Culture on the Cheap: Visiting Museums for Free!

Culture on the Cheap Visiting Museums for Free!

As you might have guessed from our escapades around Europe this summer, BF and I are kind of culture junkies. Museums are one of our favorite ways to experience a new culture and gain exposure to new forms of expression and ways of life. We love a good art/history/science/music/whatever museum, and seek them out wherever we go.

The downside to museums is that all of the fun they offer often comes at a price. Depending on the size and type of museum you’re visiting, a ticket can range from a few dollars to $20+ per person. As much as I love a museum, I really don’t love paying tons of money to spend an afternoon looking at art. I MUCH prefer to look at art for free, and luckily there are many ways to do that!

Today I’d like to share a few tips for visiting amazing museums completely for free. As long as you’re willing to be a little flexible and/or plan ahead, you can easily take advantage of these opportunities to visit museums for free all around the world.

  1. Find free museums. While many museums charge an admission fee, many don’t! Some cities, like London, Washington DC and New York, are known for high profile free museums (think the Met and the Smithsonian). Often these museums will charge admission for special exhibits, but just visiting the main galleries can be a full day event. To find free museums in your city, just do a quick Google search. Don’t overlook local museums or museums that are part of universities. Smaller museums often have excellent collections, are much less crowded, and are cheap or free to get into.
  1. Get passes from your local library. I’ve shared my love of the public library before, and museum passes are just one more reason why I think the library is the best. The Cambridge Public Library (and, I’m led to believe, most other public libraries) offers free passes to patrons that entitle you to either free or substantially reduced admission to local museums. The one downside here is that passes usually get scooped up pretty far in advance, so you have to plan ahead. My library has a great, online system for reserving passes, so it is easy and quick to go online and reserve passes for my chosen date.
  1. Go to museums on free days. Most paid museums have certain days or times when they are free. For example, most museums in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month. We took advantage of this over the summer and visited two museums on a free day, saving over €50. Museums tend to be a bit more crowded on free days, but I’ve always felt that it is well worth the savings.
  1. Take advantage of “memberships.” Are you a AAA member? That might entitle you to a discount. Are you a student or a senior? That might entitle you to a discount. The list goes on and on, but the important thing is to think through what “groups” you belong to, and take advantage of that. One great program that I benefit from is the Bank of America Museums on Us If you have a Bank of America account, you can get into certain museums for free on the first weekend of the month. Similarly, I can get into several Harvard museums for free simply because I’m a Cambridge resident.

What are your tips for visiting museums or other cultural institutions on the cheap?


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8 thoughts on “Culture on the Cheap: Visiting Museums for Free!

  1. Watch for the words “suggested donation.”

    You might think it costs $25 to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but it actually doesn’t. That’s just a suggested donation, although they try to make it look non-negotiable. (I think they’ve been unsuccessfully sued over this) Margie and I visited this year just to see a few current exhibitions, and to Marge’s horror I said I was only donating $5 for each of our tickets. She was embarrassed and thought it couldn’t possibly work, but the cashier gladly took my $10 and gave us our tickets. Much easier to stomach than $50!

    If you’re going to spend the whole day there, maybe you want to pay full price, but if not, I say pay what you think it’s worth.

    • Great point! A lot of museums that usually have an admission fee will have a “pay what you want” night, too. You have to have a little bit of conviction to feel OK paying less than the “suggested donation,” but it can be a great way to get into museums for cheap!

  2. We have a family membership to the Anchorage museum which has gotten us in to museums with whom they partner across the U.S. when we travel. It’s been awesome for the kids (and us!). Also, all the museums in the UK are free, are totally awesome, and will save us big bucks this next summer on our trip (compared to the $275 Harry Potter play tickets put me out!).

  3. Whenever the kids are sick and kept out of daycare the next day (when they’re fine), we go to the museums in Washington DC. They’re free, full of things for the kids to do, and a short 25 minute drive for us with free parking outside. Museums are fantastic places for kids to experiences new things that they can see and touch, it’s wonderful.

  4. When we visited Europe we were asked for our student IDs a lot when we went to museums. We told them we weren’t students but they said since we were under 25 we could get a discount. So bring your student ID if you still fit in this age range. I’ve been asked if I’m a student a lot in the US, too, and though I’ve never lied about it after graduating, I think looking young, wearing a backpack, and visiting museums suggests this.

    • There cam be big benefits to being a student! One downside I noticed in Europe is that if you’re over 26, even if you are still legitimately a student, you usually can’t get the student discount. No fun for grad students!

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