New York is expensive, it’s true. But on any given day, you can enjoy art without spending a dime.
Some museums offer free admission every day or on specific days. Others, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, allow New York State residents to pay what they wish. (Most institutions either strongly encourage or require advance tickets, so check their websites before you go.)
Plus, there are a handful of events, festivals and concert series that are free in the summer or throughout the year. Here are some of our favorites.
Free Every Day
American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Manhattan; folkartmuseum.org.
Folk art has demanded much more respect lately, not least of all because of the American Folk Art Museum’s 20-year dedication to the genre. A visit to the institution will make you wonder why these works were relegated to art’s margins. Works by Martín Ramírez, Bill Traylor, Henry Darger and Thornton Dial are popular.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse, the Bronx; bronxmuseum.org.
Because of this museum’s growing popularity, its impending $21 million expansion is hardly surprising. All the while, the museum has maintained its commitment to enhancing the local community through its contemporary art programming, like its recent exhibitions devoted to Sanford Biggers and Diana Al-Hadid.
The High Line
From Gansevoort and Washington Streets to 34th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, Manhattan; thehighline.org.
An old railway that was transformed into an elevated park, the High Line not only offers visitors a place to relax and take in some impressive city views, it’s also home to a rotating collection of public art, which appears at various points along the 1.45- mile promenade. Recent commissions include work from renowned artists like Simone Leigh and Sam Durant.
New York Public Library
Various locations throughout Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx; nypl.org.
Most branches of the New York Public Library host an astounding array of programs, ranging from artist talks to computer workshops. Three in particular — the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in Midtown, the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem — offer exhibitions. Chief among those is the ongoing “Treasures” at the Schwarzman Building, where you can marvel at objects from the library’s vault, such as a medieval girdle book and Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens; queensmuseum.org.
This museum’s “Panorama of the City of New York,” a model of the five boroughs in painstaking miniature, is a wonder to behold for out-of-towners and native New Yorkers alike. The institution is also known to host world-class exhibitions.
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Queens; socratessculpturepark.org.
In 1986, the artist Mark di Subero, along with local community members, turned an abandoned landfill into a public art space. Today, the five-acre grounds constitute the only municipal park in the city solely dedicated to the work of contemporary artists like Jeffrey Gibson and Dread Scott.
Free on Specific Days
Queens Botanical Garden
43-50 Main Street, Queens; queensbotanical.org.
A multimillion dollar expansion plan that includes a new education center is in the works for this 39-acre landscape in Flushing. From April to October, Sundays from 9 to 11 am and Wednesdays from 3 to 6 pm are free; from November to March, admission is free every day.
Pump Up: The Jam
Brooklyn Comedy Collective, 167 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn; brooklyncc.com.
Filling the gap the Upright Citizens Brigade left open when it shuttered in 2020, the Brooklyn Comedy Collective offers an opportunity every Tuesday at 8:30 pm for amateur comedians looking to hone their craft alongside pros.
2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx; bronxzoo.com.
This 265-acre park is the largest urban zoo in the United States. To see the more than 10,000 animals who live here, visit on a Wednesday, when admission to the grounds is free. And if you have enough energy left after your visit, be sure to check out the New York Botanical Garden nearby, which is free to everyone on Wednesdays from 10 to 11 am, and to New York City residents all day.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue, Brooklyn; brooklynkids.org.
One of the few places where children are actually allowed to touch some of the art (and enjoy multiple hands-on play areas), this museum has been delighting families for decades. The institution offers free admission every Thursday from 2 to 5 pm
945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; frick.org.
The Frick Collection, a mainstay of old masters paintings and European fine and decorative arts, is an institution defined by the intimacy of its viewing experience, a feeling that is recreated in its temporary location. Admission to the museum is pay what you wish on Thursdays from 4 to 6 pm
235 Bowery, Manhattan; newmuseum.org.
Through June 5, the institution is dedicating nearly all its exhibition space to a major (and long overdue) retrospective of Faith Ringgold’s work. And its triennial often features the art world’s most promising up-and-comers. Admission on Thursdays from 7 to 9 pm is pay what you wish.
Other options for Thursday: International Center of Photography in Manhattan (pay what you wish) and Wave Hill in the Bronx (free).
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; themorgan.org.
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook treasured, bespoke collections, like the ones at the Morgan. What began as a library now houses items from nearly every medium, from ancient to modern works. See them for yourself on a Friday from 5 to 7 pm, when the museum offers free admission to the public.
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan; moma.org.
On the first Friday of every month, MoMA remains open to everyone from 4 to 8 pm and offers free admission to New York City residents. It may take more than one visit to thoroughly explore the museum, though. Since its 2019 expansion, it has about twice the amount of modern and contemporary art on view. Tickets are limited to two adults per reservation.
