Whether you enjoy history, art, science, nature, or play, a museum can take you on a journey to learn and explore new things. Across Central Florida – from Tampa to Orlando and right here in Polk County – we have some fantastic history museums, outdoor gardens, art museums, science centers, and children’s museums.
Have you ever wondered “are there any free museums near me?” If you live in Central Florida there are definitely free museums and museums with free admission days nearby. While we think these museums and cultural attractions are worth the price of admission, we also recognize that visiting the museum can be expensive for a large family or a family on a tight budget. And everyone should be able to visit museums regularly. Taking your kids to visit museums can build lifelong museum-going habits.
Some museums offer free admission year-round, and others offer free admission days each month. Below you’ll find ways to save on admission to museums in Lakeland, Polk County, Tampa, Orlando, and across Central Florida.
Looking for more free things to do in Central Florida? Don’t miss our list of 50+ Free Things to do in Lakeland + Polk County.
Please check directly with event organizers or local businesses for mask requirements, safety protocols, advance registration, and any last-minute changes. While we do our best to provide accurate information, we include an outside link so you can verify the details for all events and activities.
Smithsonian Free Museum Day
For one day each year, Smithsonian Magazine hosts Free Museum Day. On a designated Saturday, usually in September, you can sign up for 2 free tickets to visit any participating museum, garden, or cultural attraction. The next Museum Day is September 18, 2021, and more than 50 museums in Florida are offering free admission. Find museums near you that are participating in Free Museum Day this year.
Museums for All
Through Museums for All, those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free or reduced admission to more than 700 museums throughout the United States simply by presenting their EBT card. Participating museums in Central Florida for families include Explorations V Children’s Museum in Lakeland, Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Pete, Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa, Orlando Science Center, MOSI in Tampa. Visit the Museums for All website for a full list.
Museums on Us – Bank of America Cardholders
Bank of America and Merrill Lynch credit or debit card holders can get free admission to select museums, aquariums, and science centers during the first full weekend of every month as part of the Museums on Us program. Present your active Bank of America, Merrill or Bank of America Private Bank (U.S. Trust) credit or debit card with photo ID to gain one free general admission to a participating cultural institution. Valid for cardholder only, other guests can pay regular admission.
**Some museums require advance reservations online. Visit the Museums on Us website, search for your local museum or science center, and read the fine print for that specific attraction.
Participating museums in Central Florida include:
- Florida Aquarium – Tampa (Sunday only)
- Tampa Museum of Art
- Museum of Fine Arts – St. Pete
- Florida Holocaust Museum – St. Pete
- The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature – Bradenton
- Selby Gardens – Sarasota (A $5 admission fee will be applied during special exhibitions)
- Orlando Science Center
- Orange County Regional History Center
- Orlando Museum of Art
Visit the Museums on Us website for a full list across the United States. (TIP – we’ve taken advantage of this program while traveling and visited the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York for free!)
Free Museums in Lakeland + Polk County
Polk Museum of Art
The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is a teaching museum that seeks to enhance lives through inspirational and engaging art experiences for all. It is the largest and only nationally accredited visual arts organization in Polk County and the only Smithsonian Affiliate art museum in Central Florida. New exhibitions rotate through the main galleries, and you can also see some of the permanent collections on display. Our personal favorite is the children’s gallery.
Admission to the Polk Museum of Art is always free, memberships are available for special events, perks, and reciprocal admission.
Polk County History Center
What was once the Polk County Courthouse now serves as the Polk County History Center and houses a historical museum and library in Bartow, FL. Throughout the year, the History Center hosts rotating exhibits and educational programs that feature a variety of subjects specific to Polk County and Central Florida. Temporary exhibits also rotate through the museum. It is a fun look back at the history of our community! They also offer the Zoom and Vroom virtual program. The Polk County History Center is free and open to the public.
Mulberry Phosphate Museum
The Mulberry Phosphate Museum houses an outstanding collection of fossilized remains, area memorabilia, and educational exhibits on the history of the Phosphate Industry in Central Florida. Don’t miss the fossil dig pile outside where you can find small sharks teeth and fossils. Admission to the museum and dig pile are free. (TIP – Bring a blanket and handheld shovel to look for shark’s teeth)
Bartow Airbase History Museum
The Bartow Air Base Historical Museum is located in the General Aviation Terminal at the Bartow airport. The museum owns and displays historical artifacts and memorabilia of the personnel who trained and lived at Bartow Air Base, including copies of many yearbooks published by the 70 pilot training classes between 1952 and 1961, as well as some issues of The Eaglet, the Air Base monthly newspaper. Some of the artifacts recovered from P-51 aircraft that crashed into Lake Hancock are on exhibit as well as pilot uniforms. Admission is free, donations are welcome.
