My family loves museums, but admission charges can quickly add up and cut into our travel budget. I’m here to tell you, there’s something else—free admission. With a little planning and research, you can visit most museums in the U.S. for free (or at a discount). So save your money to splurge on a nicer hotel, a great meal, or fabulous souvenirs, and enjoy some culture for free.
Here are six ways to get free museum admission:
1) North American Reciprocal Museum Association Program
The North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) has more than 750 arts, cultural, and historical institutions along with botanical gardens, children’s museums, science and technology centers that offer NARM members reciprocal benefits. In other words, join a participating museum and get free admission and perks at any other museum in the network.
2) Your Local Library’s Museum Pass Program
Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, local libraries across the country offer the Museum Pass Program. The program and details vary from library to library, but basically, cardholders can borrow passes to local museums and explore for free. At my local library—Montclair Public Library—cardholders can reserve museum passes online, in person, or by phone up to 60 days in advance and only one pass may be booked per family for the same day of use.
3) Bank of America / Merrill Lynch Museums On Us Program
If you happen to be a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch cardholder, you can enjoy free museum admission to over 150 museums, science centers, zoos, botanical gardens, and more on the first full weekend of every month thanks to the Museums On Us program. The San Diego Museum of Art, Denver Zoo, Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, Newseum in D.C.—are just a few of the great places to see for free.
4) Smithsonian Museum Day Live!
In the spirit of Smithsonian Museums, which offer free admission every day, Smithsonian Museum Day Live is an annual event in which participating museums across the country open their doors to anyone presenting a Smithsonian Museum Day Ticket…for free. This year’s Museum Day Live takes place on Saturday, September 26.
Each Smithsonian Museum Day Live ticket is good for two people. Tickets will be available for download beginning on August 1, 2015. Your Ticket will be emailed to you after you submit your information. Print it out, head to a museum on September 26, and go explore for free!
5) Blue Star Museums Program
Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families (up to five family members at a time), including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. A great way to say thanks to our military!
6) Free Museums, Free Days, Free During Select Hours
Some museums are always free (i.e. the Smithsonian Museums in D.C or The Getty Center in LA), some are free on specific days of the week (the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in NYC is free the first Friday of the month and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is free the first Sunday of the month), and some are free for select hours (the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, in NYC is free on Fridays from 4 pm – 8 pm). Other museums always offer a suggested admission price, which basically allows you to pay what you want. So while the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC suggest you pay $25 per adult, you can pay $5 and get in. Heck, you can pay $1 if you want. It’s up to you and your budget.
Take away? Do your research and check out museum websites to plan a free visit.