Many of New York City's top museums, zoos, gardens, and cultural institutions offer FREE or reduced admission on certain nights, days, or hours at least once a month—a city perk that no busy, cash-strapped parent should miss out on! Plus, many of the "grown-up" museums let kids in for free year-round.
It can be hard to keep track of when and where these freebies are available, so we've compiled an exhaustive list of reduced or FREE admission days at all of your favorite NYC cultural spots from the Bronx Zoo to the Brooklyn Children's Museum.
As always, you can check our Events Calendar for more budget-friendly kid activities every day or peruse our Free in NYC Guide. Try our Museum Guide or Zoos and Gardens Guide for more on the latest kid-friendly art and exhibitions in NYC.
Children's Museums, Zoos, and Gardens with Free Times
The Bronx Zoo – General admission is free on Wednesdays. Visitors are asked to donate what they wish to support the zoo's mission. Total Experience activities cost extra.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Free all day on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10am-noon. Free on winter weekdays (December-February).
Brooklyn Children's Museum – Pay-what-you-wish on Thursday afternoons from 2-6pm.
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Kids paint at the Children's Museum of the Arts where admission is waived every Thursday afternoon. Photo courtesy of the museum
Children's Museum of the Arts – Pay-what-you-wish Thursdays from 4-6pm.
Children's Museum of Manhattan – Free the first Friday of every month from 5-8pm.
New York Aquarium – Pay-what-you-wish on Fridays from 3-3:30pm, during the fall, winter, and spring; in the summer, free Friday hours run from 4-5pm.
New York Botanical Garden – Free grounds admission all day on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9-10am. Special exhibits cost extra.
New York Hall of Science – Free admission on Fridays from 2-5pm and Sundays from 10-11am.
New-York Historical Society – Pay-what-you-wish on Fridays from 6-8pm. Admission to the on-site DiMenna Children's History Museum is included.
Queens Botanical Garden – Free admission daily November through March. Free admission Wednesdays from 3-6pm and Sundays from 9-11am the rest of the year—except on festival days.
Spark by the Brooklyn Children's Museum – Free admission on Thursdays from 1-6pm.
The Staten Island Children's Museum – Free admission on Wednesdays from 5-8pm.
Staten Island Zoo – Free on Wednesdays after 2pm.
Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling – Admission for children 8 and younger is always free. Everyone enters for free the third Sunday of the month.
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Wave Hill's Enchanted Weekend. Photo by Joshua Bright/courtesy of the museum
Wave Hill – Free Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9am-noon. The garden also hosts special free arts events throughout the year. Check the calendar for more info.
Free Family Programs at Museums
Several museums offer regularly scheduled free programs. In addition to no-cost admission, visitors are treated to special tours and activities. Sometimes these events require tickets (which are free), and they're all either aimed at families or are kid-friendly.
Brooklyn Museum First Saturdays – First Saturday of every month from 5-11pm. Kids ages 19 and under are always free.
El Museo del Barrio Super Sábado – Free at all times for children under 12 and for everyone on the third Saturday of every month from 11am-6pm. A visit here also gets you free admission to the Museum of the City of New York, located right across the street.
Museum of Modern Art – General admission is always free to ages 16 and under and parents can score a free pass on Friday nights from 4-8pm. MoMA also offers multiple free programs for families, including Tours for Fours, A Closer Look for Kids, and Family Films. Tickets are required and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the Education and Research Building entrance at 4 West 54th Street.
New Museum First Saturdays for Families – Children under 18 are always free. In addition, on the first Saturday of every month, from 10am-noon, the museum offers free admission for up to three adults per family. On Thursdays from 6-9pm, it's pay-what-you-wish for all visitors.
Museums with Suggested Admission
American Museum of Natural History – Special exhibits and experiences cost extra.
El Museo del Barrio
The Met Breuer
Kids under 12 are always free at the Met, which also follows a "suggested admission" policy. Photo by Shira Kronzon
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of the City of New York – Neighbors visit for free anytime.
Staten Island Museum
Studio Museum Harlem
Museums That Are Always Free
American Folk Art Museum
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Lehman College Art Gallery – The gallery also hosts educational workshops and family art workshops free of charge.
The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology
National Museum of the American Indian
Queens County Farm Museum – The museum does charge admission during large, public events.
Grown-up Museums with Free Hours
9/11 Memorial and Museum – Free on Tuesdays from 4-8pm.
Asia Society Museum – Free on Fridays from 6-9pm, from Labor Day through June. Children under 16 are always free.
Cooper Hewitt Museum – Pay-what-you-wish on Saturdays from 6-9pm. Kids 18 and under are always free.
The Frick Collection – Free on the first Friday of the month from 6pm-9pm; Pay-what-you-wish on Wednesdays from 2pm-6pm. Must be at least 10 years old to visit.
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Take the whole family for pay-what-you-wish Saturdays. Photo by Kris McKay/courtesy of the museum
Guggenheim Museum – Pay what you wish Saturdays, 5:45-7:45pm. Children under 12 are always free.
Historic Richmond Town – Free Fridays from 1-5pm. Ages 3 and under are always free.
The Jewish Museum – Free on Saturdays from 11am-5:45pm; pay-what-you-wish on Thursdays from 5pm-8pm. Children 18 and under are free.
The Morgan Library & Museum – Free on Fridays from 7-9pm. Children 12 and under are free.
Museum of Arts and Design – Pay what you wish Thursdays from 6-9pm. Children ages 18 and under are free.
Museum of Chinese in America – Free on the first Thursday of the each month from 11am-9pm.
Museum of Jewish Heritage – Admission by pay-what-you-wish donations on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm. Ages 12 and under are always free.
Museum of Modern Art – Free on Fridays from 4-8pm. Ages 16 and under are always free.
Museum of the Moving Image – Free on Fridays from 4-8pm. Children under age 3 are always free.
The Noguchi Museum – Free on the first Friday of every month from 10am-5pm. Children under 12 are free.
Rubin Museum of Art – Free on the first Monday of every month from 11am-5pm. Children 12 and under are free.
Studio Museum Free Sundays – Free on Sundays from noon-6pm
Kids are always FREE at the Whitney Museum. Photo by Shira Kronzon
Whitney Museum – Pay what you wish Fridays from 7-10pm. Children under 18 are always free.
Top photo: Children's Museum of the Arts. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the museums
This article first published in September 2012, but was recently updated.