Museum Admission Deals and Discounts

Ways to save for seniors, vets, locals, and more

San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences

Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Museums are popular with travelers of all ages. Museums offer learning opportunities, a travel adventure that doubles as shelter from a bad weather day, and the chance to delve deeply into a topic of interest.

While many museums charge admission, seniors and Baby Boomers can take advantage of a wide array of free museum days, deals, discounts, and money-saving museum cards.

What to Know Before You Go

Plan ahead. You don't have to decide which museums to visit on each day of your trip if you prefer spontaneous travel, but you should spend a few moments researching free museum days, senior discounts, and other money-saving opportunities so that you can bring this information with you when you travel.

Free Museums

Some museums, such as the extensive network of Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., never charge admission. Many military museums, including the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, are also open free of charge.

All over the United States, you will find museums that cheerfully open their doors to the public for free. Examples include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, New York City's Forbes Galleries, Sony Wonder Technology Lab, and San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.

Free Days and Discounts

You may also be able to take advantage of museum free days. Some museums have a regularly scheduled free day, afternoon, or evening; if you visit during that time, you will not have to pay admission. For example, museums in major cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago all offer free days and discounted admission.

Bank of America's Museums on Us program, meanwhile, offers its cardholders one free general admission to one of over 200 participating museums on the first full weekend of each month. You will need to show a photo ID and a Bank of America, U. S. Trust, or Merrill Lynch debit or credit card to receive your free admission.

Smithsonian magazine's Museum Day Live! program also offers free admission to two people from the same household to one participating museum. Museum Day Live! is held at the end of September; actual dates vary by year. To participate, you must request your tickets in advance via the magazine's Museum Day Live! website, then download and print the tickets.

Tip: Some museums will allow you to use your smartphone or tablet to show your ticket. Check with your museum or the ticket email from Museum Day Live!

Special Category Discounts

Some museums offer discounts to special categories of visitors. Examples include:

  • Senior discounts—To learn about senior discounts at a particular museum, you can call the museum, check its website, or just show up and read the admission prices. Even if you see no information posted about a senior discount, it never hurts to ask for one.
  • Free or reduced admission for Veterans—If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for free or reduced admission either on Veterans Day or all year long.
  • Visitors with disabilities and their companions—A limited number of museums offer free admission to visitors with disabilities; some of these museums also offer the travel companions of those visitors free admission.
  • Local residents—To encourage people from the community to visit, some museums offer admission discounts to local residents. Be sure to bring proof of residency.

Museum Cards

In many large cities, travelers can purchase museum cards that offer discounted admission to a specific group of museums over a period that can range from one day to a week or longer.

These museum cards can be a good deal, but they can also cost you more than you might think. You have to pay for the card itself, so you should do some math and decide whether the discounts you will receive will exceed the cost of the museum card.

To make things more enticing—and confusing—some museum cards also include free public transportation, but for a higher card price. A few minutes with your calculator should tell you whether or not this type of museum card is a good deal for you.

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