11 Fun and Cheap Things To Do In New York City
There is something for everyone in The Big Apple, which makes it an ideal destination for families. While NYC is notoriously expensive, you can still find plenty of fun things to do without breaking the bank, especially when you visit the other four boroughs. And don't worry, there are more options than simply walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (although it is iconic for a good reason!).
Below are some of New York City's cheapest yet exciting attractions for families and children of all ages.
Sign Up For The NYC Culture Pass
NYC residents with a library card can sign up for the Culture Pass, which grants complimentary admission into various museums, art galleries, and public gardens across the five boroughs. Some participating institutions include:
Don't have a library card? No worries. Visit your local library and ask to sign up for free.
Fun and Cheap Activities To Do In NYC With Kids
1. Explore The Little Island
Among the newer attractions in NYC, The Little Island is a unique public park built atop an artificial island along Hudson River Park. Inside the park, you will find several art installations, beautiful gardens, and a large waterfront amphitheater showcasing free and ticketed events.
2. Do A Chinatown Food Tour
Dining out in New York City can get extremely expensive, especially when trying to feed an entire family. A fun and budget-friendly way to combat this is by embarking on a D.I.Y. Chinatown Food Tour. Some of the city's most affordable eats are hidden in this Lower Manhattan Neighborhood, including dumplings from Wo Hop and a food cart right off Grand Street serving the tastiest $2 beef skewers around!
3. Take A Stroll Through Central Park
You can spend nearly the entire day in Manhattan's iconic 843-acre Central Park, which spans from Midtown's Columbus Circle to East Harlem. From picnicking on the Great Lawn to meeting penguins at the Central Park Zoo to catching a free Shakespeare In The Park show at Delacorte Theater near Belvedere Castle, there are plenty of affordable activities within the park to keep you occupied.
4. Get Dolled Up At The Salon In American Girl Place, New York
While most people do not hear "American Girl Dolls" and think "cheap," your daughter is bound to love American Girl Place, New York. With a gourmet restaurant, shelves lined with doll accessories, and a full-service salon for your girl and her doll, this store is magic for American Girl-obsessed children. We recommend getting one of the cheaper salon services like braiding for your child's doll to save money. They still get to participate in the excitement without overspending. Many things in NYC are not worth the splurge, but seeing your child's face upon entering the store will be worth every penny.
5. Ride The NYC or Staten Island Ferry
NYC Ferry System not only offers exceptional views of Manhattan but is one of the most affordable ways to get around the boroughs. The Staten Island Ferry is free and takes you to nearby inexpensive attractions like The Alice Austen House, National Lighthouse Museum, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens.
6. See What's Actually Down Under The Manhattan Bridge (DUMBO)
Numerous vendors set up shop at Brooklyn Flea underneath the Manhattan Bridge Archway on Saturdays and Sundays to sell artisan goods, vintage clothing, and unique finds. This is a lovely activity for older children and teens who enjoy shopping as much as the adults in your group. Plus, you will have access to delicious food as many Smorgasburg vendors make an appearance at the event. Although, no trip to DUMBO is complete without a quick stop at Brooklyn-native Ample Hills Fireboat House Scoop Shop.
7. Visit The Queens Night Market
Located in the heart of beautiful Flushing Meadows Corona Park, this fantastic evening food festival offers great food, live music, and art installations. You will likely find more inexpensive options at Queens Night Market than at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg. However, either food festival will make an exciting addition to your New York City trip itinerary! We suggest getting to the park a bit earlier to check out The New York Hall of Science and the famous Unisphere.
8. Relax At The Japanese Hill And Pond At Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Located near the gorgeous Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is a lovely hidden gem. You can explore the vast exhibits and gardens, which look incredible in the Spring and Summertime. Be sure to not miss The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, home to an authentic Shinto shrine, Japanese plant life, a small island, and a breathtaking koi fish pond. It is among the oldest and most popular Japanese-style gardens outside the country.
9. Bike or Walk Across The High Line
Formerly an elevated train line built in the 1930s, this innovative urban public park is a must-see for anyone visiting NYC. You will encounter interesting artwork, cozy seating areas, and food vendors while taking in some of the city's best views. After your walk, drop by Chelsea Market for a bite to eat or pop into the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is included in the NYC Culture Pass.
10. Embrace Your Wild Side At The Bronx Zoo
Venture to the Bronx Zoo to get up-close and personal with lions, bears, flamingos, tigers, lemurs, and more. The California Sea Lion show is always a big hit regardless of age. Your little ones might also enjoy exploring the Butterfly Garden or Dinosaur Safari. Bronx Zoo Admission is reduced for adults and children over 2 on Wednesdays. Although, you must reserve your spot in advance online.
11. See A Broadway Show
We know that Broadway is by no means "cheap." However, with access to online resources like TKTS and the Broadway Direct Lottery, you can see a show for a reasonable price. In addition, you can find in-person TKTS booths at Times Square or Lincoln Center. These discounted tickets are perfect for tourists and locals alike!