Museum of the City of New York best free museum in NYC

15 Best Free Museums in NYC + MAP

The Big Apple is known for its impressive collection of museums, but what you may not realize is that there are lots of free museums in New York City. So, if you’re looking for free things to do in NYC, consider having a museum day at one of these institutions.

There are all kinds of free NYC art galleries, science halls, and history exhibitions, so I have no doubt that you’ll find something that interests you. In this guide, I’ll share the 15 best free museums in NYC, as well as other museums that have special free days and hours throughout the week. This way, you can plan accordingly and see more while paying less.

I’ll also share a map with all the institutes and museums so you can easily locate the ones along your route. Keep it handy in case you come across a rainy day during your trip, or you crave some art and culture while visiting NYC!

1. American Museum of Natural History, the best free museum in NYC

Pay-what-you-wish for residents of NY, NJ, and CT

First, the American Museum of Natural History is a world-renown institution, so it’s a must-see. One caveat to the free admission is that you must be a resident of New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut; otherwise, you’ll have to pay full price for a ticket.

It’s worth the price since this is hands-down one of the best free museums in NYC. The museum’s famous Theodore Roosevelt rotunda was featured in the movie Night at the Museum, and its dinosaur fossil collection is the largest in the world.

American Museum of Natural History, free museums in new york city

1. American Museum of Natural History, the best free natural history museum in NYC

Among the impressive fossils here are a T-rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Brontosaurus. There are also magnificent whale bones hanging from the ceiling, so you can grasp the immensity of these creatures.

Along with the fossil collections, the museum contains several mammal, bird, and reptile halls, biodiversity displays, and cultural galleries dedicated to ancient civilizations and peoples. The planetary and earth science exhibits are also worth seeing, as they include meteorites, minerals, gems, and the 20-carat Okavango Blue Diamond. For all these reasons, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the top things to do in New York City, so be sure to check it out.

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of NYC’s best free art museums

Pay-what-you-wish for residents of NY, NJ, and CT

The largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is also one of New York City’s free museums if you’re a resident of New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. If you consider yourself an art lover, then you can’t visit NYC without going to the Met.

That said, The Met is totally worth a full-price ticket, as its permanent collection contains millions of pieces from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the European masters, modern American artists, and various parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, free museums in nyc

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of NYC’s best free art museums

Among the paintings, drawings, sculptures, pottery, and crafts, The Met displays medieval armor, thousands of costumes, musical instruments, and photographs. Moreover, as one of the top art museums in the world, it hosts temporary exhibits on a rotating basis, so there is always something new to see.

Without a doubt, if you’re looking for a free art museum in NYC, The Met should be at the top of your list. You can easily spend a day here getting lost in the galleries and installations, and if the weather’s nice, the rooftop garden.

3. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, one of the top free art museums in NYC

Free admission for everyone

Another free NYC art museum that you should visit is the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which displays contemporary American works. While the main collection is dedicated to artists from the United States, the museum also hosts temporary exhibits from South America, Asia, and Africa.

Best of all, admission is pay-what-you-wish, so the collection is available to anyone who wants to see it. From the outside, the institution has an accordion-like design, while the second floor has a sculpture garden where you can see even more works.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts, free museums in nyc for students

3. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, one of the top free art museums in NYC

As you walk through the galleries, you’ll see lots of contemporary pieces and art installations, many of which invite you to delve into the deeper meaning. In the past, the museum has showcased works by Hispanic artists in the U.S., Harlem-based street artists, and creations by artists in the museum’s fellowship program. So, visiting this museum is a great way to expand your horizons and learn more about other cultures while admiring great art.

Moreover, the Bronx is known for its artistic roots, mainly graffiti art and hip-hop, so after visiting the museum, you can explore other works in the borough.

4. American Folk Art Museum, another awesome free museum in New York City

Free admission for everyone

Located in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American Folk Art Museum is a free NYC museum full of captivating drawings, paintings, textiles, and handicrafts. Many of the works here reflect a particular culture or folk tradition, making it one of the more unique museums in the Big Apple.

