Exploring museums is the perfect blend of entertainment and education, and a great way to spend an hour – or all day! Museum admission can be expensive, but some of the best museums in Columbus offer discounted or free museum days and special events, plus there are several great museums that are free all of the time!
Discounted and Free Museum Days in Columbus
COSI, near Downtown Columbus
Ohio’s dynamic Center of Science and Industry is a must-see in our city! There’s fun for all ages at this giant science center. From classic exhibits, live shows, Planetarium, Giant Screen Theatre, to the traveling exhibits and Little Kidspace, there is enough inspiration and hands-on activity to spend the entire day there.
- Discounts: ASTC & ACM Members, Active, Reserve, and Retired Military, Seniors 60+, and COESRA discount. Certified teacher enjoy FREE admission, and discounted memberships for family.
- Family Friday Night: COSI stays open late on the last Friday of the month from 5-9 pm with reduced admission of $10-$15
- COSI After Dark: One Thursday per month, COSI stays open late for the adults to have the run of the place. There are themed activities, cash bars, entertainment, as well as food available for purchase.
Columbus Museum of Art, Downtown Columbus
Columbus Museum of Art features a fantastic collection of exhibits and art, as well as interactive and exploratory creativity for all ages.
- FREE Sunday admission for all thanks to a PNC Arts Alive grant. Hours are 10 am – 5 pm
- Blue Star Museum: Free admission to active military and their families from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Simply show your active-duty military personnel or military family I.D. at the admission desk for free entry.
- Thursdays: $5 from 5 pm – 9 pm
- Discounts: Seniors 60+, Students 18+
Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University campus
Wexner Center for the Arts is a multidisciplinary research laboratory for the arts with programming featuring performing arts, exhibitions, and media arts.
- FREE admission Thursdays for everyone from 4 -8 p.m.
- FREE admission on the first Sunday of each month.
- Always FREE for Wexner Center members, college students with ID, anyone under 18, and active military and veterans.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum, 300 West Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215
“The National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) is neither a war memorial nor a military branch of service museum. NVMM will take visitors on a narrative journey telling individual stories and shared experiences of veterans throughout history. It will pay tribute to the sacrifices of servicemen and women and their families. History will be presented in a dynamic, participatory experience with photos, letters and personal effects, multi-media presentations, and interactive exhibits.” Brand new museum opened on October 27, 2018.
- Blue Star Families get free admission.
- The Memorial Grove, a place of respectful reflection, is free and open from dawn to dusk.
The Doll and Toy Museum, Canal Winchester
Closed for the winter. This one-of-a-kind specialty museum featuring thousands of dolls, antique to modern, toys including Disney, trains, and circus collections. Open seasonally Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (in 2018, it was open from mid-April to mid-December) No discount days, but tickets are only $3/person, free for under 6.
“Always Free” Museums in Columbus
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, The Ohio State University campus
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum holds the world’s largest collection of materials related to comics and cartoons. Open to the public and admission is free. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Please see website regarding closures for exhibition installations, parking, and more.
Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum, near German Village
The Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum is a car lovers dream come true! Located in a nondescript garage, this private collection features classic cars from 2 collectors. The collection on display changes periodically and often includes cars from (but not limited to) the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, including Packards, a Ford Edsel, 1956 Chrysler Imperial, 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, a rare 1931 Packard Model 840 Super 8 Sport Phaeton, and many more. Admission to the museum is free. Appointments may be made by calling Mark Hagans at 614-554-5879 or Steve Wagner at 614-271-0888.
Ohio Craft Museum, Columbus near Grandview
The Ohio Craft Museum is a program of Ohio Designer Craftsmen, presenting five major exhibitions each year, plus exhibits and a rotating display of the permanent collection. The museum houses the Craft Research Library and offers educational workshops and events for all ages and levels of experience. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays 1 – 4 p.m. Admission to the Ohio Craft Museum is free; programming requires registration fees.
Cultural Arts Center, Downtown Columbus
The Cultural Arts Center is Central Ohio’s premier visual arts center featuring contemporary art and emphasizing emerging artists. They offer hands-on instruction, a learning hub and creative space. Free tours, workshops, and other programming is available, while some require registration fees. HOURS: Mon, 1pm-4pm & 7pm-10pm, Tue-Thu 9am-4pm & 7pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun Closed
King Arts Complex, Downtown Columbus
The King Arts Complex offers performing, cultural and educational programs that provide high artistic merit, varied and diverse experiences, and which increase and disseminate knowledge regarding the vast and significant contributions of African-Americans to the culture and history of America and the world. Check out the Elijah Pierce Gallery or participate in the interactive exhibits anytime the complex is open.
Ohio Statehouse, Downtown Columbus
Capitol Square includes the Ohio Statehouse, Senate Building and Atrium. The buildings are not only working government offices but magnificent monuments to the people and the period during which Ohio’s democracy was founded and formed. Guided tours are offered Monday through Friday every hour on the hour with the first tour beginning at 10 a.m. and the last tour beginning at 3 p.m. Guided tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 12, 1, 2 , and 3 p.m. Please note that while the Ohio Statehouse is open to the public on the weekends, the House and Senate Chambers are kept locked, and are only available to be viewed during guided tours.
Orton Geological Museum, Ohio State University School of Earth Sciences
Located on the campus of OSU, the Orton Geological Museum features a fascinating collection of crystals, minerals, bones, fossils, mastodon teeth, meteorites and “Jeffrey,” the skeleton of a 7-foot giant ground sloth. Admission is always free. Open from 8:00 am to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
Riffe Gallery, Vern Riffe Center in Downtown Columbus
The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio’s artists and the collections of the state’s museums and galleries. Admission is always free and exhibitions feature a quarterly rotating feature. All programming is free and open to all, including opening receptions for exhibits, artist talks, and more.
Central Ohio Fire Museum & Learning Center, 260 N. Fourth St., Columbus
The Fire Museum does have an admission fee, but at just Adults $8, Seniors $7, and Children $6, we thought it still deserved a mention. The restored 1908 Station #16 is full of fire department history, including hand-drawn, horse-drawn & early motorized fire apparatus as well as other exciting displays. Kids will love visiting the play area, where they can dress up like firefighters, slide down a fire pole, and ride in a real firetruck cab complete with bells and sirens. There are plenty hands-on activities, and a station tour with retired firefighters. They also offer information about what to do in the event of a house fire. Open Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Museum Discount Programs
Bank of America customers can enjoy free museum admission on the first full weekend of every month through the bank’s Museums On Us program. Show your Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card and a photo ID on Saturday or Sunday, and you will get free admission to more than 150 museums and attractions in cities across the United States.
Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, is offering free museum admission to more than 2,000 museums across America for the nation’s service members, including National Guard and Reserve, and their families. The program runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Membership reciprocity discounts: If you are a member of a museum, science center, Zoo, or other membership institution, check to see whether your membership includes reciprocal membership or discounts to other similar organizations.
Bonus Tour Option
While not a museum, this candy store is a great option for all ages!
Factory tour at Anthony Thomas Chocolates: The tour lasts about an hour, where you’ll experience candy making from start to finish from the glass-enclosed suspended “Cat-Walk”. You’ll see 9 lines producing 30,000 pounds of chocolates per shift. Children under 2 are free, ages 3 to 18 are $1 per person, and ages 19 and over are $2 per person. Admission fee may be used towards a candy purchase when the tour ends in the 2,500 square-foot retail shoppe. No appointments needed for tour hours; September-May, Tues & Thurs, 9am to 3pm. June-August, Tues, Weds & Thurs, 9am to 3pm