Best free museums

At these free museums, you can see edifying exhibits without spending a dime.

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Center for Book Arts

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Center for Book Arts offers a thorough introduction to the concept of the book as a contemporary objet d'art—librarians, conservators, and amateur bibliophiles alike enroll in their wide variety of classes. The Center also hosts several small exhibitions at a time, focusing on the changing aesthetic conception of the book throughout history.

  1. 28 W 27th St, (between Broadway and Sixth Ave, third floor)
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Forbes Galleries

  • Free

Nestled on the ground floor of the Forbes publishing headquarters in Greenwich Village, this toy trove maintains a low profile even among the most culturally savvy parents. Children can peer at more than 500 toy boats, dating from the 1870s through the 1950s, and several thousand toy soldiers.

  1. 62 Fifth Ave, (at 12th St), 10011
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National Museum of the American Indian

  • Free

This branch of the Smithsonian Institution displays its collection around the grand rotunda of the 1907 Custom House, at the bottom of Broadway (which, many moons ago, began as an Indian trail). The life and culture of Native Americans is presented in rotating exhibitions—from intricately woven Pomo baskets to beaded buckskin shirts—along with contemporary artwork.

  1. Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green, (between State and Whitehall Sts)
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Cuchifritos

  • Free

This project space of the nonprofit residency program Artists Alliance Inc. is located in an indoor market on the Lower East Side. In keeping with that area's tradition of integrating arts and the community, the gallery puts out frequent curatorial calls, and features work with a social conscience.

  1. 120 Essex St, (between Delancey and Rivington Sts)
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Lefferts Historic House Museum

  • Free

Outfitted as a Prospect Park destination for kids, Lefferts House depicts Brooklyn family life in the 1820s to the present.

  1. Prospect Park, Flatbush Ave, (at Empire Blvd)
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The Little Red Lighthouse

  • Free

Built in 1880, this teeny structure is the sole remaining lighthouse in Manhattan. The lighthouse served as the inspiration for Hildegard H. Swift's 1942 children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

  1. Fort Washington Park, (178th St at the Hudson River)
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The Museum at FIT

  • Free

Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection (which boasts some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the fifth century to the present), as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society.

  1. Seventh Ave, (at 27th St)
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Society of Illustrators

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Since it was founded in 1901, the Society of Illustrators has promoted the work of artists around the world through events and exhibitions in the former carriage house of William P. Read, attorney to J. P. Morgan, on the Upper East Side.

  1. 128 E 63rd St, (between Park and Lexington Aves)
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Queens County Farm Museum

  • Critics choice
  • Free

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. In the fall, pick your own pumpkins here, and test your navigation skills in the corn maze.

  1. 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy, (between 73rd Rd and 74th Ave)
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Scandinavia House

One of the city’s top cultural centers, Scandinavia House is a lifeline between the U.S. and the five Nordic nations (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), and offers a full schedule of films, lectures, and art and design exhibitions. The café, an outpost of small chain Smörgas Chef, serves up tasty Swedish meatballs, and the shop is a showcase for chic Scandinavian design.

  1. 58 Park Ave, (between 37th and 38th Sts)
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