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This post lists the free museums in NYC, including cultural institutions, memorials, and art galleries. We also include those with free days.
Despite often not advertising it, the museums below can be visited for free.
However, free really means pay-what-you-wish (or donation). Technically, you can enter without giving anything, but you might want to pay what you can.
Note that special exhibitions usually require a paid ticket.
In addition to free museums, there are many attractions and activities that won’t cost you anything.
See our post about free things to do in New York City.
American Museum of Natural History
Two things to note about free entry at his museum. If you want to get tickets in advance online, you must pay the full price.
Also, when you enter for free, will not have access to the Hayden Planetarium Show or the IMAX.
See our post on how to visit the American Museum of Natural History.
New York Public Library Tours
This library is an NYC icon. You will instantly recognize the two lions on the side of the grand staircase up to the entry.
You can explore the library’s exhibits on your own or you can take one of their free tours.
Find out more about their tours here.
Museum of the City of New York
This museum is dedicated to preserving NYC’s history and has an impressive collection of historic artifacts, documents, photographs, drawings, and so much more.
Kids will enjoy the educational programs here. You can find more information on their website.
National Museum of the American Indian
The collection of Native American Indian artifacts is outstanding. This museum is kid-friendly as well.
The museum is housed in the historic and stunning Beaux-Arts building, the former Alexander Hamilton Customs House.
Click here for more information on the museum.
TIP: This museum is located in Lower Manhattan, an area that has so much more to see. Our Guide to Lower Manhattan lists the multitude of activities, many of which are free.
El Museo del Barrio
The only museum in NYC that showcases Latino cultures extensively.
See works by artists of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American heritage as well as enjoy their cultural festivities, youth, and educational programming and literary discussions.
Click here for more information.
TIP: The Museum is located in the Southern part of Harlem, a neighborhood worth checking out. See our post about all things to do in Harlem.
With 1.5 million works of art, objects, and antiquities, this museum is well known for its excellent Egyptian and African art collections.
They also have an impressive early American paintings collection. Their special exhibitions are of world-class quality.
See their website for details.
TIP: While you are in Brooklyn, take advantage of all the great activities you can do there. See our post about things to do in Brooklyn.
Federal Reserve Bank
This is one of the 12 Federal Reserve banks in the U.S. Their vault holds 900 tons of gold, which you can see on one of their free tours. Tours are offered every weekday but require reservations. See our post on how to make reservations.
There is also a small but excellent museum where you can see rare coins, learn about the history of money and finance.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Located in Harlem, this is one of the world’s top institutions devoted to the preservation and exhibition of materials focused on African American and African experiences.
They have over 10 million objects, artifacts, documents, recordings, art pieces, and more.
Find out more information here.
Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial
This house dating from 1802 was the home of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers and founder of the U.S. Treasury system.
You can see historically furnished rooms either on a ranger-guided tour and talk or on your own.
See their website for more information.
This small but unique museum is located in the Fantasma Magic Store in Midtown Manhattan, an area filled with family-friendly activities!
You can see different artifacts and historic objects on display, and they even have an animatronic example of a classic Houdini escape. It is especially good for kids.
See their website for details.
Commemorative Museums and Memorials
Many museums that normally require a paid ticket for entry have special days or specific hours set aside for free entry.
Keep in mind that free days and free hours attract lots of other visitors and you may experience crowds, especially in the peak travel seasons.
Fortunately, there are lots of other things to do in the city that are inexpensive.
Look at our guide to NYC on a budget for suggestions.
Again, you will see phrases like suggested admission, by donation, or pay-what-you-wish together with specific days and times when you can enter for free.
This museum is free on Tuesdays from 5 pm to closing time (varies by season). This special museum has several different exhibits which detail the history of 9/11 and the World Trade Center.
Included for free anytime with most tourist attraction discount passes.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) *Closed until October 21, 2019
The MOMA is free Fridays from 4 pm-8 pm. This is a ‘must-see’ attraction if you love modern art as it is one of the most prestigious modern art museums in the world.
The Guggenheim is free on Saturdays from 5 pm-8 pm. This famous museum specializes in Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, early Modern, and contemporary art.
Free on Fridays from 7 pm-9:30 pm. This museum focuses exclusively on contemporary American art from 20th and 21st Century artists. Known-worldwide for their Biennial Exhibit.
Included for free anytime with most tourist attraction discount passes.
Free on Fridays from 6 pm-9 pm.
