From revered fine-art institutions to planetariums and historic homes, New York City has some of the best museums in the country.
New York’s Museum Mile (technically, three blocks longer than a mile) has rightfully earned its moniker by hosting some of the biggest and most beautiful museums in the country.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, Cooper Hewitt, Museo del Barrio, Neue Gallery, and the Frick spoil New Yorkers and visitors alike with their wondrous buildings and collections. This dense collection of cultural institutions is packed with riches, but New York’s wealth of museums is hardly contained on that gilded stretch of upper 5th Avenue. The city is teeming with world-class museums that range from the encyclopedic and educational to the innovative, adventurous, and even silly. New York proudly proffers temptations for every traveler, and the museums of the Big Apple are portals into the city’s identity. From the T.rex at the Natural History Museum to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie at MoMA to Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiral Guggenheim, New York wouldn’t be the same without these icons.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met, as this vast, encyclopedic institution is called, is one of the world’s great museums and has one of the most extensive collections of human artifacts. But it’s not the dusty, creaky place you might imagine—instead, it delivers thoughtful exhibitions of history, art, design, and objects. Plus, the Costume Institute pleases crowds with its sweeping surveys of clever ideas, like this year’s exploration of Notes on Camp.
Museum of Modern Art
MoMA is Manhattan’s oldest museum dedicated to modern art, which sounds like a contradiction, but inside this Midtown space, modernist masters are presented alongside contemporary powerhouses—consider it Modern Art 101 in an afternoon. Founded by a Rockefeller, MoMA’s collection is rich in 20th-century European and American art, including masters such as Picasso, Pollock, and Pipilotti Rist. Don’t forget about its avant-garde off-site collection in Long Island City, MoMA PS1.
Whitney Museum of American Art
For feeling like an art gallerist for the day, the Whitney offers a rounded perspective of contemporary and historical notions of American art. With its origins as the “artist’s museum,” developed from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s personal picks, this institution has kept its pioneering spirit alive by continually redefining what contemporary and American art is. Its Biennial is a thermometer of artistic production, while the Renzo Piano-designed building on the Hudson makes for an agile backdrop.
The impressive collection here is only matched by the museum’s spiral atrium. The museum, founded by wealthy New York patron of the arts Solomon Guggenheim, is filled with work by luminaries like Kandinsky and Calder—all displayed inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s sculptural spiral building, which has become an icon of New York architecture.
American Museum of Natural History
For everyone’s inner child (and actual children), this sprawling and regal museum perched on Central Park West has it all. No visit to New York is complete without a trek to this venerable institution. With a 122-foot-long Titanosaur, a 94-foot-long whale, 500 live fluttering butterflies, and a planetarium with daily shows, this perennially fascinating institution is also at the forefront of scientific research.
New York City is often the first place in America that many immigrants see. Waves of immigration have defined New York as the “center of the world,” as the city is often called. The Tenement Museum offers a highly-researched perspective on immigration history through guided apartment and neighborhood tours, from the contributions of new Americans to the harsh realities most faced. If a visit to Ellis Island, the immigration station turned museum in New York Harbor, is not on your itinerary this time, then the Tenement’s got you covered.
Also famous for the beloved Sacher torte in its Café Sabarsky, Neue Gallery is a time capsule of Wiener Werkstätte elegance. It’s set inside the William Starr Miller residence on 5th Avenue and has an impressive supply of Klimts and Schieles—this 19th and 20th-century-focused gallery is as glamorous as they come.
Think portraits of fancy ladies in heavy silk dresses are boring? Think again. Henry Clay Frick’s collection and 5th Avenue manse is a treasure trove filled with Europe’s most beloved masters, who, sure, might be dead white men but whose brushes transcend subject—just take a look at Thomas Gainsborough’s Grace Dalrymple Elliott and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Progress of Love.
The Jewish Museum
It’s hard to define the Jewish identity—a curatorial cornerstone for The Jewish Museum, which is by all means a contemporary art museum but it can’t only be thought of as showing art. With innovative exhibits like a virtual-reality Pierre Chareau design exhibition or look at Leonard Cohen, the Museum pushes the boundaries of how an art museum should act like. Drop by for one of the morning coffee talks with the curators at the Russ & Daughters café—The Jewish Museum always offers unique programming, and it’s always original.
While the Met may steal all the glory for its massive historical holdings, those in the know visit the Brooklyn Museum for its comprehensive and exciting collections of Egyptian, American decorative, and African arts. The museum also attracts visitors for its smashing contemporary shows—come for the new and stay for the old.
