Because the choices are stunning, this list focuses on the top 10 not-to-be-missed world-class museums that will take locals and visitors from a sculpture garden in Midtown Manhattan to a sleepover beside a 94-foot blue whale to the heights of modern art inside an avant-garde building that will change how you see art forever. Spanning history, arts, culture and entertainment, New York City’s institutions educate and inspire. And sometimes, through sheer size and scope, they can overwhelm even the most enthusiastic traveler.
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That’s why we have narrowed it down to our top 10 places for viewing, exploring and experiencing the best the city has to offer. From the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art to the outer boroughs for the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, you’ll have no trouble finding something special to tickle your fancy.
One thing to keep in mind: while the offerings are dazzling, the costs can be too. Consider purchasing any of several city passes now available, but be sure they include attractions and museums you absolutely want to see. Visit NYCGO for information on passes that can help manage costs and suggest manageable itineraries for the museum minded.
Located on Museum Mile, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum was founded in 1897. It is the only museum in the U.S. devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. In 2014, The Cooper Hewitt unveiled the renovated and restored Carnegie Mansion with 60 percent more exhibition space. Exhibitions and installations feature more than 650 objects throughout four floors of the mansion, many of which draw from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 210,000 objects that span 30 centuries. Take advantage of the ability to explore the collection digitally on ultra-high-definition touch-screen tables, draw your own designs in the Immersion Room and solve design problems in the Process Lab.
Recommended for Museums because: Dubbed “The Museum of the Future” by The Atlantic, the museum emerged from a three-year renovation more spectacular than ever.
Maria’s expert tip: Pay-What-You-Wish Saturdays from 6:00-9:00 PM, with free guided tours at 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM on weekdays and 1 PM and 3 PM on weekends.
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Stunning and bold, the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) is housed on the original 13-acre lot that made up the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios – the most significant film and media production facility between Los Angeles and London. Immerse yourself in the permanent exhibit, Behind the Screen, that introduces visitors to the history of the moving image from 19th-century optical toys to today’s digital tools used to edit and produce films. See clips from the earliest films like and record a sequence of your own movements to be printed out as a flipbook. In 2017, MOMI kicked off a campaign to fund the permanent Jim Henson Exhibition, which includes nearly 300 objects and 47 historic puppets.
Recommended for Museums because: As the only institution in the U.S. dedicated to the moving image, MOMI appeals to connoisseurs of classic cinema, families and avid gamers.
Maria’s expert tip: Weekend screenings and film festivals feature actors, directors and critics. Astoria is a food mecca that should not be missed, so plan to stay for lunch or dinner at a restaurant on nearby Broadway.
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Overlooking the western rim of Central Park, this neoclassical structure guards some of the oldest artifacts associated with the city of New York. The New-York Historical Society was founded in 1804 as New York’s first museum and has been at its present location since 1908. The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture on the fourth floor has been redesigned to showcase The Gallery of Tiffany lamps, displayed in a sparkling glass gallery. The Center for Women’s History is the first of its kind in a U.S. museum dedicated to this essential subject.
Recommended for Museums because: From the Underground Railroad Collection to the Tiffany Glass Gallery, N-YHS shines a special light on the diverse history of the region.
Maria’s expert tip: The New-York Historical Society offers free daily tours of its collections at 2 and 3:30 PM; its Caffe Storico is a good spot to catch your breath.
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Photo courtesy of R. Mickens
One of the world’s largest natural history museums with more than 33 million specimens and exhibits, the AMNH educates and entertains visitors, keeping them busy for hours on end. Forty-five permanent exhibit halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the Hayden Planetarium, and The Dark Universe show narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, are all a must. The museum offers self-guided tours, including one featuring exhibits from the movie, Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller. There are a handful of places to eat inside should the kids get hungry, and luckily for visitors, the museum is open daily except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Recommended for Museums because: Generations have flocked to see the renowned blue whale and iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex, a king among fossil dinosaurs.
Maria’s expert tip: The kid sleepovers at the AMNH are epic. From 3D movies to sleeping beside a 94-foot blue whale, your 6 to 13-year-olds will have the time of their lives. Space is limited and dates sell out quickly.
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Established in 1923, the Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) mission is to collect, preserve and present objects related to the original culture and history of New York City â” from the gritty to the stunning. Originally housed in Gracie Mansion, the present residence of the mayor of New York, the city was offered its present location in a Georgian Colonial-Revival building on 5th Ave. This museum has amassed a huge collection of unusual items, such as several of Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten manuscripts, a complete room of Duncan Phyfe furniture, no less than 412 glass negatives by famous photographer Jacob Riis, a man’s suit worn to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball and displays of graffiti writing and art from the 1970s and 80s.
