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15 Exciting Museums in New York City (& What to See at Each)

best museums in New York City

This list of the best museums in New York City was written by Antonina Pattiz, founder of New York Simply (an official NYC partner of Apple Maps).

Home to more than 83 museums (including the fifth largest museum in the world), there’s no shortage of great museums in New York City to choose from. The challenge? Knowing where to start, and that’s where I come in. In a sea of options, it’s nice to have some advice — so allow me to share the NYC museums you simply can’t miss during your first visit. With that said, let’s jump right in.

Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The 10 Best Neighborhoods for First Timers +3 to Avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.


The Best Museums in New York City

(Table of Contents)


Best museums New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is often considered the best museum in New York City and it’s not hard to see why. With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world.

Averaging 6 million visitors per year, it’s also the most visited museum in New York City. If you only have time to visit one museum in NYC, this is the one. Plus, it’s conveniently located within Central Park, so you don’t have to go far out of your way to visit (assuming you plan to swing by Central Park during your trip).

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Featured Guide: 20 Pieces You Can’t Afford to Miss at The Met.


MoMA outside
Best NYC museums

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Home to world-renowned paintings like Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and notable works by Warhol, Basquiat and Dali, MoMA is a must-visit NYC musuem for those that love modern art. The musuem was established in 1929 and played a significant role in developing (and collecting) modernist art.

You don’t have to be an avid art connoisseur to appreciate the real-life paintings you grew up studying in school. MoMA has continuously evolved, expanding its collection and even undergoing several renovations to accommodate the growing collection. Its rich history and contribution to the art world make it one of the most popular museums in New York City.

Must-See at MoMA: The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, Monet’s Water Lilies, The Persistence of Memory by Dali, and Picasso’s work.

Website: The Museum of Modern Art
Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY


American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History

Welcoming 5 million visitors per year and spanning all aspect of the natural world, the American Museum of Natural History is considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.

Don’t miss the Hall of Ocean Life where you’ll have an opportunity to see a life-size model of a 94-foot blue whale — it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. The collection of taxidermy mammals is mind-boggling and have captured the imagination of children and adults for years.

best museums NYC

Must-See at the American Museum of Natural History: Hayden Planetarium (one of the best planetariums in the world), the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (for blue whale), the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (for the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton) and the Butterfly Conservatory (requires additional fee, but worthwhile).

Website: American Museum of Natural History
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
Featured Guide: 15 Best Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History


The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is often overlooked by those visiting Brooklyn for the first time, which is a pity. One of the largest and oldest museums in the country, it was established in 1896 and houses an impressive collection of more than 500,000 objects.

The museums spans various cultures and time periods, offering everything from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art. Best known for the extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities, the Brooklyn Museum is a hit with locals due to the innovative rotating exhibits (that tackle social and political themes).

The Brooklyn Museum stands out not just for its vast collection, but also for its commitment to education, offering a ton of programs and workshops for all ages. It’s great fun for the whole family!

Website: Brooklyn Museum
Address: 200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY
Featured Guide: 10 Best Museums in Brooklyn & 15 Best Things to Do in Brooklyn


911 memorial NYC
NYC twin towers memorial

9/11 Memorial & Museum

NYC is full of historic places, but none is more moving that the somber 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Honestly, I’m often hesitant to mention visiting this museum because it’s such a profound experience (makes me cry every time).

However, it truly is one of the best museums in New York City and definitely worth the visit, as long as you can brace yourself emotionally. Visitors descend down an escalator to reach this subterranean museum.

The layout is well thought out and easy to navigate, the focus instantly latches on to the intended exhibit. The pace of the visit always feels rightfully slow, as visitors contemplate the gravity of that terrible day. I think everyone should see the 9/11 Museum as least once. It’s something you won’t be able to forget.

Website: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Address: 180 Greenwich St, New York
Featured Guide: 15 Unforgettable Things to Do in the Financial District


Tenement Museum NYC
Best museums in New York City

The Tenement Museum (The Immigration Museum in NYC)

The 5-story Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side is comprised of two historic buildings dating back to 1863. These buildings were home to an estimated 15,000 immigrants (from 20 nations) between 1863 and 1935.

The idea for the musuem was born when personal belongings were discovered in a dilapidated tenement building. The belongings served as the impetus for the musuem, which strives to promote tolerance and historical perspective on the immigrant experience in NYC.

https://www.tenement.org/wp-content/uploads/DSC_0547.jpg

Today, visitors can sign up for guided tours to get a glimpse of the cramped living spaces of past residents. The humble rooms serve as a reminder that our national identity is best understood through the experiences of real working families.

