Museums are popular with travelers of all ages. They offer learning opportunities, a travel adventure that doubles as shelter from a bad weather day and the chance to delve deeply into a topic of interest.
While many museums charge admission, senior and Baby Boomer travelers can take advantage of a wide array of free days, deals, discounts and money-saving museum cards.
Know Before You Go
In other words, plan ahead. You don't have to decide which museums to visit on each day of your trip if you prefer spontaneous travel, but you should spend a few moments researching free museum days, senior discounts and other money-saving opportunities so that you can bring this information with you when you travel.
Some museums, such as the extensive network of Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC, never charge admission. Many military museums, including the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, are also open free of charge. All over the United States, you will find museums that cheerfully open their doors to the public for free. Examples include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, New York City's Forbes Galleries and Sony Wonder Technology Lab and San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.
Museum Free Days
You may also be able to take advantage of museum free days. Some museums have a regularly scheduled free day, afternoon or evening; if you visit during that time, you will not have to pay admission. For example:
- Free and Discounted Admission at New York City Museums includes a comprehensive listing of museums' free days.
- Free Museums, Free Museum Days & Free Museum Admission in San Francisco offers an alphabetical listing of museums' free days; scroll down the first page to find it.
- Chicago Museums Free Days tells you when the Windy City's best-known museums offer free admission.
Bank of America's Museums on Us program offers its cardholders one free general admission to one of over 150 participating museums on the first weekend of each month. You will need to show a photo ID and a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch debit or credit card to receive your free admission.
Smithsonian magazine's Museum Day Live! program offers free admission to two people from the same household to one participating museum. Museum Day Live! 2012 was held on September 29, 2012; future dates have not yet been announced. To participate, you must request your tickets in advance via the magazine's Museum Day Live! Website, then download and print the tickets.
To learn about senior discounts at a particular museum, you can call the museum, check its website or just show up and read the admission prices. Even if you see no information posted about a senior discount, it never hurts to ask for one.
Special Category Discounts
Some museums offer discounts to special categories of visitors. Examples include:
- Veterans. If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for free or reduced admission either on Veterans Day or all year long.
- Disabled visitors and their companions. A limited number of museums offer free admission to disabled visitors and / or one travel companion.
- Local residents. To encourage people from the community to visit, some museums offer admission discounts to local residents. Be sure to bring proof of residency.
In many large cities, travelers can purchase museum cards that offer discounted admission to a specific group of museums over a period of time that can range from one day to a week or longer. These museum cards can be a good deal, but they can also cost you more than you might think. You have to pay for the card itself, so you should do some math and figure out whether the discounts you will receive will exceed the cost of the museum card.
To make things more enticing – and confusing – some museum cards also include free public transportation, but for a higher card price. Again, a few minutes with your calculator should tell you whether or not this type of museum card is a good deal for you.