Recommended for Museums because: MCNY is the keeper of the spirit of New York, revealing its stories and secrets through objects, costumes, drawings, photos, furniture and theater.
Maria’s expert tip: Live or work in the zip codes of 10029, 10035, or 10037? Then you qualify for the “I’m a Neighbor” program and the admission fee is waived.
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*Please note that the MoMA is temporarily closed for renovations until October 2019* With extraordinary exhibitions and the world’s finest collection of modern and contemporary art, MoMA is the world’s foremost museum of modern art. This multi-level museum displays cutting edge contemporary works, as well as pieces by modern masters Edward Hopper, Le Corbusier and Rene Magritte. Crowds can be intense, particularly for big-name installations and traveling exhibitions. Take the elevator to the top floor upon entering, and then work your way down, missing the masses who bottleneck on the ground floor. MoMA’s Michelin-starred restaurant by New York City star chef Danny Meyer is appropriately named The Modern; Meyer’s award-winning eatery is largely credited with reinventing museum fare. For more casual bites, Cafe 2 is located on the second floor.
Recommended for Museums because: A gateway museum for many, MoMA’s exhibits feature impressive and recognizable names, such as Pollack and Basquiat.
Maria’s expert tip: Admission is free every Friday between 4:00-8:00 PM. Dodge the inevitable crowds by arriving after 6:00 PM.
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In 2015, former First Lady Michelle Obama ushered in the new Whitney Museum of American Art set in the heart of NYC’s Meatpacking District. Selections from the museum’s collection, ranging from 1912 to the mid-1960s, trace the development of American modernism through the 1950s and into the 1960s when the bold new painterly forms of Abstract Expressionism dominated. Among the artists featured are Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Edward Hopper, Lee Krasner, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. The Renzo Piano architecture matches the Whitney’s reputation for innovation. In terms of planning, the Whitney is a large museum that may require multiple visits.
Recommended for Museums because: The Whitney houses the foremost collection of American art from the 20th and 21st centuries – and it takes chances, what’s not to love?
Maria’s expert tip: Pay-What-You-Wish tickets are available at the admissions desk on Fridays, 7-9:30 PM.
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At the top of Museum Mile, you cannot miss the dramatic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art housed inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of a giant nautilus shell. A monument to modernism, the unique architecture of the space, with its spiral ramp riding to a domed skylight, thrills visitors. In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, “Wright’s building made it socially and culturally acceptable for an architect to design a highly expressive, intensely personal museum. In this sense, almost every museum of our time is a child of the Guggenheim.” Examples of exhibits include masterpieces by Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Picasso, and works by Jackson Pollock.
Recommended for Museums because: Completed in 1959, the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum is among the 20th century’s most important architectural landmarks.
Maria’s expert tip: Wednesdays after 3:00 PM are the least busy times to visit. Multimedia guides are available for free with admission and free tours happen daily at 2:00 PM.
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One of the largest museums in the country, the Brooklyn Museum boasts some 1.5 million pieces of artwork. The first-floor features “Infinite Blue,” a special collection that presents blue in all its varieties with works from ancient times to the present day. After meandering through, visit the second floor for a peek at Asian art before continuing upward to one of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world. The fourth and fifth floors display American decorative arts and a melange of American paintings and sculpture, with related items from the Spanish Colonial and Native American holdings. Besides the unparalleled exhibits, visitors may see live music performances, view film screenings, or take in literary readings.
Recommended for Museums because: Apart from being spectacular in its own right, it’s surrounded by great neighbors: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Public Library, Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
Maria’s expert tip: One ticket gets you into the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. If you don’t mind crowds, visit both for free on the first Saturday of the month.
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“The Met,” as New Yorkers affectionately call it, is our Louvre. Its gargantuan halls of Egyptian, Roman, Greek discoveries never cease to capture the imagination. Docents lead guided tours, or venture on your own with audio headsets. Make no mistake, New Yorkers take their art seriously as do out-of-town visitors, which is why the Met is the number one attraction in the entire city. Lectures and Friday-night concerts transform the mezzanine into a perfect date venue while The Cloisters, nestled in Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, is home to the museum’s incomparable medieval art collection. Just when you thought the “The Met” could not get bigger or better, it also includes the Whitney’s former digs at the Breuer Building on Madison Ave and 75th St.
Recommended for Museums because: Home to more than two million works of art, The Met is NYC’s indisputable museum king and its number one attraction.
Maria’s expert tip: Ask about free daily guided tours and same-day admission to The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer (closed Mondays), and The Met Cloisters that is valid for up to one year after purchase. Save time with advance ticketing online.
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