Whether your New Year’s resolution for the family is to make it to more museums, or you’re just anticipating spending more time indoors over the next few weeks (winter, February break, etc.), early January is a good time for a refresher on when admissions to NYC’s cultural institutions is free. That might mean taking advantage of museum free days, or noting which ones have “pay-what-you-wish” policies. (Of course, you can get entry to lots of institutions for no charge with an IDNYC card or Cool Culture family pass.) Read on to get the inside info on how to hit up the most popular museums in all the boroughs on the cheap.
photo: via Brooklyn Children’s Museum Facebook page
1. Brooklyn Children’s Museum
The big draw at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for kids 5 and under is the Totally Tots area. It features nine different sensory play areas such as water, music and dress-up. They also have an art studio for your little one to work on becoming the next Jackson Pollock (Wed., Thurs.,Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-12 noon). Older kids will enjoy learning about history and culture from all over the world, lots of interactive nature exhibits and more.
How to get in free: Entry is free Thursdays from 2-6 p.m., and Sundays 4-7 p.m. Kids under 12 months are always free.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Ave.
Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5p.m.
photo: Ryan Somma via Flickr
2. American Museum of Natural History
Enjoy an epic trip through the history of the world, with collections of more than 32 million specimens and artifacts. Travel back in time to the world of dinosaurs, learn about distant galaxies in the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and check out one of the current exhibitions, like The Titanosaur, or the ever-popular Butterfly Conservatory. A great place for families, and especially children ages 5-12, is The Discovery Room. Kids, accompanied by adults, can explore a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at its science. While exploring artifacts, specimens, puzzles, your budding biologists can even hunt for animals in a two-story tall replica of an African baobab tree!
How to get in free: Pay what you wish is available at ticket counters, and kids under age 2 are always free.
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West & 79th St.
Upper West Side
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m.
3. Children’s Museum of Manhattan
The Museum is a children’s paradise, filled with fun, educational exhibits designed for tots from birth on up, like or PlayWorks™ for toddlers, Adventures with Dora and Diego, and EatSleepPlay. There are several programs and activities every day for the 5-and-under set, like Mural Wall Painting or the S.T.E.A.M. Lab, and check their calendar for activities for kids 6 and up.
How to get in free: While there is no free day, the museum does participate in the Cool Culture program as well as the city’s Culture Pass program. Additionally, members of many groups and organizations can get free admission. Those include active and reservist members of the military, members of the UFT, NYC museum employees, and employees at numerous NYC agencies. See the full lust of those eligible for free admission here. Kids under 12 months are always free.
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
212 West 83rd St.
Upper West Side
Hours: Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
photo: Vincent L. via Yelp
4. National Museum of The American Indian
Part of The Smithsonian, the NMAI houses one of the largest collections of Native artifacts between its three locations. Bring your family to visit the New York branch to take daily tours, introduce your 2-to-5 year olds to Taino music on Wednesdays (registration required,) and attend performances and events. Their calendar is the place to find out what’s going on, but every day admission is free.
National Museum of The American Indian
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House
One Bowling Green
Hours: Fri.-Weds., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
photo: via Queens Museum Facebook page
5. Queens Museum
The Queens Museum is most famous for the Panorama, built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair. This 9,335-square-foot architectural model includes every single building constructed before 1992 in all five boroughs – that’s a total of 895,000 individual structures. It’s worth the visit just to see the Panorama alone. But wait, there’s more! There are Drop-in Family Art Workshops on Sundays from 1:30 pm-4:30 pm for children ages 5-12 and their adult companions.
How to get in free: You can pay what you wish – always; and kids under age of 18 are always free. NYC Department of Education employees also get in free with ID, as do students at New York colleges and universities.
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Hours: Wed.-Sun., noon.-6 p.m.
6. American Museum of Folk Art
This center for self-taught artists who learned from experience rather than formal training holds many kinds of interesting objects, from quilts to crafted animals, that attract the eyes and imaginations of little ones beyond paintings on canvas. Of course, there are paintings like portraits, too, in a variety of untutored styles. On the first Saturday of every month, their Families and Folk Art program welcomes kids ages 4- 12, introducing them and their adults to folk art via interactive discussions and hands-on artmaking activities (registration required.) This kid-friendly museum allows you to check your stroller or use it throughout every gallery, and yes, admission is always free!
