Museums in NYC are known as being some of the best in the world, and one of the top things to do in NYC. Not only do New York City museums have incredible collections, but there are just so many museums to choose from.
On the small yet endless island, there are upwards of a hundred New York City museums. With public transportation, just about any of them are reachable too. Regardless of where you stay in NYC, an interesting museum is never too far away.
Both of my parents grew up in NYC. So, I spent the better part of my life frequenting some of the most popular museums in New York City.
I’m here to help you find the perfect museum for your NYC trip and tell you everything you need to know before you go.
Table of Contents
- 17 Museums in New York City
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- American Museum of Natural History
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- The Museum of Modern Art
- New York Transit Museum
- Brooklyn Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- Tenement Museum
- The National September 11 Memorial Museum
- The Jewish Museum
- Museum of the City of New York
- Rubin Museum of Art
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- The Morgan Library & Museum
- Museum of Sex
- Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
- Museum of the Moving Image
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17 Museums in New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A world-famous foyer leading to the largest museum in the entire country
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, often dubbed ‘the MET,’ is the largest museum in the United States. It’s known around the entire globe as holding one of the most massive art collections around.
Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’ll find over two million artistic works that have been created over the past 5,000 years. There are so many art history pieces that it’s all divided up into 17 different departments.
👉 Pro Tip: The MET is located right on the east side of Central Park between 79th and 84th. Since Central Park is also on many itineraries, try to combine both things on the same day. I’d recommend spending the morning at Central Park and then making your way to the MET in the afternoon.
American Museum of Natural History
A family favorite featuring informative exhibits that cover everything in the natural world
The Museum of Natural History is an informative museum that has all different types of permanent exhibits, such as the dinosaur floor, the ocean life room, and the space section. There are also special, seasonal collections like the sharks and extinct and endangered exhibits.
The Natural History Museum takes the things that we’ve only seen in books or movies and brings them to life. It’s really fun for most types of travelers. However, if you’re visiting New York City with your family, you’ve got to make time for this museum.
The American Museum of Natural History was definitely one of my top choices when I was growing up. As an adult, it still manages to carry on that same allure.
👉 Pro Tip: Be sure to check out the gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History before you leave. There are some really cool souvenirs inside that correlate to their special exhibits.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
A distinguished modern art museum in NYC with stand-out spiral architecture
This modern art museum is often simply called “The Guggenheim”. It holds a number of invaluable works from famous artists. Inside, you’ll from Rousseau’s ‘The Football Players’ painting and Edgar Degas’ ‘Spanish Dance’ sculpture.
However, the Guggenheim is also known for something besides the masterpieces it keeps. It’s also recognized for its one-of-a-kind, almost space-like architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. Between the unique twisty, spiral architecture and the spectacular art pieces inside, The Guggenheim is definitely one of the best museums in New York City.
The Museum of Modern Art
A midtown landmark with a modern art collection ranging from Warhol to Picasso
Many of the art galleries in New York City showcase millennia of art history, but the Museum of Modern Art delves more into artists from after the 19th century. There are over 120,000 pieces inside.
All of the famous artists that you learned about back in your school days have their artwork showcased in the MoMa. Pablo Picasso, Henri Mattise, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe. The list goes on and on.
It’s one of those museums that people love, even if they’re not the biggest art fan. It’s a must-see for any type of traveler. Adults and kids alike can have a fantastic afternoon at the MoMA.
👉 Pro Tip: The MoMa is located only a couple of blocks away from the famous Radio City Music Hall where the Rockettes perform, one of the best NYC music venues. It’s easy to mosey on over after you’ve explored all the contemporary art pieces.
New York Transit Museum
A peek into the history of NYC transportation inside an old subway car
Public transportation in New York City is a life in itself. With the incredible impact that transit has had on New York history, it makes sense why there’s a whole museum dedicated to it.
The New York Transit Museum is actually located inside a subway car that was retired in 1936. Inside, you’ll find a variety of objects that commemorate the region’s transportation. Things like equipment that was used to construct subway tunnels, and directional signs from way back in the day.
The New York Transit Museum is a top-notch collection for any transit history buff or New York aficionado.
A chance to discover modern and ancient art from different cultures around the world
The Brooklyn Museum is the third largest museum in New York City with over 1.5 million works of art. Namely, it has one of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world, but there is a wide array of art pieces from different cultures here.
The sheer size of the collection at the Brooklyn Museum makes it one of the best museums in New York City.
👉 Pro Tip: Plan on visiting a bunch of museums during your NYC trip? The best time to visit New York City to see the museums is during the extra hot or extra cold seasons. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking out the window the whole time wishing you were outside exploring the streets.
Whitney Museum of American Art
A collection of over 25k pieces from thousands of 20th century and modern artists
Many people see famous art pieces and assume their creator is long gone. At the Whitney Museum, however, you’ll find an enormous gallery of contemporary American art from after the 20th century. Many of the artists whose pieces fill the Whitney Museum are even still alive today.
If you or one of your travel companions are a budding artist hoping to catch your big break in this century, the Whitney Museum is a fantastic stop. It makes you feel seen and gives you a true sense of what it means to be one of today’s contemporary artists.
👉 Pro Tip: The Whitney Museum is located in the Meatpacking District. The Rubin Museum of Art and the Museum at FIT are all also located in the Meatpacking District within walking distance. So, if you’re in a time crunch, you can fit all these museums into a single day.
A well-preserved 1800s building that tells the stories of NYC immigrants in the Lower East Side
New York City has been home to millions of immigrants from all over the world. Today, the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side serves to share and remember the stories of immigrants who built their lives in Manhattan.
It’s located inside a preserved tenement building from 1863, which makes you really feel like you’re stepping back in time. The Tenement Museum shines a light on the influence the tenement residents had on America’s national identity.
