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Best free museums

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

Center for Book Arts

Critics' pick

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.

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Midtown Free

Forbes Galleries

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.

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Greenwich Village Free

National Museum of the American Indian

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.

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Financial District 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.

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Lower East Side Free

The Little Red Lighthouse

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.

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Washington Heights Free

The Museum at FIT

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.

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Midtown West Free

Society of Illustrators

Critics' pick

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.

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

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Queens Free

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.

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Murray Hill