American Museum of Folk Art
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri, noon-7:30 p.m.; Sat., 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-6 p.m.
photo: Louis C. via Yelp
7. The Museum of Chinese in America
MOCA is a manageable size, but it covers 160 years of fascinating Chinese American history in an artfully arranged space by famous designer/artist Maya Lin. It was crafted to engage visitors from the elderly to small children, and presents a very real look at the lives of Chinese-American immigrants and families, displaying household items, salvaged objects from Chinatown stores, clothing, photographs and films. The museum also hosts family events like Festivals and drop-in arts workshops
How to get in free: Come on the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays for free admission.
The Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre St.
Hours: Tues.,Weds., and Fri..-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m
photo: Steve N. via Yelp
8. Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is is often called the most influential museum of modern art in the world. In the world! The museum’s collection offers an overview of modern and contemporary art, including architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and artist’s books, film and electronic media. The sculpture garden is a must-see on your visit; let the kids wander around the tranquil outdoor area, and get up close to some fascinating sculptures. Check out their family events calendar for free activities and tours for your short-stacks. They even have a website especially for kids to help your young ones get hyped for their visit.
How to get in free: Go Fridays (UNIQLO Free Fridays) between 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Children age 16 & under are always free. Admission to MoMA PS1 is currently free for all NYC residents, courtesy of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation— wow! (If you happen to pay to get into MoMA, within 14 days of your visit you can use your ticket stub to get in free at the museum’s Queens location, PS 1.)
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St.
Hours: Sat.-Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Fri. 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
photo: via Brooklyn Museum Facebook page
9. Brooklyn Museum
The museum holds New York City’s second largest art collection with roughly 1.5 million works. Areas of the collection include everything from contemporary art to Egyptian antiquities going back to 3500 B.C. The museum also holds a significant collection of American art, including artists such as Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Edgar Degas, Georgia O’Keeffe and Max Weber. The Brooklyn Museum is also known for having interesting temporary exhibitions such as Infinite Blue, which examines uses of the color through different cultures and eras. Pro Tip: if you’re looking for something special for your little ones, they have activities and tours for ages 6 months to adult, including art classes and events for youth and teens. Note that the museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and pricing for special exhibits (such as the upcoming Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving) is different/not subject to free policy.
How to get in free: Go the first Saturday of every month between 5 p.m.-11 p.m. for Target First Saturdays. Also, visitors ages 19 & under are always free. Note: Ticket lines often form 30 minutes before ticket distribution at the Visitor Center located in the Rubin Lobby.
200 Eastern Parkway
Prospect Heights/Crown Heights
Hours: Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wed., Fri., Sat., Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
photo: via Children’s Museum of the Arts Facebook page
10. Children’s Museum of the Arts
Introduce your little one to art at an early age at the Children’s Museum of the Arts (designed for children ages 10 months to 15 years). Toddlers will enjoy tactile material like paint, glue and sand boxes; older children can work on skill development under guidance of museum staff. The museum also has changing exhibits and a clay bar where kids can saddle up and create their own pliable masterpiece. (Check out our guide to the museum here!)
How to get in free: Pay what you wish Thursdays from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Children under one year old are always free.
Children’s Museum of the Arts
103 Charlton St.
Hours: Mon., noon-5 p.m., Tues & Weds, WEE Arts Drop In Classes only ,Thurs. & Fri., noon-6 p.m., Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
photo: New York Hall of Science
11. New York Hall of Science
Located in Queens, visiting this exciting place is the perfect way to get your little one interested in science at a young age. Lots of hands-on exhibits, often interactive, on sound, light, atoms, microbes and astronomy capture children’s attention, bringing science to life in a fun and interesting way. Designed for children ages 5 to 15 years old.
How to get in free: Get free admission on Friday afternoons from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., and on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Children under age 2 are always free.
New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th St.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-6 pm
photo: via Metropolitan Museum Facebook page/Brooks Walker
12. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The “Met” is the largest art museum in the United States, and one of the ten largest in the world. It includes large collections of ancient art, including Greek, Roman and Near Eastern, as well as a large variety of modern works. Some of the most popular (and famous) works on display are by artists such as Degas, Monet and Van Gogh. The museum is enormous (its permanent collection contains more than two million works), so plan ahead to see the exhibition you’re most interested in, rather than attempting to see everything all in one day.
How to get in free: Pay what you wish – always, and kids under age 12 are always free.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
photo: via DiMenna Children’s History Museum on Yelp
13. DiMenna Children’s History Museum
The DiMenna Children’s History Museum is a part of the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, which is the oldest museum in NYC and has a collection of 1.6 million art works that illustrate the rich heritage of the city and state. The children’s museum is designed for older children, ages 8-13, but kids of all ages are welcome. It’s an interactive, 4,500-square-foot space that invites kids to explore American history through lots of hands-on activities. Everything in the museum is child-sized, and tells stories through the eyes of historically significant New Yorkers when they were kids. The NYHS also has a great selection of family programs to entertain and educate people of all ages, so your younger offspring can do something tailored to their ages.
