Boston and Cambridge have several fantastic museums to choose from, but visiting all of them would cost several hundred dollars.
Fortunately, there are free museums in Boston and Cambridge with incredible collections worth visiting.
And many popular museums in both cities have special days and times when admission is free.
Here’s a list of free museums in Boston & Cambridge and the museums with free admission days.
Free museums in Boston & Cambridge
No need for advanced planning with these museums. You can visit these institutions any time of the year and pay absolutely nothing!
The Harvard Art Museums
One of the best free art museums in the region is the Harvard Art Museums. Not only is the museum’s interior space magnificent, but the permanent collections include everything from East Asian art, Buddist sculpture, European art from the 12th century to the present, Ancient Egyptian art, and 20th-21st-century art.
Located across the street from Harvard Yard, the Harvard Art Museums is small enough that you won’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s large enough to find plenty to explore. (32 Quincy Street, Cambridge)
See related: Top 15 Best Things to Do in Harvard Square
Boston University Art Galleries
Boston University Art Galleries also offers free admission to the public. Run by the College of Fine Arts, these galleries maintain ongoing rotating exhibits showcasing a wide range of art of all mediums and artists.
These galleries are in two locations on the Charles River Campus – the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery (855 Commonwealth Avenue) and 808 Gallery (808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston).
The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
Another Havard University museum free to the public is The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. This is the center for contemporary art within the university, featuring a rotating range of exhibits.
The center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 PM to 5 PM. (24 Quincy Street, Cambridge)
The Commonwealth Museum
Across the street from the J.F.K. Presidential Library is the Commonwealth Museum, a space dedicated to Massachusetts’s national treasures (think Revolutionary War memorabilia, early documents, etc.).
In addition to seeing these treasures, you’ll also be able to explore a few interactive exhibits beginning in colonial times and leading up to the 20th century.
Admission here is free for all. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. (220 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston)
The List Visual Arts Center
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (M.I.T.) contemporary art museum, The List Visual Arts Center, is described as “a creative laboratory that provides artists with a space to freely experiment and push existing boundaries”. The List Center has three galleries that showcase six to nine exhibitions annually. Often, an exhibit is an artist’s first museum solo presentation.
The List Visual Arts Center is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM with extended hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays till 7 PM. Free admission for all. (20 Ames Street, Bldg. E15-109, Cambridge)
The Waterworks Museum
Boston was one of the first cities in the country to have a metropolitan water system. The Waterworks Museum, through interactive exhibits, tells the stories behind that system.
A centerpiece of the museum is three original 19th-century coal-powered steam-driven water pumps that reach three stories tall. Visitors can also join a guided tour three times daily. The Waterworks Museum has free admission and is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM. (2450 Beacon Street, Boston)
The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East
If you’re interested in ancient history, make time to visit Harvard University’s Museum of the Ancient Near East.
The ancient Near East comprised civilizations that roughly correspond to the modern Middle East. You can explore some of Harvard’s over 40,000 artifacts at the museum, including sculptures, coins, cylinder seals, and pottery. Most pieces are from museum-sponsored excavations in Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Cyprus, Tunisia, and Jordan.
The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East is free for everyone and is open Sunday through Friday from 11 AM to 4 PM. (6 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge)
The Museum of Bad Art
Yes, you read that correctly. In Boston, you can view world-renowned famous works of art and also a bad art collection.
The Museum of Bad Art describes its collections as “ranging from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush”.
The museum is open every day at 11:30 AM and is completely free. It closes on Sunday & Monday at 9 PM, Tuesday through Thursday at 10 PM, and Friday & Saturday at 11 PM. It’s located in the Dorchester Brewing Company. (1250 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston)
The MassArt Art Museum (MAAM)
The MassArt Art Museum (MAAM) is the free contemporary art museum of The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the only public college of visual and applied art in the country. As a non-collecting museum, MAAM’s exhibits are always current, showcasing cutting-edge design.
The museum has free admission and is open Thursday through Sunday from 12 PM to 5 PM, with extended hours on Thursday till 8 PM. (621 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
The McMullen Museum of Art
Another free art museum in Boston you’ll want to visit is Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.
This museum showcases a variety of art – from Italian baroque to medieval and Islamic artifacts to 19th, 20th, and 21st-century works.
The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 AM to 5 PM, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 PM. (2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston)
The Bunker Hill Museum
The Battle of Bunker Hill was a significant turning point in the Revolutionary War. The Bunker Hill Museum shares the stories of this battle and showcases the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument, erected as a tribute to the battle.
This free museum is across from the monument inside the Charlestown branch of the Boston Public Library. (43 Monument Square, Charlestown, Boston)
The Boston Fire Museum
Located in a firehouse in the Seaport District, The Boston Fire Museum’s mission is to preserve and display fire fighting memorabilia from the Greater Boston area while educating the general public on fire safety. During a visit to the museum, you’ll learn about some of the major fires that have occurred in the city.
