It’s no secret that New York City is full of fascinating museums. The Big Apple is home to nearly 100 of them (including the fifth-largest museum in the world).
This poses a bit of a problem to visitors because deciding which ones to see can seem overwhelming.
Not to worry though: we’ve compiled a guide to a handful of some of the best NYC museums to help you narrow down your options and make the most out of your trip.
With that said, let’s dive right in.
A Guide to the Best Museums in New York City
1. American Museum of Natural History
Often regarded as one of the greatest natural history museums in the world, the American Museum of Natural History is always a hit. It’s home to a staggering 30 million specimens that represent all aspects of the natural world. Of these, only three percent are on view (and that amount alone will blow your mind!).
The museum welcomes around five million visitors every year, who are greeted by the two colossal dinosaur skeletons standing guard over the entryway. From there, you can explore the awe-inspiring permanent displays or check out the special rotating exhibits.
Some of the highlights of the American Museum of Natural History include the life-sized replica of a blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life and the taxidermied mammals set in naturalistic habitat dioramas.
You also don’t want to miss the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, which houses the imposing mount of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Another must-see is the Hayden Planetarium, which is rated one of the top planetariums in the United States.
What to see at the American Museum of Natural History: Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, Hayden Planetarium, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, and the Butterfly Conservatory (costs extra, but worth the additional fee).
2. The Brooklyn Museum
While often overlooked by first-time visitors to New York City, the Brooklyn Museum has one of the world’s most impressive collections of Ancient Egyptian art, making it well worth a visit.
It’s also the third-largest museum in New York City, housing 500,000 pieces in 560,000 square feet.
You could also pair your visit to the Brooklyn Museum with a trip to Prospect Park or Prospect Park Zoo, located nearby.
What to see at the Brooklyn Museum: Cartonnage of Nespanetjerenpere, The Doge’s Palace by Claude Monet, and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.
3. The Frick Collection
Occupying an 18th-century mansion in the Upper East Side, this stately museum houses the impressive private collection of the late millionaire, Henry Clay Frick. It’s best known for its distinguished Old Master paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Titian, Vermeer, Goya, and El Greco.
What to see at the Frick Collection: The Comtess d’Haussonville, Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, and the following three works by Johannes Vermeer: Mistress and Maid, Officer and Laughing Girl, and Girl Interrupted at Her Music.
4. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
For military and aviation enthusiasts, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City is a must-see. It’s home to a sizeable collection of military vessels of the sky and sea and is recognized as one of the top ten best aviation museums in the world.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is one of the most popular museums in New York City, welcoming over one million visitors through its doors every year.
Here, you can expect to find a supersonic jet, a submarine used during the Cold War, authentic WWII fighter planes, a legendary aircraft carrier, and the NASA space shuttle, Enterprise.
The museum also hosts rotating exhibitions on space exploration, naval history, and more, so you’ll want to allow at least two to three hours for exploring everything it has to offer.
What to see at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: USS Intrepid, Submarine Growler, and the Concorde Alpha Delta G-BOAD.
5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Largely regarded as the best museum in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) receives an average of around six million visitors per year, also making it the most-visited museum in the entire city.
It also happens to be the largest art museum in the United States, not to mention the fifth-largest museum in the world, with its collection of over two million artworks spanning more than 5,000 years.
If you only have time to see one museum in New York City, this is your go-to. Plus, it’s conveniently located within Central Park on the Upper East Side so getting there is easy. Admittedly, the sheer size of the museum can be overwhelming, so it’s best to choose one or two topics that interest you and stick to them for the duration of your visit.
What to see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Temple of Dendur, and Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies.
6. MET Cloisters
Far removed from the bustling city on the bank of the Hudson River, the MET Cloisters are an enchanting retreat that is well worth the extra travel time. An extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is the only museum in the United States solely dedicated to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages.
Situated within the picturesque Fort Tryon Park, the museum comprises five medieval cloisters set in beautifully landscaped gardens.
What to see at the MET Cloisters: The Unicorn Tapestries, Adoration of the Magi, and the Gothic Chapel.
7. The Morgan Library & Museum
Stepping into the private library of multi-millionaire J. Pierpont Morgan at The Morgan Library & Museum is like stepping into another world.
Occupying a grand three-story building reflecting the “American Renaissance” style, The Morgan Library & Museum houses an assortment of rare books and manuscripts, art, and antiques.
Included in the collection are a handwritten score from Bach, an original version of the Declaration of Independence, and shelf upon shelf of books that are worth millions.
What to see at The Morgan Library & Museum: Morgan’s vault, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, and Frederick Douglass’ letter to Hugh Auld, his former master.
8. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Another one of New York City’s most popular museums is the Museum of Modern Art (also known as MoMA).
Like the MET, MoMA is one of the world’s largest and most influential museums of modern art and houses an extensive collection of world-renowned paintings like Monet’s Water Lilies, van Gogh’s Starry Night, and other notable works by Dali, Basquiat, and Warhol.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an avid art connoisseur to appreciate these masterpieces, as the paintings are all curated in a way that everyone can enjoy.
What to see at the Museum of Modern Art: Monet’s Water Lilies, van Gogh’s Starry Night, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, The Persistence of Memory by Dali, Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, and any of Picasso’s works.