How to get in free: Pay what you wish Fridays from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Kids ages 4 & under are always free.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum
170 Central Park West
Upper West Side
Hours: Tues.-Thurs. & Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
photo: Kay C. via Yelp/Martha Cooper Museum of the City of New York
14. Museum of the City of NY
The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the past, present and future of the city. It hosts many great family programs, cultural heritage celebrations, and story/activity time for little ones in conjunction with exhibits like NYC at Its Core, which traces the city’s growth from a small Dutch village to the “Capital of the World.”
How to get in free: You can pay what you wish — always. Plus, visitors ages 19 & under are always free.
Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Ave.
Hours: 7 days a week from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
photo: Bronx Museum of the Arts via Yelp
15. The Bronx Museum of The Arts
In case you didn’t know, The Bronx is one of the most ethnically and socio-economically varied constituencies in U.S., composed largely of Latino, African American, West African and Caribbean populations. This museum connects contemporary art with popular culture, and celebrates local and international communities with works by culturally diverse and under-represented artists. Enjoy performances of and discussions on music, visual arts and dance on the First Friday of every month, or check their calendar for Family Affair, a program on select Saturday afternoons that promotes the special bond between parents/guardians and their children (ages 12 & under) through art-making and exhibition tours. And guess what? Admission is free to all ages!
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand ConcourseThe Bronx
Hours: Weds.-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m
photo: Guggenheim Museum via Yelp/SRGF
16. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
This Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Museum is well-known for the cylindrical museum building (conceived as a “temple of the spirit,”) and walking through the unusual space can be a cool experience for kid and grown-up alike. It’s the permanent home of an impressive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.
How to get in free: Pay what you wish every Saturday between 5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. (but be prepared for long lines). Kids ages 12 & under are always free.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
Hours: Sun.-Wed., 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7:45 p.m.
photo: via The Jewish Museum Facebook page
17. The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum’s exhibitions explore the intersection of art and Jewish culture. Kids will love the Archeology Zone, an interactive exhibit where they can dig for artifacts, dress up in costumes and more.
How to get in free: Thursdays from 5-8 p.m., it’s pay what you wish. Kids age 18 & under are always free. On Saturdays – everyone is free, but note that due to the Sabbath, interactive exhibition elements, audio guides, the shop, dining and the children’s exhibition are not available.
1109 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
Hours: Mon., Tues. & Sat., 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m-4 p.m.
photo: El Museo del Barrio Facebook page
18. El Museo del Barrio
The Museo welcomes visitors of all backgrounds to discover the arts of Latino, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. They have wide-ranging collections and exhibitions, complemented by visual and performing arts series, cultural celebrations, and educational programs. The third Saturday of every month is Super Sábado, where your familia can experience free art-making workshops, storytelling, concerts, and more!
How to get in free: Pay what you wish, free on the third Saturday of each month, and kids under age 12 are always free.
1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
Hours: Weds., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun, noon-5 p.m.
photo: via Staten Island Museum Facebook page
19. Staten Island Museum
While the Staten Island Children’s Museum charges a small fee, your progeny can enjoy this museum gratis (admission price is suggested donation). This small gem, founded in 1881, has eclectic collections that can capture the interest of all ages, like The Hall of Science, The Treasure Box Gallery, which displays art objects from five continents and across eras, and the Remember the Mastodon exhibit, which explores the lives of those huge former residents of the island. They have two locations, so make sure to check ahead to see where to find different collections and exhibits.
How to get in free: admission is suggested donation. We suggest you pay for yourself.
Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor
1000 Richmond Terrace, Building A &
Staten Island Museum in St. George
75 Stuyvesant Pl.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m.
photo: Whitney Museum of American Art Facebook page/Filip Wolak
The premier museum for 20th century American art, the Whitney is also worth a trip to see the relatively new Renzo Piano-designed building nestling The Highline. In addition to the impressive art collection, engaging exhibits (including the influential survey of the current art scene, the Biennial) and sweeping galleries, take in stunning views of the Hudson and surrounding cityscape both inside and out. (The museum features a few outdoor terraces that also showcase large-scale pieces.)
How to get in free: If you’ve got night owls, you’re in luck: The Whitney is Pay What You Wish on Fridays from 7 – 9:30 pm.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevort St.
— Mimi O’Connor