New York City Museums for FREE – Suggested Donation

By: Josh -
Last Updated: May 28, 2018

While visiting New York, you may want to visit one, two or even a number of the amazing museums the city has to offer; but $25 per adult, per museum? That can add up quickly and lead to you and your family eating Ramen Noodles for the next month.

Tourists and natives alike make the mistake of believing that the posted entrance fee is mandatory, but in some of the city’s most popular museums that is not the case. If you look closely, you will notice that in most cases these fees are “suggested” not required for entrance into the museum. Many of the museums which do require a fee, have special times and days of the week during which the public may enter free of charge.

Let’s take a look at some of the city’s most popular museums.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10028-0198
Information: 212-535-7710 (TTY: 212-650-2921)

TAKE NOTE: The MET has changed their "donation policy!!" You now MUST be a resident of New York State or a current student (with ID) in the states of New York, New Jersey or Connecticut to pay what you wish. If you are none of the above, you now MUST pay the full admission fees below. There is no getting around it.

The Met is one of New York’s most popular and beautiful museums. Full of art from a variety of periods and locations around the world; tourists, students and natives flock to the Met daily to absorb some of its awe inspiring masterpieces.

When you first walk in you will notice large booths at which you must stand in line to pay a “donation” and collect a pin you must wear in order to enter the different sections of the museum. You will notice a large board which lists a number of fees from $12.00 for students to $25.00 per adult. Although it is difficult to see, if you look at the fine print, these are actually “suggested donations”, not “fees”. Being broke in the city is nothing to be embarrassed about. I often hand over $3 for my pin. Once I even gave $0.25 as I was a dead broke student who had to visit the museum several times per week. You sometimes get funny looks, but walking through that museum with all that extra cash in your pocket will lift your spirits. Much of the museum’s support comes from large donors, not the little guys like you and me.

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West & 79thStreet
New York, NY 10024
Information: (212) 313-7278

Are you in the mood for dinosaurs, gems, fossils and the history of our natural earth? Try the American Museum of Natural History. This massive museum is full of three story dinosaur skeletons; a must see for any family with or without kids. There is something here for everyone.

Again, when you first walk in, you will notice the entrance fees posted. Typically $22 per adult is the “suggested donation”. (You’ll notice that the “suggested donation” text is microscopic.) Again, feel free to simply drop a dollar or two down and ask for your admission ticket. In this museum you don’t wear a pin; you show a ticket as you walk in through the main gates.

If you are trying to avoid the full suggested donation, skip the ticket kiosk machines. They do not give an option to pay less than the suggested donation. Wait in line to get the best deal. On a busy weekend, this won’t take any longer than fifteen minutes and on weekdays you can usually walk right up to the counter.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
Information: (212) 708-9400

This amazing museum is packed full of, well, modern art. If you enjoy art which includes empty coffee cups or blank canvas, this place is for you.

This particular museum does not request a “suggested donation”. Instead, they demand one. Admission to the MoMA is $25 per adult and $14 per student with a valid student ID. Not cheap, huh? Don’t worry, there is hope!

Every Friday evening between 4:00 – 8:00pm, there is a “UNIQLO FREE Friday Night” special, sponsored by, you guessed it, UNIQLO! Make sure you show up early, though. The MoMA fills up quickly and once the place is full, they tend not to admit anyone else.

If there is a “special exhibit” at the museum you wish to see, you can expect to pay a fee, even on “UNIQLO FREE Friday Nights”. You should also be sure to arrive at least an hour early to view special exhibits as they fill up fast.

The Cloisters
99 Margaret Corbin Drive
Fort Tryon Park
New York, New York 10040
Information: 212-923-3700

TAKE NOTE: The Cloister has changed their "donation policy!!" You now MUST be a resident of New York State or a current student (with ID) in the states of New York, New Jersey or Connecticut to pay what you wish. If you are none of the above, you now MUST pay the full admission fees below.

An absolutely beautiful museum, dedicated to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, also has a policy of asking for donations rather than charging an entrance fee. The Cloisters is located in upper Manhattan, nestled in Fort Tyron Park and is a must see for anyone living in or visiting New York City. The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is beautifully designed and is stuffed full with more than 5,000 works of art and 6,000 items. The collection includes artifacts from as early as 800AD, and has a focus on the 15th century.

The Cloisters offers a number of beautiful gardens, terraces with breathtaking views of the Hudson River and a small café in which you can relax to a cup of coffee. The whole museum is set up like an old medieval church with beautiful ceilings, landscape and architecture. Because the museum is located on the northern tip of Manhattan, fewer tourists seem to be willing to make the trek. This is to your advantage. I visited on a holiday weekend and was pleasantly surprised at how few tourists were there; allowing me to enjoy the museum rather than fight my way through mobs of visitors.

If you’re as broke as we are; feel free to plop down a dollar or two, rather than the full $25 the museum suggests as a donation. Money should not keep anyone away from such an amazing place.

Strategy – Not looking cheap 

  1. Wait in line.
  1. Have your money ready. $1 - $5 is usually what I do, but you don’t have to pay a cent. If you don’t plan on paying anything, simply wait at this point. (Note: Giving at least a dollar and simply asking for your pin/ticket is much less awkward than giving nothing at all. Often times if you don’t hand them anything, they will charge you the full price, thinking you are waiting for them to let you know how much to pay. Then you have to explain that you do not intend on paying anything. By handing over a dollar and saying, “one please” you avoid this rather embarrassing situation.)
  1. Once you get to the teller simply place your money down and say “one please” or “two please” or however many pins/tickets you may need.
  1. If the teller gives you any grief, simply explain that you cannot afford to donate anymore at this time. Stand your ground. If you can afford to pay the full suggested donation, please do! If not, don't feel bad about it.
  1. Wait for your ticket/pin. Try not to look like you're doing anything wrong. (You're not.)
  1. Take your pin/ticket and relish in the fact you made out like a bandit while all the other suckers behind you, who don’t know any better, are cutting back on their dinner plans to pay for the museum “fee”.

By planning ahead and taking advantage of the “suggested donation” policies and “Pay What You Wish” nights many of the museums around the city have, you can save yourself a ton of money in a city where saving money is typically not an option, while still enjoying these amazing hubs of culture and intellect.