As the weather gets colder and you’re looking for fun and educational activities to do on the weekends with your family, consider visiting one of the best historical houses and castles in New York . Not only do you get to immerse yourself into a totally different time period through art, architecture, and artifacts, but there are also tons of hands-on learning opportunities for kiddos. Browse the history of our favorite picks below and get ready to have your very own Downton Abbey moment!
Looking for more ways to have fun this winter? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Family Holiday Fun in New York City!
Belvedere Castle – Midtown
Central Park, Mid-Park at 79th Street
True to its name, as Belvedere translates to “beautiful view” in Italian, Belvedere Castle is an exquisite sight. Recently renovated, the castle is now open for visitors to climb up its spiral staircases and peer out of the castle windows. Designed in 1869, the Belvedere is rich with history, architecture, and it has the best views of Central Park and the cityscape.
The Central Park Conservancy offers Discovery Walks for Families. During the Turtle Pond Discovery Walk, little ones get to explore the five turtle species that live there and the history of the pond through hands-on activities. As the Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle are neighbors, take a stroll through the Belvedere before or after your Turtle Pond journey. If you’re looking for a Belvedere-specific tour, there are upcoming dates all throughout the winter, but note that these tours take you through the areas surrounding the castle, not inside of it. You are welcome to explore the castle’s interior before or after the tour. The tour of Belvedere costs $15 per person and $10 for members. Open to visitors 10 am-5 pm fall, winter, and spring, 9 am-7 pm summer.
Gracie Mansion – Yorkville
East 88th Street and East End Avenue
Known as the “Little White House,” Gracie Mansion has been the home of many NYC mayors over the years. Archibald Gracie built the house in 1799, and it was bought and sold by a few others before NYC finally took control of the estate in 1896 due to non-payment of taxes. Before its tradition as the “Little White House” began, Gracie Mansion was the first Museum of the City of New York, which then moved to its permanent location in 1932. The mansion has undergone several renovations and expansions over the years, including the addition of a ballroom and reception rooms when Robert F. Wagner was mayor. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to stay in his own house in 2002, the mansion was renovated and restored into the “People’s House,” creating more municipal and public access. Visit the Gracie Mansion to learn more about the fascinating Little White House. Tours are Mondays at 10 am, 11 am, and 5 pm. Make a reservation online to visit.
Morris-Jumel Mansion – Washington Heights
65 Jumel Terrace
Originally built in 1765 as a summer house by Colonel Roger Morris for his family, when Morris abandoned the house at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington and his Patriot officers moved in a few years later in 1776. The view from the mansion allowed Washington to note troop movements and plan the army’s first successful victory: the Battle of Harlem Heights. President George Washington later held his first Cabinet dinner at the mansion in 1790. The land was purchased by Eliza and Stephen Jumel in 1810, at which point it underwent lots of alterations, and the City of New York eventually took control of the property in the 1880s. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest house in Manhattan, giving visitors a peek into the lives of the Morris and Jumel families. The Mansion holds Family Days on the second Saturday of each month, 12-2 pm, that involve hands-on activities and crafts for kids! December 14 is Paper Ornaments Family Day, so come to make your own paper ornament to decorate your holiday tree. And don’t miss out on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: A Play with Music on December 14, 8-9:30 pm. Open to visitors Tuesday-Friday 10 am-4 pm, Saturday-Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Adults $10, seniors and students $8, free for kids under age 12 and members.
The Old Stone House – Park Slope
336 3rd Street
Visit this Dutch stone farmhouse to learn all about its history and get involved in its fun, family-friendly events. The original house was built beside the Gowanus Creek in 1699 and used by soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Later, it became the first clubhouse of the Brooklyn team of the National Baseball League (now the Brooklyn Dodgers). The house was rebuilt in the 1890s with the original stones and was used as a sports facility in the 1930s for J. J. Byrne Park (now Washington Park). The Old Stone House offers a variety of educational programs, such as Dutch Toys and Games or Colonial Crafts. The December events calendar is full of theater, a holiday book fair, and so much more! Open to visitors Friday 3-6 pm, Saturday-Sunday 11 am-4 pm, or by appointment.
Lefferts Historic House – Prospect Park
452 Flatbush Avenue
Lefferts Historic House was built by a Dutch family in the 18th-century farming village of Flatbush. The house features a working garden, historic artifacts, period rooms, and exhibits. While you may have already visited this Brooklyn, kid-friendly hotspot, there is always something new and exciting to do when you go! Little ones and their families get to play with traditional tools, toys and games, and engage in historic activities, such as candle making, sewing, and butter churning. Lefferts Historic House also does children’s birthday parties, so if you love your Lefferts experience, look into hosting your little one’s next birthday there. After you’re done exploring Lefferts Historic House, check out all that Prospect Park has to offer! Open to visitors Saturday-Sunday 12-4 pm for October 31-November 29, hours subject to change per season. $3 suggested donation.
Wyckoff House Museum – East Flatbush
5816 Clarendon Road
Dating back to 1652, the Wyckoff House is NYC’s oldest building. The Wyckoff family lived in the house for eight generations until 1901. In 1982, the house was restored and opened to the public. There is always lots to do at the Wyckoff House, including Free Family Days every third Saturday of the month, 11 am-3 pm. Bring your family to embark on a scavenger hunt, investigate artifacts, garden, and get crafty with hands-on activities. The theme of December’s Family Day on December 21 is Festive Felt and Fiber Crafts. Open to visitors Friday-Saturday 1-4 pm, tours start every 30 minutes, Tuesday-Thursday tours available by appointment only. Adults $5, kids ages 10-18 $3, students and seniors $3, free for kids under age 10 and members.