Touring this unique New York City musuem is a moving experience. The rooms and stories evoke feelings of heartbreak and nostalgia. The guided tours are engaging, the rich history comes alive through knowledgeable and passionate guides that are eager to share everything they know.

Website: The Tenement Museum
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
Address: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY


Best things to do UES

Neue Galerie

There’s no denying that the Neue Galerie is worth a visit for anyone that enjoys German and Austrian art. There was a recent movie created from this fascinating book, which chronicles the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Adele’s portrait by Gustav Klimt, The Lady in Gold, was stolen by the nazis during WWII.

Without giving too much away, the book tells the story of the painting from its theft, to purchase, to final return to the family in 2006. That very painting can be seen at Neue Galerie, one of the best things to see on the Upper East side for history buffs and art enthusiasts.

When you get your fix of the artwork, head to Cafe Sabarsky, for the famous Sachertorte (Austrian chocolate cake) and coffee in an opulant cafe.

Website: Neue Galerie
Address: 1048 5th Ave, New York, NY
Featured Guide: 15+ Best Things to Do on the Upper East Side


Air & Space Museum New York City

The Intrepid Museum

Located on the Hudson River, the Intrepid Museum is one of the most interesting museums in NYC. Centered around the historic aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (a veteran of World War II and the Vietnam War), the museum showcases a vast array of aircraft, the space shuttle Enterprise, and the submarine USS Growler.

Opened in 1982, the museum’s commitment to preserving history and encouraging a learning environment make it one of the best museums in NYC for families. Visitors of all ages can explore various exhibits, including decommissioned military vessels and space artifacts, everyone will find something to love!

Website: The Intrepid Museum
Address: Pier 86, W 46th St, New York, NY


Free museums in New York City
The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum allows visitors to step inside the private library of J.P. Morgan. The library is quipped with three floors of metal-enclosed walnut bookshelves, chock full of rare books and important artifacts.

The musuem houses an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, a handwritten score from Bach, and a plethora of books worth more than some of us will make in a lifetime. J.P. Morgan’s will bequeathed the library to the public after his death (and we are all so much better for it).

Must see: Frederick Douglass’ letter to his former master Hugh Auld, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor and Morgan’s vault.

Website: The Morgan Library & Museum
Address: 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY


Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

Founded by a prominent America socialite, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, this popular NYC museum is a representation of her love for art. The Whitney Museum of American Art (better known as The Whitney), has been a beloved NYC institution for modern and contemporary American art since 1930.

The musuem was recently relocated to a massive 50,000 square-foot space in the popular Meatpacking District. Must see: Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, Edward Hopper’s A Woman in the Sun, Robert Bechtle’s ’61 Pontiac and Alexander Calder’s Circus.

Website: Whitney Museum of American Art
Address: 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY


Best museums in Manhattan

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum is an architectural feat (considered the architects most notable achievement). Unfortunately, Wright passed away six months before the museum opened to the public in 1959.

Once inside, visitors slowly make their way up a spiral 1/4 mile ramp to observe the artwork on each floor. Today this monolithic and distinctive concrete structure is considered a work of art itself and attracts more than 1 million visitors per year. Swing by The Wright cafe if you’re feeling hungry, it’s one of the best in-house cafes we’ve found to date.

Must see at the Guggenheim: The works by Picasso, Mountains of Saint Remy by Vincent van Gogh and The Hermitage at Pontoise by Camille Pissarro.

Website: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Address: 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY


Exclusive: New York Transit Museum unveils August reopening date | amNewYork
Image courtesy New York Transit Museum

New York Transit Museum

Dating back to 1904, New York City’s robust transportation system is one of the busiest and oldest in the world. Thankfully, visitors can take a walk down memory lane and explore vintage subway cars parked in a decommissioned subway station.

Located in Brooklyn, the New York Transit Museum is one of the best museums in NYC for kids. The museum covers a century of subway history and each car displays era-appropriate ads, which makes for some fun age-appropriate humor.

Visitors are able to explore the inside of vintage cars, some dating back to 1903, sit inside the driver’s cabin and admire vintage walk signs and transit furniture. Make sure to study the impressive photographs that highlight the evolution of the subway system, you’ll be hooked.

Website: New York Transit Museum
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Address: 99 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY

Love history? Read: 25 Thought-Provoking Facts About NYC You Probably Don’t Know (Yet)


The New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society was founded in 1804, making it the oldest museum in NYC. This is yet another great activity for history buffs in search of the best museums in New York City. Located right next to Central Park, the museum strives to keep the city’s history alive.

Home to fascinating artifacts (like the calf brace worn by Franklin Roosevelt), make sure to check the current exhibits to see if anything sparks your interest. Also worth mention, The New-York Historical Society hosts interesting talks and events weekly, check the schedule here.

