In many cities around the world, museums are government subsidized, which means visitors pay no admission to get in. Not so here in New York, where you have to dig fairly deep into your pockets in order to enter the city’s finer art institutions. The Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art all charge $25, unless you’re a student or senior (though if you're a resident of New York State, it’s pay what you wish at The Met or The Met Breuer, while MoMA PS1 in Queens is free). Granted, many museums set aside certain hours during the week for free or pay what you admission, but they are very limited, and you have to keep an eye out for when those are. Still, to any museum lover low on cash, we say, don't despair! There are, in point of fact, numerous institutions that are completely free to get in, and they have a lot to offer. The American Folk Art Museum, for example, features work by self-taught artists that will blow your mind. Bronx Museum of the Arts hosts exciting exhibitions by 20th and 21st century art artists gratis. And the Hispanic Society of America offers Old Master paintings by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. You’ll find these and other venues where you don’t have to pay a dime for admission in our select list of the best free museums in NYC.
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Best free museums in NYC
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you a footwear fetishist? Well, there are some, 4,000 shoes in the Fashion Institute of Technology in-house museum, along with 15,000 accessories, 30,000 textiles, and countless designs by such giants of the fashion industry as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.
Yes, there are still working farms in NYC, including this 47-acre spread that welcome visitors with attractions such as a kid’s petting zoo, a corn maze and pumpkin picking during the fall.