Free Museums in Boston

This post lists and describes the various free museums in Boston, including pay-what-you-wish museums and locations that offer free days. We also note those that are either family-friendly or open late or included in tourist passes.

 

 


ALWAYS FREE MUSEUMS

This section will list all of the museums that offer free admission whenever they are open. While most of the following locations are open 7 days a week, others have limited availability.

And while these museums are technically free, they do encourage and accept donations or offer admission on a pay-what-you-like basis (like our walking tours). 

 

 


U.S.S. Constitution Museum

The museum of this historic vessel is open to the public for free throughout the week.

While they don’t require admission, they do request donations and any amount is greatly appreciated.

Old Ironsides is one of the most famous ships in the history of the United States, so this could be a great place to take your kids if you want to help them learn about the country.

 

 

Even better, you can actually take a free tour of the U.S.S. Constitution!

  • Availability: Daily
  • Winter Hours: 10 am – 5 pm
  • Summer Hours: 9 am – 6 pm
  • Learn more here.

This site is included on our self-guided Freedom Trail tour. If you’re planning to make the walk, consider using our guide to find some of the most historic locations in Boston.


Waterworks Museum

As one of the first big cities in the United States, Boston was also home to one of the country’s first metropolitan water systems.

At the Waterworks Museum, you can learn all about the history of their system through a variety of interesting exhibitions.

Admission is free throughout the week, but it’s important to note that they are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Free tours are available 5 times per day.

Donations of any size are welcomed and accepted.


Commonwealth Museum

Boston is one of the most historic cities in the United States, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that museums such as this house some pretty important and notable documents.

 

 

The Commonwealth Museum includes exhibits focused on the work and words of men like John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Winthrop and more.

Admission is entirely free and this is a great museum for families who want to learn more about the country.

  • Summer Availability: Daily
  • Winter Availability: Monday – Friday
  • Weekday Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
  • Weekend Hours: 9 am – 3 pm
  • Learn more here

Boston University Art Galleries

This museum hosts a variety of different galleries throughout the year, and they’re all free to enjoy. If you’re looking to broaden your artistic horizons, this could be a great place to visit.

Hours are based on the Boston University calendar, so you can expect them to be closed for holidays recognized by the school. They will also have limited availability during the summer months.

  • Availability: Tuesday – Sunday
  • Intersession Hours: 12 pm – 4 pm
  • Gallery Hours: 12 pm – 6 pm
  • Learn more here

Boston Fire Museum

This location houses some of the oldest devices used to fight fires in Boston. In addition to buckets, trumpets and fire grenades, you will also see some of the earliest examples of fire engines – some dating back to 1793.

Needless to say, since kids love firefighters, chances are that this will be a great family activity.

It’s important to note that this museum is only open two days a week. Admission is free, but they do appreciate any and all donations.

  • Availability: Friday & Saturday
  • Friday Hours: 5 pm – 8 pm
  • Saturday Hours: 9:30 am – 4 pm
  • Learn more here.

With hours as late as 8 pm on Friday, this is a great museum to visit after dark. 


Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company

Located on the top floor of the historic Faneuil Hall, the Military Museum and Armory displays uniforms, medals, and weaponry from The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, among other, more modern military artifacts.

 

 

Learn about the soldiers of the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company from the 1600s through today, which includes memorabilia from the battlefields of Desert Storm.

  • Availability: Monday – Friday
  • Hours: 9 am – 3:30 pm
  • Learn more here.  

Bunker Hill Museum

Located at one of the most historic sites in Boston, this museum is actually funded by the National Park Service, so it’s always free to visit.

Guests can request access to the Bunker Hill Monument, which offers one of the best views in the entire city.

There is also a lot to see and do inside the museum, so fans of United States history will definitely want to take advantage of this opportunity.

This location is included on our self-guided Freedom Trail tour. If you’re also planning to visit the U.S.S. Constitution, you might want to use our guide to find even more notable historic sites. 


