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Photograph: Walter Wlodarczyk, courtesy MoMA PS1

The best free museums in NYC

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

By Jillian Anthony and Howard Halle

New York City boasts the finest museums in the world, devoted to all sorts of fields from art and design to science and history. They’re located in all five boroughs, including Brooklyn and Queens, and a visit to any of them—be it The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA or the American Museum of Natural History—is time well spent. There's only one hitch: They can be pricey to get into. That’s because unlike many other museums around the world, the ones here in New York are not subsidized by the government. True, at an average of about $25 a pop, museum admission in NYC is only a little more than the cost of a movie ticket, and certainly a bargain compared to what Broadway theater seats will set you back. And it is also the case that most museums that charge admission have free or pay-what-you-wish hours set aside at certain times of the week. Which is all well and good, but still, you should know that there are plenty of museums in NYC that are completely free, offering programs for all types of interests and tastes. You just have to know where to find them, which we are more than happy to help you do with our select list of the best free museums in NYC.

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Best free museums in NYC

American Folk Art Museum
American Folk Art Museum
Photograph: Gavin Ashworth

1. American Folk Art Museum

Museums Art and design Upper West Side

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

2. BLDG 92

Museums Special interest 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
Bronx Museum of the Arts
Photograph: Courtesy Bronx Museum of the Arts

3. Bronx Museum of the Arts

Museums Art and design The 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
Federal Hall
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/oligator83

4. Federal Hall National Memorial

Attractions Civic buildings 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)

5. Godwin-Ternbach Museum (at Queens College)

Museums Art and design Queens

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.

6. Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Greenwood

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
Hispanic Society
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/gigi_nyc

7. The Hispanic Society of America

Museums Art and design 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
Woodlawn Cemetery
Photograph: Courtesy Woodlawn Conservancy

8. Historic Woodlawn Cemetery

Attractions Cemeteries The Bronx

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
"Mike Kelley" at MoMA PS1
Photograph: Jena Cumbo

9. MoMA PS1

Museums Art and design 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.

10. National Museum of the American Indian

Museums Natural history 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.


11. The Museum at FIT

Museums Fashion and costume Chelsea

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.

12. Queens County Farm Museum

Museums Special interest Queens

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.

Looking for more museums in NYC?

New York attractions
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Museums in NYC


There are museums in NYC to satisfy every kind of intellectual curiosity and aesthetic


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