This is the oldest museum in NYC and its mission is to help visitors learn about the city’s rich past. Their collection of artifacts and objects some as old as four centuries is impressive.
Included for free anytime with any multi-day bus ticket from TopView Tours.
Free on Wednesdays from 2 pm-6 pm.
Free on the first Friday of each month 6 pm-9 pm (except September and January).
Opened in 1935 and housed in one of the few remaining ‘gilded age’ mansions and formerly owned by Henry Clay Frick.
This museum’s atmosphere is as beautiful as its artwork by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Whistler.
Free on Fridays from 7 pm-9 pm.
This library consists of J.Pierpont Morgan’s exquisite collection of rare books and manuscripts, drawings and artifacts. It is housed in one of the finest examples of Neoclassical buildings in America.
TIP: Find out what else there is to see and do in Midtown Manhattan.
Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA)
Free on the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays.
This unique museum is located in Chinatown and showcases the history and heritage of Chinese-Americans.
TIP: Find out what else there is to see and do in Chinatown.
Free on Wednesdays. Note that some rides and exhibits require separate tickets.
This is the world’s largest metropolitan zoo and is home to over 6,000 animals. Visit the Monkey House, Jungle World, the World of Darkness and the Congo Gorilla Forest.
TIP: Why not visit nearby famous Arthur Avenue, the ‘other’ Little Italy. Our guide to Arthur Avenue steers you to the best food in the area.
Free one Friday each month 5 pm-9 pm.
Dates for 2019: August 16, September 27, October 25.
This popular museum is housed in and on an aircraft carrier whose exhibits include a Concorde, submarine & space shuttle. Very interactive and great for kids.
Entry to some number of ticketed museums is included in most tourist attraction discount passes, which bundle several tours and attractions, including museums, into one pass at a flat rate price.
By purchasing a tourist pass, you can save anywhere between 15-55% off museum tickets depending on the pass.
Also, having a pass saves you time because you don’t have to wait on line to purchase tickets and some passes offer ‘skip-the-line’ privileges.
Buying a tourist pass makes a lot of sense if you are planning on visiting several museums, especially those that required a paid ticket.
With the major art museums costing $25 each, you’d be wise to consider a pass if you plan on going to 3 or more such museums.
Visiting Lady Liberty is likely on your list of “must-see” attractions in NYC.
Though you cannot visit for free, you can lower your costs if you purchase a tourist pass that includes a cruise ticket to the Statue of Liberty.
This fascinating museum explores the experience of the more than 12 million immigrants who passed through the island upon their arrival in the United States.
This is one of the top museums in the world and its collection of over two million works includes pieces from several different periods in human history.
This is a must-see museum, but tickets are $25 and they do not offer any free hours.
This very popular museum, located on an aircraft carrier is very engaging. Its mission is to educate the public about the history and science of sea, air and space travel.
It is very interactive and great for kids.
Tickets are pricey, and though they have free hours one Friday a month, the best way to save on tickets is to consider a tourist pass.
See our post on other discounts and deals.
The New York location of this world-famous wax museum has all the famous figures you expect to see as well as some exciting special exhibits such as the Ghostbusters virtual reality experience and the Marvel Super Heroes 4D Experience.
This attraction has 20 themed-galleries with over 500 weird, wacky and unusual objects.
A favorite with kids, Ripley’s is never free to visit and tickets are not cheap.
This unique museum is located in an actual 1936 subway station. You can step inside real vintage subway cars and learn about the fascinating history of NYC’s famous subway system.
This museum is a good choice if you are visiting with children. They have no free hours but is included for free in many tourist passes.
While you are there, you might want to see more of Brooklyn. Take a look at our post about things to do in Brooklyn.
This museum focuses on the rescue and recovery aspects of the 9/11 tragedy. You can get an intimate look at the event through artifacts, films, and photos.
Located in the neighborhood of Chelsea, this museum focuses on the recovery following the 9/11 attacks and is geared toward families.
It is especially good for younger children since the topic at hand is a sensitive one.
This is the only Manhattan museum that is dedicated to Revolutionary War history. Fraunces Tavern was where George Washington bid farewell to all of his officers in 1783, at the end of the American Revolution.
The below museums and galleries stay open relatively late on certain nights and are free to visit during the evenings hours listed.
Below is a list of museums that are great for kids.
Some are specifically for children as their name implies. These are generally for children ages 8 and under.
The other museums are not focused on children but are still enjoyable for kids of all ages. Some even have special activities and events for kids.