The museums in Cleveland pack a pretty hefty intellectual punch. Big or small, they show the public a wide range of wonders: from nature to history, from classic art to modern music. A dedicated art lover, science fan or history buff could easily go broke visiting all of them.
But there are museums in the Cleveland area that you don’t have to pay a dime to see. Sometimes that’s because the museum is free to the public. Sometimes admission is free in a certain age range or with special offers.
And sometimes the museum participates in the Smithsonian’s free Museum Day and, just one time a year, their doors are opened free of charge. (For more information, visit: http://microsite.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/venue.html.)
Here are 10 of the best museums in Cleveland that you can visit without paying a cent. This is a great free start to exploring the surprising and inviting cultural diversity that lives in one of the Great Lakes greatest cities.
International Women’s Air and Space Museum – Free
Explore the history of a group of people whose journey into air and space tends to be underreported. The WASP not only showcases the history of past female aeronautical greats; it also has ways of getting you in touch with the flying females of today.
The latest temporary exhibit to the museum is an examination of Ohio women who have traveled the skies. It promises to be regional, inspiring and unforgettable.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum – Occasional Offers, Museum Day (Free)
One of the most popular museums in the area, the Rock Hall is a celebration of rock and roll in the city that reportedly gave the genre its name.
This is a museum that, typically, is anything but free. General admission is $22 for adults. But if you plan your trip wisely, you can take advantage of the Rock Hall’s participation in Free Museum Day.
If you can’t wait, you can still be a part of the many promotions that allow veterans and students free admission. There are also the free concerts the museum puts on, featuring some of the legends of rock. Check the museum’s calendar to see when your next free opportunity is coming up.
MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) – Possible Discounts, Museum Day (Free)
MOCA is another participant in the free Museum Day, but it hardly needs it. Regular admission is just $4, and the Museum’s Web site says they will make certain allowances for people who cannot pay the full price.
No matter how you get into the museum, be sure to go. MOCA hosts some of the best modern art around, and MOCA’s unique gallery space shows each piece to best effect. Fresh, thought-provoking and relentlessly innovative, MOCA is always worth the trip.
Western Reserve Historical Society – Certain Events, Museum Day (Free)
Walking into this museum with a free ticket for a day is a bit like opening a bag of potato chips and being told you can only eat one.
The Western Reserve Historical Society is a sprawling institution devoted to recording everything it can about Northeastern Ohio history. Its programs are spread over multiple sites that each explore and celebrate a different part of the past.
The museum itself is a fun and interesting trip. But after visiting, you’ll likely want to see the reenactments and fairs held at Hale Farm and Village — the Society’s reproduction of a 19th century town. Or have a tour on the fascinating history of one of their historical sites like Shandy Hall and Loghurst.
This is a free ticket that is satisfying if you’re doing research for a future trip or event. But don’t be surprised if that free day trip turns into a great vacation.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History – Certain Events, Museum Day (Free)
Most adults raised in and around the Cleveland area can remember at least one class trip to the wonderful Museum of Natural History. The museum prides itself on maintaining its strong focus on innovation, research and conservation. And members of its staff have lead — or been part of — some of the most groundbreaking archeological digs and discoveries of the natural world. To fund these advancements, regular paid admission to the museum is necessary. But that doesn’t mean free admission is impossible.
Kids ages 2 and younger can get in free with a paying adult, and the museum participates in free Museum Day. Free admission is also available during some holidays. The museum’s Web site will let you know when your chance for free admission might be coming.
But if you can’t wait and would rather have a discount, you can always visit the museum on Wednesdays. That’s when you can get in for half price if you come during certain hours.
The Money Museum at the Cleveland Federal Reserve – Free with Requirements
If you want to see how the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland works and learn a little something about money, you can do so without spending a penny. But you will have to put some serious time in beforehand.
In order to visit, you have to call ahead to schedule your tour, make sure there’s between 10 and 35 people in your group, be part of a professional organization, bring a photo ID with you, and be up-to-date with all the security procedures you must follow before you can even walk in the door.
A hassle? Yes. But also the tour of a lifetime.
To get the full list of requirements, call 216-579-2102. To schedule a tour, call 216-579-2146.
Dittrick Medical History Center – Free
The Dittrick Medical History Center has been actively preserving medical devices, especially those relevant to the Cleveland area, since the 1920s. Though a glimpse at the tools of medical history may be off-putting to some, the Dittrick collection is impressive. And the museum consciously focuses it’s exhibitions on the compelling human cost of disease. With exhibit names like “Virtue, Vice and Contraband: A History of Contraception in America,” even germaphobes will find something to interest them.
Not only can you see the exhibits in person for free, you can also view select exhibits online. Dittrick is a unique and unforgettable location for a fantastic price.
National Polka Hall of Fame – Free
Cleveland isn’t just one of the birthplaces of rock and roll. It’s also the birthplace of one of the most popular styles of polka: the aptly named Cleveland-style polka. Celebrate a unique, fun, foot-tapping Cleveland tradition free of charge, and learn something about the lives of the past and present polka greats.
Rockefeller Park Greenhouse – Free
It may be surprising to some, but the famous Rockefeller family actually has deep roots in Cleveland. John D. Rockefeller started off as a clerk at a local Cleveland company. The Rockefellers lived on Cleveland’s “Millionares Row” until they left for New York in 1884.
The Rockefellers were generous to their fellow Clevelanders. One of the family’s gifts to the city was the donated land on which the Rockefeller Greenhouse was built. Initially built to grow the plants needed to beautify Cleveland, the Greenhouse has turned into a destination of its own. With the original structure still in place, the greenhouse is a museum to the philanthropy of the past and the ecological advancements of today. From exotic orchids and cacti to seasonal flowers, this greenhouse is a joy to explore and always free.
Cleveland Art Museum – Free
If you have no time to visit any of the other free Cleveland museums, make sure you make time for this one.
The Cleveland Art Museum is truly an institution. With one of the best art collections in the world, each visit to this museum is an experience. Besides the paintings themselves, which range from Gauguin to Van Gogh, there are armor, tapestries, furniture and thousands of items whose beauty and historical significance is a marvel. There are 43,000 pieces in the collection as a whole, so a brief visit is nearly impossible.
The museum’s Web site does a good job in giving you a taste of some of the awe-inspiring works you can see. But it’s nothing compared to actually experiencing it for yourself. Make time to get the whole experience.