L.B. Brown House Museum
The L.B. Brown House in Bartow, Florida was designed and constructed in 1892 by a self-taught master carpenter, Lawrence Bernard Brown. Mr. Brown was born into slavery in 1856 and had limited formal education, if any. Lawrence Brown overcame those debilitating circumstances and became one of Polk County’s most successful businessmen and community leaders. The nine room house is an impressive two story structure with a generous amount of Victorian ornamentation. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and may be the only one of its kind in Florida, still in existence, that was built and owned by a former slave. It is also one of the exhibits in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Visitors may tour the exterior of the home at any time. Tours of the interior of the home may be scheduled by calling 863-944-6136.
African American Heritage Museum
The African American Heritage Museum, located in downtown Bartow, Florida, is a place where visitors can learn about the rich and diverse experiences of being a person of African American descent in Central Florida, and how our black ancestors’ lives helped shape the history of our great state. Admission is FREE, but donations are appreciated.
Fort Meade Historical Museum
The Fort Meade Historical Society & Museum is celebrating 50 years in 2021. Includes a collection of area artifacts and memorabilia as well as restored train cars. Free tours are available.
Lake Wales History Center
Visitors to the Lake Wales History Center learn about the natural history of the Lake Wales Ridge beginning with Florida’s native people to the development of Lake Wales’ railroad, industry and residents of the 20th century. Guests may visit the newly restored 1926 Seaboard Air Line Railroad caboose, the 1916 Pullman passenger car and 1944 US Army locomotive engine. Admission is free, suggested donation: $5/person.
Florida’s Natural Growers Grove House
At the Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales you can learn all about Florida orange juice and the history of Florida’s Natural. There is a small room of museum type displays, a short video, samples of Florida’s Natural juices, and a super cute gift shop. Admission to the Grove House is free, open seasonally.
Explorations V Children’s Museum Free Admission
Explorations V Children’s Museum is Lakeland and Polk County’s place to play with 3 floors of hands-on, kid friendly fun.
Explorations V and The Lakeland Public Library have partnered to provide library card holders the opportunity to visit Explorations V Children’s Museum in Downtown Lakeland for free! Use your library card to checkout a Culture Pass. One Culture Pass is available each day at each of the 3 Lakeland Library locations. Adults can check it out on a first come, first served basis. The Culture Pass provides same-day general admission for up to five people to Explorations V.
Explorations V also participates in the Museums for All program, admission is $3 per person for WIC, SNAP, and EBT Card holders.
The best deal at Explorations Children’s Museum is a Family Membership for only $15 per month. Families pay $15 per month through February 2022 and then get ready to start a new membership in their new home at Bonnet Springs Park. This membership includes admission for 2 adults of the same household & up to 5 dependent children, plus reciprocal admission to select children’s museums in Central Florida, free admission to MOSI in October and November, and 50% off at Bok Tower Gardens.
DID YOU KNOW? Explorations V Children’s Museum is moving to Bonnet Springs Park in Spring 2022 and will become the Florida Children’s Museum!
Bok Tower Gardens Free Admission
Bok Tower Gardens is one of our favorite places to be outdoors in Polk County. It includes beautifully landscaped gardens and trails, a huge variety of plants and flowers, a Singing Tower carillon with daily concerts, and 3-acres of nature-inspired play in the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden.
Bok Tower Gardens offers free admission days throughout the year. In 2021, the last Friday of each month from May – September is free admission through Wawa Summer Fun Days. Other free days include National Public Gardens Day, the annual Plant Sale, and other free offers for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Memorial Day. Visit our calendar to see upcoming free admission days at Bok Tower Gardens.
Free Museums in Tampa
Glazer Children’s Museum Tampa Free Admission
Glazer Children’s Museum provides spaces for playful interaction and learning built just for kids.
The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County presents Free Tuesdays held on the first Tuesday of every month, with Free Museum admission from 10am-5pm. Register in advance, visit the Glazer Museum calendar for upcoming dates.
The Glazer Children’s Museum also participates in Museums for All, admission is $3 per person with a WIC or EBT Card.
Cracker Country Free Admission
Tampa’s only living history museum, located on the Florida State Fairgrounds. The museum holds a collection of 13 original buildings dating from 1870-1912 which were relocated from across the state of Florida, as well as costumed interpreters who portray daily living as Florida pioneers. Cracker County is a great place to take kids!
Cracker Country is only open to the public on select days during the year. They offer free admission on Smithsonian Museum Day, and admission is also included with your fair ticket during the Florida State Fair.
