17 of the Best Museums in New York City

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Welcome to our curated list of the finest museums in New York City, where art, architecture, natural history, city lore, and the immigrant experience converge to offer an unparalleled cultural journey. From exquisite fine art collections to architectural marvels, and insightful exhibits on city history to poignant reflections on the immigrant and Native American experiences, these 17 museums epitomize the city’s rich tapestry of heritage. Join us as we delve into the heart of New York’s cultural scene, exploring the stories and treasures that define this vibrant metropolis.

1. MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art)

The Museum of Modern Art MoMA — Jackson Pollock Photo Credit MoMA
Museum of Modern Art Photo Credit: CityPASS

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is the destination to see iconic works of art by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and many more. Enjoy six floors (630,000 square feet) of modern and contemporary art, new exhibitions, dining, and shopping all at one of the most celebrated museums in the world. Located in midtown Manhattan, MoMA is minutes away from Times Square, Central Park, and Rockefeller Center.
Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

1B. MoMA PS1

PS1 Rikrit Tiravanija Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo Kyle Knodell
MoMA PS1 Rikrit Tiravanija Photo Credit: Kyle Knodell courtesy MoMA PS1

Prefer contemporary art? Visit MoMA’s sister institution in Long Island City, MoMA PS1 – another of the best art museums in NYC. A captivating contemporary art destination housed within a majestic Renaissance Revival building that once served as a public school. Far from ordinary, this sister institution to MoMA boasts a collection brimming with over 200,000 cutting-edge artworks, showcasing the talents of acclaimed artists such as James Turrell and Ai Weiwei.

2. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO
The Metropolitan Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO

One of the most iconic museums in the world The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) first opened in 1880. Its unparalleled collection of two million objects also makes it one of the best art museums in America. This is a museum that will take you multiple visits to see. Focus on one or two sections at a time and you will enjoy it much more than rushing through it. Pick the contemporary and modern art, the famous French period rooms, the 2,000-year-old Egyptian Temple of Dendur or the American Wing. So much to see and appreciate.

3. Frick Collection

The Frick Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO
The Frick Madison – Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO

Displaying masterpieces from the early 20th century to the Renaissance, the Frick Collection is a perfect art museum in NYC for lovers of Old Master paintings. Elegant furniture and other decorative arts are also on show. It’s usually housed in Henry Clay Frick’s former mansion on Fifth Avenue. However, while that’s being renovated, you can see the collection today at Frick Madison on Madison Avenue.

4. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum NYC Photo Credit David Heald © SRGF NY via CityPASS 1
Guggenheim Museum NYC Photo Credit David Heald © SRGF, NY via CityPASS

No list of the best museums in NYC is complete without the Guggenheim. If you’re tired of typical museum layouts, plan a visit it! Expect a circular concrete building with a central ramp that spirals from one modern art exhibit to the next. Works by Picasso, Klee, and Kandinsky add to the appeal. Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

5. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt Photo Credit Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt Photo Credit: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Two blocks from the Guggenheim Museum is Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Located on the Upper East Side Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historical and contemporary design. One of two Smithsonian museums in the city, the Cooper Hewitt housed in New York City’s landmark Carnegie Mansion. Expect a range of exhibits that showcase over 215,000 pieces of decorative arts, works on paper, graphic design, textiles, wallcoverings, and digital materials.

6. Neue Gallery

Neune Gallery Cafe NYC Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO
Neue Galerie Sabarsky Cafe-NYC-Photo-Credit-DownshiftingPRO

Before or after enjoying the Neue Galerie, enjoy a Viennese coffee and delightful pastry at Cafe Sabarsky. This moody, intimate cafe will transport you to a coffeehouse in Europe. This is a small but interesting collection focused on Austrian painters and designers. In the main gallery on the second floor, you will see the beautiful Gustav Klimt paintings (the most famous being Adele Bloch-Bauer I – The Woman in Gold).

7. American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History Blue Whale model in the Hall of Ocean Life Photo Credit ©AMNH D. Finnin
American Museum of Natural History – Blue Whale model in the Hall of Ocean Life Photo Credit:©AMNH_D. Finnin via CityPASS

The expansive American Museum of Natural History is undoubtedly one of the best museums in New York City 0for natural history, education and fun. It is a great museum for the entire family because you can see a life-sized model of a blue whale, the famed Hayden Planetarium, a whole floor of dinosaur skeletons, and much more.

Share in the excitement of discovery with more than 40 galleries exploring the natural world and the universe at one of NYC’s top destinations, the American Museum of Natural History.
Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

8. Whitney Museum of American Art

Whiteney Museum Photo Credit Gagliardi CanvaPro
Whitney Museum of America Photo Credit: Gagliardi via CanvaPro

Located in the Meatpacking district near Chelsea in the Big Apple, the Whitney Museum of American Art will keep you busy with its 50,000 square feet of galleries. you’ll enjoy glorious views of the Hudson as you explore works by George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Alice Neel, and many others. Outdoor sculpture spaces, as do restaurateur Danny Meyer’s top-floor bar and ground-floor restaurant, add to the appeal.

9. The Cloisters (part of The Met)

The Met Cloisters Museum Photo Credit Gagliardi CanvaPro
The Met Cloisters Museum Photo Credit Gagliardi CanvaPro

Atop a tall hill in the northern tip of Manhattan, at the end of long, winding wooded pathways, with stunning views across the Hudson River to the Palisades, and a short walk from the 1 and A subways, you’ll find The Met’s second location, called The Met Cloisters. A place of reflection and recharge, these tranquil spaces were a staple of the Middle Ages.

