Free (and Almost-Free) in NYC
Look hard enough in New York City, and you could easily fill your calendar with free events, museum visits or family outings. Lucky for you, you don't have to scour the web to put together an inexpensive NYC itinerary. We've gathered the best of Free (and Almost-Free) in NYC for you right here. These museums are either always free or free on specific days of the week or offer low-cost pay-what-you-wish hours—as noted in the pins' descriptions.
Studio Museum in Harlem
@The Studio Museum in Harlem in Harlem is an art museum dedicated to black artists, both local and worldwide, and to artwork revolving around black culture. The collection and exhibitions, consisting mostly of 19th- and 20th-century works, are vibrant, spirited and inspiring. The museum is also the home of an archive of works by James Van Der Zee, the legendary Harlem Renaissance photographer. (Free Sundays)
El Museo del Barrio
@El Museo del Barrio specializes in Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American art, the only museum in NYC with these Latino cultures at its core. El Museo hosts a series of cultural festivities, youth and educational programming and literary discussions. El Museo recently underwent an award-winning redesign, framing the museum with a sparkling glass facade and a spacious new courtyard. (Free every third Saturday of the month for Super Sabado)
If you’re looking for diversity, the BROOKLYN MUSEUM is the place to go. It houses a huge permanent collection categorized by culture, as well as visiting exhibitions from a wide variety of geographic locations and time periods. It’s situated next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and visitors can purchase discounted passes that allow them to tour both in the same day. (First Saturday of the month [except Sept.], free 5–11pm)
The Noguchi Museum
@The Noguchi Museum is a celebration of the life of the artist Isamu Noguchi and the tremendous works he left behind. Noguchi’s beautiful and intriguing sculptures are made from a variety of materials, showing a great range of styles and skills. The museum provides a free guided tour at 2pm every day it is open. (First Friday of the month is Pay-What-You-Wish, 10am–5pm)
Historic Richmond Town
Watch history come alive at @Douglas Girton Richmond Town, a living history village that lets you experience colonial life firsthand. Walk through real restored homes and other buildings including a general store and a courthouse. The village also includes a museum with exhibits that portray many aspects of American life from the 1700s through today. (Free Fridays, 1–5pm)
THE NEW YORK HALL OF SCIENCE is NYC's only hands-on science and technology center. Discover more than 450 exhibits, workshops and special events, including Rocket Park Mini Golf, the award-winning 60,000-square-foot Science Playground and state-of-the-art 3-D Theater. NYSCI is easily accessible, just blocks from the 7 train with on-site parking also available. (Free Sept.–June on Fridays, 2–5pm, and Sundays, 10–11am)
THE MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE is the only institution in the US dedicated to the art, technology and social impact of film, television and digital media. It houses the nation's largest collection of moving image artifacts, screens hundreds of films annually and offers education programs. (Free Fridays, 4–8pm)
New York Aquarium
THE NEW YORK AQUARIUM remains a must-see destination on Coney Island's celebrated Boardwalk. Try to resist the playful charm of its seals, sea lions and walruses. Dare to get close to the shark tank. And see if you can catch the changing colors of Squirt, the mischievous Giant Pacific octopus. The aquarium is open on a partial basis while renovations continue through 2016. (Pay-What-You-Wish Fridays: summer, 4–6pm; fall–spring, 3–4:30pm)
The Frick Collection
@The Frick Collection is a beautiful mansion-turned-art museum, is the home of many traditional paintings, including works by a number of famous artists like Monet and Renoir. The Frick also hosts a concert series featuring new European musicians, which you can listen to for free from the beautiful garden courtyard (or purchase tickets if you’d prefer to see as well as hear the music). Note: children under 10 are not admitted. (Pay-What-You-Wish Sundays, 11am to 1pm)
Housed in one of the most iconic buildings in New York, THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM's collection is filled with prized pieces, including works from Picasso, Kandinsky and Miró. The Guggenheim always presents interesting and innovative exhibitions, and the museum’s layout is like no other, as visitors experience the artwork along a huge ramp that spirals up around the entire interior of the cylindrical building. (Pay-What-You-Wish Saturdays, 5:45 to 7:45pm)
THE CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF MANHATTAN emphasizes early childhood education, creativity, health and world cultures. Through exhibits like Little West Side and Ancient Greece, lifestyle workshops, programs and performances, children have fun while learning about the world around them and how to take care of their bodies. Parents also come to a greater understanding about how children learn. (Free on the first Friday of the month, 5–8pm)
Founded by two friends with a shared passion, THE NEUE GALERIE New York pays homage to German and Austrian art from the early 20th century. The museum’s collection includes traditional fine art pieces as well as works from notable German art movements, most famously the Bauhaus movement. (Free on the first Friday of the month, 6–9pm)