American Folk Art Museum, new york city free museums

4. American Folk Art Museum, another awesome free museum in New York City

What’s great about this institute is that there is something for everyone, whether you prefer classic art forms like painting and sculpture, or you’re into contemporary work like found-object art and 3D installations.

Many of the works here were created by self-taught artists, so this is a fun, free museum in NYC to stretch your imagination and explore the idea of creativity. Admission is always free, and the museum is close to Central Park, so the location is very convenient.

5. National Museum of the American Indian, a fun, free museum in NYC to visit

Free admission for everyone

The National Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it’s one of the best museums in NYC overall. It also happens to be one of NYC’s free museums, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t check it out!

National Museum of the American Indian, free nyc museums

5. National Museum of the American Indian, a fun, free museum in NYC to visit

Here, you can look at hundreds of artifacts and works of Native art from North, Central, and South America. Some notable collections include a display of headdresses, ceremonial clothing, and pottery. These items create an impeccable exploration through Mesoamerica, the Amazon, the Andes Mountains, and Patagonia. The museum also displays work by contemporary Native artists, so it’s a beautiful collection that spans different generations and geographies.

In addition to ancient objects and artifacts, the museum contains multimedia installations, photography, and a performance space.

6. El Museo del Barrio, another cool free museum in New York City

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

El Museo del Barrio is another pay-what-you-wish museum with free exhibitions in NYC. The museum’s collections center around Latin American culture and art from South America and the Caribbean. Here, you can find everything from paintings, photographs, mixed-media pieces, fine prints, pre-Columbian archaeological objects, and other artifacts.

El Museo del Barrio, list of free museums in nyc

6. El Museo del Barrio, another cool free museum in New York City

The museum also hosts educational programs for the public, cultural performances, films, and other events to celebrate Latin American culture. You’ll notice a special emphasis on Puerto Rican art and community, reflecting the large Puerto Rican population in New York City.

The breadth of the museum’s collection is impressive, as you can find anything from contemporary art to 20th-century prints, to folk art and artifacts from the indigenous Taíno people of the Caribbean. Depending on when you visit, you may find the museum hosting or sponsoring special events and festivals, like Three Kings Day in early January.

7. Queens Museum, another free art museum in NYC to visit

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

The Queens Museum is another beautiful, free art museum in NYC that I highly recommend. Admission is pay-what-you-wish, and inside, you’ll find over 10,000 objects, many of which were created for the World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964.

Queens Museum, top free museums in nyc

7. Queens Museum, another free art museum in NYC to visit

Among the collection are paintings by Salvador Dalí, photographs by Robert Moses, and a collection of Tiffany glass. The permanent collection also includes the Panorama of the City of New York, a 9,335-square-foot model of New York City’s five boroughs. The architectural replica was built for the 1964 World’s Fair and has undergone updates over the years to keep the model accurate.

In addition to these classic pieces, the Queens Museum also exhibits modern and contemporary work, like Black, Trans, & Alive (Queens Song), a mural by NYC-based artist Glori Tuitt. Moreover, the museum is in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, one of the best parks in NYC. So, after exploring the museum, you can spend some time enjoying this public park, which was also built for the 1939 World’s Fair.

8. Museum of the City of New York, a free NYC museum with lots of art and history

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is one of the most interesting and underrated institutions in the Big Apple. If you’ve ever wondered about the history of NYC or how it became a melting pot of cultures, you should visit this free museum!

Museum of the City of New York, museum of the city of new york free admission

8. Museum of the City of New York, a free NYC museum with lots of art and history

MCNY preserves the history of NYC through a collection of 1.5 million items, such as paintings, photographs, costumes, furniture, antique toys, manuscripts, and dioramas. Several of the museum’s galleries pertain to the history of Dutch New Amsterdam, a colonial settlement that arrived in Manhattan in the 17th century.

Some of its most popular objects include a series of Depression-Era photographs and over 3,000 prints by Currier & Ives. That said, you’ll find more than visual art here, as the museum hosts a rotating roster of free NYC exhibitions related to Broadway, music, sports, and current events.