Tampa Bay History Center Free Admission
The Tampa Bay History Center includes 3 floors of Interactive, family-friendly exhibits focused on the history of Tampa and the state of Florida. Be sure to check out the 3rd floor Treasure Seekers Gallery and the Pirate’s Fate movie, especially if you have a pirate-loving child.
Due the COVID-19 pandemic, the History Center’s free and discounted days are temporarily on hold as they work to maintain capacity limits within our galleries. They do offer free admission through the Museums for All Program (WIC/EBT/SNAP Cardholders).
Tampa Museum of Art
Every Thursday from 4 to 8 pm, the Tampa Museum of Art offers Art on the House. Admission prices change to pay-as-you-will, and visitors can choose whatever admission price they want to pay. To take advantage of this offer, beginning at 4 pm every Thursday, walk up to the Welcome Desk and tell the Visitor Experience and Engagement Representatives the admission price you chose to pay for your visit to the museum. Any donation amount is welcome. Visit the Tampa Museum of Art calendar to see the next Art on the House date.
You can get free admission to The Tampa Museum of Art during the first full weekend of every month through the Museums on Us Program if you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card.
Free Museum Admission in Sarasota + Bradenton
The Ringling – Sarasota
A place of exploration, discovery and respite, Ringling Museum of Art and Bayfront Gardens in Sarasota, Florida – which includes the Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, historic mansion, an 18th-century theater and bayfront gardens – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kids will especially love the Circus Museum!
The Ringling offers free admission to the public on Mondays. Regular admission pricing applies if you wish to visit the Circus Museum or Ca’ d’Zan. (If you are taking kids, we highly recommend paying admission and visiting the Circus Museum!)
The Ringling also offers also offers free admission through the Museums for All Program (WIC/EBT/SNAP Cardholders).
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature – Bradenton
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is a natural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast offering engaging exhibits as well as educational programs that interpret the scientific knowledge of Florida, the world, and our universe.
You can get free admission to The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature during the first full weekend of every month through the Museums on Us Program if you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card.
The Bishop Museum also offers free admission through the Museums for All Program (WIC/EBT/SNAP Cardholders).
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens offers 45 acres of bayfront sanctuaries to explore via two campuses. Visitors can take in rainforest, desert, native Florida, and display garden areas plus stroll along a bayfront mangrove walkway.
Selby Gardens participates in the Bank of America Museums on Us program, offering free admission during the first full weekend of every month through the Museums on Us Program if you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card. (Please Note: A $5 admission fee will be applied during special exhibitions)
Free Museums in Orlando
Orlando Science Center Free Admission
Orlando Science Center is Central Florida’s award-winning, hands-on science museum. With four floors of interactive exhibit halls, labs and workshops, theaters, an observatory, and experiences that change with the seasons, there is always something exciting to see and do at OSC.
The Orlando Science Center offers free admission the first weekend of each month through the Bank of America Museums on Us program (BOA Cardholders), and discount admission of $3/person through the Science for All program for EBT and WIC cardholders.
Leu Gardens Free Admission
Harry P. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical oasis minutes from Downtown Orlando.
Admission is free to Leu Gardens on select first Mondays of the month. Leu Gardens is located at 1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando. Upcoming 2021 Free Daytime Admission Days include:
-September 6, 2021
-October 4, 2021
-November 1, 2021
Remember to arrive early, free admission days are popular! Check the website for future free admission days at Leu Gardens.
Orange County Regional History Center Free Admission (Orlando)
Take a journey through 12,000 years of Central Florida history at the Orange County Regional History Center. Spread across four floors are fascinating exhibits which bring the past to life and inform, educate and amaze visitors with Florida’s rich heritage. The museum’s permanent exhibits cover everything from Florida’s indigenous people through to the current theme park tourism boom.
On the Third Thursday of each month, the Orange County History Center offers free admission from 5 to 8 p.m.
The Orange County History Center participates in the Museums on Us program through Bank of America, offering free admission the first weekend of every month with a Bank of America / Merrill Lynch credit or debit card. Admission is also free for EBT / SNAP cardholders through the Museums for All program.
Additional Museum Discounts
If you are active duty or retired Military, Teacher, First Responder, or AAA, check for discounts at your local museum.
Many museums and cultural centers also offer a reciprocal admission program, if you have an annual membership to any museum, children’s museum, garden, or zoo, check their website for a list of reciprocal admission locations.
- More Free Things to Do in Lakeland + Polk County
- Indoor Activities Guide Polk County
- Outdoor Activities Guide for Polk County
100+ Things to Do with Kids
Check out our Ultimate List of Things to Do with Kids in Lakeland + Polk County to find indoor fun, outdoor fun, free things to do, seasonal activities, and more.