Website: New-York Historical Society
Address: 170 Central Park West, New York, NY


The MET Cloisters

The Met Cloisters

Far removed from the heart of NYC, the Met Cloisters (an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is the only museum in the country dedicated to the art of the architecture and art of the Middle Ages. Opened in 1938, this unique NYC museum is found inside of Fort Tryon Park, which sits along the banks of the Hudson River. Renowned for its rich collection of medieval art like illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, and tapestries, the museum is a hit with history buffs.

Website: The Met Cloisters
Address: 99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY


The Frick Collection

One of the most elegant museums in New York City, the Frick is downright breathtaking. Currently housed in a temporary location on Madison Avenue (while the building undergoes renovations), the art will return to it’s original location spring 2024.

When repairs are complete, the musuem will return to the an 18th Century Mansion on the Upper East Side. Once home to the late millionaire, Henry Clay Frick, this museum displays his impressive private collection. Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Titian and Vermeer, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Must see: Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, The Comtess d’Haussonville, the three works of Johannes Vermeer Officer and Laughing Girl, Mistress and Maid and Girl Interrupted at Her Music. 

Website: The Frick Collection
Address: 1 E 70th St, New York, NY


best museums New York City

The New Museum

A leading destination for contemporary art, The New Museum is renowned for its commitment to showcasing new art and new ideas. Located in the vibrant Bowery neighborhood, the museum opened to the public at its current location in 2007.

It’s known for presenting the work of under-recognized artists and groundbreaking exhibitions, often being the first to exhibit artists who later gain significant recognition. The museum attracts a diverse audience, especially those passionate about contemporary art and emerging artistic trends.

What makes the New Museum unique (apart from its unusual name) is that it doesn’t have a permanent collection. Rather, all exhibits are displayed on a temporary basis and feature works by contemporary artists that are not commonly seen in other New York City museums.

Website: The New Museum
Address: 235 Bowery, New York, NY


List of the Best Museums in NYC (Post Summary)

In sum, the best museums in New York City are:

  1. Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
  2. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  3. American Museum of Natural History
  4. The Frick
  5. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  6. Whitney Museum of American Art
  7. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  8. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  9. The Morgan Library & Museum
  10. New York Transit Museum
  11. The New-York Historical Society
  12. Met Cloisters
  13. The Tenement Museum
  14. The New Museum
  15. Neue Galerie

Visiting Museums in NYC (FAQ)

(NYC Museums FAQ)
What’s the oldest museum in NYC?

The New-York Historical Society was founded in 1804, making it the oldest museum in NYC.

Is the Met or MoMA better?

This is actually a pretty easy question to answer if you can answer this question first: do you like modern art? If yes, you’ll probably enjoy the MoMA. If you’re not a fan of modern art, I suggest going to the Met because there’s such a great variety of art to choose from. You can’t go wrong with either, but if you’re visiting NYC for the first time, the Met is more impressive.

What’s the ONE musuem people need to see in NYC?

If you only have the chance to visit one musuem while exploring NYC, make it the Met. It’s the largest musuem in the country (and 5th largest musuem in the world). The building itself is a masterpiece too. All around, that’s the best musuem in NYC for first time visitors.

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Map of Cool NYC Museums


And there you have it, my personal list of cool museums in New York City, based on first-hand experience. I hope you enjoyed the post! Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or suggestions below, it’s always nice to hear from you. 🙂

Cheers!

James

Saturday 23rd of December 2023

I had no idea about the Neue gallery. great tip! Is the cafe good there? I've heard some great things...

Antonina

Sunday 31st of December 2023

Hi James, the Neue Gallery is a real gem! And yes, the cafe is great. It's a bit pricey, but the chic setting and great desserts can't be beat. If you plan on visiting soon, I highly recommend the mango mouse cake. It's sublime!

Bobby Weaver

Monday 6th of February 2023

To maximize the usefulness of this website, please consider adding the URL's for each of the museums, so that we don't have to google each one. The street address is certainly useful, but the website address is essential. Also, please note that per their website www.frick.org, the Frick is in temporary quarters at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street.

Antonina

Tuesday 7th of February 2023

Duly noted, Bobby! I added the website info for all the museums on the list, thanks for suggestion. :) And yes, you're correct about the Frick's temporary location. It should be returning to the original building in Spring 2024, I'll keep this post updated. Thanks so much again!

Jessie

Sunday 6th of February 2022

@Bobby Weaver, great point Bob. I was thinking the same thing. Not a huge deal but one less thing Yenno? Is the Frick ever going to move back into its regular location?? It’s been years!