Warren Anatomical Museum

If you have an interest in the history of medicine in the United States, this is undoubtedly one of the most interesting collections you can visit. With over 15,000 artifacts from as early as 1810, there are quite a few things to see here.

Admission is free and open to the public on every weekday. All you have to do is provide photo ID at the security desk. The museum is closed during holidays and academic recesses.


The Ether Dome

Located at Massachusetts General Hospital, this surgical amphitheater is known for being the first location where a public surgery was performed using anesthesia in 1846.

To this day, you can still visit the landmark and they even have some artifacts to see on site.

 

 

Admission is free and open to the public on every weekday.


The Russell Museum

If you want to explore even more medical history, the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum has several great exhibits covering topics such as the evolution of healthcare and clinical research.

Located on the Massachusetts General main campus, visitors are welcome to come in and see the various galleries for free.

There is also a garden on the roof with more than 30 different species of trees, vines, shrubs, grass and more. This facility is open throughout the week.

  • Availability: Daily
  • Weekday Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
  • Weekend Hours: 11 am – 5 pm
  • Learn more here.

The Ether Dome is also located at Massachusetts General, so you might want to combine your trip to this museum with a stop at that location. 


Massachusetts Historical Society

This is the first historical society in the United States, and they have a public library that everyone is free to visit. In addition to all the great books you can borrow, there is also an exhibition hall which features a variety of historic art and artifacts.

 

 

The MHS houses a collection which includes several historic pieces including personal papers from John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Needless to say, admission won’t cost you a thing!

  • Availability: Monday – Saturday
  • Exhibition Hours: 10 am – 4 pm
  • Learn more here.

McMullen Museum of Art

If you’re in the mood for a different kind of art, this museum houses collections loaned from institutions and art collectors all over the globe. Due to their reliance on loans, their exhibitions change quite frequently.

In the span of a year, you could see pieces from China, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Rome, Portugal or any number of different countries/cities around the world. Admission is free and they are open seven days a week.

  • Availability: Daily
  • Weekday Hours: 10 am – 5 pm | Mon-Wed, Fri
  • Weekend Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm
  • Late Hours: 10 am – 8 pm on Thursday
  • Learn more here.

Since they offer late openings once a week, this could be a great museum to visit after dark.


MIT List Visual Arts Center

While the main museum at MIT is not open to the public, this location offers free admission.

With several great examples of contemporary art on display, this is an excellent location to discover a different type of artistic vision. In addition to various limited-time exhibitions, they also have permanent collections full of interesting pieces.

  • Availability: Tuesday – Sunday
  • Gallery Hours: 12 pm – 6 pm | Tue–Wed, Fri – Sun
  • Late Hours: 12 pm – 8 pm on Thursday
  • Learn more here.

Tickets to the MIT Museum are included with the Go Boston Card. If you’re looking to save money on admission to attractions such as this, make sure to read our section devoted to using Boston tourist passes.


Boston Public Library

Although it isn’t technically a museum, the central branch of Boston Public Library is home to some interesting exhibits. As a matter of fact, this is where you will find the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center which houses several historic maps from throughout American history.

 

 

In addition to that, there are free tours provided at the library on every day of the week!

  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 10 am – 7 pm | Monday – Thursday
  • Weekend Hours: 10 am – 5 pm | Friday & Saturday
  • Sunday Hours: 1 pm – 5 pm
  • Learn more here.

With hours as late as 7 pm throughout most of the week, this could be a good place to visit in the early evening. If your kids are into maps, you might want to consider going here for a family-friendly activity. 

 


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MUSEUMS WITH FREE DAYS

In this section, we will discuss some of the museums you can visit for free on specific days of the week or month. Whenever possible, we will note if these locations are either open late or great for kids.

Many of these locations are included with various Boston tourist passes. If you miss out on their free days, this is an excellent way to save money on general admission prices.

Check our tourist pass section for more information on museum discounts in the Boston area. 

