20 FREE Things to Do in New York City


   “Free” is a word I’ve always loved, and now that the economy is in the dumps, it’s one that more and more people perk up upon hearing.To help spare the pocketbook, we’ve scoured the city to find all the freebies available for families, from ice cream to concerts, magic to movies.There’s enough here to keep the kids entertained all winter — without spending a dime.

Free Lunch?

   Yup, we’ve got that! At Brother Jimmy’s BBQ restaurants, two kids 12 and under eat free with every adult entrée (in-house only). 428 Amsterdam Avenue (between 80th and 81st Streets), 1485 Second Avenue (between 77th and78th Streets), and three more locations in Manhattan. www.brotherjimmys.com.


   Columbia University’s astronomy department offers free stargazing (weather permitting) and child-friendly talks at the Pupin Physics Observatory on Friday nights around 7pm twice a month.550 West 120 Street (enter via main campus through 116th Street and Broadway entrance). Call for upcoming dates: 212-854-6864. www.astro.columbia.edu.

Ice Cream

   Ice cream lovers of all ages who join the Cold Stone Creamery Birthday Club get a free ice cream on their birthdays.Check locations in the five boroughs and register at www.coldstonecreamery.com/birthday.

Pianos and Other Stuff
Check out one of my favorite sites, www.craigslist.com, and go to the “Free” section, where you’ll often find people giving away used pianos they no longer have room for, stacks of children’s books, toys, clothing and more.Remember it’s hit or miss, but you never know what goodies you’ll find, and new items are added 24/7.

Art, Dance and More

   At Target First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum, families can explore the galleries, do art projects, listen to music, and dance the night away, all for free the first Saturday of every month. 5-11pm. 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn.718-638-5000. www.brooklynmuseum.org.

City Skyline

   See a miniature version of the cityscape as part of the amazing 9,335-square foot scale model known as the Panorama of the City of New York, at the Queens Museum, free on Sundays.While you’re there, enjoy dance, tours, art programs, music and more, as part of MetLife’s Free First Sundays for Families, the first Sunday of each month.1:30-4:30pm.718-592-9700. www.queensmuseum.org.

Sports Equipment

   Forget your ball in Central Park?No problem.Borrow a field day kit with an assortment of sports equipment at the North Meadow Recreation Center, mid-park at 97th Street.Available: basketballs, bats and balls, Frisbees, footballs, soccer balls, jump ropes, and hula-hoops. Adults need a valid photo ID to borrow equipment.212-348-4867. www.centralparknyc.org (look under “For Kids”).

Classical Music Concerts
   Well-behaved children who like music will enjoy the free concerts at Mannes College The New School of Music.Check the website for schedules and find a wide array of student concerts open to the public. 150 West 85th Street.212-580-0210 x4817. www.newschool.edu/mannes.


   The Central Park Conservancy sponsors Family Craft Fridays at the Dana Discovery Center (inside the park at 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues).Fridays through March 27, 2-4pm.212-860-1370. www.centralparknyc.org.

Story Times

   Giggle, with two Manhattan locations, offers story times Tuesdays at 4pm.120 Wooster Street and 1033 Lexington Avenue (at 74th Street). www.giggle.com.

   Scholastic Store Soho has story times Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am, and Wednesdays at 11am in Spanish.557 Broadway (between Prince and Spring Streets).Check their event hotline for special author events and character visits: 212-343-6166. www.scholasticstore.com.

Knitting and Crocheting and More

   The New York Public Library has a lot more than books!Check out their monthly calendar for activities including knitting and crocheting (at the Riverside and 125th Street branches this month), story times, arts and crafts, chess, and even videogame play.Upcoming events:science experiments (Chatham Square branch, February 27 at 3:30pm); a teddy bear tea party (Donagan Hills in Staten Island, February 18 at 6:30pm) and an African dance workshop (branches around the city this month).Pick up a calendar at your local branch or contact the Office of Children’s Services, 212-340-0906. www.nypl.org/calendar.

Free Ride

   The HOB (Heart of Brooklyn) Connection transports weekend culture-seekers of all ages to Brooklyn’s local landmarks in a shiny new red hop-on-hop-off bus.Stops include the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park and Prospect Park Zoo.You can even pick up the shuttle in Manhattan.Travelers get coupons to local restaurants and stores, maps and brochures. www.heartofbrooklyn.org.


   The Manhattan JCC on the Upper West Side is open to the community Saturday afternoons, 2-5pm, with its R&R Shabbat program, complete with musical performances, art projects, storytelling, movies, lectures, and delicious cookies.334 Amsterdam Avenue (at 76th Street). 646-505-5729.Check the weekly schedule at www.jccmanhattan.org.


   Watch magicians pull a rabbit out of a hat or find a coin behind your little darling’s ear every Friday, 7-8pm, at the Abracadabra magic store, 19 West 21 Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues).Coming soon: free clown shows with audience participation and balloon animals for all on Sunday afternoons.212-627-7523. www.abracadabrasuperstore.com.

On the Water

   What child doesn’t like a boat ride, even in the dead of winter?A nice way to spend a cold afternoon is sipping hot chocolate aboard the Staten Island Ferry, admiring the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. 25 minutes each direction.4 South Street. www.siferry.com.

Nature Events

   Join the Urban Park Rangers in many of the city’s parks for free bird watching, scavenger hunts, tree tours, hikes, and nature scrapbooking events. Dial 311 and ask for the Urban Park Rangers. www.nycgovparks.org.

Computer Fun

   The city’s Apple computer stores offer free hands-on youth workshops for kids and families on everything from composing songs in GarageBand to building a photo album, making a presentation, and producing a movie.Ages 6-13.Check website for retail locations and to register. www.apple.com/retail/youthworkshops.


   Sony Wonder Technology Lab offers free screenings in their intimate high-definition theater.Geared to ages 6 and under. 550 Madison Avenue (at 56th Street).For reservations: 212-833-7858. www.sonywondertechlab.com.

Free Museums All the Time

Sony Wonder, 550 Madison Avenue (between 55th and 56th Streets). 212-833-8100. www.wondertechlab.sony.com.

National Museum of the American Indian, 1 Bowling Green (between Broadway and Whitehall). 212-514-3700. www.americanindian.si.edu.

Forbes Galleries, 62 Fifth Ave (at 12th Street). 212-206-5548. www.forbesgalleries.com.

Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, Queens. 718-956-1819. www.socratessculpturepark.org.

Free Hours at Museums:

All of these museums waive their usual admission fees for a few hours.

New Museum: Free Thursdays 7-10pm. www.newmuseum.org.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan: Free the first Friday of every month, 5-8pm. www.cmom.org.

Museum of Modern Art:Free Fridays 4-8pm. www.moma.org.

New York Historical Society: Free Fridays 6-8pm. www.nyhistory.org.

Morgan Library: Free Fridays 7-9pm. www.themorgan.org.

Jewish Museum:Free Saturdays 11am-5:45pm. www.jewishmuseum.org.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Free Saturdays year-round, 10am-noon; free weekdays through February 29, 8am-4:30pm. www.bbg.org.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum: Free Saturdays 10-11am through February 29. www.brooklynkids.org.

Museum of the City of New York:Free Sundays 10am-noon. www.mcny.org.

BETHANY KANDEL is a Manhattan mom, journalist, and author of The Expert Parent (Pocket Books).She writes about offbeat things to do with kids in New York City.