How Do I Get In To Museums For Free?

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Answered by: David, An Expert in the Free Activities Category
Last year, after 40 years of being free to the public, the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, started charging an admission fee. President Johnson had wanted the public to learn about his legacy without having to pay, but ultimately the museum needed more funds. When even the populist wishes of a president get ignored, it might seem the era of free museums is over.

But world-class museums you can enter for free can be found everywhere. Here are ways to get museum content you don't have to pay for.


You might be surprised that some of the most celebrated museums in the world are operated free of charge. Most famously this includes the network of Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC-- the Air and Space Museum, the National History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the National Zoo, and many more. There are 19 museums of fascinating artifacts you can always visit without charge. But DC isn't the only place that offers this perk.

London -- one of the world's most expensive cities -- recently made all its major museums free. You can walk in off the street and, without a pence in your pocket, get within inches of the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. Not to mention some of the finest treasure of Western civilization on display at the Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, and more.

In Los Angeles, you can experience contemporary art (and ride a monorail) at the Getty for free. In Indianapolis, you can visit the city's flagship art museum for free. Some major institutions do continue to operate this way.

Remember: some major museums that are worth a $40 entrance fee don't charge you anything.


Even when a museum charges an admission, there are some strategies to get in for free (and I'm not talking about sneaking in).

Almost all museums have free days or free hours. If it's possible, plan to visit during these times. If it's not possible to schedule your visit for free hours, it's still worth checking when museums free days are (usually this is buried on the "Visiting" page of their website). I have gotten into both the Louvre in Paris and the Philadelphia Museum of Art for free by being in town the one day a month they offer compensated admission. With many museums offering free days in every city, you can often get lucky.

If you're looking to attend a museum in your own city or region, your local library may be able to save you the cost. Many local libraries have museum passes that you can rent (for free!) with your library card. These passes will cover the entire cost to a dozen museums in the area, often for two or more visitors. In my experience, these passes can be very popular-- sometimes checked out when you want them--- but are an excellent way to save admission.

Another loophole to get into expensive museums for free (or at least cheap) is to research whether the tickets are "Suggested Admission" or "Pay as you wish." Museums don't publicize it, but many will let you in even if you pay less than the ticket cost (or even if you pay nothing at all). This includes places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute in Chicago-- if you're determined not to pay, they will nevertheless let you in. You just might have to live with some disapproving looks.


Countless complementary museums can be found in towns and small cities, too; universities and colleges are a great place to start looking.

University art galleries and museums that are free and open to the public are common. The Yale Art Gallery, for example, is one of the gems of New Haven, Connecticut. Small collections on arcane subjects (agriculture, dentistry, local natural history) are also common at most universities, and are almost always free and interesting. You might have to do some asking on campus to find specifics about these collections.

History is a good bet, too, for budget museums. National monuments run by the park service are free and often very educational. You can visit sites like Abraham Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky, Teddy Roosevelt's home in New York, and countless more throughout the land.

With all these tips in mind, someone tell LBJ-- the era of the free museum is far from over.

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