just opened a new section! My girls love to visit “the park in the sky,” and this book is a fabulous read if you’re making a day of it. There is water to splash in near lounge chairs; there are vendors to peruse; and there are little treats if you feel like splurging too. My kiddos love to explore the side paths and run through the arches. I imagine it really does feel like a big adventure for a tiny person, and it’s such a wonderful perspective of the city for adults too.
If you live here and you want the best info on what to do for free or for cheap in the city, my favorite and most reliable resources have been Mommy Poppins and Brooklyn Parent. You can find all of the parks and playgrounds here.
You don’t have to have kids or live in NYC to enjoy free and low-cost things. So, I’ve got to know… what city do you live in, and what is your favorite free or low-cost thing to do there?
P.S. Be sure to check out the Massive How to Visit New York City Like a Total Cheapskate Guide and don’t forget about staying in a unique and inexpensive Airbnb for a truly New York experience (also, if you follow that link you’ll get a $25 credit from me for a trip anywhere in the world!).
P.S. Here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD for you! 110 Cheap Date Ideas! Enjoy!