The museum is open from 10 AM to 4 PM every Saturday. (344 Congress Street, Boston)
The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company Museum
Located in Faneuil Hall, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company Museum displays military artifacts, uniforms, weaponry, medals, and gifts to the company spanning from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm.
This museum among the sites to see along the Boston Freedom Trail and is easy to pop into while following the trail. (4th Floor Faneuil Hall, Congress Street, Boston)
Museums with suggested donations in Boston
While the following museum is technically free, there’s a suggested donation to help pay for the cost and maintenance of the facility.
The USS Constitution Museum
The USS Constitution Museum is the final stop along Boston’s Freedom Trail. As the name suggests, this museum features exhibits about the USS Constitution, launched in 1797 and considered the oldest commissioned warship in the world today. It’s a fun, interactive museum perfect for families with children and history buffs. The ship is typically docked not far from the museum and is open for tours.
While this museum is technically free, there’s a suggested donation of $10-$15 for adults and $5-$10 for children. The museum is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, and the ship is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM. (Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Boston)
Museums with free admission days in Boston & Cambridge
Several Boston and Cambridge area museums charge admission but offer occasional free admission days. This is an excellent opportunity to visit some of the best museums in the country at no cost.
Pro Tip: Public libraries, including the Boston Public Library, offer free or discounted museum passes to Massachusetts residents. A list of passes can be seen and reserved on most library websites. Also, don’t limit yourself to your local library. Massachusetts residents can sign up for a card in any library within the state.
Museum of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
The Museum of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) is the premier regional and the world’s 20th-largest art museum. The M.F.A.’s collection consists of nearly 500,000 works and 8,161 paintings spanning various art movements and cultures. You can find everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to Dutch Golden Age paintings to French Impressionist paintings here.
The M.F.A. offers free admission on the following holidays: Monday, January 16, 2023 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Monday, May 29, 2023 (Memorial Day), Monday, June 19, 2023 (Juneteenth), and Monday, October 9, 2023 (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). The M.F.A. also announces free admission days for special events for the general public or university students throughout the year. (465 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
Institute of Contemporary Art (I.C.A.)
For 85 years, the Institute of Contemporary Art (I.C.A.) has presented contemporary art to the citizens of Boston. Throughout that time, the I.C.A. has introduced U.S. audiences to the work of Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, to name a few. Exhibits in the I.C.A. showcase a variety of media – visual arts, performance, video, literature, and film.
The I.C.A. offers free admission on Thursday nights from 5 PM to 9 PM. Advanced tickets are recommended. (25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston)
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is best known for its unique blend of art and architecture. Founded by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1903, the museum houses an eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts spanning various cultures and time periods.
In 1990, the museum gained infamous recognition for the art heist of 13 works, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt, creating an enduring mystery in the art world. Despite this event, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum continues to be a cultural gem, showcasing over 7,500 works of art in its collection.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers free entry every Thursday evening from 3 PM – 9 PM. Note, too, that you have free lifetime admission if your name is Isabella! Children under seventeen and members of the military and their families are also admitted free. (25 Evans Way, Boston)
Boston Children’s Museum
The Boston Children’s Museum is the second oldest children’s museum in the United States and features over sixteen interactive exhibits. One of the most popular exhibits is the New Balance Foundation Climb, a three-story structure with wooded planks and mesh wiring that kids can climb through. The museum also features a reconstructed house from Kyoto, Japan, and the exhibit Raceways, which allows kids to roll golf balls on various tracks.
The Boston Children’s Museum offers almost free admission on Sunday afternoons for $1 from 1 PM to 4 PM. Visitors must make online reservations. (308 Congress Street, Boston)
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and relive a pivotal moment in American history.
Visitors are transported to 1773 as they board authentically restored tea ships, engage with costumed actors portraying historical figures, and even toss tea into the harbor, recreating the protest against British taxation. Situated on the historic Congress Street Bridge, the museum provides an immersive experience where guests can participate in interactive reenactments of the iconic Boston Tea Party.
While the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum doesn’t currently have free general admission days, it allows Massachusetts residents to visit for free if they bring a paying adult. (306 Congress Street, Boston)
Harvard Museum of Natural History
Come see one of the world’s most diverse paleontology, mineralogy, entomology, and anthropology museum collections at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
The museum’s renowned Glass Flowers exhibit is a standout feature – a collection of incredibly detailed and scientifically accurate glass models of plants crafted by artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. You’ll also want to check out the impressive African, Asian, and Central & South American mounted specimens.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History offers free admission for Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning from 9 AM to 12 PM and on Wednesdays from 3 PM to 5 PM. Proof of residency is required.
The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology offers visitors a journey through human history and diverse cultures.
With its extensive collection of over 1.2 million objects, the museum showcases archaeological artifacts and ethnographic materials from around the world. Visitors can explore exhibits featuring ancient civilizations, indigenous cultures, and archaeological discoveries, providing a comprehensive understanding of humanity’s cultural evolution.
The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology provides free admission for Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and on Wednesdays from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Proof of residency is required.
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About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.