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? Choosing which ones to visit can feel overwhelming, but 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.
I live in New York City and hold memberships to a handful of the museums below. I love starting Sunday mornings at museums, and I’ve had an opportunity to see some great exhibits over the years.
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 best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Best Museums New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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. Admittedly, the museum can get overwhelming if you don’t have a game plan. I suggest picking one or two topics you’re interested in and sticking to those. There’s also some notable pieces you absolutely can’t miss, such as:
Must see at the MET: Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Temple of Dendur, Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with a Straw Hat and Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies.
My take: When I first moved to NYC becoming a member at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a no-brainer. I’ve been a member here for four years and still gravitate towards it on a monthly basis because there’s so much to explore. Personally, this is my favorite museum in NYC.
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
Read my complete list of the 20 Pieces You Can’t Afford to Miss at The Met
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, it’s no wonder MoMA is constantly crowded with happy visitors.
You don’t have to be an avid art connoisseur to appreciate the real-life paintings you grew up studying in school. The painting are well curated and displayed in a modern and airy environment for an experience anyone can enjoy.
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.
Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is arguably the best museum in NYC for kids. This incredible science museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display (and even that amount can get quite overwhelming!).
Welcoming 5 million visitors per year and spanning all aspect of the natural world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.
Guests are invited in by two massive dinosaur skeletons housed in the entry hall. From there, you can tour the impressive permanent collections or take a look at the exciting rotating exhibits.
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. Also, the taxidermy mammals are remarkable and have captivated both children and adults for years.
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).
For a helpful map of this (massive) New York City museum, click here.
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The iconic architectural feat that houses the Guggenheim Museum in NYC was Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable achievement. Unfortunately, Wright passed away six months before the museum opened to the public in 1959.
Today this monolithic and distinctive concrete structure is considered a work of art itself and attracts more than 1 million visitors per year.
Once inside, visitors slowly make their way up a spiral ramp to observe world-famous modern art in an airy and colossal space. The entire length of the ramp is equivalent to 1/4 mile walk and naturally passes through the exhibits on each floor.
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: Composition 8 by Kandinsky, Picasso’s work, Mountains of Saint Remy by Vincent van Gogh and The Hermitage at Pontoise by Camille Pissarro.
Address: 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128
9/11 Memorial & Museum
Sometimes I’m hesitant to mention visiting the 9/11 Museum because it’s such an emotional experience (you can’t help but cry). However, it truly is one of the best museums in New York City and definitely worth the visit, as long as you can emotionally brace yourself.
Located right next to the moving 9/11 memorial, this New York City museum is thoughtfully made. You’ll need to descend down an escalator to reach the interior because it’s located beneath ground level.
The museum’s layout is clean and easy to follow, your focus instantly latches on to the intended exhibit. The pace of the visit always feels rightfully slow, as visitors contemplate the gravity of the situation.
This musuem experience is heartbreaking but important, I think everyone should see the 9/11 Museum as least once. It’s something you won’t be able to forget.
Address: 180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Home to a remarkable collection of military vessels of the sea and sky, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City is a must-see for any military enthusiast or history buff.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is considered one of the 10 best aviation museums in the world, reason alone to visit.
More than 1 million visitors per year choose to visit this important New York City museum to explore the exciting collection. Expect to find authentic WWII fighter planes, aircraft carriers, a submarine used during the Cold War, supersonic jet and the NASA space shuttle Enterprise.
Allow up to 2-3 hours for the plethora of interactive displays and exhibits, this is not a NYC museum experience you’ll want to rush.
Address: Pier 86, W 46th St, New York, NY 10036
More Popular Museums in NYC
The Morgan Library & Museum
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a multi-millionaire? How about a multi-millionaire with a passion for books? If so, I have the spot for you.
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.
Like 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 was to open 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.
Address: 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum has been a beloved NYC institution for modern and contemporary American art since being founded in 1930. The recently relocated museum now spans 50,000 impressive square feet (not including the 13,000 square feet of outdoor space) in the Meatpacking District.