John Davison Rockefeller III founded THE ASIA SOCIETY in 1956 to promote understanding between Americans and Asians, and the society’s small-but-sweet art collection opens visitors’ eyes to the aesthetic and technical accomplishments achieved in Asia between 1,000 B.C.E. and the 1800s. (Free Fridays, 6–9pm. Note: free Fridays are suspended during summer)
Rubin Museum of Art
THE RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART is the premier museum in the West dedicated to showcasing the art of the Himalayas and the surrounding regions. The Rubin helps visitors explore and understand the artistic legacy of the region through its permanent collection and changing exhibitions, and through provocative public and educational programming, for which it has become well known. (Gallery admission is free Fridays, 6–10pm)
THE JAPAN SOCIETY: With its art exhibitions, films, performances, lectures, workshops and family programs, the society strives to bring a greater understanding of Japanese culture to America. Junzo Yoshimura, a prominent Japanese architect, designed the eye-catching building. (Free Fridays, 6–9pm)
INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Through visiting exhibitions and a permanent collection of more than 100,000 photographs, both contemporary and historical, the International Center of Photography gives visitors glimpses of skillfully captured moments in time and exposes the extraordinary history of America’s favorite medium. (Pay-What-You-Wish Fridays after 5pm)
At @New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in NYC, four centuries of history, heroes, legends, artifacts and art tell America's story from a local perspective. A massive collection, changing exhibits, talks and tours help visitors explore New York's fascinating past. (Fridays, pay-what-you-wish, 6–8pm)
THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART is the world's leading museum of 20th-century and contemporary art of the US. Focusing particularly on works by living artists, the Whitney is celebrated for presenting important exhibitions and for its renowned collection, which comprises over 19,000 works by more than 2,900 artists. The Whitney Biennial, the museum's signature exhibition, has become the most important survey of the state of contemporary art in the US. (Pay-What-You-Wish Fridays, 6–9pm)
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (free Fridays, 4–8pm): Forever at the forefront, MoMA is not only devoted to presenting the best in contemporary art, but also to promoting the understanding of modern art and expanding the definition of what is considered "art" in the first place. Whether it's showing you something you've never seen before, or showing you how to see something familiar in a new way, the MoMA is always an eye- and mind-opening experience.
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
MUSEUM OF CHINESE IN AMERICA (free Thursdays): This expansive museum in Chinatown uses oral histories, video, photographs and written documents to bring to life the experiences of this vibrant immigrant community. The museum’s dramatic home, designed by acclaimed architect Maya Lin, features bronze walls, reclaimed wood floors and a "journey wall" that describes the route each donor's family took to the United States.
The New Museum, which looks like a stack of boxes towering over the Bowery, is New York’s fresh face of contemporary art. The building itself is as much a work of contemporary art as the pieces inside. It has a chip on its shoulder but wears its heart on its sleeve. In addition to its novel exhibitions, the New Museum also hosts readings, performances, trivia nights and other events and programs that defy definition. (Pay-What-You-Wish Thursdays, 7–9pm)
Museum of Arts & Design (MAD)
MUSEUM OF ARTS AND DESIGN: Though it started as the American Crafts Museum, committed to the recognition of both the effort and beauty of handmade objects, MAD Museum has expanded on its original mission to include other kinds of design, including architecture and fashion. Still, its initial goals remain at the forefront: to connect people with artists, designers and craftspeople through the objects they create. (Pay-What-You-Wish Thursdays, 6–9pm; Pay-What-You-Wish KLM Fridays, 6–9pm)
Queens Botanical Garden
@Queens Botanical Garden is a sprawling landscape flourishing with a wide array of plants. Reflecting the diverse nature of Queens itself, many of the garden's plants are of particular significance to various world cultures. The QBG also includes a delightful Fragrance Walk and a busy Bee Garden. (Free April through October on Wednesdays from 3 to 6pm and Sundays from 4 to 6pm. Free at all times November through March.)
Staten Island Zoo
THE STATEN ISLAND ZOO (free Wednesdays after 2pm) might not be the largest or most exotic zoo around (its nickname is the "biggest little zoo"), but it is highly educational and acclaimed for its Serpentarium, housing an extensive collection of rattlesnakes. The zoo also cares for many warm-blooded creatures, with more than 800 species in all.
New York Botanical Garden
THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN (free grounds access on Wednesdays) is a wonderland for everything that grows. Featuring more than a million plants on 250 acres, the Botanical Garden is a place for study and research as well as enchantment and exploration. Take a seasonal walk to see what’s in bloom or visit the Home Gardening Center for tips to take home to your own patch of earth.