1048 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; neegalerie.org.
Renowned for its collection of early-20th-century German and Austrian art, including must-see pieces by artist Gustav Klimt, this institution offers free admission on the first Friday of every month from 4 to 7 pm
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street, Manhattan; rubinmuseum.org.
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; brooklynmuseum.org.
First Saturdays, a beloved tradition at the museum that takes place every month between 5 and 11 pm, raises the idea of community to a whole new level. It transcends the act of making art accessible to all and celebrates everything that represents Brooklyn through myriad cultural activities.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York; guggenheim.org.
Apart from being an architectural wonder, the Guggenheim exhibits the city’s most impressive and intriguing collections of modern and contemporary art. On Saturdays from 6 to 8 pm, visitors can pay what they wish to see the museum’s selections.
The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; thejewishmuseum.org.
This museum has the largest collection of work dedicated to Jewish culture in the country. On Saturdays, in honor of the Sabbath, it offers free admission.
Spring & Summer
In response to the pandemic, Lincoln Center has started this three-month arts festival, offering hundreds of events, from spoken-word performances to parties held on a large outdoor dance floor that feature themes such as swing, salsa and ’90s LGBTQ club culture .
Summer on the Hudson
May-October at Riverside Park South and West Harlem Piers Park, Manhattan; nycgovparks.org.
For those looking for last-minute activities, on most summer days this Riverside Park Conservancy series will have something to offer, including Tai Chi classes, art lessons, concerts, movie nights, dance performances, as well as festivals celebrating Irish culture and Manhattan’s remaining lighthouse.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!
June-August at the Lena Horne Bandshell in Prospect Park, Brooklyn; bricartsmedia.org.
Starting in 1979, BRIC Arts Media has offered this free summer-long festival featuring global music, jazz, dance and film. This year’s highlights include Kamasi Washington and Erykah Badu.
Concerts in the Park
In June at locations throughout the five boroughs; nyphil.org/parks.
Since 1965, the New York Philharmonic has come to New Yorkers where they live and treated them to a free summer serenade. This year’s series will include Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and will be performed at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on June 14; the Great Lawn in Central Park on June 15; Cunningham Park in Queens on June 16; Prospect Park in Brooklyn on June 17; and St. George Theater on Staten Island on June 19.
The Museum Mile Festival
In June on Fifth Avenue from 82nd to 109th Streets, Manhattan.
On June 14 from 6 to 9 pm, the stretch of Fifth Avenue that contains some of the city’s most notable museums will host this block party. Not only will cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, El Museo del Barrio and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum let you in free, they’ll entertain you with an array of performances and activities. Check the Museum Mile Festival’s Facebook page for more details.
River to River Festival
In June at various locations in Lower Manhattan; lmcc.net/river-to-river-festival.
Presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, this festival was conceived to celebrate the city’s resilience in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and has stayed true to this founding principle throughout the pandemic. It offers an eclectic mix of cultural programming, embracing a wide range of artists and performers, many with an avant-garde bent.
Shakespeare in the Park
June-September at Delacorte Theater, 81 Central Park West, Manhattan; publictheater.org.
With the exception of a two-year hiatus brought on by the pandemic, the Public Theater has presented this treasured annual series at the Delacorte every year since 1962. Wait in line (or even camp out) for first-come-first-serve tickets on the day of the night’s performance at the Delacorte; or score tickets through an in-person lottery at the Public and a digital lottery on the TodayTix app. This summer’s productions are “Richard III,” starring Danai Gurira and directed by Robert O’Hara, and a musical adaptation of “As You Like It.”
June-September at various city parks; cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage.
Since the Central Park Conservancy founded SummerStage in 1986, the annual series has expanded to include parks throughout the boroughs. From the Metropolitan Opera Summer Recitals in June to the Latin Music Conference Showcase in July to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in late August, SummerStage offers something for everyone. Many concerts are free, but some charge admission.
Movies With a View
Thursdays at 6 pm, July-August, on Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn; brooklynbridgepark.org.
How better to enjoy a movie in summer than by having the East River and the city skyline in the background? This year, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy will present a lineup of movies that adhere to the theme “Around the World.” Screenings start at sundown, but arrive early to enjoy the concessions and the DJ
Battery Dance Festival
In mid-August at Rockefeller Park, 75 Battery Place, Manhattan; batterydance.org.
If you like being immersed in dance, check out the Battery Dance Festival, which this year runs from Aug. 13 to 20. Started in 1982, it offers several free outdoor performances that provide the rare opportunity to witness the artistry of nearly two dozen dance companies, like the Buglisi Dance Theater and Ballet Nepantla, with the Hudson River as their backdrop.