I’d highly recommend that everyone visit the Tenement Museum if they haven’t been before. It really gives you a vivid glimpse into the experience of immigrants that lived in New York City years ago. To get the full experience, I’d recommend embarking on one of the museum tours for $30.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum
A touching memorial and museum dedicated to victims and heroes of the 9/11 tragedy
September 11 was one of the most tragic events in recent American history, and it happened right in the heart of New York City. Thinking about 9/11 might not be at the top of your ‘NYC vacation to-do list’ but it’s important to take time to visit the National September 11 Memorial Museum. To pay your respects and learn a little more about the events of that day.
While you’re there, take a few moments to see the 9/11 memorial. It’s a simple but haunting tribute that gives you a real sense of the hole that the tragedy left in New York’s heart.
👉 Pro Tip: While most New York museums are fun to roam around by yourself, I recommend taking a tour to visit the September 11 Memorial Museum. Such as this One World Observatory plus 9/11 Tribute Museum Guided Tour. You’ll definitely learn more. Plus, this particular tour comes with firsthand accounts and a stop at all 3 observatory levels.
The Jewish Museum
Explore contemporary and traditional art pieces from Jewish culture
The Jewish Museum features an abundance of cultural artifacts and art pieces from Jewish culture. It’s located on the Upper East Side next to Central Park.
That’s a broad description that includes a bunch of different things. There are more ancient and traditional pieces for religious ceremonies and martial traditions. But, their temporary exhibitions also feature contemporary Jewish artwork.
As of the summer of 2022, you can catch their latest exhibit called “Scenes from the Collection.” It includes 600 different works that include many pieces that have never ever been on display before. It’s an interesting and fun experience to see artists and pieces hit the first milestone of their artistic life.
Museum of the City of New York
This museums in NYC offers walk through the history of the Big Apple since its inception
The museums in New York City cover a lot of different topics, but this one will give you a run-down of NYC history itself. The museum maintains a vast collection of artifacts that establish a clear timeline of New York City since it was founded in 1624.
There are a bunch of different exhibitions, each dedicated to unique facets of New York. Like “New York at its Core” and “Activist New York”. However, the exhibits can change depending on when you visit. It’s one of the best museums in New York because it gives you a proper introduction to the city.
Rubin Museum of Art
A stunning display of artwork of cultural pieces from Tibet, the Himalayas, Central Asia, and more
If there’s one thing that New York City has in spades, it’s art museums. The Rubin Museum of Art displays art from a variety of Asian cultures and parts of the world. However, there’s a special focus on art from the Himalayan region in the permanent collection.
Inside, you’ll find all mediums of art like paintings, textiles, and sculptures. It does a beautiful job of highlighting artistic works from these cultures.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
A tribute to American military and maritime history aboard an aircraft carrier on the Hudson River
The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is another great museum option for families with kids. The museum is located on Pier 86 along the Hudson River on an aircraft carrier called the USS Intrepid. It delves into American military and maritime history.
The museum features other interesting pieces besides the Intrepid. Like the cruise missile submarine called the USS Growler and the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
The Morgan Library & Museum
A giant Harry Potter-reminiscent library showcasing rare books, manuscripts, and accessories
The Morgan Library & Museum is one of my top recommendations for people who like reading, books, or even just the experience of being in a grand library. Grand truly is the only way to describe it. The Morgan Library cares for a collection of over 330,000 literary pieces, medieval manuscripts, reference books, and more.
After wandering the book sanctuary and maybe snapping a few pictures for Instagram, make sure you stop by the gift shop before you leave. There are a bunch of neat books, reproductions, cards, and other items you can buy here.
Museum of Sex
An adult-only gallery chronicling human sexuality over time in many eye-catching ways
The Museum of Sex is my favorite item on this entire list. Get your giggles out now, but I’m serious!
Not only does the Museum of Sex spark up your interest with its attention-catching name, but it’s also just an awesome museum in general. The Museum of Sex explores human sexuality through the years. It covers just about every facet of the sexual world you can imagine – some of the exhibits are thought-provoking, and others will make you laugh. Then, there will be those that stop you in your tracks.
This is a super fun museum for a group of friends or young adults. However, it’s not the best option for families with kids. In fact, you have to be over 18 to visit the Museum of Sex. So save it for a gal’s trip!
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
A former immigration processing station with passenger records and other relevant artifacts
New York City’s Ellis Island was the entry point into America for over 12 million people. Today, it serves as a museum to remember this period of immigration and the people who passed through it. You can find various relevant artifacts and passenger records at the museum. The statue of liberty is also right nearby. So, you’ll get to see two major pieces of history with your own eyes.
I’d recommend visiting the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration as early as possible. It gets pretty crowded as the day goes on. Also, you’ll only be able to reach Ellis Island by boat. The ferry leaves from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.
Museum of the Moving Image
An inside look at the history behind digital media, TV, and film with costumes and props from your favorite movies
Movie fanatics, film students, and anyone who enjoys cinema in general, will appreciate the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s located in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, about 45 minutes away from Manhattan.
The Museum of the Moving Image takes a look at the history of film in a very unique and interesting way. As any museum about movie-making should. There are props and costumes from famous cinematic masterpieces. There are also interactive exhibits and sometimes even movie screenings.
You should try to get your tickets in advance online. The tickets coordinate with specific timeslots based on availability. So, if this is at the top of your list, book in advance!
🍎 Don’t Miss: 21 Things to Know Before Visiting NYC
Thanks for checking out my guide to the best museums in New York City! If it’s your first time visiting the state of New York, make sure you read our complete New York state travel guide. You’ll find lots of places to see, stay, and eat there.
Have fun exploring the history, culture, and contemporary art at the museums in New York!
(Featured Image Credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock)
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