THE MUSEUM OF JEWISH HERITAGE was created as a living memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust and honors those who died by celebrating their lives—cherishing the traditions that they embraced, examining their achievements and faith, and affirming the vibrant worldwide Jewish community that is their legacy today. Free on Wednesdays, 4–8pm.
WAVE HILL is a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River, with sweeping views west to the New Jersey Palisades. Admission is free from 9am to noon on Saturdays year-round and all day on Tuesdays from November through April.
THE BRONX ZOO of the Wildlife Conservation Society is the premier place to study and appreciate the world's many creatures. Home to more than 6,000 animals, the zoo spans 265 acres that re-create the diverse natural habitats of its numerous residents, from the gorillas of the Congo to the snow leopards of the Himalayas. Though not exactly free, on Wednesdays the Bronx Zoo's admission is pay-what-you-will.
Museum of American Finance
MUSEUM OF AMERICAN FINANCE (free on Saturdays) appropriately celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of America in its financial capital. Combining historical artifacts with interactive displays, the museum takes you through the story of Wall Street from its youth through today. Both educational and interesting, the museum is a great place to teach children (or yourself) about money, the economy and the American free market.
THE MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM houses an enormous collection of rare books and manuscripts, plus drawings and other uncommon pieces. The collection began as a labor of love by financier J.P. Morgan, and has continued to grow and expand over the years. (Free on Fridays, 7pm–9pm. Admission to the McKim rooms is free on Tuesdays, 3–5pm; Fridays, 7–9pm; and Sundays 4–6pm.)
The @Brooklyn Botanic Garden is as committed to education and conservation as it is to inspiration. Whether you’re looking to learn something or just want to soak up 52 acres of natural beauty, the BBG has more than 10,000 kinds of plants from all over the world. The garden is open year-round and has plants for every season, plus indoor tropical gardens and bonsai trees. (Free on Tuesdays year-round; Saturdays, 10am to noon; and on winter weekdays, November–February.)
THE MUSEUM AT ELDRIDGE STREET SYNAGOGUE (free tours on Mondays): This restored synagogue, a 19th-century landmark with stunning architecture that initially opened its doors to a wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, recently reopened as a vibrant arts and education center for all ages and backgrounds, with exhibitions and tours. Free tours are offered every Monday from 10am to noon.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT BIRTHPLACE (always free): Theodore Roosevelt is the only US president to boast an NYC upbringing, and his family's brownstone is open to the public for free guided tours. (Well, an approximation of his brownstone, anyway—this re-creation was built a few years after the original was torn down.) History buffs should arrive early to explore the ground-floor gallery prior to their tour.
Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MONUMENT (always free) honors Union Army members who served in the Civil War and can be found on a promontory along Riverside Drive at West 89th Street.
SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK (always free) was once an abandoned landfill; in the 1980s, it was turned into an open studio and exhibition space for artists, as well as a neighborhood park. It is now an internationally renowned outdoor museum and park offering a host of free family programs and a place to picnic or walk along the East River with a view of Manhattan’s skyline.
SNUG HARBOR CULTURAL CENTER & BOTANICAL GARDEN (always free) is a large complex that consists of multiple organizations, including the Staten Island Botanical Garden, the Staten Island Museum and the Staten Island Children's Museum. It's worth spending a day to absorb it all. Later, catch an evening show at the Performing Arts Center, also located on the Snug Harbor campus.
SCANDINAVIA HOUSE (always free): Inside this lovely, airy space—a fitting homage to the natural simplicity of Scandinavian design—you can walk around the gallery of Scandinavian art for free, come see classic and cutting-edge movies, live concerts, readings and lectures that celebrate the history and culture of the region. Pop in for a light bite at the cheery café and check out the center’s shop for stunning textiles, jewelry, tableware and decorative objects.
Queens County Farm Museum
QUEENS COUNTY FARM MUSEUM (always free): A working farm within NYC limits? Enjoy a taste of the country when you visit this museum, situated on the largest remaining tract of farmland in the Big Apple. Nestled within the 47-acre property are historic farm buildings, greenhouses, an orchard and herb garden, farm machinery, and goats, pigs and other animals. Open year-round, this gem of a spot hosts hayrides for the kiddies on weekends (weather permitting), and the annual Queens County Fair.
New York Transit Museum Annex
THE NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM GALLERY ANNEX in Grand Central Terminal (always free) presents changing exhibitions. The annex is located just off the Main Concourse in the Shuttle Passage next to the Station Master's office. Visit the museum's website for information on the galley annex's current exhibition. Devotees of the Museum's unique transportation-related merchandise may shop at the gallery annex, as well as at the museum's Brooklyn Heights headquarters.