The Museum’s construction began in 1933 in upper Manhattan at the northern end of Fort Tryon Park. Visiting is like traveling through time: medieval architecture is incorporated into a modern building purpose-built to evoke the Middle Ages.

10. National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Memorial Pools 9 11 Musuem in NYC Photo Credit DownshfitingPRO
Memorial Pools 9/11 Museum in NYC Photo Credit DownshfitingPRO

One of the most poignant and emotionally charged museums you will ever visit, the  National September 11 Memorial and Museum located by the memorial reflecting pools and waterfalls of Ground Zero is located in lower Manhattan. Built to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks that occurred in NYC on 9/11 and February 26, 1993. Brace yourself to see the twisted steel girders and crushed firetrucks. It is very well-curated and designed as an educational tour. Allocate at least 2 hours (three is better) for this museum.
Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

11. Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum Photo Credit littleny via Depositphotos 1
Brooklyn Museum Photo Credit littleny via Depositphotos

Talking of enormous NYC museums, the Brooklyn Museum houses 1.5 million works within 560,000 square feet of space. That makes it the Big Apple’s third-largest museum! Visit Prospect Park to see everything from contemporary paintings and modern sculptures to period rooms and Ancient Egyptian art.

12. The Broadway Museum

Broadway Photo credit DownshiftingPRO 1
Broadway Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO

Walk through Broadway’s history, starting in 1732 with the first documented performance in NYC, and go behind-the-scenes into the making of a Broadway show. As you walk the timeline, you’ll come upon exhibits dedicated to groundbreaking moments in Broadway’s history – the moments that pushed creative boundaries, challenged social norms, and paved the way for those who would follow. 

13. Noguchi Museum

Noguchi Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO
Noguchi Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO

This museum is hidden away in Long Island City but it is worth the effort to see it. It is home to an intimate museum conceived and curated by artist Isamu Noguchi – one of the 20th Century’s most critically acclaimed sculptors. It’s a meditative space with 12 galleries and an ivy-covered garden full of Noguchi’s works. Top tip: go on a Friday for free entry; just remember to reserve a ticket a few weeks in advance!

Insider’s tip: Head to the financial district to see his Sunken Garden (28 Liberty Street, New York, NY). A peaceful oasis in a chaotic world. Keep an eye out for my suggestions of top public art pieces to see in and around Wall Street.

14. Tenement Museum

Brown stone building in NYC Photo credit DownshiftingPRO
Brownstone building in NYC Photo credit: DownshiftingPRO

The Tenement Museum is a standout among New York City’s cultural institutions, celebrated for its unparalleled charm. Nestled in the dynamic Lower East Side, it beckons visitors with immersive guided tours through two historic tenement buildings. These humble abodes, inhabited by immigrants from the 1860s to the 1930s, vividly capture the essence of a bygone era, offering an intriguing glimpse into the city’s rich tapestry of heritage.

15. Ellis Island Museum

Statue of Liberty Photo Credit Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises via CityPASS. jpg
Statue of Liberty Photo Credit Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises via CityPASS

Experience the beauty and history of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, located in New York Harbor, with Statue City Cruises — the authorized National Park Service concessioner. Explore the Statue of Liberty Museum, the grounds of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, stand in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, and learn about the rich history of Immigration at what was once the nation’s busiest immigration inspection station.
Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

16. Intrepid Museum

Intrepid Museum — Flight deck Photo Credit Intrepid Museum via CityPASS
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum—Flight Deck Photo Credit: Intrepid Museum via CityPASS

The Intrepid Museum is an educational institution featuring the legendary aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, the world’s fastest jets, and a guided missile submarine. Through exhibitions, educational programming, and a collection of technologically groundbreaking aircraft and vessels, visitors of all ages and abilities are taken on a journey through history to learn about American innovation and bravery.
Insider’s Tip: This is a CityPass NYC attraction option.

17. National Museum of Native Indians

The Native American Indian Museum NYC Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO Photo Credit Dahlia Katz
National Museum of the American Indian Photo Credit: DownshiftingPRO

In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples. The museum strives toward equity and social justice for the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere through education, inspiration and empowerment. Through two locations, it features exhibitions and programs in New York City and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For additional information, including hours and directions, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu.

Time to Visit the Best Museums in NYC

The Met Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO
The Metropolitan Museum Photo Credit DownshiftingPRO

New York City’s museums are some of its most impressive cultural pursuits. As you can tell, though, there are almost too many to choose from – and this list only scratches the surface of what’s available! From art to history and everything in between, the best museums in NYC have something for everyone. With any luck, this article will help you choose which one to visit first.

New York C-ALL CityPASS

911 Memorial Pools Skyline Photo Credit Jin S. Lee 911Memorial via CityPASS
9/11 Memorial Pools & Skyline Photo Credit Jin S. Lee 9/11Memorial via CityPASS

Insider’s Tip: Visiting museums and attractions can add up quickly. Consider purchasing a C-ALL CityPass New York City taking advantage of huge savings. The validity period is 9 consecutive days starting with and including the first day you visit an attraction. You have one year from the date of purchase to start using your tickets.

Eligible attractions with the CityPASS New York City:

  • Empire State Building Observatory
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck
  • Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • Intrepid Museum
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • Edge at Hudson Yards
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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.