Wednesday: Rainy Days NYC: Indoor play areas (pt2)

Being stuck at home with pre-school children or even older kids during the winter holidays can be a challenge for parents and caregivers alike. Apartments suddenly feel oppressive and cramped, play-dates get exhausted. Filling rainy days with meaningful or fun expeditions via traditional outlets: commercial or institutional, can become an expensive habit. Pouring over the many guides in search of an authentic and low-cost event can become a vocation in itself. 

But one of the most amazing things about New York City is that it offers a wide resource of stable, regular venues where our kids can let off steam. Here is a definitive guide (courtesy of for parents to bookmark. The places listed below are either FREE or LOW-COST. Simply click on the links for additional info like hours, updates, addresses, availability and fees, should they apply. 

1.  We love the Children’s Center at New York Public Library's Main Branch.  It has comfy reading spots, computers and even the original Winnie-the-Pooh on display. Plus all branches offer free activities for kids including story time, crafts and children's films. Not in Manhattan? Your borough has a library, too.

2.  Many buildings in NYC have amenity-filled atriums and lobbies that are open to the public. Our favorites: The Ford Foundation’s garden lobby on East 42nd Street and The Winter Garden in the Financial District.

3.  There are free story times every day of the week in this town. 

4.  Create a masterpiece at The LEGO Store, where they have stations set up for hours of building fun. And don’t miss the amazing LEGO recreations of NYC landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, on display throughout the store.

5.  And while you are in the neighborhood, stop by the FDNY Fire Zone to learn all about fire safety from a real fireman.

6.  Visit the National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the historic U.S. Custom House. This museum offers family-friendly films, workshops and other free fun.

7.  Hit Grand Central Terminal to watch trains come in and out of the station, check out the Whispering Gallery or take in one of the other activities.

8.  The NYC Parks Department runs Nature Centers in every borough that are open year-round. Kids can learn about the world around them through fun activities including tours, craft projects and more.

9.  Midtown’s Sony Wonder Technology Lab has cool hands-on techie exhibits for all ages, family workshops and free film screenings.

10.  There is a world of high-tech wonder and magic (and free events) to be had at the Disney Store in Times Square. Just try to get out without buying anything!

11. Learn about the NYC of a long, long time ago with a visit to Lefferts Historic House in the Children’s Corner of Prospect Park.  Kids will love playing with traditional toys and games, and participating in special craft activities such as candle making.

12.  Watch the bakers in action or grab a bite to eat at Chelsea Market. You can also stop by the children's section of Posman Books to relax and read a story.

13.  Don’t skip a trip to Central Park just because it is cold out! Commune with nature inside Belvedere Castle or play a quick board game in the Chess and Checkers House.

14.  Get crafty with the kids for free at places like the Scholastic Store, New York Public Libraries or one of the other places listed here.

15.  There are plenty of stores where kids can kill an hour or so playing or reading while you shop. Check out Nintendo World, Toys R Us or one of these.

16.  Take in a fun, free flick at one of these places around town.

17.  Groove to the beat at a Carnegie Hall free, interactive concert in neighborhoods all around the city this winter.

18.  Every other Saturday the ultra-cool design museum Cooper-Hewitt offers special Design Kids workshops, in addition to toddler programs and drop-in programs on weekdays.

19. Don’t forget, many area museums offer free admission and special programs during specified times each month.

20. Barnes & Noble, large kids play area and book corner: Union Square, 33 E 17th St
New YorkNY 10003; Tribeca, 97 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007.

Bonus Tip: Family Memberships to city museums and zoos are also a great way to go places for free. You'll initially shell out around $100 to join but membership should pay for itself in no time if you visit often enough. Membership often comes with extra perks too, such as access to special events and programming.