Unlike in many parts of Europe, museums are not free here and can be quite expensive. Many of the major museums charge $15-$25 per ticket. For the most part, there’s not much you can do if you want to visit the museums. There are, of course, concession prices for seniors, students, and members, but the majority of people do not fall into those categories. There are also tourist passes that provide unlimited access to a whole bunch of museums and attractions for a certain number of days for a set fee, but this often isn’t actually a good deal (you should first determine what you will realistically see in the time you have, calculate the cost and then compare). So, what can you do?
First, there are some museums that display ticket prices that appear to be mandatory, but are, in fact, suggested. Second, there are museums with fixed admission prices that occasionally have a “pay what you wish” time. Finally, there are just a few museums that are always free. We will talk about each one of these in turn.
Suggested Admission Museums
Many state-supported museums are not able to charge a fixed fee for admission in order to continue receiving state support. Instead, they have instituted a suggested admission fee that many times appears to be a mandatory ticket fee. What does this mean? This means that you can actually pay whatever you want to visit these museums or you can even pay nothing at all. Many people ignore the words “suggested” and just see the “$25” and assume that is what you have to pay. When you buy tickets at the ticket booth, they do not automatically inform you of this and just quote you the amount it would be for the 2 adults or the 1 adult and 2 kids they see in front of them, so they say “your total is $50” or whatever the case may be. You are free to decline and pay whatever you want. We’ve included a list of these museums below.
There are a number of reasons why this is good. Not everyone truly can afford to pay the ticket prices, particularly if you have several kids and a couple of adults in your party. You could be paying $75 per museum you visit and if you visit multiple museums, that’s hundreds of dollars.
But we would highly recommend not purposely taking advantage of this feature and considering actually paying what you can and what you think is fair. These museums individually and collectively house incredible treasures, artifacts, and historically and culturally significant works, not to mention they are powerhouses of information that they make easily available to the public. These museums generally also offer free activities such as guided tours in multiple languages, lectures, programs, events, etc. that are included in the visit at no extra charge. Keeping these museums running requires an incredible amount of funding and we’ve always thought it a privilege to have access to these amazing places. So, we’d urge you to consider a price you think is fair and contribute whatever you can. And if you can’t contribute anything, that is perfectly ok. You are still more than welcome inside – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
List of Major Museums with Suggested Admission Prices (not comprehensive):
American Museum of Natural History
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Queens Museum of Art
Museums with Pay What You Wish Days
The second grouping of museums are those that have fixed price admission most of the time, but that occasionally offer “pay what you wish” entrance, during which time you can pay whatever you are able. Please note, though, that during these times, the lines for these museums can be quite long. In wintertime, this means you will often have to wait 30+ minutes outside in a line that is multiple blocks long.
List of Major Museums with Pay What You Wish Days (not comprehensive):
Brooklyn Museum – First Saturday of every month 5 pm – 11 pm
Frick Collection – Every Sunday 11 am – 1 pm
Guggenheim – Every Saturday 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) – Every Thursday 6 pm – 9 pm
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Every Friday 4 pm – 8 pm
Neue Gallerie – First Friday of every month 6 pm – 8 pm
New Museum – Every Thursday 7 pm – 9 pm
Whitney Museum of American Art – Every Friday 7 pm – 9:30 pm
There are very few free museums in New York, and they certainly are not the big name museums. But if one strikes your fancy, rest assured that no one will possibly make you feel guilty about not paying anything when visiting it!
List of Major Museums that are Always Free (not comprehensive):
American Folk Art Museum
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
National Museum of the American Indian
The Federal Reserve Bank