9. Neue Galerie
Housing an impressive collection of Austrian and German art from the early 20th century, the Neue Galerie is one of the most famous museums in New York City. It’s perhaps most well-known for the masterpiece by renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, The Lady in Gold.
The painting in question, which features the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, has an interesting past that inspired both a best-selling novel and an award-winning movie. It was stolen by the Nazis during WWII, only to be returned to the Bloch-Bauer family in 2006.
Situated just two blocks away from the MET, in the elegant Beaux-Arts William Starr Miller House, what makes this NYC museum different from all the rest is that all the art is owned by the museum (none of it is loaned).
When you’ve had your fill of everything the museum has to offer, head to Café Sabarsky for a slice of the world-famous Sachertorte, the most decadent chocolate cake you’ll ever eat.
10. New York Transit Museum
New York City’s transport system is one of the world’s oldest, dating back to 1904. It’s also one of the busiest by today’s standards.
At the New York Transit Museum, visitors travel through time and discover more than a century of subway history. It’s also a great place to bring the kids.
The museum is located in Brooklyn, in a decommissioned subway station, where visitors can explore the interiors of vintage subway cars (some of which date back to 1903), take a seat in the driver’s cabin, and marvel at the vintage transit furniture and walk signs that form part of the museum’s collection.
While at the New York Transit Museum, also be sure to check out the series of photographs that document the development of the subway system, as well as the gift shop stocked with tons of great transit souvenirs on your way out.
11. The New Museum of Contemporary Art
Despite being the new kid on the block after opening in 2007, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City is surprisingly popular among locals and visitors alike.
Besides its unusual name, another thing that makes the New Museum different from all the others on this list is that it doesn’t have a permanent collection. Rather, it has temporary exhibitions featuring works by contemporary artists that are not typically seen in other New York City museums.
12. The New-York Historical Society
Yet another must-see for history buffs on the hunt for the best museums in New York is the New-York Historical Society. It was established in 1804, making it over two centuries old. It’s also adjacent to Central Park, meaning you don’t have to go far out of your way to get there.
The museum displays a large number of fascinating documents and artifacts from New York City’s past, including sculptures, paintings, and photographs.
Additionally, the museum also hosts a variety of interesting events throughout the year, which you can find out about on the website.
When you get hungry, head to the quaint restaurant on the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West for some delicious seasonally-inspired Italian cuisine.
13. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Offering one of the most heartrending museum experiences, the 9/11 Museum stands as an important reminder of the tragic events that took place at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Although heartbreaking, this is one of the best museums in New York City and is definitely worth a visit, provided you can brace yourself emotionally.
You can find it next to the moving 9/11 Memorial. The inside is located below ground level so you’ll need to descend down an escalator to reach it.
Once you enter the museum, your focus is immediately drawn to the intended exhibit. The layout is also clean and easy to follow, while the atmosphere of the place is slow and contemplative, in a manner befitting the gravity of the situation.
14. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Occupying the architectural phenomenon that was the brainchild of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City is a sight to behold.
Although Wright was unable to see his masterpiece come to life as a result of his death just six months before the museum’s opening in 1959, the museum now welcomes more than one million visitors every year.
After admiring the building’s iconic façade, make your way inside, where you’ll find yourself in a colossal space that’s perfect for viewing world-famous modern art. There’s a spiral ramp that will take you from one floor to the next, the length of which is equivalent to a 1/4 mile walk.
Feeling peckish after all that walking around? Swing by The Wright Café for a bite to eat – it’s one of the best in-house cafés on this list.
What to see at the Guggenheim Museum: Vincent van Gogh’s Mountains of Saint Remy, Composition 8 by Kandinsky, Camille Pissaro’s The Hermitage at Pontoise, and any of Picasso’s works.
15. The Tenement Museum
Located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side is this interesting museum comprising two historic buildings dating back over 150 years. The buildings once housed thousands of immigrants from various nations from 1863 to 1935.
After being abandoned for five decades, the buildings were restored and the Tenement Museum was born. Today, the museum offers guided tours of the tiny living quarters of its previous inhabitants, providing a glimpse into the hardships the immigrants endured.
The tours at the Tenement Museum are run by expert guides who offer plenty of insight into the history of the place, making for a more enriching museum experience.
16. Whitney Museum of American Art
Established in 1930, the Whitney Museum has been an icon for contemporary American art for more than 90 years. Having been recently relocated to an impressive building in the Meatpacking District, the Whitney Museum now boasts more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space.
It was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a prominent American socialite with a passion for art.
Today, visitors can admire works by Georgia O’ Keeffe, Richard Avedon, and Basquiat in the museum’s vast interior. There are also several terraces that provide spectacular views of the New York City skyline.
What to see at the Whitney Museum of American Art: A Woman in the Sun by Edward Hopper, Robert Bechtle’s ’61 Pontiac, Circus by Alexander Calder, and any of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work.
A Summary of the Best Museums in New York City
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Brooklyn Museum
- The Frick Collection
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET)
- Met Cloisters
- The Morgan Library & Museum
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- Neue Galerie
- New York Transit Museum
- The New Museum of Contemporary Art
- The New-York Historical Society
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- The Tenement Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art