New York may be home to the world’s highest concentration of billionaires, but there are plenty of beautiful things to see here without being rich enough to have your own art gallery. We’ve gathered our favorite completely free museums in NYC—visit them in between checking out the best art shows and other museum exhibitions, then try out all of the other free things to do this week!
Free museums in NYC
This unique institution is once again confined to its Lincoln Square location, after its spell in a purpose-built museum next door to MoMA ended because of a budget crisis that almost closed AFA. Its unparalleled holdings in folk and outsider artworks make it one of the city's outstanding cultural centers.
Located in a former military residence on the grounds of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this small museum chronicles the mighty history of the former shipbuilding center—which, at its peak during World War II, employed close to 70,000 people. Permanent exhibits examine the yard’s origins and significance throughout history; for example, a number of massive vessels, including the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor and the Pearl Harbor casualty USS Arizona, were built at the Navy Yard.
When you enter Federal Hall, you follow the same steps as George Washington—it was here that he took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. This National Park Service site, nestled on Wall Street, was also home to the first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch offices. The current structure on this spot, a resplendent Customs House, welcomes visitors to learn about the origins of the United States and its inaugural leader.
A century ago, this site vied with Niagara Falls as New York state’s greatest tourist attraction. Filled with Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles, Green-Wood is the resting place of some half million New Yorkers, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed. The spectacular, soaring arches of the main gate are carved from New Jersey brownstone, and the 1911 chapel was designed by Warren & Wetmore, the firm behind Grand Central Terminal. Battle Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn (offering prime Manhattan skyline views), is on cemetery grounds.
The Hispanic Society boasts the largest assemblage of Spanish art and manuscripts outside Spain. Goya’s masterful Duchess of Alba greets you as you enter, while several haunting El Greco portraits can be found on the second floor. The collection is dominated by religious artifacts, including 16th-century tombs from the monastery of San Francisco in Cuéllar, Spain. Also on display are decorative art objects and thousands of black-and-white photographs that document life in Spain and Latin America from the mid–19th century to the present.
This remote, historic 400-acre burial ground was established in 1863, and features landscape art and mausoleums. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 300,000 people, including literary giants Joseph Pulitzer and Herman Melville and musicians like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.
Housed in a distinctive Romanesque Revival building (a former public school), PS1 mounts cutting-edge shows and hosts an acclaimed international studio program. Artwork crops up in every corner, from the stairwells to the roof. PS1 became an affiliate of MoMA in 1999, and sometimes stages collaborative exhibitions. Reflecting the museum’s global outlook, it has focused in recent years on such luminaries as Janet Cardiff and Olafur Eliasson. It also hosts summer’s popular Saturday-afternoon party, Warm Up. Free admission for NYC residents beginning October 11, 2015 through October 15, 2016.
The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society.
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. But a 2008 expansion of the growing fields means everyone can benefit from the vegetables, wine and meat that the farm cultivates, sold on site and on Fridays at the Union Square Greenmarket. In the fall, pick your own pumpkins here, and test your navigation skills in the corn maze.