When plan our vacations, I budget for our trip in advance. Large travel expenses like hotel and airfare are always the biggest part of the expense, but there are lots of other things I also have to include. Food, parking, rental car, and dog kennel fees need to also be included. In addition, attractions and family museums can be expensive. Luckily, there are some wonderful free museums that are perfect for families. Here are some great free museums that you may want to visit on your next family vacation. While some of these free museums are specifically for children, others may offer family programming. Keep in mind that while admission is free, these museums may charge an additional fee for programs, movies, special exhibits, and more.
Free Museums for Families on Vacation
We experienced some of these museums on press trips at no cost to us. All opinions are our own.
I was so impressed with the expansive North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences when I visited Raleigh on a press trip earlier this year. This free museum for families includes two buildings – the Nature Research Center and the Nature Exploration Center. Admission is free, although there are fees for some special exhibits and movies. The Nature Research Center is impressive on its own. This 80,000 square foot building offers children opportunities for hands-on exploring. Attached via pedestrian bridge is the Nature Exploration Center, with more traditional exhibits and seminars. We also had the opportunity to dine at the museum cafe, called the Daily Planet Cafe. This is not your typical museum restaurant – it features delicious fresh and local cuisine.
Also located in the Raleigh area is the North Carolina Museum of Art. This free museum is great for families. In addition to indoor exhibits, this beautiful art museum also offers an outdoor park featuring art installations. Admission is free, although there is a charge for a few things, including admission to the West Building, concerts, classes.
During our short trip to the museum, my son borrowed a complimentary “park pack”. This small backpack is filled with a few things that help enhance your visit to the park, including, maps, activity guides, and more.
During my trip to Kansas City for the TMS Family Travel Conference, I had the chance to visit Hallmark’s Kaleidoscope, which is located in the Crown Center. It offers Creative Art Sessions for kids, which are so fun. Each session is approximately 40 minutes and they are free. However, the complimentary tickets are offered based upon availability, and parties under 15 guests cannot make reservations. It’s recommended that guests check the schedule before planning their visit, to make sure there are sessions offered.
You definitely can’t visit the San Antonio area of Texas without a stop at the Alamo. It may not be a museum, exactly, but this site is a great place to learn about the historic 1836 battle. The grounds and buildings offer free admission, and are located right in the center of town. Although admission is complimentary, I’d recommend paying to rent an audio tour device, or taking a paid guided tour. Both provide great commentary about the battle and well as the site. There’s plenty to see, so definitely plan to on staying for at least an hour.
The Dallas Museum of Art offers free general admission (fees do apply for special programs). Kids can also enjoy visiting the museum, and have the opportunity to check out a fun tote bag filled with items that let kids further enjoy the museum. They are available for borrowing on Saturdays. Kids can also get a family gallery guide that they can use to tour the museum.
Thanks to a large endowment, the Cleveland Museum of Art is able to offer complimentary admission. This museum offers lots of great activities and amenities for families. Gallery One, which is located right off the main entrance of the museum, includes Studio Space. Studio Space features family friendly interactive activities which help kids learn about how to experience and enjoy art.
The Florida Museum of Natural History, located on the grounds of the University of Florida, offers free general admission. However, a fee is charged for the Butterfly Rainforest and for featured exhibits. There are a number of kid-friendly exhibits, including the Discovery Zone with interactive displays.
The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia offers complimentary admission for all. This museum features 30,000 objects in their permanent collection, including a glass studio. Renovated in 2014, the museum offers family-friendly programming throughout the year, including a family day that is hosted three times per month.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia is a free museum and the only museum in the US that is dedicated to Australian Aboriginal Art. This museum offers a number of family programs throughout the year, including art programs.
The Smithsonian Institute Museums in Washington DC
Washington DC isn’t the cheapest when it comes to lodging, but there are so many fabulous free museums. The Smithsonian Institute museums offer complimentary admission, and there are eleven museums right on the National Mall. Our favorites are the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum, but with free admission, you can check out all of them!
In addition to these free museums, there are other opportunities to get complimentary admission. Some museums host free days and/or nights on specific dates. When traveling to a museum, it’s always worth looking to see if there’s the opportunity to get free museum admission during your visit.
Active-duty military personnel should also check out Blue Star Museums. With this program, active-duty military personnel and their families can get complimentary museum admission at a variety of great museums.