Bowne House – Flushing
37-01 Bowne Street
Built around 1661 and expanded by John Bowne in 1669 and 1680, Bowne House is the best-preserved example of Anglo-Dutch vernacular residential architecture in the country. Step back in time as you learn about the lives of the Bowne and Parsons families from the 17th to 20th centuries. What we love about the Bowne House is that most of their approximately 5,000 objects are original to the house! Check out decorative arts, furniture, textiles, costumes, rare books and manuscripts, paintings, and toys. The Bownes and the Parsons were also very involved in anti-slavery activism and the “Underground Railroad” to help enslaved people escape to their freedom. Their activism is documented in the Browne House. Individual tours are available Wednesday 1-4 pm or by appointment. $10, $8 students and seniors.
Lewis H. Latimer House – Flushing
34-41 137th Street
Home of the African-American inventor and electrical pioneer Lewis Howard Latimer, this historic house is full of genius! Latimer worked alongside three of the greatest scientific inventors in American history: Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram S. Maxim, and Thomas Alva Edison. He helped develop the telephone and invented and patented the carbon filament. Latimer also supervised the installation of street lighting and the construction of electric plants in American cities. The house shows Latimer’s and other African-American’s contributions to science, technology, and American life. Be sure to mark on your calendars the Holiday Tinker Festival & Tree Lighting at the house on December 15, 2:30-4:30 pm. There will be hot cocoa, music, tinkering, and, of course, tree lighting! Open to visitors Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday 12-5 pm, walk-in tours available but groups must schedule in advance. $5 suggested donation.
King Manor Museum – Jamaica Bridgetown
150-03 Jamaica Avenue
Named after Rufus King, a signatory of the United States Constitution, King Manor Museum is open to the public with plenty for families to see, do, and explore! When King owned the manor, beginning in 1805, he added a kitchen, expanded the dining room, and renovated the bedrooms. King’s son later added the Greek Revival exterior details. Under King’s ownership, the manor was a working farm, growing wheat, barely, potatoes, corn, strawberries, peaches, apples, and more. King even raised livestock, including dairy cows, horses, hogs, and sheep. The Village of Jamaica occupied the property for a time, and then eventually it was transferred to the City of New York. King Manor Museum opened to the public in 1994. The house now offers Hands on History creative projects for kids, such as Make Your Own Scented Pomander on December 7, 1-4 pm. There is also a winter celebration on December 13 featuring classical chamber music from the time of Rufus King. Open to visitors Monday-Friday 12-2 pm, Saturday-Sunday 1-5 pm. Suggested admission is adults $5, seniors and students $3, free for kids ages 16 and under and members.
Edgar Allan Poe Cottage – Fordham
2640 Grand Concourse at East
As a NYC and State landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage is a must-visit. Whether your little ones know who the famous writer is or have never heard the name before, they’ll love exploring this cottage and learning about Poe. While living in the cottage with his family, Poe wrote “The Bells,” “Eureka,” and “Annabel Lee.” For your young aspiring writers, a trip to the cottage will be such an inspiration of literary greatness! Open to visitors Thursday-Friday 10 am-3 pm, Saturday 10 am-4 pm, Sunday 1-5 pm. Adults $5, kids, students, and seniors $3.
Valentine-Varian House – Norwood
3266 Bainbridge Avenue
Built by blacksmith and farmer Isaac Valentine in 1758, the Valentine-Varian House is the second oldest house in the Bronx. But during the Revolutionary War, Valentine and his family had to leave their house for British, Hessian, and American troops to occupy it. Even after battles and a series of cannons on a nearby hill, the house survived and was donated to The Bronx County Historical Society in 1965. Now known as the Museum of Bronx History, families can touch the fieldstones Valentine used to construct the house and walk on the original oak and pine floorboards. There are also several gallery exhibitions to check out that detail Bronx’s history and culture. Open to visitors Saturday 10 am-4 pm, Sunday 1-5 pm. Adults $5, kids, students, and seniors $3.
Van Cortlandt House Museum – Van Cortlandt Park
West 246th Street
The Van Cortlandt House is the oldest surviving building in the Bronx. Frederick Van Cortlandt began building the house in 1748 on the plantation that his family owned and farmed since 1691. During the Revolutionary War, the house was used by Rochambeau, Lafayette, and Washington. Van Cortlandt descendants then lived in the house until 1886, when they sold the estate to the City of New York for Van Cortlandt Park. Van Cortlandt House Museum is also the first historic house museum, and it’s been declared both a New York City Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. During the holidays, December 1 through January 6, the house features glimpses into 18th century celebrations of winter holidays with festive decor and exhibits. And on December 8, visit the museum to celebrate all things Saint Nicholas through crafts, tours, games, hot chocolate, and horses! There is much to learn and experience at this historical house, so plan a trip with your family today. Open to visitors Tuesday-Friday 10 am-4 pm, Saturday-Sunday 11 am-4 pm. Adults $5, $3 students and seniors, free for kids ages 12 and under, free/by donations on Wednesday.