Admission to the Museum of the City of New York is free for all, although it’s suggested that you make a small donation.

9. The Museum at FIT, a fun, fashionable, and free museum in NYC

Free admission for everyone

If you’re looking for something a little different, stop by the Museum at FIT, another free museum in New York City. The museum was founded by the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a public college dedicated to fashion industry business and design.

As you can imagine, the Museum at FIT is an aesthetically appealing institute that also houses historically and culturally significant pieces from around the world. The collection contains over 50,000 costumes and accessories spanning the 1700s to the present day.

The Museum at FIT, free museums in nyc manhattan

9. The Museum at FIT, a fun, fashionable, and free museum in NYC

Those who have an eye for fashion will love perusing the galleries of avant-garde garments, as well as designer dresses by Balenciaga, Chanel, and Dior. You can also find historical clothing, the outfit Michelle Obama wore on Inauguration Day in 2008, and futuristic eco-conscious designs. There is even a gallery floor dedicated to works by students and faculty at FIT.

Admission to this museum is always free, so if you want to indulge your passion for fashion, be sure to check it out!

10. Brooklyn Museum, a lovely free art museum in NYC you can’t miss

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

The Brooklyn Museum is yet another free art museum in NYC, and this one is on the edge of Prospect Park, another great city park in NYC.

One of the biggest museums in the Big Apple, with about 1.5 million objects ranging from Egyptian artifacts to Japanese antiquities, and European art. The works in the collection span about 3,000 years, so there is quite a lot to see here. If you’re short on time, you can plan your visit according to the type of art that interests you.

Brooklyn Museum, what days are museums free in nyc

10. Brooklyn Museum, a lovely free art museum in NYC you can’t miss

Along with works by Rothko, Rockwell, Degas, and O’Keeffe, the Brooklyn Museum has a sculpture garden and a library archive with about 300,000 items. While the museum’s collection of ancient and modern art is most impressive, there are also contemporary works showcasing fashion designers, environmental art, and present-day feminist pieces.

Admission is always pay-what-you-wish, so if you’re spending the day in Brooklyn, be sure to stop by this free NYC art gallery!

11. Staten Island Museum, a free museum in NYC to learn about culture

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

You probably already know that riding the Staten Island Ferry is one of the best free things to do in NYC, but did you know that Staten Island is home to one of NYC’s top free museums? The Staten Island Museum offers pay-what-you-wish admission and is the last remaining general interest museum in NYC.

The museum, which was founded in 1881, contains collections ranging from ancient history to modern-day themes. The institution organizes its works into three main branches: art, history, and science, with each branch containing subgenres and individual galleries.

Staten Island Museum, free museums in nyc saturday

11. Staten Island Museum, a free museum in NYC to learn about culture

Depending on your interests, you may want to check out the natural science collection, which has over 50,000 specimens of mammals, birds, insects, and fossils. The history branch contains maps, photos, audio and visual recordings, and artifacts dating back to the 1600s. As for the art galleries, they cover everything from ancient African art to contemporary works from the U.S.

The museum also has an art conservation studio and history center at the nearby Snug Harbor Cultural Center, which has a life-size replica of a mastodon and a series of Hudson River School landscape paintings. As you can see, this is a fun, free museum in NYC with something for everyone, so add it to your list of must-dos!

12. Socrates Sculpture Park, a beautiful outdoor free museum in New York City

Free admission for everyone

While some of the free NYC museums I’ve mentioned have sculpture gardens, it’s not quite the same as visiting a full sculpture park. That’s why I recommend checking out the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens.

Socrates Sculpture Park, free museums in new york city

12. Socrates Sculpture Park, a beautiful outdoor free museum in New York City

This park/outdoor museum was built on an abandoned landfill and dumping site, and today focuses on bringing sculptures and multi-media installations to the public. Covering four acres, it’s the largest outdoor exhibition space in the city dedicated to the art of sculpture. The park also hosts workshops, programs, and free events like capoeira lessons, movies, and yoga classes.

