20 Best Museums in New York City
New York City is home to countless things to do and many museums to visit. These places showcase everything from amazing art to the city’s fascinating history. In fact, some of the world’s best museums are located here, from The Met and MoMA to lesser-appreciated destinations like the New-York Historical Society and the Queens County Farm Museum.
No matter when you visit, you should probably include a museum or two in your itinerary. This is an especially good idea during the colder months; Nicole Canal, a travel consultant at Forum, points out that museum visits “make great activities because they don’t depend on the weather.” Without further ado, here is our list of the best museums in New York City, featuring locations in all five boroughs.
The 20 Must-Visit Museums in New York City
“Immigration is a rich part of our history, especially in New York City,” says Forum co-founder Henley Vasquez. “For an intimate and immersive lesson, head to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, where you will see restored apartments and gain insight into immigration, past and present.” The museum is spread across two tenement houses dating back to the 19th century and tells the story of the people who once lived here.
Housed in an old public school building in Long Island City, this contemporary art museum is an offshoot of Manhattan’s main Museum of Modern Art and displays bold, experimental works with a “strong community focus,” says Vasquez. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here looking at the abundance of artwork, whether it’s paintings, sculptures, photographs or murals. The museum also hosts live music performances, as well as a number of community-oriented events.
Established in 1938 as a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (more on that below), The Met Cloisters is the country’s only museum dedicated to medieval art and architecture; Fora’s travel advisor, Deb Swacker, says the unicorn bedding collection is not to be missed. And while the artefact-filled interiors are stunning, you should make time to stroll through the enchanting gardens as well. The well-manicured, green-filled grounds are planted with reconstructed Romanesque and Gothic cloisters, as if pulled straight from a pretty European village.
New York Transit Museum
“The New York Transit Museum is great fun for all ages,” says Soaker. Located in a decommissioned subway station in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, this interactive museum is just right for families. “You can walk through old subway cars and get behind the wheel of a bus,” says Soaker. Prepare to be amazed by the museum’s impressive collection of nostalgia-inducing vintage subway cars.
Historic city of Richmond
A visit to the historic city of Richmond on Staten Island takes you back in time. Known as New York City’s only living history museum, it offers a first-hand look at what life was like here hundreds of years ago. “There are interactive exhibits and people dressed up and ready to answer all questions,” says Sawaker. Check out demonstrations in blacksmithing, broommaking, basketry, carpentry, and open-hearth cooking.
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Jazz lovers won’t want to miss the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Located in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, the house has been preserved as it was when the Armstrongs (Louis and his wife Lucille) lived here, says Julia Flood, a travel consultant at Fora. You’ll find an amazing collection of 1,600 recordings, 650 home-recorded tapes in hand-decorated boxes, 5,000 photographs, five trumpets, 120 awards and plaques and more at the museum.
The Brooklyn Museum is 560,000 square feet, making it one of the largest museums in the city. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon exploring his collection of half a million pieces. Check the website before your visit to see what temporary exhibitions will be open when you arrive.
American Museum of Natural History
For a fun-filled experience great for multiple generations of travelers, head to the American Museum of Natural History. According to Amna Ismail, advisor to the forum, the museum entertains guests of all ages with its collection of nearly 32 million specimens and artefacts. Highlights include a huge blue whale model, amazing dinosaur exhibits, and the Richard Gilder Center, which includes an insect aquarium and a butterfly tank.
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Whitney Museum of American Art
“The Whitney is perfect for art lovers and non-art lovers alike,” says Fora travel advisor Michelle Zelina. The 220,000-square-foot space houses a permanent collection of more than 25,000 works from the 20th and 21st centuries, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, films and more. These pieces were created by more than 3,500 artists, including American icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Don’t leave without visiting the rooftop café, which offers stunning views of the city.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City’s largest museum contains millions of pieces of art, some dating back thousands of years. “No matter how many times you visit The Met, you will see something new,” says Elise Cucuzzo, travel advisor at Fora Forum. Because the venue’s sprawling size and seemingly endless assortment of acts can be overwhelming, Cocozzo recommends taking one of the many free tours, which are conducted daily. “It’s quick (one hour), the guides are great as expected, and it’s a great way to learn a little, see a range of things, and not get lost,” she adds.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is housed in an eye-catching building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is a masterpiece in its own right. The fun continues inside, where you’ll find more than 1,700 works by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Degas, and Van Gogh. “They also have shows, like musicals and ballets, so check the schedule of events,” suggests Canale.
