Home to 83 museums (including the fifth largest museum in the world), it’s safe to say there’s no shortage of great museums in New York City to choose from.
Picking the right one to visit during your time in NYC can feel overwhelming, but that’s where I come in.
I live in New York City and hold memberships to a handful of the museums I mention below. I love starting Sunday mornings at museums, so you can believe me when I tell you I’ve seen so many great exhibits over the years.
But 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. If helpful, I’ll also add some museums you should check out if you have extra time.
Best Museums in New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET)
When we moved to NYC becoming members was a no-brainer. We’ve been members for a little more than a year yet still find ourselves gravitating towards the MET on a weekly basis because there’s so much to explore.
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern 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.
In fact, the MET is the most visited museum in New York City (receiving more than 6 million visitors per year).
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.
Swing by the museum’s rooftop, the Cantor Roof Garden, during your visit for sweeping views of Central Park.
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.
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Home to world-renowned paintings like The Starry Night and Water Lilies in addition to works by Warhol, Basquiat and Dali, it’s no wonder the MoMA is constantly crowded with museum-goers.
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 welcomed to the museum by two massive dinosaur skeletons housed in the entry hall. From there, you can tour the various permanent and rotating exhibits in this massive museum.
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 been captivating children and adults alike 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 NYC museum, click here.
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
D. Finnin/© AMNH
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 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. 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, one of the best in-house cafes at a museum in NYC 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 a visit to 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 emotionally brace yourself.
The museum is located right next to the 9/11 memorial. You’ll need to descend down an escalator to reach this NYC museum because it’s located beneath ground level.
The 9/11 Museum is thoughtfully made. They layout is clean so that your focus instantly latches on to the exhibits which are all so moving. The pace of the visit always feels rightfully slow, as visitors contemplate the gravity of the situation.
This experience is heartbreaking but important, I think everyone should see the 9/11 Museum as least once in their life. 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 an impressive collection of 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 annual visitors choose to visit this museum to explore the exciting collection of real 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
Photos courtesy: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City
Incredible NYC museums to visit if you have more time
The Morgan Library & Museum
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a multimillionaire? Let’s take it a step further, are you also a bookworm who knows how to appreciate rare books? If yes, then I have the spot for you.
The Morgan Library & Museum allows visitors to step inside the private library of J.P. Morgan, equipped with three floors of metal-enclosed walnut bookshelves, the fact that Morgan made this public after his death bewilders and excites me immensely.
Inside the confines of this breathtaking library is one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, handwritten score from Bach, and a plethora of books worth more than some of us will make in a lifetime.
Must see: Henry David Thoreau, 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
Image courtesy: Graham Haber
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 will leave you speechless.
Full of intriguing European art in the most perfect setting, 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
Photo by Joyofmuseums
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
Image courtesy: Whitney Museum
New York Transit Museum
The New York Transit Museum is one of the best museums in NYC for kids. Take a walk down memory lane and explore vintage subway cars parked in a decommissioned subway station.
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 cars, some dating back to 1903, explore old-school walk signs and transit furniture.
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!
Interested in more facts about NYC? 18 Thought-Provoking Facts About NYC You Probably Don’t Know
Address: 99 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Image courtesy: New York Transit Museum
The New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society is one of my favorite museums in New York City because it is so informative.
Housing an extensive collection of American art, historical artifacts and fascinating documents focusing on the establishment of NYC, this is a must-see for any NYC-enthusiast because you’re bound to learn something new.
Address: 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Image courtesy: The New-York Historical Society
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 banks 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
Image courtesy: The Met
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, which is actually comprised of two historic buildings dating back to 1863.
Offering visitors a glimpse into the real homes and lives of approximately 15,000 immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th century, this is definitely a museum you won’t want to miss.
You can tour the actual rooms of the tenant, which evoke feelings of nostalgia and heartbreak. It’s hard to imagine the hardships immigrants endured in those early days.
Touring this museum requires purchasing a guided tour, but believe me when I tell you it’s the best way to experience it. The rich history comes alive through knowledgeable and engaging tour guides 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 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
Map of the best NYC museums
And there you have it my friends, my personal list of the best 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. 🙂