5 Places Where You Can Enjoy Art in New York City for Free

Want to visit museums but the ticket prices are too expensive? Here’s a handy guide to enjoying the art of New York City for free.

Mar 7, 2024By Jennie and Nathan Kimbrough, BFA Studio Art, BA Mass Media Communication

art enjoy new york city free


For an art lover, New York City is one of the best places on earth to revel in world-class art collections. Unfortunately, the cumulative price tag of visiting all those museums can overwhelm your pocketbook. To help you maximize your art viewing experience while minimizing your budget, we’re going to look at 5 places where you can go to enjoy the art of New York City for free. Here’s how to do it.


1. Art of New York City in The Frick Collection

Officer and Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer, 1657. Source: The Frick Collection, New York


If you want an assemblage of art that takes you from the Renaissance all the way into the early twentieth century, look no further than The Frick Collection.  Steel magnate and high culture enthusiast Henry Frick’s massive mansion-turned-museum boasts paintings such as Édouard Manet’s The Bull Fight, El Greco’s Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Rembrandt’s The Polish Rider, and Jan van Eyck’s 1441 masterpiece Virgin and Child, with Saints and Donor.  Perhaps the most visited artist in the Frick is Johannes Vermeer, whose vibrant trio of works—Officer and Laughing Girl, Mistress and Maid, and Girl Interrupted at Her Music—continue to spark conversation around his mysterious methodology of creating such photorealistic paintings.


Before you plan your visit, one important detail to know is that The Frick is not a place for families, as children under the age of 10 are not allowed to enter.  As for adults, the $22 price tag could be a deal breaker.  Fortunately, the Frick has a pay-what-you-wish admission each Thursday from 4:00-6:00 pm.  If you are a planner, you can get your advanced timed tickets up to two months in advance.  You can also show up and receive one of the leftover free entry slots, as the Frick doesn’t generally hit capacity.  The Frick is a phenomenal way to spend an afternoon reveling in a bevy of art without spending a penny.


Note: As of 2024, the Frick’s massive East 70th building is undergoing a multi-year renovation project and is currently closed to the public. The Frick Collection will reopen in late 2024.

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2. The New Museum of Contemporary Art

Pixel Forest by Pipilotti Rist, 2016. Source: New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York


Thursdays offer not one but two opportunities to catch free art.  When The Frick Collection closes its doors at 6 pm, you can catch a free evening at The New Museum of Contemporary Art.  After two hours of examining the clean lines of the classical Renaissance era, you’ll find yourself adjusting to cultural whiplash from the boundary-pushing creations and Avantgarde installations.  Even the award-winning building, which is an eight-level Lego-like structure, was built to push the boundaries of architecture.


With no permanent collection, the New Museum instead chooses to dedicate its entire building to shows by contemporary artists.  From the extravagant to the minimalistic, you never know what you’ll find here. Recent exhibitions have included works from Pepón Osorio, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Mire Lee, and Wynnie Mynerva.  Each show provides an exciting glimpse into the world of contemporary art.


We Are the People by Nari Ward, 2019. Source: New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York


Many of us are comfortable shelling out some cash to gander at a multitude of well-known masters, but paying the New Museum’s $22 entry fee to see a single, less known, artist might be a big expense for many.  If you’d like to experience contemporary art but not empty your coffer to do it, the New Museum has you covered.  On Thursdays, from 7-9 p.m., the New Museum extends a pay-what-you-wish admission opportunity to the public.  Timed tickets are required and you can get them from the New Museum website up to four months in advance.  On the day of your visit, make sure to get to the New Museum in advance of your time as the lines can get long.


3. The New York Library’s Treasure Collection 

Practicing Patience, 2023, by Nathan Kimbrough.


When you think of a library, you tend to think about books or books about art, but not art itself.  The New York Library has decided to have both. Stroll past Patience and Fortitude, the two imposing stone lions guarding the entrance to the Stephen A. Schwarzman branch of the New York Public Library and, inside, you’ll find not only thousands of books but The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures.


Opened in 2021, the Treasures Exhibition hosts a rotating collection of some of the New York Public Library’s most famous pieces.  It’s not a traditional collection of art, but it instead presents a constantly rotating array of must-see items such as Christopher Columbus’s letter to King Ferdinand proclaiming the discovery of America, the umbrella belonging to Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Dickens desk and chair, and handwritten sheet music from Mozart and Beethoven.


