Destination Wednesday: 7 Ways To Save Big On Museums

Destinations in Washington, D.C., like the National Spy Museum, can actually appeal to both sides of the gender aisle. (Sharyn Alden photo.)
Museums are a great way to get acquainted with the history of the city or country you’re visiting. (Sharyn Alden photo.)

By Ariana Arghandewal

It’s wintery around much of the world, and that makes it the perfect time to visit a museum.

Museums are a great way to get acquainted with the history of the city or country you’re visiting, and the world in general. Seeing is the gateway to understanding, and understanding is the gateway to peace. The problem: Museum admission prices can be steep, especially if you’re traveling with a group or family. However, with just a bit of research and work, you can save significantly on your next museum trip. Fortunately, I’ve done the legwork and compiled a list of ways you can save on museum admission:

Bank of America’s “Museums on US” program. On the first full weekend of the month (i.e., a consecutive Saturday and Sunday), qualifying Bank of America and Merrill Lynch customers receive free general admission at more than 150 museums nationwide through the Museums on US program. Visitors get free admission by simply presenting their qualifying credit or debit card along with a valid ID. The drawback: Free admission only applies to the cardholder, but still, free is free.

Group Buying Sites. Group buying sites like Groupon can provide substantial savings on a variety of activities, including museum admission. Another great resource is Travelzoo, which regularly offers discounts on museum admission in major cities. Currently, they’re offering two three-day New York museum passes (museums included: Museum of American Finance, 9/11 Tribute Center, South Street Seaport, Fraunces Tavern Museum, and Museum of Jewish Heritage) for just $19 and 50 percent off admission to the National Building Museum, to name a few.

Buy a City Pass. Eleven major cities in the U.S. and Canada (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles/Southern California, Tampa Bay, and Toronto) participate in the CityPass program, which offers tremendous discounts on everything from museum admission to city-wide transportation, making it an excellent value. For instance, the New York CityPass provides admission to the Empire State Building Experience, the American Museum Of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, the Museum Of Modern Art, the Top Of The Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, and the Statue Of Liberty/Ellis Island or Circle Line Cruises, all for a seasonally adjusted price of less than $125 – a huge savings over the separate admissions. Smart Destinations is another source for multi-attraction discount cards for many major domestic cities. Many cities offer their own discounted activity passes, a popular option being the Paris Pass, which includes free admission (and fast-track entry) to more than 60 of the city’s museums. A simple Google search for a city pass in the destination of your choice can really help you cut down on the cost of museum admission. For other cities in Europe, WeLoveCityCards is a great source of information on discount cards for cities from Amsterdam to Zagreb.

Free and Discounted Days. Many museums offer free or discounted admission on certain days of the week. New York City’s 9/11 Museum normally charges an admission fee of $24 per adult, which is waived for those visiting Tuesdays after 5 p.m. If you’re traveling with children or a large party, that adds up fast. A great resource for free museum days in the Los Angeles is For all other cities, head to the admission or special-offers page of the museum website for a list of free or discounted admission days. Another event to look out for is the Smithsonian magazine-sponsored Museum Day Live, which takes place in September and offers free admission at more than 1,400 museums around the country (though not the Smithsonian, ironically).

Local Resident Discounts. Some museums offer free or discounted admission to local residents, either of the city or state. The San Francisco Zoo is one example, offering discounts of up to $4 to San Francisco residents. Chicago’s spectacular Art Institute is another, offering free weekday admission to Illinois residents through Feb. 10 and free Thursday-evening admission to state residents year-round. A simple Google search for your museum or choice and “resident discount” should turn up the appropriate information page.

Military Discounts. From May 25 through Sept. 7 more than 2,000 museums nationwide will offer free admission to active-duty military and their families through the Blue Star Museum program. The list of participating museums includes the American Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim in New York City; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and Art Institute; the Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston; and thousands more.

Educator/Student Discounts. There are too many of these to mention, but it’s important to note that students and teachers can get discounted or free admission at museums from the Whitney in New York to the Denver Art Museum to Chicago’s Field Museum to Colonial Williamsburg. No one site collects all these discounts. If you’re an educator or student heading to a destination, check the admission information at the local museums and see how you can save.

Have any others that we’ve missed? Please add them to the list in the Comments section.

Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.


Editor’s Note: As long as you’re saving on museum admission, you might as well save on travel insurance, too. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has a full line of coverage starting at $25. Get the scoop here.