 

 


The Museum of Fine Arts

This is one of the most popular museums in Boston, and they have dozens of galleries to experience. With exhibits devoted to artwork from China, Europe, Korea, America and more, there is plenty to see here – and that doesn’t even cover the limited time exhibitions!

Admission is by voluntary donation on Wednesday nights after 4 pm, which means you can decide how much to pay (if anything) on your own. They also offer free admission on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lunar New Years, and Memorial Day.

  • Availability: Daily
  • General Hours: 10 am – 5 pm | Mon – Tue, Sat – Sun
  • Late Hours: 10 am – 10 pm | Wed – Fri
  • Learn more here.

Admission to the Museum of Fine Arts is also included with both the Boston City PASS and the Go Boston Card. Aside from their Wednesday openings, this is the best way to save money on tickets.

Thanks to their later hours, this could be a great museum to visit after dark. 


The Institute of Contemporary Art

If you’re looking for a good introduction to Contemporary Art, this might be the best museum to visit. Not only do they offer several challenging exhibits, but they also have collections that kids and families can enjoy. Some exhibitions are actually hands-on, allowing visitors to experience art in a whole new way.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is closed on Mondays.

 

 

Admission is free on Thursday nights after 5 pm. It’s also worth noting that anyone under 17 can get in for free no matter what day they visit. Parents can get free admission on the last Saturday of the month if they are accompanied by children 12 years or younger. They also open their doors to the public on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.

  • Availability: Tuesday – Sunday
  • General Hours: 10 am – 5 pm | Tue-Wed, Sat-Sun
  • Late Hours: 10 am – 9 pm | Thursday – Friday
  • Learn more here.

Tickets to the Institute of Contemporary Art are included with the Go Boston Card. If you’re not able to take advantage of their free days, this is one of the best ways to save money on general admission prices.

Thanks to their kid-friendly exhibits and their free family days, parents can feel comfortable bringing their children here. Their late hours on Thursday and Friday also make this a great place to visit after the sun goes down.


MIT Museum

If you’re interested in the history of science and technology, the MIT Museum is an absolute must. In addition to a huge archive covering the history of MIT and their role in the tech world, there are also exhibits and collections dedicated to subjects such as robotics, holography, and design.

The MIT Museum only offers free admission on the last Sunday of the month from September – June. Tickets are also free for children under 5. This is a Blue Star Museum, so families of active duty military members won’t be charged for a ticket.

  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 10 am – 5 pm
  • Summer Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (July & August only)
  • Learn more here.

Admission to the MIT Museum is included with the Go Boston Card. This is an excellent way to save money on tickets if you can’t take advantage of their free days. With their free tickets for kids under 5, this could be an excellent museum for families. 


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This is one of the most unique museums in all of Boston. Not only does their collection include historic pieces from around the world, but they also offer a lot of interesting opportunities to get in without paying a dime.

If you’re looking to save some money, come to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on your birthday for free admission. Entry is also free for children and young adults under 17 years of age at all times.

As if that weren’t good enough, you can also avoid paying for a ticket if your name is Isabella!

 

 

  • Availability: Wednesday – Monday
  • Hours: 11 am – 5 pm | Wed, Fri – Mon
  • Late Hours: 11 am – 9 pm | Thursday
  • Learn more here.

Admission to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is included with the Go Boston Card. If you can’t take advantage of their other options for free entry, this is one of the best ways to save money on tickets.

Since they offer free admission to kids, this could be a great family-friendly museum. They also offer late hours on Thursday, so you might want to visit this location after dark. 


Coit Observatory

Located atop Boston University, this observatory offers free public hours on Wednesday nights. Whether you want to learn more about astronomy or simply see the stars, this is an excellent opportunity.

Although it won’t cost you a dime, you do need to obtain tickets ahead of time because there is limited space available. Tickets sell out well ahead of time, so it is recommended that you sign up for admission as soon as they become available on Thursday morning at 11 am.

