A trip to New York City is always an expensive proposition, just for lodging, meals, and entertainment, not to mention cabs and world-class shopping. And with the cost of NYC museum admissions often hovering around $20, checking out some of New York's great museums can make a big dent in your travel budget—especially if you want to scope out several different museums during your trip. Knowing which museums are free or have discounts on certain days makes it easy to save money with just a little planning. It goes without saying that the free admission days at many New York City museums are quite popular, so it's smart to arrive in the morning if you want to beat the crowd.
Museums That Are Always Free
Check out these New York City museums and cultural institutions that offer free access every day that they are open. You should confirm hours and days that they're open to avoid disappointment or spending time getting there only to discover they are closed.
- American Folk Art Museum
Frequently changing exhibits focus on traditional and early American folk art that includes portraits, quilts, furniture, decorative arts, needle arts, weathervanes, and whirligigs, as well as the creative expressions of self-taught artists.
- The Bronx Museum of the Arts
The flagship cultural institution of the Bronx, the Bronx Museum collects and celebrates 20th-century and contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on artists of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry and those with a connection to the Bronx.
- Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology
Changing exhibits on fashion along with the permanent collection.
- National Museum of the American Indian
Located in the Alexander Hamilton Customs House, the museum features changing exhibitions about Native cultures in the Western Hemisphere.
- The Studio Museum of Harlem
The Studio Museum of Harlem's exhibits focus on the works of local, national, and international artists of African descent.
- Queens Botanical Garden
Off-season visits to the Queens Botanical Garden are free daily from November through March. (Closed Mondays)
- Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City is a great place to enjoy an ever-changing landscape of outdoor art exhibits against the backdrop of the city.
Museums With Suggested Admission
These New York City museums allow you to use your discretion when paying admission. They rely on income from admissions to present their collections and do their work, but you can pay what you can afford (or what you feel represents your visit to the museum) with the suggested admission policy. At most of these museums, the full-price admission price is posted, but you can tell the cashier how much you want to pay and they will admit you. (You can't purchase tickets online for less than the full-price admission.)
- American Museum of Natural History
The adult admission at the American Museum of Natural History is only a suggested donation, but you'll have to pay full price for planetarium shows, IMAX films, and special exhibits. Suggested admission is not available for special ticketed shows.
- Brooklyn Museum
One of the oldest and largest art museums in the world, the Brooklyn Museum is housed in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building. The suggested admission lets you see not only the museum's permanent collection but also a range of ever-changing exhibits. For visitors 19-years-old and younger admission is free.
- El Museo del Barrio
Located in East Harlem, El Museo del Barrio collects and exhibits Caribbean, Latino, and Latin American art. The museum's suggested admission offers you the opportunity to explore temporary exhibits and displays from the museum's permanent collection.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art & The Cloisters
Pay what you want to see in one of the greatest art museums in New York City and in a premier art museum in the United States. Purchase of suggested admission tickets available only at counter.
- Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York features a permanent collection and changing exhibits about the history of one of the world's greatest cities.
- Queens Museum
The Queens Museum of Art collects and exhibits art reflecting the urban experience, with an emphasis on artists working and living in New York City and Queens. A suggested admission gives you a chance to see their most famous exhibit, The Panorama of the City of New York, built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World's Fair.
- Sculpture Center
Founded in 1928, the Sculpture Center collects and commissions contemporary sculpture and exhibits by emerging and established sculptors.
- Staten Island Museum
The Staten Island Museum prides itself on dynamic exhibits highlighting its multidisciplinary collection related to natural science, art, and history.
- Tibet House
The Tibet House Cultural Center features exhibits of classical and contemporary Tibetan art, as well as art inspired by Tibetan culture. Admission is free, but there is a box to contribute your donation.
Museums With Free Days or Hours
If your schedule happens to match up with the weekly free days or partial days at these museums, zoos, and botanical gardens, you're in luck.
- Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Enjoy the beautiful gardens, conservatory, and exhibitions at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for free every Tuesday through Friday from December to February. Admission is also free Friday morning before noon from March to November.
- New York Botanical Garden
Free admission on Wednesdays covers access to the NYBG grounds only.
- Queens Botanical Garden
Enjoy free admission to the Queens Botanical Garden for "winter weekdays": Tuesday to Friday, from December through February. Admission is also free Friday morning before noon from March through November.
- Staten Island Zoo
Visit the Staten Island Zoo for free on Wednesday afternoons during specific hours. Parking is always free.
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Free admission on UNIQLO Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. gives you access to see MoMa's impressive collections and exhibits, which normally cost to enter.
- Whitney Museum of American Art
Pay-what-you-wish on Friday nights from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to visit the Whitney, which displays 20th-century and contemporary American art.
- Guggenheim Museum
Pay-what-you-wish on Saturday evenings at the Guggenheim.