While a number of the city's largest, most prestigious museums (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The American Museum of Natural History) offer pay-what-you-wish rates every day of the year or are free year-round (MoMa PS1, The Bronx Museum of the Arts and The Museum at FIT), budget-conscious New Yorkers do well to take note of special free hours and days for our area's best institutions of art, botany and history.
We've run down some of the best by day of week below, but be sure to check websites before you head out — hours and availability are subject to change. Happy viewing!
If you have an interest in Jewish art and history, set aside a Monday for exploring two great New York institutions. The Yeshiva University Museum in Chelsea hosts Jewish art exhibits and cultural programming and offers free admission on Mondays and Wednesdays between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and on Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Housed within an 1887 synagogue, the first great house of Jewish worship in America, the Lower East Side's Museum at Eldridge Street is a hidden jewel highlighting the Jewish immigrant experience in New York City. The museum offers pay-what-you-wish hours on Mondays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
While the 9/11 Memorial site is accessible free of charge daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., the deeply moving 9/11 Museum offers free admission each Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The museum also offers year-round free access to 9/11 family members, 9/11 rescue and recovery workers, and active and retired U.S. military personnel.
In Brooklyn, enjoy outdoor splendor for free on Tuesdays at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Also note that the BBG offers a multitude of free admission hours on weekdays during the winter season.
Plan to be outdoors on Wednesdays when two more of our city's lovely botanical gardens open their gates for free. From April to October, the Queens Botanical Garden is accessible at no cost on Wednesdays between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and Sundays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. At the New York Botanical Gardens, grounds-only admission is free to all comers on Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturdays.
The New Museum on Bowery offers pay-what-you-wish rates on Thursdays between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and with a suggested minimum donation of $2, it's practically free!
Kids of all ages can enjoy pay-what-you-wish access to the Brooklyn Children's Museum Thursdays between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Friday evenings offer an eclectic assortment of art viewing opportunities. One of the city's most unique art experiences, The Frick Collection, sits within a stunning 18th-century mansion on East 70th Street and offers free admission on the first Friday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Head just a few blocks west to the Asia Society every Friday (except July and August), also between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., to experience cultural events and stunning exhibitions of Asian art. And don't miss the Museum of Modern Art's free admission hours on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (later during the summer). If German and Austrian works are more to your liking, the Neue Galerie is also free on the first Friday of each month between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
On Saturdays, the Upper East Side's Museum Mile is the place to be for free and reduced admissions. At Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, The Jewish Museum is free all day (11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.) on Saturdays. Just two blocks south, The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum offers pay-what-you-wish hours on Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and two blocks below that, the Guggenheim Museum also offers pay-what-you-wish hours from 5:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
Meanwhile, across the East River, the massive Brooklyn Museum typically offers free programming on Saturday evenings from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Check the website for further details.
With support from Target, the nearly 2,000 works of art at The Studio Museum in Harlem can be seen free all day on Sundays during regular museum hours, 12 noon to 6 p.m.
The science minded can head to Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Sundays, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., or Fridays between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., to visit the New York Hall of Science founded during the 1964 World’s Fair.
If you can't be restricted by day of week, or if you find yourself visiting the same museums over and over, consider purchasing a museum membership which not only covers admission, but likely includes exclusive access to new exhibits and special events.