  • Availability: Wednesday night
  • Hours: 7:30 pm (Winter) | 8:30 pm (Summer)
  • Learn more here.

Most children love to see the stars, so this is an excellent family-friendly activity. Considering that the observatory is open after dark, this could also be a great location to visit at night.


Museum of Bad Art

There are dozens of museums in Boston that offer some of the best artwork you’ll ever see, but how many specialize in terrible art? If you’re looking for something fun to do, a trip to the Museum of Bad Art may be in order.

 

 

Located in the basement of Somerville Theater, admission is included in the price of a movie ticket. If you’re already planning to see a movie, you might want to think about seeing it here so that you can also enjoy this hilarious museum for free!

This could be a great activity for families who are planning to see a movie together. Since the museum is open during theater hours, you’ll be able to visit after dark without any trouble. 


Boston Children’s Museum

If you’re looking for a museum where your kids will definitely be welcome, this is probably one of the best options in Boston. They offer a variety of hands-on exhibits to help children learn about the world around them.

Although they don’t technically offer free admission, the Boston Children’s Museum offers a great deal of only $1 per ticket on Friday night from 5 pm – 9 pm. This activity may cost you a few bucks, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re in the market for kid-friendly museums and activities!

  • Availability: Friday night
  • Hours: 5 pm – 9 pm
  • Tickets: $1 per person
  • Learn more here.

Admission to the Boston Children’s Museum is included with the Go Boston Card. If you’re looking to visit this location at any other time, this is one of the best ways to save money on tickets.

Needless to say, this is a great family-friendly museum that both parents and their children will enjoy. It’s also worth noting that their late hours on Friday make this a great place to visit after dark.

 


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FREE KID-FRIENDLY MUSEUMS

There are several family-friendly museums in Boston, and many of them are either free to visit or very affordable.

For more ideas for family-friendly activities to help plan your time here, then take a read of our things to do with kids in Boston post.

 

 

If you’re looking for a great place to take the kids for free while you’re in the city, consider one of the following locations:

Included for free with certain tourist attraction discount passes:

  • Harvard Museum of Natural History
  • JFK Museum
  • Paul Revere House
  • Old South Meeting House
  • The Mapparium

If you’re looking for more fun attractions you can visit with your children, make sure to read our full post covering the best things to do with kids in Boston

 


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FREE MUSEUMS OPEN LATE

Many of the Boston museums that offer free admission also provide late hours at least one night a week.

And for more ideas for nighttime activities read our things to do at night in Boston post which has a section on free things to do at night.

 

 

If you’re looking for something fun or interesting to do after dark, consider visiting one of the following locations:

Included with certain tourist attraction discount passes and open late:

  • Museum of Science
  • Institute of Contemporary Art

These are just a few notable locations that offer late hours. For more ideas for nighttime activities read our things to do at night in Boston post which has a section on free things to do at night.

 


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MUSEUMS INCLUDED WITH TOURIST PASSES

If you’re trying to save money on tickets to more than one museum in Boston, you may want to consider getting a tourist pass. These services include admission to dozens of popular museums, including many of the locations we’ve already mentioned in this post.

 

Here is a list of every museum you can visit with a Boston tourist pass:

  • Museum of Science
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Paul Revere House
  • Old State House
  • Salem Witch Museum
  • Old South Meeting House
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • House of Seven Gables
  • JFK Hyannis Museum
  • JFK Presidential Library & Museum
  • Edward M. Kennedy Institute
  • Harvard Museum of Natural History
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Institute of Contemporary Art
  • Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology
  • Peabody Essex Museum
  • Louisa May Alcott House
  • Otis House Museum
  • Concord Museum
  • The Mapparium
  • MIT Museum

If you’re planning to visit even a few of these museums while visiting Boston, a tourist pass could save you a lot of money. Make sure to read our post covering Boston discount passes to learn more about these services.

 


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