There are so many museums and galleries in Austin and the surrounding communities that it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, many of them are totally free, which is why we put together this guide. Now that you’ve got this, there’s no excuse to stay away from the amazing art and history on display in central Texas. Let’s go!
Free Museums and Galleries in Austin
The City of Austin has temporarily banned public gatherings. Please stay home. The Free Fun in Austin calendar is only for live digital events at this time.
Austin Fire Museum — The Austin Fire Museum is located in Austin’s Central Fire Station No. 1 in the heart of downtown Austin, Texas. The firehouse is Austin’s busiest station, which includes Quint 1, Engine 1, Engine 13, Austin EMS Medic 6, and the AFD Shift Commander. The station was built in 1938 and is a piece of history in and of itself. The Austin Fire Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12-5 p.m. Read about visiting with kids here. Admission is free. The station and museum are next door to the O. Henry Museum (free) and Susanna Dickinson Museum (free) and one block south of the famous Sixth Street District. (401 East 5th Street)
Austin Science & Nature Center — Always free, with plenty of fun activities both indoors and out. Inside, kids can visit the Trade Counter and Naturalist Workshop (the Trade Counter is open Wednesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Before venturing outside, ask at the front desk of the Visitor’s Pavilion about renting Eco-Detective Kits. These kits are free to borrow and contain binoculars, a microscope, a ruler, a compass, and a magnifying glass. All in a handy kid-size fanny pack. You just have to leave a driver’s license to check out the Kits. Outside, kids can visit with wildlife and dig for dino bones in the sand pits. Read about visiting with kids. (301 Nature Center Dr.)
Blanton Museum of Art — The museum offers free admission for all visitors on Thursdays, including public tours at 12:30 p.m. The third Thursday of each month features extended hours and multiple programs and tours. Children 12 and under are always free, along with current UT faculty, staff, and students. If you visit with a child, be sure to ask to borrow a kid’s art conservation box. You can check them out for free and take them around the museum. (200 E MLK at Congress)
Bullock Texas State History Museum — Everyone is invited to enjoy free exhibition admission from 12-5 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month. Most months, Free First Sundays offer special family programs from 12-3 p.m. that combine art creation, performances, and gallery activities. Check the calendar for details. Read about visiting with kids. (1800 N Congress Ave)
Capitol — Admission and tours are free! Read about exploring the Texas Capitol and Visitors Center with kids. Texas Capitol, 1100 Congress Avenue; Capitol Visitors Center, 112 East 11th Street)
The Contemporary Austin — Both the Laguna Gloria and The Jones Center locations offer free admission on Tuesdays. The museum provides rich environments for a wide range of audiences to investigate and experience excellence in modern and contemporary art. Read about visiting Laguna Gloria with kids. Visit the website to see hours for both locations. (The Jones Center: 700 Congress Ave; Laguna Gloria: 3809 West 35th St)
Elisabet Ney Museum — Always free. The house was built by Elisabet Ney and her husband at the end of the 19th century and became the center of the Austin art scene at that time. Click here to read Katey’s review of the museum, with 5 interesting things to look for. The Museum is open Wednesday – Sunday, from 12-5 p.m. (304 East 44th Street)
Emma S Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center — The Mexican American Cultural Center is dedicated to the preservation, creation, presentation and promotion of Mexican American cultural arts and heritage. Admission is free. Parking is also free, but be sure to ask for a temporary pass in the main office. Read about visiting with kids here. (600 Red River St)
George Washington Carver Museum — The Carver Museum is dedicated to the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of African-American historical and cultural material. Admission is free. Read about visiting with kids. (1165 Angelina St)
LBJ Presidential Library — LBJ Library now charges admission, but offers several free days throughout the year. The museum is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Parking is free. Children 12 and under always get in free. (2313 Red River St.)
Mexic-Arte Museum — The museum is free on Sundays from noon – 5 p.m. (419 Congress Ave)
The Thinkery — You can visit Austin’s newest children’s museum on Wednesday nights, from 4 – 8 p.m., when admission is by donation. Admission is also free to Bank of America customers on the first full weekend of every month through the Museums on Us program. Admission is free anytime through the Museum’s Open Door Policy (see a cashier for details). (1830 Simond Ave)
Texas Military Forces Museum — Always free, the Military Forces Museum offers 45,000 square feet of uniforms, weapons, tanks, artillery, aircraft, helicopters, and more, showing the history of the Texas Military Forces from 1823 to the present. Closed on Mondays. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Photo ID required for adults to enter Camp Mabry. Be sure to ask at the front desk for the free scavenger hunt! Read about visiting with kids. (2200 W 35th Street)
Texas Memorial Museum and Natural Science Center — Texas Natural Science Center, located on the UT campus, is no longer free, except for children under 2, but admission is only $1 – $4. Admission will be free on National Fossil Day which is October 14, 2015. Exhibits focus on dinosaurs and fossils, Texas wildlife, gems and minerals, and a working Paleontology Lab where visitors can interact with scientists as they prepare fossil finds. You’ll also find spectacular specimens found in Texas, including the Texas Pterosaur, with a wingspan of nearly 40 feet, and the 30-foot Mosasaur that swam the shallow sea that once covered most of the state. (2400 Trinity St)
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum — Stop by the sculpture garden for free Family Days on the first Sunday of each month, from 12-4 p.m. Admission for Family Day is free. Admission for children 12 and under is always free. Umlauf will also be free for all visitors June through August 2015. Be sure to ask for the scavenger hunt when you go! Read about visiting with kids. (605 Robert E. Lee Rd)
The Williamson Museum — The Williamson Museum offers free hands-on educational programs through innovative exhibits, tours and outreach. The next free Hands On History event will be held on Saturday, January 10, 2015, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. You can also enjoy free tours of the Williamson County Courthouse. The museum is open Wednesday – Friday, noon – 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (716 South Austin Ave, Georgetown)
New Braunfels Railroad Museum — Check out a variety of artifacts and historical photographs from the golden age of railroading, restored train cars, and model railroads at the New Braunfels Railroad Museum. Admission to the museum is always free. Hours vary depending on the time of year. On the first and third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., the museum offers Kids Fun Day, where kids can get a chance to run the trains and become a Junior Engineer. (302 West San Antonio Street, New Braunfels)
Heritage House Museum — Tour a historic home in Pflugerville. The Heritage House Museum is free and open to the public the first Sunday of each month from 1-4 p.m. (901 Old Austin Hutto Rd)
Andrew J Palm House — Visit the historic home of Andrew J Palm, who emmigrated to Texas from Sweden in 1853 with his mother and brothers. The Palm family settled about three miles north of Round Rock at Palm Valley, where Palm built this residence about 1873. The House is located next to the Round Rock Public Library. Call the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce at (512) 255-5805 for current hours, or stop by the next time you visit the library. (208 E Main, Round Rock)
For details on many more museums in the Austin area, visit the Austin Museum Partnership website. If you are a Bank of America, check out the Museums on Us program, for free admission to participating museums one weekend per month.