New York Historical Society
Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society is the city’s oldest museum. Visitors and locals learn more about the history of the city and our nation as they tour the place. Don’t miss the wonderful Frederick Douglass Gallery, the Women’s History Center, or the famous Waldorf Astoria lobby clock, which dates back to 1893. On the ground floor of the space is the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, which offers something fun for younger guests.
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Ellis Island National Immigration Museum
Ellis Island welcomed more than 12 million immigrants to America between 1892 and 1954, and you can learn more about the importance of the site — and immigration in general — by visiting the National Immigration Museum on Ellis Island. In addition to browsing through photos and artefacts, you can relive your family heritage. Head to the second floor to visit the Registration Room (also known as the Great Hall), where approximately 5,000 people filed daily for legal and medical examinations.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
This contemporary art museum highlights the work of American artists from the 20th century. The robust collection of more than 2,000 items includes everything from photographs by Jamal Shabazz and sculptures by John Ahern to portraits by Henry Taylor. And don’t miss the newest exhibition, “Michael Richards: Are You Down?”, which features a collection of sculptures, drawings, installations and more by the late artist; The works on display were produced between 1990 and 2001, when Richards died in the September 11 attacks. The museum also hosts events such as film screenings and panels.
Staten Island Children’s Museum
Located on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, the Staten Island Children’s Museum offers 12 indoor and outdoor exhibits, dance and art workshops, science and story times, and many other hands-on experiences for children ages 1 and up. Kids can build houses out of blocks, send video postcards, climb a rock wall and crawl through a human-sized ant hill while observing the museum’s collection of insects, millipedes and tarantulas.
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Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Design lovers are sure to marvel at this fascinating museum inside Andrew Carnegie’s elaborate, 64-room mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The venue has a permanent collection of more than 215,000 design objects, some dating back 30 centuries. Visitors will find everything from ancient Roman marble and Renaissance paintings to contemporary works like 3D printed glass here. Spend some time at Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden as well.
National September 11 Memorial and Museum
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has been open since May 2014, and houses 60,000 artifacts — a mix of physical evidence, first-person testimony and historical records — from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 28, 1993 on global trade. center. Archaeological remains are also on display, including the “Survivors’ Stairs” (which existed at the time of the September 11 attacks on the edge of the World Trade Center plaza) and the “Last Column,” the final piece of the building. Steel from the World Trade Center to be removed from Ground Zero. After spending a few hours inside the museum, head to the memorial, which is free and open to the public. The name of every person who died in these two attacks is engraved on the edge of the two reflecting pools.
Statue of Liberty Museum
The Statue of Liberty has been synonymous with freedom, equality, and democracy since its unveiling in 1886. You can visit Lady Liberty’s Crown, and you can also check out the 26,000-square-foot museum that opened in 2019. The place highlights the creation, importance, and history of the national monument. The postcard-worthy skyline views from the place are icing on the cake.
Museum of Photography in New York City
If you love photography, visit the Fotografiska Museum in New York City. The New York City branch of the famous Swedish Museum of Photography is housed in a stunning 19th-century, 45,000-square-foot Renaissance-era building. Don’t miss the amazing pet-themed exhibit, called “Best in Show.” Before you leave, enter the luxurious Veronika Bar and Restaurant on the second floor, or the impressive Chapel Bar, housed in a 19th-century chapel.
Queens County Farm Museum
Think of this 47-acre museum as one part interactive museum and one part farm. Dating back more than 300 years, it is one of the longest continuously cultivated sites in the state; Today, it grows 200 types of crops, including vegetables, flowers, herbs and more. Explore growing fields, pastures and wooded areas with scenic hayrides. You can also visit the farm’s resident animals, which include sheep, goats, alpacas, pigs and chickens. The on-site apiary, which houses more than two million bees, is the largest in the city. Honey is available to buy from the farm shop, as are fresh eggs. The museum also hosts fun-filled seasonal events.
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(Main and feature image: Alessandra Amodeo/Travel + Leisure)
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