I’m sure it comes as no surprise that in a city as massive, happening, and culturally rich as New York, you’ll find many museums…over 83 f***ing awesome museums, actually!
We get it – that number is seriously intimidating for anyone.
Don’t worry, whether you are a born and bred New Yorker or a tourist just passing through, we’ve got your back!
We’ve compiled this list of the best museums in New York City to make museum-going a little less daunting and a lot more fun.
I’m sure you’ll recognize at least one or two and I hope some are brand new to you, too!
#1: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met opened its doors on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street in March of 1880. Since then it has taken over two million square feet of NYC real estate to provide a safe home for tens of thousands of objects spanning five thousand years of history!
Today, the Met is the largest art museum in the U.S. and the second most visited art museum in the world (second only to the Louvre in Paris)!
The Met is number one on our list of the best museums in New York City because it’s f***ing awesome. It is also a very special place for us! Back in 2013, Museum Hack’s founder, Nick Gray, led the very first renegade tour here!
Five things you must see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
- Standing Bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future)
- The Lehman Wing
- Hatshepsut Gallery in Ancient Egypt
- Asmat Bis Poles
- French Period Rooms
To find out why, go here!
#2: American Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan’s Upper West Side has long been a destination for locals and tourists alike.
AMNH is one of the largest museums in the world! It’s made up of 28 buildings, houses 45 permanent exhibition halls and is home to over 33 million specimens. It also has a planetarium and library.
You could devote over a year of your life to living in AMNH and still not see everything!
Five things you must see at the American Museum of Natural History:
- The Great Blue Whale
- Our Weird Cousin, the Dimetrodon
- Horny Dead Animals
- The Dzanga-Sangha Rainforest
To find out why, go here!
#3: Museum of Modern Art
Founded in 1929, MoMA is now one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
Five things you must see at the MoMA:
- Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night
- Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950
- Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
- Claude Monet’s Water Lilies
- Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio
If you feel overwhelmed or intimidated just thinking about all illusive concepts behind modern art. don’t worry! MoMA has just the thing fo ryou.
MoMA’s Audio App is a great gallery companion. We recommend the audio guide, “If You Only Have An Hour” (all of our must-sees are included!). They even have an audio tour just for kids!
Purchase your tickets online and skip the line!
#4: Brooklyn Museum
At 560,000 square feet, the Brooklyn Museum is the second-largest art museum in New York City. Its five massive floors beautifully display everything from artifacts from ancient cultures to works of contemporary masters.
Five things you must see at the Brooklyn Museum:
- Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden
- Judy Chicago’s massive installation The Dinner Party
- Auguste Rodin’s Monument to the Burghers of Calais
- Lulua. Figure of a Mother Holding a Child (Lupingu lwa Cibola)
- Huastec. Life-Death Figure
A little history… The Brooklyn Museum made history as the first American art museum to exhibit African objects as artwork! Today, their collection is made up of over five thousand items, making it the largest collection of African art in an American art museum!
#5: The Rubin
The Rubin, located in the Chelsea district of New York City, is a truly unique space!
Their mission says it best: “The Rubin Museum of Art is a dynamic environment that stimulates learning, promotes understanding, and inspires personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and art of Himalayan regions.”
Aside from their amazing collection, the Rubin is on our list of the best museums in NYC because of the unique ways in which they bring their collection to life for their visitors.
Their list of events is extensive and f***ing awesome, including things like:
- Mindfulness Meditations: weekly meditation sessions led by Sharon Salzberg and other guest teachers
- Brainwave: a public program that investigates how our minds shape our everyday experiences, incorporating Eastern and Western philosophy, science, art, and other disciplines.
Check out the full list of events here!
If you can’t make it to the museum, the Rubin also offers a Mindfulness Meditation Podcast: 45 minute weekly sessions, each inspired by a different work of art from the Rubin Museum’s collection.
