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The best free museums in NYC

Our favorite completely free institutions in the city for checking out art, history and even a few gravestones

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/gigi_nyc

New York may be home to the world’s highest concentration of billionaires, but there are plenty of beautiful things to see here without being rich enough to have your own art gallery. We’ve gathered our favorite completely free museums in NYC—visit them in between checking out the best art shows and other museum exhibitions, then try out all of the other free things to do this week!

Free museums in NYC

American Folk Art Museum

Critics' pick

This unique institution is once again confined to its Lincoln Square location, after its spell in a purpose-built museum next door to MoMA ended because of a budget crisis that almost closed AFA. Its unparalleled holdings in folk and outsider artworks make it one of the city's outstanding cultural centers.

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Upper West Side Free

BLDG 92

Located in a former military residence on the grounds of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this small museum chronicles the mighty history of the former shipbuilding center—which, at its peak during World War II, employed close to 70,000 people. Permanent exhibits examine the yard’s origins and significance throughout history; for example, a number of massive vessels, including the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor and the Pearl Harbor casualty USS Arizona, were built at the Navy Yard.

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Fort Greene

Bronx Museum of the Arts

Critics' pick

Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 800 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sometimes offers family programming.

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The Bronx Free

Federal Hall National Memorial

When you enter Federal Hall, you follow the same steps as George Washington—it was here that he took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. This National Park Service site, nestled on Wall Street, was also home to the first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch offices. The current structure on this spot, a resplendent Customs House, welcomes visitors to learn about the origins of the United States and its inaugural leader.

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Financial District Free

Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel

A century ago, this site vied with Niagara Falls as New York state’s greatest tourist attraction. Filled with Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles, Green-Wood is the resting place of some half million New Yorkers, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed. The spectacular, soaring arches of the main gate are carved from New Jersey brownstone, and the 1911 chapel was designed by Warren & Wetmore, the firm behind Grand Central Terminal. Battle Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn (offering prime Manhattan skyline views), is on cemetery grounds.

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Chelsea

The Hispanic Society of America

The Hispanic Society boasts the largest assemblage of Spanish art and manuscripts outside Spain. Goya’s masterful Duchess of Alba greets you as you enter, while several haunting El Greco portraits can be found on the second floor. The collection is dominated by religious artifacts, including 16th-century tombs from the monastery of San Francisco in Cuéllar, Spain. Also on display are decorative art objects and thousands of black-and-white photographs that document life in Spain and Latin America from the mid–19th century to the present.

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Washington Heights Free

Historic Woodlawn Cemetery

This remote, historic 400-acre burial ground was established in 1863, and features landscape art and mausoleums. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 300,000 people, including literary giants Joseph Pulitzer and Herman Melville and musicians like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

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The Bronx Free

The Museum at FIT

The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society.

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Midtown West Free

Queens County Farm Museum

Critics' pick

The oldest continually farmed land in NYC, the now-47-acre stretch offers a petting zoo for the kids and school groups, who do most of the visiting. But a 2008 expansion of the growing fields means everyone can benefit from the vegetables, wine and meat that the farm cultivates, sold on site and on Fridays at the Union Square Greenmarket. In the fall, pick your own pumpkins here, and test your navigation skills in the corn maze.

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Queens Free

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

Young techies can revel in this midtown spot's hands-on activity stations. One of our favorites is the "Dance Motion Capture" exhibit; kids stand in front of the camera and do their best booty shake and hand jive. Then, they choose an avatar and watch as the character performs their unique moves. Also catch a film on the cheap. Every Saturday, the education center's high-def theater hosts free screenings of classics and hits. With only 73 tickets available for each show, you'll want to call to reserve yours the Monday before the screening.

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Downtown Free

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