Museo del Barrio
Museo del Barrio represents a diverse range of Latin American fine arts. Both a refined institution and a community gathering place, the Museo del Barrio offers a glimpse into everything from pre-Columbian artifacts to modernist Cuban paintings to queer Latinx films.
Isamu Noguchi’s Queens studio has been transformed into a delightful museum and garden honoring this visionary inventor, artist, and architect. With more than just Akari lamps and those infamous coffee tables, the museum also presents thoughtful exhibitions putting Noguchi into conversation with various artists of either his own time period or of now.
New York Botanical Gardens
Take a short journey north (only 20 minutes from Grand Central) to a National Historic Landmark where rare orchids, exotic plant species, and fine art all intermingle. The NYBG gardens are perfect for strolling, while the conservatory brims with desert cacti and rain-forest orchids.
In a city as urban as New York, sites of nature and respite are often few and far between. But Wave Hill provides a riverside setting for botanical bounty in the Bronx, where 28 acres and nine distinct gardens await.
No matter your level of expertise, if you are intrigued by design, you will be delighted by this creative museum. Expect the unexpected at the Cooper Hewitt, whether it’s human-sized dog houses in the garden or high-concept shows involving all five senses. Don’t let the Gilded Age Andrew Carnegie Mansion confuse you: this is a highly contemporary and conceptual place filled with challenging and rewarding exhibitions, as well as interactive technology in the Immersion Room and Process Lab to get a deeper look at how crafts and design objects are made.
This library-museum houses a significant collection of important works, especially first-edition texts that mark history—the Gutenberg Bible, Walden, and The Little Prince. The Morgan functions both as a museum and a research center, and its programming schedule offers fascinating takes on literature, humanity, and New York.
New-York Historical Society
Not to be overshadowed by its behemoth neighbor, the Natural History Museum, the New-York Historical Society mounts in-depth inquiries into major American moments (like the Vietnam War, black life under Jim Crow) through the lens of New York. The result is always a newfound level of insight you will now drop into regular conversation.
Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York tells amazing stories, acting as a multi-medium platform for examining distinguished New Yorkers—famous and not—who have had a great impact on the city and society. Interested in pioneering street photographers or women’s rights activists or Robert Moses? Learn more through thorough glimpses into New York humans.
Where else would the first Skyscraper museum be other than the city that made steel-and-glass towers the norm for modern urban planning? This small museum takes an interactive approach to topical themes from the skyline to “skinnyscrapers.”
It makes sense that the most diverse place on earth would have a museum to represent the true meaning of diversity. The Queens Museum’s programming flexes from traditional art shows to community-based activism to participative performance across all mediums, demographics, and locations in the borough. It’s perhaps seen as hard to reach—its main campus resides near the famed 1964 World’s Fair Pavilion—but those who do make the trek know how visionary and exciting this institution is.
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Tucked inside a classic SoHo warehouse turned residence, the Leslie-Lohman reflects the neighborhood’s roots as a stomping ground for gay creativity and activity. Though apartment-sized, this well-curated collection of LGBTQ+ artists packs a punch, not just through activism for its own community and New York at large, but also via the intersection of pop culture and art.
Museum of Sex
Have you ever wanted to nerd out to the original Richard Long Audio System from Studio 54 while standing under a 70-inch disco ball and drinking a Tom Collins at 1970s prices? Catch the thrill at the Museum of Sex, which effortlessly balances one of New York’s fanciest sex shops with curated exhibitions of artists like Araki and William Kent.
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Fun fact: Louis Armstrong was a New Yorker. The same Satchmo who brought jazz to Americans and is synonymous with New Orleans, couldn’t resist the bright lights of New York’s night light. Armstrong purchased a home in Corona, Queens, where he lived from 1943 until his death in 1971. Now, thanks to Caples Jefferson Architects and the city of New York, the house is restored and open to visitors to delve deep into why Armstrong was one of America’s most important cultural ambassadors.
Museum of Food + Drink
The Museum of Food + Drink is a roving dinner party that investigates a style, an ingredient, a facet of global cuisine and exploring from its history, influence and ultimately through consumption. It’s learning, but the best kind: by eating! Share a meal with other culture vultures as a means of a museum experience to explore the sociopolitical identity of food. What could be more fun than that?
With self-described “object journalism,” this “elevator shaft” on a TriBeCa alley is filled with things of the here and now, placed on shelves like ancient artifacts. The brainchild of indie auteurs Josh and Benny Safdie, it’s a part-reflective, part-humorous presentation of stuff. Be warned: there’s often a line at this tiny one-room museum.