#6: The Museum of the Moving Image
The Museum of the Moving Image is one-of-a-kind! It’s the only institution in the United States “dedicated to the art, technology and social impact of film, television and digital media.”
Behind the Screen is the museum’s main exhibition. It is a totally immersive and totally awesome visitor experience!
Have you ever wondered how your favorite TV show and movies are made? Well, now you can learn all about producing, promoting and presenting digital entertainment.
Our fav part of Behind the Screen is the ADR (automated dialogue replacement) booth.
Have you ever dreamed of being a voiceover actor?
Now you can — record your own voice-over dialogue from a film, following the same procedure that actors use when dubbing their lines in post-production. Perform lines from Eddie Murphy’s film Coming to America or play Sugar, Marilyn Monroe’s character in Some Like it Hot.
But that’s not all, you’ll also get the chance to…
- make a flipbook out of a sequence of still photographs of you and your friends.
- create stop-motion animations.
- try your hand at adding new sound effects to well-known movies and television shows,
- and create a killer movie score!
#7: Fraunces Tavern
Located in the heart of the city, the Fraunces Tavern is a national historic landmark with an impressive resume: a museum, restaurant, and bar all wrapped up into one perfect spot.
The Fraunces Tavern is an iconic space from the American Revolution. It served as George Washington’s headquarters during the war and was a key site for peace negotiations with Great Britain.
Later, the building morphed into early U.S. government offices. George Washington famously bid farewell to his troops at the Tavern on December 4, 1783, in the Long Room, which is still there today.
#8: The Tenement Museum
The museum site, located at 97 Orchard Street, was once a neglected and deteriorating red brick resident building.
Before the museum’s founders, Abram and Jacobsen, discovered the building, it had been shuttered for more than 5o years!
Despite the sad state of the building, it was still home to many personal belongings of the immigrant families who had lived there between 1860 and 1930. As Abram and Jacobsen uncovered these artifacts, they also discovered deep, intricate and important stories. Stories that they knew needed to be shared!
Today, as a Tenement Museum visitor, you are offered the rare opportunity to take a trip back in time and explore these immigrant families stories.
#9: New York Historical Society
The New York Historical Society is considered New York’s First Museum (predating the founding of the Met by nearly 70 years!). It was established in 1804 by 11 men who had just lived through the American Revolution and saw that “New York’s citizens needed to take decisive action to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moment.”
They established the museum to make sure that the accounts and artifacts didn’t fade away with the individuals who had lived through this formative time in our country and city’s history.
Five things you must see at the New-York Historical Society:
- The Wooden Leg of Gouverneur Morris
- Thomas Cole
- Mayor George B. McClellan at the controls of the first subway train
- Parliament Coffee
- We Rise
To find out why, go here!
#10: The Frick
Visiting the Frick is a glimpse into the world of 1920’s industrial, fifth avenue, New York high society wealth.
The museum’s collection and Henry Clay Frick’s personal art collection is extensive including masterpieces by artists such as Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler.
What’s special about the space is that many of the artworks are still displayed as Frick left them, intimately arranged around his mansion.
Five things you must see at The Frick:
- Francisco Goya’s The Forge
- 1658, Rembrandt’s 1658 Self-Portrait
- Pierre Auguste Renoir’s Mother and Children
- Hans Holbein the Younger’s Sir Thomas More
- El Greco’s The Purification of the Temple
#11: Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library & Museum wraps up our list of the best museums in NYC.
What began as the private library of uber-rich financier Pierpont Morgan is now an incredible public archive full of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.
Five things you must see at the Morgan Library & Museum:
- A Winged Hero Contesting with a Lion for a Bull (Cylinder seal and impression)
- Peter Paul Rubens Seated Male Youth
- The Crusader Bible
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony (autograph manuscript)
- Biblia latina
Note: To avoid unnecessary disappointment! Please check the museum’s website to make sure the works you want to see are on display during the time of your visit!
We know we barely started to scratch the surface on NYC’s best museums. What do you want to see on our next list?