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The best free museums in NYC

Check out our favorite (and totally free) museums in NYC for art, history and even a few gravestones

"Mike Kelley" at MoMA PS1
Photograph: Jena Cumbo
By Jillian Anthony and Howard Halle |

New York is blessed with the finest museums in the world. There’s just one catch though: They’re expensive. Seeing the latest exhibits at The Museum of Modern Art will set you back a cool $25 bucks unless you’re a student or senior (kids under 16 get in gratis). Ditto for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which at one point didn’t technically charge admission, but rather asked for a pay-what-you wish donation—a condition of its charter with the City of New York—but no longer. (Though the policy continues to apply to anyone who is a New York State resident, as long as you can prove it.) The Guggenheim is likewise pricey. Granted, most museums offer unlimited access if you buy a membership, but if you’re looking to get one at, say, MoMA, it will cost anywhere from $85 to $360, depending on which menu of benefits you select. The point of all of this is that unlike Europe or cities such as Washington, where institutions are publically subsidized, there is no free lunch when it comes to going to most museums in New York. But fear not! There are, in fact, plenty of them that you can visit where the admission is nothing, nada—in other words, FREE! And it’s not the sort of thing where you “get what you pay for,” either. The Bronx Museum and MoMA PS1—which, unlike its big brother in midtown is free for New York State residents—present the latest in contemporary art. The American Folk Art Museum, meanwhile, features work by self-taught artists that is sometimes mind-blowing. We’ve got these and similar places to visit in our complete guide to the best free museums in NYC, so quite pleading poverty and get out there to see some art.

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Best free museums in NYC

American Folk Art Museum
Photograph: Gavin Ashworth
Museums, Art and design

American Folk Art Museum

icon-location-pin Midtown West

From paintings by itinerant portrait artists of early-19th century America to Henry Darger’s delirious drawings, AFAM has the best collection of folk, visionary and outsider art in the country. The best part? Getting in is free.

Photograph: Tom Olcott
Museums, Special interest


icon-location-pin Fort Greene

The history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard—which constructed the Civil War ironclad, Monitor and the World War II battleship, USS Arizona (the most famous causality of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor—is chronicled in this small museum on the grounds of the former shipbuilding site.

Bronx Museum of the Arts
Photograph: Courtesy Bronx Museum of the Arts
Museums, Art and design

Bronx Museum of the Arts

icon-location-pin Bronx

Featuring a collection of more than 800 works, this multicultural art museum is one of NYC’s more underrated institutions, but it’s worth a visit not only because it’s free, but also because it hosts exciting exhibitions by 20th and 21st century art artists.

Federal Hall
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/oligator83
Attractions, Civic buildings

Federal Hall National Memorial

icon-location-pin Financial District

George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States at this National Park Service site, nestled on Wall Street, which was also home to the first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch offices. What better place to learn to learn the early history of the Republic, especially when it’s free?

Photograph: Courtesy Godwin-Ternbach Museum (at Queens College)
Museums, Art and design

Godwin-Ternbach Museum (at Queens College)

icon-location-pin Flushing

This small museum, located on the Queens College campus in Flushing, hosts a number of exhibits each year. Though its permanent collection is relatively small—comprising about 3,500 items total—the museum's exhibitions are varied, and have included shows on Salvador Dalí, the Works Progress Administration and Andean textiles.

Green-Wood Cemetery
Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel

icon-location-pin Sunset Park

NYC’s answer to Paris’s Père Lachaise graveyard, Green-Wood Cemetery, like it’s French counterpart, serves as the final resting place of luminaries, including such famous names as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed, who share the peace and quiet with some half million or New Yorkers. You’ll also find tons of Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles filling the grounds.

Hispanic Society
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/gigi_nyc
Museums, Art and design

The Hispanic Society of America

icon-location-pin Washington Heights

Old Master paintings (by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya), religious artifacts and rare are just some of the treasure featured in the collection this museum dedicated to celebrating Spanish culture and its spread around the world.

Woodlawn Cemetery
Photograph: Courtesy Woodlawn Conservancy
Attractions, Cemeteries

Historic Woodlawn Cemetery

icon-location-pin Riverdale–Kingsbridge

Literary giants (Joseph Pulitzer, Herman Melville) and musicians Duke Ellington, Miles Davis) are those resting in peace in this 400-acre burial ground in the Bronx.


"Mike Kelley" at MoMA PS1
Photograph: Jena Cumbo
Museums, Art and design


icon-location-pin Long Island City

Featuring exhibits by today’s sharpest cutting-edge artists, MoMA PS1 was originally founded as an alternative space in the 1970s. Since 1999, it’s been affiliated with MoMA, but unlike the latter, you don’t have to pony up $25 to get in: Admission is free for all NYC residents courtesy of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

National Museum of the American Indian
Museums, Natural history

National Museum of the American Indian

icon-location-pin Financial District

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 Navajo jewelry to ritual tribal-dance costumes—along with contemporary artwork. The Diker Pavilion for Native Arts & Culture, which opened in 2006, has already made its mark on the cultural life of the city by offering the only dedicated showcase for Native American visual and performing arts.

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New York attractions
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Museums in NYC

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