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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

Written by
Jillian Anthony
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.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to all the free museums days in NYC you should know about

Best free museums in NYC

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.

  • 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.

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.
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.

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.

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