Winnie the Pooh Collection by A.A. Milne, 1926, Source: New York Public Library


It’s funny that within an exhibition that ranges from one of the few first folios of Shakespeare to an ultra-rare copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the display that seems to gather the most admirers features a small collection of stuffed animals.  These five seemingly out-of-place toys are the original Winnie-the-Pooh collection that author A.A. Milne gave his son Christopher Robin on his first birthday.  Seeing admiration on the faces of young and old, the displayed bears are a reminder that art can be seen in anything and everything.


The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures is an exhibition that is free to the public any time that the Stephen A. Schwarzman branch is open.  There are no tickets required, which means that there is often a short line to enter the exhibit.  Once you’re finished with the collection, make sure to meander through the rest of the ornately decorated halls and soak in some of the sites of what is one of the most famous libraries in the world.


4. The Whitney Museum of American Art

Calder Circus by Alexander Calder, 1931. Source: The Whitney Museum of American Art


Nestled into the Meatpacking district lies the Whitney Museum of American Art.  The gorgeous glass structure looms over the Hudson, showcasing one of the premiere museums in the country when it comes to American art.  In the early 1900s, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney desired to see American art represented at the same level as its European counterparts.  Using her considerable means, she amassed hundreds of early 20th century works and the Whitney was born. In a single visit, you can catch multiple works from American icons such as Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, and Mark Rothko.


One of the most unique areas of the museum, tucked away in the corner of the seventh floor, is the Calder’s Circus.  Known more for his mobiles, Alexander Calder spent years designing a richly detailed and wildly fascinating moving metal circus.  The room is filled with dozens of tiny performers, set pieces, and strange little music-playing devices.  Above the piece, there’s a video of Calder, the ringleader of his circus, performing a show with his metal marvel to the astonishment of his audience.


To view the Whitney collection, you would normally have to fork over $30 per person, but on Friday nights you can have access to the entire place without paying a dime.  Each Friday, from 7-10 p.m., the Whitney provides a pay-what-you-wish evening for anyone to enjoy.  Timed tickets are up for grabs the week before and are strongly recommended, as they often sell out.  Before you finish, make sure to stop by the eighth-floor studio bar. It’s a great way to wrap up an evening of affordable art at the Whitney.


5. Art of New York City at The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Spiral, 2023. Photo by Nathan Kimbrough.


The Guggenheim Museum not only contains art but is a masterpiece of architecture itself.  A UNESCO Heritage site, Frank Lloyd Wright’s breathtaking spiral building houses an impressive permanent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. The collection also includes Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Yellow Hair, Vincent Van Gogh’s Mountains at Saint-Rémy, Vasily Kandinsky’s Composition 8, and René Magritte’s Empire of Light. Normal entry for the Guggenheim is going to cost you around $30 a person. However, every Saturday night the Guggenheim offers a pay-what-you-wish program from 5-8 p.m. There are two ways you can obtain these free tickets.


Composition 8 by Vasily Kandinsky, 1923, Source: Guggenheim Museum, New York


Advanced tickets become available each Monday at noon and always sell out quickly. Your ticket is for a timed entrance, so when you arrive you can bypass the line of those who didn’t get their tickets in time, head right up to the entrance, and enjoy an evening full of art.


If you missed your chance to get the advanced tickets, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the Guggenheim for free. You can show up on Saturday night and wait in line for the remaining tickets. The Guggenheim will give tickets away until the building has reached its capacity.  If you are going to wait in line, make sure to get there early, otherwise, the lines often extend and go around the block and it can take you more than an hour to get in.


Here is a quick recap of when to catch pay-what-you-wish programs in NYC:

Thursday: The Frick Collection • 4:00-6:00 pm

Thursday: The New Museum of Contemporary Art • 7:00-9:00 pm

Friday: The Whitney Museum of American Art • 7:00-10:00 pm

Saturday: The Guggenheim • 5:00-8:00 pm

Every Day: The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures

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By Jennie and Nathan KimbroughBFA Studio Art, BA Mass Media CommunicationJennie and Nathan are a nomadic couple currently residing in Michigan. Jennie is an artist, writer, teacher, and photographer with a BFA in Studio Art from Missouri State University. Nathan is a speaker, writer, and consultant with a BA in Mass Media Communication from Missouri State and his MTS in Administrative Leadership from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. With an undying passion for art, culture, food, and travel, they have enjoyed exploring the rich histories of over 30 countries around the world.