Fun on the Cheap in New York, Philly and Baltimore

Taking your kids to the big city? Don’t drop lots of cash on Broadway shows, children’s museums and other over-priced attractions unless you know that’s what your kid really wants to do. I learned my lesson when my 12-year-old slept through Tarzan on Broadway. I’ll never blow $75 on a nap again. These days, when I take my daughter to a show, her brother stays home.   

But my family and I don’t see a ton of shows. There are just so many other things going on in New York that we can do for free or low cost. Here’s some of our favorite cheap things to do in New York, Baltimore and Philly:


Inner Harbor

There’s always something new to see and do at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For little or no money you can: ride the carousel, which is located near the Science Center; get some exercise on a paddleboat ride; and watch the ever-present street performers. If you plan to splurge on admission tickets, we think the Maryland Science Center is a better bet than the National Aquarium. Not only is it considerably cheaper, it’s a heck of a lot less crowded. Break for lunch with a shake and burger from Johnny Rocket’s.

Fell’s Point

You can drive directly to Fell’s Point but if it’s a nice day, take the water taxi over from the Inner Harbor. The kids will love the 10-minute ride. This waterfront neighborhood is filled with funky coffeehouses and interesting restaurants – at least some of which are happy to pull out the kids’ menus and crayons. Take a walk down the block-paved streets and over to Broadway Market. Kids of all ages will enjoy drinking in the sights and sounds at Broadway, which is the nation’s oldest public market.

Baltimore Museum of Art

Every Sunday is “Free Family Sunday” at the BMA, which is located on the campus of John Hopkins University, Every week features a different activity, including sketching tours and hands-on art workshop. When you’re ready to tour the rest of the museum, check out a Funpack, a self-guided kit that encourages kids to dress up, sketch, and sing their way through the galleries. For more info call 443-573-1700 or go to

New York City

People Watching and Window Shopping

One-man bands. Society matrons dripping with bling. Hipsters in thrift store fashions and old-school sneakers. There’s no better place for people-watching than New York. It’s also a great place for window-shopping, which doesn’t cost a penny. When you’re ready to spend a little cash, here’s what we suggest: 

  • The Ferris Wheel at Toys ‘R Us in Times SquareTake a spin on the 60-foot Ferris wheel and get a bird’s eye view of the store’s 20-foot tall T-Rex.
  •  A bag of goodies from Dylan’s Candy Bar. Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan, now has six candy stores nationwide. The best is the flagship store on Third Ave., chockfull of candy-themed clothes, notepads, jewelry, scents, and, of course, actual candy.
  • A new accessory from the American Girl store. Little girls and grown-up girls will love wandering through the American Girl store, located just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center. Resist buying a doll but treat your little girl to a new accessory for her current doll, or to one of the American Girl paperback books.

Sports Museum of America

If you have sports fans in your house, make this museum your one splurge.  (Tickets are $24 for adults; $17 for kids 6 to 15 and free for kids under 6.)  The museum opened its doors a few years ago, and has quickly become a huge hit.  It’s chockfull of interactive exhibits that lets kids get a taste of what it’s like in the big leagues. For example, the Goalie Eye’s View lets them experience what it feels like to have pucks flying at them. There’s also a slew of memorabilia, like the original Heisman Trophy and Michael Jordan’s “Dream Team Jersey.”  Sports Museum of America, 26 Broadway, 212-747-0900,


Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell 

Visitors from all over the world come to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But many of us who live nearby never get around to seeing them. Vow to take your kids to these free, educational (and surprisingly fun) historic sites one weekend soon. It’s all about hands-on history as your kids become archaeologists digging for artifacts, construct their own 18th century journals, or learn how to play a glass armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin.        

Penn’s Landing and Dave & Buster’s

In 1682, Penn’s Landing is where William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, docked and came ashore. These days, Penn’s Landing is all about good times — there are concerts, wine-tasting events and festivals  every summer weekend (and lots of spring and fall weekends). Check out the Irish-American Festival June 6, America’s Taste of Philadelphia Festival July 25- 27 or the Super Scooper Ice Cream Festival Aug. 3-4. For more info, go  A stone’s throw away is every arcade lover’s dream – Dave & Buster’s, wits its gazillion games, from classic skee ball to virtual reality games. You don’t have to spend a bushel of cash – one mom told us she gave her three kids $25 to split at D&B’s and they made it last for two hours. It can be done! For more info go to

Ride the Ducks

Head to the Ducks for a history tour that will make your kids quack up. The Ducks are amphibious trucks that take you through Philly’s historic district and down South Street, but best yet, for a ride on the Delaware. The drivers mix corny stories with their tales of history. The kids are sure to love the duck-lip-shaped quackers that they’re encouraged to blow at strategic times throughout the tour. Call Ride the Ducks at 877-88-QUACK or go to

–Margo McDonough


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