The New York Public Library Stephen A Schwarzman Building South Court Classrooms
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN BUILDING (always free): When most people think of the New York Public Library, they think of this building, whose main entrance is flanked by two lions (Patience and Fortitude). The library, of course, is free to visit, and there are often free guided tours of current exhibits as well as free wifi and free internet access. Lectures, readings and special events are also held here.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN–NY (always free) cultivates understanding of the history and culture of Native American peoples, exhibiting objects from nearly every North American Indian tribe. The museum also promotes the works of living ancestors of native peoples, including its Film and Video Center, which features films by and about Native Americans.
The @Museum at FIT (always free) is the only museum in NYC dedicated solely to the art of fashion, and features innovative and award-winning exhibitions. The museum's Fashion Culture special programs run year-round and include exhibition talk and tours, fashion conversations with leading designers, lectures and book signings.
THE MUSEUM OF BIBLICAL ART (always free) strives to create a new model of scholarly exhibitions and strong educational programs that interpret biblically inspired art and redefine the dialogue about the place of religious art in our society. The museum fosters an understanding and appreciation of art inspired by the Bible and its legacy by highlighting the connection between art and religion in the Jewish and Christian traditions.
Museum Of American Illustration
THE MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ILLUSTRATION (free Tues.–Sat.): The Society of Illustrators, founded in 1901, is the oldest nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the art and appreciation of illustration in America. The Museum of American Illustration was established by the Society in 1981 and is located in the Society's vintage 1875 carriage house building. The collection of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art was incorporated in mid-2012.
IRISH HUNGER MEMORIAL (always free): Built in order to raise awareness to the famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 (when more than one-and-a-half million people died), this gorgeous outdoor garden sits on more than a half-acre of land. Famine statistics, quotes and poems are displayed on an extensive surrounding wall, and inside the garden, there are more than 60 types of flora from Ireland, a recreated 19th-century Irish cottage and rocks from all of the country’s 32 counties.
THE HISPANIC SOCIETY OF AMERICA (always free) is a museum and library dedicated to Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American culture and art. The society’s extensive collection is one of the finest outside Spain and features paintings, sculptures, textiles, archaeological finds and other historical relics. It is situated on Audubon Terrace, and the surrounding neighborhood is abundant with authentic Spanish and Latin American cuisine. And best of all, admission is free.
Hamilton Grange National Memorial
HAMILTON GRANGE (always free): Alexander Hamilton commissioned his Federal-style country home to be built on 32 acres in Upper Manhattan. Finished in 1802, the estate was named "The Grange" after Hamilton's father's ancestral home in Scotland. Hamilton lived here only two years—on July 11, 1804, he was fatally wounded in a duel with his arch rival, Vice President Aaron Burr.
HARBOR DEFENSE MUSEUM (always free): Nestled within the heart of Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the Harbor Defense Museum details the history and evolution of NYC’s coastal defense systems. The only army museum in the City, the Harbor Defense Museum has a fine collection of military artifacts from the Revolutionary War to World War II.
General Grant National Memorial (Grant's Tomb)
GRANT'S TOMB (always free): This memorial pays tribute to General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant. The largest tomb in North America, it overlooks Riverside Park and the Hudson River. Visit in the warmer months to enjoy the trees and flowers, or bundle up in the autumn and winter to view equally beautiful (if chillier) landscapes. Around Halloween, you can take a guided tour of the tomb by candlelight. Or enjoy concerts and walking tours in Riverside Park when weather permits.
FEDERAL HALL (always free): Few people associate NYC with America’s federal government, but Wall Street is in fact where it all began. Federal Hall served as the first US Capitol Building, the site of George Washington’s first inauguration and the place where the Bill of Rights was officially passed. The original building has since been demolished, but the current structure today serves as a national memorial operated by the National Park Service. Tours are free; no reservations necessary.
THE BRONX MUSEUM (always free): The @Bronx Museum of the Arts specializes in contemporary art from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as art to which the Bronx itself plays a central role. Best of all, admission is free. Easily accessible by subway, the museum is surrounded by a diverse neighborhood with parks and restaurants.
AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND (always free): Most New Yorkers have no idea that in the 17th and 18th centuries, hundreds of Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre burial ground in Manhattan. When construction for a new federal building unearthed the remains of 400+ Africans in the early '90s in this unmarked cemetery, the truth was uncovered, and in 1991, the African Burial Ground project, a memorial to this sacred site, was launched. Today, the site includes artwork and a respectful exterior memorial.