Since its founding in 1986, Socrates Sculpture Park has featured works by prominent American artists, many of whom have been based in NYC. The works here range from kinetic and interactive sculptures to commemorative pieces and contemplative relics, so it’s quite enjoyable to see which sculptures are adorning the park during your visit.

13. Bushwick Collective, an outdoor free art gallery in NYC

Free for everyone

The Bushwick Collective began with one mural in Brooklyn back in 2011 and has since evolved into an outdoor free art gallery in NYC. Today, the Collective is like an open-air museum showcasing the street art, graffiti, and murals of New York-based artists and famous names like Banksy and Blek le Rat.

There is a wide range of public art here, including vibrant works with lighthearted themes to more somber creations that double as social commentary. Each wall tells a unique story, and the Bushwick Collective is one of the crown jewels that makes Brooklyn distinct from NYC’s other boroughs.

Bushwick Collective, free art galleries nyc

13. Bushwick Collective, an outdoor free art gallery in NYC

Moreover, the Collective holds a free, annual street art showcase with music, food, artists, and local vendors, so if you’re visiting during the summer, check it out.

If you want to do a self-tour of the Bushwick Collective, a good starting point is Flushing Avenue, near Jefferson Street Station. That said, I recommend this Brooklyn Street Art Tour; it’ll ensure you don’t miss anything, and it’s one of the best walking tours in NYC.

14. MoMA PS1, another free art museum in NYC you should check out

Pay-what-you-wish for everyone

Queens is home to another free art museum in NYC and one of the country’s largest contemporary art museums, MoMA PS1. Affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), this museum is dedicated to experimental art installations and innovations in art and design.

MoMA PS1, best free museums in nyc

14. MoMA PS1, another free art museum in NYC you should check out

Besides collaborating with national and international artists, MoMA PS1 emphasizes the work of self-taught artists and multi-media art pieces. Moreover, the museum usually commissions an artist to create a work or installation for its PS1 Courtyard, which brings the museum, neighborhood, and community together into one outdoor space.

MoMA PS1 also hosts a summer music series, outdoor performances, and temporary exhibits along with its permanent collection, which spans the 1880s to the present day. Admission is pay-what-you-wish, so if you love modern and contemporary art but don’t want to break the bank, this is the perfect free NYC museum for you!

15. Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, another top free museum in NYC

Free admission for everyone

The last free art museum in NYC that I want to highlight is also in the borough of Queens. The Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College is part of the College’s Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. It focuses on contemporary culture and history through its collection of over 7,000 objects and artifacts.

Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, list of free museums in nyc

15. Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, another top free museum in NYC

Along with offering free museum entry in NYC, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum offers no-cost programming and public events. In the past, the museum has hosted gallery talks, lectures, workshops, and films that place the traditions and cultures of Queens front and center.

As for its permanent collection, the museum contains art from ancient global cultures, as well as modern paintings, drawings, and sculptures from Western and non-Western artists. Some highlights from the collection include the marble Mask of Silenus, a stone-carved Bodhisattva, medieval paintings of the Madonna with Child, abstract sketches from Kandinsky, and Warhol’s famous Soup Cans series.

Sometimes-free museums in NYC

Now you know the best free museums in NYC, but did you know that some other museums offer special free days each month? Below are the institutions and galleries that hold free museum nights in NYC, either on a weekly or monthly basis:

NYC Museums with monthly free days

NYC Museums with weekly free days

That’s it from me! Before I let you go, here is a downloadable tourist map of NYC with all the free New York City museums I mentioned. You can easily search for which museums are free in New York each day of the week, too.

Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to help. Have a safe trip!


COFOUNDER & TRAVEL JUNKIE

Hi, I'm Ascen, a globetrotter based in Philadelphia, USA. I enjoy exploring new landscapes and creating in-depth travel guides for Capture the Atlas.

I have felt a special connection with nature and all the inhabitants of the planet since I was a kid. I am passionate about discovering new countries and especially their wildlife, but no matter how many places I visit, I will always belong to the remote beaches of Almería, in Southern Spain.

You can know a little more about me here.

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