New York City has no shortage of world-class museums. Better still, you don’t always have to spend a fortune to visit them. Many museums, including leading research institutions, eclectic art spaces, and establishments dedicated to local history, now offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission. For bargain seekers willing to explore the previously unknown at (near-) zero cost, below is a list of free or pay-as-you-wish NYC museums.
American Folk Art Museum | 2 Lincoln Square, New York
(Photo credit: @afamuseum)
The permanent collection showcases textiles, paintings, paper crafts, and sculptures made by known artists and self-taught art enthusiasts. Some famous pieces include an 18th-century Tree-of-Life motif whitework bedcover and Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog by a 19-century American itinerant painter Ammi Phillips. Right now, there is a temporary exhibition on weathervanes fashioned from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, as well as a special exhibition of works by renowned self-taught artists.
American Museum of Natural History | 200 Central Park West, New York
Pay what you wish
(Photo credit: @amnh)
Founded in 1869, the sprawling museum is one of the most prominent science and educational institutions in the country. You can easily spend the entire day here. The collection includes 34 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, and human cultural artifacts. The post-pandemic reopening also brings something new: a completely redesigned gems and minerals exhibition has just been unveiled after a four-year closure, featuring a (literally!) dazzling collection of precious stones, minerals, and jewelry around the world.
Bronx Museum of Arts | 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx
(Photo credit: @bronxmuseum)
This museum was founded in the early 1970s with the goal of bringing art to the Bronx and has since become one of the most progressive museums in the City. The collection focuses on contemporary and 20th-century works by American artists but also hosts exhibitions featuring modern art from around the world. Current highlights include a new solo exhibition featuring works of Harlem-based artist Wardell Milan (Wardell Milan: Amerika. God Bless You If It’s Good To You) that celebrates the museum’s 50-year dedication to social justice.
Read More: Museums to Visit in North Jersey
El Museo del Barrio | 1230 5th Avenue, New York
Pay what you wish
(Photo credit: @elmuseo)
Located near the northern end of Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile, the museum showcases the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States. The collection of over 8,000 artworks features Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx art spanning from pre-Columbian time to modern years. Currently, there is a temporary exhibition (ESTAMOS BIEN – LA TRIENAL 20/21) of modern artworks of 40 Latinx artists from the United States.
MoMA PS1 | 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens
Pay what you wish – free for NYC residents
(Photo credit: @momaps1)
This Queens-based institution was first founded in 1971 with the mission of turning abandoned buildings in New York City into art centers. In 2000, MoMA PS1 merged with Manhattan’s world-famous Museum of Modern Art and became one of the country’s largest modern art museums. The exhibitions, which change frequently, focus heavily on experimental and installation art. One of the ongoing exhibitions features work by Niki de Saint Phalle (American and French, 1930‒2002), known for her “overtly feminist” and performative art. Make sure to visit the courtyard, which now features participatory installation art that explores themes of land use, urban space, and ecology.
Museum of City of New York | 1220 Fifth Avenue, New York
Pay what you wish
(Photo credit: @museumofcityny)
This is a history and art museum that preserves and showcases life in New York City throughout history. The over 750,000 objects feature, among other things, paintings, documents, photos, and decorative art, daily objects owned or created by New York City residents, with a particular focus on 19th to mid-20th century history. One of the most interesting items is a chair once owned by Sarah Rapelje, believed to be the first child of European descent born in New York. A newly unveiled exhibition features the music revolution in NYC in the 1980s.
National Museum of the American Indian New York | 1 Bowling Green, New York
(Photo credit: @smithsoniannmai)
This museum features contemporary and historical art and artifacts by and about Native Americans. The collection is organized by geographic areas, including Latin America, and is a hybrid of ethnology and art.
Noguchi Museum | 9-01 33rd Road, Queens
Free on the first Friday of each month
(Photo credit: @noguchimuseum)
The Japanese-American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi is most famous for his abstract sculptures and Akari lights, which are lamps made of washi paper and bamboo that create a soft glow. The museum was conceived and designed by the artist himself. The collection features his lights, designed furniture, drawings, and sculptures. The space is also serene, spacious, and meditative.
Queens County Farm Museum | 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens
(Photo credit: @queensfarm)
Dating back to 1697, Queens County Farm sits on New York City’s largest remaining undisturbed farmland. The site includes historic buildings, a greenhouse, livestock areas, an orchard, and various gardens for herbs, flowers, and vegetables. It not only presents the historical farm lifestyle, but also educates the public on biodiversity, climate change, and nutrition.
Queens Museum | New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens
(Photo credit: @queensmuseum)
The most famous permanent exhibition here is a room-sized scale model Panorama of the City of New York, commissioned by the master builder Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair. But it is not the only object that celebrates the city’s infrastructure and urban life. There is also a relief map of the New York City water system and an exquisite exhibition of Tiffany glasses.
Socrates Sculpture Park | 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Queens
(Photo credit: @socratespark)
This patch of land along the East River waterfront was an abandoned landfill and illegal dumpsite up till the 1980s and has long been transformed into an open-air museum featuring large-scale modern installation art and performance series. One of the current exhibitions, named “Planeta Abuelx”, uses recycled and found materials to explore the theme of healing and recovery throughout history, and is a homage to vulnerable groups lost to illnesses and the pandemic.
Staten Island Museum | 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island
Pay what you wish
(Photo credit: @statenislandmuseum)
A small gem. The collection includes natural science specimens, archival records, and works of art and design about Staten Island. Although it’s Staten Islanders’ view of the world, visitors can still get a glimpse of American history and lifestyle in the past two centuries. A current exhibition tells the story of Staten Island in the midst of the suffrage movement
The Jewish Museum | 1109 5th Avenue, New York
Free on Saturdays
(Photo credit: @thejewishmuseum)
This museum first opened to the public in 1947, making it both the first Jewish museum in the United States and the oldest existing Jewish museum in the world. It is located in the Fifth Avenue Museum Mile. The over 30,000 objects include artifacts of thousands of years of Jewish history as well as contemporary art. An upcoming exhibition planned for August 2021 to January 2022 chronicles the stories of Jewish art that were stolen during WWII and recovered since.