Founded by a prominent America socialite, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, this museum is an ode to her dedication and love for art.
Featuring art by Basquiat, Georgia O’Keeffe and Richard Avedon. There’s a handful of terraces where you can soak in an epic view of the NYC skyline. Visitors are encouraged to explore the art both indoors and out.
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.
Address: 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014
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.
Finally, swing by the gift shop before heading out, it’s well curated and has tons of fun transit inspired souvenirs.
Fun fact: Have you heard of the Pizza Principle? It’s an economic concept that argues the price of subway ride and a slice of pizza should always remain relatively equal. The price of both subway rides and pizza has been rising in tandem in NYC for more than 50 years!
Address: 99 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Interested in more facts about NYC? 25 Thought-Provoking Facts About NYC You Probably Don’t Know
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 houses a great amount of interesting artifacts and documents that focus on NYC’s unique history. You’ll also be able to see some pretty fascinating artifacts, like the calf brace worn by Franklin Roosevelt.
Check the current exhibits to see if anything sparks your interest, they have some of the most interesting events!
Also worth mention, there’s a great little restaurant attached to the museum that is worth a stop. It’s a seasonally-inspired Italian restaurant and can be found on the corner of Central Park West and 77th Street.
Address: 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Far removed from the bustling city, the Met Cloisters are an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is the only museum in the country dedicated solely to the architecture and art of the Middle Ages.
Set into a picturesque setting within Fort Tryon Park along the bank of the Hudson River, five medieval cloisters comprise the museum and provide the perfect setting for viewing 2,000 pieces of artwork.
Address: 99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040
The Frick Collection
One of the most elegant museums in New York City, the Frick is downright breathtaking. Housed in an Upper East Side 18th-century mansion of the late millionaire, Henry Clay Frick, this museum is home to an impressive private collection. The biggest hitter is the European art collection where visitors can expect to see gems from Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Titian and Vermeer.
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.
Address: 1 E 70th St, New York, NY 10021
The Tenement Museum | Immigration Museum NYC
In Manhattan’s Lower East Side you will find one of the most interesting museums in New York City. The 5-story Tenement Museum 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 which had been neglected for 50 years. The artifacts and belongings served as the impetus for the musuem, which strives to promote tolerance and historical perspective on the immigrant experience.
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. It’s hard to understand the hardships immigrants endured in those early days.
The guided tours are engaging and add so much to this museum experience. The rich history comes alive through knowledgeable and passionate guides that are eager to share everything they know.
Address: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
Top Image Courtesy: Tenement Museum
The New Museum
Originally opened in 2007, the New Museum in New York City is technically the new kid on the block but that doesn’t stop folks from flocking to it.
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.
Address: 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
The Neue Galerie is one of the most famous museums in New York City, largely thanks to the impressive display of German and Austrian art from the early 20th century. Most notable is the masterpiece titled The Lady in Gold by renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.
There was a recent movie created from this notable book, which chronicles the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who’s portrait 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.
Located in the elegant Beaux-Arts William Starr Miller House (two blocks from The Met), what makes this New York City musuem unique is that all of the art is owned by the musuem (none of the art is loaned).
When you get your fix of the artwork, head to Cafe Sabarsky, one of the best cafes in New York City. A clear standout here is the Sachertorte, a world-famous chocolate cake that is worth every last calorie.
The Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is often overlooked by first time visitors but I won’t let the same mistake happen to you. Housing 500,000 pieces and spanning 560,000 square feet, this is the third largest museum in New York City. The museum is best known for its impressive Ancient Egyptian collection, considered one of the finest in the world.
The best museums in New York City (Post Summary)
In sum, the best museums in New York City are:
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Frick
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- The Morgan Library & Museum
- New York Transit Museum
- The New-York Historical Society
- Met Cloisters
- The Tenement Museum
- The New Museum
- Neue Galerie
Map of cool museums in New York City
And there you have it my friends, 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. 🙂