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America's 10 Best Free Museums

10. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City

Located on Central Park's Upper East Side, the Met's inclusion on this list may raise some eyebrows. In fact, if you try to buy admission in advance online, it'll cost you $25 per ticket. However, the Met's admission fee is "recommended." To save a few bucks, wait to purchase tickets when you arrive to pay whatever price you wish (including nothing). In 2018, the Met updated their "pay-what-you-want" admissions policy to apply only to New York state residents. Out-of-state visitors will, unfortunately, have to pay full price.


9. The Museum at FIT

New York City

If you're a fashion lover, or just someone who enjoys avant-garde design, don't miss out on the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This free museum, a quick subway trip away from the Met, features some familiar names in its rotating exhibitions (Yves Saint Laurent and Lauren Bacall, among others) as well as up-and-coming designers who are sure to take the fashion world by storm in the coming seasons.

(image via Beyond My Ken, CC)


8. Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Birmingham, Alabama

The horticulturist in you will love the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. While not technically a museum, the 68 acres of gardens and over 12,000 different specimens live up to the botanical gardens' mantra of "living museum." Besides plants themselves, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens has the only public horticultural library in the nation. If you have a question about gardening, one of these books has the answer.


7. The Alamo

San Antonio, Texas

Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Alamo was originally built as a Spanish mission to convert the indigenous population to Christianity. Most people visit the former mission, however, in remembrance of the Texan military unit that used the area as a fortress during the Texas Revolution in 1836. In a decisive defeat, all of the defenders were killed by Mexican forces.


6. The USS Constitution

Boston, Massachusetts

Launched in 1797, The USS Constitution  remains the oldest fully commissioned warship in the world at well over 200 years of age. Visits to the ship remain free of charge, though visitors who are older than 18 must present a valid form of ID. No longer at its usual home at Pier 1, Constitution has moved to dry dock for a three-year-long restoration, but tours still continue.


5. The Menil Collection

Houston, Texas

Home to one of the largest private collections of art in the United States, the Menil Collection offers some of the most unique art experiences without a fee. Visit the Rothko Chapel on the collection's campus, hosted by an independent organization, for a near religious art experience, or visit one of the few Dan Flavin installations (whose artwork consists of fluorescent lights) in the nation.

(image via Argos'Dad, CC)


4. Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland, Ohio

Opened in 1916, the Cleveland Museum of Art has remained true to its founding trust by being free to the public for 100 years. Over half a million visitors come every year to see the museum's holdings of Caravaggios, Picassos, Pollocks, and a unique cast of Rodin's The Thinker which was damaged by a pipe bomb. The museum is also noted for its particularly rich holdings in Asian art.


3. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Kansas City, Missouri

Entrance to the Nelson-Atkins is free, but some of the museum's best pieces aren't even located inside. The Kansas City Sculpture Park, the expansive front lawn of the main building, has important and quirky sculptures from the art world's most celebrated sculptors. Prominently displayed are two giant shuttlecocks from the married team of Oldenburg and van Bruggen.

(image via Americasroof, CC)


2. The Getty Center

Los Angeles, California

It may be a bit of a cop out, as parking costs $15, but entrance to the Getty Center itself is free to visitors. Cover all your artistic bases in one single visit: explore historic and beautiful artwork from around the world in the galleries, meander through the Central Garden to experience the scenic beauty of nature, and marvel at the unique architectural construction of the building itself.


1. The Smithsonian Institution

Washington, D.C.; New York City; & Chantilly, Virginia

Actually a collection of 20 properties, the Smithsonian Institution encompasses 19 museums and a zoo, all of which are free. Washington, D.C. is by far the Smithsonian's main home; eleven museums surround the National Mall alone, while only 2 properties exist in New York, and a single museum in Chantilly, Virginia. The most well-known of its properties include the National Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, and the National Gallery of Art.