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Museums are educational, entertaining and a great way to spend an unexpectedly rainy day when you are in a new city. When you can get into those museums for free, well, that’s just the cherry on top. Here are seven of the best free museums to check out on your next trip.

Red penguins adorn the outside of the 21C Hotel Museum in Louisville. Courtesy of LuAnn Snawder Photography.

Red penguins adorn the outside of the 21C Hotel Museum in Louisville. Courtesy of LuAnn Snawder Photography.

21C Museum Hotel
700 W. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202

This nine-room boutique hotel features contemporary art throughout the lobby and public spaces, as well as ina basement gallery area. Admission is free, and exhibits rotate. Grab a flight of bourbon in the hotel bar on your way out, because why not. 21C also has locations in Cincinnati, Bentonville, Ark., and Durham, N.C.

An a cappella group sings in a grand room at the Chicago Cultural Center. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

An a cappella group sings in a grand room at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602

The Cultural Center’s might among the Chicago’s museums is a little unexpected, especially since the city is so famed for its art and museum scene. But nestled along Michigan Avenue, the 1897 building could be an art exhibit of its own with this vaulted ceilings, mosaics and stained glass windows. Rotating art exhibitions incorporate the building’s beautiful spaces into their displays.

 

'Eve Hearing the Voice' by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, at Cincinnati Art Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

‘Eve Hearing the Voice’ by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, at Cincinnati Art Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Cincinnati’s art museum is to die for. Before you’ve even made it into the main galleries, you will have already a mummy and a couple Van Goghs. It’s variety is reminiscent of London’s National Gallery (another fantastic free museum). Occasionally, a special exhibit will roll through town that costs you a couple bucks, but the rest of the expansive museum is free.

 

A piece of artwork from the Museum of Bad Art on display in Taiwan. Courtesy of Connie Ma.

A piece of artwork from the Museum of Bad Art on display in Taiwan. Courtesy of Connie Ma.

The Museum of Bad Art
55 Davis Square
Somerville, MA 02144

This collection of “offbeat” art is a community-driven effort, accepting both monetary and artistic donations. You can decide whether the art is bad or just, well, artistic. The museum is free daily. There are also locations in nearby Brookline and South Weymouth.

 

Among the best free museums is New York's stunning Natural History Museum, which features this incredible T-Rex skeleton. Photo courtesy of Ally Marotti.

T-Rex. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West and 79th Street
New York, NY 10024

This free museum suggests you pay $22 to get in, but that is considered a donation and is not mandatory. You can donate any amount or nothing. Officials understand that those on a budget like to appreciate art and history as well. Check out millennia of history at this museum just off Central Park. See dinosaur bones and get a picture taken with a life-sized version of Teddy Roosevelt.

 

A child takes advantage of one of the many interactive displays at National Museum of the United States Air Force. Courtesy of Marada.

A child takes advantage of one of the many interactive displays at National Museum of the United States Air Force. Courtesy of Marada.

National Museum of the United States Air Force
1100 Spaatz St.
Dayton, OH 45431

Near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, this interactive military museum gives visitors a look into Air Force vessels through the ages. Visitors can climb in and out of cockpits and see planes soaring overhead. There’s also a nice tribute to Ohio’s own flight pioneers, the Wright brothers.

 

The Hope Diamond is on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., one of the world's best free museums.

The Hope Diamond is on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Courtesy of Ben_Lei.

Smithsonian Institution

Washington D.C. and New York City

All 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park run by the Smithsonian Institution are free and open every day of the year except Christmas. Not sure where to start? Head to the National Museum of Natural History (one of the best free museums on earth) at the corner of 10th St. & Constitution Ave. in Washington D.C. to see dinosaur bones, a solid gold Monopoly set and the famed Hope Diamond.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, City, Family, FREE!, Last minute travel, New York City

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Perhaps no U.S. travel destination is better known for free attractions than Washington, D.C.

The Washington Monument, the National Zoo and the museums of the Smithsonian Institution — all 19 of them — are free. That means you can view spacecraft that have been on the moon, walk through a living butterfly house, and see famous sculpture, African art, historic documents and more — all for free.

And some of the Smithsonian’s most popular items will be on view once again when the National Museum of American History reopens November 21 after an extensive renovation. The highlight of the renovation is a new gallery for the nearly 200-year-old Star Spangled Banner. The museum includes collections of everything from popular entertainment and health to food and furnishings. Some notable items include a Kermit the Frog puppet, the first electro-hydraulic artificial heart implanted in a human and a 1950s-era doughnut machine used by the Krispy Kreme company.

For a limited time the National Museum of American History also will display the White House copy of the Gettysburg Address, the last known draft version to have been written in President Lincoln’s hand.

The National Museum of American History is on the National Mall, close to plenty of downtown Washington, D.C. hotels.

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Tagged: City, FREE!